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Like a Dealer on the Playground

Shortly after I realized how much third grade was going to suck, I started selling shit on the playground, less to make money than to make my life a little more interesting, though the cash was admittedly nice. 

“What about Adam Bomb?” Jordan asked me. “Or New Wave Dave? I need both of them.”

Everyone always wanted Adam Bomb. 

“Like I keep telling you, the bundles are random. That’s why they’re so cheap. But I also have all the Garbage Pail Kids series 1-3. You can have any individual card you want for fifty-cents.”

“But the store sells them for—“

“Do you have Bad Breath Seth?” Greg cut him off — everyone knew that Jordan was only going to complain about the bundle price like always, then end up buying it anyway. “And Electric Bill if you have him.”

I nodded at Greg, thumbing through my deck of Garbage Pail Kids until I arrived at Bad Breath Seth, then Electric Bill. Greg grinned as I handed him the two cards in exchange for a dollar bill.

He bought an average of ten Garbage Pail kids per week and was one of my best customers. Greg appreciated the á la carte purchases, seeing the value in not getting stuck with stacks of duplicate cards. A few dollars here and there to fill out his collection was money well spent.

Jordan only bought bundles of five paper-clipped Garbage Pail Kids for fifty-cents. This was twice what the sticker cards cost at the liquor store, but since they were banned at school and his mom refused to let Jordan collect them, fifty-cents was a relative steal. Even though he really wanted Adam Bomb.

Both kinds of customers made for terrific business. The bundles came first, as a way to profit from my duplicates. I loved Garbage Pail Kids even more than I loved Three’s Company, but collecting them one pack at a time was the sucker’s way of doing things. For the cost of three foot rubs, Mom would take me to the Alta Dena Dairy Liquor Store where they sold Garbage Pail Kids cards by the box: forty-eight packs for under $10.

Each time I bought a box, I added any cards I didn’t have to my existing collection, then sold the duplicates in bundles or as individual cards. This was my first product, and the profit margins were crushing it.

My second product followed the established model, but with baseball cards instead of Garbage Pail Kids, even though I was interested in the sport only slightly more than chores. My association with baseball was Pop sprawled on the living room couch with a hand down his pants in lieu of sitting at the table with his family for dinner. But I bought my boxes of baseball cards at the same place as the Garbage Pail Kids, and even though I couldn’t claim a contraband tax with that second product, the individual card business was even better.

I started selling candy next. A few boxes of packaged confections at first, but soon I was buying candy in bulk at the Price Club. And I didn’t even have to trade foot rubs for Mom to take me, since Megan and I were often unwitting participants in her shopping excursions anyway.

Jolly Ranchers and Red Vines had the biggest markup and the highest demand. Soon that was all I carried.

Mutant G.I. Joes came next. These early 80’s action figures were feats of playtime engineering, with movable limbs attached to their sockets using thick rubber bands that rendered it relatively straightforward to rearrange them into limited edition heroes with new names and personalities manufactured by me.

My collection kept getting more awesome, and fresher characters made for more colorful playtime scenarios, but at five bucks a pop, the habit was expensive — or it would have been, if I hadn’t finally found a way to turn Mom dragging me to the antique flea market on the third Sunday of of every month more tolerable. Brunch With The Beatles on KLSX as the soundtrack for our way back home used to be the best thing about those otherwise miserable trips (except for the time I bought an antique knife, which I hid for several years before throwing it away). But then I got into the G.I. Joe and comic book businesses. 

I lived on the lookout for parents getting rid of childhoods in bulk, cleaning out the rooms of their college-bound boys. The same $5 action figure at Target was never more than a dollar at Vet’s Stadium. And from the right vendors, comics were practically sold by the pound.

Halfway through my third grade year, I was turning into quite the junior entrepreneur, and was feeling less bitter about the broken promise of a better school experience. 

My parents had an employee named Tina. They were using her address to get us into schools within a few miles of Rainbows by pretending we were cousins with her kids, Grant and Lee. Schools plural, because Megan passed her GATE (gifted and talented education) test and made it into the program, while I was a few points off. For a reason that I cannot explain even to this day, writing with pencil fills me with chills. I can’t stand the sound, even when it’s barely there. I have few quirks that I’ve not been able to conquer, but my aversion to writing with pencil is one of them. And when I was asked to draw some simple shapes with a pencil as part of my test, I barely even tried, just wanting that part of the trial to be over with. The results determined that my reasoning skills were just fine, but my motor skills needed work. So Megan would be getting a transfer to start second grade at Minnie Gant, just up the street from our “home school” of Tincher, where I would be starting fourth grade, and business would be tougher. 

But before that happened, I would fall in like for the first time.

Like like. With a girl who inspired me to write.