He Blames Mysterious 'Them' For Blocking Mail
Nobody loves you when you're down and out.
It must seem that way to Lansberry, at times. He's been wearing signs that say he "CAN'T GET MAIL" for nearly three years. And nobody cares.
Nobody turns a head or stares or watches or wonders... anymore.
Maybe it's because he's become such a fixture on Fifth Avenue, such a regular part of the noontime, Downtown scene: Good old Lansberry. Skinny and scowlling and shuffling along. The walking sandwich board that asks "WHY CAN'T LANSBERRY GET MAIL?"
It's come to this: Robert Roy Lansberry, 50 years old yesterday, skid row bum and self-proclaimed crusader for a better way, is... ignored.
But not totally. On a recent trudge one fellow did stop him to ask, "How do you expect to get any mail with the wrong ZIP code?"
LANSBERRY turned his brilliant blue eyes upon the well-fed face of the young accuser in the three-piece suit.
"The ZIP code's right," he said.
(In fact, Lansberry has been renting a box at the Downtown Post Office since July 1977, and his correct address (as it appears on his placards) is P.O. Box 1153, Pittsburgh, Pa. 15230, according to George T. Harkins, Pittsburgh postmaster, who adds:
("Mr. Lansberry gets his mail. He receives very little.
("There is absolutely no reason, or no way we could interfere with the delivery of mail addressed to Mr. Lansberry.")
So, the U.S. mail is getting through to Lansberry - it's just that Lansberry doesn't get very much mail.
Lansberry, you're a fake.
Lansberry mulls that over.
He really doesn't believe that all his mail is being delivered. But if it were true, if his mail is getting through -
"Then, for a man to walk around a town for years, carrying a sign with his address on it, asking people to write to him, to have more than a million people see the sign, and, then, get only three Christmas cards, and only seven birthday cards... Then, this town has no sense of humor," Lansberry says.
"It's a lousy town... With lousy people."
If you've ever wondered what happens to a man who knows too much - take a good look at Lansberry.
Lansberry knows a lot more than you or I. For example, Lansberry knows that more women have tattoos in Pittsburgh than any other city in the world.
He also knows that "1 percent of the people in the world have extrasensory hearing - except in Pittsburgh where 5 percent have it."
Lansberry has it. And, he explains, "it's not the ability to hear better than other people. It's the ability to pick up special radio messages being transmitted by THEM."
"Them. The government, the CIA... them."
Lansberry also knows about the Mind Control Studies being conducted by them (the same folks beaming out the messages).
Anyway, once old Lansberry figured all this out - be began passing out leaflets against Mind Control Studies. And that's when they really began beaming out messages for him to commit suicide, to jump in front of a train.
Because they knew that he knew about them.
MEANWHILE he says, "the people recognize me as a human rights advocate and began to send me money and information through the mail. SO, they stopped my mail delivery. They ruined me and forced me to live like a skid row bum.
"But," he assures, "they'll never completely mind control me because I'm too tough and too smart."
Lansberry smells sober, seems lucid, doesn't use bad language as he tells his tale. And the expression on his craggy, weatherworn face doesn't change - not even the slightest wince - at the suggestion that they may be a figment of his imagination.
"I've been judged sane," is his calm reply.
Well then, are they sending any messages right now?
"Now?" Lansberry adopts a careful, listening pose. "No, not now."
That's his story: Extrasensory Hearing, which led to Mind Control Studies, which led to No Mail, which led to the final step:
"I'm a man who finally concluded that the only way to get my mail and win my case is to become world-famous. Ergo, I have to be recognized.
"Because if you can't get justice in the courtroom - (he has lawsuits pending against the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, the CIA, FBI, Post Office, Secret Service, Navy and postmaster general) - you have to get justice in the street."
LANSBERRY IS a publicity hound of the first degree.
"That's my weakness," he admits. "Every man has a weakness. Some men chase women, some drink. My weakness is the love of fame. I glory in it."
Don't ever hesitate to take a snapshot of Lansberry. He lives for the click of a camera. He estimates 50,000 people have photographed him, so far. And he's looking forward to being snapped some more at the Three Rivers Arts Festival, where he'll be on display 14 hours a day.
He goes to Washington, D.C. one week every year - not to picket the president, but to picket the tourists. He's the only White House picket who doesn't hand a letter through the gate tor the president. He figures his picture is in family albums around the globe - Japan, Alaska, Lower Slobovia.
Lansberry makes his signs himself - occasionally changing the message, but mainly sticking to the "Why Can't Lansberry Gel Mail?" theme.
The first time he put on the sandwich boards, he felt "strange. Because I'm a shy, retiring person, I'm no loudmouth. It took a lot of courage. I've been cursed and stoned. If you're thin-skinned this will toughen you."
Lansberry was born in Lawrenceville, grew up in Morningside, attended Peabody High School and graduated from Penn State University with a degree in marketing. He served with the Marines and says he is a former naval officer.
He doesn't have a cent now, but be claims be once was worth a quarter of a million - as owner of Lansberry's General Store, the Manor Village Market, apartments in Highland Park, and partowner of Pittsburgh Swim Club.
HE WAS MARRIED for 22 years and has, three children. (He never sees his wife, who divorced him, or his children who live in Florida.)
His 72-year-old mother lives in Lawrenceville - but he says he "can't get along with her." Mainly, because she has "extrasensory bearing, too, and bas been totally brain-controlled to get this sign off me... I put up 220 'Why Can't Lansberry Get Mail?' posters, and she tore them all down."
So, Lansberry sleeps under the Second Avenue Bridge. (He used to live at the Edison Hotel, but it got to be too expensive.) He gets $185 a month from Social Security. Some people give him a few bucks. Some people give him clothes.
He carries all his possessions with him in a knapsack. The best thing he owns Is his running shoes. When he wants to wash up, be goes to the Greyhound bus
He's a vagrant who "stays away from former associates, because it's embarrassing (for them). I never had any close friends, anyway,"
But in his innermost soul, Lansberry is a "playwrigbt and poet... an ornithologist and entomologist, an expert on birds, butterflies and flying dragons, a lover of nature." (By the way, what appears to be a frown is actually "eye strain," because he says be needs glasses.)
About turning 50, be feels "horrible." About his life, "it's lousy, dull and boring..."
Still, every evening be ends up at Jimmy's Post Tavern where be has a couple of beers and talks about "the same stuff, all tbe time: Mind control... Democracy is dead. And if you're a troublemaker, they'll ruin you."
AND, OF COURSE, his personal philosophy: "Money is the only, thing that counts. Trust no one, Believe nothing. All is lies. All is backward."
Yet, despite all the negativism, Lansberry is "happy."
"I'm a fighter, not a lover," he says. "Screaming my bead off makes me happy." That, and becoming world-famous.