I saw them Friday morning by the dumpster: two pairs of denim shorts, lying on the ground and soaked from that morning's thunderstorm. They were cutoffs, and they looked pretty small - probably for a woman. Not many men wear what we used to call "hot pants."
I figured that somewhere between First and Second streets, perhaps along College Avenue, a couple of people were wandering around naked. A friend later asked me if I had checked inside the dumpster, suggesting maybe a resident had taken advantage of the rain to do a bit of laundry. I said I hadn't, but surely any squatter would've uttered a noise if a bag of garbage landed in the living room.
An individual taking a stroll sans pants is not something most of us want to see - especially if the nudity is accompanied by some of the nefarious activities we've had to report lately. These stories get plenty of hits on the website, and are discussed in humorous terms on social media. But I suspect that for the witnesses, these incidents are no laughing matter.
Americans view nudity from a different spectrum than Europeans. Our cousins across the pond may not saunter down the Champs-Élysées, the Via Sacra, or Oxford Street in their birthday suits, but they are casual with clothing on their beaches. This is a characteristic many Americans don't appreciate, and in fact, many go out of their way to avoid it. I know a gal who organized a trip to Europe for her church a couple of decades ago, and one of the requirements was that her charges not be exposed to any nudity. Unfortunately, a streaker in Piccadilly Circus spoiled her best-laid plans. Some of her tour group were offended, but most just thought it was funny and invoked the Ray Stevens song.
Our family visited Europe for the first time in 1999. My brother lived in Oxford, which gave us subsequent opportunities to travel abroad as well. The first time, some of us went to Oxford, then Monaco, and then Italy: Rome, Florence and Venice. Afterward, we all met up in Corfu, Greece, where my brother had rented a villa - "the nicest house on the island," the friendly Greeks at the grocery store assured us. It had a pool and some kumquat trees out back, and my husband and son happily availed themselves of the fruit.
One day, we drove over to what was billed as the best beach on the island. In addition to the expected flock of Greeks, a number of Germans were vacationing at the same time we were. Germans, I was told, got about 12 weeks of vacation a year, along with "free" health care. I overheard another American say that while the benefits of the German worker may have been stellar, their salaries were apparently modest, as they didn't seem to be able to afford bathing suits.
Several guests were completely nude, idly sunbathing or frolicking in the waves. Most of the women were topless, and neither age nor physical appearance was a factor. At least one woman had pendulous breasts dangling below her waist, and some folks were seriously overweight. You could easily spot the American tourists: The men were ogling the more attractive nude women, and casting glances of disgust at the others. My son, who was about 10-1/2, was scandalized. Upon our arrival, he looked around, then observed indignantly: "These people don't have any clothes on!" My brother told him, "In a few years, you won't care." Cole couldn't imagine such a forthcoming day, but he reluctantly went about the business of enjoying himself the best he could, giving the shameless skinny-dippers a wide berth.
Upon our return to the states, I told that story to a few friends - and like the folks on the church trip, they offered mixed reactions. A few looked at me incredulously, and asked how I could expose my young son to that kind of thing. I told them that kind of thing could hardly be avoided in Europe, unless you eschewed every body of water on the continent, including the one we crossed over to get there.
Besides, it wasn't the first time Cole had been appalled by scantily clad humans. A few years earlier when we were visiting my sister in Florida, she took us to Cocoa Beach. Nearby was a stretch of sand beckoning with full nudity, which I understand is no longer extant, but at the time - albeit from a distance - you could espy a flotilla of flesh. And then, a few people passed us in haste to get to the place where they could shuck their duds, or gawk at those who already had. It was then I finally had to admit my husband's oft-made comment - "All people over 21 look better with clothes on than off" - was spot-on.
When I was at OU, I took notes while a magazine editor interviewed three Playboy centerfolds. This editor was known, but not appreciated, for his blunt style. He commented that the girls weren't "nearly as pretty" as they looked in the magazines. They took his crassness in stride, with one responding, "You'd be surprised what makeup, camera lens filters, and a little darkroom magic can do." I'm not sure any of those tricks would have worked at Cocoa Beach. A number of traits can make the bare human bottom less than appealing: pimples, moles, excessive hair, cellulite, and wrinkles. And men with guts the size of beach balls don't look that great in thongs from the front, either, though some of these guys were convinced they could draw women like a dead possum on Highway 10 draws flies. They strutted around like roosters that had spent too much time in the corn crib, then gotten into spurring matches in the coop.
These observations further prove a point made by the Brian May character in the movie "Bohemian Rhapsody." The band members of Queen were bemoaning the banishment of one of their videos from American TV because the four musicians had dressed in drag for part of the shoot. "Americans are Puritans in public, perverts in private," quipped actor Gwilyn Lee. Perhaps that explains the paradox that allows us to forgive - or even dismiss as "fake news" - the infractions of certain celebrities, as long as we don't witness them ourselves. Europeans just don't care about stuff like that.
If you need more proof of what I'm saying, take note of how many people take umbrage with my mere reference to nudity. Feel free to pipe up and assure those "Puritans" they'd be much more distressed if I took off my own clothes, rather than just talked about others who did.