We arrive at the spa and sign in. Our car mates greet the other entering nudists with hugs and kisses on the cheek. There are couples, singles, the middle aged, twenty-somethings, older folks, all bundled up with coats and hats. We go into the locker room and the sudden onslaught of a sea of flesh is overwhelming (play it off, act natural, hi there). My eighth grade English teacher, the guy who fixes my car, my dentist; everybody is naked, walking by in a parade of immodesty, brushing hair, making small talk, pulling off underwear, bras. There are about a hundred people all stripping or stripped -- the effect is like being struck by flesh-toned snow blindness.

A young, extremely shapely woman takes the locker next to me. Not possible. I had seen her standing in the lobby when I came in. High heels, lace stockings, miniskirt -- must be the dance club bound aerobics instructor getting ready to leave as the nudists plodded in, I thought. I had assumed nudism was basically a support group for the nautilus-challenged, instinctively applying free market politics where the body is commodity; high quality goods wouldn't be available so easily, for free. But here she is next to me taking off the skirt, the high heels, peeling off single leg stockings, panties, bending and reaching -- why is she allowing me and others to see this, is what I can't help asking.

I walk out with shorts on, towel in tow, uncomfortably cold. People are sitting in the lounge drinking wine, chatting. There are people covered with tattoos, with pierced body parts, obese women, here comes my dentist again bobbing toward the sauna. I walk into the pool area. The lifeguard hired by the spa is clothed in a bathing suit. I sense a vague superiority, similar to police who watch over a demonstration of activists with that silent smirking contempt. I try to saddle up to Bob who's working the room, pressing the flesh as it were. He dismisses me and tells me to get involved, do something, then jumps into the crowded hot tub.

I pad around a bit, as people pass me wordlessly. Finally, I go to a nearby corner, pull off the trunks and walk across the deck. I feel the lifeguard's eyes contemptuously upon my ass. Into the pool, I breaststroke around in an imitation of luxuriating copped from screen actresses who usually play these scenes with their long hair up in a modified bun while someone watches them on a terrace. I small talk with Phil. Phil wants to meet women here but he's careful not to be blatant about it. More talk about trunk-less freedom. I meet a group of women in chest high water and we exchange pleasantries. A discarded social contract floats by.

Nine o'clock and time for the lingerie show in the lounge. It's all camp and Tupperware party as the hostess calls out the models who wear the requisite Fredericks gear, men included. I sit naked as fellow nudists chat up the metaphysics of the lifestyle ("being nude doesn't guarantee honesty and openness, but it helps"). Class distinctions are eliminated, apparel based categorizations aren't readily available (love beads or pearls, work boots or sandals), so people get to know one another on a more substantive level.

Many of the people in the nudist or naturist movement (the latter being the more liberal) take pains to emphasize that nudity has nothing to do with sexual activity. Peter, who insists nudity itself is not provocative, tells the story of being on a nude beach when he spotted a woman there who was wearing a crocheted top. After a while he found himself watching her, waiting, hoping that she would move a little to the left or to the right so her nipple would come into view. He soon noticed there were a number of men on the beach doing the same thing. This in spite of the fact that there were hundreds of completely naked women all around.

My companion is still in partial dress at poolside, being talked to by bearded radical chic hustler -- the others warn me about him. He's eminently comfortable with his body and wants her to be. She tells him she still can't seem to separate the idea of sexuality from nudity. A pause. This somehow does it for him. Following nudist etiquette he suddenly throws himself into the water, submerging his lower half, apologizing for his erection. At some point, he casually mentions there is a secluded spot in the women's bathroom where sex can be had discreetly.

Later, I see her in the water backed up against the pool's edge, three nudists treading water, forming a horseshoe around her in what looks like a game of sharks and minnows. I imagine them chanting over and over again "Is this your first time?"

I talk to a heavy-set woman in her forties who tells me it took her five summers of going to nudist beaches before she had the courage to disrobe. Now she feels free and good about her body, less self-conscious than if she were in a one piece. A number of women speak similarly, of women who've had radical mastectomies walking comfortably around nude beaches, of learning not to be self-conscious of their weight or their bodies because of nudity. I ask if they would go to an all-female nude pool party. They say it sounded like a good idea, they would. All the men I question about attending an exclusively male party ask what would be the point.

The shapely faux aerobics instructor, proud winner of the lingerie competition in her all white baby doll and garters now appears, inexplicably, wearing another lingerie outfit, wielding a whip and mock sashaying in the lounge. A man rushes up to her, prostrates himself at her high heels and says whip me.

She does, doing a little something with her lips and ass. The men guffaw, catcall, gather around, make jokes. She's the finest one there and she's playing it. The mood is broken, we're in a centerfold now, the other women resent her attention grabbing. I resent her for reminding me of sex just when I was having such a good time.

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