Second-Hand War Stories

how I sold a chunk of my childhood for seventy bucks

Mike Paulus, design by Serena Wagner

Like many men my age, as a boy, I was required by federal law to love Star Wars. For those of you who are too young to remember these laws, it’s time for a history lesson.

Throughout the late’ 70s and most of the ’80s, George Lucas enjoyed tremendous pull within both the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives. (He gained said pull through campaign donations, promises of meeting Carrie Fisher, and reckless mind control.) Amendments were made. Bills were passed. And a nation of kids, whether they liked it or not, fell in love with the original Star Wars trilogy (movies about good and evil and awesome laser fights).

I decided to sell my entire collection of Star Wars toys. An older dude swooped in and bought the whole shootin’ match – every last plastic blaster – for $70. At the time, I was elated. It was more cash than I’d ever seen. Looking back, I’m horrified.

Though popular with grown-ass men and women, kids were the perfect target for Star Wars. Besides a seemingly genetic love of spaceships and Wookies, they are young enough to blindly accept things like horribly written dialogue and Mark Hamill’s line delivery in Episode IV.

When coupled with his visionary grasp of movie merchandising rights, Lucas’ legislative influence had astonishing effects upon the average American household. The endgame of this vast spider web of control was that I, Mike Paulus, owned well over 14 metric tons of plastic molded into the shapes of Stormtroopers, Tie Fighters, Han Solos, and Ewok Village playsets.

This is a timely topic. Yes, J.J. Abrams has lovingly (joyously!) revived the Star Wars franchise, with talks of many more movies to come. But something even bigger is happening: garage sale season.

In my totally grownup man mind, there is a strong connection between Star Wars and garage sales. Why? Stellar question. In the late-’80s, my family had a large garage sale, and like a dim-witted drunken toddler, I decided to sell my entire collection of Star Wars toys. An older dude swooped in and bought the whole shootin’ match – every last plastic blaster – for $70. At the time, I was elated. It was more cash than I’d ever seen. Looking back, I’m horrified.

Seventy dollars … 30 years ago … for essentially trashed plastic toys. I’m no collectibles expert, but if I still owned those toys, despite their well-earned wear and tear, they’d now be worth roughly $90 trillion and I’d be richer than J.K. Rowling if she married Bill Gates.

The humble garage sale has always been a good (and to some ... enjoyable) way of making extra money – one of America’s favorite hobbies. And after consulting with many, many government-certified garage sale experts, I can predict that this summer will be huge for thrift sales. Lots of people selling. Lots of people buying. Lots of old Garfield collector’s glasses from Hardee’s changing hands. Maybe you’re even thinking about having your own garage sale. If so, allow me to offer a few tips I picked up while interviewing many, many government-certified garage sale experts. Here we go:

1. Make attractive, easy-to read signs and place them on street corners and inside people’s cars as they drive through your neighborhood.

2. Capitalize on the season. Feature luggage at back-to-school time, put out unused ammunition or that old crossbow during hunting season, etc.

3. Kids’ games are surprisingly good sellers. Convince your children they’d rather have three dollars than Candyland, because it was designed by heinous demons as the most boring activity in all of human history.

4. Most people will not buy your old underwear. If someone wants to, they’ll probably pay a perverted amount of money for them. Like $10.

5. Arrange books, CDs, and DVDs so buyers can see their titles. Arrange most of your Adam Sandler movies at the bottom of the nearest drainage ditch.

6. People will probably show up hours early, looking to snag the sweetest deals. Mock them, make them leave, and ban them from all future sales.

There. Now you are ready to have the perfect garage sale, and there’s no need to be afraid. Remember, fear leads to anger. And anger leads to hate. And hate leads to suffering. And that, my friends, is the path to the dark side.

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