Seattle, Summer 1997
Gregory placed his spindly hand on my nude thigh. Even in the hot tub’s balmy water, his touch felt clammy. Across from us, a couple who’d met hours earlier boffed with the force of a meteor shower. Until now, tonight’s cast party had consisted of soggy nachos, half-emptied kegs and stagehands languidly smoking weed in front of the TV. I’d been the high school art-geek a dozen years prior and feared this evening’s revelry, such as it was, smacked of a senior year movie fest. All we lacked was Pink Floyd’s The Wall on the VCR. So when a cast mate suggested nude hot tubbing out back, I acquiesced. I suppose I just could have gone home, but in my twenties, the simplest solution rarely struck me as the best one.
I politely removed Gregory’s hand and scooted away, my ass grazing the tub’s nubby surface. “No thanks,” I said, ignoring Gregory’s erection, expanding like a “sea monkey” brine shrimp in one of those fishbowl kits designed to teach kids about the miracle of life that instead result in pink, malodorous, dead things.
The water bobbed with other prospects and I assumed Gregory would simply nibble elsewhere. Instead, he glared at me with palpable menace. “Isn’t it interesting,” he asked, nodding toward the coital pair and their rollicking waves, “how some people live free of constraints?” He turned back to me. “Others insist on playing by the rules.” He paused, with what he clearly considered import. “We have rules in our hot tub, just like we have rules in our society.”
I stifled a laugh. He sounded like Jim Morrison in need of a hit and a nap. I wanted to retort there was nothing more conformist than a guy who thought a woman should fuck him merely because he was hard, but Gregory’s clenched jaw gave me pause. He wasn’t disappointed, but angry. So, I held my quip. My father was Supervisor of the Criminal Sentencing Unit and my mother was a deputy prosecuting attorney and if I’d learned anything about assault cases, it was that a willingly nude woman in a hot tub full of drunken pals didn’t stand a chance if something went awry. I reached for a nearby towel, stood up, swathed myself securely and walked back toward the house.
Inside, I trailed water drops as I made my way to my clothes in the bedroom, where I found some of the show’s other actors disrobing.
“What are you doing?” my friend, Amin, asked. “Don’t get dressed. We’re all heading outside to the hot tub.”
“Yeah, it’s time to dry off,” I replied. “Gregory has a hard-on and a wounded ego. I think I’ll see if there are any more chips left.”
“That’s ridiculous. I’ve got a better idea,” Amin said with a conspiratorial grin. A recent immigrant from Pakistan, Amin came from a wealthy and somewhat anomalous family: his father had been a petroleum executive; one sister was a physician; the other, a high-level banker. Despite his business degree, Amin harbored an anachronistic fondness for smoking hashish and listening to Bob Dylan in his Volkswagen bus on the grounds of his family’s palatial estate. His mother had sent him to the United States specifically so his mischief wouldn’t put him at risk for protracted imprisonment. Free to act on his impulses now, Amin was the cast’s merry prankster and the last to accept any party was over.
So the rest of us listened intently, knowing his idea might yield fruit. “I say we get undressed anyway,” Amin continued. “Let’s spend the rest of the party naked, but inside the house. Just carrying on conversations and eating and drinking beer in the kitchen as if nothing’s different. Let’s see what kind of reaction we get.”
Of course, telling a room full of artists, “Let’s see what kind of reaction we get” is like tossing steak to a pack of dogs. (Which, really, is not that different from tossing steak to a pack of artists.)
Immediately, we agreed to Amin’s plan. I flung my towel on the bed and the others finished undressing. Amin and I at the fore, our nude brigade traipsed down the hall.
As any theater person will relay, diminished modesty is a job requirement. Actors change backstage in front of each other and though there is initial curiosity–peaking while pretending not to peak–by the time the show opens, everyone has glimpsed and evaluated sundry bits and is focused on the task at hand. As such, some partygoers had seen each other undressed in context of the show. But by this point in the evening, dozens of spouses, girlfriends, boyfriends, colleagues and friends of friends had converged upon the house. Most of the assembled hadn’t yet met each other when they looked up from their Pabst to find half a dozen straight-faced, naked people entering the living room.
Though the show had received great reviews, it’s entirely possible that we, the unsheathed, gave our best performances to date there on the mottled shag carpet of this well-worn rental house. Within seconds, party conversation transformed into whispers and looks of puzzlement or outright disdain. It seemed, perhaps understandably, that not all the guests yearned to view public hair and pockmarks whilst they quaffed their drinks, however toned the bearers of such gifts might be.
Still hungry, I broke from the pack and proceeded to the buffet line. I removed a paper plate from the top of the stack and filled it with the aforementioned chips and, for good measure, a few baby carrots now sporting the telltale white veins of unrefrigeration.
Tracy, a woman I’d known from a long-ago acting class, tapped me on the shoulder. “Excuse me,” she said, her nose scrunched like a wad of tinfoil. “What are you doing?’
“I’m sorry,” I replied. “Did I bogart the last of the Doritos? Here, you can eat some off my plate.”
“You know what I’m talking about,” Tracy said, embodying her role as hall monitor with more gusto than she had ever demonstrated on stage. “Where is your underwear?”
The cool night air had prompted my nipples to bulge, my loins were unwaxed and my naturally curly hair smelled of hot tub chlorine and was drying in haphazard spirals, but Tracy inquired after my skivvies with the disapproving curiosity of a second grader opening a centerfold.
“They’re in the bedroom,” I answered. “Why? Did you want to see them?”
Tracy stormed off and I, in a pique of immaturity and middle class rebellion, felt great. Oh yeah, Gregory, I thought, mentally chiding my hot tub nemesis. Who’s breaking the rules now?
Like most theater communities, Seattle’s is close-knit and word quickly got ’round that Amin, our cohorts and I had jumpstarted a banal cast party with our genitals. We viewed it as a badge of honor and enjoyed the recurring, “Didn’t you take your clothes off after a performance of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead?” Amin even supplied details of how he had treaded the backyard fence like a tightrope, a beer in one hand, a cigarette in the other, his penis acting as a sort of fulcrum. Most inquirers regarded the tale with the same playfulness with which we intended it and, in time, we were asked of our antics less and less. The Internet was in its infancy and I, for one, assumed the story would be forgotten soon.
Fourteen years later, I can attest how wrong I was. Nary a year has passed in which I haven’t encountered someone who could pick out my areolas in a line-up, despite the fact we’ve never slept together. This past winter, exhausted from holiday shopping and pelted by our city’s trademark rain, I ordered an Americano at the coffee stand near my home only to hear a voice bellow, “I’ve seen this woman naked!” As the entire line pivoted to look at me, I turned to find a witness from that long-ago night. With few viable options, I smiled and announced to the crowd, “Yes! Yes, he has!”
But it was last month at dinner I realized this inane prank will haunt me like a poltergeist with a crush. My friend and I entered a downtown French bistro and the hostess said my name before I could give it. It took me a moment to recognize Tracy. “Can I show you to your table?” she asked with a smirk.
“Sure,” I said and ate my duck that evening knowing Tracy was recollecting my beaver.