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Desnudo en el Mar
I've never been entirely comfortable with nudity, at least not my own, anyway. Even though I live alone, for some reason, I can never get myself to sleep in the nude, no matter how many great things I hear about it or how much I drink before bed. (And I've tried. A lot.) And just about the only thing I can do in the bathroom with the door wide open is that thing where you look in the mirror and say "Bloody Mary" three times.
When it comes to other people showcasing their goods, however, I say bring it on. In fact, you might say it's been a bit of a thing with me for some time now. I spent my childhood dreaming that some doctor or dentist would accidentally leave an old issue of Playboy in the waiting room magazine rack. Or that my family would somehow stumble upon a nudist colony on one of our camping trips. And I remember being changed forever at the age of twelve when, one balmy summer day at Jones Beach, I saw one girl lose her top in the waves and another accidentally display her butt while trying to clean sand out of her bathing suit. In the car home later that day, I felt like a man, and it was awesome.
The occasional brush with fate or some romantic date's poor judgment aside, I still wanted more in the nudity department. Then as luck would have it, I was asked to cover a "clothing-optional dinner" by a now-defunct radio program.
"We couldn't talk anyone on our staff or even someone not on our staff into doing it," they told me. "Then your name came up."
"I'll do it! I'll do it!" I said, remaining perfectly calm.
As an inquisitive and occasionally hard-hitting journalist, I felt obligated to accept. The fact that I'd be hanging out with a bunch of totally naked people and actually getting paid for it made me feel like I was creating my own destiny. It was as if I had been working toward this moment my whole life.
The group behind these clothing-optional dinners held events every few months, usually in some restaurant with a spare banquet room, an open-minded waitstaff, and—presumably—chairs that wipe down easily. But the stars magically aligned and the dinner I planned to drop in on would be taking place on a small cruise ship that would sexily wend its way around New York City's sexy surrounding waters as sexy naked people enjoyed what would undoubtedly be one sexy, sexy meal. My great-grandfather was a sea captain,1 so it was almost as if my past and present had joined forces to give me what would undoubtedly be one of the greatest and most important nights of my life. I was born to be on that boat, dammit.
It was a rainy evening as I hopped in a cab headed for the water with John, a tech guy the radio show sent along with me to record everything the naked people and I said, and my friend Lucy, who was coming along both for emotional support and in hopes that this naked cruise was going to be every bit as awesome as I kept telling her it would be.
"Everyone on the boat is going to be fully nude and just kind of free, y'know?" I told her excitedly. "There's also supposed to be a very nice buffet."
"I'm sorry," Lucy said. "It just doesn't sound like my kind of thing."
"Please, I really need this."
"Fine, but you owe me one."
"You got it!"
I figured if things didn't go as planned, at least I'd be on a boat with a good friend, which is always nice. Also, to be honest, whether I took my clothes off or not, I didn't feel secure enough in my masculinity to go out there with just another dude.
The naked boat was setting sail from Sheepshead Bay, an area of Brooklyn that looks like it was once the stomping grounds of sailors, convicts, and whores but is now a port of call for sexy, sexy people with both a taste for adventure and a distaste for clothes, which is to say, people I totally could not wait to hang out with. I was certain the boat was going to be teeming with open-minded, uninhibited, and totally butt-naked superfoxes and maybe a handful of dudes with their junk out that I would just have to accept as part of the deal.
As our cab pulled up to the docks, it wasn't hard to spot the naked party boat. It was practically radiating good times. Even from far away I could see large swatches of flesh passing sexily by the boat's windows.
"Come to us, Dave, you succulent man," I swore I heard them call from the distance. "We're waaaaiting.…" My expectations, however, were dealt their first blow as soon as we got a little closer and myopia was no longer on my side. There, awaiting our arrival in the boat's entryway, was Ron, the event organizer and—to his credit—the brains behind the operation. Pale, freckled, and fiftyish, Ron wore only glasses and had a build not unlike a lopsided baked potato with four toothpicks shoved into it. One gut picked up just below where the first one left off and, well, I was determined not to investigate any further south after that.
"Whatever, I'm not here to look at dudes anyway," I thought.
"Welcome," Ron said with a firm yet slightly-too-long handshake. "I'm so happy you've decided to cover our little event here!"
"It's my pleasure," I said before immediately questioning that statement.
"Wonderful," Ron said. "Now climb aboard, we'll be setting sail just as soon as everyone gets situated."
As I quickly learned, in Ron's vocabulary "situated" meant "pantsless." At this point, I was starting to think maybe this would be like the movie Eyes Wide Shut where all the men were old and flabby, but all the women were still scorching hot for some reason. But that delusion was shattered only seconds later as Ron led me to the main dining area of the boat. There I was greeted by about thirty absolutely nude men and women in their forties and fifties, a shameless sea of pasty flab, cellulite, and slowly graying pubic hair.
"Usually we have a bigger group," Ron explained, "but the rain has kept a lot of folks away."
"Are you sure it's the rain?" I wanted to ask him.
To be fair, this wasn't necessarily an unattractive bunch. They more served to illustrate the fact that most people should probably keep covered up at all times than, for example, the idea that ugly people simply can't wait to drop their pants in a group setting. The exception, of course, were the half dozen gay men seated together in one corner, who were uniformly toned and tanned from head-to-toe. (As I understand it, most gay men receive a gym membership in the mail immediately after even grazing a male crotch other than their own for the first time, so this wasn't a surprise, really.)
As I slowly made my way around the boat, I decided to take my shirt off in a show of solidarity. Pale, flabby, somehow skinny and fat at the same time, and with enough random patches of body hair to singlehandedly prove the theory of evolution, I'm not exactly headed for the cover of Men's Fitness any time soon myself. Still, I was confident my looks (or lack thereof) would land me squarely between Ron and the table of gay guys, so I figured I might as well go for it.
"You're not going to take off your pants?" Ron teased me.
"Baby steps, Ron," I told him. "Baby steps."
"Oh, come on, Dave," he persisted. "Why not just see how you feel without them for a bit? For me."
"What happened to the ‘optional' part in ‘clothing optional'?" I wondered. He could have at least offered to buy me a drink or told me how nice my hair looked first. But, among other things, tonight was about acceptance, so Ron let the whole thing about me keeping my wedding tackle under wraps slide as he began to further explain what exactly I was in for once we pulled up anchor and headed out into the extra-friendly waters.
"There's only one rule at our dinners," Ron smiled. "No hot soup."
He said that last part like it was the group's official slogan. I wanted to suggest he get it printed up on T-shirts, but it seemed pointless. And as it turned out, there was another rule besides that one—everyone has to put a towel down on their chair before sitting, a courtesy that I'm guessing facilitates both sanitary table hopping and Ron getting his deposit back.
As Ron continued bringing me up to speed, I couldn't help but notice he was one of those people who stands just a little too close to you when he's talking, a detail greatly magnified by the fact that his senior vice president was flapping in the breeze as he spoke to me. Still, I had a job to do, so I held my ground and began asking the tough questions.
"What about erections?" I asked.
"What about them?" Ron replied.
"Well, are they frowned upon or … not at all?" I asked with a wink.
"It rarely happens," he explained as if he were reading aloud from some member literature, "but if it does, we ask that the owner simply be discreet about it and excuse himself."
"Good to know," I said.
"But I think you'll find this is a completely nonsexual environment," Ron continued.
I couldn't have agreed with him more, but I think my reasons were different than his.
A moment later, Ron's wife, Elaine, walked over to join in the fun. Again, I have no doubt she was a perfectly attractive woman with clothes on, but au naturel she was just further proof of what I've been saying since the '80s—no one should ever take their clothes off in front of another human unless there is either a medical emergency, the prospect of friction, or a significant amount of money changing hands. For starters, Elaine's personal lawncare choices made her look almost like she was wearing a snow-covered ghillie suit.2 I'd go on but I'm kind of a gentleman.
"How are you enjoying yourself so far?" Elaine asked me.
"I'm just so … happy to be at sea," I said, struggling for an answer.
"Yeah, it's so nice and breezy," she agreed.
With Elaine at his unencumbered side, Ron quickly turned to her for backup on how their group dinners were more about enjoying a nice meal with like-minded folks than checking out other people's gender bits.
"The thing about our group is no one is going around looking at other people's privates or anything like that," Elaine said firmly. "It's just not what we're about."
"Of course not, Elaine," I agreed. "May I call you Elaine?"
"Sure. Anyway, one thing I always say to people about these dinners is that I've never had so many people look me directly in the eyes."
I didn't doubt it, but that just seemed to be about survival more than anything else. I had been on the boat for less than ten minutes and was already worried I'd need to be treated for post-traumatic stress disorder once I got back on dry land.
Once my conversation with Ron and Elaine ran, ahem, bare, I decided to make my way to the bar. Normally I try to avoid drinking on the job but I felt like I had plenty of excuses this time, so I ordered myself a beer. The bartender, an employee of the cruise line, evidently looking to join in the fun, was working shirtless tonight. Acknowledging each other's pants, we gave a "there but for the grace of God go I" look to each other before I turned around to do some sexy mingling.
By this time, Lucy, who had wandered off on her own shortly after we came aboard in order to let me wear my journalist hat, was already deep in conversation with a handful of naked people at a nearby table. The fact that she remained fully clothed must have rendered her exotic in their eyes as they were showering her with attention. As soon as I walked over to join them, however, they grew quiet. Thanks to Ron, word that I was a reporter had already made its way around the boat and no one was too eager to be outed as a practicing nudist by me, the guy with a notepad and completely fastened pants.
"People at my job wouldn't understand," a mustachioed man with a dangling earring explained to me.
"Really? That's strange," I said, trying to sound sympathetic. "So you're not exactly crazy about wearing pants—big deal."
"That's what I think," he agreed.
"Some men you just can't reach," I told him, shaking my head.
There was a reporter and photographer from The New York Times on the boat, too, but they seemed to be taking in the proceedings from afar, as if they were at the zoo, not getting right into the pen like I was. I suppose in that way, I was a bit more threatening. Plus, with the exception of the gay guys, I had the closest thing to a six-pack going on the entire starboard side, which wasn't saying a whole lot, but it must have been a little intimidating under the circumstances.
"Are you okay?" I whispered to Lucy as I tried to blend in with her and her new friends.
"Yeah, these people are really nice," she whispered back. "Really weird, but nice."
"Pretty strong words coming from the only person on this boat with all her clothes on," I said while pulling up a chair.
No sooner did I get settled in with Lucy and the naked people than Ron rang the dinner bell. Across from the bar was a banquet table covered in heaping trays of food. It turns out naked people eat pretty much the same stuff that clothed people do: salad, string beans, salmon, bowtie pasta, and a beef dish of some sort. The difference, however, was that in this scenario people's junk dangled just inches from the hot plates and Bunsen burners. I would have thought the situation called for a pud guard of sorts, but clearly this gang didn't have hang-ups like l did. I cringed as I watched a man's leaky faucet come dangerously close to plunging into a bowl of honey mustard vinaigrette.
"Sir, uh—" I said to him.
Suddenly, my hunger trumped any other issues I might have had at the moment, so I powered through, skipping the salad yet filling my plate to the edge like the hearty fourth generation seaman I am.
Settling in back at a table with the naked people, I attempted to get their stories. A fairly equal mix of men and women, some wore facial hair, some not, some wore pubic hair, some not. It was a good start, but I wanted to learn more.
"So, what brings you guys here tonight?" I asked. "Are you all nudists looking to mix things up with a little boating? Or is it maybe the other way around?"
Despite my sincere interest, most of them kept quiet and the ones that were willing to speak with me did so as if they had just taken a media training seminar for people who hate clothes.
"This isn't about sex, this is about being together in our natural state," a man with hair on his chest and nowhere else told me as the rest of the naked people nodded in agreement. I decided to take them at their word, mostly because I was whatever the opposite of horny is at that point, and it wasn't hard to agree that this night had absolutely, positively nothing to do with sex. Still, their answer didn't exactly explain why an attendee who introduced himself as "the Wolf" got dressed only from the waist up once a cool sea breeze rolled in.
"What's with the sweatshirt?" I asked.
"I'm cold," the Wolf said.
"Are you cold just from the waist up then or…?" I persisted.
"No. I'm cold all over."
"Why no pants then?"
"I don't know."
"What do you mean you don't know?"
"I just don't know."
"So it really is all about having your beef thermometer out then, right?" I asked the Wolf as professionally as I knew how.
It felt like an "a-ha!" moment to me, but the Wolf just continued to dodge the question. That didn't stop me from getting at least a few answers out of him, though. Apparently the Wolf first got into nudism after seeing a sign for nude camping grounds while he was out for a drive one day. Wasting no time, he pulled over and joined in the fun. Even more impressive was the fact that this was the Wolf's first time at one of these "clothing optional" dinners and he had come alone.
I can't imagine circumstances that would cause me to show up somewhere all by myself for the very first time and just whip my master of ceremonies out like that. It was hard not to admire the guy at least a little bit.
Once the naked people and I had had our fill of the buffet, a gaggle of us headed to the upper deck to enjoy some of that sea air (though, admittedly, them more than me). Lucy stayed behind and continued to hold court with some other naked people. Her clothes still on, the naked people simply could not look away.
The upper deck was sort of an observation deck turned dance floor. There was another bar up there, so I decided to throw some more gasoline on the fire by buying another round for me and some of my new friends. Or so I thought they were. Separated from Lucy, I no longer had an ally and the naked people wasted no time in pressuring me to fully join their ranks.
"How about losing those pants?" a fiftyish, earth-mother type with a long, gray braid suggested coyly.
"You just want to see my package!" I protested.
Again, they all denied having any interest in that sort of thing and simply suggested I join them so that I might better understand what they were all about.
"You're a journalist," they pleaded. "How can you report on tonight without truly experiencing it?"
"I feel like I'm getting a pretty good sense of things," I said defensively while subtly making sure my belt was fastened and my fly was still up.
"Puh-lease," the earth mother said, rolling her eyes.
A few sips of beer later, I decided to throw the naked people a bone and took my jeans off. I had to admit the breeze was nice, even with my boxers still on. But with my assets still shrouded in breathable cotton, my gesture meant little to them.
"That doesn't count, Dave," the earth mother scolded. "Give us your underwear."
"Look, if you really want to see my dick so badly, why don't you just come out and say it?" I told them.
"No one wants to look at your dick, Dave," the guy with the dangling earring assured me.
"Okay, fine, so you just want to see my balls, then? Is that it?" I countered. Admittedly, the sometimes cruel rhythms of the sea had me a bit nauseous by this point, so I was starting to spout nonsense.
"We told you, we're not about any of that stuff," a woman with a full Brazilian chimed in.
"No, Dave," the earth mother seconded. "Now please join us."
"Yeah, Dave," the dangling earring guy chimed in with a New Agey grin. "Join us."
I don't know if it was the sea air, the alcohol, or Donna Summer blaring over the boat's sound system that did it, but I was starting to believe them. And as the fleshy mob slowly surrounded me, I was also beginning to think I had little choice but to lose my boxers or jump overboard.
"All right," I told them. "I'll do it!"
At that the naked people cheered in unison as if they had all won tickets to see a revival of Oh! Calcutta!
Kind of like submerging yourself in a freezing swimming pool, I figured dropping my boxers gradually would only make things worse, so I whipped them off in one swift, jerking, scream-filled motion. And immediately following that motion my genitals practically caught fire from the amount of stares they received from the naked people.
"You're all looking at my package!" I screamed. "I totally just busted all of you!"
"Come on, Dave." The lady with the hairless infield blushed. "It's not like we're not gonna take a little peek."
"‘A little peek?' You were all just plain staring and you know it!"
Silence. These people disgusted me. Or did they? After all, I was now one of them. And I have to admit, after that initial tension subsided, I kind of liked it. No sooner had I dropped my boxers than the naked people suddenly dropped all that "It's not sexual" crap they had been trying to feed me all night.
"I'm also a member of a polyamory group," the earth mother cooed at me.
"I'm shocked," I deadpanned.
It turned out that, in addition to her office job, she ran an S&M-themed side business where her specialty involved strapping on a pair of high heels and kicking customers right in the clangers. And the guy with the dangling earring and lady with the bald vagina? Together, they were part of a swingers group and had been riding one another like a mechanical bull since the early '90s.
"You have a very nice package," the earth mother told me as if she were admiring my tie.
Admittedly, I had to ask her several times before she was willing to give me her opinion on the matter, but it was still nice to hear her talk so freely like that.
"Your stuff is, uh, nice, too," I responded, not sure what I meant but wanting to return the compliment somehow.
The more I opened up to the naked people, the more they opened up to me. With my dingle dangle twisting in the night air, I was no longer a journalist, but simply a fresh new face joining them for a night on the high and sexy seas.
"I can't help but notice you have no hair on your vagina," I said matter-of-factly to the woman with no hair on her vagina.
"Nope—I sure don't." She smiled. "You're a very observant young man."
"Thanks. I get that a lot."
It turned out she had been waxing her downtown real estate for years now and couldn't imagine turning back. The guy with the dangling earring seemed just as excited about it as she did.
"You should try it," she said eagerly.
"Yeah, you should try it," the guy with the dangling earring agreed, turning toward me.
The balls on this guy. Literally. Sorry, folks, you can take my dignity, but you can't take my shrubbery. I need that. For a lot of stuff.
With the playing field leveled and a full inventory taken of both my best and worst features by my fellow naked people, we decided to take a stroll together around the upper deck of the boat to take in a bit of the night breeze, which—with my boxers now draped over a nearby railing—really seemed to be picking up all of a sudden. To maintain some sense of decorum, I yelled down to Lucy to tell her that, in order to preserve our friendship, I really needed her to stay on the lower deck until the show was over. To her credit, she was fine with it. The naked people, not so much.
"Why won't you let her see you naked?" the earth mother asked.
"Because I don't want to scar her for life," I explained.
"But I already told you, you have a very nice package," she countered.
"Thanks. And it means a lot. But I'm really going to need everyone to respect my wishes here, okay?"
As we sexily made our way toward the ship's bow, we naked people happened upon the photographer from The Times, an attractive female twentysomething, who was busy snapping away like she had just spotted Jennifer Aniston on the town with a new boyfriend. I was surprised to find myself equally embarrassed and titillated as the fact that my chancellor had shown up to the party slowly registered across her face.
"Oh, no, the hot New York Times photographer can see my package!" half of me thought.
"Oh, cool, the hot New York Times photographer can see my package!" the other half thought.
As the Times photographer did her best to pull herself together at the sight of me, I continued to let the night air have its way with me. But no sooner had I grown accustomed to the all-new, all-nude me than the ship's fully clothed captain announced that the ship would soon be arriving back at shore, that dreaded netherworld where clothes were not only the norm, they were required by law. With that, my fellow skin aficionados and I headed for the stairs back down to the main level. Before I descended, I decided to put my boxers and pants back on. Not only did I not want Lucy to run screaming at the sight of me, but I didn't feel like sharing Naked Dave with those who had remained downstairs all night. Naked Dave was only for my fellow naked upper deckers, the ones who had really earned it.
Once back on the main level, I ran into big, butt-naked Ron again. Apparently the legend of Naked Dave had made its way down to the the main level well before my triumphant return.
"So, how did you like it?" Ron asked.
"It was nice," I told him. "But just so you know, the first thing everyone did was look at my package. You might wanna have a little talk with these people."
"Come on, Dave." Ron shrugged. "It's not like we're not gonna take a little peek."
As dry land slowly came into focus, my fellow birthday-suit boosters and I pulled the rest of our clothes back on like ancient slaves reluctantly refastening our own shackles. Not surprisingly, there was no shortage of tie-dye and batik ensembles, New Age jewelry, and other stuff I had already chosen to imagine them in during those moments when all that skin got to be a bit more than I could handle. And it was safe to say that—without exception—everyone was a whole lot more attractive covered up a little bit. I even wanted to tell some of them they looked so good with clothes on it was almost hard to believe how horrifying they looked naked, but suddenly it dawned on me how that might not sound like the compliment I meant it to be.
"That's a really fun top," I said to the earth mother instead.
"Yeah, it's okay," she said, clearly struggling with having to cover up.
Once we were safely docked, my new friends and I made our way back to shore where I noticed a handful of clothes-loving landlubbers loitering near the dock.
"Guess what. We were all just totally naked out there on that boat!" I wanted to yell out to them. "Butts, boobs, johnsons, hoo-has, everything!"
But in the end, I thought better of it. Sure, it would have been awesome, but it might not have been cool, especially with me being a serious journalist and all.
Before we went our separate ways, the earth mother, the guy with the dangling earring, the woman with the shaved infield, and I all exchanged business cards. They wanted me to get in touch with them as soon as my story came out and I wanted to see if their business cards said anything about how much they are totally into getting naked all the time (in case you're wondering, not even a mention. I know. I thought it was weird, too).
A couple days after my sexy night at sea, I received a coquettish e-mail from the earth mother.
"My polyamory group has regular outings to the beach. We have a bonfire and lots and lots of fun," she wrote. "You should really think about joining us sometime."
That was two years ago. I'm still thinking about it.
Copyright © 2012 by Dave Hill