Stranger Encounters: Naked '94

Excerpt from mail sent in 1994

On Sunday I saw a naked guy on the streets of Berkeley. Not the naked guy. Just a naked guy. It was no big deal--that is normally I wouldn't mention it, except that yesterday I saw a naked woman, again on the streets of Berkeley. That's more often than I'm used to. The woman wasn't quite naked. She was wearing a hat. The guy wasn't wearing anything, not so much as a button. Except maybe a belly button. I mean, I didn't check. My eyes were elsewhere.

I don't want to give you the impression that I'm blase' about naked people. I live in Berkeley, but I'm really not that sophisticated, as I'm sure you've noticed. When I see a naked person, I tend to lose it for a couple of seconds. My eyes get wide. My jaw sags a bit. But I don't pay that much attention to them after that. After that, I start watching the other people for their reactions.

The naked woman didn't get that much of a reaction. I was in Taqueria Cancun, which is off on a side street. She was walking along the street. The only other person on the street was someone walking next to her (obscured--I couldn'ttell if the other person was naked, a clothed friend, or an indiscreet gawker). And everyone else in the restaurant was of course paying attention to their burritos. This was Cancun, where the burritos are very worthy of attention. I was still waiting for mine to be prepared. If I'd already received my burrito, I would have had eyes for nothing else.

The naked guy, or rather the a naked guy, was on Telegraph Avenue. And thus I was able to get rather more crowd reaction. And that's where I learned the proper protocol for dealing with naked guys. For men, the protocol is as if you and the naked guy are using adjacent urinals--eyes straight ahead, and never look down. For women, try not to giggle and fail. At least I have the consolation of knowing that, other than the naked people themselves, most Telegraph Avvers don't seem much more sophisticated than I am.

The main piece of protocol I wonder about is what happens when two naked people who don't know each other pass on the street. On a nude beach, they'd both be on "home turf". But I wonder if there would be more of a sense of camaraderie on the street. A grin exchanged, along with the unvoiced messages, "Lots of people are staring at me." / "Me, too."


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