What's that motionless, lifelike figure in the store window there? A George Segal statue? No, not his style. Or a Duane Hanson sculpture? No, much too young and unscruffy. Anyway, they're all up at the Whitney.
Then, suddenly, it happens. An almost imperceptible blink of her blue eyes. A faint swelling of the breast. Eureka! She is! An honest-to-goodness, flesh-and-blood, real live mannequin.
Her name is Michele Paradise, and every Saturday afternoon from 2 to 5 she reigns in the window of The Design Store on Wisconsin Avenue. For two months now, she's been sitting there, barely breathing or fluttering an eyelash, and nothing short of giving away merchandise lures more customers.
How do you get a young, energetic model to sit still for as long as 40 minutes at a stretch? In a cold, drafty window, yet?
"Simple," says Paradise. "For over four years I've been a professional runway model at fashion shows, and the demands are great. I've got to move, walk, turn, smile and look animated every second. This is a piece of cake. A little chilly, but delicious. It gives me a chance to sit, relax and not do a thing."
Nothing at all? Do you use the time to meditate?
"Not really meditate. Concentrate is more like it. I usually pick a spot either outside the window or within, and concentrate on it. That keeps me from moving and being disturbed.
"Believe it or not, it's a calming job. I'll sit for a half-hour or 45 minutes at a time, depending upon the effectiveness of the pose. If I don't draw attention, I'll break and get into another pose, or change clothes."
The effectiveness is astonishing. Crowds gather, as many as 20 people at a time. "Is she real? I think she's breathing. Hey, look, her eyes moved."
One little boy banged on the window. Made faces. Then just eyeball-to-eyeball stared, as he calmly licked his ice cream cone. Aside from soft breathing and an occasional blink, Paradise was unmoved. She just sits there, like a young Whistler's mother. And she sits, incidentally, not because she tires easily, but at that level there is better eye contact.
Has she ever broken down and giggled at a funny face? Not Paradise. Occasionally, self-defense will break the spell.
"Recently a woman and her children came in," she relates, "and clustered around me, with the usual comments and stares. The mother kept telling them I was battery-operated, but the younger -- probably a seven-year-old -- was not convinced. First he squeezed my arm, gently. Then he tugged my hair, gently. When he finally pulled just a bit too hard, I jumped up and waved my whisk at him. He fled in terror. 'Mommy, Mommy, she's alive!'"
Such are the hazards of window sitting. And a whisk is just about the deadliest household weapon Paradise uses for selfprotection. It's one of the props she gathers from store stock to stage her wax-museum, vignettes. Along with the change of clothes, she will develop a mood with such household props as mixing bowl, whisk, cocktail glasses, mirror and comb.
Has it helped move the merchandise? You bet it has. Design Store manager Kirsti Alopaeus is ecstatic. Paradise was originally hired to sleep on the beds for a furniture party. She rested so convincingly that the idea took off.
Alopaeus says it's a great business stimulator and also gives the store a nice, warm image. "People gather outside, laugh a lot, get into a good mood and then invariably decide to come in.
"They'll oftne inquire about where to find the clothes Paradise is modeling, and while they may not actually make that purchase, they do shop around the store. As a matter of fact, February is generally the slowest month of the year. But on Saturdays, the Paradise days, this February has been the best so far."
Not bad business for a lady who sits and does nothing for hours on end.
For the Georgetown sightseer, it's part of the fun of wandering and window-gazing on a sunny Saturday afternoon. Ah, Paradise!