The Sharehouse fills the entirety of an old shipping complex, with its piles of unsorted donations, tables covered in dusty glassware, and rows of books from the usual range of thrift store stalwarts: 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Chicken Soup For Everything Imaginable, Your Erroneous Zones.
Other thrift shops in the area put a strong emphasis on purging items that have sat around for too long, ensuring that there are always new things for customers to see, but the Sharehouse has neither the staffing nor the inclination to maintain a revolving inventory. New junk is thrown on top of old junk until it all runs together.
Bins get loaded up and topple over. A pyramid of tube T.V.s rises in back. There is a terrifying boulder of extension cords waiting to challenge the intrepid untangler in need of just one.
The second floor is dedicated to children's items, including a huge space for toys and games. Up here, the insulation sags low enough in places that a toddler might reach out and pluck a handful of pink fiberglass fluff, maybe pocket it for later. The lights regularly flicker, and when it rains, water pools on the wood floor, or collects on the stacks of Trivial Pursuit games and 100 piece puzzles that form the Toy Room's perimeter.
To the first time visitor and Ebay prospector, the Toy Room would seem to hold promise. Boxes of toys everywhere, rows and rows of rubber totes stuffed full. But I have been coming here for five years, and many of the items have sat around the shelves for at least that long.
The same scene plays out repeatedly: a hopeful treasure hunter mounts the creaky wood ramp, smartphone in hand, and gasps with wonder at the sight of all those toys. They begin to frantically dig, certain to find the particular treasure they are after: Legos, American Girl clothes, 80s Transformers distinguished by their dated looking sci-fi stickers and die-cast heft. Hot Wheels cars with the Redline tires that can mean big bucks.
G.I.Joe. She-Ra. Anything.
Their initial scrambling enthusiasm begins to deflate. Several boxes in, and they haven't found anything. The digging becomes angrier, punctuated with heavy sighs and muttered, disbelieving curses. They are soon less careful about cleaning up after themselves, and leave trails of upended puzzles and Happy Meal toys.
Beneath a mound of Rescue Heroes, those chunky, square-jawed firemen with reassuring moustaches, the reseller finds a Star Wars Monopoly game. They quickly flash the barcode on the box with their smartphone, and look for the going rate on Ebay. 100 dollars, didn't sell. 75, no sale. 50. All the way down to 5.99: 1 sold, 1 bid.
The game is thrown down in disgust.
With its price tag of 2.99, and Ebay taking 10%, Paypal another 5, not to mention the supplies and effort needed to pack it into a box, or the life-sapping visit to the black hole of the local post office, where the same old lady is frozen in time, forever deliberating over a choice of two stamps: Black History Month or Peanuts.
Or the inevitable request for a partial refund when the buyer (somewhere in Italy) gets his Star Wars Monopoly and discovers the "Naboo" property card is more deeply creased than the auction picture portrayed. The end take on a sale like that runs into the negative thousands, mostly in damages to the mental peace of the luckless seller.
And I, lurking nearby, could've told her not to bother with waking her Iphone from it's sleep. Not to bother with anything at all that features the stiff, unlikable cast of The Phantom Menace on it's cover.
The product lines from that movie have notoriously tanked in value. Rumors of landfills stuffed with Padme figures; dealers in their climate controlled storage units up to the rafters in unsold Episode 1 merchandise, staring into the idiot eye stalks of their signed Jar-Jar busts and brooding.
My slightly oversized visual memory is one of the few advantages I have in the Ebay game.
I am not agile, so quicker feet will pass me to the prize.
I'm not competitive.
Once, at a garage sale, a woman and I both placed our hands on a Lego set at the same time. I tried to yank it towards me, but she clung on with a death grip. I could have kicked her large, Scandinavian looking shin, or ran to the pile of sets she'd already accumulated and shoved over her little son from where he stood on guard.
But there's no fight in me. Only the resigned sigh of the Honorable Mention.
So I've come to rely on the database of my memory to recognize when an item might be valuable.
I scan shelves quickly, and anything promising lights up with the enticing glow of an Easy Bake bulb, telling my hand to rocket out and snag it, faster than it could be searched for on a smartphone. My visual recall buys me a few seconds from the other guy.
Sometimes, though, the system misfires, and I make a few bad purchases. Our finances suffer a squeeze and the kids get toothpaste for breakfast again.
In those desperate times, I cast about for my reoccurring dream of a "real job". A job-job, where you make real money, with real security, and plan a budget that's not based entirely around the annual tax return.
A job where I develop marketable skills, CV bullet points, and someone repeatedly taps into my potential.
I begin striding into businesses unannounced, no idea of what they even do, and asking if they'll hire me. They won't.
I apply for a part-time library job, agonizing over a cover letter that ends up becoming the same pathetic spaghetti of sentence fragments and cries for help that mine always do.
When it's safely in the mail and on its way, I fold my arms in satisfaction and say aloud, "Well I'm sure as shit not getting that job!"
The dealer I'm stalking in the toy room of the Sharehouse, the one who dropped Star Wars Monopoly like it was hot, gives up in frustration and leaves.
It's just me and the toys now.
Somewhere, beneath some avalanche of crap, a talking doll is stuck mid-sentence.
"Merp, merp, merp...." It's little battery must be failing.
I don't know what I'm waiting for. I've looked through all of it a thousand times, and I know there's no Golden Ticket in this cluttered, musty Wonka Bar.
Two hipster guys come up the ramp.
"It's cold as balls in here!" one of them exclaims.
I always struggle with "something is as balls" statements; the weighted ends of the simile often seem incompatible.
At first I figure they are Ebay dealers on the hunt. Ninety percent of adult men in the toy sections of thrift stores are.
But as I eavesdrop on them, it becomes clear that they are musicians, searching for electronic toys that they can hack, "circuit bend" into unique, customized instruments and sound generators.
It's a popular thing to do, and chip bent instruments of good quality can fetch high prices on Ebay. Even their base ingrediants sell for a profit: old Yamaha synthesizers, children's pianos, etc.
I want to ask them if I, too, can be in the band, for I have a song in my heart, but I know they will not let me.
The merping doll has worn out it's aural welcome; time to shut it down.
I trace the voice to one particular tub, and, on my knees, begin to dig.
It's important to maintain a certain level of dignity when you are an adult spelunking through used children's toys.
Several times I've been arms deep, only to realize my pants have slipped, and full halves of shapeless, ice-white buttocks are exposing themselves to young mothers and their children.
Once, as I pawed through a tub of Matchbox cars, another man sidled up uncomfortably close to me. He began his own search, our hands crisscrossing over hot rods and utility trucks.
An elderly black woman, standing nearby, clucked her tongue.
"Two grown men....lookin' in the toys," she said, with obvious disapproval.
My uninvited companion smiled and let out a giant laugh. His teeth were tiny gray squares, geriatric Chiclets.
It's not what you think, I wanted to tell her. I'm a legitimate businessman. This other man smells and is not my friend.
After lifting ten or so things to my ear, I finally discover the cause of the aggravating sound. A strange, plush rabbit-like creature. One of it's floppy green ears is much longer than the other; it's lips are like giant tomato worms. The sound does not come from the mouth however, but from a white plastic speaker buried in it's colon.
I pry it partway loose but see no 'off' switch.
The hipster music wizards turn in my direction as the merps, now free from their furry overcoat, increase in volume.
Beneath the grotesquely large lips is a set of human-like teeth that suction closed around my finger tip. The rabbit thing has no life in it's glassy, magenta eyes.
"Merp, merp, merp...."
It won't stop.
In frustration, I spank it's small body. Whatever button triggers the sound effects seems to pop loose, and then, in a voice possibly lifted from the diminutive throat of Herve Villechaize, it speaks to me.
A long pause.
Every few seconds, it repeats itself.
I think about buying the demonic rabbit, taking it home, maybe learning to love it somehow.
I think about turning it into a blog post, a post that is automatically amazing, that blows up cuckoo cuckoo viral, and suddenly for some reason a check for a million dollars comes in the mail. I pay all my debts off and give the rest to Uganda. Uganda uses the money to build a water filtration system and names the shiny new village drinking fountain after me.
I realize then that many of my ideas are stupid, and I toss the rabbit back into the bin.
One of the nearby hipsters, hearing it speak, explodes with loud, immoderate laughter. His companion looks up from his phone long enough to flash the smile of a person who wasn't really listening.
As I leave the Sharehouse, I halfheartedly ask if they will hire me. They won't.