Moons Over San Diego
Butts Aplenty, Wankers in the Rocks, and My Literary Hero in His Birthday Suit
We weren't sure, and there were no signs leading to Black's Beach, a relatively clandestine nudist spot north of San Diego. My boyfriend and I were too timid to ask the people at the Marriott. You just have to ask locals who look as though they might know.
We intuited that the woman at the T-shirt shop on Pacific Beach might be one such local. We were correct.
"Go behind the university to the hang-gliding place, then down the cliff," she told us.
"Um, OK," we said, two flatlanders who'd never seen a cliff any larger than the edge of a deck in a suburban back yard, let alone scrambled down one.
We'd never been to a nude beach either, and neither of us were certain how we'd react. But we were sure eager to get there and find out, and our vacation to the area a few years back provided the optimal opportunity. We were in search of butts--the splendid and varied backsides of humanity at large (or small). And our own butts, we concluded, had been hiding way too long in our pants.
So on a quiet, glaringly sunny weekday we made the journey, locating the remote hang-gliding place at the top of the cliff. We parked in a sandy lot and joined a loose line of people (mostly men) with small coolers under their arms and towels around their necks.
Ahead of us, we saw the figures walk along a rocky path, then vanish. As we headed in the same direction, we realized it was the incredibly steep decline of the cliff that was making them disappear. The trail down to the beach looked all kinds of treacherous, especially to a couple of wussbag city folks. But the promise of nekkidity kept us undaunted. And the beach below smiled up at us like something out of a South Pacific travelogue. We continued.
Halfway down the cliff, navigating nervously, slipping, sliding, sweating, toes gripping for dear life, I perchanced to look down to the beach and spotted a butt, gleaming in the sun like a beacon. And it wasn't alone. I picked up the pace and aimed for the asses.
Just then, a man passed me on the left, as naked as a jaybird. A woman with swinging breasts followed on my right. My pulse quickened, my steps became less careful.
With relief, we reached the bottom and headed to the right, passing an amazing collection of nudes in various poses and modes of movement. Pay dirt: Walking, reclining, sitting, kneeling bodies of every size, shape, and gender were baking, conversing, reading, sleeping, surfing, serving and spiking (yes, there was a volleyball game going on), and just being.
We walked a few more yards and spread our blanket out, not too far from another couple (confidence through homogeneity). We began peeling off our coverings--shirts, shoes, shorts, skirt--as one would do during any trip to the beach. But then our bathing suits were also pushed to the sand and kicked to the blanket.
Wind on the genitals is a strange and unparalleled thing, especially when said genitals have been sequestered for a lifetime. At first the sensation scared us. Immediately, we both sat down self-consciously, holding our knees close to our chests and making uncomfortable small talk--"How ‘bout those Chargers?" But after only five minutes, a peculiar at-home feeling set in, and we uncoiled, walking around freely by our blanket and eventually trotting down to the water's edge to splash around like 7-year-olds in the great rolling waves.
A half-hour later, we were ready to promenade in bootyland, to walk at the water's edge and spy what the rest of the world had been hiding from us all this time in the name of societal standards and general good taste. Concurrently, we were testing our confidence levels. Could we be comfortable sashaying around, parts shining in the noonday sun, as naked as the day we popped out of our moms?
As it turned out, yes. We were naturals, so to speak, walking up and down the expanse of that beach for a long while, not giving a hoot who saw what from what angle. Where had our modesty gone? No telling, but who cared?
As we went, we quickly learned the unspoken rule of nude-beach perambulation: Look at the face--not the crotch--of the person passing in the opposite direction. This was rough--OK, impossible--because passing just feet from us was every imaginable body. Appendages of every size, shape, texture, and color were swinging to and fro. We saw huge flaccid penises and garden-variety teeny weenies. We saw massive guts attached to unexpectedly small butts. We saw hair-covered backs, svelte men who stood up straight, tiny women with rock-solid implants pointing toward the clear sky. We saw abundant backsides and translucent nipples. There were hairless crotches, impossible tans, terrible burns, butts riding high, and asses heading south.
We saw old men, babies, gay couples, straight pairs, masturbators hiding in the rocks, and an Australian man surreptitiously selling Cokes out of his cooler. It was a cornucopia of types, a veritable petri dish of humankind going about the business of leisure in the buff. It was fascinating, of course. But all wild fascination must eventually subside, at least somewhat.
Just as my initial jaw-dropping wonderment was starting to lose its edge and I began to stare seaward instead of bodyward, I noticed a thin, gray-haired figure squatting with his back to me at the edge of a tide pool. His ass was so skinny and his butt bones so sharp-looking that I pictured a flesh-tone W trying to pierce the earth. He was collecting shells or maybe looking for guppies with his little son, a blond, scampering, perfect cherub of perhaps 2.
I saw the man with the W twice as we walked up and back. I thought nothing of him, really, until the third time we passed and he began to look familiar.
Staring with bewilderment carries a different message on a nude beach than it does in say, City Hall, so I tried not to gawk. But after a few seconds of squinting at the squatting figure, his identity downloaded: I had happened upon Spalding Gray, celebrated monologist, actor, and the only author on the planet about whom I really gave a crap. Hyper-ironically, I was reading, for the third time, his autobiographical Sex and Death to the Age 14.
I nearly snapped. What were the chances of this? Stumbling upon perhaps the only public figure I had ever appreciated in a really deep, multipronged way--and on a nude beach, parts a-flappin' on both of us?
If it had been Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mother Theresa, or Boutros Boutros Ghali, I would have kept walking. But it was Spalding Gray. This was the one time in my life that a switch automatically flipped in me, sending me straight up to the unexpected celebrity, nakedness and all. My boyfriend, sensing the personal gravity of the moment, walked on and let me go it alone.
I remember approaching sweetly but with purpose. Gray confirmed his identity, stood up to talk. He didn't seem in any way put out by my presence. I didn't want to be caught looking at his crotch, but I noticed right away that he was uncircumcised, and that there was un-rubbed-in sunscreen lodged in his penis' various folds.
But that was the only southward glance I took. The rest of 10- to 15-minute exchange was eye-to-eye, and flowed rather naturally. I wasn't gushy and he wasn't pompous. We were just two naked beings standing on a beach talking.
I told him that reading Sex and Death in college was pivotal for me in that it let me know there were others like me out there. His thought processes and style were remarkably like my own--at least, it seemed so to me. The book made me feel like my own neurotic spew might actually be entertaining, even marketable. He was modest, saying he didn't think Sex and Death was any big deal--and had I read Impossible Vacation, his first go at fiction?
I noticed he wasn't much taller than me--maybe 5-foot-8. He had soulful eyes and a balding head with longish gray hair on the sides. He was tan, even a little sunburned, but exhibited no tan lines. He spoke slowly and contemplatively. He focused on my words and didn't look at my chest.
Gray asked me all about what I did for a living and why I was at that beach at that moment. This made me think of his early days, traveling around New England's Elk's Lodges and town halls to conduct large-scale interviews. He would assemble the townspeople, calling them up to a stage individually to talk about a chosen topic. The meetings became performances and fodder for future works.
But I found myself unable to gush forth with many details about myself. I was, rather simply, a journalist on vacation. I had also set up a job interview in the area. We talked about my bad timing: Just months before, the two local dailies had merged, giving the area a glut of unemployed journalists. Oh, well.
He told me he was in town performing his most recent piece, Gray's Anatomy, and was heading to London after the following night's show. We talked about his thoughts on nude beaches as compared with nudist colonies. We discussed the treachery of the cliff, the hang gliders above, traveling, and the child playing at our feet.
Though the exchange was flowing easily, I lost sight of the larger things I wanted to say. I should have asked him about filming The Killing Fields and Swimming to Cambodia, about working on Beaches. I wondered, too late to find out, where his home base was now. I should have told him about the burgeoning feeling I'd had for years that I needed to begin putting my various bizarre experiences down on paper, and I should have discussed starting that process. I should have talked to him about his writing workshops--and could I convince him to hold one in Southeast Louisiana, where I lived at the time?
Instead, I let the conversation wind down naturally. As it did, he offered me comp tickets to his performance that night. I was touched by his generosity, but self-conscious about accepting, not wanting to be a mooch. I'd just go buy my own, I said. No, he insisted. He told me where he was staying in La Jolla, gave me the room number and his intended whereabouts for the rest of the day so I could figure out when to come by and pick up the tickets.
We said warm goodbyes, him wishing me luck on the doomed job interview, me wishing him luck with the performances. Hours later, when my man and I climbed back up the cliff and went to get an early dinner, I tried Spalding's room, half hoping he hadn't gotten back yet. In a way, I wanted that lovely, near-perfect, serendipitous beach experience to remain self-contained, untainted by the coda of a phone call and another visit.
He didn't answer. Relieved and disappointed in equal measure, I drove to the nearby theater's box office and procured some tickets legit-style. The next night we attended Gray's Anatomy, and it was a juicy, fulfilling performance.
We returned to Black's Beach for two of our four remaining days in San Diego, continuing to bask in the diversity of the human form, ours included. We became intimate--well, sort of--with the Australian soda man, immune to the wankers in the rocks, and even thought about inserting ourselves into a volleyball game.
And when I got home, after some struggle, I started to write.
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