Something Old, Something Nude

Chris Burrell

In 2007, Martha’s Vineyard Magazine began an annual Island Weddings & Celebrations publication, which has been indispensable for many a bride and groom. We look back to the first issue with this delightful essay by a wedding guest who saw more than he bargained for.

Gazing across the Atlantic Ocean – its waters swirling at my feet – I felt both connected and free. For the first time in my life, I was standing on a beach completely nude. I was Primitive Man, and it felt great. Right up until I heard, “Peter? Peter Cummin?”

My first instinct was to let out a girlish scream and cover myself, but since this was Chilmark’s Lucy Vincent Beach, which is clothing optional, I knew that would be a faux pas. If you step out of the shower to find someone in your bathroom, by all means scream. You are naked. But at Lucy Vincent, you are nude – and there is a difference.

Naked implies vulnerability, while nude says you are comfortable in your own body. I, of course, would now have to fake it. So as my mind rifled through its Rolodex of paranoia (“Who could it be? It’s after Labor Day. We only know summer people! Who? The police? The Stop & Shop checkout girl? A giant, talking crab?”), I casually turned around to see Janice Davis: fifty years old, tanned, toned, and also nude/naked.

“Hi,” she said, giving me a friendly wave. “Hello, Mrs. Davis,” I said, staring directly into her eyes. “Ready for tomorrow?” Unbelievable. If I had simply run into someone I knew, I could have chalked it up to bad luck, but Janice Davis had the added distinction of being the mother of the bride at the wedding I was attending the next day.

“Well, I’ll be able to answer that question better once I talk to the caterers this afternoon,” she said. I don’t know who’s in charge of meetings like this – God, Saint Happenstance, Mr. Lucky – but I hoped that at least he or she was having some fun. Then, turning to a naked and much younger man standing next to her, Mrs. Davis added, “Peter, this is Bradley.”

“Hi, Bradley.”

“Hi, Peter.”

Then both Bradley and I hesitated, unsure of what to do next. With all the books and magazines devoted to the dos and don’ts of weddings, none talk about the proper etiquette when meeting naked wedding guests. Allow me: Don’t shake hands. Unfortunately, Bradley and I didn’t know this. So we each turned sideways and extended our right arms as far as they could possibly go, before leaning in just enough to allow our hands a quick greeting. It felt completely awkward, like something you might see painted on an ancient Greek vase – “Achilles meets Hector at Troy.” Naked men are like wind chimes; we shouldn’t be put next to each other. Period.

Even worse, immediately after the handshake, I became aware of the fact that I had hands and now had nowhere to put them. They were like two giant meat hooks, swinging at my side. If I put them on my hips or behind my back in the military “at ease” pose, I’d look like I was trying to display my wares (and after emerging from the Atlantic in late September, I can promise you I wasn’t). Crossing my arms would look defensive, and clasping my hands in front would look like I was trying to either (a) hide myself or (b) block a free kick in a nude soccer game.

Fortunately, out of the corner of my eye, I saw my girlfriend, Michelle, in waist-deep water, trying to sneak out to sea. At last my arms had a task. Waving them above my head, I shouted, “Michelle! Come here! I have someone for you to meet!”

I felt bad outing her, especially since she hadn’t wanted to get naked in the first place. She was fine with topless, but the Full Monty had required a little extra badgering on my part. (“If you keep your bottoms on, you might as well just say, ‘I’m a transsexual with something to hide.’”) Nonetheless, I had to do it. If not for my hands, then for the fact that I couldn’t let Mrs. Davis and Bradley think I had actually come to a nude beach alone.

“And this is my ‘Plus One,’” I announced as Michelle approached, completely stupefied that I had done this to her. “Hi, Michelle. Janice Davis.”

“Davis? Are you with the wedd–?”

“Well, funnily enough,” I interjected, “it’s Mrs. Davis’s daughter who is getting married tomorrow.” As Michelle and I walked back to our towels, one thing was clear: We’d be skipping the receiving line the next day.

This article was edited from the original, which ran in Island Weddings & Celebrations in 2007.