Friendship for Dummies

By Christopher Werner December 27, 2008 Published in the August 2008 issue of Seattle Met

Fred is one of Joe Miller’s best buddies. They’ve been pals for nearly two decades. They ride ferries on the Sound and snap photographs together for Christmas cards. Fred’ll greet you when you walk in the door of Miller’s business—smile wide and eyes attentive.
Oh, and Fred’s a mannequin. He’s one of more than 200 that line the walls and pack the closets, bathroom, and garage of Miller’s house. No, they’re not for stealing a ride in the car-pool lane or for some wild inanimate-object fetish (yes, trust us, we checked). The dummies are Northwest Mannequin’s stock, and Miller’s house is the base for renting, selling, and repairing them.

The gig started as an apprenticeship 17 years ago and, since Miller bought the company, has taken over his Greenlake house, where you’ll find scattered bins brimming with hands, arms, broken fingers, and freshly-painted limbs. Meander through the maze of mannequins—from a screaming baby to a hand-standing child to seductively posing women—and their vacant stares will follow. But Miller thinks nothing of that as he delicately doctors the mannequins. Aside from Fred, they remain unnamed, and Miller organizes them by sex, ethnicity, and number.

Clients include Macy’s and the Museum of Flight, but don’t expect to see Fred in any store windows. Miller has vowed to never sell the wooden-armed, overall-clad man with the 52-inch waist. He couldn’t possibly do that to a friend.

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