Bound and determined

P.J. O'Rourke said bondage is popular these days because if you're chained to the bed, at least you know where you're going to be for the next 10 minutes. I think it's because if you can't move, nothing's expected of you. That's why "I'm all tied up" is an excuse we all use, whether it's strictly true or not. It makes you legitimate and blameless. Being tied up can make you very free.

Some people take this literally, like Anne Orris, former proprietress of the bondage club Studio Heart. When I met Anne last fall she tried to explain her interest like a Trekkie or a surfer or anyone else with a hobby-turned-lifestyle would. She said it was simply a role-playing thing. I envisioned the Dungeons & Dragons crowd, only tied to chairs, and thought that sounded like a good idea. I got myself invited to the club, whose $10 cover defrayed food costs (no booze allowed), and where they promised to show me the ropes, or put me in them, if that was my idea of a good time.

Chez Justine is a New York restaurant with dominatrix waitresses (like service isn't surly everywhere). For all I know New York has Dungeon Depots and Stake 'n Shakes on every corner -- chain restaurants, if you will. But in Central Florida, where a lot of people are offended that there is a naked person under their clothes, a bondage club is Taboo Grande, and here I'd been given the secret handshake. I was anxious to go, in both the good and bad senses of the word, so I had the pain/pleasure principle nailed down.

But I didn't go to Studio Heart. It wasn't out of disgust or distrust. It was because the place turned out to be in some warehouse in Kissimmee. I'm not afraid of fetishists; in fact, I dig their fashion sense. People on leashes aren't scary. Kissimmee at night is scary.

Law and ardor

Kissimmee got scarier for Anne when her club was raided recently and the police arrested her, her husband Neil Kenneth Orris, and her ex-husband Jack Heart. Attorney David Wasserman says Anne, who had a heart attack in January, asked for her medication, which was in the club. She was ignored. Workers at the jail recognized her illness and had her taken to a hospital. She was handcuffed and shackled to the bed for the duration of her stay.

You might think police were just trying to make the bondage girl comfortable. But a woman suffering heart trouble and being treated like a crackhead Hannibal Lecter, all for lewdness and not having an occupational license, is no joke. "[A second-degree misdemeanor is] the lowest charge on the totem pole next to a traffic violation," Wasserman says. "The Kissimmee police are the kings of bondage."

Considering the page of circuitous directions Anne wrote down for me, you'd really have to go out of your way for anyone to have gotten lewd with you at Studio Heart. As for the other charge, bets are on that if there was an unlicensed clown college in that warehouse, the occupants still would be making their balloon poodles in peace. We do, after all, live in an area whose attitudes are just to the left of Lancaster County.

But this isn't just sex, it's kink. Nudity's defense is, "it's natural." People who want to be hit, restrained, degraded or have their their boots licked are freaks. (OK, at least some of them are.) But on other levels that sort of thing goes on around us all the time.

If you've seen women willingly expose themselves to ridicule on Howard Stern's show on the E! channel, you've watched humiliation as entertainment. The office toadie itching to flatter and please the boss is a boot licker in a dress shirt instead of a dog collar. Ever see anyone tied to a loveless relationship or thankless job that they could have left but just kinda never did, preferring to make you an audience for their misery? They're martyrs, masochists and performance artists. And every girl who was over the age of 12 between 1976 and 1983 has worn jeans so tight they hurt, not to mention restricted movement and left zipper-shaped welts on her skin. We were all bound to please, and we never thought twice about it.

Fit to be tied

Props don't constitute perversion. We've all spent time on the cross, all seen the pain coming and not moved out of its way, and we all act out roles in power plays every day. If someone wanted to gag you for fun you'd be horrified, but you probably seldom say what you want to, anyway. Life can be perverse.

Anyone in the Heart crowd could be a criminal, but it should be an actual crime, not their fringe taste, that makes them so. Judging a book by its leatherbound cover is a bad idea. Ask the people who thought John Wayne Gacy was a pillar of the community.

Wasserman plans on boosting the Orris' legal defense fund by auctioning equipment from Studio Heart, which means you have a chance to see some cruel and unusual furniture, though you may have to stare at it for 20 minutes to answer the question, "How is that a chair?" Maybe they'll replace the gavel and the block with a riding crop and a slave. And this time I'll go. Last time I said I was all tied up. Or maybe it was "really beat."