"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.
Any more rules? "Always carry your towel," she says, handing me a teal-and-blue number. Then again comes the dreaded question:
"You taking those off?" she asks, motioning to my shorts.
Marianne has pulled up in a golf cart. Lucille hops in next to her. Slowly and oh so cautiously, I pull off my shorts. "Hop in," beams Lucille. I nudge my way into the cart beside the two ladies, and we're off.
In the nudist world, the towel is a Swiss Army knife. A big one -- say, the beach towel variety, such as mine -- is a delicate, casual sash to drape over nether regions, so as to not make it obvious that nether regions are covered. It's a barrier against neighboring naked butts on a golf cart. It's a sanitary device for a bare ass that will share a plastic chair with other bare asses. It's a shield against the sun that beats down on a naked body.
In the cart, Marianne states that raising kids nudist helps their development. "When nudist children hit puberty, they have higher self-esteem. They've already accepted their bodies. And, being nude takes away the mystique of the opposite sex when they're growing up."
"They've seen it all," Lucille, who has raised her three kids -- all "well adjusted, happily married, educated" -- chimes in. "Their natural questions are answered."
Sounds like a convincing argument. Of course, that could be because I'm nude, and am now standing with two naked women in a cool, air-conditioned trailer, nursing a cocktail. Until now, I've been jittery about my foray into public nakedness. But we're in Lucille's cozy camp trailer, and she and Marianne have handed me a jug of Bacardi 'n Coke the size of a human head. Thanks to the liquid courage, I'm much more relaxed and my hubris is amped up -- hell, I'm ready to go start a nekkid bar fight. Clearly, for me, nudism is a drink best served cold and alcoholic.
We're back at the pool, where I meet Wayne, the genteel, well-groomed leader of Healthy Hides of Houston, a social organization that boasts 90 members. I'm distracted by a tall, bulbous man in his sixties who walks by me. His belly seems to have an additional spare tire. White hair dots his back. Each cheek of his desktop-flat ass ripples like a flag of surrender in a war movie. He bears a large terrible tan line; it's so expansive, it looks like he's been sitting in a pool of thick white paint. His breasts point sadly to his knees. This man should never be naked -- not even when he's bathing. And yet he strolls around poolside like he owns this place -- and he does so confidently, nonchalantly and happily. This is his turf and he's here to work on his (dining table-size) tan line. There is one beautiful, well-built couple here, so I just can't understand why I looked at tan-line guy in the first place.
"Oh, everybody takes in the full picture once. Once," says Marianne in passing. "That's just human nature. But not after that. I mean, that's just not what this is about."
"Well, of course I look," says Jim, a gay father of six adopted children (who are all here and all nude). "I look at men's...endowments. I think 'Oh, wow' or 'Oh, that poor, dear man.' But yes, I notice, at least once. I still remember when I first saw him. That man has the largest penis I've ever seen." Jim points to a well-built man in a baseball hat and sunglasses standing nearby. The man's appendage hangs nearly to his kneecaps. Heck, it's the longest penis I've ever seen.
All this penis talk raises an inevitable question: "What about erections?" I ask. "I mean, you figure with all these guys..."
"I've only seen one, and the guy apologized profusely," says Marianne. Slim fesses up. "I've discovered that I can't slow-dance naked with my wife," he says. "I've done it with other women -- nothing. But with Lucille, it's trouble."
I also can't help but notice that in apparent contradiction to the natural approach, pubic hair is, well, showing up missing. Nearly every woman who walks by is completely shaved or has a tiny landing strip. Same with the younger guys. I'm starting to wonder if I'm breaking some sort of nudist etiquette.
Lucille grabs me by the wrist. "Time to shower, it's dinnertime!"
After a few minutes in the "private shower" (why is a private shower necessary in a place where everyone's already naked?), I walk into the clubhouse kitchen, where a massive spread of slow-smoked pig, rice, beans and other veggies, salad and dessert is laid out for all. The sight of 70 naked people gathering around containers of food is a little jarring, but I'm hungry. The food is excellent, and I'm content as I chat with my tablemates.
But then a nude diner walks by me, his three-inch member not five inches from me. Though I see him in my peripheral vision, it's too late: His genitalia have (albeit accidentally) crossed my personal space. Sitting outside on a towel was one thing. But trying to focus on slow-smoked pig and rice, while a man's schlong nearly brushes against me? That's something else entirely. I have no alcohol and I'm starting to panic.
"Are you vacationing this summer?" asks Sam, who saves me. Her innocent questions about my life are so random, my attention shifts from panic attack to my upcoming trip. I glance around the table and the room. Folks are chatting and laughing and happily noshing. Moms urge their kids to eat their veggies. Bare male and female breasts hang dangerously close to the hot food on paper plates. Men sit back in their chairs and pick at their teeth and other body parts. But above the shoulders, it's a classic dinnertime scene.
An odd feeling of guilt washes over me. Like ugly tan-line guy at the pool, these people are completely at ease. They've invited me to break bread. We're dining together, sharing stories of family and friends. There's no talk of anything gross. Sure, Mom taught me never to go to anyone's house for dinner naked. But she also taught me to be a gracious guest, and to now suddenly freak out at my new friends seems immature and disingenuous.
People are cleaning up, taking out the trash. They're all making a beeline for the door.
"What's up?" I ask Lucille, looking squarely at her hairline.
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"Pool time! And you're gettin' in!"
After a few very uncomfortable minutes in the pool (I nearly lose it again when a naked body brushes up against me), I make my way toward my towel and clothes. Music is thumping through the club speakers, and Jose, Jim's partner, is getting jiggly in a ring of nude dancers. As I weave through the tables and chairs, he grabs me by the hand and starts twirling me.
"I usually don't dance with men, especially naked men...," I say to him. He'll have none of it. Not when I've already dropped my inhibitions and my shorts here.
Aw, hell, what's a little naked Macarena among friends?