Okay, you happen to be driving through Arlington on this gorgeous Halloween day. You're minding your own business, thinking hmm, this sure is a nice, dull street. It's got all these identical little homes and proper, down-home outfits with names such as "Whitey's" ("STEAKS," "BROASTED CHICKEN") and "Second Childhood" ("RESALE TOTS TO TEENS").
Suddenly, scattered across someone's front lawn are legs, maybe 30 of them. Encased in black stockings and assorted styles of shoes, boots and galoshes, these long, skinny, wooden legs are attached to fence posts, to lampposts, to the deceased Dr. Blackfoot lying in a casket (who is also wearing black hot pants and a red boutonniere). You cannot rub the strangeness from your eyes. The property at 2770 N. Washington Blvd., while not condemned, could be called the house Boo Radley built (with some decorating assistance from Salvador Dali, the Munsters and the Addams Family).
Actually, it is one Roland Hoffman, 50, who is the inventive madman behind all this ... uh ... well? How to describe a yard that also features a life-sized stuffed witch in an authentic kayak? Holding a briefcase that says "THE WILL"? With teardrop-shaped light bulbs stuck inside her eye sockets?
"Very Halloweeny," is how Hoffman puts it. "You ought to see her at night. Her eyes light up like they're on fire."
Hoffman calls his cacophonous (he's got chimes out there too) October collage "a stage set." The Baltimore-born freelance artiste relishes the shock his front yard imposes upon the passersby in his quiet ("too quiet," he insists) neighborhood. There are black cat statuettes and candy jack-o'-lanterns and fuzzy spiders and plastic rats and paper bats and pointy yucca plants whose naturally hairy brambles resemble spider webs. There are tons of yellow, orange and black balloons festooned all over, and dying marigolds.
But from whence comes such, such ... vision? "I'm an artist and I have to create and it has to come out someplace," explains Hoffman, who's been creating these outrageous wonderlands in his front yard for five years now, every Halloween and Christmas. Themes and inspirations vary. Last yuletide, for example, it was horses and wreaths. He's more of a -- it would seem -- leg man this year. So much so, in fact, that every hour on the hour today from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. Hoffman will be tap-dancing out there. He'll be the one with the three extra legs and a face mask that evokes Kojak on acid.
And yes, you can go trick-or-treating there tonight. Hoffman and his housemate, John Burrell, 48, will be dispensing healthy treats -- real apples, oranges and balloons.
You just can't let mere appearances get you all freaked. Such as the Day-Glo spray-painted toilet whose tank is a planter and whose bowl contains baby-doll arms, one of whose hands is gripping a plunger. These things are basically Mannerist-style expressions. Or the five retro-punk baby cakes ("Two of them have to be re-iced, though," Hoffman laments). The size of standard cakes, these are actually the bottoms of plastic garbage cans that have been cut off, turned upside down and "iced" with white plaster of Paris. Unlike your standard bakery cakes, Hoffman's baby cakes feature such decorations as baby-doll heads, arms and -- in keeping with this year's theme -- legs.
"I just thought it would be a wild idea," Hoffman notes. He was inspired, he says, by lady mud wrestlers. Besides, he says, after Halloween is over -- his entire display will be dismantled tomorrow -- he can always use the hollow baby cakes as covers for the real thing.
He claims his neighbors haven't given him much flak about the appearance of the house. Oh, there were a couple of people who frowned upon the baby cakes, but "what's two people when you've got 500 others laughing their heads off? You've got to have a sense of humor or you're expired. The main thing is that people notice it. I know it's loud and it's powerful. It's supposed to be. After all, I'm the Halloween king of Arlington."