October 19, 2006

A life of letters

Sometime last week in Brookline Massachusetts Alan Gagne died alone in his room of a heart attack. He was a mailman, a social misfit, virtually without friends and his death would have gone unnoticed, not even meriting an obituary, had his house not been found full of 20 years of undelivered mail. His kitchen cabinets were stuffed with junk mail, circulars mainly, his drawers were overflowing with letters, and under his bed they pulled boxes and boxes of postcards. Entire closets had been stuffed as had the extra bathtub. Virtually all the pilfered mail was undeliverable for the usual reasons—address changes, deaths, bad handwriting, that sort of thing. None of it was opened. Five mailtrucks were required to haul it all away.

The New York times titled the story "In Postman’s Death, a Mystery of Mail Left Behind", another newspaper said the death was "shrouded in mystery", but the story doesn't seem the least bit mysterious to me. I once asked my mailman in Santa Monica, an odd character himself, if he ever got tired of delivering mail, he answered something like this, "I carry invitations to weddings, birth announcements, death announcements, letters from girlfriends, bankruptcy papers, checks from grandma, you name it. People send postcards from vacations all over the world. They put them in a mailbox in Japan or Africa and they end up in my mail bag. Nobody ever writes to me, but it doesn't matter, I get mail every day." I imagine Gagne kept all the undeliverable mail because he felt it was safer with him, because it connected him to the river of life outside his door which he apparently found impossible to enter. Maybe in odd hours he would imagine the mail was for him, waiting to be opened. No longer would he be a living illustration of Thoreau's quiet desperation, but a man with friends near and far, a man with a place in the world beyond the neighborhood he walked every day in sun and rain and snow. Maybe, just maybe, those letters allowed him to feel something which was sorely lacking in his life, maybe in them his empty house felt full of love.

posted at 03:21 AM by raul

Filed under: night musings


10/20/06 07:16 AM

Very interesting. I have a neighbour who is a postman, but he's also a lay Buddhist monk, perhaps to guard against the temptations of such acquisitiveness.

03/25/09 02:10 PM

I was a friend of Alan Gagne. He was an unusual person. "Social Misfit" I don't think so.
He was a collector, an obscessive collector at that. I had visited his earlier apartment and was amazed at the volume of what he kept: magazines, especially TV Guides, books of all sorts and one of the finest 60's mint LP collections I have ever seen and I wish I knew where that vinyl collection ended up, knowing that his recently widowed father would have no interest in it. About the mail that Alan obviously chose not to deliver, I know nothing and can not connect the person that I knew to be a stickler to the law, to the person that committed such a federal offense. I know he had other friends here in Vermont where he came from; because every year that he would visit me up here, he always have other friends that he would be having dinner with,that day. "A Life of Quiet Desperation" I don't think so. Unusual yes. I remember seeing his highschool performance of the Stage Manager in "Our Town". I have yet to see its equal in professional or other performances. He was an actor, perhaps The Postman, not his best but the one society choose for him.

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