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Back to the Garden

The naked truth about shedding clothes, breaking rules and chatting with Susie Bright

By Ami Chen Mills

I was escorted to the Lupin Naturist Club by a friend--I'll call him "Jack"--during National Nude Weekend, at the feverish height of national Nude Recreation Week in July.

This week deserves more publicity than it gets. I don't remember Bill Clinton making any nude appearances at press conferences or talking about the state of nudity in the union. Few of my friends were celebrating National Nude Weekend with nude potlucks or barbecues. So I welcomed the opportunity to participate. Jack, it seems, will do anything. Also, we'd heard that Susie Bright, America's preeminent sex advocate, now living in Santa Cruz, would be there--nude!

Lupin is like a downhome country club, located in the Santa Cruz Mountains a few miles off Highway 17. Driving in is uneventful. Even walking into the office to register among a bunch of naked people is not so strange. The most discombobulating moment is during actual unclothing. This we do in the parking lot while a very tan Glyn Stout, camp director, waits (nude!) to give us a tour.

It is more embarrassing to be in the process of undressing than fully undressed. By undressing, you acknowledge that, normally, you're quite clothed. Anyhow, once you've removed your clothes at Lupin, you're one of the gang, and you feel you're going to fit in just fine.

Having acclimated somewhat, Glyn, Jack and I tromp the grounds, which boast two pool and Jacuzzi areas, recreational yurts, a wide expanse of lawn shaded by oaks, a restaurant with sun deck, volleyball and tennis courts, camping grounds, showers and a hiking trail, all with lovely mountain views.

Then Jack and I are left to wander around on our own (nude!).

The first thing we think to do is lie down--stay close to the ground--which we do until we get bored. At the swimming pool, being nude feels more natural and, then, quite tremendous. Swimming nude is slippery smooth, like summer wind on bare skin.

Jack and I are getting the hang of this, and undaunted, we head to the restaurant for snacks. Out on the deck, there's a moment of hesitation before we sit down on cushioned patio chairs. I decide, after wondering how many people have sat there before, that I'm too uptight, and so we perch at the edge of our seats, eating snacks and drinking Snapple until an older man with an official air, and a towel thrown over one shoulder, approaches.

"Look here," he says, annoyed. "I know you're guests of Glyn, but you've still got to follow the rules if you're going to be here."

"What rules?" I ask, timidly, swallowing a chip.

"You've got to have a towel with you at all times," the man says, looking at our seats.

This is the most embarrassing thing that's happened to me in months, and I begin profuse apologies. "Oh, we didn't know. We were wondering about that," and so forth. The man's annoyance is unabated--as if he thinks we planned to break the towel code (with impunity!)--and finally we stand up, which turns him on his heel.

"Every society needs rules," Jack notes as we watch his exit.

After more swimming, we join Bright and a cadre of Lupin regulars for dinner at a patio table. Everyone is dressed because the sun's down. Jack and I are getting cold, but don't have clothes. Over salads, in the spirit of camaraderie, Susie takes her top off.

Bright says she's been a Lupin member ever since her first big royalty check came in, and her membership has little to do with sexual politics and more to do with "naked self-interest. I come here and just never want to put my clothes back on."

She brings her daughter here, who now has a "maturity and nonchalance" about nudity. But even in Santa Cruz, Bright says, "It's a consciousness-raising event just to ask parents if their kids can come with us. Some families believe in a God who wants us to keep our clothes on at all times, apparently."

But Bright is less interested in discussing sexual politics and more interested in the fact that this is Jack's and my first nude experience together.

Of course, Bright's built a career on sexual self-disclosure. Lupin, for her, is nothing more than a place to relax, although there are groups here for women with body-image issues, as well as seminars on "re-genesis," ballroom dance classes and movies. Bright's point and that of Lupin itself is that nudity really should and can be no big deal. That shame was the first sin, after all. And sometimes it's good to get back to the garden.

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From the August 21-27, 1997 issue of Metro.

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