Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Toy Talk: A Fairy Tale With Profanity

Once upon a time, there was a carpenter named Otto who liked toys. Otto noticed that many people liked toys, but that for some reason there weren’t many public meeting places where these people could talk about them. Then he had an idea.

“I could build a large shed and put shelves inside the shed, and I’ll get pictures of all the toys in the land. Then I could invite toy fans to come pick out the pictures of the toys they’ve played with or are interested in, and they can put them on the shelf to display them, and other fans can walk around and look at them. This will spark all kinds of discussions. In fact, what if I give people a system to rate their toys so that passers-by will be able to see at a glance which toys are popular?” Otto told his friend Eliza.

“How much are you going to charge to do this?” Eliza asked.

“Nothing. It will all be free to all,” Otto replied.

“Are you fucking high?” Eliza replied. “Do you know what lumber costs? And how much work it will be to set all this up? Where are you going to get like a jillion pictures of toys? All this just so a bunch of toy freaks can sit around talking about them?”

“If I charge nothing, it will attract the toy fans. And I have some ideas about how I can make money from the toy sellers. The toy fans will have a place to gather with like-minded folk, the toy sellers will advertise there to their biggest potential buyers and be able to tell what kind of toys people like, and I might make a little money on the deal. It’s win-win-win.”

“Sounds pretty slim to me. But I like toys, too. What the hell, I’ll help,” Eliza said

So Otto cleared some land behind his house and built a large shed. Inside the shed, he put rows upon rows of shelves, and every shelf had a slot in front in which someone could put small wooden stars and write a label for them. Finally, he hung up a large sign over the entrance that said: Toy Talk – Free to All.

There were only small crowds of toy fans that showed up in those early days, and Otto would give the same spiel as they entered.

“Welcome to Toy Talk! We’ve created this place so that fans of toys can meet and talk about them. You can use as many shelves and toy pictures as you like. To help you organize the toys you already own or are interested in, we’ve given the shelves some basic names, but you can also add your own labels. Please use the star stickers we’ve provided, too. 1 for the worst and 5 for the best,” Otto would say. “Also, we have provided free pens and paper so that you can all write up reviews on the toys and tack them up next to the pictures. If you see a review you really like, you put this little I Liked It! sticker next to the review and you can write your own little note underneath the review if you have a comment.”

“Are there any rules?” some would ask.

“Yeah. We’d like you to stick to talking about toys. If you get into arguments where you use the really bad words or get abusive to another user, we’ll ban you. We wrote all this up and posted them on the wall over there, but it’s pretty long so most people don’t read it. Basically, it just says don’t be an asshole. I’m generally a pretty easy going guy who likes free discussion. But let’s be honest, it’s my shed so if you start pissing me off for any reason, I’ll change the rules to do what I want. What are the chances of that happening though?” Otto said sincerely.

“Only 5 stars? Can we have half-stars?” someone would inevitably ask.

“Dude, seriously? I built all this shit I’m letting you use for free, and your first question is about half-stars? Get the fuck out of here,” Otto would say.

Soon word of Toy Talk spread and more toy fans would came to the shed. The ones that liked certain types of toys began gathering into groups and discussing the subtle nuances of their favorite play things. Volunteers helped Otto organize the huge amounts of pictures. The reviewing became quite popular and the competition for I Liked It! stickers became such a driving force that Otto tallied up results weekly and posted the results on the bulletin board. Much silliness ensued because of this, but by and large they became a source of great entertainment for many in the Toy Talk community. Best of all, many of the toy lovers made new friends.

As Otto had thought, the toy manufacturers and sellers saw opportunities in the shed. Some began advertising their wares there and were interested in which toys were popular or disliked and so Otto was able to share the trends he noticed for a fee. Some toy makers set up their own shelves so that they could interact with fans of their work and share their thoughts on toys. Free advance prototypes of some toys became available to reviewers.

Then, Otto and Eliza, who had fallen in love during their hard work on the shed, got married. Even the most heartless and cynical Toy Talk users found this kind of sweet.

If this was a different kind of tale, that would be the happy ending. Unfortunately, this is not that kind of story.


Despite Toy Talk popularity, there were always issues. Trolls from under a nearby bridge would sometimes sneak in and start leaving their idiotic comments about how the reviewer had missed the point of the toy or hadn’t played with the toy correctly, and then they would have to be driven away with sticks and rocks. There were always more of those bastards though.

Because Otto had to use cheap materials and build in a hurry during construction, there were constant problems with the shed. The roof leaked. There were weird smells in places. Some of the shelves had splinters and  broken nails protruding from them. Sometimes people would write out long reviews or comments only to look down and realize that the ink had instantly vanished so that they would have to rewrite them. There was the spooky apparition of a little girl in a chair would randomly appear to block people from walking the aisles. No one was sure what kind of black magic sorcery caused it, but that little bitch was seriously annoying.

Otto was far more interested in adding new wings to the shed then he was in fixing issues, but fortunately for him he had acquired enough money to hire minions. So he assigned a few to set up a customer service desk in the shed and listen to the problems, complaints and suggestions that people had. However, one crazy woman took it upon herself to defend this table from everyone, and she spent all her waking hours standing at the table and shouting over anyone trying to talk to the Toy Talk minions. Since this made less work for the minions, they freely allowed this to happen and would even step in to defend the old harpy if anyone told her to shut the fuck up.

There were also problems with some of the toy makers. New production methods now allowed almost anyone to design and make toys. This led to many new people trying it, and some were genuinely exciting new talents who might otherwise never become known, but it also led to a great number of hacks. Many of these new toy makers had come to Toy Talk hoping to make their fortune, but sometimes used rude and questionable methods to try and attract attention like throwing their toys at the heads of anyone passing by and asking if they’d review them.

More headaches arose when a toy maker would read a review that was critical of their work which they found unfair and then would comment on it. This was almost always a huge mistake leading to hostile exchanges, and most toy makers realized that no matter how well-made or brilliant their toys, there would always be at least a few who might dislike it or judge it by criteria they found unfair. Most of these toy makers were professionals who knew that this was part of the gig and shrugged it off. However, a few of the ones using the new production methods often had problems realizing that they were not geniuses who were going to make vast sums of money from their talents and tended to freak the hell out and attack reviewers who gave them bad ratings.

One small group ofToy Talk reviewers found themselves in constant battle with some of these toy makers. When the toy makers became extremely abusive, a few brave souls managed to get past the customer service harpy to lodge a complaint. These makers had so thoroughly violated the rules that even the lazy minions couldn’t ignore them, and so they were banned from the shed.

This did not end the battle though. Some of these evicted toy makers banded together and formed a group called We Are NOT Asshole Toy-makers With Grudges, and they bought their own small shitty shack just off the Toy Talk property. They would claim to be innocent victims of gangs of thugs roaming the Toy Talk community who would shout at the injustices they had suffered to any random people walking by, and they began trying to stop what they called thuggery by engaging in wholesale thuggery tactics themselves.

Yeah, they were pretty much assholes.

The WANATWG bitched and lied so loudly that they attracted the attention of some town criers. The town crying racket had fallen on hard times so that most of the true professionals had been driven out of the business. These town criers( Either because of laziness, gullibility or just because they didn’t give a shit.) believed without question almost everything that WANATWG was selling and then ran from town to town telling everyone how the Toy Talk reviewers were a bunch of thugs.

Meanwhile, the WANATWG continued to use fake mustaches and beards to repeatedly try to sneak back into Toy Talk and fight more with the reviewers who gave them bad ratings. They could never really explain why they repeatedly returned to the place where they claimed they had suffered so much torment, but like I said before, they were assholes.

Many of the Toy Talk reviewers who had tangled with them and had shit smeared on their doors after being followed home began creating shelves that highlighted the awful behavior of the toy-makers who were in the WANATWG. The on-going false accounts being circulated by the town criers further emboldened the WANATWG and enraged the Toy Talk reviewers. Soon there were shelves labeled with things like I Wouldn’t Play With This Toy If Someone Gave Me Free Candy With It Because The Toy Maker Is A Hateful Douche Bag Who Murders Puppies. Needless to say, they also rated these toys as 1 star without even playing with them which caused more anger and accusations.

This feud, while vicious, was limited to a relatively small number of toy makers and reviewers. However, because of the complete lack of fact checking from the town criers, many false claims were misrepresented as truth and repeated. People who made their living off the business like professional toy reviewers, some toy makers and their agents had never much liked that some morons in a shed could impact their livelihoods so they would frequently join in deriding the Toy Talk community at every opportunity.

As all this was going on, Otto had been having a feud of his own. One of the biggest toy sellers, Nile Incorporated, had been a primary source of toy pictures, but Otto had become unhappy with some of the terms of the arrangement. Rather than knuckle under to their demands, Otto turned to the loyal volunteers of Toy Talk for help. He ended his deal with Nile Inc. and the Toy Talk community responded to this by spending countless hours making sure that the archives of toy pictures were preserved and new copies made to fill the gap.

To thank all these people for their hard work and commitment, Otto sold Toy Talk to Nile Inc.


Ottod did feel a little bad about selling out. Until the sacks of gold arrived and work on his new castle overlooking the Toy Talk shed began. Then he got over it and started spending most of his time traveling to various toy conventions where he would explain how ever more profits could be wrung out of the free labor of Toy Talk and Nile Inc.

Hey, Otto never said he built Toy Talk out of the goodness of his heart.

Naturally, many in the Toy Talk community were angry. Nile Inc. had offered their own shed for toy enthusiasts, but the rules were so restrictive and corruption so rampant with fake toy reviews that most didn’t like or trust them so it had few visitors. Having Nile Inc. as the new owner of Toy Talk seemed like the end of times for some. There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Some users threatened to leave, but almost no one did because there were no other sheds with as many people or perks as Toy Talk. Plus, it was a real pain in the ass to gather up all the reviews and transfer them somewhere else.

Many Toy Talk users were outraged by the idea that the information collected about the toys on the shelves might be used for sales and marketing purposes now.

“How dare they?” many screamed. “How dare they take information I willingly made public by using a free shed and shelves to profit from it? This is a violation of my privacy!”

“But what did you think they were going to do with it? I mean, come on. It never said Toy Talk - A Non-Profit Organization on the sign. Did you not think that they were using the info to make money? “ some argued.

“Well, yeah….I guess….But not like this!! NOT LIKE THIS!!” they would scream.

It went on like that for a little while, but eventually things calmed down.


Otto’s castle was completed, and he and his Toy Talk minions retreated behind its high walls where they didn’t have to talk to the reviewers in the shed.  They would occasionally throw out a crumpled piece of paper with some new announcement on it to tell the people in the shed about new mobile app improvements or new giant green shelves. The only way for the Toy Talk users to try and tell Otto and his minions how they felt about an issue was through the customer service minions, who continued to use their harpy shield to block out most users anyhow.  They also tended to ignore anyone with the volume to yell over the crazy woman. Still, occasionally a complaint would leak through and find its way through to the top.

“Otto, we’ve had several questions about why the shed is in such disrepair even though we now have the resources of Nile Inc. Even the I Liked This counts are frequently wrong these days,” Minion #86 said one day.

Otto looked up from the pile of money he was sprawled on as he painted liquid gold on his toenails.

“Are we still getting new people coming to the shed?” he asked.

“Yes. Record numbers in fact. Well, maybe record numbers. There’s a lot of old discarded shelves down there were still counting as users so it’s a little hard to tell. But we've got new people signing up all the time to show the toy sellers as growth,” Minion #86 said.

“Would it cost Nile Inc. money? Or take focus away from information collection or mobile apps to fix it?” Otto said as he carefully finished with his pinkie toe.

“Probably a little I guess. We’d have to put some new carpenters on it,” the minion admitted.

“Then fuck them,” Otto said. “They’ll keep working around it. They always have. And start throwing more bread crusts around the customer service table to keep that shrieking harpy hanging around and scaring off the rubes. That’ll cut down on this trivial shit making its way up to me. I’m very busy.”


Then one day came word that a middle manager from Nile Inc. was paying a surprise visit. Otto put on his best suit encrusted in diamonds and rushed down to the gate to meet him.

“Welcome, my lord. What is thy bidding?” Otto said as got on his knees and knelt down to kiss his master's toe ring.

“What the fuck is going on with those goddamn hoopleheads in the shed?” the middle manager said jerking his head towards Toy Talk.

“Uh, I’m not sure what you mean, sir?” Otto asked in terrified confusion.

“There are goddamn town criers going around talking about how your pack of grubby toy geeks are being mean to people. Putting up offensive shelf names and rating toys they haven’t played with at one stars? What kind of operation are you fucking running here, Otto?” the Nile Inc. middle manager demanded.

“Well….we’ve always let the users name their shelves as they wish, and rate books they haven’t read. We’ve given them a lot of freedom in that,” Otto squirmed. He looked at the nearest minion for help.

“Well, you see there’s a group of authors who caused a lot of trouble pretending to be an outside group and they’re the ones….” Minion #26 said.

“I can’t do anything about them, but Nile Inc. isn’t going to have this continue. Makes the toy manufacturers nervous when they think we‘re letting a bunch of weirdos abuse toy makers. So shut this down right now,” the middle manager said. He turned on his heel and started back to his carriage while muttering, “Fucking grown people arguing about toys in a fucking shed. It’s goddamn ridiculous.”

As soon as the middle manager was out of sight, Otto called an emergency meeting of minions.

“How many Toy Talk reviewers are involved in this feud with these toy makers who pretend not to be toy makers?” he demanded.

“Not many. Probably a couple of dozen of the overall users,” Minion # 17 replied.

“OK, so take some people down there and knock those down shelves down and burn any reviews that mention the author behavior.” Otto demanded.

“Well, that’s a problem. See, the rules let them name their shelves anything they want,” said Minion #64.

“Goddamn it, who approved those rules?” Otto screamed.

“Uh, you did, sir,” said Minion #23

“Shut the fuck up," Otto screamed so loudly that his gold teeth caps flew out of his mouth. "OK, here’s what we’re going to do. I know those rules originally had something in there about wanting all reviews to be about the toys. We never really cared about hat before when we were trying to attract the toy fans, but now we gotta make the toy makers and sellers happy. We’re going to rewrite the rules and emphasize the point that they should be about books, not toy maker behavior. That’s the umbrella we’ll stick this under. Write up those revisions and post that shit back on the wall in the shed and go take care of the problem.”

“We aren’t going to give them a chance to re-name the shelves or re-write the review? Or even save a copy of it for their own records?” Minion #54 said.

“Fuck that noise. Didn’t you hear the middle manager? They want this dealt with now. Not later. So we destroy everything as soon as possible.”

“We aren’t going to announce it? They’ll scream bloody murder if people just start knocking down their shelves and deleting reviews,” Minion #127 said.

“Yes, they’ll really be pissed if we don’t at least make an announcement,” said Minion #3.

“Fine. We’ll send one of the customer service minions down there right as the sun is going down.  This is Friday so most of those fucking toy morons will be gone or leaving by then. And since we don’t do jack shit on the weekend, anyone who notices will be screamed out by Monday,” Otto said.

“Sir, with all due respect, this feud has gotten pretty heated and while some of the behavior from the toy reviewers has violated the original rules and probably gone too far, this group of toy makers pretending not to be toy makers have done some pretty vile and possibly illegal stuff. Don’t you think we should take some time and formulate a strategy to figure out how to calm the situation without just trying to fix it with an arbitrary rules decision that will look like we’re going to start siding with the toy makers? That will outrage everyone at Toy Talk and make them worried that their own shelves are in danger. Maybe we could even ask them what they think and ask them for suggestions? Or we could…” Minion #7 started.



Late in the day, one of the customer service minions named Clara cracked open the door to the shed. She cautiously stuck her head in and spoke in a whisper.

“Got an announcement guys. We’re changing the rules. We’re taking down the shelves and burning the reviews about author behavior right about now. Enjoy your weekend.”

Then she slammed the door and ran back to the castle.

Inside the Toy Talk shed, chaos reigned as the few within earshot of the gate spread the news about the announcements. Then came scattered reports of shattered shelves and burned reviews. Someone checked the rules on the wall and found that they had indeed been changed.

All the weekend long there was screaming anger from many of the Toy Talk users. They lined up at the customer service desk, but there was no one there. Even the crazy harpy had fled. They gathered at the walls and cried up to the castle where they could sometimes catch glimpses of Otto having a hot tub party.

“What does this mean? You’re going to delete our shelves and reviews with no warning, but your policy is ill-defined! It’s impossible to abide by rules if they make no sense!” the crowds wailed. (Or if I’m actually being honest, most of it was just inarticulate yowling. I’ve cleaned it up a little to let you know what they actually meant to ask if they’d been capable of reasonable speech at that point.)


On Monday, the customer service minions nervously approached Otto who was having his usual breakfast of condor eggs and hippopotamus bacon.

“Uh, sir,” Clara said, “The Toy Talk reviewers are still extremely angry. In fact, they’re probably even angrier that they were left to stew all weekend with no updates.”

“Updates? What updates? This is the way it is. Get out there and tell them that,” Otto said.

“Sir, if I go out there they will rip me into pieces before I can open my mouth. And in all fairness, we did throw this out there with no warning, and the new language is very vague about what constitutes talking about toy maker behavior. Many of them are writing up reviews to challenge it about famously evil toy makers like the guy who designed the robots that committed kitten genocide and the one who makes the talking bears that make homophobic comments. They've got a point that it’s kind of ridiculous to ban them from talking about that kind of stuff in the reviews,” Clara said.

“Jesus, what’s a man got to do to eat his condor eggs and hippo bacon in peace,” Otto grumbled as he threw down his napkin. “OK, can we say something like talking about dead author behavior is permissible? Those assholes are dead, right?”

“Not the homophobic bear guy. Plus, there’s always some story about some living toy maker saying something offensive or feeling up little kids in his basement. I don’t think that approach will work,” Clara said.

“Well, get the other minions together and figure something out. My eggs are getting cold,” Otto said.

So Clara gathered the other minions and they tried to come up with something to mollify the mob. This was a tricky task and took many days. The crowds outside became more demonstrative and angry even as the WANATWG celebrated and bragged to town criers about their great victory. (Have I mentioned that these people were really a pack of assholes? )


“This doesn’t sound that much different than what we put out originally,” Otto said looking through his monocle at the new rules explanation. He was wearing his tuxedo on his way to a dinner with many important Nile Inc. executives.

“It’s really not. We do apologize for destroying the shelves and reviews without warning. We’ll give them a chance to either change or copy their reviews in the future, but that’s about it. We’re in a bit of a pickle, sir. We don’t want to admit that we singled out those reviews,” Clara said.

“Why not? In fact, I remember once telling people that since it was my shed that I could pretty much set the rules. Why not say that this feud with the toy-makers pretending not to be toy-makers had to stop so we took action to shut it down? Why are working so hard to find a way to validate it?” Otto asked.

“Because it looks like we were siding with the toy-makers. Which we did, but don’t want to admit that we caved to a pack of assholes we had previously banned from the shed. Our most defensible option is to fall back behind the idea that you built the shed to talk about the toys so this gives us a pretext, but if they read between the lines of the of this statement, it seems to give them wiggle room to discuss things like the homophobic teddy bear maker,” Clara.

“And why are we being so cute about that?”

“It’s in our best interest to keep the language vague so that we can, if necessary, destroy more of their shelves and reviews in the future. We don’t plan to, but you know, shit happens,” Clara shrugged. “It offers some subtle reassurance, but no guarantees.”

“Well, whatever. Just so long as it shuts those screaming yahoos up. They were so loud for a while last night that I actually had to turn up the surround sound in the media room for a couple of minutes,” Otto said. “If the castle walls weren’t so high and thick, I might actually hear them regularly.”

“They’re still going to be mad, but it’s the best we can do now. Plus, some will get tired of the whole thing,” Clara said.

“What are they doing now?” Otto asked.

“They’re writing reviews that deliberately violate the new rules.”

“Have them destroyed immediately. We need to let them know we mean business and to keep up the fiction of why we did this,” Otto said.

“We’ve got interns at work on that constantly, sir. The angry reviewers are also wearing funny hats.” Clara said.

“Why would they do that?” Otto said as he set a top hat on his head.

“I’m not sure. They seem to think that we’ll care about their appearance. We don’t, of course. They’re also setting bags of dog shit on fire in the aisles,” Clara said.

“Burning dog shit? Jesus, are they trying to set the shed on fire?” Otto said.

“No, they claim it’s some kind of protest.”

“Protesting what? Sanitary conditions?”

“I don’t know what they think that clogging their walkways with flaming dog crap will accomplish, sir,” Clara said.

“I mean, it’d be one thing if I ever went in there anymore and they thought there was an off chance I might get dog shit on my shoes. Then I might be able to see what they’re doing but to just go around setting poop bags on fire….” Otto shook his head and continued.

“OK, so they’re writing reviews that they know we’ll delete, wearing funny hats and throwing dog shit among themselves.” He sighed. “Let’s have the real butcher’s bill. How many have taken down their shelves and left voluntarily in protest? Losing mass users would be the only thing we couldn’t abide.”

“Very few. A lot threaten to do it. Almost none follow through.”

“Really?” I thought it would be more,” Otto said as handed the papers to Clara and began pulling on his white gloves.

“Some have gone and looked at other sheds, but they said that Toy Talk is still the best one. They’re angry, but they still really don’t want to leave,” Clara said.

“I’ll never understand why, but god bless those fools for providing me with a fortune,” Otto said.

“Sir, can I ask you a question before you go?” Clara asked hesitantly. “Back when you started Toy Talk, is this how you pictured it?”

Otto paused at the door.

“No. In fact, I just hoped that we could make enough money to keep the shed going and provide a comfortable income for Eliza and myself back in the early days,” he said slowly. “It was mainly…. Back in the beginning… I just liked listening to people talk about the toys. They all seemed to have so much fun that I thought I’d be a lucky man if I could make a living by giving them a place to do that.”

After a moment, he picked up his walking stick that had a diamond the size of an apple on the head and walked out.


Clara tossed the new rules explanation into the shed and fled back to the castle. As expected, it satisfied almost no one.

“Those motherfuckers are going to delete all our reviews! You just watch.”

“It’s CENSORSHIP! That’s what it is!”

“I’m gonna write 20  reviews that violate this policy and run around sticking them all over everybody’s shelves!”

“I’m gonna set at least 50 bags of dog shit on fire to protest this!”

“What’s that going to accomplish?”


“This is a violation of my rights!”

“Actually, I’ve read the town charter all the way through, and it doesn’t guarantee that you have the right to have a shed set up for your use where you can write about toys. It only says that the government can’t stop you from writing about what you want. Technically, this is Otto’s shed and he’s providing a service so really he could make a rule that we could only write about unicorn toys if he wants. He’s under no obligation to provide facilities and shelves to anyone not abiding by his rules. I mean it sucks, and they’ve obviously badly mismanaged this situation. Really it seems to me that you either have to decide you can live with those changes or move all your toy reviews somewhere else…”

“What kind of an asshole are you?”

“Yeah, if you don’t protest with us, you’re against us!”

“I will stab any motherfucker who says that they don’t respect freedom of speech!”


“We made this shed valuable, and now we’re getting dicked!”

“Well, technically, it was Otto who built the shed and the original shelves, and it was always a symbiotic relationship where we both got something out of the arrangement. So while I think this was a bad decision by Toy Talk, I guess I’ll just keep reviewing my toys to see if they learn anything from this mistake or if it’s a bad sign of things to come. And if they do something else like it, I’ll consider leaving, but for now maybe we could….”

“Oh, my god, if you don’t start agreeing with us right fucking now I am going to break your jaw. You can’t afford dissent when you’re fighting for free speech.”


“Think of the children!”

“Anyone got a lighter? Mine just ran out of fluid and this bag is packed with so much dog shit that it is leaking everywhere.”


“Anybody else want to get punched in the junk for free speech’s sake, then just step up and disagree with me!”


And that’s how things went for several weeks.

The protest reviews were written and deleted which prompted more outrage and protest reviews. Soon everyone’s mailbox was crammed with copies of the same reviews that had been burned somewhere else by one of the interns. Bags of burning dog shit and charred turds littered the floors. Increasingly elaborate hats were worn.

Some smart egg of a reviewer did a breakdown of the original shelf destruction and came up with the answer that everyone expected, the reviews slamming the WANATWG toy makers had been the primary focus of the initial shelf and review destruction, and everyone agreed once again that those guys really were assholes in dire need of psychological treatment.

More piles of dog shit and protest reviews piled up.

Some more town criers came through and miraculously, a few of them started to get the story straight, but since no one outside of the toy industry gave a damn, it didn’t really matter.

More piles of dog shit and protest reviews piled up.

Otto complained once that he thought he could detect a faint whiff of the dog crap on the air when he did his yoga out on the southern veranda in the morning so some minions were detailed to fan him with giant leaves to waft any offending odors away from him. He never smelled it again.  And of course the top executives of Nile Inc. had never set foot within a thousand miles of the Toy Talk shed so all the protests had absolutely no impact on them whatsoever.

More piles of dog shit and protest reviews piled up.


One evening an avid toy fan who had been at Toy Talk for several years and written hundreds of reviews tried to work his way through the aisles. He had been trying to visit some friends to see what new toys they had played with lately, but the dog shit and piled up protest reviews were so thick that he gave up. By the time he got back to his shelves, he found that a troll had managed to sneak in and leave a comment telling him that he missed the point on a review he’d written several years ago.

After sitting down and cleaning the dog shit off his shoes, this reviewer glanced at the customer service table. He’d recently noticed an alarming creak in one of his shelves, but there were no minions there to report it to, just the shrieking harpy who was preventing anyone from leaving a note. You almost never saw a customer service minion anymore. They had pretty much fled in the face of the overwhelming scorn heaped on them, and turned the operation over to the harpy at this point.   The only employees around were a couple of the interns who were halfheartedly pushing protest reviews into their portable incinerator while people in funny hats feverishly rewrote copies of what had just been burned and stuffed them into every nook and cranny they could find behind them.

The reviewer looked out the window where he could see the large and expensive home of Otto. Some reviewers bitterly claimed that the castle came from their work. He didn’t see it that way. He’d always figured that someone who operated the shed was doing for it money, and he’d always just been happy to be there with the friends he’d made talking toys. He was a misanthrope by nature and being part of something that brought people he liked and respected together was rare in his life so he’d tried to make the most of it rather than worry about what Toy Talk owed him in return.

However, it had occurred to him on more than one occasion that Otto and the minions seemed to enjoy talking to toy industry people about the wonderful things happening while saying ‘Fuck you’ to the reviewers who made it all possible at every opportunity.  He’d never quite wrapped his head around that one.

He lowered his gaze to the aisles clogged with the paper and crap. He‘d felt guilty at first that he wasn‘t more impassioned about the big issues that some claimed were so important, but he‘d never seen the point after he'd realized that the whole thing was one giant clusterfuck of a bad business decision.  The protests were obviously not having the slightest impact on Otto, the minions or Nile Inc.  It was just making the shed miserable, and the people the reviewers claimed to be protesting never came to the shed.

When he tried to explain that to the other reviewers, they generally accused him of not doing enough or only caring about himself.  Maybe. Really, he just wanted to talk about toys.

After a long time he stood up, and got ready to leave.  He hesitated and then pulled a sheet over his shelves. He usually didn’t bother with it because he was in the shed so often, but he had a feeling it might be a while before he came back. He walked out, being careful to avoid several fresh piles of burned dog shit.

On his way home he stopped at a store and bought a new toy.  That usually helped cheer him up when was down.  That night, as he played with it, he realized that for the first time in years, he had absolutely no urge to write a single word about it.


  1. Waaaaitaminnit, this story sounds kinda familiar...

    I'm betting the Reviewer will be back, maybe reviewing on his own terms. After all, when you love something it's hard not to talk about it.

  2. Jesus Christ, this is so much win, I am completely struck mute. Don't ever stop writing.

    "Really, he just wanted to talk about toys."

    The shed hasn't been the same since you walked out the door.