The boundaries that my mom had set for me had been removed by the spring of ’74. I now had a free pass to ride my bike all over Beverly Heights. I now had more friends to ride and play with than ever before. Some of us dared to venture over to Bradford Park a few times before our moms gave us the official “O.K.” to do so. With the new friends from both neighborhoods came the questions and rumors of old.
The legend of the nudists continued to spread like wildfire.
Tommy and I played it low key. We had given it our best shot two years ago and had never gone back since that day. We left it to others to blaze the trail now. We were content with the knowledge that we had made it further than anybody before or since.
Most of the boys in our neighborhood played little league baseball in the Junior Athletic Association – or “the JAA” as it was more commonly known – in Yorktown. The big money maker for the program was a raffle ticket sale. Local venders would donate goods or services to be raffled off during All-Star Day, the last day of the season. The athletes won prizes based on how many tickets they could sell. Five tickets sold got you a free baseball. Ten got you a free bat. Fifteen tickets earned you a bat and a ball. Twenty tickets sold won you the granddaddy prize of them all – a free ticket to a Cincinnati Reds game.
Most of my tickets were bought by my grandparents with a few going to my mom and dad, one or two to my uncle, and, if the timing was right, a few tickets were purchased by my grandparents’ friends. Our next-door neighbor, Betty Lou, could always be counted on to buy one as could kindly Mr. and Mrs. Johnson across the street. I almost always seemed to have about five left to sell to get to the magic number of twenty and a free ticket to see my beloved Big Red Machine. I had to make the effort to sell to as many of our neighbors as possible before Mom or Dad would pop for the rest of the raffle tickets.
I hated going door-to-door to sell the tickets. Mr. Dorton to our left was a cranky old bastard who seemed to have a genuine hatred of kids. The people beyond his house were usually hit up by the kids that lived up that way. Tommy’s family was out of the question plus he usually hit his two next-door neighbors. He and I would hit the houses between us and Nebo, but, with the exception of Betty Lou and the Johnsons, rarely with any success.
There was one house we had never tried before – the nudists’ house.
Tommy and I were walking down the street pretending to make an effort to sell the raffle tickets. As usual, we were talking about stuff that seemed important at the time, stuff that usually led us to talking about girls. We walked past Dennis’ house and decided not to try the new family, the Stricklands. We walked past the nudists’ house and down to the duplexes where we turned around and headed for home.
We were all talked out as we neared the nudists. I thought back to our only attempt to peer inside the looking glass two years previous. I stopped short of the house and said to Tommy, “Let’s try it.” Tommy shrugged his shoulders as if to say “okay” so we walked on up to the front door and knocked, neither one of us expecting to get answer.
To our surprise, the front door opened. There before us stood the most statuesque woman we had ever seen in person. “Hello. Can I help you boys?” It was the same sweet voice we had heard on the back patio. It was her! The blonde haired woman with the shapely calves was standing right in front of us. Fully clothed, damn it.
She was a very pretty woman, appearing to be in her mid-to-late 20s. Not as pretty as My Karen was, of course, but she was still pretty enough and shapely enough to be in Playboy magazine, by my estimation. She filled her dress quite nicely.
I was struck dumb.
Tommy, on the other hand, had a much easier time with the ladies. He told the lovely lady what our intentions were. Well, not our real intentions, but the intention of selling raffle tickets. She invited us in. Tommy walked through the front door. I continued to stand there like an idiot. Tommy grabbed me by the shoulder and pulled me inside.
What we saw was like nothing we had ever witnessed. At least, we had never seen anything like this in the houses of our neighborhood. The inside was very dark. The walls were all covered in a dark wood paneling and covered with what we figured was crazy modern artwork. The living area had a vaulted ceiling with a handrail surrounding the central part of the room. The back wall was all glass from the floor to the peak of the vaulted ceiling, just like we had seen from the outside. What appeared to be pelts of exotic animals draped the handrails. African artwork and possible artifacts lined one of the walls. The furniture looked to be covered with leather. The patio was in full view, including the pool this gorgeous woman sat in while we had the audacity to intrude on her. The interior was like a bachelor’s pad I might have read about in one of my dad’s Playboy magazines.
The woman was in another room while we were taking all of this in, thoughts of swinging nudist parties dancing through our perverted little minds. She came back with a dejected look on her face and told us that she didn’t have the money for two tickets. She informed us that her husband – damn it! – would be home in a couple hours and suggested that we come back then. We thanked her and then showed ourselves out.
We walked back towards our homes in total silence, each of us ready to explode. I blew up first.
“HOLY SHIT! She was gorgeous!”
“Keep it down, stupid,” Tommy warned me. “You want your mom to hear you talkin’ that way?”
I could barely contain myself. “But did you see her? Did you see her?”
“Of course I saw her, you idiot,” Tommy replied as he poked me in the forehead. “I was standing right there wasn’t I?”
“Yeah, yeah, I know. But did you see her? Oh, my God.”
“Would you stop? You weren’t like this inside her house. You were like… like… Harpo Marx for Pete’s sake.”
We carried on like this until we parted ways at my yard. The blonde woman down the street was on my mind the rest of the afternoon and evening, even through supper. The thought that I had been so close to possibly seeing this woman skinny-dipping in her pool was almost enough to drive my pre-pubescent mind crazy.
Neither Tommy nor I went back to sell her husband the raffle tickets.
Deep down inside I wanted another shot at the looking glass, but I had two more years of maturity under my belt. I was 11 now and fully understood how what we did had been wrong. This new sense of responsibility and decency was enough to piss me off. I hoped that it was a phase that could be outgrown.
Five more years passed by without another attempt by me, Tommy, or anybody else for that matter. Tommy and I were no longer hanging out together. He and Joey were best of friends now and spent most of their time hanging out. Johnny had his driver’s license and a job. Most of the friends I was now spending time with lived north of the river and a few miles away in the Westbrook addition, the addition that my family was now moving to.
Eight years had gone by since I first heard the rumors of the nudists and I was no closer to knowing the truth about them. Eight years is an eternity at such a young age. The importance of knowing the truth had faded since the day Tommy and I stepped foot in their house. Their house was always a presence to reckon with, but there eventually came a time when I could ride past it without any thought of the couple and their proclivities.
I did wonder once more as we drove past the house one last time as we moved to our new home. The next school year one of the other boys in the old neighborhood told me that the nudists had also moved out. Of course, we would never know where they moved to and now there was no chance that any of the kids still living there could follow in the footsteps of my friends and me. It did, however, leave me the luxury of believing that I had come closer to the truth than anybody would ever come, and that would have to be enough.