When I was younger, I believed the mailbox was magic. The Mailman was a blue-collar Santa, and my mailbox was Santa’s bag. Though kids didn’t have to worry about bills, and even junk mail had its appeal, the real treat was sending away for free goodies. Cereal box tops, Kool-Aid points, and postcard sweepstakes were the order of the day. The possibilities were endless, and I was keen on exploring every surprise my mailbox had to offer.
Like street games, the mailbox offered kids a variety of free activities that promised big rewards. I was never one to ignore the allure of a freebie, but even more than that was the anticipation and surprise of the experience. Once your sealed packet of possibilities sailed off into the unknown, it could be a few days, a few weeks, or a few months before you received a reply. And what that reply contained, unless you ordered a specific item, was anyone’s guess. Some hate to wait, but for me the waiting was always a potent ingredient to the fizzing, magic concoction. Like Christmas, there was an imaginary “do not open till” sticker hanging in the air, and with every passing day, my imagination grew beyond the boundaries of reality.
In my Brooklyn apartment building, our mailbox was one of seven narrow, bronze doors set into the wall. Each had a lock to discourage theft, but the size of these boxes meant the mailman would often ring our apartment to deliver packages. This is how we came to know the skinny, pipe-smoking mailman by his first name, Mark. Other days, I made the short journey myself. The trip down to the mailbox, turning the key to open the miniature door, reaching into the dark recess with a lingering hope pinned cleanly to my sleeve: it was a potent magic. An act that gave each day hope, which is no small thing for children and adults alike.
On this given summer day in 1980-something, when I reached into that magic doorway, my hand returned gripping a small cardboard box with my name on it. Something had arrived! I didn’t know what, and I almost always took care not to look too closely at the return label to ensure I drew out the anticipation as long as possible. I didn’t want any hints. Not a single shake of the box. Nothing to prematurely reveal the hidden contents.
This package, as it turned out, was direct from the Kool-Aid Wacky Warehouse. The name called forth images of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse without being too on the nose, at least for a nine-year-old kid. Inside this particular box was a purple Kool-Aid cup. These cups were far from the most expensive choices (points-wise), but I was one of those kids who was only occasionally allowed sugary drinks, so saving up points was hard. Unfortunately I lost my original plastic cup at some point, but as luck would have it, I found a couple red ones at a flea market a few years back. I also grabbed one of the Kool-Aid men figurines, though I never did get one as a kid.
What I do still have, which I admit is quite strange, are a few cut-out Kool-Aid point stamps as well as a mailer from the early ‘90s. Still, the mailer serves as a perfect example of why I loved receiving mail as a kid. This envelope to an adult may have felt like junk mail. But to me, it was a package so wonderful that I still possess it. And why not? Even the envelope itself was “A-MAZE-IN,” as it boldly states on the back flap, above a maze and other games.
On the front of the envelope, Pink Swimmingo and Kool-Aid Man are surfing an epic wave while simultaneously exclaiming, “Here’s your free gift from Kool-Aid.”
To which I most certainly replied, “Totally tubular, man!”
Inside, I found a letter from Kool-Aid man himself, free points, a wacky warehouse catalog, Nintendo and Kool-Aid stickers, a “ScrutinEYES” game, and a pink erasable scratch pad. Not bad for junk mail!
Looking at the order form, I’m surprised by how many high quality rewards there were, including things like SNES and Gameboy games, clothing, and watches. Of course most of these items were far outside my “points” range, but even a casual Kool-Aid drinker like myself was more than capable of getting the figurines, sticker factory, and mugs.
The closest thing to the Wacky Warehouse I've found as an adult is the amazing sister-site to 80sXchange: Retro-Daze. On this site you can earn points by writing articles and posting VHS cover scans, then order items from their online points store. I can’t overstate the importance of curating these little, magic moments in life. Giving yourself something to look forward to. Something to get excited about. These “somethings” will be different for everyone, but even as an adult, the mailbox still has a little magic left for me.
What's the best thing you ever received in your 1980-something mailbox?