You never saw so much stuff. Sheer stuff. Things.
The Washington Gift Show fills the giant display halls of both the Sheraton Park and Shoreham Americana. It overflows 265 booths and brings buyers, nearly 5,000 of them, from all over the middle Atlantic states.
Not the public, however. It is a closed show for trade only. The gift manufacturers of America have been holding regional exhibits here for 30 years, every six months. The show lasts through Wednesday.
Things! Figurines, plaster and glass and metal and wood, wearing everything from sou'westers to wigs and gaiters -- 16 shelves of them!
Jade and ivory carvings from an inch to a foot, from turtles to geishas, 400 of them in one booth!
A 30-yard-long wall covered with necklaces! A small city of Christmas tree dolls, a treeful of mirror-balls, mirror-apples, mirror-pears, sequined candy canes, silvery baubles. Doll houses with tiny furniture, tiny people, tiny cats and dogs, tiny boxes of corn flakes. Five hundred picture frames. Two hundred gnomes and uncounted gnome accessories.
A whole booth devoted to Snoopy: Snoopy in fur, in cloth, in plastic, in paper, in china, in wood, in beefeater costume, in Sherlock costume, on washrags, on fobs, on banks and flowerpots and pillows and aprons and totebags... and one Megasnoopy, five feet high.
It almost makes you sick, the spread-out multiplicity of Things. Booths full of junky souvenirs jostle booths for fine glassware, elegant leather travel kits, jewelry. An amazing amount of stuff is from mainland China, most notably a variety of cork carvings: glass-enclosed miniature dioramas of trees, houses, bridges, people, all exquisitely fashioned from cork. Wholesale prices range from $10 to $120. Some exhibitors give wholesale prices, some retail.
Also from China: hand-embroidered silk scarves from Peking ( $5- $27), dried flowers and butterflies, shells in glass, mother-of-pearl carvings, rosescented wooden roses from Taiwan, a vast variety of jewelry and chinaware.
Next door: dish towels with an eye chart on them -- in Hebrew. Plastic bagels.
These last were on plaques, and talk about plaques! People put the damnedest things on their walls. There were nautical plaques from Maine, shell plaques from Florida, brass and wood plaques from India, Africa, the Caribbean, animal heads painted on marble, antique ads on mirror, framed girlie plaques -- descendants of the Farrah poster -- and religious plaques.
Some new items: balanced chrome stabiles and mobiles ($42 a dozen) with sleek figures of birds, skiers, dancers; fur animals that purr; wonderful windup toys from a swimming fish that gobbles a litter fish to a demented choo-choo that takes itself for a ride on an elevator.
Maze puzzles are big this year, Lord of the Rings dolls, glitter-dust stickons in various cute shapes, adult games from leatherbound chess to dirty-word dice.
"These shows can be an economic barometer," said Howard Hamm, who runs the exhibit for Little Brothers Shows of New York, a trade display specialist. "People are buying for up to five months' delivery, so you can see a trend if there is one. You can tell how the retailers feel about the future."
He worried about the rain and the Super Bowl game, but he needn't have. By noon the buyers were lined up six deep at the row of registration desks. Sometimes, he added, the public gets the wrong idea and thinks it's some sort of giant flea market, and then is disappointed not to be let in. You wouldn't believe how angry people can get, he said.
He is right. It is a place seething with passion -- the buying madness of a million Christmas shoppers distilled into this one orgy of desire for... Things. It is a china shop crying out for a bull.