A visit to the Olive Dell nudist resort helps shed clothes-mindedness
BY COREY LEVITAN
I like to pass myself off as one of those live-life-to-the-fullest, thrill-seeking types. OK, so I've never sky-dived, climbed a mountain or safaried through Africa.
But it's only when I first contemplated covering a nudist resort, uncovered myself, that I realized what a wuss I actually was.
Why should I feel awkward about getting naked in front of strangers? I do it in the locker room at the gym. I do it for my doctors. And, considering all the former girlfriends I've lost touch with, there are dozens of complete strangers out there with full anatomical knowledge of Corey Levitan.
I even visited a nude beach once as a teen. But I don't count that as an official introduction to the ecdysiast lifestyle.
Roy Silverberg and I had hiked from our regular Long Island beach to a nude one half a mile down the sand. No sooner did I jump in the ocean to skinny-dip, then my trusty friend snatched my Speedos from the shore and began sprinting the half mile back.
One of four nudist resorts outlying the L.A. area, Olive Dell Ranch sits on a hillside near the San Bernardino border in Colton. Today it's having an open house, a free invitation to non-members to see what "living la vida naked" is all about.
I take my shirt off (for practice) and start the car. Let me say that never in my life have I so wanted a 90-minute road trip not to end.
I'm greeted at the entrance to Olive Dell by its fully unclothed owner. Ralph Kilborn, 70, is a former Redondo Beach insurance salesman who bought the ranch for a half million dollars from its nudist founder, Bill Keissel, in 1976. (Keissel converted it from an olive orchard in 1948.)
I follow Kilborn's dimpled derriere as it leads my car to a VIP parking spot by the pool.
It's decision time. In my car is the world as I know it: a place where underwear and shorts are my friends. Outside the car is the next world: a place where naked people do naked things.
Kilborn motions for me to join him on the deck, where 50 of his resort's 200 members are lounging. Go ahead, he seems to say with his eyes, trade your inhibitions for exhibitions.
Oh well, nothing to lose but my tan lines. Off come the shorts, after I announce my intentions, then the underwear (briefs, not boxers, in case you wondered).
"You're being very brave," says Pat, Kilborn's wife of 42 years. "Most of the reporters who come here don't disrobe."
I assess whether it is still socially workable to sneak my shorts back on, after such a brazen display of sympathy with my subjects.
It is not. I attempt some humor instead.
"Well, most reporters don't look like me, do they?" I answer Pat. "They look like Lou Grant."
This attempt fails miserably. The very point of a nudist resort, I would soon learn, is to escape the body-type ideals feeding such humor. As my eyes slowly scan the deck, I realize how many people here actually resemble actor Ed Asner.
And those are just the women.
I don't know what I expected a nudist resort to be, but I definitely had something more like an unclothed MTV Beach House in mind.
"Model figures at a nudist resort are usually the exception rather than the rule," says Susan Perkins, 48. A resident of one of the dozens of RVs rimming Olive Dell, Perkins is also the ranch's volunteer publicist.
"People should know that you can feel more comfortable here, no matter what size you are, than you would in a bathing suit at a public beach," she continues.
Perkins begins conducting a tour of the 145-acre resort, which also features a nightclub (the Silver Slipper), an outdoor chapel (where she and her late husband wedded nude) and a restaurant (the Olive Inn).
Yes, the cooks are clothed. But John the maintenance man isn't, which must make weed-whacking day fairly harrowing.
There are also overnight cabins to rent (sorry, no closets), and activities include horseback riding, volleyball, tennis, ping-pong, hiking and horseshoes.
"Almost anything out of doors is better done nude," Perkins says. And horseshoes could take on an added dimension, I point out, if male participants are positioned correctly.
Perkins is wearing a pair of pockets strung around her waist by the cutout remains of what once were a pair of jeans.
"Not having pockets is the only disadvantage to being nude," she says, adding that most members leave their keys and wallets in their cars. (She shrugs, however, when asked how anyone has change for Olive Dell's soda machines.)
I don't know. I can think of some other disadvantages to nudism: 1) the hassle of properly applying sunscreen; 2) the extra insect bites (of the type you can't scratch while on line at Ralph's); and 3) no strip poker.
Clothing was invented 25,000 to 50,000 years ago, when our northwardly migrating ancestors noticed that the skin of the fur-bearing animals they ate insulated them from the cold the same way it did the animals. In approximately 7,000 BC, techniques were invented to weave wool into rectangles of cloth that were draped over the body like togas. Somewhere around 1500 BC, the Shang people of China cultivated the silkworm and it wasn't long before the first Gap opened.
"We were raised to hide our bodies," says Hap Hathaway, who's lived at Olive Dell since he retired as the regional president of the American Association for Nude Recreation eight years ago. "Children are natural nudists. You have to teach them to wear clothes. The minute they get a chance, they'll take them off. As you grow up you're taught, because of our Victorian influences, that your body is shameful."
The many naked children who scamper around Olive Dell, which promotes itself as "a family resort," are not suffering the effects of body shame.
Joy Stuckey lives on the grounds with her seven-year-old daughter. Raised here since she was three months old, Ashlynne attends school in neighboring Reche Canyon.
"Life here is real normal," says Stuckey. "You've got a good group of people that help each other out. It's not a big orgy. It's just that you don't want to be in clothes."
One thing I noticed about being nude in public is how much more eye contact you tend to have during conversations with strangers, particularly those not possessed of petitness.
And how much less you really want to shake their hands afterward.
Also funny is how many everyday phrases take on "Three's Company" double-entendres.
"You can't hang out there," a mother shoos her toddler son out of the women's room.
"We'd love to see more of you," Perkins tells three Orange County college students visiting for the first time.
"Bottoms up," one woman proposes a toast to her male friend.
"You're just feeling weird because it's your first time," says Perkins, seated at a table that comfortably blocks our view of each other's genitalia. "But isn't it getting easier as time goes by? Removing your clothes releases tension and stress and takes the cares of the world off your shoulders."
I was actually beginning to feel something resembling lack of stress -- until an old man resembling former president Lyndon Johnson approached.
"Can I take your picture?" he asked, grinning as he showed me his camera. "I can e-mail it to you, if you want. Do you have e-mail?"
I politely decline. I'd much rather Kilborn take my picture, since he'll do it with my camera. (The photographer assigned to accompany me bowed out to cover the World Cup. Can you imagine turning down this assignment?) I've been toting the disposable point-and-shoot around -- along with my notepad and pen -- in a fanny pack, which is a misnomer considering how handily it covers the frontal unmentionables.
As I lower the pouch to ensure this article gets a PG rating, I imagine how many times the picture will be hung up back at the office after it's published.
"I could have taken your picture without you knowing, you realize," LBJ says later, reminding me of another big disadvantage to being publicly nude (besides being the unwitting subject of gay Internet porn): If you're male, there's no way to hide the fact that you're excited.
"As far as I'm concerned, I run a very clean, upright organization," Kilborn says, as the strip-club staple "Night Train" wafts from the club P.A. behind him. "We don't allow anybody to get out of line. If you happen to get excited, that's forgiveable. But we've had a couple of people that were extreme exhibitionists, that walked around excited on purpose. We had to ask them to leave."
Olive Dell's other rules include no nude dancing and the requirement of a towel under your butt whenever seated. (Insert your own vulgar joke here.)
Olive Dell is a nudist resort, incidentally, not a nudist colony. Like every other disenfranchised group in America, this one has a politically correct new name for itself.
"Most people think of the term colony as where you hide lepers or other people that have a problem," says Hathaway. "We're not hiding. We're anxious as hell for the public to find us and find out how comfortable it is."
Yet there is a stigma attached to nudism, even for longtime practitioners. Following a five-minute interview, Guy of Carson -- a regular at the Elysium Fields nudist resort in Topanga Canyon -- doesn't want his last name printed.
"Most people think you're probably going to a nudist resort for sexual gratification," he says, "although, at a place like this, that's the last thing that would happen."
When asked his surname, Gordon from Redlands responds, "Let's just say it's an E."
While sun worshippers have been publicly nude since 3000 BC, the first known modern nudist movement began in Germany in 1906. Called free body culture, it embraced the ideas of a book called "Nakedness" by Heinrich Ungewitter (vegetarianism, compulsory calisthenics and no smoking or drinking).
Although nudism has evolved into a less socially idealistic lifestyle, there are plenty of nude activists. Cec Cinder is the author of a book called "The Nudist Idea." He led a failed legal challenge to L.A.'s anti-nudist ordinance of 1974, which he claims is "broken every night on prime-time TV" by women displaying cleavage.
"It's a silly law," he says, "that if enforced would require everyone to dress like it was still 1925." Cinder, who is 72 and has white hair (all over), says there's been a "concerted effort" by the government to do away with social nudity. Among the nude beaches it's closed are Smuggler's Cove (a.k.a. Sacred Beach) in Rancho Palos Verdes, which fell victim to a 1994 law.
"It suits the ruling class to have order in the society, and they view nudity as disorder because they link it up to sex," Cinder explains. "And people who are enjoying life and having sex don't get to work in the morning, which is bad for the system."
Right on, man. Hey, these naked people are starting to make sense.
"There would be a lot more pleasure and a lot less hate and negativity if the world went nude," Perkins adds. "This is the way we were born. What can possibly be wrong with being in your own skin?"
Inspired, I remove my fanny pack, my last connection with my formerly ignorant self.
Why should I be ashamed? After all, a Botocudo woman living in the Amazon region of South America is considered properly dressed if she wears nothing but wooden cylinders in her earlobes and lower lip. (Thank you, Compton's Interactive Encyclopedia.)
My indoctrination is complete. Opaque textiles are for the weak. I've decided to go full-time buff now.
Let's see, I'll wear my birthday suit to the office Monday. Then I'll run naked through streets of Hermosa Beach after work.
The police won't care, as long as I don't wear a thong bikini.
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