Kids are fussy in a way toys don't have the luxury of being.

I used to sell yo-yo strings for a penny and axles for a nickel until I realized that I was targeting the wrong market. When the constant friction of wood on twine wore both parts to dust, what kids really wanted was a new toy, not a repair.

I could have gone the shiny route, Duncans with weights and levers and guaranteed snapback action - a b-movie prop brought to life by lathes and the exacting standards of science. I could have traded wood for metal and metal for plastic, become an 'authorized service center' that no one ever bothers to find the exact location of, a fading sticker in my window. I could have replaced a child's world one unimaginative hunk of polysterene at a time and I could have made a fortune. Well, a living.

I went the crochety old man route instead.

It used to be, when toys broke (or were broken) they didn't die; they became whatever some kid's imagination wanted them to be. Fire engines became rocketships once they were thrown down a flight of stairs, their misplaced ladders used as tools for digging up rocks once they finally resurfaced in a box in the basement. New toys die quick, brutal deaths and are replaced. They are designed to shatter. They never grow up.

The toys on my shelves are middle aged and in the prime of life. I deal in broken strings, chipped paint, rusty hinges and loose screws - things that have exceeded all their design specifications and have already mutated at least once under the exacting eye of some clever kid with a hammer. I still sell strings and axels at a loss, but it's worth it.

Along with them I sell possibility, bringing the worlds they see played out on the insides of their eyelids to their hands.

I never tell the kids what lives in the boxes on my shelves; I let them tell me. The stories explode from them, fully realized and meticulously constructed. Aliens and shoot-outs and secret rituals, like it was there all along.

They explain their worlds to me and I smile, crookedly. Fisher-Price can go to hell.



For John. Let your momma raise you right, k?

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