AGLOW is lit!

Writing a book is one thing, but putting it together is quite another thing entirely…

Between proofing, formatting, page numbering (way too complicated for what it is), building the active table of contents for the Kindle edition, etc., etc., etc. and all the other aspects that go into finishing a book, what I can finally say is, phew! Aglow is now available to order in both paperback and Kindle editions.

Here is the fantastic cover art by Bernard Perroud, including the back cover blurb:

Marisol Aguilar is a young historian and intern at the Palafox Library in Puebla, Mexico. When she and art collector Zé Queluz escape from the library in the aftermath of an earthquake, their quest for lost testimonies of the pre-colonial Americas leads them to a new understanding of colorful legends, and of ancient rituals.

On the CreateSpace page, I chose the category Fiction / Alternate History for this book. But is Aglow also naturist fiction? The novel’s contemporary characters–like Marisol and Zé–engage with the modern idea of naturism. The sixteenth-century characters who speak through their testimonies could be called proto-naturists, and in their own ways, they are just as radical as those of us who count ourselves as naturists today can be. But I’ve tried to evade dogmatic naturism, because in the end (and what an end it is!) social nudism is expressed for a purpose that’s very natural, completely necessary, and yet wholly unique.

My best wishes for your reading enjoyment!

 

Bugs and Bares, part 8: To Less Cloth, and More Truth

Fifteen minutes later, Nate pulled up to the warehouse entry boom gate for the second time that day, and saw the same attendant who had been there earlier. Nate, however, had changed into his hotel grounds crew uniform.
     “ID, please,” said the attendant, shining his flashlight into the Jeep.
     Nate handed him his St. Ethel driver’s license.
     “No, I mean your ID for entry.”
     “That’ll have to do, sir. I’ve been called to an exterminator emergency.”
     The attendant laughed. “A what?”
     Nate met the man’s gaze. “An exterminator emergency. Haven’t you seen me on TV? Look at my uniform. Look, here’s our company mascot, Ladybug the mantis.”
     Nate held up the mantis’ carry case, but the attendant did not seem impressed.
     “This is gonna be on you, sir. I got an urgent call from Sandra at Bustamante Labs to meet her–something about a termite invasion. Didn’t you see her come through just a few minutes ago?”
     “Well, I…”
     “Give me your name and number, please.”
     The attendant’s mouth dropped open. “What? Why?”
     “If you don’t let me in, I’m reporting you to your supervisor. Now, if you do let me in… I’ll give you a year’s termite protection policy.”

Termites. Source.

     “I don’t need… I live in an apartment building… oh, hell,” said the attendant, raising the boom gate.
    Nate sped through and around to Lalo’s warehouse. Sandra’s car was parked outside–he knew it was hers because he had been able to follow her most of the way until she raced through the tail end of a yellow light and down the dark streets beyond him.
     He parked his Jeep away from her car, turned off the lights and engine, and sat still for a moment, wondering how to get in, or if he should try to sneak around the back.
     Just as he was making up his mind to try the back entrance, another vehicle pulled up next to Sandra’s car. Intrigued, Nate sunk down in the driver’s seat of the Jeep, but not so far that he couldn’t see out.
     The car door opened, and by the weak light of the lab’s outdoor security lamp, Nate could see that a young woman got out, wearing a blouse and cargo pants. Even though Nate had never seen Beverly wearing clothes, he could tell it was her. He thought about trying to follow her unseen. He thought about what would happen if he startled her and she screamed.
     Acting quickly, he opened his door, got out, and just stood next to the Jeep. He spoke her name as loud as he dared.
     She startled, but merely turned quickly without yelling. “Oh, it’s you,” she said. “Why are you here?”
     Nate should have anticipated the question, but realized he had no alibi.
     “Beverly… I’m sorry, something suspicious is going on. Dr. A and I were at the store–Lola’s–with Sandra, and then someone called and ordered Sandra back here quick. Dr. A will be here soon – she told me to go on ahead. Do you know what’s going on?”
     Beverly looked down, then at the Lab, and then at Nate. “Look, I…” She sighed. “I don’t know, frankly. But I came back here because I forgot my phone. Come inside with me, but stay quiet, and if I tell you to hide, hide. I don’t want to lose my job, understand?”
      “I understand, definitely. And thanks.”
     Beverly let them in the front door, and immediately they heard voices. Just as she was about to turn on the light, Nate grabbed her wrist and moved her hand away. Quickly closing the door behind him, he held a finger to his lips.
     They could barely see. The long lab area with all the silkworm tables was in shadow, with the only light coming through the office door, slightly ajar. As their eyes grew accustomed to the low light, they listened.
     “… unprecedented level of customer complaints. The Better Business Bureau is poised to act tomorrow,” Lalo was saying.
     “You knew this was going to happen! Such meticulous planning and it’s like you didn’t see this coming!” said Sandra. “That clearance sale you planned wasn’t going to fool anyone.”
     “The problem, darling, is that they could arrest us. Do you remember the escape plan?”
     “Is the boat ready?”
     “Oh, yes. Yes, indeed.”
     “Did you pack what I asked you?”
     Beverly was staring at Nate, eyes wide, mouth open.
     “Every last item you requested from the pharmacy.”
     “Well I hope you packed some hydrocortisone cream — that’s what this dermatologist at the store told me that I needed.”
     “I, uh…” It seemed like Lalo had not in fact packed that item, and was making an attempt to change the subject. “Is Beverly scheduled to come in tomorrow?”
     “Yes. That means… she’ll be arrested?”
     “Ah, well. She’ll survive,” said Lalo.
     Beverly started to yell but Nate covered her mouth as gently as he could, pleading with his eyes for her to remain quiet.
     Suddenly Beverly set her jaw. She grabbed Nate’s hand and pulled him along with her, over toward the silkworm tables. She stopped in front of a large vat, trying to show Nate something in the poor light. He pulled out his phone for light, and read the label: AGENT ORANGE.
     Even as he was remembering what Dr. A had told him about Lalo’s evasive answers, Beverly was pointing to her backside and mimicking scratching an itch.
     Nate shrugged his shoulders, not understanding exactly what the connection was between the vat and the rash he had seen on her buttocks earlier when they had all been observing the clothesfree lab protocol. But she misunderstood his misunderstanding, and pulled down her cargo pants to show him the rash.
     Nate almost spoke out, trying to explain, but neither of them wanted to make any noise. He nodded his head vigorously while pointing at her red skin, trying to convey that yes, he remembered her rash. He pointed at the vat and shrugged his shoulders again.
     Beverly, readjusting her pants, thought for a moment, then pointed at Nate’s mouth. She opened her own mouth, stuck out her tongue, and panted and waved her hand in front of her mouth, then pointed at Nate’s mouth again.
     Suddenly, everything clicked for Nate, who was nodding his head and smiling. He knew he wanted to help Beverly. He knew what was causing the rashes. And he knew what made Super Silk moth-resistant.
     Beverly had already moved to unfasten a capsule from the side of the vat. Shaped like a fire extinguisher, it was ready to be filled for portable application of Agent Orange. Quietly she turned the vat nozzle, filling the capsule with a liquid that shone pumpkin-orange in the light from Nate’s phone.
     Beverly and Nate crept back toward the office, but the light was out and all was quiet. Beverly motioned to Nate to follow her quickly out the back. She held the capsule in front of her, with the nozzle ready to squirt.
     “Pass me that larger suitcase,” they heard Lalo say, and then they saw him with Sandra at the warehouse dock, loading a lifeboat.
     “Stop!” yelled Beverly.
     Lalo and Sandra froze.
     “What are you doing here?” Sandra called out.
     “Put that down,” yelled Lalo.
     Sandra looked at Nate in the moonlight. “Hey, weren’t you at the store earlier?”
     “No questions,” said Nate. “We are going to spray this all over you and your belongings unless you start explaining.”
     Lalo turned and started to run away down the dock. Beverly shot an orange stream through the air, hitting him square in the behind. He jumped in the water.
     But they could already hear the sirens, and as they grew louder and the flashing lights grew brighter with the arrival of the police boats, Nate confirmed from Sandra everything he had pieced together: Agent Orange was habanero juice, so full of capsaicin that no moth would eat any fabric that contained it, but with the unfortunate side effect of causing burning rashes on the skin; and Lalo had introduced to the island of St. Ethel the population of moths that could eat any textile, with the aim of cornering the clothing market. Listening to this confession with Beverly at his side, Nate also confirmed that he really wanted to get to know Beverly, who had impressed him with her bravery and quick thinking.
     Nate was not surprised to see Dr. A step from one of the police boats, to address her former student who was splashing around in the water.
     “Lalo, you were full of potential. Now, only disappointment! It is going to take us years to get the moth population back under control through selective sterility, to say nothing of the days if not weeks it will take for your customers to recover from their rashes.”
     “You’ve got to think big,” said Lalo, spitting water from his lips. “This could have worked if Beverly hadn’t turned on us.”
     “Ha!” Beverly laughed. “You two were ready to have me arrested in your place, I heard you.”
     The police ordered Lalo to climb onto the dock. Dripping wet in his soaked clothes, and wriggling from the unquenched habanero burn, he and Sandra were summarily arrested, handcuffed, and escorted in one of the boats to the precinct to await their fate.

Two days later, at Noonay Noo, Beverly and Nate were enjoying a nude evening with Dr. A and Ladybug.    
     Holding up his glass of wine, Nate proposed a toast. “To less cloth, and more truth.”
     It was Beverly’s turn. “To friendships gained, and clothing lost.”
     All smiles, Dr. A gave the last toast. “To Mother Nature – for our bodies, our health, and the soon-to-be-recovering health of our island’s ecosystem.”
     Under the moon, the fireflies danced.

(“Bugs and Bares” concludes with this post.)

   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   

Bugs and Bares, part 7: Chiggers!

Ten minutes later, a pair of customers walked into Lola’s just a few minutes before closing. There were just a few shoppers lined up at the cash register, and no one else around except the cashier. Nate and Dr. A began to peruse the merchandise, looking at nothing in particular.
“Can you read the cashier’s name tag?” asked Dr. A.
“It says ‘Clarisse,” whispered Nate. “If Sandra’s here, I don’t think she’ll be wearing a name tag.”
“Will you recognize her voice?”
“Nope. I never could hear her. I only heard Lalo’s side of the conversation.”
“In the end I suppose it doesn’t matter who it is, if they have a rash,” said Dr. A.
Behind them, someone locked the doors to the store. It was a woman Nate and Dr. A had not seen when they entered. They exchanged a wink.
“Oh! Excuse me!” Dr. A called out. “Miss?”
The woman approached. “May I help you?”
“Oh, I’m so glad I saw you. I’m here with my grandson,” said Dr. A, indicating Nate, “and we’re looking for a birthday present for my daughter, who is his mother. We’ve heard such wonderful things about Lola’s that we had to come see for ourselves!”
“That’s very nice,” said the woman. “Perhaps she would like a pareo? We have many styles on this rack…”
“Actually,” Dr. A cut in, “she would prefer a blouse.”
“I’m happy to show you our line of blouses, ma’am. What is her size?”
“I… uh, I forget, but… looking at you, I can tell you must be her same size. What size are you?”
“At Lola’s, we carry only small, medium, large, and extra large. I’m a medium.”
“Let’s see…” Dr. A and the woman went to the blouse rack. Nate, seeing that the last shopper had paid and walked out, approached the cashier.
“Good evening. Do you have any sales, or anything on clearance?”
Clarisse looked at him and shook her head. “So sorry, sir, not today. But if you come back tomorrow we will be holding a special clearance sale, yes.”
“I see,” said Nate. “Any idea why?”
“New shipment, sir. Tomorrow, everything you see here in the store will be half off the regular price.”
“Interesting. Maybe a new style, or something…? I mean, the new shipment.”
“I do not know, sir. I am just a cashier, But you can ask Sandra for more information,” and she nodded toward the woman helping Dr. A. “She will be happy to help you.”
“Thanks,” Nate responded, and walked back over to Dr. A. When he caught her attention in a moment Sandra wasn’t looking, he winked at Dr. A and nodded in Sandra’s direction.
Sandra held out a brightly colored blouse with a tropical flower pattern.
“Oh, that’s lovely,” Dr. A enthused. “And can you confirm, please, that this fabric is the wonderful Super Silk we’ve seen advertised?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Sandra replied. “Every item in the store is made from our signature Super Silk, 100% guarantee against moths.”
“Wonderful! But… is it comfortable?” Dr. A asked, with a piercing look at Sandra.
“Very breathable, light – yes, very comfortable,” said Sandra, who did not make eye contact.
“You’ve been so helpful, and I’m sorry to bother, but…” began Dr. A, “do you think you could try it on, please? So I can see what it would look like. You really do have a strikingly similar build to my daughter.”
“Certainly,” said Sandra. “I’ll just pull it on over the blouse I’m wearing.”
Dr. A and Nate smiled and waited patiently. Once the blouse was on, Dr. A looked at Nate and asked, “Well, Ethan, it fits well. What do you think? Do you think Penelope will like it?”
“It looks great,” said Nate. “Mom will love it.”
Dr. A nodded and smiled. “We’ll take it, uh… what is your name?”
“Sandra,” she said. “Here, I’ll just pull it back off…”
And, just as Dr. A had planned, as Sandra pulled the top blouse off, the friction against the bottom blouse raised it up enough to reveal Sandra’s lower back, covered in angry red spots.
“Oh my!” feigned Dr. A. “Sandra, your back! What happened?”
“Oh,” she said, a little flustered as she pulled the hem of her own blouse back down to her waist. “Chiggers.”

Magnified view of a chigger. Source.

“Chiggers?!” exclaimed Nate, who immediately began scratching himself all over.
“Sandra, I have to tell you,” said Dr. A, “I am a dermatologist. Let me see that again – perhaps I can prescribe a treatment for you.”
Sandra stopped folding the blouse for purchase and looked at Dr. A. “A dermatologist. Really?”
Dr. A drew herself up to her full height and said, “Well, a retired dermatologist. Although, can one ever really retire from being a dermatologist?”
“Hmmm…” said Sandra. “It’s true I really could use some professional advice. What do you think?”
“Step into the changing room, here,” said Dr. A, “and let me have a good look at it.”
Once they had disappeared around the corner to the dressing room area, Nate could hear Clarisse on the phone.
“No sir, we’re closed… A rash? But perhaps she is allergic to silk. That is not the responsibility of the store… I don’t know what you may have heard about satisfaction with our products, sir, but I am not allowed to speak on the issue of complaints from other customers… Good bye.”
Nate waited a moment and then walked closer to the checkout area. “I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but, you know… it was on the news,” he lied.
Clarisse looked up. “What was on the news?”
Nate shrugged. “All the customer complaints about Super Silk. Channel 8, just an hour ago.”
“Really? That’s news to me. But then why did you come in? Didn’t you believe it?”
“My grandma and I wanted to see for ourselves. All the advertising, you know.”
At that moment Dr. A and Sandra returned from the dressing room. Dr. A was saying, “… definitely not chiggers. It’s contact dermatitis. You’ve had an allergic reaction to something you’re wearing.”
Sandra smiled. “I recently changed the brand of my laundry detergent. That must have been it!”
“Sandra,” interrupted Clarisse, “this man says that Super Silk customer complaints were on the news this evening.”
“Oh, I am absolutely positive that’s all a bunch of hooey,” said Dr. A, with the slightest of winks at Nate. “Here, Nate… I mean, Ethan, pay for this, please. Now, Sandra, what you need to try is a hydrocortisone cream…”
Just as Clarisse began to ring up the blouse, the phone buzzed again, She answered, listened, and hung up. “It was the owner,” she said to Sandra. “He said he needs to see you as soon as you can get there.”
Sandra gave the appearance of trying to look calm while actually hurrying. “I need to go. Have a good evening.”
“Start with 0.05%,” Dr. A called after her. “The hydrocortisone, I mean!”
Then she whispered in Nate’s ear: “Change of plans: I’ll pay. You go follow her, and I’ll catch a cab as soon as I can.”

(read part 8, the conclusion of “Bugs and Bares”)

Bugs and Bares, part 6: Agent Orange

Lalo looked down at his toes, perhaps to hide a bit of a blush. Then he raised his head and began slowly. “I want to thank you, Miranda, for introducing me to naturism all those years ago.”
“Well I don’t know why,” she began. “You were a spectacularly poor naturist, weren’t you?”
“I imagine that in your experience, you’ve seen some people take to it right away, and others need more time to come around. Yes? I don’t think you should jump to conclusions.” Lalo coughed in the middle of what he was trying to express. “Conclusions…about anything.”
Dr. A smiled brightly. “You’re exactly right, Lalo. That’s why I’m asking for facts. What is it about naturism that finally attracted you?” Dr. A looked at Nate. “Sugar, please.”
Nate sighed. “Just a minute.”
“Frankly…economics,” Lalo began. “I realized that a clothesfree environment here in the lab was absolutely essential to avoid fabric contamination.”
“And then?” prompted Dr. A.
“And then I simply grew accustomed to it. Beverly balked at first but got used to it too, and like me I think she came to prefer it. My other associate, Sandra, is comfortable without clothes but she handles distribution, so mostly she stays outside the lab.”
Dr. A scowled at Nate and raised her teacup to him suggestively, all while plowing right along in her interrogation of Lalo. “Distribution…of what, may I ask?”
“Well. All the silkworms I showed you make our product, Super Silk. I own a factory where the silk is processed. Our line includes blouses, skirts, shirts, shorts, swimsuits, pareos and a variety of accessories.”
“Yes. indeed,” said Dr. A. “So we saw on our way in from Noonay Noo. The store is called ‘Lola’s,’ is that right?”
“It is merely an inversion of the letters in my own nickname, yes.”
“You seem to be doing very well in sales,” said Nate.
Dr. A kicked Nate gently in the leg and pointed at her teacup, raising an eyebrow at him.
“Excuse me a moment,” said Nate, who went back to the kitchen, hearing the voices of Lalo and Dr. A fade behind him until, with great frustration, he could no longer make out their conversation after Dr. A’s word, “sericulture.”

A hawk… (Ridgway’s Hawk, Dominican Republic; source)

As he walked into the kitchen, he found Beverly waiting in front of the microwave for something that was making a telltale popping sound. Her back was to him.
“Beverly?”
She turned around. “Oh! You scared me!”
“Uhmm… excuse me,” said Nate, “but…uhmm…I can’t help noticing you have bright red spots all across your buttocks…”
“Oh! Right, I know. I’m sure they look awful, sorry about that.”
“I mean, you don’t need to be sorry. I’m just a little concerned. They look like welts, or something. Does it itch?”
Beverly retrieved her popcorn. “Yeah… they’re a little raw.”
“Do you…like, know what caused them?”
Beverly flushed. “Look, we’re naked and all that. We’ve got an absolutely unobstructed view of each other, right? But we’ve just met. And it’s really none of your business.”
Nate looked away. “You’re right. I’m sorry.” He rummaged in the shelves and drawers until he found some sugar packets, and walked away without any further conversation.
As he approached Dr. A, she was setting down her empty teacup. She stood up, turning to Nate, and said, “Time to go! Will you please carry Ladybug’s case?”
Surprised, Nate asked, “What’s the rush?”
“Oh, I’m not kicking you out, you know, Miranda,” said Lalo.
“We’ve taken quite enough of your time, Lalo,” she said. “Thanks for the tour of your facility, and for those delicious tacos. But we must be off!”
Nate was moving toward the exit when Dr. A called out, “Nate! Don’t forget your clothes! Ahh, it is always such a discomfort, such a disappointment, to get dressed again.”
“Please come back anytime,” said Lalo as his two visitors put their clothes back on.
Beverly had come to see them off, saying politely, “It was nice to meet you both. Take care.”
When they were back in Nate’s Jeep, with Ladybug in her strapped-in case, Nate asked Dr. A in a low voice, “Why did we leave so soon?”
Dr. A was waving and smiling, and replied through her teeth. “Wait just a minute…”
Once they were out of earshot, Nate said, “You didn’t even want sugar. What didn’t you want me to hear?”
“Dear Nate, it wasn’t that I didn’t want you to hear anything. It was that I didn’t have a discreet way of asking you to have a look at Beverly’s backside. I surmised she was in the kitchen. Did you see her rash?”
Nate looked at his wily friend with a half-smile. “Yes. Looks pretty bad.”
“What do you think it is? Are you hungry? Can you get us back to Lola’s?”
Nate sighed, once again the victim of a Dr. A three-for-one question assault. “It looked like some kind of rash. Yes, I’m getting hungry. Yes, I remember how to get back to Lola’s.”
“I think something she was wearing irritated her skin. I’m getting hungry too, but we have to get to Lola’s before they close.”
“Is that why we left so quick?” Nate asked, while pulling out of the dock area. But without waiting for an answer he went on. “You know… about Beverly’s rash. I, uh… I followed Lalo to the back door and, uh… listened to his conversation with the woman he called Sandra. I couldn’t hear what she was saying, and I couldn’t understand all their Spanish, but there was definitely a part where he asked to see some marks on her skin, and they looked bad, and he asked her if she’d tried zinc oxide and aloe vera.”
“You really are a scientist, you know, Nate. You have such natural curiosity, and you want to find things out” said Dr. A. “But your methodology is a bit dodgy.”
“Sorry.”
“Oh, I’m teasing, Nate! I would have done the same! We’re trying to figure out what’s going on, right? But, so, do you think Sandra must have marks like Beverly’s?”
“That’s my conclusion, yes.”
“Ah! But, as Lalo said, we must not rush to conclusions! We have to test our hypothesis! The scientific method, you know. Critical thinking! Evidence!”
“Got it. So, maybe Sandra will be at Lola’s… and we can…”
“Ask her to disrobe? I highly doubt it,” laughed Dr. A. “Although, who knows, maybe I can ask her to model something for me in the dressing room… but in any case, I haven’t told you what I found out from Lalo, that you didn’t see.”
“What’s that?”
“Agent Orange.”
“Like, from the Vietnam War? Isn’t that banned?”
Dr. A sighed. “Quite right. But I don’t think it’s the same thing, just the same name. At least, I certainly hope it’s not the same thing. How awful…”
“What did it look like?”
“Well…. orange, don’t you think? But I didn’t see the actual substance itself. What happened was, when he was showing me around, I saw a rather large vat labeled Agent Orange, and he quickly stepped over to stand in front of the label.”
“Did you ask him about it?”
“You know me! He said it was like a fabric softener, but he did not move from in front of the sign. So by that point it was clear that he was trying to conceal it. In that way he gave me the information I needed to deduce that whatever this substance is, it has something to do with his moth-resistant Super Silk production.”
As they waited at a stoplight on Atlantic Avenue, Nate studied Dr. A a moment.
“What?” she asked him.
“You knew your mantis is a female all along, didn’t you?”
Dr. A smiled, tossing her long gray hair over her shoulder. “I am but mad north-north-west: when the wind is southerly I know a hawk from a handsaw.”
Nate chuckled. “Clever. Don’t you mean a mantis from a ladybug?”
“Same difference, Nate. Don’t you recognize Shakespeare when you hear him?”
“Who?” Nate smiled. “Just kidding. That’s from Hamlet, of course.”
“Oh! Yes!” yelled Dr. A out the window of the Jeep to the pedestrians moving about among bars, boutiques, and restaurants. “There is hope for the future! All is not lost!”

…and a handsaw (or heron – see this source for an explanation of Hamlet’s line)

“That was rather dramatic,” Nate said, pulling ahead after the light turned green. “Have you ever acted?”
“I played Hamlet himself…or rather, herself… oh whatever, I played Hamlet in a production at Noonay Noo once. And yes, I have been in many productions, but they were all a long time ago.”
“I’ve been in community theater productions myself, you know,” said Nate.
“Terrific!” Dr. A beamed. “Then, I’ve got a plan…”

(read part 7)

Bugs and Bares, part 5: Mysterious Marks

Lalo looked at his former teacher incredulously. “Admit? What is it you don’t want to admit?”
Dr. A seemed like she was trying to answer, but her own sobbing impeded her.
“It’s alright, Dr. A.,” said Nate. “Nobody was trying to make you upset.”
“It’s just that…” she managed to get out, “it’s just that I get so distracted.”
Nate noticed that Lalo looked away in disgust. Beverly, on the other hand, sat down next to Dr. A and held her hand. The older woman turned to her and smiled.
“I must have… I must have known Jerome’s a she, and then got distracted, or forgot, or something,” Dr. A went on. “Sometimes I feel that if I don’t say something out loud to myself many times, I will forget it.” She paused and smiled, but then more tears came as she added, “But then again I might be repeating to myself the wrong information.” She sobbed onto Beverly’s shoulder.
At that moment they all heard a loud buzz. Then came a female voice over an intercom: “Sandra for the pickup.”
“It’s my associate,” Lalo said. “Excuse me for a few moments.” He walked over to a dolly stacked with three boxes, and then wheeled it toward the back of the office, beyond Beverly’s desk, where Nate could make out an EXIT sign.
“Beverly,” said Nate, “I know Dr. A loves tea and I bet she’d love some right about now. You brought me some milk earlier – is there a kitchenette around here somewhere?”
“Good idea,” she said, and started to stand. “I’ll go make some tea.”
“No, please,” said Nate. “Let me do it. I know how she likes it. Just point me in the right direction, and then if you could stay and chat with Dr. A, I’ll be right back.”
Beverly indicated where the kitchenette was and Nate headed off. He found a mug, a microwave, and some tea bags, and set a mug of water in the microwave for two minutes. Then he left the kitchenette, stealthily moving toward the back door where he had seen Lalo go. He walked slowly, quietly, because he didn’t want to be heard, but also because it was dark in the back office and he didn’t want to bump into anything. As he stepped further and further away, he heard Dr. A’s voice fade away as she talked with Beverly: “the time I got in my head the wrong flashing sequence”…”wasn’t the firefly species we were studying” … “ruined the entire experiment”… “foundation refused to allow any more grants…”

Fireflies – long exposure photo. Source.

Nate stopped and held his breath. He was just around the corner from Lalo, and could only hear Lalo’s side of a conversation.
“Completely out of stock?”

“But these boxes are all I have left for now.”

“Wait! How are the marks?”

“C’mon, lift your blouse already, Let me see.”

“Ooh, my. Se ve muy mal. Did you try aloe vera?”

“Zinc oxide?”

“This is not good news at all. I’m going to have to make some adjustments.”
Suddenly the microwave timer beeped…an excruciating five times. Nate ducked quickly behind a desk. Lalo had stopped talking, but he hadn’t moved. In the silence, Nate heard Beverly and Dr. A laughing from the other end of the office, which made him feel a bit better.
He started crawling behind desks to the narrow aisle leading back to the kitchenette, but froze when he heard Lalo again.
Claro. Tienes razón. We won’t be able to meet the demand. But the good news is, that means we can keep raising the price.”

“OK, hasta mañana. Cuídate.”
Nate heard the door close. He quickly stuffed himself underneath the nearest desk.
Footsteps approached and stopped right in front of him. Nate could see Lalo’s bare feet and calves millimeters from his face. He held his breath.
Lalo turned and walked back to the door. Nate heard the door open.
“Sandra! Cuando llegues a casa, ¡báñate! But don’t use harsh or heavily scented soap.”

Sí, eso. Precisamente. OK. ¡Beso!
Nate’s Spanish wasn’t nearly as good as his French, which was abysmal. But he at least understood that the conversation was coming to an end. He rolled out from under the desk, hurled himself down the aisle toward the kitchenette – half crawling, half hopping – and threw himself around the corner to the microwave as quietly as he could.
Five seconds later, Lalo strolled back past the kitchenette. He saw Nate dunking a teabag in the mug and asked, “Thirsty?”
“No – this is for Dr. A.”
“Oh.” Lalo paused. “She’s really losing it, isn’t she?”
Nate raised an eyebrow. “She tries to keep it together. I mean, wasn’t she a good teacher? She had her material down, right?”
“She was an excellent teacher. Truly outstanding.”
Nate stirred the teabag around. “She remembers more than you think. Sometimes she’s really lucid.” Nate looked directly at Lalo. “She remembers a whole lot about you.”
“Interesting,” Lalo said, and went on to the front of the office where the two women were still sitting.
Soon Nate had joined them, carrying the mug of tea. “Chamomile,” he announced.
“Oh, thank you, Nate. Very kind,” said Dr A. She took a sip and continued, “Beverly and I have come up with a new name for this mantis.”
“Let me guess,” said Nate. “Jezebel.”
“No,” laughed Beverly,
“Manty the Mantis,” said Lalo.
“Oh goodness, no,” said Dr. A. “It’s Ladybug. That way I’ll remember she’s a she.”
“Ladybug the Mantis?” Lalo laughed.
“I was telling Dr. A,” said Beverly, “that ladybugs are like mantises because people associated both of them with prayer.”
“The mantises because of their hands, right?” Nate imitated the mantis posture.
“Their front legs, yes,” said Beverly, “and ladybugs, because Europeans prayed to the Virgin Mary to get rid of the harmful pests plaguing their crops. Then, when they saw red beetles with black spots eating the pests, they called them the ‘beetles of Our Lady.'”

Ladybug eating aphids. Source.

“So the name helps me associate things, and keep things straight, you see?” asked Dr. A, smiling. “But sometimes I surprise even my own self with my memory. All is not lost. Now, what was it… oh yes. I remember we are here to find out about the moths, and about Super Silk.”
“Excuse me a moment,” Beverly said, and walked briskly into the warehouse. Lalo took a step in the same direction, but was interrupted.
“Lalo, these silkworms you have all over this warehouse,” Dr. A went on,”they grow into moths, but they aren’t the kind of moths that eat clothing. The moths that have suddenly been eating people’s clothes here on St. Ethel are not the same moth species as the silkworms. What, exactly, is the connection, Lalo? And, since when have you become such an enthusiastic naturist? And, Nate, dear Nate, could you please bring some sugar?”
Lalo looked pale.
Nate smirked at him. Then he nodded at Dr. A… but the sugar could wait.

(read part 6)

Bugs and Bares, part 4: Crunchy and Spicy

“Lalo! So good to see you! That smells delicious,” said Dr. A.
“Miranda, such a nice surprise. Would you like to try some? Oh! But where are my manners? Please, go ahead and remove your clothes. There’s a rack right behind you to hang whatever you want to hang.”
“Thank you,” said Dr. A, who was out of her sundress and sandals before Nate could even finish untying his shoes. Eventually Nate finished undressing, grabbed Jerome’s carry case, and caught up to the other two, already approaching the office.
“You mean, it’s not ant eggs I smell?”
“No, Miranda – these are Oaxacan grasshopper tacos. Also part of the ancient culinary tradition of my homeland.”
Dr. A took a bite. “Delicious! Here, Nate, try one!”
Nate hesitated but took a bite. He chewed and crunched his mouthful before offering a verdict: “Not bad.”

Tacos de chapulín (grasshopper). Source.

“But really you’ve got to try them with this salsa,” said Lalo. “This is homemade, with ingredients from my own garden.”
Lalo ladled the smooth, orange-colored sauce over the tacos. As Nate wondered if they had come just to eat Mexican cuisine, or if they were actually going to get some answers to their questions about the moths, he took another bite from his taco. Instantly he felt his tongue and throat start to burn. His eyes were watering. His face and all of his upper chest turned bright red.
Gasping, he turned to Dr. A, who was eating her taco without any noticeable effects. She saw him with his mouth open.
“Oh, my! Nate, you’re not used to habaneros, are you?”
“Beverly!” Lalo called out to the back of the office. “Can you bring some milk, please?”
Through his smarting eyes, Nate saw a young woman, nude, stand from her desk some ten meters away from them. “I’m coming!” she called back.
In a minute Nate was drinking milk, sitting on a rag draped over a metal folding chair, listening to Beverly tell him about cultivating habaneros and jalapeños. He couldn’t believe how powerful the effect of the chili was. He literally had to concentrate through the burning sensation and through the ringing in his ears, to listen to what Beverly was saying – something about capsaicin, and habaneros being really high on the Scoville scale. When his eyes and nose finally stopped watering, he realized that Dr. A and Lalo were nowhere in sight, and Beverly, who must have been a twenty-something like him, had the same eye color, hair color, and general body type as his ex-girlfriend. He was quickly and involuntarily attracted to her.
“That’s a nice mantis you’ve got there,” said Beverly, looking down at the carry case. “Is she yours?”
“Dr. A’s. But…she calls him Jerome, as in, like, he’s a he.”
“That’s odd. I mean, she is definitely a female mantis. You can tell by the size… Your friend Miranda…I mean, Dr. A – isn’t she Lalo’s former teacher?”
Nate nodded, feeling a little confused about matters of mantis gender and entomological authority,
“That makes her like my grandma-teacher or something,” said Beverly, “since Lalo is my teacher.”
Ah, thought Nate, assuming his best poker face. “What are you guys working on?”
“Well… silk. As you can see, right? Silkworms everywhere, nothing but silkworms all over this warehouse.”
Nate set down the empty milk glass, grabbed a tissue, and blew his nose loudly. “Are you guys the makers of Super Silk?”
Beverly coughed. “Suppliers. We’re the [another cough] suppliers.”
“So, uh… what’s the difference between makers and suppliers, in this case?”
Beverly stood up and started pacing. “Look, there are certain trade secrets that…I’m really not at liberty to discuss. I can tell you that my work involves testing specific silk fiber qualities. In fact that’s why we keep the lab clothesfree, so there’s no chance of any fiber contamination in the samples. Quality control, you know.” She smiled broadly. “That’s all.”
Nate stood too, stretching on his toes unconsciously the way he did when he felt frustrated by Dr. A’s piggyback questions and evasive answers. He looked Beverly in the eyes. “So was that easy for you to get used to? No clothes?”
“I mean, at first I was uncomfortable. It’s just… not normal, right? But then I really started to like it. And I got used to no one being around, just me and Lalo, and sometimes Sandra, another associate…although she always keeps her clothes on. Anyway, now, I love it, and it seems completely normal. I’m glad to get out of my clothes. I think it’s really awesome to get to work in the nude.”
“Interesting. Yeah, I wish I could work nude too, now that I think about it. But I can’t, so I go out to Noonay Noo. And that’s how I know Dr. A.”
“Oh, I’ve heard about that place. I want to go sometime!”
Nate smiled enthusiastically, then got serious. “So, if you don’t miss clothes, you don’t know anything about this moth invasion, do you?”
She smiled but looked away. “No clothes, no moths, right? I practically live here 24/7, naked, naked, naked all the time, no need for clothes when you’re naked all the time. Naked, naked, naked.”
Nate cleared his throat. “I guess I should say thanks for the milk and tissues. And, uh… also, thanks for showing me how you look when you’re telling the truth, and how you look when you’re lying.”
Beverly’s face flushed slightly. “What do you mean about how I look? I don’t have any body issues…are you trying to be cute?”
“Not at all. What I mean is, I believe you that habaneros are high on the Scoville picante scale. I even believe you that Jerome’s a female, even though that just makes no sense. But I don’t believe what you’re telling me about the silk and the moths.”
She looked down. “Listen, I…”
“Have you recovered, Nate?” It was Dr. A, calling out as she jaunted back into the office with Lalo. “I’ve just had a tour of the facilities. This is a magnificent silk production facility, with an innovative diet for the silkworms. I’m so proud, Lalo. You’ve always been so good at applying theory to practice.”
Nate looked from Beverly with her mouth open in mid-sentence, to Jerome perched on the tipped-over Buddha, to Lalo with a large smile and eyebrows raised, and at last settled his eyes on Dr. A, who was bent over looking into the carry case. “I’m feeling better, thanks, Dr. A. Hey, quick: isn’t tomorrow Jerome’s saint’s day?”
“Hmmmm? Oh, yes, but he’s gone all agnostic, remember? Just look at him, prancing about on the fallen idol.”
Nate bit his lip. “Beverly says Jerome’s a girl. I mean, a female.”
Beverly looked away, but Lalo squatted down and peered into the carry case. “Indeed, Miranda. This is a female mantis. You yourself taught me how to tell the difference! Why would you say it’s a male? That seems as silly as debating whether this insect is agnostic or Catholic or Buddhist.”
Dr. A sat down heavily, her eyes starting to leak. “I just don’t want to admit it.”
No one knew what to say. In the six years he had known Dr. A, Nate had never seen her cry.

Mantis abdominal segmentation. Source.

(read part 5)

Bugs and Bares, part 3: Super Silk

They had not been long on the highway before Nate pointed out the window. “Do you see that billboard ad? I swear that was not there this morning.”
Dr. A looked at the sign. It said:

SUPER SILK! 
Specially designed moth-repellent clothing with luxurious feel and great price!

“Well… that’s interesting. Perhaps you didn’t notice it this morning because you were coming the other way?”
“OK, quick – turn and look at the other side of the billboard, behind us” said Nate, keeping his eyes on the road.
Dr. A turned in her seat. “It says, ‘SUPER SILK! Moth-repellent clothing exclusively at Lola’s.’ Was that one there this morning?”
“It’s almost the same ad! No, both sides of that billboard have just been changed this morning, then. What’s this all about?”
Dr. A stared straight ahead. “I’ve never heard of Lola’s. Have you?”
“Nope, me either. Must be a clothing store?”
“Something’s not right, that these signs have followed so quickly on the heels of the moth infestation. How much longer to Port Trésor?”
“About 35 kilometers.”
“OK, my former student’s lab is near the docks. To get there we have to pass through the tourist area – let’s keep on the lookout for this Lola’s place.”
“Got it. Good plan.”
“And why do you smell like ginger? I thought I hosed you down.”
Nate just looked at Dr. A and laughed.

Some twenty minutes later, and after seeing a few more SUPER SILK signs of different sizes, Nate and Dr. A were driving south along Atlantic Avenue, Port Trésor’s hotel-studded beachfront. Right in between two of the larger hotels was a chic open-air shopping area, and this was where they finally saw Lola’s.
“It’s packed!” said Nate, eyebrows raised.
“I have never seen anything like this,” added Dr. A. “A line to get in a clothing store? Don’t tell me our Caribbean government has gone the way of Castro and Chávez!”
“What?”
“Slow down! Drive slowly through here. These people leaving – what are they carrying?”
Nate slowed down. He and Dr. A watched as some women who had just left the store were opening their shopping bags and showing each other their purchases: brightly colored pareos, skirts, blouses, and bikini tops.
“Do you think that’s the Super Silk?” Nate asked.
“It must be,” said Dr A. “But what impresses me isn’t what garments these women pulled out of their bags, but rather what they are wearing right now. Did you notice?”
Nate flushed and stammered. “I, uh, I don’t have a very good clothing vocabulary. But it seemed like they weren’t wearing much.”
“Exactly! They weren’t wearing much, because it was literally falling to pieces! One of those women must have had about a dozen clothespins holding her blouse together!”
“Oh, yeah. I saw that,” Nate bluffed. “I thought it was, you know, a look. A style.”
Dr. A laughed out loud. “I think you’re right, in an odd sort of way! It must be the style now. It’s the proof the moths are as bad as you said they are.”
Nate laughed, too. “Pretty bad, huh?”
Suddenly Dr. A was serious, rummaging around for something in her bag. “Don’t miss the turn to the docks.”

Ten minutes later, Nate stopped the Jeep in front of a boom gate. An attendant was asking for identification, so Nate pulled his driver’s license from his wallet. Dr. A had thrown a lanyard over her head and was holding out a special ID so the attendant could read it:

     Dr. MIRANDA T. ALCANTARA
Technician Supervisor
Bustamante Labs

Nate didn’t act surprised, and the guard let them through. But once they passed the gate he asked Dr. A where she got the ID.
“I’m glad I remembered to bring it. I consulted with Lalo on one of his mosquito projects, and just kept this in case it might come in handy someday.”
“Nice,” said Nate. “Where do I park?”
“It’s that third warehouse on the left. Did you bring any food?”
“I think I have some energy bars in the back. Want one?”
“I’ll pass. I’d rather have some of Lalo’s ant eggs. They’re in season, you know.”
Nate smiled politely and said, “I had no idea.”
“And more protein than those energy bars of yours, I’ll bet.”

Ant egg taco. I can say from experience these are very tasty. Source

Nate parked the Jeep. Dr. A asked him to bring Jerome in his carrying case. Then they climbed up a set of loading dock stairs to a door with a “Bustamante Labs” sign. Dr. A looked at Nate.

     “Well don’t just stand there with your teeth in your mouth. Press the button.”
     “Where… else would my teeth be…” Nate’s voice trailed off, watching Dr. A fuss with her dress. He pressed the intercom button.
     Just at that moment, Dr. A spotted turmoil in the mantis’s carrying case.
     “Oh but look here, Nate! The Buddha is tipped over!”
     “It wasn’t me! I’ve been very gentle with the case.”
     Dr. A pursed her lips. “I know it wasn’t you, it was Jerome. Oh my… he must be in one of his agnostic phases again.”
     “I thought you said he’s Catholic? Anyway…”
     A male voice interrupted them from the speaker. “Who is that with you, Dr. A?”
     “Lalo, how did you… Oh, yes, you see me on the camera. Look at the camera and wave, Nate. Nate is my friend who has driven me here today. And here’s Jerome, come to visit. Can you see him?”
     There was no response.
     “Lalo, I’m here to ask you a favor.”
     There was still no response.
     “And besides we’re hungry and I told Nate we could try your…”
     The door buzzed and Nate pulled it open quickly.
     They stepped into a large open space, easily twenty meters long by twenty meters wide, overtaken by rows and rows and rows of low, bordered tables covered in…
     “Dr. A? What are those things, anyway?
     “Hmmm? Oh, on all these tables? Silkworms.”
Silkworm with cocoons. Source.

There was an unexpected aroma, but Nate decided it wasn’t coming from the worms. It smelled like something freshly grilled. His mouth was watering.
From a glass-walled office on the side of the warehouse, a man was approaching them, carrying a tray he held up high as if he were a waiter. The man was naked.

(read part 4)

Bugs and Bares, part 2: The Failed Naturist

(continued from previous post)
 
Nate stood still, dripping wet, waiting for Dr. A’s pronouncement. But, as often happened, she changed track.
“Wait, wait, wait. Wait! First, you should probably go dry off. And go get those smelly clothes of yours and put them in the washer. You know where it is, right? You’ll see the detergent concentrate on top – it will only take a little bit!”
Nate sighed. “Here, take Jerome back, then.”
“Oh yes. If he hangs out any longer with you, he’ll lose his faith.”
Dr. A placed the mantis on her shoulder and smiled as Nate walked back through the hanging plastic flaps that kept the butterflies in the garden. Then she picked up the hose again and started to spray the plants. But she quickly stopped. “Breakfast! Come, Jerome.”
Praying mantis. Source
A few minutes later, a dry Nate found Dr. A in the kitchen flipping pancakes.
“I’m sorry, Nate. I was distracted from all this fuss about the moths. Please, sit down here at the counter.”
She served him a plate with some coffee, and frowned. “Here’s what I wanted to tell you. There’s a former student of mine who also lives here on St. Ethel. Very smart man. His work has been absolutely essential in controlling disease-bearing mosquitoes through the introduction of sterilized individuals into the population.”
“Wow,” Nate mumbled between bites. “Is there any group of people who hates mosquitoes more than nudists?”
“Right. My question is…. I wonder if… he could do something similar with this moth plague that you’ve driven out here to agitate me about. I mean, he and I have our differences, but he really is an outstanding entomologist, and much more up-to-date than I am.”
Nate smiled. “I see what you mean. Reduce the population by bringing in sterilized moths. Brilliant.”
But Dr. A hesitated. “The thing is… I wonder if it wasn’t Lalo in the first place. You see, he…”
“Lalo?”
“Well for crying out loud, Nate. Yes: Lalo. That’s what everybody called him. It’s a nickname in Spanish for Eduardo. His name is Eduardo Chamorro Bustamante.”
“Sorry for the interruption. So what about him?”
“When he learned I’m a naturist, he was a tad… prurient. I think he liked the idea of naturism the way a mere voyeur would. He never practiced that I know of. Some people, especially if they don’t take the step of actually participating in social nudism… they never quite get it.”
Nate summed up: “Brilliant entomologist, horrible naturist.”
Dr. A winced. “That stings when you say it that way. Because I do feel personally responsible, I do! I was his entomology professor, not his naturism professor… but still I feel… like a bit of a failure in that regard.”
“C’mon, Dr. A! It’s not your fault! I mean, they’re linked, right? You’d think all naturalists would be naturists.”
“You’d think, yes. But I can tell you personally, that’s unfortunately not the case. I can think of many examples. But in Lalo’s case, he actually came out here to Noonay Noo. I always used to invite all my students, knowing that very few would come. But Lalo did, and just… stared, and never took off his clothes, until I was so uncomfortable I asked him to leave.”
Swallowing a bite of pancake, Nate wondered what exactly Dr. A had put in the batter, but mostly he wondered how anyone could be that dense, or rude, when arriving at a naturist park. “He must have been really confused, or shocked, or something. But… so why are we talking about whether this former student is a good naturist? Why is it important that Lalo didn’t understand naturism?”
“Well not everyone does, you know. I guess he’s no different than many people. There’s a lot of confusion out there that the World Wide Webbings don’t seem to help resolve as much as you’d think, and I wonder, since he decided to move here to St. Ethel, if… maybe he modified these moths with some perverse aim. I mean, he is very talented, and has done a lot of good, but he was always a little… off, a little odd. I wonder if this isn’t his way of satiating his voyeuristic curiosity.”
Nate chewed more pancake — was it vanilla? cinnamon? — and said, “So, he’s a madman, is what you’re saying, right? He’s a pervert willing to risk ecological disaster and ruin people’s personal property, for the thrill of seeing naked bodies? That’s really, um, extreme.”
She sighed. “Maybe I’m wrong about his motives, but if I’m correct about his methods, then, yes – it’s a terrible threat to the ecosystem, especially on a small island like ours, to modify an organism sector and then let it loose to a vast food supply. The population of birds, bats and fish that eat moths or their larvae will balloon, and that will set off ramifications in other species populations, like ripples in a pond.”
“I want to help, Dr. A. By the way, you put ginger in the pancakes, didn’t you?”
She smiled. “Aren’t they delicious?”
“They’re definitely… unique.”
“Where are mine? Oh I need to make more. Look, Nate, after I eat and your clothes dry, we need to go to Port Trésor.”
“What’s your plan?”
“I know where to find Lalo. Maybe I can get him to listen to me. Don’t let me forget we need to bring Jerome. He has a little carrier, you know. We also need to stop by the office and bring some naturist info.”
“Like, brochures?”
“Yes, I think we have Noonay Noo info and also an International Naturist Federation brochure.”
“But all of that is easy to find on the Internet.”
Dr. A took a bite of her pancake straight from the skillet. “I just don’t trust the Internet. It’s a poorly constructed sieve that doesn’t separate the wheat from the goats.”
Nate choked a little, laughing, and said,  “The wheat from the chaff.”
“Exactly. See what I mean? I’m sure I read that somewhere on the Interwebs. Too many sheep.”
Mosquito. Source

After breakfast and dishwashing, Nate waited for his clothes. When the dryer buzzer went off, he disappeared back into the washroom, and emerged a few minutes later dressed for the trip back to the capital. Dr. A was nowhere to be seen, so Nate called her name.

“Just a second,” came the reply, “I’m dressing.” She emerged a few minutes later from behind a door that must have led to her bedroom. She was wearing a loose dress and sandals.
Nate’s eyebrows rose. “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen you wear clothes.”
“A necessary evil, no? You do know what Noonay Noo means, don’t you? My dear Henri… how long have I known you, Nate?”
This time, Nate decided to answer only the last in her usual string of questions. “I started coming out here in 2010… so it’s been about six years.”
“He passed away ten years ago now. I wish…”
Nate looked around awkwardly. Dr. A didn’t talk about her husband that often, but it was obvious she still missed him. “I’m sorry… did your husband have to do with the name of this place?”
Mais oui! It was his idea. He took the French phrase nous nés nus and anglicized it to Noonay Noo. A bit of mystique, I guess. He loved languages and literature.”
“My French is rusty,” lied Nate, who knew nothing of the language. “What does that mean?”
“It means ‘we, born nude’ or “we are born nude.’”
Nate chuckled. “Wow. I like it. I never knew… I thought it was just some local name.”
“Now you know, Nate! Nous nés nus! Wait, what am I forgetting? My sun hat? Oh, Jerome! Oh, tomorrow is his saint’s day…”
Five minutes later, after Jerome had been located and placed in his miniature terrarium carrier – which, Nate noticed, featured a tiny Buddha statue sitting among the plants – Nate and Dr. A drove Nate’s Jeep to the office for the brochures, then got on the island’s one highway to the island capital.

Bugs and Bares, part 1: Moth Attacks

(a new serial)
 
Nate rolled his Jeep to a halt under the shade of the palm trees in Dr. A’s yard. He checked his watch – he had rushed from the capital to Noonay Noo in a half hour. Dr. A’s door was open, and she had seen him arrive.
“Hi, Nate! What’s news today?”
“Good morning! Didn’t you hear? There’s a plague of moths on the island.”
“A plague of moths? How’s your mom? Where’s Jerome?”
Nate loved to visit Dr. A. She was like a grandmother to him. But her habit of double- or triple-scooping on questions drove him a little crazy. He answered her questions one by one as he walked into her kitchen. “Yes, a plague of moths. My mom’s fine, thanks, says to tell you hello. I don’t know where Jerome is, why?”
“Well I haven’t seen him, have I? But he would certainly eat some of those moths.”
“Dr. A, one praying mantis against an army of moths? I don’t think…”
She stopped whisking her pancake batter and sighed loud enough to interrupt the young man. “Do remember that Jerome is a Catholic mantis.”
“OK. I’ll remember.”
She turned to face him across the kitchen counter. “Why are you dressed? Why would you come here with your clothes on? And why are you here, anyway – you already mowed and weeded this week. Did you bring more mealworms?”

Nate shoved his hands in his pockets. “You know I don’t like wearing clothes any more than you do. But I didn’t stop to take them off because I’m in a rush. I’ve just arrived from Port Trésor. We need your help.”

Dr. A. vigorously recommenced her whisking of the pancake batter. “I’m very fond of you Nate, but really! I have to guess so much of what you mean, and you just don’t explain things, and then there you are standing around not properly undressed….”
“When I say we need your help, I mean everybody. The people of St. Ethel need your help to stop these moths. They’re eating people’s clothes!”
Clothes moth. Source.
Dr. A sighed dreamily. “I think that’s absolutely wonderful.”
“Right, of course – nobody on our corner of the island would really care, right? I mean, that’s why we all moved here, so we can go about our lives without clothing. But the other end of the island, where the hotels are in Port Trésor… the problem is the tourists.”
“Be. More. Precise!” Dr. A punctuated her words with the slicing of an apple. “You mean the textile tourists. Frankly, Nate, we could use more naturist tourists, don’t you think? If this moth epidemic sends more folks our way, why that would…”
She stopped slicing.
“What’s the matter?” asked Nate.
She turned to look at Nate again. ‘Why… that would be completely unfair. People shouldn’t have to go nude if they don’t want to – it has to be a choice.”
“You don’t think we’d get more naturists from forced nudity?”
“Maybe a few converts, but that strikes me as very unethical. Very unethical. Oh, there’s Jerome! Tomorrow is his patron saint day, you know.”
Nate spotted the mantis on the window.. “Dr. A, you’re the only entomologist around, and…”
“Retired. Retired entomologist,” she said, thrusting the knife in the air in Nate’s direction.
“…OK, retired entomologist, and these moths…”
She spun around again, an apple slice between her fingers. “Although, can one really ever retire from being an entomologist?”
“Not very likely.”
“Well, that may be your opinion, but I refuse to entertain this question any further until you are properly undressed. And why do you smell funny?” She sniffed the air with an offended look. “I don’t mean to be rude, Nate, but it’s your clothes. Leave those smelly rags on the porch.”
As Nate stepped out of the room, the apple slice disappeared in Dr. A’s mouth, followed by simultaneous humming and chewing and the slicing of more apples. A minute later, Nate had returned in his natural state.
“So, as I was saying…”
“Yes, yes, of course you can have some pancakes, just give me a moment to…”
“Ah, c’mon, Dr. A.! This is important!”
She calmly put down her knife and turned to stare intently at Nate.
“I mean, thanks for the pancakes.” Nate smiled.
Dr. A. did not smile back.
“Look, these moths… something’s wrong. They’re eating not just wool and silk but also synthetics: rayon, polyester, Lycra, anything. No one’s seen anything like it. And they’re invading people’s homes, tourists’ closets and suitcases. People have been walking down the street only to have their clothes crumble right off their bodies.”
Dr. A. cracked a smile at that. Then she giggled.
Nate smiled goofily. “I know, right?”
Dr. A laughed out loud.
Soon they were both doubled over, leaking tears from the hilarity of the plight of these poor textile-dependent people.
Dr. A. stopped suddenly. “Oh my… but that is strange. The larvae of moths in the family Tineidae eat protein fiber in natural fabrics like wool. Cotton, not so much. Definitely not synthetics. That’s why they normally wouldn’t be much of a problem here in the middle of the Caribbean… Goodness! This is ecologically reprehensible.”
Nate nodded enthusiastically at her sustained feedback. “It’s a whole lot of reprehensible, definitely.”
She went to the window to collect her mantis and put him on her shoulder. “Tell me the news, Jerome.”
Nate blew a raspberry. “I can’t believe you! You don’t get the paper, you don’t watch TV, do you? Do you even have wifi out here?”
“Nate, you’re a strapping young man and I’ve offered you pancakes, but no, I don’t have wifi nor had I ever heard anyone use that for the plural of waffle.”
Nate lowered his head and ran his hands through his hair. “Dr. A… the first thing they did was try mothballs. The hotel managers… There’ve been extra flights and extra ships bringing more clothes to the island, and also mothballs. The mothballs seem to have no effect.”
Dr. A’s eyes widened. “That’s what it was! It was the naphthalene on your clothes! I knew you smelled odd. I could have told you mothballs won’t work! Or cedar chips. Just not strong enough.”
“Is it a case for using DDT or something like that, then?”
“Heavens no! That poison has been banned, and for good reason!”
“So tell me, what can be done, Dr. A?”
She began pacing the kitchen floor, and then she abandoned the room altogether. Nate turned off the stove and followed her through the plastic flaps into the sun room that she had converted into a butterfly garden.
“Nate? Nate!” She was calling him. “Oh, there you are. We need to clean these feeding sponges.”
“Dr. A, what about the moths?”
“Well I don’t have any in here, do I?”
Nate rose onto his toes and stretched his hands above his head, blowing air slowly out his mouth. It was a response he had cultivated for Dr. A’s stymies and non sequiturs. “Dr. A.,” he began again patiently. “A moment ago, in the kitchen, I told you about the moth plague.”
“I have moths in the kitchen? No, I don’t. I was just in there starting pancakes and… oh no, the stove!”
“Relax, I turned off the stove. The moth plague is here on the island, remember? What can we do about it?”
Her eyes narrowed. “Ah yes. Moths. Of course we haven’t seen any yet here at Noonay Noo, Nate, because we’re all naked. What did I tell you? Very few clothes for moths to eat around here.”
Nate sighed.
Dr. A continued. “Maybe someone has modified these moths genetically – that’s what it sounds like, if you say they can eat any clothing. Look Nate, I should tell you there’s a…”
She hesitated, and turned around to face her young friend. “There’s a…lovely postman on your head.”
“A what…?”
“Oh, don’t move, let her enjoy your new shampoo or whatever it was that drew her to your hair. The postman butterflies are some of the most striking in the Americas.”
Nate smiled, holding still. “Is that what you were going to tell me? You were starting to say, there’s a…”
“Oh yes. No, that’s not what I was going to tell you, although it’s such a lovely thing to tell you. I wish… What shampoo did you use, anyway? I’ve tried so many times to get them to land on …”
“Hey! I thought maybe you’d have some advice about the moths. I told my boss at the hotel that I knew someone who could help. But I guess not. I’ll see you later, Dr. A.”
He turned to leave. Dr. A grabbed the garden hose, fidgeted with the faucet, and quickly sprayed his backside. The butterfly flitted away into the spray.
“You listen here, young man! You came here for my help and I’m going to give it to you! Show a little patience. Show a little respect. And you haven’t even eaten your pancakes yet! Whose fault is that?”
Dripping wet, Nate turned around. “OK, you’ve got my attention. What can you tell me about the moths?”
She immediately sprayed his front, and said, “There, that was a courtesy. If someone sprayed me, after all, I wouldn’t want just one side.”
“Thanks,” said Nate, as dryly as possible for being so wet.
Dr. A scooped her mantis from where it was crawling across her breast. “Here, hold Jerome a minute, and listen. This is what you need to know…”
 
Postman butterfly. Source.

Respect

I’m finding this to be a difficult post to write, and I can imagine that it might be somewhat controversial. But I believe that what I need to say here needs to be out. And I want to thank Ginger @breastsrhealthy for setting an example with her consistently helpful and respectful tone in addressing widespread ignorance and fear regarding topfree equality – see here for an excellent recent post.

This post is about blocking, and about exposure to naturism, and about what some people call “dick pics,” and about tolerance. Ultimately, it is about respect.

On Twitter, where I am @nudescribe, there are many account-holders who weave in and out of naturism and pornography, or deliberately confuse one with the other. I followed the lead of a high-profile naturist web page curator, Earl D at clothesfreelife.com  / @Liveclothesfree and used his block list to block many people because of their focus on pornography. Some of them were already following me, others could have been potential followers. It makes sense to do that.

At the same time, there are so many new account holders and second account holders that to truly maintain a block list requires a “constant vigilance” that seems impossible for me, at least, to devote the time to. It’s a herculean task. I’m happy to use someone else’s list. Great.

But here’s the problem: I notice that many new followers seem to be men – young, middle-aged, older – who tend to use penis photos for their avatars. They tend to be from certain areas of the world under the sway of very conservative religious and governmental controls – areas like Indonesia, say, or Egypt, or Lebanon, or Utah. What I understand is that these men can be confused about what naturism means. And there are so many, many reasons for them to be confused, especially when they live in deeply religious societies. I think we need to show some tolerance, and seize the chance to educate, at least as much as possible, before jumping to block. We need more people, not fewer people, to understand what naturism is. And if we automatically write off people who are confused about the distinction between naturism and pornography, well… that’s a whole lot of people.

So I want to address the penis-avatar crowd directly, but what I want to say is for all of us to ponder:

Your penis is wonderful. Your body is beautiful. I hope you have discovered or re-discovered the joy that it is to feel your penis, and all of your body, respond to the breeze blowing or the water flowing over your naked skin. These sensations should be experienced. They should be part of the common knowledge of what it is to live in a body with a penis – of what it is to experience your body unclothed in the elements. Unfortunately, many men never learn these sensations, and as a result, the understanding of the natural range of movement of a basic body part is restricted exclusively and wrongly to sexual situations, and/or to situations of assigned guilt and shame. Just as unfortunately, many women never learn the sensation of the breeze over their vulva, or the lakewater buoying unbound breasts. And these sensations should be part of the common knowledge of what it is to live in a body with breasts, a body with a vulva – again, of what it is to experience your body unclothed in the elements.

You need to know that naturists can understand your focus on your penis – after all, for men it is usually the last body part to be undressed, which makes it the first body part to signify being naked. There is a sensuality to exposing the entire body. Many naturist leaders of several genders have reflected on the sensual intensity of sun or rain or surf on skin.

But naturism is much more than that. Much, much more. Change your focus to the big picture. The standard definition, from the International Naturist Federation, is:

“Naturism is a way of life in harmony with nature characterized by the practice of communal nudity with the intention of encouraging self-respect, respect for others and for the environment.”

Notice that the focus is on respect: respect for bodies -our own as much as others’ – and for nature. Respect for the range of bodies out there, of all sizes, shapes, ages and colors, ranges of abilities and genders and sexual orientations. Respect for them, for us all, as part of nature – we are part of the natural world, and our nudity reinforces that.

Sex is a part of the natural world, too. We know this. Naturists also know that because of centuries of church and government taboos on nudity, it’s understandable that people tend to confuse nudity with sex, and both of them with pornography.

But if you are truly interested in naturism, if you are truly open to naturism, you will move beyond the need to see bodies, and photos or videos of bodies. Again, this need to see bodies is understandable, because our governments and religions starve us of ourselves. If you don’t grow up seeing naked humanity – including as might be depicted in art –  you are deprived of an essential way of knowing humanity and knowing who we are, what we are, how we grow and become. This deprivation is one of humanity’s greatest cruelties to itself, because the frequent results – body shame and humiliation, slut-shaming, hazing rituals, unwanted pregnancies, sexual crimes and more – are horrendous. Naturism, to its immense credit, strives to undo that kind of deprivation of bodily knowledge, or, even better, strives to make possible a world in which there is no deprivation, because naturists tend to truly know and accept our bodies in a socially and naturally supported state of nudity as often as possible.

Photos courtesy @Naked_Club, organizers of many fine fun naturist events

Young man from Malaysia, middle-aged man from Texas, older man from Peru, swinger couple from Barcelona: enjoy yourselves. Enjoy your bodies. If your focus online is sexual gratification, it’s easy to see that and block you. But take it upon yourselves to move beyond just looking at bodies, toward thinking about wholeness and health. Work to organize naturism, or to support topfree equality, where you live. Work to create and share a climate of respect in social nudity, preferably outdoors, so that more people can benefit from a better understanding of their own bodies, others’ bodies, and nature. Make it happen somehow.

One of the main ingredients for making naturism happen is nudity. But the key ingredient is respect.