Thursday, March 22, 2012

America, Children and Animals, and the USPS

I first met Mr. Striker about eight or nine years ago. I was sitting in my office at work when I got a frantic call to come out and diffuse an angry customer. I had no idea what I was in for. I walked out to find three members of my staff looking frazzled, and maybe even a little frightened. I didn't know what to expect next. They were all standing in front of a little old man, frail and thin, with an uncomfortably curved spine. His hair was thin and white, and a little messy. He had a look of frustration on his face that instantly made my stomach hurt.

I smiled half-heartedly and asked if I could help. The man started telling me how incompetent everyone in the office was, and how no one would listen to what he was trying to say. He was so upset, I took him into my office so he wouldn't catch the attention of the other customers.

Mr. Striker had been a member of our organization for more than 50 years. He had some problems with his account, and wanted to pay for two other accounts. I didn't really know what to say, so I just shut up and let him talk. And talk he did. For about an hour. Mr. Striker told me how he had lost faith in America. How workers today didn't care about customers. He told me how one day in the near future, the United States would become a province of China. He told me how he'd devoted his entire life to charity and humanitarian work; helping children and animals. He told me how difficult it was to communicate with any type of business because he only had a rotary dial phone. He told me how he didn't trust the U.S. Mail because he had seen a mail carrier throw mail into a creek. He'd also seen a mail carrier burn mail. He told me how he didn't trust doctors. How he had a medical background and how he knew doctors didn't know what they were talking about. He talked about politics. He talked about religion. He talked about minorities and illegal immigrants. He told me how his house was constantly vandalized. I just listened. I didn't know what else to do! During the time he spoke, I worked a little magic and took care of all three of the accounts he was paying for. By the time he was done talking, everything was straightened out.

Little did I know, this would be the first of many, MANY times I would hear the same exact speech about the state of America, Children and Animals, and the mail service. In fact, in the years to come I would hear it all over and over and over again. You see, something happened during that hour, and Mr. Striker took the first step at becoming a very dear person in my life.

He was so thrilled that I was able to help him. He was so thrilled that I listened to him. From that moment on, whenever Mr. Striker had any dealings at all with our company, he insisted on speaking to me, and only me. For the next few years, whenever he would come into the office, even though he frightened them, my staff would smile really big, and in their best, most polite voice would say "Hello, Mr. Striker! How are you today?" But Mr. Striker would just growl at them and ask where he might find me.

Mr. Striker began to call me his "Earth Angel". A term I hold very dear, since the song by the same name was one of my mother's all time favorites. During his speech about America, Children and Animals, and the USPS he would tell me how people like me were this country's only saving grace. After about a year of this, Mr. Striker started to ask about my personal life. Then he would offer "Is there anything I can do to help YOU, Ms. Bailey?" He would ask about my kids. He'd ask how I was doing; how I was feeling. About two years into our "relationship" he told me he loved me. He said "Now don't take this the wrong way, Ms. Bailey. I don't love you in a romantic way, I love you in an agape way. Do you know what that means, Ms. Bailey?" I told him I did. From that moment on, in addition to the speech about America, Children and Animals, and the USPS, he always ended our conversations with "I love you, Ms. Bailey. Goodbye".

Up until a few years ago, our organization held a luncheon once a year for members who had been with us 50 years and longer. For two or three years, I would save the spot next to me for Mr. Striker. When he'd walk in, I made a big deal about it. Even though I was keeping him steady, I'd hold his arm and let him escort me to our table, and he was my date for the afternoon. He'd tell everyone at the table about his Earth Angel. For some reason, at that event, he never brought up the state of America, Children and Animals, or the USPS. It was just a nice lunch and he was a perfect gentleman.

The company stopped having the luncheon right about the same time Mr. Striker's health took a turn and he stopped driving. Our talks for the past three or four years have strictly been by phone. As his health declined, I began to see a much more fragile man. A very sad man. And it made me wonder how he got that way.

I suspect Mr. Striker is a hoarder. One day he phoned me after a long absence, and was quite upset. He had been in a nursing home for a few months, and while he was there, his brother and his nieces and nephews had come into his home and cleaned it out. He told me they threw away all his keys, all his papers, all his files, all his records. Something told me he had every piece of mail he'd received for the past 50 years. He was absolutely devastated to return home and find all his things were gone. Since he spoke so often about vandalism at his home, I figured he probably lived in a questionable neighborhood. He had told me several times that the home he lived in had belonged to his family for generations. This made me curious, and I searched his address on the Property Value Administration site. My jaw hit the desk when I discovered the home and land was valued at about $1.5 million. It sits on several acres in one of the most affluent (yet older) neighborhoods in our town. The rest of the neighborhood was built around this home, which had been standing for quite some time when the rest came along. I guess this explains his ability to spend his life doing charity work.

Mr. Striker drove two different cars; one from the 1960's, one from the 1970's. His clothes were modest. I knew he never married, and had no children. He has one brother, whom he can't stand. The brother is the polar opposite of Mr. Striker. A business man, a conformist with a cell phone and a new car. The brother has some children. Nieces and nephews of Mr. Sriker. He doesn't like them either. I'm sure they are all anxious for the crotchety, crazy old uncle to "go away" so they can sell the family house.

Something happened that caused Mr. Striker to be frozen in time. He had to have had friends at some point. I wondered what had happened to them. I believe he drove them all away; closed himself off from them. He wanted the world to be the way it was in the 1940's. I think he just threw in the towel and stopped moving forward all together, somewhere around 1974. I always felt Mr. Striker had loved someone once, very much; and lost her. He's never spoken of it, but that's what my heart always told me. I often felt that event is what froze him in his tracks--what made him stop living his life and retreat into what became a bitter shell.

I last spoke with Mr. Striker about a month ago. He called to arrange payment of his membership dues. He was home then, but had been back in the hospital and nursing home again, and sounded extraordinarily weak and frail. He didn't even bother to tell me about the declining state of our country. As always, he refused to put his statement and payment into the return envelope, and send it to our processing center in Ohio (this prompted the USPS story again). He had to address a handwritten envelope to my attention and send the check directly to me, his Earth Angel. He knows I'll take care of it, and mail him back a receipt, also in a handwritten envelope, along with a nice thank you note. As he ended the conversation, he asked once again if there was anything he could do to help me and my family, then said "I love you, Ms. Bailey. Goodbye". I told him I loved him too. I'm not sure how many more opportunities I'll have to say that to him, and I really wanted him to know. After all, every human being needs someone; anyone to love them. I'm honored that for Mr. Striker, I have been able to be that person.

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