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Window Undressing 

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A few minutes after midnight on a recent Thursday, security guard Larry Ellis finished placing several police barricades in front of the Sears on State Street. Warning "Do Not Cross" in white letters, the blue blockades signaled day's end for the four Australian actors hired by the city to live in Sears's display windows like fish in an aquarium. Three of the men were already snug in their bunk beds, while the fourth, David Wells, was in pajamas and nightcap, tidying up the kitchen.

Reanna Stevens illegally parked her Grand Am in an alley. Racing across the nearly deserted State Street, she and her friend Cathy Pardo stopped a few feet from Ellis, who appeared not that stunned. Panting and laughing, they announced their intention: "Flash the Australians."

"Want to cuff me?" Reanna asked, as Cathy turned around to wiggle her backside at Wells, who waved from behind the window.

"If they're making their debut in Chicago, we'll make it a debut to remember," said Reanna, who's 22 and a student in criminal justice at Moraine Valley Community College. She tends bar at an off-track betting parlor a few blocks away. Cathy, 23, said she was similarly employed at a club on Clybourn, but recently left when her boss deemed her "too, like, wild." She's now back to working days for the first time in six years, clerking at a west-side company that distributes ice cream.

By now their act had attracted a few observers. Oblivious to the stares, Cathy explained, "We came here to flash these guys." She placed her hands on her blouse, turned around, and wiggled. Reanna pulled her T-shirt to the top of her midriff, then stopped. "Woo-woo."

Reanna and Cathy have been best friends since seventh grade. Growing up in Evergreen Park, they were big fans of Thelma & Louise. Cathy volunteered that she and Reanna were on a sort of goodwill mission to help the Aussies fight boredom. "I mean, they don't have a TV," she said.

Felled by a bout of food poisoning later that evening, Cathy was "so pissed off I didn't make it over there" before morning. The bad burrito was a mere memory by Friday night, as she drove to a fund-raiser for Rod Blagojevich ("he's running for something, right?") and made plans to go back to the window with Reanna, who would be off work by 11. "I'm dressed really nice," Cathy said.

After changing into a sky-blue halter, miniskirt, and tennis shoes, Cathy carried her black dress and heels in a shoulder bag when she and Reanna walked down State at 11:45. Reanna had $100 in tips in her pocket and didn't have time to get out of her union-regulated khakis and collared shirt. "Yeah, Local 1 says this is what I have to wear to work--but that doesn't mean I can't give the Australians a night to remember."

Cathy looked furtively for an opportunity to flash, but the sidewalk was packed with people. There were security guards. "Oh, wait, wait," Cathy said, "there's no guards up here." She took a few steps forward. "Oh, no, I can't," she said, giggling, "there's kids right there."

Reanna's backpack started to ring. "It's gonna be my mother," she said, but it was Joel, the cute cook from work. "We're down here watching the Australians," she said. "No--I just needed some air." According to Cathy, Joel has the hots for Reanna, but Reanna only wants to discuss Brad, a bartender at Buddy Guy's. "Brad is the number one bartender in Chicago," she says, shutting off her cell phone. "I call him Bradillac--like Cadillac." She takes out her wallet to show off a picture of Cathy's six-year-old daughter. "She just graduated kindergarten," Cathy said. "Reanna is her loving godmother."

Reanna was busy sharing information with passersby: "Yeah, these guys, they live in here," she said. "Yeah, they're from Australia. They've been friends a long time."

"Over 20 years," added Cathy. "I saw it on the news."

The pair snagged a prime spot in front of the living room, where Andrew Morrish and Nick Papas stood clad in tropical shirts and shorts. People gathered around, scribbling questions, then jostling to press paper to pane. The Australians responded with markers on erasable boards.

Reanna and Cathy debated what to ask. "What's the Australian word for Foster's?" suggested Cathy, but Reanna said that's like asking what's the Dutch word for Heineken.

Clothing queries seemed safer. Cathy came up with, "Do you need to wear similar outfits except different sox to tell you apart?" Reanna pressed her question against the glass. "Do you guys have to wear the same shoes?" Morrish and Papas elaborately mimed a response. Reanna followed up. "Do you get to keep the shoes?"

Cathy switched the subject to food. "Do you throw shrimps on the Barbie? The Naked Barbie Doll?"

Papas indicated yes, then started juggling feather dusters, per Cathy's request. Jokes about foreplay followed, prompting Cathy to scribble, "Your Friend who is sleeping Knows us Crazy Chicago Girls from when he washed Dishes Wednesday--WAKE HIM UP."

Morrish and Papas demurred, suggesting charades instead. "Charades? OK, we'll play," Reanna said.

The Australians skulked about with their arms bent in the shape of a fin. Jaws was the easy guess. Reanna and Cathy countered with a newer movie, Swordfish, but their jousting routine gave it away. Reanna was incredulous, but Cathy reminded her, "They haven't been living in there forever." After the Australians did Chicken Run, someone in the crowd yelled, "Throw Momma From the Train!" Then security showed up with the barricades, and the crowd stepped back.

"It's that time," Reanna said. "Where's the guy with the handcuffs?"

Cathy carefully wrote her phone number and "Call Me" on a piece of paper that she held up for Papas. He saw it and smiled. "Don't worry," Reanna told her, "we're coming back."

At 10 on Sunday night, Reanna and Cathy were trying to squeeze in another visit to the Australians, but they were starting to lose their enthusiasm. Already an hour late to meet their friends at Buddy Guy's, Cathy called on her cell phone. "We just pulled into the parking lot." The Australians would have to wait.

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