So last night I found myself in a local Toys 'R' Us. I would have thought it was Retailing 101 to make it easy to find things in a big store, but apparently Toys 'R' Us management thinks otherwise. So after a few minutes of fruitless wandering the aisles, I spotted an employee.
"Excuse me, can you tell me where to find Nerf guns?"
The man's eyes lit up. "Oh yeah, I know where the Nerf guns are. I've got a whole collection at home."
"A regular Nerf arsenal, eh?"
"Every Nerf gun ever made. I even have the Nerf bazooka."
He led me to the aisle with about a dozen different models of Nerf armaments, ranging from a Nerf crossbow to the giant combination Nerf rocket launcher with two detachable Nerf machine guns. He clearly couldn't wait to share his depth of knowledge and experience in all things that fling Nerf.
"This one is a good basic set. It has six Nerf darts which glow in the dark. Or this model has a laser sight, with a laser pointer built into the gun. This one can shoot either a barrage of darts, or a big Nerf grenade. Is this a gift for someone?"
"Actually, it's for my wife," I said. "She needs to take it into work."
His eyes lit up with something approaching awe: as though I had told him that Shangri-La is real and located in the Western suburbs of Minneapolis. "Wow, what kind of place does your wife work?"
"It's a software company. They have programmers who like too blow off steam."
"Here, this model is pretty cool. It's based on a German-designed machine gun..."
In the end I chose one of the simpler models, but I felt that I had made a truly informed choice, and I came out knowing far more about Nerf weaponry than I ever expected or wanted to. The employee who helped me was one of those rare gems in today's big box retail world: a true enthusiast. Odds are, he took the job at Toys 'R' Us at least in part to feed his Nerf habit, and doesn't get a whole lot of recognition for his unique knowledge base. Frankly, it's hard to see how the company could really make use of such a narrow specialty.
But it certainly made this trip unexpectedly interesting for me.