A cropped view of the tops of red tulips.

Naked in Tulip Town

It was the summer after we graduated from high school. My friends Tom and Steve and I went away for the weekend to Holland Michigan, home of the Tulip Time Festival. We were all privileged to be headed to college (different ones) in September, but for now, we were working summer day jobs, and happy to be getting away for the weekend.

Red tulips.

Holland was a conservative community (I would find out after the fact) on the east coast of Lake Michigan, about 130 miles west of our hometown of Jackson, which is 80 miles west of Detroit. Our most compelling reason to go there was the beach, because as with most states with a lot of shoreline, if you want to go girl watching that’s the place to do it. We didn’t expect to actually have sex or anything with whatever girls we might run into; almost no one had sex at our age. But we did expect to get sort of close to some half dressed girls, and in those days that was almost as good.

When we arrived about one a.m., it was pitch dark. There wasn’t much action. None. We drove to one of the beaches and found, not surprisingly, that no one was on it.

But we were there! ready for the weekend!

We were pretty wound up. We’d just driven across most of the state after what seemed to be an endlessly long workweek. We were extremely young, our adrenal glands plainly telling us we had no choice but to use up at least a little of the energy that was rising up in us like awakening volcanoes.

We took off our clothes, dropped them inside or outside the car—it didn’t matter—and dashed into Lake Michigan, naked as babies. We had bathing suits with us, but they were in our bags in the trunk of the car underneath a lot of other junk we didn’t have the patience to sift through at the moment.

Ten minute later, at the longest, the cops arrived. The lady in the house where the beach ended had alerted them that there were some nefarious naked boys, communist sympathizers she might have suspected, frolicking in the surf, not yelling or anything, but without question enjoying themselves. “I’m an old person, I’m going to die soon. Damn their damned… late adolescent joie de vivre.” She had to have had binoculars, and it came out later that she’d turned some kind of spotlight on us, although none of us remembered seeing it.

We were taken to the police station, booked, put in jail, then a few minutes later, released on our own recognizance. We were grimly instructed to honor our court date the following Monday, and told that each of us should bring at least one of our parents.

At the end of that court appearance, we were advised how lucky we were that they had changed the original charge of “indecent exposure” to “disturbing the peace.” Tom’s mom was cool about the whole thing. Mine wasn’t and I don’t think Steve’s took it much better.

A few years later, I moved to New York City where the only way you can get picked up for indecent exposure is if you actually produce your guy on the subway under the East River, say, on your way to Elmhurst or Flushing maybe, and you wave it around at one or more citizens, like for example the lady who called the cops that night.

That lady knew, even from her distance, that we were sex offenders at heart. That’s true—in a way. If taking off your clothes out of sight of anyone except those with spotlights is a perversion.

When the cops arrived and addressed us over a bullhorn, Tom and I swam straight in, hustled directly out of the water, and covered ourselves with towels. But Steve had for some reason gotten it into his head that he might manage to swim away. He headed south.

Then after a little while he stopped.

I think he lost faith in the possibility of making it the eighty-five or ninety miles across lower Lake Michigan to Chicago. Instead, he swam to shore about a football field south of us. I can still see him running toward us. Well, not exactly running. The police had a huge spotlight aimed at him.

He was scuttling, all sort of hunched over, not too successfully trying to cover himself and run at the same time. It made for a very odd gait, and I think if his mother could have seen Steve lurching toward us that first night of our weekend vacation in Tulip Town, she would have had a lot more sympathy for her little boy that Monday we all went to court together.