I was sitting and painting just now, and randomly remembered the first time I went to Phoenix, Arizona. I hadn’t been in America long and was working for a start-up magazine, as a P.A. I was staying at a friend of a friend’s house, with a woman with whom I got on really well. She was a nurse called Pat. She lived in a place you never find in England or Europe. It was more like a holiday-let, with swimming pools, laundromats, community centres and little walkways between cactus gardens, and apartments with small ‘yards’ which were more like terraces or patios with little walls surrounding, and all was on ground level. No one walked anywhere, ever. Even to go to the grocer’s shop (the market as they called it,) two minutes away, people would jump in their 4 by 4s and go ’round the corner for a pint (or quart) of milk.. I would walk. I was the only one walking, as I was in L.A. when I lived there..
One day, (I was only there briefly,) Pat announced to me that we had been invited to a ‘naked party’ with her doctor and nurse friends. A naked party. I remember the name of the doctor.. It was sort of a secret. I was a little nervous, but took it all in my stride. My life was often strange back then, as I allowed the weirdness and welcomed it..
We turned up, were offered drinks, (margaritas) and everyone casually disrobed. (I don’t remember how.. maybe they slipped into a bath robe, which slowly came off. I think I was handed a bath robe (towelling) and put it on, and later slipped it off. Perhaps as the margaritas took effect, the bath robes slowly fell off. I cannot remember clearly. However I remember it being fun and pretty harmless. People played volley ball. Naked men in sun-visors, peering into bushes (of the plant variety) for lost balls (of the volley-variety..) It was surreal. Naked bottoms tilting towards the sun in search of balls lost to bushes.. I also remember mild flirtations. We were all in the jaccuzzi. Me and a load of doctors and nurses.. I was a fair bit younger than they were. I was only about twenty five or six and the others were around thirty five, forty and fifty. I did keep my undies on. I was the only one who did though. It was nice, sunny, warm and strange. As I later recounted this to my American friend Elizabeth, she found it so funny, because she thought as an outsider, not an American, that I must have thought this was the sort of thing Americans did all the time, which did cross my mind..I had no idea really, but they don’t. It was the early nineties. America was really quite conservative. And in my five years in California thereafter, I never was invited to another naked party. And you could get fined for being topless on the beach.
I also recall another aspect of conservatism of the time, in California. It was against the law in Beverly Hills ( and possibly still is, unlike in Europe) to drink beer at a sidewalk cafe. My friends and I asked for a beer outside. The (French) waiter said he would see what he could do, and he brought our beer out to us in a huge white teapot, with three cups. What a genius idea.
I loved Phoenix though. It was like being on the moon, compared to the UK. I think the naked party was in Scottsdale; the posh bit of Phoenix. I loved how, as you were driving, that you would drive around a mountain which was just ‘there’ like a huge red pyramid in the middle of a vast flat city with huge pinky-blue skies..
I had a job for a week painting a mural at a doctor’s house (one that I had met at the naked party.) I was painting the mural by his swimming pool. It was hot. So very very hot. Maybe 110 degrees fahrenheit. I would paint, get too hot, then jump in the pool to cool off.. would dry off while painting, then jump back in the pool.. It was so bright, the light. I remember coming in from outside, my eyes so unaccustomed to being indoors, walked into my guest bedroom and walked straight into the edge of the coffee table. I still have the scar on my shin. A few days later, people were driving around with bumper stickers declaring they had survived the 110 degree heatwave.