Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society. -Mark Twain
That may have been true in Twain’s day, but times have definitely changed. Presently, public nudity is acceptable in the city of San Francisco. The internet is full of photos of naked bicycle racers, parade participants, and just Joe and Jane Average strolling down the Avenues epidermally exposed. The City has not thrown all caution and undergarments to the wind though. Recently it was decided that restaurants were off-limits to the nude, for reasons of personal hygiene. Even San Francisco has its limits.
You have to wonder why anyone would want to be naked in the city by the bay. Twain also noted that the coldest winter he ever spent was a summer in San Francisco. Maybe there is an advantage for female nudists, if you’re into hard nipples, but for the male, a cold breeze can be a shriveling experience.
I am no stranger to nudity in San Francisco, although it took place indoors and most people had to pay to see it. Back in 1984, I was among a group of internationally known cartoonists who were hired by the infamous Mitchell Brothers to cover the Democratic Convention. Our scribbles were collected and published along side Warren Hinckle’s daily account of the political maneuverings in the Chronicle.
Our makeshift studio was located in the stripper’s dressing (undressing?) room upstairs. At first, the distractions were difficult to bear. Trying to concentrate on getting Walter Mondale’s coiffure just right was impossible when confronted by a pair of breasts asking, “what’cha doin’ there?”
I finally decided that I had to change my perspective. I thought back to my teenage days, during the Great Hippie Invasion of Nevada County. After the Summer of Love in 1967, there was an exodus from the cities as the young and hip decided to get back to the land. The Yuba River was overrun with city kids anxious to drop acid and groove with nature. Part of that scene involved letting go of one’s inhibitions, and what better way to achieve that goal than to throw away the confining conventions of the establishment known as clothing?
Of course, as a teenage boy, this was much more fun than biology class. We spent most of the summer grooving with the free spirited Aquarians. It was considered “uncool” to stare, but that’s why they make dark glasses, isn’t it? And after a few months, being naked lost its novelty.
So back in the dressing room I thought to myself, just imagine that you’re at the Yuba. It worked. I spent the rest of the four day convention learning the drawing techniques of the masters and partying with a gaggle of the City’s elite, from the legendary Herb Caen to most of the elected officialdom of City Hall. (Except for goody-two-pumps Mayor Feinstein, who hated the Mitchell’s and tried to evict them for most of her tenure.)
Being that nudity was no big deal to the electeds of 1984, it should come as no surprise that it has finally come out of the closet here in the 21st Century. If Emperor Norton lived in our era and you should meet him on the street, chances are he’d be naked.