It smelled like men. And maybe that was because there were over thirty of them and only three women. One woman was teaching naked yoga and as far as I could see (I dipped my head in to glance at the class), all the followers were men.

The problem was it took place in a gym, and gyms are sort of smelly anyway. Some men worked out, a few were in the indoor pool, others sat around on black plastic chairs. There was room-temperature pizza in a small, heated room—the kind of room elementary schools have where they store the photocopy machine and construction paper. There were two-liter bottles of Coke and Diet Coke and some plastic cups. I took a cup and got water from the cooler in the workout room. That was when I saw the man with fluffy neon-green pubic hair. His penis was tucked between his legs and he was lying on a weight bench with a green book and a green towel. The guy who was running the place walked up to chat with me. I couldn’t help but lean in and whisper, “Can you explain the green pubic hair?” He shrugged, changed the subject, and I realized those kinds of questions were as off limits as blatantly staring at the variegated body shapes and sizes. (One couldn’t help but note, however, that male genitalia vary as much as the human face. On the food spectrum, the penises ran from shoestring fries, to mushrooms, to hard-boiled eggs, to Jimmy Dean sausages.)

They were as nice as any people you’ll ever meet. Like Mormons, or Jehovah’s witnesses, or new neighbors. I brought a few friends with me, and the nudists shook all our hands, told us about their no-pressure, live-and-let-live philosophy. They claimed it was a family-friendly club, and I’m sure it is on other days, but that night there were no kids around and the only woman who stuck with the crowd was a gentle and kind new-comer whose strained smile hinted at the idea that she might not return.

The regulars urged me and my women friends to shed our clothes, jump in the pool, simmer in the Jacuzzi. We all demurely refrained from undressing, each one of us having her own hang up that would take a whole other essay to write about. No one asked my two men friends to disrobe and swim.

When it came time to sit down for the reading and discussion, I noticed that only one person, the group leader, had my book in his hand. The guy with neon-green pubic hair did have two books on his lap, both written by him. (Later he showed me the books, but I should admit I was so off-kilter from the setting that I had a hard time following what he said.) It seemed reasonable for the others to be without books considering no one had a pocket, briefcase or bag. I thought this would also mean no cell phones going off during the reading—oh what a joy that would be! Alas, just before we started, a cell phone rang and a buoyantly large man bent over, furry behind up and out, as he reached for the phone that must have been under his chair.

The writer Larry Doyle (we became friends after he blurbed my book), introduced me and led the discussion following the reading. Larry brought up the naked swim parties in my novel, THE SUMMER OF NAKED SWIM PARTIES, and how the nudity in the 70s may have been a little more prurient than what was happening in this Maryland-based family nudist club. No one responded to Larry’s comment, perhaps they were too blissed-out from the combination of pizza and naked yoga. When I apologized for being clothed by saying something like, “If I can show my face, why can’t I show my body?” a youngish man replied with, “Why can’t I ask a woman what she weighs?” Before I could answer, Larry jumped in and said, “I think you need to take that question out of your repertoire.” Good advice, indeed.

Larry brought the talk back to my book, the characters, the setting (1976, Santa Barbara, California); still, no one had much to say. It occurred to me then that perhaps the group leader was the only one who actually bought or read the thing. No matter to me, I enjoyed the night tremendously and loved shocking my system by being confined with people I’d normally never encounter. At least not with their clothes off.

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JESSICA ANYA BLAU's third novel, THE WONDER BREAD SUMMER, was selected as a Summer Read on NPR's All Things Considered, CNN's Book Chat, and Oprah's Book Club. She is also the author of DRINKING CLOSER TO HOME, and THE SUMMER OF NAKED SWIM PARTIES. For more information go to www.jessicaanyablau.com.

57 responses to “My Night at the Naked Book Club”

  1. Greg Olear says:

    In my experience with this sort of thing — limited, but not as limited as it may seem — dudes ALWAYS outnumber the women by a wide margin. Twenty to one ratio, usually. Worse than Alaska.

    I love that this happened, though…it’s worth it just for the photo! Kudos to Larry for shepherding you through the nakedness.

    • Jessica Blau says:

      Yes, Larry was a great sport!

      Can someone explain why men are more willing to do stuff like this? Is it testosterone driving the impulse to hang around naked with a bunch of strangers?

  2. Irene Zion says:

    Jessica Anya, I was really hoping that by the end of the story there would be an asterisk which explained the green pubic hair. Also, why be in a nudist setting of your own accord, but tuck your penis away from sight? This guy needs some in-depth study.

    • Jessica Blau says:

      He was an interesting dude. Nice guy. But, yes, strange. It wasn’t St. Pats day, there really was no explanation for the green pubes.

      • dwoz says:

        maybe he also belongs to the Naked Car Repainting Club, or he practices yellow journalism and has blue balls, and the two colors meet in the middle.

  3. Great story, priceless picture.

  4. dwoz says:

    I wonder if there’s a naked beekeeper’s gathering?

    • Jessica Blau says:

      Do you keep bees, DWOZ??

      If you host a Naked Bee Keepers gathering, I’ll come and hang out!

      • dwoz says:

        When I was a teenager I worked with a beekeeper who had over 300 hives. They were moved from orchard to orchard for pollenation services, and we collected honey and maintained the hives and such. Over time you learn to move and behave in a way that confuses and perplexes the bees instead of angering them, so you tend to get lazy with protection…but naked? That’s like driving drunk without your seatbelt…a low value proposition.

        But hey, why not! We can compare bee stings. I’ll bet my bee stings aren’t NEARLY as interesting as your bee stings!

    • Dianna Rostad says:

      Ouch! Nude beekeeping? In no way is that a good idea. Especially if you have to do that epileptic dance trying to swat off a bug–Ewww.

  5. Jessica Blau says:

    Hey B.A.M.B.!

    THanks for reading! I have many, many more pictures but none of them suitable for publication.

  6. J.M. Blaine says:

    Ok, those two in the back?
    they don’t look like nudists.
    The rest do.
    What’s the deal there?
    How does one get the naked
    book club tour?
    Aren’t writers always naked?
    Emotionally?
    Should there be more naked
    writers?
    This is so much to ponder.

  7. J.M. I love the idea of the Naked Book Club tour!

    Those two in the back were first-timers–they were checking the place out. The rest of them were regulars.

  8. Hooray, comments are back on! I’ve been waiting for days to tell you how much my confidence in the sanitariness of public metal folding chairs everywhere has been diminished by this photo alone. Days!

    What an experience, Jessica! I think you had every right to ask about the green pubes.

    • Jessica Blau says:

      Ah, thanks for reading Cynthia! One of my friends who was there was wearing a VERY short dress and she had a hard time sitting on a chair (she sat on the edge, so none of her flesh touched the chair). NO ONE sat on a towel–they just plopped right down.

  9. zara says:

    Yay! Comments on!
    I love the photo! It’s just fabulous.
    I can’t remember if I have dropped you a note already telling you much I enjoyed your book -if I haven’t, then I apologise – It was great!
    Love you and I love your work!

    • Jessica Blau says:

      Zara! THANK you for reading (and loving!) my book! You’re wonderful! XXX!

      There are many more photos but I can put up any of the forward-facing ones. I’ll have to show them to you in person one day!

  10. Laura Bogart says:

    “(One couldn’t help but note, however, that male genitalia vary as much as the human face. On the food spectrum, the penises ran from shoestring fries, to mushrooms, to hard-boiled eggs, to Jimmy Dean sausages.)”

    I read this and laughed so loud and so suddenly that I managed to spook the dog. I now have a 95-lb German Shepherd cowering under my coffee table. I wonder what her exit strategy will be …

    Such a great observation, my favorite kind, in fact — odd and keenly insightful.

  11. Erika Rae says:

    Jessica, I can’t imagine a more appropriate reading setting for Summer of Naked Swim Parties – and I love the fact that they kept asking you to take off your clothes and jump in. Of course nudists would be all over that title. God. It’s brilliant. What an experience! Also, it’s just like the archetypical nightmare of speaking to a group of naked people, only in reverse. So much awesomeness.

    • Thanks for reading, Erika!

      You’re right, it was the reverse of the suddenly being naked fear. It was also the real life enactment of “imagine the audience naked so you don’t get nervous” thing.

      • Erika Rae says:

        You live such a Seinfeldian life. Maybe more like a modern day Canterbury Tales. Either way, the combo of air temp pizza, day glow pubes and black plastic chairs is magic.

    • MARNA says:

      there were a few more women that night and now the numbers are much much better! ‘
      cant wait for you to return
      marnacamp.org

  12. Tom Hansen says:

    I dunno. I certainly couldn’t do that. I retain my trim figure but all my scars would most certainly scare everyone away. Reminds me of the key party in The Ice Storm

    • Erika Rae says:

      Maybe we should have a Naked Scars Party. How metal would that be? Where’s Megan DiLullo?

      • Jessica Blau says:

        Does Megan have scars?

        SCAR PARTY sounds very cool! SCARTY. SCARTY ON!

        • dwoz says:

          does my chainsaw scar get me in the door?

        • Erika Rae says:

          Dwoz – you have a chainsaw scar? Sweeeeet.

        • Jessica Blau says:

          I want a photo of the chainsaw scar! If you really have it you can be King of the Scarty!

        • dwoz says:

          “…if I really have….????”

          oh, now THAT hurt. More even than the saw did as it bit into my upper thigh.

          Truth is though, it’s probably the smallest chainsaw scar you can get from a running chainsaw. Which doesn’t bother me a bit. I don’t have scar envy. Only about two inches long, and hardly three quarters of an inch deep.

          The best part of it is that only MOMENTS previous, I had just given my adult son a ten minute lesson on chainsaw safety.

        • Jessica Blau says:

          You are OFFICIALLY the KING of SCARTY!

          HRS (His Royal Scarness)

        • dwoz says:

          I will execute the duties of my office with honor and dignity.

          Now, on to practical matters: how, and to what, do I attach the epaulets?

        • Jessica Blau says:

          Don’t they make epaulets that can attach like a holster in a way? If not, I’ll whip up some up for you. The epaulets are necessary. As is the sword. Hip holster for the sword, indeed. But you have to be sure to wear it at the right angle so that it doesn’t outshine anything else you have going down there.

      • Tom Hansen says:

        A naked scar (hell, anything) party with you Megan and Erika. I could handle that

        • Hi guys,

          Jessica, I do have scars- mostly stretchmarks. EW!

          Erika, how do you always draw me into this?

          Tom, meeting you was so awesome even though you do the ghost thing… poof, he’s gone…
          A) how do you do that so well.
          B) where the hell did you go?

          We all must hang soon.

          Jessica.. I would be a total starstruck goob if I ever met you in person.

          And the naked book party thing. I’m fascinated and believe that you are the bravest person that I almost know. But seriously, the smell. I can’t stop thinking about how that place smelled.

        • Jessica Blau says:

          Hey Megan!

          Yeah, smells often seem more important than how things look. If something smells bad you just can’t get near it. But if looks bad, its easier to go there, right?

          I’ve got the same scars you do. It’s nice to think of them as souvenirs!

          Re: Tom as a ghost. The picture of him is very cool–looks like a carnival going on behind him and he’s wearing great-looking aviators. I could see a guy like that disappearing on you.

        • Tom Hansen says:

          Yes we must all hang soon. The answer to (a is I’m actually quite shy, and long protracted goodbye’s to large groups of people are awkward, so I usually just leave when no one’s looking.

    • Jessica Blau says:

      Really, your scars would be nothing compared to neon green pubes. And there were some scars, there, too.

      Sort of Ice Stormy–yes, it was very 70s. Only difference here is that no one was going to go home and have sex with someone else from the Naked Book Club!

      • Erika Rae says:

        Sorry Megan. I always think of you when I think of the word “metal”. And really there is no other way to describe a scarty.

        And sure, Tom. I’ll do a naked scarty. In the dark. As in pitch dark. Ha! Anyway, my scars aren’t so interesting. Wellll, maybe they’re a little interesting. I got one of them in a tornado. Only it wasn’t really from tornado, but because of one. Long story. I’ll tell you over pretzels and beer. No lukewarm pizza, though. Also, I will have to insist on chair covers. Ew.

        • Jessica Blau says:

          Yeah, the lack of towels on the chairs was strange. It’s like not putting that tissue cover on the toilet seat in a public bathroom.

        • dwoz says:

          What I find interesting about the lack of towels, is that you go to ANY workout gym, and you have to carry a towel around with you and wipe down the equipment, and spray it with the disinfectant stuff, after every use.

          It’s long-standing sweat-ettiquite.

  13. Ha! Nice catch at the end there, Larry.

    Seriously. Why green pubes? You’d have to make a conscious decision to do that, like, it would somehow be a net gain, in some way.

    • Jessica Blau says:

      I don’t think it was for the ladies–he didn’t seem like that kind of man. It seemed like, maybe, it was his favorite color and he was going to put that color wherever he could in his life!

  14. You are a brave soul, girl.

    I don’t think I could take on a naked book club. I love a nude beach–well, in Europe, that is, where half the nudists are German grandparents with their entire families all buck naked, jumping off rocks in the water and such–but something about American nudism strikes me as fundamentally creepier, unfortunately. On nude beaches in Europe, I’ve never encountered the overwhelmingly male ratio, but it doesn’t surprise me one bit that this would be the case at the naked book club Stateside. What is it about American culture that makes nudity–like “ladies’ night” at bars–primarily attract men? The answer says a lot of sad things about the culture, I fear.

    What did your mom have to say about the evening?!

    • Jessica Blau says:

      You are so right, Gina. European nudists don’t seem like nudists. They seem like people at the beach. It’s not really nudism–it just IS.

      My mother doesn’t go to the beach any more, nude or otherwise. She thinks of herself as an old lady and she thinks old ladies should cover up. I think we should ship her off to Europe and let her got some friendly old lady nudism with the Germans.

      • Seth Pollins says:

        Totally agree with the “something about American nudism being fundamentally creepier” thing. In Europe, it truly does seem familial, so normal, so out-of-doors and contextual–here, well the fact that you encountered this group in a closed gym reeking of pizza says a lot.

        Whatever the case, you write about it with warmth and humor, which says a lot about your equanimity. I’m not sure I could’ve stayed so level-headed. Then again, I might’ve been seen more as outright an antagonist to this group–yet another man.

        • Thanks for reading, Seth. They were very nice to the couple of guys who came with me. But they never invited them to take their clothes off!

          Yes, setting counts so much for everything, doesn’t it? A gym just isn’t the right place for a bunch of naked people. Oceans, lakes, beaches, and outdoor pools seem much better for this sort of thing.

  15. Tawni Freeland says:

    I enjoyed your penis-as-food comparisons. I love this sort of thing. I am also fascinated by the comparison of cysts to different types of round foods. When people describe cysts, they always seem to compare them to different types of nuts or fruits. It’s so gross that it circles back around to awesome for me.

    I really, really want there to be towels on the chairs. It’s upsetting me that there were no towels on the chairs.

    Thanks for sharing your naked book reading experience, Jessica.

  16. Jessica Blau says:

    Thanks so much for reading, Tawni!

    I have to ask you, are you discussing cysts often?

    Food is good for comparing anything on the human body, I’ve found. Could be a parlor game, you name the body part and people have to shout out the food. BREATS: Melons! FEET: Salsbury steaks!

  17. angela says:

    This was hilarious, Jessica. I’ve already relayed to you my own brush with public nudity and mediocre stand-up comics, a couple of whom insisted on doing yoga on stage in their all-together. At least the theater segregated the seating area, clothed on this side, unclothed on the other.

  18. Separating the clothed from the unclothed sounds like the nudist equivalent of an Orthodox Jewish synagogue!

  19. Jeffro says:

    This has to be one of the more interesting pieces I’ve ever read here on TNB. A naked book club. Green pubes. My hats off to you for 1) keeping a straight face and 2) making it through the evening.

    • Jessica Blau says:

      Thanks, Jeffro!

      I have to say it was not the scariest reading I’ve done–way easier than reading for a bunch of way-cooler-than-I-could-ever-be hipsters in Brooklyn.

  20. MARNA says:

    Thanks for coming Jess – there were a few more women that night and now the numbers are much much better! ‘
    cant wait for you to return
    marnacamp.org

  21. Tony Young says:

    Hi Jessica,

    I wrote a book called “American Nudist: The Lost Journal” about my experiences running the Hawaii Skinnydippers in Hawaii. Would you be interested in reading it for your blog?

    Tony Young

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