Keeping one’s clothes on

Flowing the locals, I walked past the large sign saying ‘Keep Out: Unstable Cliffs’ and picked my way down the cliff-face path to the beach below. The Pacific breakers cast their white horses upon the fine sand before retreating backwards. The area around San Diego, especially up near the university, is beautiful. The ocean stretches away at the foot of cliffs topped with clingy green. At the top of cliffs, the poor soil sees the grass give way before the edge of the cliffs; halophytes shove their fat fleshy green fingers up from the ground a little closer to the edge; but even here the odd tree stood.

Down on the beach, of course, everything is different. There isn’t any green here, barely even any seaweed: just a little tinge of brown here and there. Little drill-holes in the sand betray the life lurking beneath the surface. But none of this really mattered. What caught the eye of the new arrival, what really demanded explanation, was why there were three men walking around as if tracing the outline of some erratic polygon while wearing not a scrap of clothing.

These were not the honed bodies of Hollywood’s California. These were men for whom middle-age weighed heavily on both the hips and sagging collagen. If their cheeks carried a red-lustre, they were not the cheeks on their face.

Why can Americans not keep their clothes on? I remember, too, on my last time in New York, two ladies in Times Square were baring all. Is this just the difference between the relaxed New World and the stuffy old one?