'Twas the day after Turkey, and all through the stores,
The battle lines formed for the Great Christmas Wars . . .
SCENE: Toys-R-Us, 11800 Rockville Pike. Friday noon. People pour in so steadily that the automatic doors never close. A small boy and his mother are studying a layout of HO model trains, one of which is apparently military, for it is camouflaged like a duck hunter's hat. It costs nearly $100.
BOY: Hey Mom. Hey lookit.
MOM (noting price tag): Let's go over to the GI Joes.
Through the aisles people maneuver huge shopping carts stacked with gigantic boxes, garish with scenes of impossible violence. Some stacks rise to shoulder height. At first one assumes these are stock clerks, but then one realizes they are customers. Other carts are loaded with children. One mother pushes a cart from which her twin daughters, with blond pigtails and identical thick glasses, grandly survey the wares, pointing imperiously at this item and that. The mother ignores them.
MOM (to girl on rocking horse): Come on, Marlene.
MARLENE (apparently mistaking the horse for a car): Rrr, rrr, rrr.
MOM: Come on!
GRANDPA (examining Champion Fastback sled): How about this one?
DAUGHTER: That's too big. I'd sit behind Matthew. I wouldn't need that much . . .
Over by the wall, a 10-year-old kid plays a Little Tikes Tap-a-Tune piano.
KID: Look at this stupid thing.
His mother is headed for the electric toothbrushes. There are Talking Toothbrushes, Singing Toothbrushes, Ewok Toothbrushes, Snoopy Toothbrushes, Cabbage Patch Kid Toothbrushes and so on.
A couple catches up with their son at the pistol display. He has his eye on a life-size Action Magnum cap pistol.
DAD: Whaddya think?
MOM: No guns. You got guns.
MOM: I mean it. You got enough. That looks too real.
DAD: It's just a cap gun.
MOM (to Dad): I thought we were done with this. There's enough guns. I thought we agreed.
DAD: Yeah, well . . .
INTERCOM: Thelma to Register 14, please.
GRANDPA (still looking at sleds): Well look, make up your mind. This one's 29 bucks.
DAUGHTER: No, that one's too small.
Some boxes have signs that command, "Buy Me!" A mother carrying a page-long list picks up a Power Warrior, shows it wearily to her woman companion.
COMPANION: Oh, he's too young for that.
SHORT STUMPY WOMAN (to child riding in her cart): You'll get it but you'll have to sit down. Right now! I can't see where I'm going.
At the checkout counters a baby whimpers. Another starts keening in sympathy.
A small girl picks up some Baby Gee sunglasses from the display there, but her father yanks them from her hand and puts them back.
INTERCOM: Jim to Register 12, please.
A father pushes his son in a Hi-Rider car with oversize tires. The son steers frantically between other shoppers and carts.
FATHER: Make the turn, Sam!
People glare at them indignantly.
GRANDMA (to daughter): Will you get back there? I'm standing in the line!
DAUGHTER (coolly picking up a Princess of Power doll named Castaspella): I'm not anywhere near ready.
1ST WOMAN IN LODEN COAT: I'm about done, I think. I'm running out.
2ND WOMAN IN LODEN COAT: I'm charging everything but Masters of the Universe.
YOUNG FATHER (examining Action Garage): Oh, Hon! Think he'd like this one?
HON: Well . . . The Western Town has animals. Let's get him that.
VOICE IN KNOT OF PEOPLE: This is cute but I think it'd scare her.
INTERCOM: Marie Smith to the front of the store, please.
Somewhere a baby lets go with a luxurious, all-out scream of rage and despair and bawls itself breathless.
At the display of Manglors, uncommonly ugly little plastic monsters, a mother is having a serious discussion with her son.
MOTHER: That one there?
MOTHER (inspects Manglodemon through the oval window in its little box): Well what? You want this for Philip? Son and his friend drift indecisively across the aisle, blocking traffic.
MOTHER: Come on, guys. Get out of the way.
An elderly, frail man leans down carefully, alert for passing carts, and gingerly lifts up a 3-inch-thick plastic disk nearly a foot in diameter, with a handle on it. It is one of the few things here that does not come in a cardboard box. It is a Stomper Collector Kit.
The elderly man looks at it for a long time, turning it over and over in his hands.
SUBTEEN GIRL (pointing to Tubtown Harbor Village): Oh Mommy, that's the thing I was telling you about. That.
MOMMY: Well, we have things for the tub, haven't we?
Like leaves floating downstream, the two of them are gradually eased along the aisle, following the flow of the crowd.
The din of voices never stops. The automatic doors still haven't closed as the parade of customers continues endlessly.
Nobody looks at anybody else. Nobody smiles.