a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

A phonebank story

Posted by Thomas Nephew on October 29th, 2010

I dial the number.

While it rings, I read that I’m calling Mrs. X, age (quite old).  Mr. X answers the phone.  When I ask for her, he replies she’s crippled and can’t come to the phone; so is he.  I’m thinking well, I guess he got to the phone so maybe crippled means arthritic, so I go into my early voting spiel when he brings me up short: she’s just back from the hospital with a broken hip; she had been *his* caregiver; he’s lucky he has many children, some of them are upstairs with her now.  I say things like oh my gosh, good you have kids to help you, I’m so sorry.  I feel bad: look what I’ve intruded on, not that I could help it.

And then he says: would you like to hear a joke?  Sure.  He says a guy walks into the doctor’s office and tells the nurse, “tell the doctor I have a problem: I’m invisible.”  The nurse tells the doctor, and the doctor says “tell him I can’t see him.”

I laugh quietly and say good one.  He laughs quietly, and says just a little joke.  I told him I liked the joke.  I really did, I’m also really in a certain amount of awe that he has the equanimity to have told any joke to a stranger on the phone in the first place — to have wanted *me* to laugh when he’s facing this tragedy.

So it’s important to me he not think I’m just humoring him, and I hope maybe he hears that somehow.  I say is there any way we should try to get you to the polls next Tuesday, he says no, his kids will help him.  I say I really hope your wife gets well soon, thanks for talking with me.  Also, unspoken but somehow said and somehow heard: thanks for putting up with me.

We say goodbye. I hang up.

The dial tone is loud and empty.

NOTE, 12/19: EMBARGOED since 10/29

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