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  • Jennifer Naked
  • John J. Clayton (bio)

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Photo by Joanie Cahill /

[End Page 40]

Jennifer, my then wife Jennifer, sat naked on the beach sheet in her lean, youthful beauty. The rest of us—me and my friend and colleague Sam Franklin and Elsa, his wife—we had bathing suits on. We sat under a high dune as the tide went out, leaving a wide swathe of smooth, wet sand.

Earlier, when we were still at our campsite, feeding our two-year-old and packing for the beach, I tried to change Jen’s mind about being naked. You’ll embarrass the hell out of them; therefore, baby, you’ll embarrass the hell out of me. And don’t forget—I haven’t got tenure yet. But as soon as we got down on the beach, off came her T-shirt, off came her yoga pants. Naked. [End Page 41]

Well, what do you expect? Sure, a terrific body. She’d been a dancer and gymnast all her young life.

The beautiful broad beach in Truro, Mass., way out on the Cape, far from crowded public beaches. You got to it those days by driving sand trails off a sand road—the Old King’s Highway—and parking behind a boarded-up cottage where the rangers couldn’t see you from the beach. Then, strapping all your stuff on your back and hoisting your kid into your arms, you climbed down an eighty-foot dune (Could I do it now?) to one of the totally glorious places of the world: under high dunes, our broad, empty beach.

Or almost empty. A hundred yards away a couple of naked men lay reading; two hundred yards, a well-tanned woman wearing only an enormous floppy maroon hat sat cross-legged, sketching. Look way up the beach, there’s a flock of terns; look way down and there’s a faint bump of hazy color—the official beach entrance, too far away for individual humans to be distinguished.

When we were alone a moment—Sam and Elsa walking together at the edge of the ocean—Jennifer groaned: “I hate to badmouth, but Sam and Elsa are sooo straight.” And I guess it was kind of true. Sam and Elsa probably hadn’t been naked in public since they were three months old. But what the hell. Forget conventions. Fact is, Jennifer looked fabulous naked; the rest of us weren’t gymnasts, weren’t twenty-something. I was in decent shape. But you’ve seen those guys with horizontal layers of rippling abs? You don’t get them sitting at a desk and playing a little tennis. And Sam—well, Sam was soft and plump; sucking in his stomach to pump up his chest, he looked like a stiff capon.

We all reclined, as if we were feeling especially casual. Backpacks with food and drink were in the shade of the umbrella.

I tried to make it into something funny—“Well, hey, look at us,” I said. “We’re those Frenchmen inside Manet’s Dejeuner sur l’herbe—Luncheon on the grass. Except it’s sand. And you and me, Sam—according to Manet, we’re supposed to have street clothes on.”

Nobody laughed.

“Jackets and arty ties. We’re artists, flaneurs. And Elsa here should be wearing some kind of gauzy cover-up.”

Nobody acknowledged I’d said anything at all. Everyone wriggled toes in the sand and looked at the waves breaking at the crotch of the shore. [End Page 42]

It was pretty awful. Not like Manet’s painting, in which nobody seems to be at all concerned about clothes.

This was halfway into the 1970s, the end of ten interesting years that forced all us Americans to follow our bliss—to remake the world one bliss at a time, like it or not. That decade was part of why Jennifer was naked. Them days, everybody was naked. Friends would come over, and we’d all strip and give one another massages. At the party in that loft in Soho where I met Jennifer, half the guests were naked. Naked was cool...


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