Doing It in the Road

Ten thousand miles from everyone I've ever loved and home, I stripped bare on 26th Street one splendid Sunday morning and ran half a mile to the nearest gas station. The memory of that September day is calming. I see boobs and cheeks and bouncing New York faces, and I remember the clean feeling of my own naked skin on greasy pavement. I'd giggled a little, but less than I'd expected to. I recall the spectators' cheers and hearty claps with a rare exhilaration. Before the fact I'd decided that if this experience gave me nothing else, it would be something to write home about. Letters from comfortable friends, back in Australia imagining me drinking Cosmopolitans and bonking male gods, were in need of replies.

West Chelsea's weekend mechanics watched curiously as 50 or so unlikely types walked toward them at 7 a.m., speaking in hushed voices. I'd say we made their year as we exposed ourselves to their gaze, shedding our clothes in a flash, at Spencer Tunick's instructions, to reveal our celestial offering.

Ten months earlier, I'd been home in Australia declaring ecstatic love to a local rock star who licked my loins and lavished me with words for three months, and then left me for my best friend, who was younger, better-looking, and lived just around the corner from him. At about the same time, photographer Tunick was being arrested for unlawful assembly—gathering 152 naked people in the middle of a Manhattan street.

"Haven't been doing much. Last week I posed nude for a Spencer Tunick photo—that was fun."

This fresh summer morn, as the stressed-out Tunick yelled from his ladder, "Everyone relax, lie flat, I don't want to see any faces," the affinity between strangers was alive, the public vigilance unintrusive. There was not a pervy eye in the crowd. The energy was as crystalline as the rising light, and as I exposed myself eagerly to the elements, all the disastrous dates since my willful migration were left behind with my layers of loose clothing. The vain artist who wouldn't get his fingers dirty, the egomaniacal writer who splooged all over his own poetry and fell promptly asleep, were swept calmly away in an erotic blur of liberatees.

"Nobody speak, let's just do this," Tunick shouted. "The guy in the back who can't make up his mind, this is not a fashion shoot." And to his lookouts: "How am I doing?" No cops—the streets were remarkably clear. "OK, I can relax a bit."

Yeah, baby, you relax, take us all in, we are yours. You want me to turn over, I'll do it. You want me to stand spread-eagled in glee, I'll do it for you. Oops, no, just lie flat—anonymous and raw.

That summer, two Manhattan friends and I had driven 100 miles upstate and skinny-dipped for hours after convincing an old lady named Grace to let us swim off her private shore. As family boats sped past carrying smiling children and proud parents, we treaded water, somersaulted, and giggled like little Lolitas, with the cool water lapping at every yearning orifice.

"Haven't been doing much," I wrote home. "Last week I posed nude for a Spencer Tunick photo—that was fun."

Next week I'm off to the School of Visual Arts to get paid for doing what I love. I touched not a lip or a hand the day of Tunick's nude-in-Manhattan photo, and saw no little (or big) phallic realities—in the motion of it all I just forgot to look. As I crouched unbecomingly with the butt hair of a strange girl in my face, I loved the man who stood high, shouting and shooting at us. Spencer Tunick, my leading man, may the next mayor see your cause.

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