Let me just say at the outset that as I write these words, I am fully clothed. Shirt. Pants. Shoes. You know the look. Now, this is a point writers rarely feel the need to make. Traditionally, they simply go about the task of setting down words with little or no mention as to which parts of their anatomy are covered or exposed. I envy those writers. I used to be one of them. Allow me to explain.About a month ago, the pressures of script deadlines made the task of arranging dialogue between characters running around on a movie screen an all-consuming one-to the extent that any distraction was deemed so intrusive, I was absolutely livid when pulled out of a rehearsal to take a call.
“Alan, would you ever give any thought to spending time at a nudist club and writing it up?”
“You can go there whenever you…”
“And you can write the piece whenever you…”
“Any idea when you might be able…”
“I mean, you’re extremely busy, so…”
“But all of your other projects…”
“They can wait. How much do I owe you?”
“Letting me do this.”
A CALL TO MY WIFE:
“Hey, Robin! Guess what? I’ve been asked to write about a nudist club in Palm Springs.”
“I’m not going.”
“Who invited you?”
Reaction from the rest of my family ranged from my son, Adam, 14, begging me to take him along, to my youngest daughter, Sari, 7, who giggled at the thought of “Daddy seeing lots of tushies,” to my embarrassed middle daughter, Lindsay, 11, who–as I left in the third inning of her West L.A. softball game–found it easier to tell her teammates I was going to the hospital for minor back surgery.
There were other reactions as well. The most asked question: Are you going to get naked? The least asked: Well, my dad lost sleep over where I was going to insert my room key when playing naked volleyball. The person with the most questions: Me. And I started asking them as I turned onto I-10 heading east toward the desert: Why am I doing this? Did I bring enough sunblock? Why am I doing this? When was the last time I was naked in front of a nude woman whom I wasn’t married to and with whom I shared a hamper and three children? What if I run into someone I know? Like Siskel? Or Ebert? Or one of my mother’s friends? What if I get an erection? What if I get an erection in front of one of my mother’s friends? Why am I doing this? And why in God’s name am I sweating this much?
The air-conditioning in the car was on full blast, yet as I got closer and closer to the exit that would lead me to the land of naked people, my pores were involuntarily soaking every stitch of fabric associated with my 44-year-old body, and I was now sort of hoping that somewhere between my daughter’s softball field and all of those windmill things, I’d contracted malaria and would have to call my editor with my regrets and suggest she send a non-Jewish male to research this article.
The place I was driving toward? The Terra Cotta Inn, which, according to the brochure, was a “clothing optional” resort. So with the distinct possibility that it was nerves and not a rare tropical disease that was causing me to sweat like a fountain, I began to hang onto the wordoptional the way that actress in Cliffhanger hung onto Sylvester Stallone’s hand.
I can’t remember ever knocking more gently than I did on the big gray doors that separate the Terra Cotta Inn from the traffic on East Racquet Club Road. But after a few seconds, the door opened. A woman, dressed only in a romper unzipped to her navel, greeted me. Standing beside her was a completely naked man.
“I’m Mary Clare.”
“And this is my husband, Tom.”
“Nice to meet your penis, Tom.”
Rendered mute by their unique brand of desert hospitality, I obediently followed Mary Clare and Tom around a half wall, which gave way to a courtyard. With a pool. Bordered on three sides by attached rooms. And swimming in the pool, lying on the grass near the pool, reading books and Sunday papers on lounge chairs that surrounded the pool and walking around, casually sipping drinks nowhere near the pool, were them–the naked people. Two-eyed, four-cheeked naked people, who obviously didn’t know the meaning of the word “optional.”
My hosts couldn’t have been nicer. They explained that this was strictly a couples resort, where people come with their significant unclothed others to enjoy the sun and relax. The last thing they want is for anyone to feel pressured into walking around in any way that would make them uncomfortable.
But as much as I appreciated the inherent logic of this policy, anyone who has ever been the only sober person at a party knows how it’s possible to feel like the only one who’s drunk under those circumstances. I, for one, had never felt goofier than when I was unloading the car.
The fact that I brought luggage to a nudist resort is, in itself, worthy of some discussion. But how I felt carrying three suitcases and a hanging garment bag through a maze of lounging naked people on the way to my room on the far side of the pool is a topic Talmudic rabbis could debate for centuries. Suffice it to say that Robin did my packing, and it took me close to 45 minutes to determine what I was actually going to wear to a naked tea. My decision? Gym shorts and a Yankees nightshirt that extended just below the knee. My thinking? Hard to say. But for some reason, it felt just right.
The office of the Terra Cotta Inn is not dissimilar to the office of any typical resort that happens to have 36 stark-naked adults and one large Jewish man in a Yankees nightshirt having wine and hors d’oeuvres on a Sunday afternoon. Husbands. And wives. Girlfriends. And boyfriends. Youngish. And oldish. Blackish. And whitish. Chitchatting about the weather. The Dodgers. Clinton. Conspicuous by its absence was any overt acknowledgment of each other’s overabundance of exposed flesh. They were all so natural. And casual.
Could I possibly be like that? So cool? So nonchalant? I went outside to where everyone had drifted back to their previous locations in and around the pool. I took off my gym shorts. No big deal–courtesy of my Yankees nightshirt–but a start. And then? Oh, what the hell. Off came the nightshirt, and into the pool I dove. Butt naked. Like the day I was born, only larger and more immature.
Under the water I swam. Eyes open, mindful of any exposed body parts that might be dangling in my path. At the other side of the pool, I came up for air, and right before me was a rather plump, elderly couple sitting on the edge, minding their own business. I turned around, took a deep breath and headed underwater back to the other end, where I surfaced only to find myself, God help me, looking into, God help me, the nether regions of a beautiful woman sitting with her legs, God help me, apart. And then…well…it happened. The “e” word. Right there, in the pool. Well, let’s just say I had no choice but to swim back (now with the aid of a rudder) toward that plump, elderly couple whose very presence, God bless them…humbled me.
A CALL HOME:
“Are you naked right now, Daddy?”
“No, Sari. Can I please speak to Mommy?”
“Hey Dad, you take any pictures of the naked folks?”
“No, Adam. Can I please speak to Mommy?”
“Dad, when you come home, could you limp in front of my friends? The way you would if you actually had minor back surgery?”
“Fine. Can I please speak to Mommy?”
“Could you drive out here?”
“Because I’m hornier than a toad.”
“Alan, the kids have school tomorrow.”
“Robin, I was around naked people all day, and now it’s night, and I’m alone, and I’m ready to burst.”
“Please. It’s only a two-hour drive. You can come out, stay seven minutes, then turn around and go home.”
“You gotta be kidding.”
“You’re right. Six minutes.”
I hung up, got undressed, went outside and was aware of the fact I had never done those things in exactly that order before.
The Terra Cotta Inn doesn’t have a restaurant. (If it did, I wondered, would the chef have to wear two hair nets?) But meals ordered in arrive in no time, as the delivery boys from all the local restaurants race through the streets so they can get to see the home where the naked people roam.
I heard voices and walked in their direction. Much to my surprise, I now had no inhibitions about my nudity. Sure, I was conscious of it, but there I was. Under the stars. Four couples. And me. At a naked pizza party. A couple from L.A. whose children knew where they’d gone for the weekend but weren’t told about the clothes part; a middle-aged CEO from Michigan and his wife of 27 years; a kindergarten teacher and her husband, a retired cop, who’ve been coming to places like this since 1987; a couple from San Diego, both attorneys and both 32; and me.
I realized I liked these naked people. They were without pretense in addition to being without clothing. So the next morning, when I saw a number of them pass my window holding coffee mugs and doughnuts, I took off my bathrobe and dashed outside to join them. Not only did I spend the entire morning naked, but, by noon, I found the very concept of clothing an absurd one.
A CALL TO A FRIEND:
“Garry, it’s Alan. Look, I’m calling because I just felt the need to tell someone that I’m forty-four years old, and about an hour ago, for the first time in my life, I put suntan lotion on my ass. I’ll explain later. Bye.”
What else can I say other than that I was now one of them? I swam naked. I read Christopher Darden’s In Contempt naked. I ate a chef’s salad naked. I played naked Foosball. I started using my laptop for reasons other than to just cover my lap. And I was quickly becoming more and more intoxicated with my new-found freedom.
“Hi, Alan. Where you headed?”
“Carl’s Jr. The one on Palm Canyon. Want anything?”
“Catch you later, Tom.”
“Do you think you should put some pants on?”
“Well, the Palm Springs police have rules when it comes to naked men and fast food chains.”
“What about the drive-thru?”
“Also the drive-thru.”
ANOTHER CALL HOME:
“Well, then how about taking a plane?”
“I’m serious, Robin. The airport’s only a few miles from here and–”
“But you’re coming home tomorrow.”
“Exactly. So I say fly out in the morning, I’ll pick you up, bring you here, then we’ll drive back to L.A. together.”
“Great, because I really want to you to see this place and meet my new friends.”
“Hey, guess what? Remember when I told you that years ago, this place was where President Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe used to come together?”
“Well, local legend has it they used to stay in room 34, and I went in there today.”
“So think about it, Robin. This very afternoon, I was naked in the same exact room that a president and Marilyn Monroe were naked in.”
“So the way I see it, in some strange, mysterical way, this afternoon I had sex with…”
“Here, speak to the kids.”