Shortly into the drive, Sammy Panzov’s stomach growled audibly.
“Didst thou see, friend Sammy,” asked Doff de Chonez, “that the Miwok people knew how to prepare acorns for human consumption?”
“It is an impressive accomplishment,” replied Sammy, “and yet it does not nourish me to think on it. What I will say is that a jaguar wearing a bell will starve, and yet I feel if I do not keep making noises, from my mouth as well as my intestines, I will not find any food.”
“Oh! I forgot!” said Sheila. “I have some sandwiches in a coldpack in my bag. And some vegetables, and chips… Here, eat up.”
Soon the crunching of celery and carrots and potato chips was the only sound coming from the backseat, and it was not long before the group had crossed back over the Golden Gate Bridge and was approaching Baker Beach. Eric found a place to park and requested of the persistent nudists that they carry their own bright pink towels, since they would need them to sit on.
“Hast thou heard,” asked Doff de Chonez, “from Dr. Nicholson?”
“Not yet,” replied Eric, “but he should be here soon. He said he’d let me know when he gets here.”
The group passed many beachgoers wearing a range of swimsuit attire. There was only an occasional eyebrow lifted at the sight of two naked men on their way to the clothing-optional area. Eric led his friends, following the signs to the north end of Baker Beach with its terrific view of the Golden Gate Bridge, and as they approached the area they began to register the shift toward a greater number of nude visitors, although there were still some clothed or partially clothed people as well, on that fortunately sunny, although not terribly warm, late afternoon.
They found a spot to claim for their belongings. Eric disrobed promptly and led the nudists-errant to the water, while Sheila took a few moments to gather her courage and accept what she was going to do, that is, take off her clothes in public for the first time. She did so gradually, and with many deep breaths, but, after about ten minutes when the men returned from the too-cold water, they found her stretched out nude in the sun.
“Look, Your Nudeness,” Sammy shouted excitedly, pointing at Sheila. “Our first convict!”
“Convert, Sammy, is surely what thou meanest,” corrected Doff de Chonez, “but I do not think we are wise to take credit, nor to call any attention to her nudity, for, after all, it is her body and her decision to do what she wants. The sharing of a sandwich is not the same as the sharing of the sun.”
“Well… Yes… My skin is closer to me than my shirt is,” was Sammy’s bashful response, “…as I always hear it said.”
“It’s OK, Sammy,” said Sheila, shading her eyes to look up. “My brother has been coming here for years, and he had told me all about it. But, you know what? I’d say, yes, all three of you should take some credit for getting me here, and I thank you for it, because it feels wonderful.”
A beep was heard from Eric’s bag. He checked his phone and read out the message that Dr. Nicholson apologized for being late, but that he had finally arrived. Eric responded with their location, and soon they saw him approaching, with the priest at his side.
“Welcome, nude friend,” called Doff de Chonez, for the doctor had indeed already removed his clothes and placed them in the bag he carried. “Y bienvenido, padre.”
“Don… I mean, Doff, so good to see you again!” spoke Dr. Nicholson, who then greeted the others and was careful to make no mention of his longtime friend’s erratic behavior, although he did let them know that he had recovered Bare Glider and Low Rider, for which he received heartfelt thanks from Doff de Chonez and a bear hug from Sammy. The good doctor had also brought lots of drinking water, which he passed around to everyone.
The priest, who was not wearing his robes but did have on a shirt with his clerical collar and a pair of slacks, hastened to have a seat on the sand.
“The sun is out today, padre,” said Sammy. “Are you permitted to remove your clothes?”
“I’m going to sit right here and think about it, hijo,” replied the priest, “probably until my clothes slide right off my body.”
“Doctor,” Doff de Chonez addressed his friend, “what knowest thou of my Lady Mechinelda? Has she inquired of my well-being or my whereabouts?”
“Indeed she has,” answered Dr. Nicholson. “She wonders when she might meet you properly. What do you think, Doff – what should I tell her?”
Doff de Chonez cast his eyes downward for a moment. “I feel I am not worthy to see her until I can measure up to her model of naturism.”
“I think you already do, friend,” said the doctor, “even without all your naked sallies in public places.”
When Sammy inquired of his wife Teresa, the doctor passed along her message about him returning if not richer, then at least wiser.
“Whew! That’s a relief,” sighed Sammy, “for while it may be hard to prove any increased wisdom from this misadventure, what is undeniable is that I am $40 richer than when I left the house.”
Eric laughed and informed the doctor and the priest about their encounter with the wedding party at The Palace of Fine Arts. After conversing a while longer, the doctor suggested a walk along the surf, and the priest offered to stay to watch their things.
As Sheila, Eric, Sammy and Doff de Chonez walked along with the doctor, he led them further north, closer to the bridge. Suddenly the doctor called out, breaking the attention of his companions from the shells they were studying.
“What is going on here?” yelled Dr. Nicholson, a tremulous timbre to his voice.
There before them, at a distance of some fifteen yards, was a man who stood facing them, nude save for a knight’s helmet on his head and a long, dark cape. In his hand he held what looked to be a thin cane, and around his groin his body was marked by high-contrast tan lines.
“Who art thou what darest conceal thine identity?” shouted Doff de Chonez.
“Doff de Chonez pa su Mecha, nudist-errant of California, learn thou that he who speaks to you, who is here to challenge you, is known as the Knight of the White Moon!”
At this the man turned around and wiggled his posterior through a hole in the cape that had been fashioned for that express purpose. Doff de Chonez furrowed his brow, but Sheila and Eric giggled and Sammy guffawed.
“It is well said,” called out Sammy, “that a naked man will often laugh at someone with torn clothes!”
The Knight of the White Moon turned back around and spoke thusly: “Sammy Panzov, the font of thy well-known wisdom is immeasurable, but thou choseth wrongly in following Doff de Chonez. He is not a true naturist, but a fraud!”
“Monster!” shrieked Doff de Chonez. “Thou insultest not only my associate and myself, but also my friend, standing here, who didst dub me an official nudist!”
“What true naturist,” asked the knight, “fails to understand that nudity cannot be compulsory? What true naturist robs harvest workers of their protective wear, neglects to pay those who would accommodate his nudity in their hostel, and attacks innocent restaurant patrons?”
At the bewilderment of Doff de Chonez, who was struck mute by these accusations, the knight continued.
“Yes, word of thy misdeeds has already spread far and wide,” he spoke. “The police are on the look-out for thee due to thy misdemeanor at the restaurant.”
“The true mission of the nudist-errant,” shouted Doff de Chonez, “is to correct misconceptions about nudity, and it is often necessary to do so by forceful example!”
“Thou art mistaken, false naturist,” snarled the Knight of the White Moon. “Thou art nought but a charlatan, and thy lady… thy lady agrees!”
The knight pointed toward the hill that lined the dry side of the beach, and suddenly a nude woman stepped from behind a crevice.
“Doff!” she called out. She appeared to be crying. “Doff! Do not believe him!”
At this, the knight grabbed her roughly and pulled her toward him.
“My Lady… Mechinelda,” Doff mumbled. “I… how…” Our noble nudist-errant swallowed hard, then shouted, “Unhand her, villain!”
“I challenge thee,” yelled the knight, even as Lady Mechinelda struggled in his grasp. “I challenge thee to abandon thy fruitless quest and accept the reality of thy circumstances! Behold, Doff de Chonez, the mirror of thy folly!”
The Knight of the White Moon let go of Doña Mercedes, for this is indeed who it was, and whipped his cane into the air, revealing it to be what is commonly known as a “selfie stick.” Wielding the stick like a lance, he charged Doff de Chonez, activating the photo-taking capacity of his phone that rested in its reversed cradle at the end of the extension.
“Save me, Doff de Chonez!” shouted Doña Mercedes, running south past the group. “I don’t want my nude photos all over the Internet!”
Sheila quickly ran away from the camera as well, yelling “I’m not ready for that either!” Several other people who were nearby looked up in alarm and hastily fled from the knight and his weapon.
Dr. Nicholson and Eric stepped a short distance away, not quite out-of-range. But both Sammy and Doff de Chonez engaged the knight, bobbing and weaving toward him as he danced about, hopping and thrusting while taking photos from above.
“Brute!” yelled Doff de Chonez. “Malefactor! How dare thee threaten the natural display of our bodies with unnecessary and unsolicited photographic documentation!”
At some point, the knight brought the camera down for a low angle, and both nudists-errant took advantage of the moment to grab the stick. Since Doff de Chonez pulled one way, and Sammy the other, the stick snapped at its extension point, and the phone fell to the sand. When the knight reached for his phone, Sammy jumped him, tackling him onto his back, and Doff de Chonez quickly removed the knight’s helmet.
“Edgar?” uttered Sammy.
“The driver of our denudery van?” pondered Doff de Chonez.
“Could you, like, get off my arm?” Edgar asked Sammy. “It, like, hurts.”
“What hast thou done?” asked Doff de Chonez, shaking his head.
“Ouch!” said Edgar, because Sammy, instead of getting off his arm, pinned his other arm as well. “Your friend, Dr, Nicholson, he, like, hired me. I mean, I, like, drive the van and all, but, like, really I’m an actor. Ouch! Eric knew about it, too!”
“Please, Sammy, let him go,” said Dr. Nicholson, who had approached them.
Doff de Chonez stood up straight and grabbed the doctor’s upper arms. “What is the meaning of this?”
Dr. Nicholson addressed him by his birth name. “Donny, snap out of it. Your friends and I support you, and we support naturism, but we’re worried about you. You’ve gone too far. At first it seemed tolerable, even when I paid your lodging bill, but now… you have gone to extremes that are neither practical nor desirable. You are causing trouble for us, and for yourself, and most importantly, for naturism.”
At that point, Doña Mercedes approached and stood next to the doctor. Upon seeing her, Doff de Chonez dropped his hands and kneeled, bowing his head. “My Lady,” he murmured.
Doña Mercedes extended a hand to help him rise. “Please, stand up…”
But Doff de Chonez kissed her hand, released it, and remained in a kneeling position.
When the doctor shrugged, Doña Mercedes—as historians, journalists and translators all seem to agree—understood the need to improvise, an action that she commenced by clearing her throat.
“Dear neighbor,” she began, “I understand that one day you saw me out hanging my clothes to dry in my backyard, and I was… desnuda. And I appreciate that it inspired you to think about not using clothes. Pero no lo hice por ti. I didn’t do it for you. I did it only for me. In fact, I didn’t know anyone could see me.”
“Mi muy querida Mechinelda,” spoke Doff de Chonez, with difficulty in finding his voice. “I know that you did not do it for me. I apologize for letting it be known that you were mi ejemplo a seguir, my example to follow. But I mean no harm. My goal is a philanthropy of understanding, so that more people can learn the benefits of nudism.”
“Then I support you,” she replied, “but you must not force it on anyone. Did I force it on you?”
“Perhaps force is not the right word,” rejoined Doff de Chonez, “although I certainly felt compelled by your actions.”
“But I did not force it on you, or on anyone else,” spoke Doña Mercedes. “Just look around, here, en la playa – there are people who are pelados, and there are others who are vestidos. Es un convivio de respeto mutuo, an intermingling of mutual respect.”
“The problem,” interjected Dr. Nicholson, “is when people are forced into something without consent. This is why Mercedes y yo, y el padre, we came up with the plan to hire Edgar to act out this threat to you.”
“It was a test, Doff,” said Doña Mercedes. “Una prueba. And you passed. You defended us from the threat.”
“But I think the idea was also for you to recognize the gravity of the situation,” added Eric. “And I have to say, Edgar, terrific job! Your menace was convincing. I wonder how you got those props so quick! And I didn’t know you could speak like that!”
“I know, right?” said the newly unpinned young man. “Like, I didn’t know I could speak like that either. Not, like, until today.”
Doff de Chonez sighed and looked around the group, which now included Sheila, who had also returned. “Friends, amigos,” he began, “I cannot pretend to be unmoved by your concern, and by the great lengths, both physical and metaphorical, to which you have gone to confront me here on the beach. I beg of ye, please help me to understand what is appropriate and what is not.”
“Physical violence?” said Edgar. “Like, not cool.”
“Eso es,” said Doña Mercedes. “That’s just what we’ve been saying – nothing should be forced. Nothing without consent.”
“The laws may not always be to our liking,” said Dr. Nicholson, “but they serve those who feel the need for protection.”
“Protection from what?” asked Sammy. “As is often said, habit is a shirt we wear until death. How do we break the habit of thinking we have to be protected from nudity?”
“Gently,” said Sheila. “Today is my first time going naked in public. And it feels really good! But the camera was scary. And there are some clothed people hanging out over there that I have to assume came just to look at naked people. That’s wrong. But I can’t judge. Maybe they’re just getting up the courage to take their clothes off too.”
“That’s right,” said Eric. “It’s hard to break a habit, Sammy, especially when it’s not just an individual’s habit but an entire culture’s. But I think, on balance, you two have already done more good than ill.”
“There’s, like, a line I was supposed to say,” said Edgar, finally getting to his feet, “but I didn’t, like, get the chance. I was supposed to say, ahem… ‘Doff de Chonez pa su Mecha, thou hast failed to consider the possible negative consequences of thine actions. What if, instead of correcting misconceptions about nudity, thou art merely reinforcing them, or even making them worse?’”
Everyone looked at Doff de Chonez, who lowered his head and spoke as follows: “I see now that it is a good question. And I must say, it has seldom, if ever, been my experience to be standing naked on a beach, surrounded by naked friends, and to have to answer to them for my actions. But each of ye knows me well now, even my dear neighbor, and what I will promise to ye, is that I will endeavor to seek your council for any proximate nudist activities.”
Dr. Nicholson placed an arm around his friend’s shoulders, and as the sun was setting they all walked back to where the priest, who had indeed removed his clothing, awaited them. When asked about his decision to go naked, the priest replied: “God made us in his own image. What shame is there in that?”
“In other words,” said Doña Mercedes, “you didn’t recognize anyone out here from our congregation.”
“What I cannot deny, dear… ‘Mechinelda,’” the priest responded, “is that the Good Lord arranged for the circumstances today to be just as you have said. So I ask again, what shame is there in that?”