Elise Sereni
     Patkotak
Friday, July 22, 2016

Don’t know who exactly I’m thanking but given my misery of the past week in the heat, I feel I need to thank someone for the cooler weather and rain.
Bring back winter.

Elise Patkotak • 03:16 AM •
Thursday, July 21, 2016
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It’s been a pretty rough summer so far. Nothing seems to indicate it will get any better. I thought that perhaps it would help if we all stepped back, took a deep breath and talked about something that isn’t politics, terrorism or racial divisions. So let’s talk about porches and neighborhoods.

I have pictures of my dad’s mom, my nonna, sitting on a folding chair in front of our grocery store. She watched the world go by, visited with just about every customer that came in the store and enjoyed just being “in the neighborhood”.  I have a similar picture of my mom’s mother sitting in front of my grandfather’s grocery store. She has a friend sitting on either side of her. They would sit in those chairs for hours while visiting and keeping an eye on what was happening on the block. The sidewalks were safe so long as the nonnas sat outside keeping vigilant watch.
My godmother lived for a long time in an East Coast row house. She had a big beautiful porch for sitting and rocking. So did every house on either side of her and going up and down the street as far as you could see. The porch was critical in the days before air conditioning when you needed a cool place to save you from the heat inside. But it was also an invaluable social construct in that it brought people out of their houses and into a community setting. I am of the firm belief that it was one of the reasons kids could play out with such impunity. We had built in security. It also meant built in snitches. None of us would have ever dared to call our grandmas that for fear of how far our mothers would chase us waving a wooden spoon and muttering something about kingdom come. But snitches they were. If you did something wrong or disrespectful, your mother would know about it before you got home.
I recently built a porch on the front of my house. I find myself very open to inviting people to come sit and rock on the porch with me. While I am often uncomfortable inviting people into my house, I have no problem inviting them on to my porch.
I think building the porch was my way to try and recreate that feeling of my childhood when so much of neighborhood life was lived outside. Whatever the motivation, I spend a lot of time now on the porch rocking and reading the paper and sipping tea and wishing winter would return because the heat is killing me.  And as I sit rocking, it occurs to me that porches are too valuable a social tool to let them fall by the wayside and become just more historical detritus. In fact, I think every “toaster” house in Anchorage should be retrofitted with a porch because houses without this outside “room” tend to repel, not encourage, community. There is honestly nothing open and inviting about a house whose front is a garage and whose door is a small entry on the side of the house and back off the road. Nothing about that construction encourages neighborhood feelings of cohesion. Nothing about those types of houses speak to children playing safely outside.
The more I think about it, the more I think porches may be the salvation of our fractured society. A requirement should be inserted into every city building code in this country that says you have to have a front porch. If America is feeling so divided right now, maybe part of the problem is that we’ve built our homes to close us in and others out. That doesn’t happen on a porch. On a porch, you deal with everyone and everything going by. And who knows, maybe it can help us become a coherent community again. Maybe it can heal some of the divisions we are experiencing by forcing us out of our homes and giving us back that sense of neighborhood that was so much a part of life not all that long ago.
I truly believe that porches are a key component to healing our divisions. Or maybe I’m just frantically looking for an answer to the sadness that is this summer. Bring back porches and, for the love of god, bring back winter.

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Elise Patkotak • 03:10 AM •
Wednesday, July 20, 2016

I was ready to settle down on the porch with a Long Island ice tea and New York Magazine when I took a perhaps too big sip. Suddenly column ideas flooded my brain. I ran inside to document them and then went back out. But I no sooner got outside than I had another idea and ran back inside. This in and out went on for more times than I care to admit.
Question - dogs can’t legally file commitment papers, right?

Elise Patkotak • 03:41 AM •
Tuesday, July 19, 2016

I have finally accepted that when I do my own hair each day, I don’t have a hair style as much as I have combed hair. But at least it’s presentable… kinda.

Elise Patkotak • 03:26 AM •
Monday, July 18, 2016

A dear friend of many years is coming to visit in August. She sent me an email inquiring into Alaska’s dress habits for going out to dinner in nice restaurants. This was my response. For the record, Judy is my sister.

In general, people in Alaska have a much more relaxed dress code than people in the lower 48. When Judy comes to Alaska, she says she knows she’s going in the right direction because the closer she gets, the more she sees people who dress like me. And I don’t believe she means that as a compliment. So the one truly lovely restaurant I want to take you to will be inhabited by people in business wear, tourist wear, the occasional carharts and everything in between. We don’t stand on ceremony much up here. So long as you have clothes on, we feel that’s really all we can expect.

Elise Patkotak • 03:58 AM •
Friday, July 15, 2016

Mel Gibson. He’s made it clear he shares many of Trump’s more… shall we say troublesome… views. And he hasn’t been working much lately so he probably has the time. I’d suggest Clint Eastwood but after that talking chair thing… well, best to let him fade in peace and not destroy the image he worked so hard to build.

Elise Patkotak • 03:47 AM •
Thursday, July 14, 2016

I came of age in the 1960s. My memories of the early sixties involved sock hops, Ricky Nelson and bubblegum rock. But as the sixties wore on, things changed. By the middle to late sixties, summers became almost a time of dread as America braced itself for another season of race riots. I’m starting to get a strange sense of déjà vu all over again.

Shocking as this may sound to some, electing our first African-American president did not end race problems in America. We are no more in a post racial period than I am a size 10. And, quite frankly, neither of those things are apt to happen in my lifetime. Racial prejudices and hatreds go pretty deep and can’t be wished away by holding hands and singing Kumbaya.
We have certainly come a distance since those days of summer rioting. Mixed race couples are much more common and we have finally gotten rid of the laws that made those relationships illegal. There are more African-American members of Congress than ever before. African-Americans are more visible on our TV screens in parts that don’t involve shucking and jiving or being the help. There is now a better chance that your doctor, lawyer or accountant will be African-American or a mixed race person.
But the events of recent weeks show with disturbing clarity that we still have miles to go in the ongoing battle for equality. Given the inequity in our justice system that sees African-American men incarcerated at rates far beyond their percentage of the population; given that African-American men are more likely to be both stopped by the police and shot by the police; given that multiple experiments have shown that African-Americans are more apt to be hired for a job based on their credentials if the employer doesn’t know their race; given all this, it is clear that America still has a long way to go in becoming a truly just and integrated nation.
I was one of those sixties hippies who participated in sit ins, marches, demonstrations… you name it and I was there. I honestly thought that we could end racism in our time. I thought if enough people marched and sang and held hands together, everything would be ok. I was a very naïve white girl who had no real comprehension of the African-American experience in America or how deep and painful the scars were.
Now here we are, almost fifty years later, and we are facing the possibility of more summers of riots over the very same problems. So where did we go wrong? Or did my generation just get busy with jobs and children and not have time for social issues anymore? Did those issues just slide under our radar as other things like the Internet and gluten took priority?
When I moved to Barrow, for the first time in my life I was a minority – a privileged minority, but a minority nonetheless. I was lucky I was in a community that accepted me despite the color of my skin. Even so, I became acutely aware of what it feels like to walk into a room and be the only person of my race in that room.  It’s not an easy gig. And I can’t imagine what it must be like to live with that everyday of your life.
Being white also meant that when my mother told me the police were my friends and if something happened I should go immediately to find one, it was true. I never feared the police. Silly as it sounds, even when I was involved in protest marches, I still felt a certain security in seeing the police around. But if you are African-American, I imagine your mother would have an entirely different conversation with you about police. It would revolve around not giving them any reason to shoot you.
Not all cops are bad. After working with many of them while in Barrow in social services, I can say with some assurance that most are pretty amazingly wonderful. And clearly not all African-American men are criminals. I have no trouble being supportive of both the police and the Black Lives Matter movement. They are not diametric opposites. They are, in fact, opposite sides of the same coin, a coin that stands for equal treatment of all Americans, no matter how they hyphenate their race.

Elise Patkotak • 03:24 AM •
Wednesday, July 13, 2016

I picture Republicans hiding behind their desks and not answering their phones for fear they will be asked to offer themselves up as a sacrificial lamb in the form of Trump’s VP.

Elise Patkotak • 03:45 AM •
Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Doesn’t Trump look like a hybrid of a human and overripe cantaloupe? Though I have noticed in recent appearances that his hair is looking more normal… not normal, but just more normal, not so much rising off his forehead. Maybe this is his way of being presidential?

Elise Patkotak • 03:43 AM •
Monday, July 11, 2016

Horseflies

Elise Patkotak • 03:41 AM •
Friday, July 08, 2016

Grey, cloudy, rainy, cool… my kind of summer.

Elise Patkotak • 03:12 AM •
Thursday, July 07, 2016

After seeing some of the pieces written by other columnists in this paper, I hesitated to write another one about Governor Walker and his vetoes. Then I realized that any politician willing to show the level of courage he has in facing reality and dealing with it deserves as much print as he can get.  Gov. Walker’s vetoes last week affected everyone and made people on all ends of the political spectrum angry. I view that as a sure sign that he’s doing something right.

As a supporter of public broadcasting, education and programs for the elderly and young, I was angry at his vetoes too. But I was also happy to see some of our bigger boondoggles finally get shut down. I’ve lived in this state for 44 years and I feel like I’ve spent most of them hearing about the Susitna Dam project and the Knik Arms bridge. Yet I never felt like there was ever really any chance they would become a reality. They seemed to mostly drain lots of money from the state coffer without showing much in return.
There, I’ve made some of you mad. You supported these projects and felt the cuts were better made elsewhere. Thus I’ve somewhat proven my point that there is something to love and something to hate for everyone in Walker’s vetoes. But what you can’t take away from him is that he did what needed to be done to get even a minimally balanced budget for our state. In case you’ve forgotten, our courageous legislators wasted four months of our time and cash to come up with a plan that almost emptied the Constitutional Budgetary Reserve rather than risk losing their cushy seats in the legislature. Unlike the majority of Alaskans who realize the free ride on oil is pretty much over, they chose to hope that prices would rebound before they had to make the tough decisions. Or, as we Alaskans like to say, “Please God, give us another boom. We promise not to fritter this one away.”
It is long past time for Alaskans to stand up and take fiscal responsibility for their state. For so long as we live off the oil companies, it seems to me that we can’t really criticize those legislators who are clearly following the companies’ agendas. If we want to just spend their money and not put a cent of our money on the line to maintain a decent quality of life for all Alaskans, then we can’t complain when the guys paying the bill want special consideration.
For those who insist that the budget needs to be cut even more I say, fine. Show me those cuts. And once you’ve shown them to me, I’ll show you a few thousand Alaskans who think that the programs you want to cut are critical to our future. Every program still in our state budget has advocates as well as detractors. For every cut one person wants, another person wants the funding to continue. So just cutting the budget is probably not a realistic plan, though it makes for a great catch phrase.
The reality is that one way or another, we have to start paying our share of the financial burden. Every layer of our society will be impacted. Perhaps the hardest hit will be the numerous charities and non-profits that will be expected to pick up the slack. They will need our support more than ever, even as we receive lower PFDs and possibly pay an income tax. But that’s the reality of life in this great country. We are not being asked to do anything that isn’t considered SOP in every other state in this union. In fact, and you might want to be sitting down for this, we are the only state that actually pays its citizens to live here.
It’s going to be hard to watch our legislators go back into session and once again prove themselves to be rather lily-livered about doing what’s needed for Alaska’s financial future after watching the courage Bill Walker just showed. Maybe he will only be a one-term governor – and maybe not. In case our legislators haven’t noticed, he has wide and deep support across this state. And he for sure has my vote the next time he needs it.

Elise Patkotak • 03:15 AM •
Wednesday, July 06, 2016

This is what a true profile in courage looks like. In the end, he buried them with words, wisdom and justice. Makes our current crop of politicians look absolutely pathetic.

Elise Patkotak • 03:10 AM •
Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Does Donald Trump’s nmouth not remind you of an orange anus due to the ingestion of too many Cheetos?

Elise Patkotak • 03:08 PM •
Monday, July 04, 2016

Despite it all, we survive, grow and thrive. That’s America.

Elise Patkotak • 03:07 AM •

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