Losing It

Our intrepid columnist goes camping and finds it a bare-bones affair

"Well, ya got a little lost, but ya made it, huh?"

The grinning, welcoming Gary adjusts his glasses and scratches the silver hair on his mostly bald head. The deeply tanned sixtysomething is wearing ankle-length tube socks and sandals. On this hot, breezeless day, the socks appear to be a nuisance. With a firm handshake, he invites me into his office, which is a welcome relief from the Saturday-afternoon humidity. The wood-paneled walls are covered with posters of smiling, happy families and couples, some engaging in outdoor sports, others lounging in the park. Gary's holding a cordless phone and carrying on a conversation with one of his co-workers. "Yeah, he's here. Glasses. Mexican-looking guy with a baseball cap and beard. Okay, I'll tell him."

"Okay," he says to me, "you can drive over to the clubhouse. I'll walk over. Have fun."

I nervously shake his hand and thank him, doing my best to maintain eye contact. It's not that he's not a friendly guy -- he's awfully hospitable -- very uncle-ish. It's his choice of clothing.

Other than the aforementioned uncomfortable socks and sandals, Gary is completely naked.


And so is everyone else here at Natural Horisun Family Nudist Park. I've come to the secluded campgrounds in Boling (about an hour south of Houston) to hang -- literally -- with the locals for the last day of Nude Recreation Week. Gary meets me at my car. "Now, are you taking off your clothes?" he asks. I explain to him that I'm going shirtless for now, and that I need my shorts: "Where else am I gonna stick my notebook?" I don't let him answer.

As I approach the pool and clubhouse, tanned, naked adults (all in their forties and fifties) are lounging near the pool, at tables and in lawn chairs. Several kids are giggling and frolicking in the pool, oblivious to everything around them. The adults regard me with curiosity and, it seems, suspicion. At first I wonder if it's because I'm the only nonwhite person here. But as I watch people look me up and down, and fixate on my shorts, it occurs to me that it's because I'm partially clothed. I immediately realize that the best way to maintain my composure is to keep everyone (and everything) at eye level. Looking straight ahead, for me, helps the nudists blend into the furniture.

That is, until a blond 13-year-old girl walks up and says hello. I glance at her and immediately look away. Now I'm starting to panic. "Hi," she says again. Will you stop talking to me? I scream in my head. I mumble and walk away, content to let her and the people around me think I'm rude rather than a pedophile.

The next naked body I meet belongs to Lucille, the effervescent, jovial president of the American Association for Nude Recreation's southwest chapter. Lucille, a fortysomething brunette, introduces me to her husband, Slim (he is rather slim), and her friend Marianne. We shake hands and, to my surprise, hug. I hold my breath as their naked bodies rub against me.

"You hungry?" asks Lucille. She and Marianne bring me over to their "luau," a miniature covered campground. I help myself to a couple of hot dogs, piecing together at least six wiener/nudist punch lines in my head. I meet Karl, a tall, long-haired guy who has his own art car, called "Margaritaville," made of a Jet Ski on a lawn mower. He grabs two squealing naked kids who are following him, plops the giggling tykes on the back of his vehicle and drives off into the park. "See ya, Karl," Lucille calls to him.

She then takes me on a tour of the campgrounds, and gives me a bare-bones course in nudism. Despite what people may think, the folks in the AANR groups are family-oriented, outdoorsy types. People looking for swingers need to hit up "lifestyle" groups instead, as there is "absolutely no lewdness" tolerated here. "This isn't about sex -- there are places for that," she says. "We keep an eye on who's spending too much time with the kids, and who's being too friendly with people's wives." Offenders wind up on a local, regional and national black list, according to Lucille. "Behavior here is such that it requires no apology," she explains. They're ecstatic about their upcoming (and all-nude) Iron Chef tournament, fish fry (sounds painful) and stage play (costumes?).

I make the mistake of referring to the camp as a colony. "Colonies are for lepers," she says. "We're not lepers, we're a social group. We're normal people who have jobs and families." Indeed, according to publicity material, 92 percent of AANR members are 35 and older, and 83 percent of them are college-educated. The majority are married and have kids.

"First rule here is that everyone takes showers before they get in the pool," Lucille says. "We're very hygiene-conscious here. You go to a normal pool, you don't see anyone taking a shower. Here, everybody does." Despite all the hot weather and exercise, the only smell in the air is that of suntan lotion and sunblock. Lots of it.

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