Elise Sereni
     Patkotak
Thursday, January 31, 2013

I periodically feel obligated to note that without some pretty amazing friends, I would probably not be able to continue to live in Alaska as I approach the furthest reaches of middle age. Alaska is especially famous, and rightfully so, for friendships that replace the families so many of us left behind. While family still wonders what the possible attraction could be of a state where it’s dark for months on end, temps hover at zero or below for equally as long and bears roam our backyards freely, our friends understand that being an Alaskan is something that simply cannot be explained to someone who is not.

So when I fell on my driveway recently, I knew three things for sure. One, it was my own fault for thinking I could sneak down the edge of my driveway in my slippers and not hit an icy patch under the newly fallen snow. Two, I was going to be in a lot of pain for a long time. And three, I had friends who would help me all they could by doing things like moving my garbage can to the end of the driveway in time for pick up, getting my mail, discussing with me the benefits of actually putting shoes on before walking on an icy, slanted driveway and, perhaps most importantly, re-enforcing the idea of spikes on my shoes. They did all that and more and they did it without making me feel as though I was closing in on my last winter in Alaska.
I used to walk in 20 below weather, thinking it was perfectly normal and ok to do so. Now, despite wearing three layers of clothing, I get cold in my house when the temp outside is anywhere near zero. I have never put my thermostat up to 70 degrees so often in any past winter, and that includes the winters I lived in Barrow. I find myself standing in front of the thermostat and carefully adjusting it to exactly 70 degrees on the theory that as long as it stays below 72, I’m not old.
When I moved here forty years ago, I didn’t plan to make Alaska my home. I was from New Jersey. Chris Christie is still my idea of what most politicians are, or should be.  Jersey peaches are still my idea of heaven, despite forty years of exposure to King Crab, salmon and halibut, to say nothing of caribou, moose and goose soup. Real highways have tollbooths and four lanes, with rest stops named after local politicians who managed to strong-arm the state transportation department into putting one in their county.
But a funny thing happened as the years went by. As much as I still say I’m going home when I’m planning a trip east, I only have to be there a short time before I understand that it no longer is. At some point, Alaska became home.
I realized highways should be one lane in either direction with death and destruction looming around every icy curve. There should be no tollbooths but only acres of traffic signs shot up so badly that whatever they originally said has been obliterated. Rest stops become much more frequent when any point on the side of the road with enough tree coverage can be one. 
To have once lived with honey-buckets and still be able to wax poetic about this state is a sure sign that I’ve gone completely over the cliff about it. To have slipped down my driveway more often than I would like to recall without wanting to run screaming from an Alaska winter means there is no hope for me. My infatuation with this insane state is total and complete.
As the cold weather continues and the ice builds, we need to keep in mind why we live here and that insanity is not necessarily the main reason. Fur Rondy is just around the bend. The Iditarod will follow. The sun is returning even if it isn’t bringing warmth with it. And all our politicians have been confined to Juneau so the streets are safe for the rest of us.
If there is one thing I could import from New Jersey to Alaska, it would be naming rest stops on the highways after politicians. That just seems appropriate.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:21 AM •
Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Do you watch those award shows on tv and wonder, as I do, if those women EVER actually eat anything? Holy crap! How can you be that thin and still stand upright?

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:26 AM •
Tuesday, January 29, 2013

What I find really mind boggling about the whole debate over gun control and arming teachers at schools and posting armed guards throughout our schools is that Americans are accepting this as a normal debate to be having. When did arming teachers to keep our kids safe in schools become the norm? Why aren’t we horrified that this debate is even happening? Rather than any logical debate on gun control, we’d prefer to arm our schools until they look like a girls’ school in Taliban country. How sad.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:42 AM •
Monday, January 28, 2013

Spent all Sunday afternoon sleeping on the couch. Winter doldrums or flu? Time will tell.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:34 AM •
Sunday, January 27, 2013

After 65 years on this earth, I do not wear pantyhose or bras. They no longer amuse me. Learn to live with it.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:16 AM •
Saturday, January 26, 2013
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You’re never too young to make sure your drum is oiled and ready.
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Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:24 AM •
Friday, January 25, 2013

No matter how many filled water bowls I have strewn throughout the house, my dogs will go out of their way to drink from the one in my bathroom. Since they are too small to drink out of the toilet bowl, maybe this is their homage to the fountain from which they truly wish to drink.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:03 AM •
Thursday, January 24, 2013

So let me see if I have this straight. Over the past couple of years there has been a sustained hue and cry from fiscal conservatives and Tea Party aficionados about how teachers are overpaid, their jobs are overprotected, their benefits are over the top and their performance doesn’t warrant any of the above. Yet we would now like this same group of apparently very dysfunctional people to not only be teachers, social workers, nutritionists, counselors, tutors and recess monitors, but also sharpshooters so as to kill – or reasonably maim – anyone showing up in their school with the intent of murder and mayhem.

Whew. Given how cushy their jobs have been so far, I’m glad to see we are only asking them to reasonably accommodate the need to protect the children they are teaching from being slaughtered.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that the majority of teachers did not go into the profession with the intent of becoming sharpshooters. In fact, many teachers – like many in the general population – would be hard pressed to take a life with a gun. To do this while in a classroom full of frightened and probably screaming children during what I can only guess would be a scene of chaos is a near impossibility for anyone other than a trained sniper.
Add to that the fact that the shooters in most recent school tragedies have come dressed for war in body armor that no handgun and most rifle bullets would not be able to pierce, and one has to wonder who these people are who think that arming teachers is a reasonable solution to school shootings. I suppose we could provide all teachers with full body armor and assault rifles. And we could make the ability to shoot to kill a person advancing on them with a semi-automatic a prerequisite to entering the profession. But I have to guess that when we’ve reached that point, the actual skills needed to be a successful educator would have fallen by the wayside. The skills needed to be a sniper would take the forefront.
Don’t we have to ask how much we can actually expect a teacher to do? And shouldn’t education be the first thing listed? We expect that teachers will convince our children to eat the healthy snacks they won’t touch at home. We expect them to notice the subtle bruising on a child that might warrant social services intervention. We want them to get all our kids into Ivy League schools but not if it means giving homework we have to force them to do. We want teachers to spend their summers getting the credits needed to stay current with their certification and be able to handle the newest material in their field. And in their spare time we want them available when we call to discuss our child’s progress while they fill out enough government forms to sink a ship.
Truth be told, I think most of us wouldn’t last one semester as a teacher outside of perhaps a college setting. I don’t think I’d last a week before I’d run screaming into the night at the thought of all the expectations society and families had placed on me. Yet somehow, somewhere, there are apparently people who see absolutely nothing ludicrous about adding to this smorgasbord of expectations and responsibilities the skills needed to take on a fully armed gunman intent on committing an unspeakable act of horror.
Any discussion of gun control traditionally breaks down into people on either extreme screaming across the divide and ensuring that no reasonable discussion can ever be held. It’s hard for the middle to be heard. But in the middle is probably the answer. People in the middle are aware of the 2nd Amendment but also believe reasonable regulations will not gut it. But reasonableness has never been a part of the discussion of gun control in America. And that’s sad because it precludes any rational solutions being actually put on the table and examined.
Arming teachers is not the answer unless we recruit all our teachers from retired military snipers. Arming teachers while trying to break their unions, deny their benefits and calling them names is simply ludicrous. Do you really want to hand them a loaded gun after doing that?

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:34 AM •
Wednesday, January 23, 2013

If you live in Anchorage or the Anchorage Bowl area and have any old red meat that is taking up space in your freezer, Bird TLC desperately needs some for its Golden Eagle and some wonderful but thin corvids who need lots of protein. There is a box outside of our facility where you can drop off fish and meat at any time. Go to birdtlc.net and you can find our address.
Thanks.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:21 AM •
Tuesday, January 22, 2013
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I finished scrubbing out birdcages and fed the birds. The dogs were downstairs in the office with the door closed. It’s just easier to not have two dogs and three parrots trying to get at each other during bath time so the dogs get on their bed in the office with a treat and are happy. Before I came down to let them out, I cut up their hotdog for dinner and put half in each day as is our routine. Then I came downstairs and opened the office door and got on the computer and forgot about the dogs. All of a sudden, BuddhaBubba comes bounding into the room, jumps on her bed and sits up with a look of pure innocence in her face. And in an instant I knew she’d gone upstairs and eaten both her hotdog and Carm’s. Sure enough, both dishes were empty. I came downstairs and looked right into her eyes and asked if she’d done something she’d like to confess. She gave me her best meditative stare, cocked her head slightly to one sign and did not move during the entire lecture I gave her. I know, deep down inside, that when I get that stare from her, she has gone away mentally and is not hearing a word I’m saying. She’s just reliving the taste of a WHOLE hotdog instead of her usual measly half.
Contrition is simply not in her make up when it comes to food.
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Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:50 AM •
Monday, January 21, 2013

I know I’m not the best singer in the world but seriously, my singing along to Pat Boone’s Young Love does not warrant her jumping out of my arms and running into the next room in horror. Is she had hands, she would have been holding them over her ears. And all I was trying to do was sing her a love song…

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:53 AM •
Sunday, January 20, 2013

Because until very recently there was a business in Fairbanks called Art, Arms and Ammo. It unfortunately ran into some difficulty when the owner was arrested for allegedly hiring someone to kill someone else.
But that should not detract from the whimsy and poetry of the name. I would have loved to have seen the Art.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:29 AM •
Saturday, January 19, 2013

Been doing this for twelve years and this is the first time I didn’t have an entry in by early morning. Old age is a true bitch.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 10:28 AM •
Friday, January 18, 2013

You have hard, thick bones that don’t break easily. Thank god. If you live in Alaska during the winter, this is an especially important protective mechanism. Though sanding the driveway would probably make more sense.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:30 AM •
Thursday, January 17, 2013

I followed the saga of Schaeffer Cox and Lonnie and Karen Vernon as it played out from pleadings to trials to sentencing.  It was a story that had something for everyone, from the Joe Miller/DropZone/undercover informant angle to the rather bizarre 2-4-1 formula of vengeance.

Their story is a depressingly familiar one. Slightly paranoid personality with good sales pitch pulls in slightly dim followers on a path that only they could not see was going to lead to total destruction – except they were the ones destroyed, not the government.
What was sad was that this case once again brought mental illness into the forefront of the news for all the wrong reasons. Mental illness seems to be the last resort of people who find themselves caught on the distaff side of things. Cheat on your wife – it was depression that did it, not you. Just blew your month’s grocery money on Bingo – darn that bipolar disorder. Took a loaded gun into a crowded room and let loose with the bullets – news to shortly follow with a picture of someone who certainly fits every preconceived notion of mental illness – think Jack Nicholson at the end of The Shining.
Mental illness seems to be the go-to excuse for anything anyone does wrong nowadays. Sometimes the perpetrator truly has a mental illness. But far too often it’s just the easiest thing to point to when assigning blame for someone’s incomprehensibly evil, senseless actions.
Big Brother seems to be winning here in that if you do anything slightly to the left of center in American today, it becomes suspect as a mental illness and, almost inevitably, gets some spiffy label slapped on it. After all, we say to ourselves, they are mentally ill or else they wouldn’t have done that… whatever that might have been. By labeling them as different, we comfort ourselves because they are not us.
Mental illness is a convenient label to hang on people who are sometimes, quite frankly, horrible people. The reality is that most people with mental illnesses are not apt to foment the overthrow of the government or wreak death in a school. They struggle to make a life for themselves despite the daily difficulties life throws in their path, while our health care system offers them little help.
Years ago we closed the big facilities into which we used to place the mentally ill to separate them from us. Then we decided that a truly compassionate society would not throw people away like that without giving them at least a chance to make it in our world. We closed the institutions with the understanding that we’d create a series of neighborhood mental health clinics that would assist this population in their daily struggles.
To no one’s real surprise, those clinics never became a reality and instead, our mentally ill brethren went from institutions to the streets where they all too often became part of the already crowded homeless population in most urban areas.
Now, as we face another debate on gun control, the mentally ill have become the latest scapegoats with gun advocates. The NRA is calling for a national database of the mentally ill as though mental illness was a prerequisite to horrible behavior. The same people who squeal like stuck pigs if you even whisper the possibility of a rational discussion of gun control see no problem in smearing an entire population rather than have that discussion. The same people who are highly suspicious of government and its intrusion into their lives see no problem in having that government keep a list of the mentally ill, whether or not they’ve ever done anything wrong, so we can find them quickly when the next tragedy occurs.
Yes, some of those who have committed horrible acts have been truly mentally ill. But some conveniently “discovered” their mental illness during trial and sentencing. Political dissidents have been labeled mentally ill for centuries and forced into separate enclaves – think gulags – so that they didn’t contaminate the rest of society with their thoughts. When that was done in Russia, we were horrified. Now, in America, it’s the defense du jour.
The mentally ill have enough problems without becoming our scapegoats for all the bad things that happen in our society. Sometimes bad things are simply caused by bad people.

Elise Sereni Patkotak • 03:18 AM •

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