I CAN SEE HIM. He is dead, but I can see him. The way I see him, he is stocky but he moves quickly and he walks around the room in his Santa Claus outfit, his stomach sticking out in front of him, his smile a yard wide on his face, his eyes twinkling. He is distributing gifts to mental patients and everything is fine because he is in a manic state himself. He was crazy, of course, but he also must have been wonderful. Everyone said so and from the way they described him, I felt I knew him.
He used to come into the office. I'm told. He used to go up to reporters he knew and press his causes on them. No one could figure out how he got into the building. No one. There is a guard downstairs and the guard is supposed to stop people. Seymour Messitte never got stopped. In fact, nothing stopped Sy Messitte.
Someone called me about him. Someone called to say Messite was dead and that I should write something about him. He said that Sy Messitte was a manic-depressive and someone else said that he was a professional crazy person and doctor said he was a psychotic. He had been hospitalized off and on and he was certainly crazy, but all the people I talked to said they loved him. They used words like "love" and "touched" and "special" and, of course, "crazy" and by the time they got through I thought I knew him.
I think he was one of those who called. I think he was one of those who call all the time. They start to talk and they never stop. They always have a cause or an idea and often they are crazy. Nothing personal. It's something they'll own up to after a while. They have some sort of message, something they want to say and they want you to understand that being crazy has nothing to do with the worth of their cause. You understand that. They continue to talk but then their craziness gets in the way. They trip over it and they lose their balance and then sometimes they just hang up the phone. Then they are alone and I see them sitting in a room or a furnished apartment, looking at the phone and worrying about what they have done. Sometimes I want to call back and say it's all right, but I never have the number.
They are the shopping bag people of the phone, and sometimes when you meet them you see that they have attache cases filled with documents and copies of letters and all of it looks official and some of it looks important but it almost never adds up. Messitte had a bit of that in him.He had this attache case and he carried documents in it and when he died and they came to clear out his room they found copies of letters he had received from famous persons. He would write to them and they would respond and then he would have hundreds of copies made of the response. They found these letters in his apartment. They also found a picture of him dressed as Santa Claus.
Sy Messitte had causes. One of them was mental health. He had been in and out of St. Elizabeths which is why he started that business of having a Santa Claus there on Christmas Day. He got a B'nai B'rith lodge interested in that cause and they were the ones who supplied the gifts and the Santas, too. Then he badgered someone at this paper and we did a story about it all. He threw himself into the fight agaisnt Leukemia and he founded something called MIND, anacronym for an organization called Mental Illness Needs Dignity. He had something to do, also, with the establishment of half-way houses for former mental patients.
He would work his causes on the phone, calling his friends, of course, but calling also anyone he felt like calling. When he was manic he was flying and there was nothing he could not do. He came on like gangbusters and when he got you on the phone he did not let go and there are people in this world who actually listened. Some of them said, "Sy, five minutes - that's all I got," but they gave him that and he returned something else.
He died at the age of 60 last week. He died alone and he died apparently trying to get to the phone and he died, probably, of a heart attack. But he died also after he got this idea for a party at the Watergate Hotel in which the price of admission was a gift. H was going to take the gifts to St. Elizabeths and give them away.
They held a memorial service for him at The Washingon Hebrew Congregation last Sunday and the people who called me and the ones I called all said they were amazed at the turnout. They said that a minister was there and rabbi and a judge of the appellate court and a famous restaurateur. There were past presidents of B'nai B'rith and a doctor from George Washington University and the people who were there went thinking they would be almost alone, but they weren't. Then one of them called me and asked me to write something and then I talked to others and they asked me to write, too, and I did, thinking all the time that I must have known him. Later, his picture was delivered by messenger and I saw that I did know him. He used to come into the office but I paid him no attention.
I thought he was crazy.