Calling all cars
Patrick Bahr and David Michelini have spent a considerable amount of time this holiday season wondering what is wrong with people. Bahr and Michelini own and operate the Antique Bahr on lower Greenville Avenue, and they had a lot of spirit going into the Christmas season.
An apparent upswing in crime has made life in the neighborhood pretty scary, particularly when a nearby shop owner was beaten with a pipe and left for dead just five days before Christmas.
In the spirit of the season, Bahr and Michelini decided to give fellow shop-owners a reason to laugh. As it turned out, Bahr and Michelini got a lot more than laughs in exchange for their gift, but more of that in a moment. First, there are a couple of things that should be said about the two men.
Mainly, the two have an exceptional love for all that is unique, a characteristic that is essential to the business of collecting and selling antiques. The other thing is that they each have an off-beat sense of humor.
One of their favorite tricks is dressing up female mannequins and arranging them in various positions on the sidewalk in front of their store. Bahr and Michelini have a lot of fun with the girls, and the girls, in turn, have become the store's trademark.
One time, for instance, Bahr and Michelini tied the girls to an old Cadillac parked in front of the store with its hood popped open. The girls were attached to the car so that it appeared they were peering into an engine that wouldn't start.
"We've had a lot of old men stop and get out of their cars with jumper cables," Bahr says.
Standing behind a counter cluttered with candles, Bahr cackles as he describes the confounded looks on men's faces when the damsels in distress turned out to be cold, heartless mannequins.
"It's just an attention grabber," says Michelini, who adds that he's afraid people are losing their senses of humor. "Things have just gone backwards lately."
Things went especially backwards on Friday, December 27, at precisely 1:18 in the afternoon. At that moment, the Dallas police department received a 911 call from a person who refused to give his or her name. The caller reported that there was a naked woman standing in front of the Antique Bahr, which is located at the corner of Greenville Avenue and Lewis Street.
But there were a couple of problems with the caller's description. Namely, the woman wasn't a woman at all, and she was hardly naked. She was also not alone.
The woman was really a mannequin, a tall slender vision of beauty that Bahr and Michelini had dressed in a floor-length red gown and a green Vera Whistler original hat.
"She was in her holiday red and green, as a matter of fact," says Michelini, who is hugging a Santa Claus doll, its red suit and shiny black boots now covered with dust. "We thought it was very festive and holiday-like."
As part of the display, the stuffed Santa was placed in front of the model, his left hand mischievously holding open the mannequin's red gown. At three and a half feet tall, Santa's cotton beard was situated inches away from the model's anatomically incorrect, er, private area.
At precisely 1:29 p.m. that Friday, Bahr was seated alone behind the store counter when out on the street there arose such a clatter. And what to Bahr's wondering eyes should appear, but several Dallas officers dressed in full police gear.
"Storm troopers," Bahr says, describing the officers, who arrived in three squads, secured the building's front entrance, and then rushed into the store.
"I thought there was a madman on the loose or a bank robber," says Bahr, who adds that he could not believe what the officers told him next.
"'It's about these lewd and pornographic mannequins,'" Bahr says an officer told him. "Another came in and said, 'you are violating my First Amendment rights. I wouldn't bring my children in here. I wouldn't bring my wife in here.' I started to giggle. I thought it was a joke."
A joke it was not, and the giggling did not help matters.
Bahr says the officers started to call him things like "scum" and "gutter trash." After Bahr informed the officers that he was not going to take down the display, he says one officer told him that he and his colleagues would "find some way to take you down."
That's about when Michelini arrived at the scene.
"I was scared to death I was going to find Patrick shot or something," says Michelini, who convinced Bahr that it would be best to take the display inside.
By then two of the squads had cleared out, and no arrests were made. Bahr and Michelini closed the store, but they say they were afraid to go home because one officer parked behind the store and sat there for nearly two hours.
"I got so paranoid I wouldn't leave the store. I just sat in here in the dark. I wasn't going to leave until they left," says Bahr, who still does not know who the 911 caller is.
Police spokesman Chris Gilliam explains that three squads responded to the call because they believed there was a real live naked person on the loose, and they wanted to take extra precautions for the person's safety.
"The officers are driving to that location thinking we do have an actual individual, so we want a supervisor on the sight as well," Gilliam says.
A copy of the police "call sheet" shows that the dispatcher did indeed ask officers to respond to a call about a naked woman, but it is not clear why the dispatcher did so: A copy of the incident report clearly shows that the caller was complaining about "an obscene display," not a naked woman.
"The display was a female mannequin, naked from the waist down. There was another mannequin dressed as Santa Claus, bending over with his face in the female mannequin's crotch, simulating a sex act," the report states. "This was on the sidewalk in open view of any children going past."
Gilliam says he can't comment on the allegations that the officers called Bahr names because he wasn't there, but the report indicates that there was at least some tension inside the store.
An officer "pointed out to [Bahr] that what he might consider 'cute' or 'art' might be considered obscene by a passing parent with children," stated the report, which described Bahr as "defensive" and "not cooperative." The report also shows that the incident wasn't "cleared" until 3:26 p.m.--nearly two hours after the police initially arrived.
Dallas police officer Robert Holt, who is listed on the report as the reporting officer, did not return a call from the Dallas Observer.
A week after the incident, Bahr and Michelini were wondering if, perhaps, the prospect of apprehending a naked woman caused the officers to come to the scene with so much excitement. They also wonder what the police's priorities are. After all, there are real crime problems in the neighborhood, and local store owners say the police have been noticeably absent.
A case in point: the old Stop 'N Go at 1406 Greenville Avenue was broken into three days after the mannequin incident. In that case, a man smashed the store's door at 3 a.m. on December 30 and stole two 12-packs of Miller Lite beer. A squad was dispatched to the scene at 4:12 a.m, but the officer did not arrive at the store until 5:15 a.m.--more than an hour later.
What's more, when the officer got there, he observed a man wandering about the lot, but did not stop and question him. After 45 minutes, a store employee arrived and played the store's security video tape for the officer. The tape showed Melvin Roy Hunter--the same man who had been wandering about the lot 45 minutes earlier--smashing the store door and stealing the beer, according to a copy of the police report.
Hunter, who had apparently consumed the stolen beer and was very drunk, had since wandered away from the scene. Unfortunately for him, he stumbled back to the store just as the officer was leaving. Hunter, 44, was arrested and charged with public intoxication and burglary.
While it only took police 11 minutes to respond to the call about the mannequins, an employee of the Antique Warehouse says she waited a half hour for police to arrive on December 21. That evening, she and her fiance were jumped in the store's parking lot, which is located across the street from the Antique Bahr. The woman says her fiance lay bleeding until a pedestrian finally flagged down a passing police officer, who then called an ambulance.
"This area, they're not controlling the crime," says the woman, who asked not to be identified for fear that the muggers--or the police--might return to harass her. On this Friday morning, the woman is busy packing the store's merchandise: she and her fiance are relocating the store to a safer neighborhood later this month.
The woman says the police presence on Greenville Avenue has declined ever since patrol officer Daniel Gomez was fired in October. Gomez, whom several area store owners praised for his dedication to the neighborhood, was fired in part for violating the department's off-duty regulations and submitting false documents.
"We would never think of having a gun, but we almost feel like we need one down here," says Bahr, who still has Gomez's police business card tacked to his wall.
Since he and Michelini moved out of the old Whiskey Bar and into their current location a year ago, Bahr says he closes up shop by sundown. He is also increasingly afraid to cross the street because of the traffic.
"I can't even get the cops to set up a radar to slow people down, and I've worked on that for two years," Bahr says, pointing his finger to punctuate each word. "I've talked myself blue in the face."
In the past year, Bahr says three pedestrians have been run over on his corner, and still the city ignores his requests that they put in a stop light.
All of which only compounds the confusion police created two days after Christmas, when Bahr and Michelini's mannequin became the target of a police action.
Why the display managed to offend one person so much, Bahr says he can only wonder. For now, the store's half-dozen mannequins remain huddled inside while Bahr and Michelini decide what their next display will be.
"I don't know, it could cross the line," Michelini says, sighing heavily. "I suppose people need to chill out just a little bit if they find that offensive."
Bahr adds, "It's just a Christmas joke, folks, lighten up.