Arcata’s former 'Ragman' enjoys alligator lunches and grape juice wine
The place that Ragman Pete calls home is now called Secora Healthcare, in Portland, Ore.
I started working at Secora the beginning of September. Walking past Pete, I felt the pull, I knew he was familiar. I knew his, recalled his face, his laugh, but what was missing was his capes and gowns.
I had only ever saw Pete standing; he is in a wheelchair now. Pete with his tall scorcerer’s hat was an impressive height and sight.
At this time, Peter still wears a pointed hat, red or sage color, but he has lost his height. Peter is now in a wheelchair. Peter walks around the facility in his wheelchair, his long legs move back and forth while he walks, reminding me of an insect, a cricket or some other long-legged creature.
Peter welcomes everyone on the morning with a smile. When I come into the facility in the morning, he is in the dining room, working, after everyone else has finished their meals.
Peter has asked for a few things since I have been in the facility. A Bible in Spanish, a pair of reading glasses and some long socks. He reminds me of Mary Poppins and her magic carpet bag.
When I ask Peter, “Where are your glasses?” he will turn to the back of his wheelchair and pull out multiple bottles of soda, boxes of tissues, sheets, a binder with his articles from the Arcata Eye, a Bible in English. Then the glasses appear.
Peter has other areas on him that he stashes his treasures. When purchasing socks for Peter I am very mindful of how long and stretchy the socks are, so that he call fill them like Santa.
He still wears part of his cloak as the past Ragman. He drapes the blanket over one shoulder and ties it, looking like a toga.
Peter likes to keep his hair long and when asked if he would like to get a haircut, his reply every time is: “I will scare the mosquitos.”
All of the women who work at and live in the facility are Peter’s “sweethearts” or “cuties.”
Peter is just as likely to be cruising down the hallway to purchase a soda from the soda machine for a male resident as he is to be sitting in the common area holding the hand of an older female resident.
Peter knows me most days. Some days he will forget I was the woman who went to college at Humboldt State, who would see him standing on the side of the freeway after getting out of court in Eureka, hitching a ride back to Arcata.
Ragman Pete, who would blow kisses to me from the other side of the street. Peter and I get to blow kisses to each other every day now. He catches every one.
For all new employees, I do the introduction of Peter, joyfully, talking about how we are two old friends. “Peter is famous you know. Look at these beautiful paintings of Peter.”
I play Peter’s song “Open Your Heart.” Peter sings along softly, between giggles, says: “My friend, he plays that guitar.” I get to bask in a bit of the magic that is Pete.
People are still enamored with Pete’s silly, playful sense of humor. A resident will ask: “What are we having for lunch?” Peter responds: “alligator.”
Peter and I will be in the middle of a serious conversation about fingernail fungus or seeing the dentist when all of a sudden Pete will ask, “Do you have a 2 by 4?” I look at Pete, quizzically. “I want to see stars and rainbows. If you could hit me in the head with a 2 by 4, maybe I could see them.”
The female staff in the facility like to think of creative ways to let Peter down nicely when I’m asked for the 100th time: “Will you marry me?”
While Pete’s smile is what is seen by the resident’s and Staff at Secora on a regular basis, there are days of melancholy for Pete. Pete will talk about being “stuck” here in the facility (I had to get permission from Pete’s legal guardian in order to write this piece about him.)
Peter will talk about going out and getting some wine or beer or tequila. I don’t think he remembers how difficult life had gotten there on the streets for him at the end of his Arcata stay. He keeps the good memories alive in his mind and the kindness of people in Humboldt County.
Pete is settled in now. He knows that people care about him. He knows he is safe. And every morning, when I come into work and see him smiling, I give him a bit of fun and fantasy: “Hey Peter, let’s get you a cup of wine (grape juice).
Amy Erickson graduated from Humboldt State in 2000 with a BA in journalism, and has always been inspired by Pete.