It’s not like we went looking for the naked place. I just wanted my family to be safe on New Year’s Eve 1999. Some thought the world would end. Some feared the Y2K computer virus shutting down global computer systems. Some just wanted the giant party Prince had promised in his overplayed song. Personally, I feared people going nuts amidst expectations like those, so I suggested that our family go camping — away from the city.
Around October, my partner Katie and I took a weekend RV ride to scout the right camping spot for the New Year’s trip, which would include the two of us, my nine-year-old son Caleb, his dad, Richard, and our friend Joni.
From San Diego, we headed east. First, we stayed at a big RV park in the Coachella Valley. It had beautiful desert landscaping and four big pools. We were the youngest people there by about thirty years. They were nice folks, and it didn’t feel like the right place for our family celebration. The next day, we drove by Salton Sea, a natural Dead Sea-like phenomenon that fascinated me as a child, but by 1999, something wasn’t right. Dead fish littered the beaches and the whole town stunk. I scoured a free camping magazine for more options.
“What about this?” I read aloud. “De Anza Springs is one of the largest clothing-optional resorts in North America.” I said it with my announcer voice, for comic effect, because I couldn’t imagine that Katie would go. She was not known for adventure and while she’d been to clothing-optional women’s festivals, I couldn’t imagine my lesbian separatist lover consenting to even one evening including naked men.
“Not a bad idea,” she said with great nonchalance. I stared incredulously from the passenger seat.
“Really, you want to stop there tonight?” I interrupted myself. “Wait. Why do you want to stop there tonight?”
Simply put, Katie is sensitive. That is, she can only stand cotton next to her skin. She wears cotton; she sleeps nude in cotton sheets. And she thought being naked in a temperate climate sounded, well, comfortable.
“Well, alrighty then!” I declared, always interested in visiting a new alternative community. I’d been to nudist camps and events on a few occasions, but as we drove, my enthusiasm increased.
“If this place is great, just think of it!” I gushed. “It’s perfect for New Year’s Eve! They’ll have some kind of party for families, and even if there are kooky millennium people, they’ll be relatively harmless.”
“How do you figure?” Katie asked.
“No way to conceal a weapon!” I said triumphantly.
“Good point,” she said, and on we drove.
We loved it. We were greeted by the naked proprietors, standing at a reception desk like you’d find at any roadside motel. Everyone we met was so relaxed and jovial. The full-time residents, predictably, were retired folks, but plenty of families — some even including teenagers — were up for the day. The camp was clean and well-maintained. We even decided to house our RV there full time. I’d never seen Katie so comfortable on any trip. Nothing was rubbing her the wrong way.
Immediately, I turned to scheming how to convince the rest of our family that this was a good idea.
The following weekend, I made French toast, and after breakfast, I pulled out the stack of brochures I had picked up. One was for De Anza and two were from other nude resorts. I figured variety would buoy my argument.
I started by reminding Caleb that Katie and I had a great trip. I told him of the stinky Salton Sea and that we had found a wonderful place to park the RV when we weren’t using it. “Look!” I said, “I brought some brochures.”
He examined the desert landscapes with interest and I noted his approval of the two swimming pools. “Yes, the pools were great,” I said. “And this place is pretty unique in that people don’t wear bathing suits because it’s nice to be in the water without anything on.” He nodded slowly, recalling skin and water.
“Everyone swims naked?” he asked.
“Yep. No one has to wear a bathing suit. Katie and I didn’t either.”
“Okay,” he shrugged.
“And at places like this — because this isn’t the only place where people don’t have to wear bathing suits — they sometimes just walk around without any clothes on, because it’s hot and it’s nice to be comfortable.” I said this as casually as I could.
“Everybody walks around naked?” His eyes widened.
“No, not everyone.” I saw his shoulders relax a bit. “These camps are called ‘clothing-optional resorts’ and that means that they don’t have to wear clothes, unless they want to.” He chuckled a bit, visualizing the display.
“They just all have their peckers hanging out? Ha!” He guffawed.
“Well, unless they have other things hanging out!” I laughed too. “See, look.” I opened another brochure that showed two adults and a child chatting, all nude. More nude people were playing volleyball in the background.
He laughed and pointed, “Do they have to be naked?”
“No,” I responded. “Well, only for swimming.”
Caleb was already a live-and-let-live kind of guy. If people wanted to be naked — and he didn’t have to — that was okay with him.
“It’s a little weird at first,” I continued, “but then it just seems normal to see people walking around naked.” I reminded him that, in our household, we had no particular modesty going to and from the shower. It was just like that — only with strangers.
“Does it look like a fun place?” I asked. He was nodding, with reasonable enthusiasm, until we opened a brochure in which a family of four was dining in the camp’s restaurant. The family was sitting in a booth, on towels, all naked. The man and the woman were smiling. The son and the daughter were smiling. It looked something like a Denny’s. A naked Denny’s. A naked Denny’s in 1984, judging by the hairstyles. And suddenly, the social dissonance was too much for my nine-year-old son.
“That’s just nasty!” He shrieked. “But, but…why do they want to go in a restaurant naked!” He was sputtering and pointing at the photograph. “I’m not going in a restaurant with no clothes on!” He rose to his feet, horrified. “People are eating! Why do they want to do that?”
I couldn’t easily explain why a family of four would want to sit in an orange-and-yellow plastic diner booth in the nude. I wasn’t as outraged as Caleb, but I didn’t desire naked dining either. His good humor wore dangerously thin. I tried to laugh it off, but he wasn’t ready for a chuckle.
“No.” He told me, “That’s just nasty!”
“Okay, look. It’s not any old restaurant. It’s at the nudist camp. And you don’t ever have to be naked at the restaurant. I don’t want to either. But it’s really nice to be naked by the pool.” I quickly returned to the De Anza brochure. “See, this is the place we’re going — not that other one.” I put away the silly naked diners. Phooey on naked diners. That wasn’t about us.
“I told Dad and Joni about the our New Year’s trip too. Won’t that be fun?”
“Ha ha! Dad and Joni are going with us to the naked place?” He relaxed his outrage and found his funny bone at the thought of all five of us wandering naked through the sagebrush.
They were easier to convince than I thought. I framed them as being more daring than Katie-the-non-adventurer; I offered my logic about concealed weapons, and they were in. Richard also wanted a safe family activity and Joni couldn’t believe that Katie was happy at a camp full of naked mixed genders. “She went there? And she wants to go back? This I gotta see.”
* * *
So we spent the last day of 1999 en famille and au natural, splashing in the pool. Then we put on our clothes to have burgers and pizza for lunch. In the evening, we attended the family-friendly dance at the “Come As You Are Bar.” Caleb and Richard played a game of pool; Katie and I danced and Joni snuck off toward the hot tub with some mustachioed man.
A person would be wrong to think that a nudist party lacks festive attire. People were fancied up left and right. They just didn’t have to be all the way covered. It was far less sexualized than a party at a clothed bar might be. Women’s breasts weren’t straining against spaghetti straps and spandex. Bodies were decorated for fun, not being concealed as foreplay. I didn’t see men leering at women in that way that often makes people with children uncomfortable at a party where adults are drinking. Everyone was socializing, men and women talking to one another like people. And there was still smooching and lewd innuendo at midnight, amidst the noisemakers, right where it belongs.
I’d been worried about kooky behavior on New Year’s Eve 1999, so we headed for a place where all the kookies were pretty normal. And I was right — no chance of concealed weapons.
When I asked Caleb if he would go to a place like De Anza again, he said, “What? A naked place?” And I nodded.
“Sure,” he said. “What’s the big deal?”
* * *
Kimberly Dark is a writer, sociologist and raconteur who uses performance, humor and personal narrative to help people discuss how we conform to, confront or re-create the culture around us. Her storytelling performances have been performed at hundreds of universities, theaters, conferences and other venues and her writing appears in a wide range of print and online publications. Learn more at www.kimberlydark.com and on Twitter @kimberlydark.
George Mager is an artist from Russia. He has been drawing since the age of three, and after studying to be an animation director, he dropped of university and now lives with his girlfriend, mom and two cats, Leelo and Cookie Monster. Follow him on tumblr: littleduke.tumblr.com.