Halfway through my year of new mid-life adventures, I embarked on my most challenging experience yet. I pushed past the anticipated horror and viewed it pragmatically. When visiting a nude beach, I figured I should bring along three things: sunscreen, an extra-large towel, and of course, my 75-year-old mother.
"At least we'll both have our clothes on," she said.
I squinted. "Um, maybe I didn't clarify that. I'm going au naturel, too."
"Oh." My mother pondered this. "Well, don't sit near me. I saw you naked as a baby, and I don't care to anymore."
Apparently, awkward nudity was best reserved for total strangers.
As we entered Haulover Beach, I explained the first rule of Nude Beach Etiquette I'd learned online: While speaking to other sunbathers, keep your eyes on their face and not their other body parts. Sound advice when we soon encountered a man -- sans even a Speedo -- walking in our direction. I had little trouble not staring, since I was preoccupied with helping my mother negotiate, with her cane, across the sand.
But a deep voice prompted us both to look up. "This sand is hard to walk on, isn't it?" he said.
My mom paused, leaning on her cane, and nodded. "Yes, it is," she replied. She smiled at him. He smiled back. I grabbed her arm and pulled her away.
We ventured a foot farther before she whispered to me. "Did you see how good I did? I made really good eye contact."
I rolled my eyes, calling bullsh*t.
Next, we passed by a bronzed Adonis. Dark, wavy hair. Twinkling eyes. Holy Mother of God! Was he standing at half-mast? I yanked my mother's arm again, before anyone could speak.
We found a secluded place for Mom to plop down, and I headed further on. The winds were high and the sky was ominous, so the beach, thankfully, wasn't crowded. Ninety-five percent of the sunbathers were men. Some lay spread-eagle on the sand, their hands behind their heads. Several roamed about, in what I assume they believed to be their untethered glory.
It was a blustery day. All around me, winky-dinks waved in the wind. I didn't wave back.
I lowered my head, searching for the perfect spot to drop down -- and to drop my drawers. Three miles away from anyone else seemed preferable.
Spreading out a towel, I sat down, still wearing my swimsuit. I opened a book, contemplating my next move. I could only end this by tearing off the Band-Aid quickly, and that meant ripping off my swimsuit. So I did.
I promptly covered myself with a second towel. But the wind whipped it up and it landed over my face, leaving the rest of me fully exposed. I sprang up to spread it back over me, but then the towel beneath me went awry in the wind. As I silently swore and attempted repeatedly to unfurl it, a voice said, "Here, let me help you."
Swiveling my head, I saw a young man kneeling behind me. "I saw you struggling," he said. "Let's put one of your sandals on each edge of the towel to anchor it down."
I forced a smile. "Good idea. Thanks."
He returned to his spot behind me. I lay back down and held my second towel over me. I stared at the sky. Finally, I pulled off the towel and squeezed my eyes shut. I adopted the logic of a two-year-old: If I can't see anyone, then no one can see me.
I heard people passing by, and I flinched every time their conversation paused. What were they doing? What were they looking at? A helicopter flew over me. I prayed it wasn't taking aerial photos.
I figured after 45 minutes, I could check this experience off my list. The minutes passed more slowly than in the entire history of the universe.
I yanked my swimsuit back on and gathered my courage to look behind me. The young man who'd assisted me sat a few yards back, fully clothed and reading a textbook. A pile of books and spiral notebooks lay next to him.
He glanced up and smiled. I pictured him penning a college term paper about awkward middle-aged women who visit nude beaches, probably for his abnormal psychology class.
My mother shot me a look of relief when I returned. She gestured to her right. Adonis had shown up just after I left. He'd spent the last half-hour parading around her. She'd squirmed a bit and then grew annoyed. She had no issue with viewing his endowment; she just wasn't keen on how intent he was on her admiring it. As we prepared to leave, he walked over to us and preened some more.
We might have found Adonis more attractive if he'd left a tiny bit to our imaginations. Although he'd be pleased to know tiny wasn't a word we would ever associate with our memory of him.
Some people may visit nude beaches to flaunt their stuff. Others, like me, are simply curious. Maybe a few prefer the freedom and the full body tan. I'll take the tan lines, thank you.
With trepidation and enough sand that took days to remove from my body parts, I took part in this sideshow. It proved enlightening and cringe-worthy for both my mother and me. Most embarrassed, however, was my 24-year-old son, upon learning of our experience.
"Wait, you and Grandma went to a nude beach?" He shook his head and shut his eyes, to squeeze out the image. "I could have gone my whole life without knowing that."
I snorted. The boy knew nothing about humiliation. Just wait until he was 52 and had lived to tell a few tales. By then, I guessed I'd have a few more stories myself. Still, I doubted additional nude beach experiences would be among them.
And, next time I whined about trying on swimsuits, I'd remind myself anything might be better than nothing at all.