My mother left my father for the point guard from the San Antonio Spurs, and not knowing what else to do, Dad and I packed duffels, headed south to the nudist colony a hundred miles outside of Houston.
“The important thing,” Dad reminded me as we drove along the armadillo-lined highway, “is that your mother still loves you very, very much. She just...loves the Spurs a little bit more.”
For months, Dad had been looking for any excuse to partake in a midlife crisis, and since neither the Corvette nor the nipple ring had proved satisfactory, the nudist colony seemed a logical next step.
“So...we’ll be nudists then?” I asked.
“Naturalists,” he clarified, adjusting his glasses, “we’ll be naturalists, Frankie.”
I nodded as if the distinction was clear.
“You know,” he said, sensing my ignorance, “sort of like nudists, only...closer to nature.”
I didn’t know how much “closer to nature” I wanted to be, especially if the rattlesnake rumors were true.
I stared out the window at the sun-dripped desert.
And then, I buried my hands in my pockets, knowing soon, I’d no longer have the luxury.
Without question, my mother’s job as head trainer for the San Antonio Spurs put an unnecessary strain on my parents’ already less-than-blissful marriage. Imagine a surplus of multimillion-dollar star-studded athletes continually hitting on the one woman allowed on the court. Thankfully, my father’s job as the assistant manager for a post-it note company offered far less marital liability. His decisions rarely involved which blonde bombshell executive to sleep with, and instead, seemed to focus more on what flavored adhesive would appeal most to middle school teachers.
The answer was kiwi-strawberry.
On the surface, we all appeared content with our life’s tidy arrangement of post-its and icepacks, adhesives and Ace bandages, though one night at dinner we just stopped being content.
“Well, what would you have done if Damien Markus asked for your hand in marriage?” Mom asked, salting her meatloaf.
Dad claimed he’d have said no, that he wasn’t “in to all that muscle.”
“Frankie?” she asked, turning to me.
I dragged a French fry across my plate, told her I guess I’d have to think about it.
“What’s to think about?” Mom laughed. “He’s in the NBA! You thought we had great seats before, wait till you see where you’re sitting next season.”
Thanks to my father, the next season I’d most likely be sitting buck-naked on a metal foldout chair, watching the game on a rabbit-eared television, a few saggy-balled senior citizens commentating on either side.
But that first day, when Dad and I pulled into Nature’s Bounty, “southern Texas’s #1 Naturalist Community” my sights were not set on the future. Instead, I was fully immersed in the present, waiting—and dreading—the moment when I would be kindly informed it was time to take off my pants.
The first rule of nudist colonies: Erections are frowned upon.
At least in Nature’s Bounty.
“We find it makes the other citizens...squeamish,” explained Mayor White. He leaned back, his feet propped up on the desk, proudly displaying his own flaccidness.
“Take me for example,” he said, motioning to himself, “exhibit A. And you’d be hard-pressed to find somebody who can remember the last time I made anyone squeamish.”
Mayor White winked, then placed his feet on the floor. He leaned forward, hands clasped, asked, “Any questions?”
Dad raised his hand.
“You there in the front row,” the mayor chuckled. “I kid. Yes, Ted. What can I do for you?”
“Yes,” Dad began, clearing his throat. “Well, I was curious...I mean, I am curious... if there are any policies related to...co-mingling...with fellow citizens.”
“Are we talking fornication, Ted?” the mayor asked, leaning in close.
Please don’t be talking fornication, Dad.
“Well, yes,” my father chuckled, “I suppose that’s the word for it.”
“Well, it’s a great question, really is,” Mayor White agreed, tapping his desk twice before leaning back in his swivel chair. “And I suppose the short answer is no, there are no rules. As long as you’re a consenting adult and abide by state law, you’re welcome to any partner you can land.”
Dad’s eyes widened and he nudged my ribs.
“Hear that, pal?” he asked, raising his eyebrows. “Any partner you can land.”
“But easy, cowboy, let’s not count our chickens before they’ve hatched,” White chuckled, standing, his balls plopping to the desk like twin paperweights. “First things first, let’s get you two out of those nasty old clothes, huh? We’ll see where that leads us.”
It was a bit like tearing off a band-aid: The longer you ho-hummed around the more painful it became. Dad had the right idea, removing his pants in a single, fluid motion. He had the grace of a matador.
At 14, I’d had far fewer opportunities to publically remove my pants and was slightly more hesitant. Not that anyone around us seemed particularly interested in what I had to offer. We’d stepped outside, which gave me full view of a beach volleyball game that had developed a hundred feet away, and closer still, a pair of middle-aged, hairy-reared men flying a kite. Neither group seemed the least bit concerned with me.
“Whenever you feel comfortable, son,” the mayor said, bending down to clear the sand from his flip-flop, exposing a dark cavern of butt hair.
Upon realizing that I probably wasn’t going to feel any more “comfortable” in the next half an hour or so, I reached slowly for my shoe and began the long process of undressing.
With each piece of strewn clothing, I flashbacked to one locker room horror or another—wedgies, purple nurples, testy tickles. I remembered there being something slightly barbaric about the whole situation: Being some kid’s lab partner one period and having to share a bar of soap with him the next.
But Nature’s Bounty felt different, safer, and while I considered asking Mayor White what percentage of residents suffered from purple nurples, I decided to withhold my question.
I removed my shirt, my pants, and, after taking a deep breath, pulled my plaid boxers down around my ankles, stepped out of them and balled them up in my hand.
“Well? Not so bad, is it?” Dad chuckled, running to introduce himself to the kite-flyers. “Oh, and, Frankie,” he called, running backward, balls flopping like a couple of basset hound ears, “let’s rendezvous at dinner, huh? I heard it’s bratwurst night!”
That night, I wrote Mom a letter:
Hey! How are you? How are the Spurs?
Things are fine here.
Today Dad and I joined a nudist colony.
The people are nice, and the mayor wears a cowboy hat and leads everyone in calisthenics after dinner.
Tonight, we had bratwursts.
They were pretty good.
This place has it all—a barbershop, a dentist, even a school. There’s this store just down the street from the room Dad and I share where we can pick up Tylenol and rent VHS tapes, though most of them are John Candy movies from the 80s. Remember Summer Rental?
It’s not as good as everyone says. It’s sort of like The Great Outdoors, only with fewer raccoons.
Anyway, if you feel like picking me up, please note the return address. I will keep my duffel packed.
I almost mailed it, I really did, though I doubted it was worth the stamp.
Within the first twenty-four hours of the natural life, Dad managed to blatantly violate the “no erection” policy on at least four separate occasions.
“I can’t help it,” he whined his eyes gazing out at the others. “Honestly, I don’t know how you can help it. You must be some kind of Jedi Knight...”
“Dad, I really got to go,” I said, hoping to simultaneously drop the conversation.
“Where to?” he asked, his privates waggling in my direction. “You find a lucky lady?”
“Dad,” I hissed, “this isn’t some kind of...dating service.”
“Who said anything about dating?”
“Well, it’s just that you’ve been sort of...sporting that erection for awhile now.”
“Aww, come on. It’s only natural, son. We’re naturalists.”
Somebody’s large-breasted mother walked past.
As if proving his point, his erection returned to full throttle.
The following afternoon, I met a couple girls my age.
“Hey, you’re the new guy,” spouted one of the girls, a brunette (curtains and drapes). “I’m Aimee.”
She held out her naked hand.
“Frankie,” I mumbled, my eyes focused on the sandy ground.
“It’s great to meet you,” she smiled. “Oh, and this is my friend, Vicki.”
“Hi!” Vicki smiled, her braces glinting off the sun. “It’s nice to meet you.”
I nodded, feeling the sweat run down my back, onto my legs.
Under different circumstances, perhaps I might’ve felt some kind of sexual attraction, but at Nature’s Bounty, just saying hello to a girl was kind of like rounding third base.
“So it’s just you and your dad, right?” Aimee asked, placing her arms atop her head, pushing her breasts skyward.
“Which one’s he again?”
What was I to say? The one with the perpetual erection?
“Well, he’s sort of got this receding hairline,” I began. “It’s sort of grayish.”
“Okay,” Aimee agreed. “Yeah, he sounds familiar.”
I smiled, relieved that he wasn’t yet known for any particular appendage.
“So,” Aimee continued, brushing back her hair, “what brings you to Nature’s Bounty?”
“My Dad...he’s sort of having a midlife crisis, I think.”
“Yeah, most of these people are,” she agreed. Vicki nodded beside her, then scratched her stomach.
“Plus my Mom sort of left him for Damien Markus so...”
“Wait. The basketball player?” Vicki asked. I tried desperately to look her in the eyes, in the braces, anywhere but where I seemed to look.
“Yeah...he plays. For the Spurs.”
“Ohmigosh! I love the Spurs!” Vicki cried, bouncing up and down. “Think you can get us tickets?”
“Sure, probably,” I agreed.
And then, an afterthought:
“But we’d have to wear some clothes.”
No one said anything, and, red-faced, I began wondering if I’d violated some unspoken rule:
Thou shall not draw attention to thy nakedness.
Finally, Aimee burst into laughter, pressing her hand to my arm.
“Oh, Frankie, you’re a riot!” she laughed. “You think we’d really waltz around Freeman Coliseum like this?” she asked, running her hand down the length of her body. “Seriously?”
I shrugged, bashful, but figured we probably would.
Nature’s Bounty was 300 strong, split nearly 50/50 by gender. Which meant I was gazing upon roughly 300 breasts a day. That’s a lot, even for someone at my age. The downside, of course, was that the other 50% of the population was men, which meant that a sultry day at Nature’s Bounty roasted more wieners than a hotdog stand.
The population was about two-thirds senior citizens, which didn’t leave much eye candy for the rest of us. Still, my father assured me he was “shooting par for the course,” forcing me to meet his rotation of flings every night at dinner.
“Now, Deborah,” my father began, reaching for his creamed corn. “What exactly was your profession back in Austin?”
“Retail,” a busty, middle-aged blonde answered. “But after twenty-years selling blouses and skirts, I realized I didn’t much care for them.”
“Case and point,” my father chuckled, nodding to her chest.
She laughed too, and my dad slugged me on the arm while passing the corn.
“Case and point,” he repeated, nodding first to her breasts and then at what remained hidden between her legs beneath the table. “Good one, huh, Frankie? Who could’ve guessed your old man was a comedian, huh?”
Who could have guessed he was a naturalist?
Yet despite my father’s gallivanting and hobnobbing, it was pretty clear he wasn’t yet over my mother. Some nights after calisthenics with Mayor White, we’d grab the fishing poles and head toward the lake, and while he never brought her up directly, she was always on his mind.
“Think the Spurs will make it to the playoffs next season?” he’d ask, casting out into the water.
And what was I to say except, “Yeah sure, I hope so.”
Hi. How are you? Is Damien’s knee any better?
Dad and I are fine. We moved to this nudist colony a few weeks back, but it’s not so bad. We play a lot of Marco Polo in the lake, and they’re organizing a beach volleyball tournament for next week, which should be fun.
I’ve made a couple of friends, but mostly we just walk around and try not to look at the old people. I‘ve found myself staring off into the lake quite a bit lately, mainly because there aren’t any balls out there, only buoys.
Down the street from the room Dad and I share there’s a video rental store, but the selection’s pretty bad. I’ve now watched “Summer Rental” 17 times and it’s still just average.
It seems like The Great Outdoors has been checked out forever.
Also, if you ever make it down this way, feel free to drop by. I’d be happy to go with you.
I’ll keep my duffel packed, just in case.
I had a stamp, so I mailed it.
The next day (like every day before), I woke to Mayor White’s voice booming from the loud speaker.
“Rise and shine, folks! Another bea-u-ti-ful day here in lovely Nature’s Bounty. We’re looking at a scorching 88 degrees so please be sure to rub sunscreen in every nook and cranny. And I mean every nook and cranny, people. Never can be too safe. If you don’t believe me, go take a look at Carl Danby’s backside. The man’s a lobster, folks. Full-fledged crustacean.”
Dad groaned, stumbling from his bed in full pajamas. He pulled off his shirt, his pants and started out the door.
“Come on, Frankie, rise and shine,” he called. “It’s time to get undressed...”
Most days Aimee, Vicki and I would shoot baskets beside the shuffleboard courts.
“So what? Is Damien Watkins like your stepdad or something?” Aimee asked, taking a jumper. The ball thunked off the rim, shot to the left.
“I don’t know. I guess,” I shrugged, retrieving it. “I mean, I’m not sure if they’re married yet.”
“But if they are...then he’s your stepdad. I mean, that’s what it would mean,” Vicki clarified.
I nodded, going in for the lay up.
The rim rejected me.
“Man,” Aimee joked. “Seeing as Damien Watkins’ is your stepfather and all, I figured you’d be a better baller.”
“Yeah, well, you have to remember that guy is my biological father,” I explained, nodding to Dad off in the distance, waggling his erection at people like a divining rod.
“Maybe it’s some kind of abnormality,” Vicki suggested, eyeing it from afar. “Maybe he has too much...Viagra in his diet.”
“Nah,” Aimee shrugged. “They’re always like that at first, overly friendly. For the first month or so, my Dad was just constantly...it was just constant.”
“But I see you’re doing a pretty good job,” Vicki commented, nodding to my privates. “I mean, you seem to be keeping things under control for the most part. That’s really awesome.”
There were only so many ways to respond.
“Thanks,” I told her, placing the ball over my crotch, “for noticing.”
One evening directly following calisthenics, a Land Rover screeched into the parking lot, sending the dust sprawling.
“Unexpected visitors,” Mayor White smiled, adjusting his cowboy hat.
They were more than a little unexpected.
Dad was sipping his iced tea and talking to Deborah outside the dining room when I spotted my mother and all six feet nine inches of Damien Watkins emerging from the vehicle.
“So anyway, it’s all in the swing, really,” Dad informed Deborah, demonstrating the perfect golf drive. “You see, the trick is to really get your center of gravity low, really hunker down. And then...”
“Dad,” I whispered, tapping his shoulder.
“...but honestly, it’s all in the follow through anyway. Here, allow me to demonstrate,” he said, putting down his iced tea.
“Yeah, Frankie?” he asked, turning.
“Pardon?” he asked, cupping his ear.
“Mom’s here. And Damien.”
He shielded his eyes from the blearing sun.
“Huh,” he shrugged, spotting them. “How do you like that?”
Then, he returned his attention to Deborah. “Now anyway, hon, about that follow through...”
Apparently there was a surplus of Spurs fans at Nature’s Bounty, though you’d never know it—there are only so many ways to support the team when your apparel is limited to skin.
“Damien,” whispered the star struck Vicki, walking up to him, nipples hardening. “Think I could get an autograph?”
Damien glanced behind him for paparazzi, then put his hands in the air and took a few steps back, just in case.
“How ’bout I mail you one?” he offered.
“Frankie!” Mom called, running toward me. Her face dropped upon viewing me from a full frontal perspective.
“Oh, boy,” she said, focusing on the ground. “Think you could throw some pants on, sweetie?”
My face reddened—the color was beginning to grow on me—and I reached for Dad’s iced-tea and held it over my privates, a temporary solution.
“I just got your letter,” she whispered, coming hesitantly closer. “I’m so sorry, Frankie, I would have come sooner but...”
“You know, hon,” Dad cut in, strutting toward her. “It’s great you’re here and all, but...no gawkers allowed. Sort of a rule. We find it ‘builds barriers,’ he explained, flashing quotation marks in the air. “You got to strip down to stick around. That’s what we always say.”
Dad glanced Damien for the first time.
“Oh, look! What a pleasant surprise!” Dad exclaimed. “Ted Jacobson,” he introduced himself, offering a hand. “I’m Maggie’s husband.”
“Ex-husband,” Mom corrected.
“Already?” Dad asked, surprised. “Has the paperwork gone through?”
He didn’t wait for an answer.
“So listen, can I get either of you an iced tea or something?” Dad asked. “Got one right here,” he said, reaching for the one covering my crotch. I leapt beyond his reach, splashing everywhere.
“We’re here for Frankie,” Mom cut in. “That’s all. We received his letter about how you’ve been holding him hostage so...”
Dad shot me a look.
“I never actually used the word hostage,” I explained. “I was just telling her about Summer Rental and then the next thing I knew...”
“Let’s not make this any harder than it has to be,” Mom interrupted. “I don’t want to have to bring in the police.”
“Police?” Dad laughed. “What for?”
She waved her hand around.
“Well...clearly, this is some form of neglect...”
“Neglect?” Dad asked, his penis pointing accusatorily at her. “But you’re the one who left us.”
She quieted, then whispered, “Frankie, grab your things. We’ll meet you in the Land Rover.”
She turned to stalk off, though she didn’t get far.
A few hundred naturalists had gathered to observe the commotion. Some of the older men were eating ice-cream cones, dripping all over their hairy stomachs while leaning on shuffleboard poles.
“Oh, no,” Dad said, noticing his audience. “You are not taking my son away that easily. I’ll...fight for him.”
He puffed his chest out at Damien.
Damien Watkins gave my mother a, “Do I really have to kill your ex-husband?” look, but she refused to meet his stare.
“One-on-one,” Dad continued, jabbing a finger to Damien’s chest. “First to 21. Ones and twos.”
Damien shot my mother another look, and shrugging, removed his warm-up jacket.
“Mayor White,” Dad called, motioning him over. “You mind leading me in a few calisthenics?”
The mayor beamed, so proud, in fact, that his ball pouch nearly leapt into his stomach.
“It would be an honor,” he whispered, placing his hands on Dad’s shoulders. “Let’s start’er out with a couple of windmills.”
My father lost 21-2, sinking a lucky two-pointer from the edge of the court in the final seconds.
His eyes were closed.
I think he even landed in some shrubbery.
Nevertheless, the crowd went wild, genetalia jiggling, breasts wavering like synchronized swimmers.
Dad didn’t have much in the way of offense, but his defense proved virtually unstoppable. His penis functioned like some kind of full court press, and when fully extended, cut off quite a few drives to the basket. Damien Watkins had a real problem being tightly guarded by a 220-pound naked man, so he didn’t get a lot of great shots off, regardless. The game dragged on far longer than it should have; Dad calling fouls for things like “anal interference” and “testicle tugs” and bending over to tie his shoe every chance he got. Still, Damien managed to string together the necessary points to win me back my freedom.
Meanwhile, the citizens of Nature’s Bounty could hardly believe their good fortune. A performance by Damien Watson in their colony! Just wait until the other colonies heard!
That evening, Dad became the town hero—not for winning valiantly against great odds, but for luring Damien Watkins to Nature’s Bounty in the first place.
“How do you know him again?” all the old men asked, pulling the wax from their ears. “Second cousins, ya say? Once removed?”
Dad didn’t bother getting into the hairy details.
Mayor White insisted we take an “all colony photo” to commemorate the event, and before they could stop it, Mom and Damien Watkins found themselves surrounded by 300 breasts, 150 wieners.
“Everybody smi-iiiiile!” White cried, centering us in the viewfinder.
We did. Everybody did..
Everybody but Mom and Dad.
As dusk approached, the three of us took a walk around the lake while Mayor White tossed an arm around Damien, insisting on giving him “the grand tour.”
“It’ll be fun,” he chuckled, adjusting his cowboy hat. “We’ll show you every last nook and cranny.”
The colony swarmed just a few feet behind them, making escape virtually impossible, even for a professional athlete.
“Frankie,” Mom began, staring off into the water, “you’re certain you want to stay here?”
It’s hard to say what won me over; the courtside seats just no longer seemed all that important.
“I mean, just for the summer,” I explained.
I’d slipped on a pair of boxer briefs, which slightly lessened the awkwardness.
“I’m in that beach volleyball tournament and all. Vicki and Aimee are counting on me...”
“Who are Vicki and Aimee?” she asked.
“His girlfrieeeends...” Dad sang.
I shook my head, no which seemed to calm her.
“You know, we’d love to have you around, too,” Dad hinted. “I could use a girlfriend myself. Just take off your clothes, stay awhile, all the shuffleboard you can shake a stick at.”
“No. Thanks,” Mom rolled her eyes. “I’ll leave you to your nudists.”
“Naturalists,” he corrected, draping an arm around her. “We’re naturalists, hon. But close.”
“You call this natural?” she asked, freeing herself from him, pointing to the naked crowd hovering around her superstar fiancé in the distance.
“Well, at least it’s honest,” he countered. “No one’s hiding anything here.”
Mom shook her head and Dad gripped her still-clothed shoulders.
“Hey, Mags, listen to me. That two-pointer I sunk, it was for you. For our family.”
“Oh, the one you made with your eyes closed?”
“Call it fate.”
Mom refused to call it anything.
“Ted, you lost 21-2,” Mom reminded, biting back her grin.
“Well, it’s not my fault Damien got called for penis perusal on six different occasions,” he said, raising his arms in the air. “I mean, come on! It was flagrant! You saw that!”
My father the comedian.
My father the naturalist.
“See? Even Frankie thinks it’s funny!” Dad laughed, clapping his hands. “Even Frankie knows a flagrant penis perusal when he sees one.”
Ignoring him, Mom peered down, sweeping the sand back and forth over her feet.
“So, what do you say?” Dad asked quietly. “Take off your clothes, stay awhile...”
She didn’t answer.
He attempted a smile, though it came out all wrong.
Still, I knew he meant it.
I could tell by the humble look on his face, his erection at full salute.