The kid came out of nowhere. 

One moment I was slumped in a post-Christmas semi-doze at my newsroom desk and the next, I was wide awake and scrambling to figure out where the pint-sized ninja boy had come from. 

“What’s your name?” the tow-headed lad asked me. 

“Mark. What’s yours?” 

The boy told he his name and like that, we were buds. There was no call for further introductions or any of that small talk mumbo jumbo. The kid had learned all he needed to know about me and now he turned his bright-eyed attention on my desk, instead. 

“What’s that?” he said, pointing to a bright yellow item up on a dusty shelf. 

“Hmm,” I said. “I really don’t remember. Let’s take a look.” 

I took the bright yellow gizmo down from its shelf, and would you look at that? It was a really spiffy hand-puppet duck that makes real quacking noises when you squeeze its beak. 

Real LOUD quacking noises. Nice and annoying. 

“Look here,” I said to the boy. “If you put your hand inside the duck and squeeze like so, you can make it quack over and over, see? Go show your mother. She’ll love it.” 

The kid didn’t need to be told twice. He went sprinting over to his mother’s desk and a flurry of quacking commenced from across the room. Beautiful, I thought. Take that, editor. 

The kid was back a minute later, his work with the duck having been accomplished. 

“What’s that?” he asked in the high-pitch wail of true enthusiasm only children can muster. He was pointing to bulging black blob on different shelf; another item I hadn’t noticed in years. 

“That?” I said. “Oh, right. That used to be my favorite rat.” 

It’s true. The rat is a plump little beast, about a foot tall with pre-pounce claws and great big fangs on display. Unfortunately, the rat was made of latex, which had cracked in the dry newsroom air. Stuffing was spilling out of him in various places, giving the appearance that the oversized rodent was both spilling his guts and vomiting at the same time. 

“Go show your mother,” I advised the boy. “She’ll love it.” 

Across the newsroom the boy went racing, with the portly rat held tight like a football. A stream of stuffing trailed out behind him as he went. 

He was back, breathless, a minute later. 

“My mom was scared,” he said, smiling impishly. 

“Good,” I said. “Bet she’ll want to see THIS for sure.” 

I handed him a fuzzy yellow orb that dangled from a long string. Tap that fuzzy yellow orb or just drop it to the length of the string and it offers a delightful BOING-OING-OING-OING sound. 

And by delightful, I mean intensely annoying, which is a fine thing when a newsroom has gotten too quiet. 

The boy’s eyes went wide and he grabbed the BOING-OING-OING thing, running across the room with it and BOINGING all the way. 

After that, the kid asked me about a smaller, more dignified rat that squeaks when you give his belly a squeeze. I handed it to him and he raced across the newsroom. 

After that, it was a carved wooden skeleton that doesn’t squeak or BOING-OING-OING, but which rattles in a satisfying way if you shake it around and make it dance. 

After that, we took a look at the spooky alien-in-a-jar I got way back when I was into “The X-Files.” After that, I tried to explain how I came into possession of the corpse bride and groom, the creepy wind-up ice cream cart, the boar skull and half a dozen rubber bats that will flap their wings if you run fast enough across the room with them. 

For 20 minutes or so, the boy inspected the stuff on my desk like an enthralled visitor at a strange museum. Some of the artifacts he marveled over have been there so long, nobody notices them anymore. They have become all but invisible, these peculiar souvenirs with their tattered flesh and eyes gone dull with the dust of time. To adult eyes, including my own, they had become no more interesting than a set of old phone books or outdated maps. 

Yet after the boy was gone, I sat at my desk a long time, looking at the things that had so entertained the kid and me for those 20 minutes that otherwise would have been dull. 

I remembered the young woman who gave me the fuzzy yellow BOING-OING-OING thing shortly before she died in alcohol withdrawal. 

I remembered planting the squeaking black rat beneath an editor’s chair and all the delicious squealing that followed. 

I remembered a little something about each of those items for the first time in God knows how long and it was like a gift, even if the memories were bittersweet. All it took to bring that weird array of stuff back to life was an enthusiastic kid with a mile of curiosity and no qualms at all about annoying his momma at my command. 

I’ve always felt that life is good when there are kids or dogs around. Things are never boring if you have a dog to wrestle with or a kid to hit you with a million questions about a million things. When there’s a kid around, you’re forced to look at the world through their eyes for a little while. 

And I gotta tell you: The world looks pretty cool that way. 


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