The shortcoming of eating nude in public, so to speak, is pockets. There are none. It is not possible, after paying for one's breakfast of bacon and eggs in a nude restaurant, to slip one's credit card back into one's pocket, because one does not have a pocket. The upper cleft of one's behind, yes – the AmEx could go there. But it's not the first place that comes to mind.
Your correspondent can report this: Out of Toronto at the outset of a cross-country eating tour, he decided to have dinner at the Bare Bistro, a nudist restaurant and bar operated by the Bare Oaks Family Naturist Preserve. Naturism, to quote the Federation of Canadian Naturists, which is holding its annual fiesta there next weekend, is "the practice of complete nudity in a communal setting."
Your correspondent was surprised to be met at the reception desk by two stark-naked women in their early 20s.
"Have you ever been to a facility like this?" one asked.
"Not in North America," I burbled.
I had already committed a faux pas: I had worn my clothes to the reception desk. One is supposed to disrobe in the car, and then make one's way nude to the desk.
Bare Oaks is philosophically high-minded where bare-nakedness is concerned, and therefore clothing-non-optional: Unlike at many nudist resorts, patrons of Bare Oaks don't have the option of wearing clothes. If you feel cold you can wear a shirt, but under virtually no circumstances are your genitals to be covered (I suppose hail might be an exception).
Covering one's business conveys a sense of shame, and a sense of shame is the last thing anyone wants to see in a camp that purports to have none. You are certainly not allowed to wear anything in the restaurant.
There was a sign over the door: "Happiness is … no tan lines. Family naturist resort."
To my chagrin, the restaurant was closed for the day.
But if I stayed overnight, the naked receptionist explained, I could have breakfast and lunch the next day.
I must have said yes. The truth is, I think I managed to hypnotize myself by staring so resolutely into her eyes and nowhere else.
I went to my room, took off my clothes, and stepped back out into the hall, where I immediately collided with a woman in her 70s, also starkers.
Let me say this about public nudity: It has a lot going for it, especially if you don't know any of the other naked people. Taking off your clothes among strangers, you take off your past as well and, fairly quickly, most of your shame. It's easy to fall into naturist ways.
Ian Brown eats Canada
I walked out to the sunning area with my book and read for an hour in a pink Adirondack chair. The only problem with reading while nude in an Adirondack chair is, where do you put your book – above or below your genitals? Or on your genitals? It's hard to decide.
Bullfrogs were burping in the rushes by my feet. Across a small pond, two hazelnut-brown naked men in their late 50s were building and filling raised gardening beds.
They were wearing boots, kneepads, caps and nothing else. For $40 a season, you can rent a plot, and garden in the buff. It's a popular pastime.
Both men had the builds of former bikers, that is, mountains on legs. One was carrying a hatchet, while the other shouted, "Bring the front end loader over!" Eating nude may be unusual, but shouting nudists are more so. Naked is human enough, perhaps.
I got up and went for a walk, nude, through the resort. There were nude people here and there – a woman walking out of a lake, an old guy talking on his cellphone – but nobody cared one way or another.
After a while I started to ask myself why I didn't live this way all the time. After a while longer I started to get bored.
I thought to myself, "Hmm, I think I'll go back to my room and put some pants on" – bzzzzt, not allowed. So I went for another walk, and for a swim, and sunned on a deck (there was a nude guy on shore reading The Globe and Mail: talk about your cultural disconnect!), and walked some more.
Then I got lost and emerged from the woods in a cul de sac of houses. I am hoping they were houses that belonged to nudists.
FIRST MEAL: OVER NOT-SO-EASY
The next morning I woke up, took a shower (you get quite dirty as a nudist) and reminded myself not to put on any clothes before I stepped outside.
It was a beautiful June day, as crisp as fresh linen, not that nudists would need any. An elderly woman with bright white hair was sunbathing next to the pool. She shouted "Too cold!" as I dived in.
"Only on the entry!" I said as I came up for air, and immediately winced: What sort of thing is that to say in a nudist colony?
I hauled myself out of the pool and stood under the deck-side outdoor shower, where a smoothly tanned man said, "It's so great to shower outside!" I have to say I agreed.
Where should Ian eat next?
But after I dried myself off, I forgot not to wrap my towel around my waist, and had to take it off again. Fortunately the Bare Bistro requires everyone to carry a towel to cover any place they sit, so I slung my towel around my neck, as if that's what I intended to do all along. I felt like a dray horse.
There were already two men breakfasting in the Bare Bistro by the time I walked in, as nonchalantly as I could. (I found it was easier to appear naked in public if I imagined I was James Bond.)
The dining room was plain but functional – wooden seats with tartan upholstery, the Bare Oaks logo wood-burned into a slab of tree. Huge photographs adorned the walls: happy nude mums, cycling with their naked families through meadows.
The taller and younger of the two men in the restaurant was tucking into a plate of bacon and eggs, laptop open (I mean his computer) on the table in front of him. His posture was elaborately casual, and he had one foot propped up in his chair.
He was talking to an older, 60-ish guy with a long, grey ponytail. I'd seen the old guy in the parking lot, tinkering, nude, with his Harley. He was drinking coffee. They were discussing the Supreme Court.
The blond fellow was talking about a lawsuit he was embroiled in. "The Supreme Court has upheld pure nudity in its own framework," he said. He could have been sitting in a bar on Bay Street, except for the obvious. "The courts are only against having to view it against your will."
The town of Bracebridge was trying to prevent him from opening a nudist colony on his own land. He'd hired Clayton Ruby as his lawyer.
I tried not to look at either of them, sat down, and then realized that I had to order in the kitchen. I got up again, walked naked through the conversation and into the kitchen, where the cook, clothed, said, "What can I get you, honey?"
"Two eggs," I said, "over easy." I would have ordered the Bare Bones Healthy Breakfast – cottage cheese or yogurt, fresh fruit and a homemade muffin – but experienced an intense patch of nervous impetuousness brought on by ordering naked.
"Bacon or sausage?"
"Bacon," I blurted, instantly wishing I'd said sausage. Then I traipsed back between the two conversing nudists, excused myself and sat down and tried to concentrate on the newspaper.
I couldn't concentrate. I couldn't figure out where, or more precisely how, on my lap to put my napkin.
It was one of those thin little aluminum-dispenser napkins. What use are they, anyway? They're inadequate when you're wearing pants. When you're not wearing pants, they are truly inadequate and vaguely emasculating at the same time.
Eventually I noticed the blond guy was talking as much to me as he was to the other guy. That was when he sprang to his feet and introduced himself and extended his hand and I jumped up and extended my hand into his and my junk into my eggs.
I have to say I have never before had egg on my wasker, at least literally.
I got up and walked into the kitchen to pay my bill. The bill came to $5.50, and the eggs were done perfectly. The cook (still clothed) went to make change. I stood in the breezeway of the kitchen, naked, waiting for her.
When she returned, I cupped my hands together in front of my chest, like a supplicant nun. I didn't want to drop any change, because that would have meant – well, precisely.
I wandered outside, wondering what to do. I tried to write on the patio, naked, but found it hard to concentrate on writing.
There are all kinds of things you can do nude in public, according to the extensive literature of nudism – take pictures, paint, go horseback riding, take a bike for a spin. There is swimming and sailing and kayaking and the aforementioned gardening. Nude volleyball is very popular.
I decided to read a book. Best to start slow.
SECOND MEAL: IN BAD TASTE
Then I went for a swim, and then I went into the Bistro again, for lunch. Time travels quickly when you are nude in public.
A young woman with red hair named Nicky asked me what I wanted to eat. Unlike the cook, she was wearing a red apron and sneakers and nothing else.
My mind went more or less blank, but it wasn't a sexual thing. It was the shock of how unvarnished ordinary life turns out to be, stripped of clothing. I stared at the menu. I looked up and smiled at Nicky. I said I'd have a hamburger.
"What do you want on it?" she shot back expertly. She was soon to graduate from the hospitality program at a local college. What perfect training in how to be unfazeable!
I ordered ketchup, mustard, lettuce, tomato and a Caesar salad. If she hadn't finally said "Okay!" I might have ordered the entire left side of the menu.
It was not the best hamburger I've ever had, but it was one of the better burgers I've had naked. I think. Because this is my discovery: You cannot actually taste food when you are naked in public. The brain overloads, and something has to give – taste, alas.
The tricky thing is this: Nudists aren't embarrassed by anything. They banish physical shame from their lives, and there's a lot to be said for that.
On the other hand, shame has its place, a thought I had quite suddenly when a large, round, elderly naked man the colour and size of a county-record October pumpkin came in with his naked four-year-old grandson. The grandson sidled over and stared at my hamburger.
"Hello," I said, at which he ran off into the toilet. The toilet was right behind my table. The naked grandfather ran after him, and said, in a strength-10 voice that reverberated throughout the restaurant: "Again?"
The little boy murmured something. Granddad shouted "Well, okay."
A moment of quiet. Then: "Flush." Then again, slightly louder: "Flush." Then again, really loudly, with a tinge of panic: "FLUSH!"
It was not what I had wanted with my burger. Somehow, researching the restaurant and naturism on the Internet, I imagined eating in the company of sleekly naked people, discussing art and books. Maybe soccer at worst.
But naturists don't like to cover anything up, even the things that should be.
The little boy zoomed naked out of the bathroom. I heard the toilet flush, and Granddad came zooming loudly naked out of the bathroom after him.
"Come back! Come back!" Granddad shouted at the top of his voice.
Perhaps the old man is blind, I thought, and can't see me. But he was only blind to other people trying to eat a fractionally civilized lunch without any clothes on.
The last thing I heard, as his nut-brown shanks crabbed down the hall, was Granddad imploring grandson, "You gonna hold that for me?"
He waited for the answer.
"Well, I can't," he said then. "No pockets. No pockets!"