Mike The Mailman: Inspired by Morris The Ice Cream Guy
I remember Morris and his Camels and his hat, just like it was yesterday! I also remember the sound of those bells and my mom and dad “running for cover,” to avoid the advancing army of kids, both my brothers and me and whatever buddies where tagging along with us.
Stickball game was put on hold, all of us with our hands out, open-palmed, begging for that spare change that we would eagerly hand over to Morris and if we were really lucky, Morris would let you sit in that front seat and ring the bells yourself!
Wow! Where has the time gone?
I guess the Morris story jogged my memory and combined with a ride by the old neighborhood today and the sight of a green mailbox that is still in the same place it was 45 years ago, well, it brought me to another recollection of our Mailman, Mike…or as we called him back then; Mike the Mailman.
I guess today we’d have to call him "Mike the Mail Carrier"!
Now the green mailbox wasn’t really a mailbox at all, it was/is really one of those green boxes that are here and there. Part of some extensive postal system that most of us not involved in the mail delivery service are oblivious to, this box is used as some type of a transfer station for those mail carriers in the know and not by us civilians. The big difference between it and a functional mailbox is that it doesn’t have a slot. It just has a door and it’s a bit bigger than the boxes where we mail letters.
This particular green box stands on the corner of East 2nd Street and Caton Avenue, diagonally across the street from IHM (the Immaculate Heart of Mary School, my Alma Mater. And down the block, about half a block from where I grew up at 204 East 2nd.
So Mike the Mailman (I'll stick with the old vernacular) was our mail guy. What was it about Mike that made him do what he did? I'll have to just chalk up to him being a darn nice guy, who liked kids in the healthy sense of liking kids. My guess is that Mike was just a "big" kid himself.
We'd spot Mike making his way up one side of the street and then crossing over and working his way back down the block. Just to be a bit more specific; I had this debate a few times over the years, but to me "up the block" meant moving in the direction of the addresses getting higher and "down the block" meant the opposite. Some who disagree with me say that up and down the block has to do with which way the car traffic moves.
What do you think?
Now, before you answer, let me blow that car traffic argument right out of the water. What if you lived on a two-way street? The traffic flow goes both ways and your left to depend on the address numbers. So here! I guess we could all agree on the definition of "around the block.”
Anyhow, back to Mike the Mailman.
So Mike would eventually make his way down the block, moving from Albemarle Road towards Caton Avenue. That's when our kid radar would begin to watch his moves very closely. Once he finished the last house on our side of the block (200 E 2nd), he'd make a bee line for the green mailbox on the corner, and like his pied-piper followers, every kid under the age of 10, would swarm after him.
You see, at some point Mike had made up this game with all of the kids and we all wanted to play. Once we all arrived at the green box, he'd pick a number from one to ten or more, depending on how many kids there were around on a given day. We'd all get to try to guess the number. Whoever got the number or was closest without going over his number, won the game! big deal right? You bet it was a big deal.
You see whoever won Mike's game got the grand prize. You guessed it! The winner got to get locked up in that green box on the corner and all he other kids would pound away on the great, green, metal thing!
You had to be inside that box to appreciate that pure kid glee of sitting in that small dark space, and knowing that all your buddies were outside doing their best to provide enough noise and echoes to drive the "lucky person inside to beg for Mike to open the door.
Of course, in all the episodes of Mike's game, I can’t recall one single time that any of the winners begged for Mike to let 'em out! Eventually, probably a few minutes or so in the box, you'd get let out and Mike would have to get back to his civil service responsibilities or knock off for the day or do whatever he did after the green box game on East 2nd Street was concluded.
We never knew or cared where Mike was headed, as long as we knew he'd be back on the following day to do it all over again. Sunday's were always a bummer (no mail delivery, no Mike) and when we'd hear that Mike was on vacation, well, that was a major disappointment too.
Can you imagine some modern day Mail "Carrier" doing that today? I don't think so! I wonder how many calls would go in to 311? Or even 911? Mike the Mailman. What a wonderful guy!
I hope that Mike is still around and gets to read this. I wonder what he'd think if he knew that the kid from E 2nd St, that always guessed 7, was writing about "his" game from 40 something years ago!
Charlie Gili (PS: I always guessed #7... because that was Mickey Mantle's number of course!)