The Truth, Mainly - 01/07/2002

Finding the naked truth about wearing clothes
by Leon Satterfield

"What a spectacularly good idea," I tell my wife, thrusting a recent NY Times column by Thomas Friedman under her nose.

He's responding to the wannabe terrorist with the explosive sneakers and his spectacularly good idea is this: a new airline on which only naked people can fly, its motto being "Naked Air—where the only thing you wear is a seat belt."

His rationale: "If everybody flew naked, not only would you never have to worry about the passenger next to you carrying box cutters or exploding shoes, but no religious fundamentalist of any stripe would ever be caught dead flying nude, or in the presence of nude women, and that alone would keep many potential hijackers out of the skies."

"Tell me, m'love," I say to my wife. "Is that a spectacularly good idea or what?"

"Sounds uncomfortable," she says. "All those dangly parts dangling."

"It's not about dangly parts dangling," I say. "It's about regaining innocence and humility. Let me bring my massive Biblical knowledge into play here."

"Oh no," she says. "Anything but that."

"Clothes are," I say, "only the outer sign of our inner depravity. You remember where clothes came from, don't you?"

She rolls her eyes and goes back to her crossword puzzle.

"Genesis," I say. "That's where."

I go on to tell her about how Adam and Eve were created uncorrupted and sinless, and how at first they didn't even know how to be wicked because they were having so much fun admiring the scenery and laughing at the names they'd given the animals.

"And," I say, "they were nekkid as jaybirds."

"Whoo boy," she says. "What's a six-letter word beginning p-e-d-a-n-t meaning someone who parades his learning?"

I go on to tell her about the serpent tricking them into eating from the tree God told them not to eat from and how they were immediately ashamed and sewed fig leaves together to cover their nakedness.

"Not much more, really," I say, "than the paper gowns we wear so the doctor can see us now, but it was a beginning, the first step toward the sin of sartorial pride."

"Uh huh," she says.

"Nakedness means innocence," I say. "Clothes mean guilt."

"Well," she says, "that's certainly simple enough."

"Imagine," I say, "how much more we might trust our public speakers if they spoke naked instead of from inside their academic or ecclesiastical regalia. How much more interesting would be our sermons, our commencement addresses."

"Good Lord," she says, suddenly addressing me rather formally. "You're serious."

"And what about politicians?" I say. "Surely they'd have more difficulty telling lies if they were naked. Could a naked Nixon have told us he was not a crook? Could a naked Clinton have told us he'd never had sex with that woman?"

"That's odd," she says. "In Clinton's case I thought nakedness was part of the problem."

"And surely," I say, "the great villains of our time would be less villainous naked. Picture a naked bin Laden. Nobody could take seriously anything he'd say. Or a naked Hitler claiming to be a member of the Master Race. They'd have laughed him out of Nuremberg."

"You know," she says, finally putting down her crossword puzzle, "you are so besotted by Genesis, so predisposed to see innocence in nakedness and guilt in clothing, that you overlook the obvious: we wear clothes to keep warm."

"Hah!" I say. "Were that so we'd all be running about naked in July and August."

"Lots of people in nudist colonies do just that," she says, "and I've not heard any reports that they're less guilty and more innocent than the rest of us."

I can't think of an answer to that so I ignore it.

"Anyway," I say, "global warming is upon us and it may be a Divine Plan to get us to wear less clothing, perhaps no clothing at all— and thus experience Paradise Regained as we imitate our First Parents in their primal naked innocence."

"Far be it from me to pry into your subconscious," she says, pouring herself another cup of tea, "but does all this have anything to do with your teaching for 40 years and never having your nude photograph included in the 'Stud Muffins of the English Department' calendar?"

"Don't be silly," I say. "I'm into nudity for its ennobling qualities. Nudity as an aphrodisiac is not my game. So try to control your carnal thoughts."

"If you say so," she sighs—a bit melodramatically. "It'll be difficult, but I'll try."

Then she laughs so hard that tea comes out her nose. That's when I decide the hell with it, and I get dressed, hiding my shame and guilt under my fig leaves.


Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail address is:

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