Drivers racing in their cars along Mills Avenue through the eclectic Virginia-Mills retail district may be forgiven the oversight; after all, jumbled window displays can make it hard to single out any one item, even though when you see it, it's hard to believe, and even harder to forget.
But there it is, just inside and to the right of the glass door beneath the black-and-blue awning of Absolute Leather, at 942 N. Mills Ave., a shop whose fetishwear targets those who are slaves to fashion and a whole lot more. It's a knee-high statue of Michelangelo's David. And its famous exposed privates are hidden from view, covered up by overzealous Orlando code inspectors who walked into owner Jim Helmich's shop one year ago this month and told him to put clothes on that thing.
The display -- for Helmich, fearing the city's slap, doesn't dare remove the leather chamois teasingly tied around the inanimate object's waist -- remains an enduring symbol of Orlando's civic prudishness. But it's not stretching things much to see evidence of harassment as well. Acting on a single complaint, two code enforcement supervisors visited Helmich and his neighbor, Rainbow City -- two stores that cater to a heavily gay and lesbian clientele -- and told them to clean up their acts. For Rainbow City, that meant relocating several sculptures of female nudes from the front of the store to the back. It also meant removing the plastic fruit stuffed into a mannequin's shorts -- an affront to good taste, although not necessarily to good moral character.
Helmich, meanwhile, was told to remove a collar and leash from his window display; asked to remove the tiny leather harnesses from two stuffed teddy bears; and informed that a pair of mesh shorts, through which a mannequin's plastic buttocks could be seen, constituted an inappropriate display. Only when David was deemed too explicit did he object. But he did as he was told. And he's heard not a word from inspectors since.
Elsewhere, however, nudity apparently can go unnoticed. Bill Pease, owner of MyOptics eyewear, wanted to see what would happen at his store downtown at 329 N. Orange Ave. Immediately after learning of Helmich's experience, he erected a two-month display of a naked David in his front window, " and all that was on it was a pair of glasses," he says. "I think Orange Avenue has probably the highest foot traffic of any street in Orlando. And nobody made any complaints whatsoever." Not even the city.
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