Mannequins With a Message?

This window mannequin isn't selling anything. Seems he just wants to go fishing.
This window mannequin isn't selling anything. Seems he just wants to go fishing. (By Lois Raimondo -- The Washington Post)
Tuesday, August 15, 2006

You come upon them every now and then -- a mystery of oddity. What is it? How on earth did it get there? What is it telling us? We attempt to shed light through this occasional feature .

Perhaps it is subliminal messaging.

Maybe the mannequin child with the I-see-dead-people stare -- Boy or girl? Hard to tell -- in the window by the Rite Aid at Connecticut and Florida avenues NW makes passersby crave Red Bull. Maybe the boy dressed in Washington Nationals gear and gripping a baseball bat with a pinkyless hand drives them in for, say, gauze bandages.

The eight window scenes, stretching east one block from Connecticut, are at once delightful and disturbing and hard to decipher. There are no price tags or drugstore merchandise. Instead, there are mannequins leaning against the walls and wearing beat-up shoes.

In a Washington Redskins-themed display, a windshield sun shade is flanked by sun-washed posters of cornerback Darrell Green, who retired four years ago. In a window filled with fake flower arrangements, a woman in dingy slingbacks sits on a bench, her arms dramatically outstretched, her straw-hatted head tilted back so far she could be meditating. Or possessed.

The displays change with the seasons -- Halloween decorations in autumn; trains and nutcrackers in winter. The current one heralded spring and has lasted through summer. At Christmastime, the flower woman sat in a living room, a worn pillow propping up her head, her glazed eyes indicating she might have downed a punch bowl of stiff eggnog by herself.

Abstract art? Or, this being Washington, a homeland security decoy -- mannequins armed with spycams?

Some people slow to consider the panorama. Most, hurrying along their way, seem not to notice.

A child's eye could explain the plastic Tyrannosaurus rex in the fishing display, propped at the feet of an angler and next to a coffee-table book titled "Greatest Fishing Locales of North America."

Inside the Rite Aid, the manager says everyone thinks the drugstore is responsible. Customers ask for the Redskins posters "all the time," he says. Then he credits the office building towering above the store and hands over a card for building management.

And so, finally, answers come in a voice-mail message left with a reporter: It's not espionage. Not children. Not even a drop of commercialism.

Just a funky interpretation of home-team love and hometown nostalgia.

Building staff let their creative juices flow in the windows about four times a year, the person in charge says, and many are major Redskins fans. Over time, the mannequins, stored in a basement, have suffered some "nicks" in transit.

Building management saw the windows as a tableau for displays reminiscent of those offered long ago by now-dead Washington retailer Woody's and almost-dead Hecht's. Something that would be "interesting to the neighborhood."

In the last window, where the boy/girl sits at a darkened computer and a tatty stuffed dog lounges by a fireplace, a tiny sign that rises from a plastic plant seems to sum up the idea. In capital letters, it reads:

Home Sweet Home.

-- Karin Brulliard, staff writer

© 2006 The Washington Post Company