My "naked croquet" headline is also the title of a funny little story by Leslie Fiedler, who was much more famous for his literary criticism than for his fiction. He was a leading light of the great SUNY Buffalo English Department in the '70s.
He outraged the sedate world of Literary Criticism in the '40s by suggesting there was a homoerotic element in classic American literature. His title, a quote from Jim in "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," was "Come Back To The Raft Ag'in, Huck, Honey." Outrageous then, pretty much ho-hum now. Leslie was always ahead of the curve!
As I remember the croquet story, a few folks get smashed at a dinner party and do what the title suggests, with comic consequences. Leslie had a great ironic sense of humor - how he would have loved to hear that he was ahead of the curve again!
So, on Saturday, Aug. 16, I was watching a Cubs-Mets Game on a New York station on my satellite dish. This year's Cubs are mostly a dreary lot, but I never quite give up. I watched the Mets slowly take a 3-1 lead and I sighed, figuring this would be two straight losses to the weak Mets. I am no great fan of Long Island car dealer commercials, so I channel surfed a bit between innings.!
And BINGO, there it was, a show titled "Dating Naked." Really!
That's not a misprint for speed dating. That's a modern development for 20-something singles to meet and talk with as many people as possible in a short time and see which of them might be worth more than the original five minutes or so. Dates, perhaps even good relationships, even good marriages, might follow. Sounds a bit mechanical to me, but then so is my minivan, of which I am fond!
No, this began with two handsome young people walking toward one another on a romantic stretch of beach and meeting, shaking hands. Rather carefully shaking hands, at arms' length, no hugs. Because neither of them had a stitch of clothes on. How does this pass the censors for a show on a weekend afternoon? Simple. I don't know what TV people call those smudgy smears they use to cover the faces of people in news clips. "Smudgies" would be a good term. I prefer "Smutties" for this show. All of what Monty Python would call "the naughty bits" were covered by "smutties," three for the young woman, one for the man. That's frontal; one served each for the back view.
Well, it was difficult to go back to the old ball game, but I did. The Mets had added a run or two.
The Cubs were doing nothing. What the heck, back to TV's smarmy version of Eden. The pair was conversing as easily as they could. The young woman had a slightly comic look on her face as if she were saying, "Am I really doing this?" But she persevered. What should they do to break the ice? Well, dancing was obviously out of the question, even if a dance band just happened to be on the beach, which it didn't!
I should explain that I often watch TV with the sound off - always for baseball games - and I carried that over to this grotesque nonsense. So I don't know exactly what trivia they were exchanging. Probably not the old reliable "Do you come here often?" Then I noticed the young woman was putting on white socks, then tennis shoes. Shift the cameras over 90 degrees to- as God is my witness-a croquet court. Leslie Fiedler scores again!
Of course, two beautiful naked people on a beach would choose croquet over any other activity, and they did. He tried to show her how to get started, but she was dreadful, much worse even than the Cubs. And, of course, nobody really gave a damn about the game; it was just another way to expose pretty naked young flesh in a socially acceptable way. It was the 21st century version of the "Let's go play volleyball!" moment in the dreadful nudie camp movies of the '50s!
They poked away desultorily at this for a time, then, mercifully, were joined by another lovely naked "smuttied" couple, and then still another naked couple (making three in all.). The women were shapely and beautiful. (Well, what I could see was.) The men were well muscled, but not Schwarzeneggerish. Conversation picked up as they sat around on some benches, and the only really serious erotic act I saw occurred then: a long, intense kiss, and not within the couple structure either.
Then they seemed to be organizing some sort of Q&A game show. Naked Jeopardy, anyone? To adapt Jimmy Buffet, "My whole word lies waiting behind smuttie number three?"
But game shows, even nude game shows, are not my style, and besides the Cubs were showing some life. From down 7-1 they made it 7-3 in the eighth, no longer out of reach. The Long Island Honda dealers came back so I returned to the nude beach. (What wonderful trashy options we have! Is this a great country or what?!)
I couldn't follow the plot exactly, but apparently the tall blonde from couple 2 won, and her prize seemed to be to pick one of the men to, well, hang out with. I suppose she could have picked a woman, but she didn't, and it would have thrown the conclusion of the show out of balance. Leave three naked men behind? Homoerotic elements on American TV?
Perish the thought. I may have missed a crucial point or two here, because, by golly, the Cubs loaded the bases with two out in the ninth and Anthony Rizzo up. He's a young Cub first baseman who is second in the National League this season in home runs. And of course a homer here would be a grand slam and tie the score.
So DATING NAKED would have to wait. I have my priorities.
A ball. A strike, swinging. Another strike swinging. And then, there is no joy in Brocton, for mighty Rizzo has struck out. Game over, Cubs lose again. (They won a nice one the next day, 2-1).
So all I can say about the conclusion of "Dating Naked" is what I saw under the credits: the tall, lovely naked winner and her taller naked choice, walking slowly away from us on the beach (behinds carefully smuttied), hand in hand, bound for what? Where? Wherever a beautiful naked couple might want to go!
Mac Nelson lives in Brocton. His prize-winning book "TWENTY WEST: The Great Road Across America" (SUNY Press) is now out in paperback.