By CAM TAIT
“Hello, is Pete there, please?” I blurted out.
The was silence for a few seconds. I heard the phone move a little and then the voice zoomed through my cellular situation in the same tone, the same accent and the same enthusiasm as I first heard it in late 1980.
“Cam,” he said in a voice clearly indicating he had cerebral palsy. “I haven’t heard from you in 20 years. How are you?”
We both regaled uncontrollable laughter.
Now, I have to come clean: the voice at the end of the other line really wasn’t Pete. It was Canadian theatre and film actor Frank C. Turner who spoke to me in between paint strokes on his most recent painting in his Vancouver studio.
“I can’t believe you remember Pete,” Frank said.
We both agreed we would never forget him.
I met Frank on a December day in 1980 … my birthday, to be specific. And I’m surprised he didn’t do up his jacket and walk out the door, saying “I think you’re absolutely crazy.”
He sure could have. You see, a few friends took me out for lunch that day and we had a few adult beverages. I was working for The Spokesman newspaper back then and was a few minutes late for my 2 p.m. meeting. I wheeled myself backwards into the office, wearing my brand-new birthday present: a large red-and-white cap, with ear muffs known as B.S. protectors, tightly tied with a string under my chin.
“Hello gentlemen,” I said pointing the way through the reception area to my cubicle. “I’m going to teach you how to act.”
A little background: Catalyst Theatre produced a play called Creeps in January of 1981 as part of the United Nations declaring the International Year of Disabled Persons. Creeps is the brilliant work of Canadian playwright David Freeman, about five men living with cerebral palsy discussing their fears, angersand achievements.
The play takes place in a men’s washroom at a sheltered workshop.
Director Jan Selman somehow got my name as someone who lives with cerebral palsy to work with the actors in making their roles more authentic.
So, there I was, wearing my new birthday hat, talking to actors including Frank, Greg Rogers, Robert Clinton and others.
Over the next month, we worked on the traits of cerebral palsy: the sudden jerky movements, the slurred speech and how easily someone can be startled — all resulting from brain damage.
Frank and I really connected. He played Pete, a cigarette-smoking, hard working man who had a philosophy about disability which was being shut out and ignored by most of the community. Frank and I led discussions with the audience after the play in attempts to foster positive awareness of disability.
We became great friends. Frank moved to Vancouver shortly after where he worked in movies including The Fly, Scary Movie 4 and starred in various television movies such as the X-Files.
I was given Frank’s number, ironically, by Dale Wolfe, another friend I haven’t seen in 24 years who lives in Vancouver and produces movies. Frank recently worked with Dale on a film called Crypto, where he plays a bush pilot who drinks on the job.
I can’t wait to see the movie to see if, by chance, Frank is wearing a red-and-white cap.
Pete, I think, would approve.