No, say the spokeswomen, they aren't dead, aren't dying, aren't even being eased out. But the evidence is there, before my baby blues and yours. Harry and Harriet Homeowner, the advertising mascots of the Hechinger chain, the most popular promotional figures ever to grace the local scene, are getting deep-sixed.
If you've been around this river village for even the shortest while, you know the Homeowners. Harry's the one with the porkpie hat and the look of do-it-yourself determination. Harriet's the one with the bright eyes, the shy smile and (usually) the scarf tied around her head.
Since 1959, Harry Homeowner has been the classic Washington suburbanite -- ready to kill crabgrass wherever it rears its ugly head, pining for a chance to paint the den. Since the early 1970s, when she first appeared in Hechinger ads alongside her hubby, Harriet has been a classic herself.
Until early this year, Harry and Harriet stared out from the wall of every Hechinger store, not to mention every Hechinger credit card voucher, every Hechinger credit card, every Hechinger envelope, every Hechinger business card and every Hechinger Sunday newspaper supplement.
But the word began to trickle into my mailbox around mid-summer. Levey readers were noticing: Harry and Harriet were turning up as Hechinger poster children only occasionally, if at all.
James Duffy, of Upper Marlboro: "Please say it ain't so, Bob. Please tell me that the wonderful frumpy couple who've landed on my front porch every Sunday haven't moved to Florida, or to the Great Lumber Yard In The Sky."
Harvey Arbuckle, of Northwest Washington: "I'm truly upset. I adore Harry and Harriet. They're much more human than Speedy Alka-Seltzer, the Marlboro Man or the Pillsbury Doughboy."
Patricia Bailer, of Silver Spring, gave me my marching orders: "I have been watching your column and hoping you could get an explanation."
Here goes, Patricia.
Pam Quigley, Hechinger's marketing information spokeswoman, said H & H "are not dead, ill or divorced." She did say that the chain is trying to become more "customer-oriented," which may cause changes in marketing strategy. However, Pam emphasized that the Homeowners (and their loyal dog, Twobafore) are still in the planning mix.
Kathy Auth, who supervises trademarks for the Hechinger finance department, said the chain still has trademarks on the Homeowners and on Twobafore, and has every intention of keeping the trademarks current. Kathy acknowledged that Harry and Harriet are no longer used all the time in advertising. "But they're still very much a part of Hechinger," she said.
If only it were so. I'm afraid the evidence says otherwise.
I went back through 1990's Sunday Washington Post Hechinger supplements. The Homeowners showed up only here and there for the first five months of the year. They have appeared only once since May, and according to the Post advertising salesman who handles the Hechinger account, that was an accident.
I know an ice job when I see one. So do you.
Will you entertain a motion to reconsider, Hechinger?
Harry and Harriet may be a little dowdy and a little shopworn. But every time I see them, I smile the same way I smile when I see a picture of Ozzie and Harriet Nelson.
The Homeowners make me feel good about packets of seeds, good about fresh paint, good about spackling compound, good about a virgin pair of work gloves, good about an autumn Sunday with the Redskins on the radio and a heavy-duty rake in my hands. Harry and Harriet are family. Harry and Harriet are Washington.
My nose tells me that something horrible is coming down the pike to replace them. Something like Hip Homeowner and his wife Hop.
They'll both be 28. They'll both wear Dockers and Nikes. They'll both be recent transplants from Los Angeles. Hip will have a pony tail and an earring. Hop will wear a Walkman and a punk haircut in 43 colors. Their motto will be, "I'm Like, Hechinger, for Whatever, Ya See What I'm Saying?"
Could any fate be worse? Somewhere in Hechinger's corporate suite, there's a cooler head. Would it please prevail?
Our annual drive is off and running, which is better than being off and walking. But we need your help. May we count on you? Here's how to be part of a 42-year Washington tradition:
TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE CAMPAIGN:
Make a check or money order payable to Children's Hospital and mail it to Bob Levey, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C., 20071.