“Raid the Mailboxes” and other street games we played

Nostalgia with a bit of News with a Twist*

Trump’s talk of “ballot harvesting” brings back memories of growing up in Brooklyn in the ’50’s

*Note: This “Around the Block” post is labeled “Nostalgia with a bit of News with a Twist.” “News with a Twist” is my term for “satire.” As you read, please bear this in mind. But just to be clear – all the street games I write about here were real…but one. 

This morning I listened to a Trump mini-press conference held yesterday in the Oval Office. It went like this:

Reporter: Governor Newsom has not sent ballots out to everyone in California, they’re only going to registered voters.

Trump (interrupting): How many are there? How many are there?

Reporter (continuing): So, what you’re tweeting and what you said was not correct, it was wrong.

Trump: Oh really? So, when he sends out 28 million ballots and they’re in all the mailboxes and kids go and they raid the mailboxes and they hand them to people that are signing the ballots down at the end of the street, which is happening. They grab the ballots…you don’t think that’s happens? There’s ballot harvesting. You don’t think they rip them out of mailboxes all the time…you read about it…you can read about it, take a look.

This dialogue between the reporter and the President of the United States really got to me in a way that other Trump press conferences hadn’t. Why? Because it brought back memories of my childhood growing up in Brooklyn in the ’50’s

Top row: (L) Stickball against the wall; (C) Stickball on the street; (R) Stoopball
Bottom row: (L) Johnny on the Pony; (R) Hit the Penny

Unlike now when iPhones and video games are the entertainment vehicles of choice for youngsters in America (and, even more so during this pandemic) back in Brooklyn it was outdoor games, among others…hide and seek, ringalevio (a team variant of hide and seek), box ball, stoop ball, hit the penny, baseball card flipping, Johnny on the Pony and two kinds of stick ball.

In my Midwood neighborhood we played touch football in the parking lot of a nearby Budweiser warehouse using the parking lines as yard markers – advancing two lines was the equivalent of 10 yards and a first down. We used the Budweiser wall for our stickball games.

Lacking grass fields where I lived we had precious few places to play hardball. So we genius kids on Avenue H actually found a venue – a fenced in, gravel covered lot behind the UPS depot to play baseball. We even had a name for it: Carroll Stadium (I think Mr. Carroll was the night watchman). Talk about bad hops…try to pick up a ground ball bouncing off gravel!

But the game I’ll remember most, and the one that was the most fun, was the one we call “Raid the Mailboxes.” As I recall the kid who first introduced it to us was Raymond. Raymond was the oldest and tallest kid on the street and had really slim hands and wrists so he was best able to reach into those mail slots in the front doors of homes and snatch the mail that didn’t fall onto the floor inside the house. And, for the apartment houses, the next oldest, Alan, had fashioned paper clips in a way that allowed us to open the individual mail boxes in the lobbies of the apartment houses. What fun. It was a great game and one that we could play all year-round.

(Raymond, ironically, became a Brooklyn assistant DA. I never heard what happened to Alan, although rumor has it that he moved upstate to a town called Ossining or Sing Sing or something like that,)

Thinking of those times does bring back the one time of year when “Raid the Mailboxes” was different. It was in the fall – October and November. During those times there always seemed to be a man down at the end of the street, dressed in a suit and sporting a fedora watching and waiting as we raided the mailboxes. I never understood why after a mailbox raid, Raymond would bring certain pieces of mail to the man and then come back to help us toss the rest of the harvested mail in trash bins or into sewers between the sewer grates. (The same sewers where we lost our “Spaldin’s and “Pennsy Pinkies” playing stickball.)

Oops, another lost “Spaldin”

But after listening to Trump this morning, I began to put the pieces together. While I don’t think there was a lot of absentee or mail-in voting in those days, who knows? Maybe that was when all this voter fraud stuff actually started – on the mean streets of Brooklyn in the 1950’s.

Published by Ted Block

Ted Block is a veteran “Mad Man,” having spent 45+ years in the advertising industry. During his career, he was media director of several advertising agencies, including Benton & Bowles in New York and Foote, Cone and Belding in San Francisco; account management director on clients as varied as Clorox, Levi’s and the California Raisin Advisory Board (yes, Ted was responsible for the California Dancing Raisins campaign); and regional director for Asia based in Tokyo for Foote, Cone where he was also the founding president of FCB’s Japanese operations. Ted holds a Bachelor’s degree in communications from Queens College and, before starting in advertising, served on active duty as an officer on USS McCloy (DE-1038) in the U.S. Navy.

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