It was almost eight o’clock, and my walk on the beach had been cut short, first by the sight of a paunchy middle-aged bald man naked in the surf and, when I got past him, a strapping nude black man crossing the sand to enter the water, and giving me a full frontal view. What is a girl to do? I didn’t like to allow the two male nudes to prevent me from taking my accustomed walk, but I couldn’t act as if nothing was happening. Besides, if I walked past them, eyes fixed straight ahead, I would have to return by the same route, and suppose they were still there? Wouldn’t that look as if I were enjoying it, as if I’d come here on purpose to see them? Damn. Is this situation covered in books of etiquette? Does Amy Vanderbilt or Miss Manners have anything to say about how to behave when you stumble unexpectedly onto a spontaneous moment on a suddenly clothing-optional beach? I go to the beach at that hour to see the waves, as they break, lit by the setting sun, not to see (or to avert my eyes from) a couple of distinctly ungodlike men bobbing nude in the surf.
The breeze was stiffer than I expected anyway, so I turned back. But the surf was so warm and foamy—four tiers of frilly waves advancing—that, once I had put some distance between them and me, I decided to go in, too, in my bathing suit. And that is what I was wearing in the car on Sunday night as I cruised the Monday side of the street looking for an ample space to parallel park in. I passed a long-haired woman walking a dog, and heard my neighbor C. shout out my name with gusto, as if she’d been looking for me. I shouted her name in response, found a spot, and shifted into reverse, but as I was backing up, a black cat—Harley, I believe—darted out of the court and into the street behind me, so I stepped on the brakes. The woman with the dog had come up alongside me, and I asked her if she could see the cat. “I think he went under that car,” she said, pointing to the car behind me. I was so intent on not hitting the cat as I backed into the space that I forgot to be cautious about the space itself and smacked into the car. C. let out a hoot, assuring that this little incident would not pass unnoticed among my neighbors. Meanwhile the dogwalker was pointing ahead of me into the street: apparently the cat had shot out from under the car behind me on impact. He gave me a look over his shoulder as he ran up the street.
“Who did I hit?” I asked as I opened the door. The car behind me had its license plate dented (note weaselly use of passive voice) in approximately the same configuration that my front license plate is dented, but no glass was broken, and no one came running to elicit my insurance information. My car was parked more than a foot from the curb. I was barefoot, with a towel tied around my waist. “Where have you been?” C. said, looking at me (except that when she said it, it came out “Wheah have YOU been?”).
I said I’d been to the beach. I didn’t tell her about the nudity.