Window display tells story that makes us blush


April 15, 1993|By MICHAEL OLESKER

I am looking at the woman in the store window on York Road and feeling embarrassed. The woman in the store window is wearing black leather and carrying a whip. The last person I saw dressed in public in black leather and carrying a whip was Zorro, who was sponsored by 7-Up.

Zorro roughed up guys on television, an exercise which never seemed to embarrass anyone in America except maybe the guys getting beat up. The woman in the store window also wishes to rough up a guy, who is standing next to her in some sort of neck harness. The last one I saw in a neck harness was a street arab's horse around South Broadway.

When Zorro was finished beating up bad guys, he rode off into the sunset and disappeared. The woman with the whip in the store window has also disappeared. She was actually a mannequin, removed from sight while nobody was looking. Nobody knows exactly where she was taken, but this also has to do with embarrassment.

Specifically, the Towson Business Association's. They've made it clear that they find too much sexual kinkiness in the window of this store on York Road, which is called The Love Ones.

They believe the window display is a sign of moral decay and, worse, a threat to other businesses on the block. Like communism in Vietnam, it's the escalation factor everybody's worried about: If sex is in the store window now, it's got to be stopped before it can spread to some place dangerous, such as the bedroom.

Having opened their store in December and stocked it with the sort of items whose names once kept overaggressive prosecutors in business, the people who own The Love Ones are aware of a certain edginess about the place, and pressure from the Towson business community. Thus, they struck first. On Tuesday, they changed the window display.

If you walk past the store now, instead of leather and whips you see a woman in a zebra bathing suit with a butterfly net, a man in a flowered swimsuit, and a woman in a T-shirt and black shorts, who is holding a badminton racket.

There, does everybody feel less embarrassed now?

If lewdness is in the eye of the beholder, then what do our brains tell us about drawing the line on public sexuality?

"I'll tell you about drawing the line," says the sales clerk inside The Love Ones. She asks that her name not be used in the newspaper, as she has a daughter attending a private girls' school, who might be subject to -- here's that word again -- embarrassment.

"The circus," she says, standing in front of a $110 leather brassiere. "Have you gone to the circus lately? The girl on the flying trapeze. She's wearing a G-string and pasties, and that's about all. And she's flying up there above everybody. But nobody says anything about her, because it's the circus."

"And then," says another store employee, a woman in a bulky sweat shirt who is sweeping the floor, "you walk along the beach in Ocean City and people are wearing these thong bathing suits. And it's not mannequins, it's real flesh."

Their point is clear. Some have complained about walking their ++ children past The Love Ones display, and feeling embarrassed, but seem not to have such trouble on the beach, or letting their kids watch various TV shows or, for that matter, watching the circus lady on the flying trapeze.

Kids make a big deal of things if they see their parents make a big deal of things. If not, they make their own judgments. In the case of sex, usually they giggle at grown-ups' silliness.

The Love Ones' window display is a reflection of sexual silliness in a nutshell. In America, we tend to do one of two things in the marketing of sex: treat it with romance approaching sacredness, or with raw lust. Anything with subtlety, the marketing geniuses figure we just won't get.

At The Love Ones, I thought they gave us a little twist: not real kinkiness, but a comic sendup, mannequins dressed for the real thing who are standing there in positions of utmost innocence. It's a smile. But they happened to be playing to an audience too uptight to notice.

And that's why, seeing the window before the censors arrived, I found myself embarrassed: not over the sexuality of the display, but over the reaction of people who see it, and only feel comfortable with a whip if Zorro's using it to do violence.

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