Scroll over the photos above and the captions will pop up.
During our weekly phone calls, I didn’t talk about “my Jack” all that much, even though on many of those Saturday mornings, he was right there, within earshot of half of the conversation. Sometimes he’d pick up the phone, accept charges, and say, “Hi, Jack! This is the other Jack. You doin’ okay? … I’ll get Megan for you.” Or he’d holler out, “Hi, Paperman! I loved your clown cards,” loud enough to be heard across the wires. But my personal life wasn’t what our conversations were about.
Before that 2002 visit, I told Paperman that I was bringing “my Jack” to Oklahoma on this trip, and that “my Jack” would like to meet him. He said okay. Even so, when we showed up there at the repurposed Best Western, I could see that Paperman was ill at ease. But it’s not for nothing that people who know this man I live with often refer to him as Saint Jack. There’s not a more affable, curious, tolerant, kind human being on the planet. Within seconds they were talking shop.
“So, how do you get the bodies rounded and soft like this? It’s not all masking tape, is it?”
Toilet paper! I found out where they store it. I got a endless supply.
“Wow! They’re flexible. What gauge wire do you use for their skeletons?”
Sixteen I think. Maybe eighteen. Megan told me about it.
“Megan told me you did one of those thousand crane things.”
It’s upstairs. With a bunch of other stuff. Wanna see?
And so we were shown upstairs to Paperman Jack’s room. I kept looking around for someone in a nurse’s uniform to ask us to sign in or something. Kept expecting to be told only residents were allowed beyond a certain point. It didn’t happen.
Paperman’s room was furnished with: a twin bed, particle board dresser, card table, folding chair, desk lamp. When was the last time the windows had been washed? Had the window ever been washed? Daylight filtered in through a sticky nicotine haze. The card table was littered with projects and art supplies — masking tape, duct tape, copy paper, scissors, wire cutters, made-in-China pliers. Brown plastic pill bottles — a lot of them — littered the top of the dresser. Obviously, Paperman was deemed compos mentis enough to administer his own meds.
Paperman’s 9/11 Memorial Senbazuru hung from the emergency sprinkler in the corner of the ceiling. I had never seen 1000 cranes altogether like that. It sent chills across my back.
We had made plans to take him to lunch, and again, I expected someone with a clipboard to make us sign in and out. A woman in scrubs was cleaning countertops in the common room, so we announced our intentions to her.
“See ya later,” she said.
I wanted to take Paperman someplace nice. Not fancy. But clean. Where the food was fresh and it tasted good. We took him to the Classen Grill. Which looked as though it had fallen upon hard times since the last time I had eaten there. On the surface, it was looking a little down at the heels. But still…it was way too upscale for Paperman to feel comfortable there. I’m not sure he even tasted his world famous chicken fried steak and homemade white gravy. He sat hunched, looking down, like a kid expecting to be scolded, and he hardly talked. I kicked myself. Denny’s would have been fine. IHOP. Waffle House would have been perfect.
After lunch, we asked if he wanted to go anywhere in particular. He didn’t. So we took him back to the motel. I dug out from the cavern of my purse the care package I had assembled that morning at Home Depot — several colors of duct tape and masking tape, more 18 gauge steel wire, and a good needle nose plier/wire cutter.
Hugs were always awkward, so we just shook hands.
Talk to you next week.
And that’s the last I saw of Paperman Jack.
(I’m not done yet. There’s at least one more installment.)