The first business I ever recall being involved in was probably around 1979 while I was attending the Burgundy Farm Country Day School just outside of Washington DC. I was in Kindergarten. Burgundy Farm is a “progressive independent” school on a former dairy farm that had classrooms actually built inside renovated barns. To a kid my age this place was kind of a wonderland. The classes were held inside, but with all the doors and windows open it seemed like outside, and everything we learned pulled art and creativity into it somehow. There were farm animals and a stream running through the campus where we often found crayfish and I distinctly remember once building a fort out of fallen leaves and sticks that you could climb inside of – it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen in my life. Us kids used to get bused in from miles around in our parents hope of us getting our first prep for the real world. If we were lucky the bus driver would stop at a 7-11 during one leg of the trip and we’d rush in like sex starved sailors at port to buy whatever candy we could afford. My favorite thing to buy was this mini hamburger shaped thing that was actually bubblegum.
In unrelated events, this was also the time of my life when I was convinced I was a robot pulling a big scam on everyone else around me who thought I was just a normal little boy. I confided this in one of my classmates once who responded by telling me he was an alien but I could tell he was a big fat liar.
Apparently at this young age I had already developed some kind of penchant for “stuff” because there was a boy a few grades above me who regularly sold me things. I must have been getting some kind of allowance, or maybe it was money given to me for the afore mentioned 7-11 stops. In either case I did have some money and I often ended up giving it to this kid. There was a building where languages were taught that had a large wooden staircase on the outside leading up to the 2nd floor classroom. It stood out to me because it was the first room I’d ever seen in my life with a slated ceiling (being that it was a converted barn) and for some reason this was incredibly cool to me. I have many fond memories of not understanding Spanish and French in that room. Outside, I’d often meet up with this kid and we’d do “business” under the stairs. He’d show up and produce a wide range of things I’d never seen before and had to have for myself. I recall the prices of these objects were often decided by how much money I had on me at that time. Some glass marbles? Those were 10 cents. A retractable magnet that a mechanic might use to pick up a screw he’d dropped into an engine? That was a buck. A plastic compass with a built in mirror? I think I paid fifty cents for that.
I felt lucky each time that I had exactly the right amount with me. It would have been heartbreaking at such a young age to have been five cents short of that thing I had to own yet hadn’t known existed 30 seconds prior. This arrangement went on for what might have been months but could have just as easily been weeks. I was a loyal customer and probably spent tens of dollars acquiring all sorts of elementary school curiosities from this particular dealer. That all came to a screeching halt one afternoon. I was playing under the stairs with some of my Smurf figures that I’d brought from home waiting for him and probably day dreaming about what new and mysterious things I might go home with. An arrowhead maybe? A wooden nickel? Only time would tell.
The details of the that days transaction are kind of fuzzy, perhaps because of slap of reality I was about to face, but at some point this enterprising young fellow showed up and had something to sell me.I remember pulling out my money and immediately counting it in front of him expecting to hand it over in exchange for something awesome. On this rare day though I ended up being terribly disappointed because whatever he was offering I wasn’t interested in purchasing. Maybe it was something I already had or just something I thought was dumb. I don’t know, but I remember him being shocked as well. This might have been the first time I ever declined his deal of the day. He got a little panicy and started looking around as if he’d dropped something. He spotted the Surfs that were laying on the ground and exclaimed something like “oh there they are!” and picked them up and offered me the sweet deal of all the figures for the same price as whatever it was I had just declined.
I might have been a dumb kid, but I wasn’t that dumb.
I told him that those figures were already mine so not only was I not going to buy them from him, but he had no right to try to sell them. He argued with me briefly trying to tell me he’d had them in his pocket and was saving them as a surprise for me but had accidentally dropped them when he pulled out whatever the first piece of junk was. He even tried to tell me that I just thought they were mind because I wanted them so bad, and I could just pay him and then they would be. Now I knew this was bullshit because I’d literally just been playing with them, but also because these were the first things I ever collected and I knew not only exactly which figures I had but also exactly what other ones existed that I still needed to talk my parents into buying me when we went by the toy store. I told this kid about each figure, and when and where I’d gotten it. I probably told him about the character too. Whatever I said I made it clear this con had come to an end and the kid threw my Smurfs in the dirt and walked away without my money. He was much bigger than me so I can only assume he hadn’t learned the fine art of extortion yet he easily could have admitted they were my toys but if I wanted them to continue to be I had to pay up. He gave up way too easily. I wish I could remember his name so I could look him up and see what he ended up doing with his life. He’s probably a senator or investment banker.
I’m sure I saw him again but that was the last time I ever recall interacting with him. In hindsight this kid did me a big favor, lots of people don’t get ripped off by con men until they are adults and lose thousands upon thousands of dollars. I’d gotten away relatively scott free and he didn’t try to beat me up or anything. And after all he had actually sold me stuff I wanted, though now that I think about it I guess it’s entirely possible this was also my early introduction to buying stolen goods.
* This post is part of a series of serialized posts that would have been chapters in a book I never finished writing. I’m calling it ‘Bits and Pieces’ at the moment. Click here for info about this as well as links to the other stories/chapters.