Hairy Palms (Part One)

When you open up the Yahoo IM application, there’s a little smiley face in the bottom status bar and next to it, if you haven’t put something clever or smart-assed or dirty as your status, it simply says “I’m available.” That phrase, lately, seems so sad and horribly appropriate to me.
As far as being a gay man goes, I would fail most tests that they might give. If there was a gay scale, I’d guess I’m about a three, maybe a four on a more gay day.
A “more gay day” means, you know, I spent extra time pouring over pictures of naked men and fantasizing about actually meeting them and also being naked and so forth. I assume that gay men approaching seven or eight on the gay scale don’t spend much time with pictures of naked men, they substitute real naked men, and their fantasies of what they are doing with them are not so much fantasies as, you know, sex.

It’s my own fault, of course. Look at where I live. Of all the places on the face of this planet, San Francisco should be the place where one can get to ten on the Gay Scale without even trying. You can’t go to the corner coffee klatch without tripping over some fag reading The Advocate or picking the cat hair off his sleeveless stretch Banana Republic T-shirt or looking at his own reflection in the shop windows practicing looking insouciant. Normally I could see all of those things happening at the same time, but that would mean lifting my gaze from my own shoes as I shamble along trying to avoid eye contact.
So, therapy. But you already knew that.
I went to Palm Springs last weekend as Part One of a Two-Part vacation-in-hot-places extravaganza. On Saturday I leave for Hawaii where I plan on doing almost nothing for an entire week except lie in the sand, preferably naked, while the warm, turquoise Pacific waters gently lap along my burning flesh. Palm Springs, unbeknownst to me, has become something of a West Coast Fire Island. It lacks a shoreline and has almost no trees to speak of, but it makes up for it in its vast and unwieldy array of gay men.
I guess it all started with The White Party, an annual hedonistic binge-and-purge circuit throw-down wherein tweaked out shirtless beauty boys go and try to out six-pack each other. It’s an abs-stravaganza in the California desert where the point is to be seen rather to see and the music pumps out like an endless heartbeat on Red Bull. I have never been and shall never go, it is decidedly not something I’d be interested in and would undoubtedly leave me with a migraine the size of Jeff Stryker’s dick. Be that as it may, I was invited to spend a weekend in Palm Springs with a friend at a clothing-optional gay men’s resort, a phrase that sets off so many alarms in my head that it’s amazing I had any response at all.
But lately I am all about challenging my thick and well-built boundaries and issues concerning how I feel about myself and my body and pretty much everything else in my life, so with a “what the hell?” I bought the plane tickets and took Friday off and headed down into Wonderland.
It’s hot there. It’s a desert. There are palm trees and strip malls and Bob Hope’s UFO-shaped cement dome house on a bluff. The streets are clean and dry and hot and the buildings are squat and buff-colored and air-conditioned. All in all, it reminded me a lot of Bakersfield, only with more Bob Hope. (Even considering that he’s dead, there’s a lot more Bob Hope in Palm Springs than… you get the point.)
I arrived at the Palm Springs International Airport, climbed into a cab with my weekend bag and was off to the Warm Sands conclave of bungalows filled with naked gay men. I was sure that everyone would be having sex with each other as I arrived, all glowing with suntans and perfect bodies. Pretty much that’s how I envision everywhere I go. Call it wishful thinking.
The resorts aren’t rolling landscapes of small huts around olympic-sized pools filled with partiers and porn stars so much as they’re a collection of small bungalows behind closed gates where men over 35 strip naked and lounge about in the shade looking at other naked men. Pretty much, that’s it.
My partner in crime for the weekend explained that each men’s resort has it’s own flavor, you should excuse the pun. A couple catered to a more porntastic crowd, sometimes hosting production companies and allowing guests to watch and, sometimes, play extras in the action. Some were more Ritz-Carlton, and some are Days Inn. Mine was kind of in the middle, a Courtyard by Marriott on the scale. Continental breakfast, extra towels when you call, a basket of condoms at the front desk.
Upon reaching my room alone (my friend was stuck in traffic from L.A.) I had to decide, okay, am I a Clothing Optional Man or am I not? Always wishing to fit in, I had observed that of the half-dozen or so men by the pool, a total of one was wearing a swim suit. And by the looks of the others, shame was something they left long ago and far away. Me, I kept shame in my back pocket, so I figured that if I had no back pockets…
Next, do I strip here in the room and walk out naked, or go out and strip there? Stripping there seemed absurd since my room was literally poolside. I mean, why would a guy get undressed in his room to put on his swim suit to go outside and take it off? Okay, walk out naked. Pale and hairy and naked.
What about the towel? Do I wrap it around me like a skirt? Do I drape it nonchalantly over a shoulder? Do I carry it seemingly leisurely but strategically placed in front of me so it looks like I’m comfortable being naked but really I’m hiding the most naked parts?
That’s what I do in the gym, see, on the way to the showers. I make a show of unfolding my towel in front of me as I walk, thereby avoiding eye contact since, you know, the towel could knot up if I’m not paying attention to it, and I do it in front of me so the dangly bits aren’t out there all… dangly. Yes, I realize this is odd and cowardly, but allow me my silly coping mechanisms and I won’t make fun of how you look when you’re singing along to the radio in your car.
I decided just to walk out there with the towel in my hand like anyone else would walk out there who had spent 15 minutes figuring out how to walk outside naked with a towel. Sure, they looked, but there were no dropped glasses and talk did not suddenly cease and, as expected, no one gave a damn.
So, here I am naked at the gay man’s clothing-optional resort in Palm Springs. I could not be any more clichéd unless I suddenly started singing a Barbra Streisand medley while browsing shoes and applying moisturizer. And yet, I never felt uncomfortable. I felt gay-comfortable.
Literally, this had never happened before. I am always aware that I AM GAY. I think about it when I am walking through the Castro, or watching a movie featuring a man and a woman kissing or listening to the TV tell me that my President wants to protect marriage from me. I AM GAY. But here, I was… nothing special or unusual at all. I was just another guy among a bunch of other guys. Naked guys, sure, but just guys. I really enjoyed that feeling.
(To be continued… Next: The Gay Bar)

October 22, 2003

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