I was at the Toys R Us at Union Square last night shopping for the children of my boyfriend’s cousins. Now, I haven’t been to a Toys R Us in years, and honestly, with Christmas four days away, I wasn’t looking forward to it naturally. Once I got there, though, which was 9 p.m., it was pretty tame crowd-wise, save for a long snaking line to the cash register area. Apparently, only the one on the first floor was open. As I searched for a Play-Doh Fuzzy Friends Farm, I couldn’t help but admit my surprise that it wasn’t such madness. Sure, it looked like a war zone, but I didn’t feel like I was fighting for my life. Nope, I strolled around at leisure, making my way through the four floors, wondering about such items as Play-Doh’s mini George Foreman Grill, how different (and cheap-looking) Care Bears seem now as opposed to when they first came out when I was 9, and the juxtaposition of Texas Hold ‘Em poker chips next to the Fischer Price preschool area. While considering a Cranium Cadoo tin, I spied a hip-looking mom with her teenage son, picking and choosing through the fallout. “Man, this place is crazy!” the teenage son exclaimed. “It’s like what happened when Tickle Me Elmo came out, but everything in the store is Tickle Me Elmo.” “Nothing is here!” moaned the mom. “What are people doing–buying everything up on credit? Hmm, I thought. Apparently my expectations of the worst are worse than others’. But is this anything new? Hasn’t it always been like this? Apparently not. “It was never this bad before,” they agreed.
I agree there was little selection. I agree that the line, which didn’t look as though any progress had been made by the time I got there, was interminable. Then came the kicker: “Christmas has lost its soul,” someone behind me said. I turned around. It was the teenager from upstairs. I smiled. “Mmm-hmm,” agreed the person behind him. I’m not sure. I think, no matter how hard you look, you’re never going to find the soul of Christmas at a Toys R Us, four days before. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no angel and I’ve done my fair share of experience. But would a better customer service experience here, say more registers open on other floors, enable us to realize that much more the value of the holiday? Is the consumerism surrounding the holiday so potent that the dread of engaging in it is enough to kill people’s ability to truly celebrate the holiday?