The thin line between prudence and paranoia, and how the Post Office is really to blame


I’m ashamed of myself for something I did this afternoon…except that I’m not, not really, and that bothers me, too.  Clear?

I was flying X-wing fighters (on the computer, not for real) when the phone rang, and I was peeved because that meant I was going to have to look away from the screen to find the two-key combination for “pause” and I hoped I wouldn’t get killed in the meantime.  Just don’t answer the phone, you say—yeah, but it might be my wife.

It wasn’t.  It was a man’s voice asking if this was the Ryan residence, and immediately I’m thinking, jeez, some knucklehead selling something or asking for a donation is taking me away from what I want to be doing; the nerve of this maroon.  He launches into what immediately felt to me like the opening of a sob story that had the skeptic in me—OK, the cynic in me—thinking that someone was trying to con me.  So I became very restrained, tried to concentrate and not stupidly reveal that one crucial detail that would let this guy get away with it (whatever it was).

He explained that he was calling because of misdelivered mail: he’d opened an envelope and found a check that wasn’t for him, so he looked more closely and saw it was from an out of state bank –“Do you have an account in Boston?”—addressed to a woman at my address—“Is your wife’s name Florence?”—and that he got in his car and brought it to our house but no one was home except the dogs (who aren’t allowed to open the door to strangers), so he left it hidden inside the Christmas wreath on the front door so it wouldn’t blow away, and he wanted to let us know it was there—“Is it there?”

Of course, I’m way too smart for this: I’m not going to rush over and open the front door, eight entire feet away, to see if there’s an envelope hidden in the Christmas wreath (puh-leeze!) because I think this guy—or better yet, a confederate!—is strategically positioned so he can see me open the door, and then he’ll…well I don’t know what, but something, I’m sure of that!

Since I was in a good mood I didn’t go off on the guy; I asked his name, learned that his street address is not the same as mine (not even close), thanked him for his efforts and ended the call, all with the quiet confidence of a man who knows he has skillfully avoided danger and is eager to get back to fighting the Empire.  A few minutes later I casually opened the front door, and…there’s an envelope stuffed into the Christmas wreath; it’s addressed to my wife, from a bank in Boston, and inside is a check for more than $22,000!

One reason I was suspicious of the call was we weren’t supposed to receive a large check from any bank in Boston, or anywhere else.  My wife’s employer is liquidating its old pension plan, though, and neglected to explain that when she elected to roll it into the company’s existing 401(k) that she would still receive a check that had to be delivered to the mutual fund.

Time to review: a man we don’t know opens his mail and finds a check for $22,000 that doesn’t belong to him; rather than just send the check back to the Post Office, he gets in his car and drives the few miles to our house to put it in our hands; when we’re not home to accept delivery he secures the envelope so it won’t become lost; and when he calls us to make sure we found the envelope, he gets mistrust and skepticism rather than the thanks he deserves.

A couple of months ago during the frenzy over a Muslim group’s plan to build a community center a few blocks from the hole in the ground where the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center stood, Houston’s Leading Information Source reported on the local Muslims who were introducing themselves to neighbors and assuring them that they were not terrorists; I thought, have we really become so fearful now that the whole world is guilty until proven innocent?

Today, I’m wondering where I should be drawing the line between prudence and paranoia.

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