Years ago, you might have seen me at FAO Schwarz on 5th Avenue.
If you were a kid in the 90s, you might even have a picture with me. The iconic toy store was my first employer in NYC, and I loved working there. I started as toy demonstrator and was eventually asked to become a costumed character. That "Toy Soldier" you took a picture with might just be me.
Working at FAO was a liberating experience. I’d grown up in small towns, and to say I didn’t quite fit in would be an understatement. I liked sports, but also liked comic books and action figures.
While it’s no big deal to like superheroes these days, they weren’t very mainstream not so long ago, especially in small towns. Nerds weren’t cool, they were to be derided and scorned. I was teased mercilessly for liking comics and toys.
So imagine my exhilaration at finding a job where my enthusiasm and knowledge for toys was not only embraced, but valued.
FAO Schwarz actually paid me to play with toys and talk about them! It also showed me that there were many other people with the same interests. I wasn’t weird anymore, I was accepted, and had found my people.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but I felt like Tom Hanks in Big. Being able to dance on the giant piano whenever I felt like it didn’t hurt that analogy at all.
djeclipsersc End of an era. #FAOSchwarz #july15
As time went on, FAO Schwarz would morph and change. They made the in-store elevator look like a giant toy robot.
Foreshadowing Marvel’s dominance over today’s movies, they installed a full-on Marvel section devoted to the X-Men, Spider-Man, and even The Avengers.
One day, while being paid to play with Marvel action figures, Stan Lee wandered in. For a lifelong comic book fan to meet the Godfather of Marvel, that was a dream come true.
Costumed characters came and went, although the "Toy Soldier" remained a constant.
FAO Schwarz would feature clowns, jugglers, Raggedy Ann and Andy, magicians, and a myriad of other characters to delight children and grownups.
They even developed their own superhero, Infoman. His costume was ostensibly based on the robot elevator and the character was supposed to know everything about the store.
To let you in on Infoman’s secret identity, he was me. I got asked to play Infoman because it was common knowledge that I was a great big nerd who not only knew everything about the store, but lots about different toy lines to boot.
I also happened to be a fountain of information about superheroes and comics and knew a lot about the geography of that area of the city, where to send people looking for places to eat, landmarks, what have you.
But the kicker was that I was a massive smartass who didn’t have a problem walking around in tights and a cape.
And so began a year of an absolute dream job for a small town boy who’d been made fun of for loving superheroes; being paid to be a superhero! I would practically dance out of bed in the morning, and float on a cloud during the train ride to work.
I got to play with toys. I got to dress up like a superhero. I got to see the wonder and delight on the faces of not only children, but adults. Every. Single. Day. And I got paid for that.
And if you have a picture or yourself as a kid, standing in front of FAO Schwarz with a silver superhero in a red cape, that was totally me.
Infoman got to meet celebrities, showed up on television a few times, and once, even stopped a crime!
Granted, I didn’t know I was stopping a crime, but I did actually chase down and scare off two teenagers from stealing another guy’s hockey bag. How many other people can say that they stopped a crime in NYC wearing tights and a cape?
The job gave me a good look, up close and personal, to what FAO Schwarz meant to children and families the world over, not just those from New York. Squeals of joy were commonplace as people entered the store.