rebar-to-super sleek wheelchair: he’s always on the other end of the line

for Jerry Pattee, RIP

storyteller he teeters on crutches
shows Ma Bell books, Bakelite phones
switchboard wired up, front door
in Sellwood rigged with pay phone
pick up handset, ringer tells Jerry
more visitors, misbegotten souls
he’s always on the other end
of the line

life defined to receive words
upside down lives, delineated
he lived political action
rights for disabled, flash of smile
he showed up for everyone, always open
to disaster, lives came
with tattered spirits, Jerry defined
by CP, always gave shelter

stories unfolded, details like chronologist’s
bowing legs young, his old man
in Payette, Idaho, fashioned
rebar, pulled young Jerald’s legs
come-along so boy might walk

he did, drove his fancy car
second male at Pacific Bell
early days of all-female switchboard
operators, from small-town
to Portland, Jerry figured
life was no bowl of cherries
yet he captivated hundreds, fought
good fight for disability rights
worked his spiritual magic
even with me, atheist, rabble-rouser
two men gathering
matching stories

people live in a bubble, head
in sand, praying for one-drop
rule passing family line
roulette wheel drinking
in pregnancy, child culled
with fetal alcohol syndrome
or, tough pregnancy, delivery
Cerebral Palsy, another throw
of dice spastic, tremors, slurred
or no speech, Jerry, seemingly
neuronormal on phone
radio caster’s voice

the age of CP moves rapidly
swallows difficult, more tremors
spasms, muscles atrophying
internal organs sprayed
a difficult aging process
Jerry let all of that go
joked on crutches, eventually
wheelchair
lamented when young
found healthy woman
married knowing she would
take care of spider-legs
failing faculties, yet life’s
boomerang, wife fell hard
robust one day, multiple sclerosis
the next, as Jerry spent decade
salving her until her death

irony left, me, storyteller
crow stealing shiny things
Jerry always there listening
my trials tribulations
high-strung artist, he colluded
with literary arts, until that
day of one thing after another
CP-breakdown
like old Ford, rusty
leaky, electrical system
frazzling, Jerry had helping
hands till the end, wry humor

the story about LA aunt
husband lawyer to the studio
stars, a mix of Blanche Dubois, Rita
Hayworth, young Jerry
in dressing rooms, lingerie fittings
even met Rita, other starlets
stories, people
held in his twinkle, dashing
face, young boy still

chiseled fading face
his life adopting
houseless, his heart
always on the other end
of the line
old phones ringing

Paul Kirk Haeder has been a journalist since 1977. He's covered police, environment, planning and zoning, county and city politics, as well as working in true small town/community journalism situations in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Mexico and beyond. He's been a part-time faculty since 1983, and as such has worked in prisons, gang-influenced programs, universities, colleges, alternative high schools, language schools, as a private contractor-writing instructor for US military in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Washington. He organized Part-time faulty in Washington State. His book, Reimagining Sanity: Voices Beyond the Echo Chamber (2016), looks at 10 years of his writing at Dissident Voice. Read his autobiography, weekly or bi-weekly musings and hard hitting work in chapter installments, at LA Progressive. He blogs from Otis, Oregon. Read other articles by Paul, or visit Paul's website.