There is a small half-bowl of beachfront on the Pacific Ocean in San Luis Obispo County, California, know to the locals as Pirate’s Cove. It’s a secluded area spanning maybe the length of a football field, and it would be difficult to locate from the road on the cliff above were it not for a perennially sad little grouping of two or three—or five—men out at the edge of the cliff, standing around with binoculars.
As you may have surmised by the presence of onlookers, Pirate’s Cove is a nude beach.
I’m pretty sure I stepped on out of the womb naked, though I have no photographic evidence to support this. You’d think I’d gestated while fully clothed in little yarn-y booties and scratchy hat—and one of those t-shirts that says: “Daddy’s Little Tax Deduction.”
So when my girlfriend at the time, an exotic dancer by trade, sought to get a little color without tan lines in the interest of career development, she asked me to ride shotgun on her sunbathing.
I said, “Sure.” Suddenly, I felt a weird mix of fear and the realization that I could never recall being naked to no purpose prior to this. I leaned into it, tried to be nonchalant, and white-knuckled it through an hour or so in the sun. The sea breeze came in, it cooled off, and clothing was no longer optional but necessary once again. We never went back. No bad vibes, other than the creepy feeling of being watched from the cliff above—we just got busy and life happened and we went our separate ways.
It wasn’t until several years later, at a Human Awareness Institute clothing-optional retreat at Elysian Fields—one of the great historic nudist parks in L.A.—that a visceral epiphany took place. About 50 of my new best friends and I spent four days in profoundly non-sexual nudity as a community of spiritual workshop participants, and this time enough life had transpired that my fear was gone and my mind was ready to be blown.
For most of us there, it was our first time being naked in a group, which comprised people of all ages, sizes, weights and stereotypes. There is this weird first hour or two where you make intense eye-contact with everyone, because the unspoken corollary is that most of us have gone through a lot of our lives without being in the presence of everyone’s “junk” hanging variously out in the breeze. This is accompanied by intense self-consciousness about our own bodies—are we good enough/beautiful enough/man enough/perfect enough? After all, a lot of people have made a ton of money selling us muscle cars, big trucks, dishwashers, timeshare condos and Viagra by appealing to our insecurities. It goes without saying that little girls have, for generations, been left to compare their insides to every supermodel outside that is plastered all over our line of sight.
However, after that initial awkward period accelerating through to the speed of lightness, we come out the other side transformed: It feels wonderful being naked. It seems safe and authentic and erotic and non-sexual and sensual as hell. Every movement brings your skin into direct interface with every element in the environment and all your brain cells are picking up delicious information that they never knew existed as we hopped from tub to towel to coitus to getting dressed to … and so on. But THIS … this is just being nude for no purpose whatsoever.
Besides, it’s cool to just step out of a shower and say, “Y’know, I don’t have to dry off if I don’t want to.” More than anything else, that feels like you’re breaking the law somehow.
Of course, now, you want to try everything naked. Except sex, actually … ’cause everyone does that naked or in some degree of undress. In the clothing-optional community, sex seems like, well, kind of a pedestrian use of this newfound feeling of lighter-than-air flight. It would be like, don’t know, being granted once-in-a-lifetime use of a magical time-machine—and then just using it to go back two days so you could pay your electric bill on time.
Which is not to say that there is no eros afoot, being that eros, in Greek, is the form of love associated with innocence and lust and sensuality and playing in your mashed potatoes when you’re three years old. Parents can usually shame and scold the eros right out of you, fortunately, and turn you into a little Donald Trump zombie, so not to worry. But here, those of the same and opposite sex stop being amalgamations of body parts and start becoming beautiful one and all–fat, wrinkled, grey haired up and down. You begin to see people in their totality and vulnerability and frailty and ferocious glory and suddenly everyone seems lovely and everyone has the heart of a lion and you would lay down your life for every one of these magnificent creatures.
And sometimes someone of any age and body type can say something beautiful and clever and you find this faint twinge of arousal and are turned on, not by their bodies but by their minds and their hearts.
And just as soon that magical moment passes and now we’re all gonna go play kickball or swim or move on to the next thing that gives us an excuse to feel the world against our skin, chafed by cloth and buried for so many years from the “real world.” We’ve been two degrees of separation from being an android head in a polyester box and we didn’t even know it … but here we are real.
This is, after all, a collection of sensations felt by the heart, not a thesis to be cogitated and intellectually masturbated upon, peer-reviewed and published. It is feeling, and it is glorious.
Suddenly: The workshop is over and it feels terribly peculiar to be covering up your lovely body with clothes, and everyone goes back to life in L.A. with tiny unspoken sadness as we return to the prison of our manufacture.
Years pass. Today I live on 10.6 acres of forested seclusion, seven miles south of Stillwater, Oklahoma.
Occasionally in the spring or fall (when the bitey creatures aren’t so abundant), I’ll dart out the door straight out of the shower if the dogs or cats are fighting or the chickens start squawking–and then right back in to suit up because that’s what I’m supposed to do.
Nevertheless, a tiny remnant of the wild, naked man remains. Ever since I saw that movie Never Cry Wolf, I still make a point of peeing outside whenever it’s convenient; it’s good nitrogen for the depleted Oklahoma soil, conserves flushing, and my dogs think I’m the only human they’ve ever known who “gets it.” And they will, like clockwork, line up and mark their territory just to the other side of where I’ve marked mine. I don’t know exactly what we’re all saying in dog-speak, but it seems grave and serious and like initiatory process to them, so they condescend and I play along. They were here before me, after all, so who am I to think I know more than they do?
Mostly, though, I conform. I step back into the grey haze and go to my job, carrying my hangups and neuroses about in the same unique designer backpack that everyone else bought. But I remember, once, fumbling with the cables, hot-wiring the connection to my soul, and taking it for a ride. And I’d been taught all my life that was like Grand Theft Auto. I did it once, and I hope to get back there or die trying.
Originally published in This Land, Vol. 3, Issue 18. Sept. 15, 2012.