I went to a small, Jesuit liberal arts college in upstate New York. Although there weren’t many Jesuits teaching there, the school still had a religious feel. Crucifixes hung on the front wall of every classroom, statues of saints stood watch in the gardens, and the whole campus smelled like church.
One of the best professors I had while I was there was a man by the name of Ellerman. That’s how he introduced himself. Not Dr. or Mister, or even Karl, which was his first name. Just Ellerman. At the beginning of the first class, he gave a small summary of what we were going to study (Ethics) and then he simply said. “My name is Ellerman.”
As we got to know him, he confided in us that he hoped someday to write a new, improved version of Dostoevsky’s Notes From Underground. He was intense, wore a pencil-thin mustache, and rarely smiled. He was also an avowed atheist. Quite rationally, he explained that since he could discern no proof of God, he simply couldn’t believe. This non-belief, frequently expressed, came as quite a shock to my classmates, most of whom came from Catholic high schools. To them, God was a given, the claims of the Bible waterproof tight. The priests and nuns told them so. And so it must be true.
Ellerman was the first pure contrarian I ever met, pushing everyone’s accepted beliefs to the limit, and I worshipped him for it.
Then one day, he was gone. Working at a college as I do, now I understand the intricacies and high drama of the tenure process. I’m sure he was told he wasn’t on track to get tenure anytime soon, so he moved on. But back then I wanted to believe he had lost his position because he was a confessed atheist at a Jesuit school. He stuck it to the man, wouldn’t compromise his beliefs, chose reason over magic, and paid the ultimate professional price. Even if none of it was true, believing it made his sacrifice seem even greater in my eyes.
One of the ethical problems we discussed was whether or not someone had the right to challenge another person’s long-held belief in God, even on their deathbed. Was it ethical to try and make the dying person see reason, or to let them die happily with their belief in the afterlife and eternal salvation? The question applies not only to religion, but to other philosophical positions as well. Politics or personal ethics, for instance. How far are we permitted to go in order to make someone else agree with our position? Is any discussion of long-held beliefs worthy, or do most people, by the time they reach a certain age, simply believe what they believe and either can’t or won’t believe otherwise, rendering any dialogue moot?
Buddha is quoted as saying that when words are both kind and true, they can change our world. But sometimes true words can’t be kind. And kind words are certainly not always true.
I’ve just finished Morrissey’s Autobiography, and have decided, once again, to recommit myself to the vegetarian lifestyle. This puts me in a somewhat uncomfortable position at times. In a representative quote from the book, Morrissey says, “Suddenly, you come to a certain situation and you are unable to live with it, and the only protest you can make on behalf of the butchered animal is to depart the scene. Whether this be considered irritating or rude by the gluttonous carnivore is of no interest to me. Nobody can possibly be so hungry that they need to take a life in order to feel satisfied – they don’t after all, take a human life, so why take the life of an animal? Both are conscious beings with the same determination to survive. It is habit, and laziness, and nothing else.” Later in the book, Morrissey tells us how he fired an agent for simply ordering frogs’ legs in a fancy Beverly Hills restaurant.
Vegetarians, like recovering alcoholics, must always be ready, it seems, to defend their beliefs. Carnivores and drinkers never do.
If I followed Morrissey’s lead, and simply started walking out of places, like the recent Super Bowl party I attended where a friend brought a bowl of chicken wings (wings I had, on many previous occasions, eaten with unchecked abandon), I wouldn’t have many friends left at all. How far am I willing to go, as Ellerman taught us, to challenge my friend’s long-held beliefs by reminding him that he is eating dead, burned flesh? Should I launch into graphic descriptions of animal torture and slaughter, and how sometimes the flesh is peeled back from the skull of a still-live cow in cases where that poor cow hasn’t been fully anesthetized by the slaughterman’s stun gun? Or how the beaks of chickens are cut off to prevent them from pecking each other to death in the unconscionable close quarters they are kept in? Should we talk of veal, or fois gras? And what about that poetic misnomer, “ethical meat,” that is bandied about by the foodies in the pages of the New York Times? What can be ethical about killing an innocent, sentient creature, with thoughts and feelings, who wants to feel pleasure and avoid pain, just like humans do, as long as the creature was “free range” or had a “name instead of a number” before it was led to the abattoir? Lucky Bessie! She had a good life, but then we had to chop her head off and eat the flesh from her roasted bones. A life destroyed for a moment on the lips.
You see what I mean about the problem of challenging deathbed beliefs. How graphic should I get? What happens in a slaughterhouse doesn’t need to be ginned-up to convey its sheer horror. Animals are skinned alive for our food. That’s what happens.
The whole scheme only works if you believe two (in my opinion) false assumptions. First, that animals are less worthy than people, thereby making their suffering less important, and second, that we need meat to live. If you’ve ever had a dog or cat or goldfish or hamster, and you examine your feeling towards these “domestic” animals, you will probably find that their lives are just as important as yours. I realize that humankind, at some point in our development, may have needed meat to evolve. But with 50 varieties of hummus and 30 kinds of peanut butter in every supermarket, no one can make the argument that meat is now necessary for human life to continue.
Yet meat is everywhere and is consumed, as Morrissey said, out of habit and laziness. Alongside the ubiquitous beef jerky, dried pieces of turkey flesh can now be bought in little baggies in nearly every checkout line of every Wal-Mart in America. Because turkey, the experts tell us, is healthier than beef. Healthier, perhaps, for everyone but the turkey.
Remember how shocked the world was to learn that there was horse meat in the meatballs that were sold in Ikea cafeterias? The horror! But is a horse any more noble than a cow, simply because it’s capable of running at Churchill Downs? If a cow could curl up on your bed at night, or even speak, would it still be so easy to kill?
But what if, as Thoreau believed, that as mankind evolves further, he will naturally leave off the eating of flesh food? However you slice it, meat is dead, decaying flesh. The forms that it takes disguise the fact. A plate of sushi, which is sliced fish bodies, is made to look like candy. Animals are the prefect industrial workers because they can’t complain in any meaningful fashion, nor can they unionize. It’s so easy to kill animals because we are stronger than them, and they trust us. But imagine leading your dog to the guillotine?
Yes, of course people love the way meats tastes, but is a few minutes of pleasure worth the pain? Is it necessary that both a pig and a cow be slaughtered so we can enjoy applewood-smoked bacon on our drive-through cheeseburger?
You may read all this and still say yes, it is.
I know in my lifetime I’ve consumed thousands upon thousands of once-living, self-aware beings. I’ve been vegetarian and even vegan at other times in my life, but have always returned to meat-eating eventually. I’m sure that if I had to hunt to keep my family from starvation, I would have to do it. Or if I was driving my car and had to swerve to avoid hitting either a child or a cow, I would avoid the child. Of course a few extreme situations can be imagined where animal life must be taken to ensure the survival of human life. But these situations, in the modern world in which we live, are negligible almost to the point of non-existence.
There’s a difference between ignorance, and knowing but still choosing. As we move from ignorance to knowledge, maybe we can leave off killing animals for food. Maybe we won’t need a deathbed conversion.
Maybe, as Gandhi suggested, the way we treat our animals will someday be an intimation of the way we treat each other. Maybe we can be kind. And true.
A long time ago a philosopher, maybe Sartre or Camus or some other pissy Existentialist, said nothing tastes as good as one’s own earwax. Isn’t that a delicious metaphor for suffering? In other words, we might complain about our own suffering, but we certainly wouldn’t want to swap our suffering, or our earwax, for anybody else’s.
In my case, life is good. I was blessed with a happy childhood. I have a college education. I have two smart, healthy, happy kids. I’m married to a beautiful, funny, compassionate and socially engaged woman. I really have it all. I shouldn’t complain. So you should know that the things I’m about to confess could definitely be categorized as first world problems. Or, as Brad Pitt put it so poetically in Moneyball, uptown problems.
Like Thoreau does at the beginning of Walden when he tells us, piece by piece, right down to the nails, how much he spent to build his cabin, I’m trying to give some kind of accounting here. I’m not dirt poor, but compared with many, many people I know, I’m pretty broke most of the time. Maybe it’s just the era we live in. Maybe it’s sequestration, austerity, or all the swapped derivatives still fluttering around. Maybe the giant pool of money is being shy. Maybe it’s the by-product of having children. Maybe it’s because I can’t make small talk with people and I sweat like a pig in most social situations, which makes it really difficult to go to cocktail parties and frequently causes me to step outside for air right in the middle of a conversation.
Or maybe it’s really because of the choices I made, because I didn’t want to work a job where I had to wear a tie or because I went to three colleges, one of them twice, before graduating. Maybe it’s because I dropped out of grad school, even though I didn’t officially drop out. I just stopped going.
Whatever the reasons, I know I’m less well-off than most of my friends. How do I know this?
I live in Maine and even though I was president of my high school ski club, I know I won’t go skiing anytime soon. Too expensive. So what that I’ll never be a member of the Sugarloaferati?
When I see a truck with the bumper sticker that reads “Life’s Too Short To Own An Ugly Boat” I want to rip its fucking bumpers off. I’ll never own a boat. Likewise, I will never have a need for a cabinetmaker. Or a gardener. Or a housekeeper. Or even a Merry Maid.
Landscape architects will remain one client poorer thanks to me. I will never go upta camp. I will never have mulch delivered. Guys won’t come to my house in some kind of loader or dumper or whatever and move aside a section of my fence so they can eject a huge steaming pile of composted tree bark onto my nonexistent flowerbeds.
True, all my white undershirts have Brooks Brothers tags in them. (My uncle was the CFO of a huge power company and at a young age taught me to worship at the altar of the golden fleece). But I only have three of them and they were all bought at the outlet after the holidays when a 40%-off storewide sale was on. I look good from a distance, but when you get closer you’ll see the heel-poor socks, the frayed cuffs, and the pants with the olive oil splotch that I got while cooking dinner one night and that will never come out in the wash. My cashmere scarf, bought with a gift certificate and at 70% off, is my only luxury good. I have exactly three nice shirts, two pairs of pants, one black crew-neck sweater, one pair of good jeans, one pair of work shoes, and one pair of running sneakers. Most everything else is socks, boxers, and old t-shirts. Both my coffee maker and my television are inherited from my wife’s deceased grandmother. The coffee pot only makes four cups at a time so I usually have to make two pots each morning. My television is so old it can’t even begin to conceive of a Roku, even with the right coaxials. When my kids need new shoes I have to ask my parents for money. I’m 46 but sometimes my mommy buys me underwear. I’ve had to beg off social engagements because I didn’t have the extra $20 for dinner. I have returned bottles to get money to buy food. Within the last three years. My porch is so broken down I’m thinking of creating a Kickstarter campaign just to raise the money to fix it. When my toilet broke and flooded through my living room ceiling and someone said, “Why don’t you just call a plumber?” I just laughed.
As expected, I have indeed defaulted on my student loan. Still, I feel some weird, Stockholm Syndrome-esque connection to the New York State Higher Education Corporation. They’re my people, it seems. I don’t expect to have my debts forgiven. I took NYSEC’s money and I spent it. And yeah, now I owe that money, even if paying it back feels like paying back the leg-breaker who lent me money to settle my poker debt with the local mafia don. True, most of the money I borrowed gave me life-changing opportunities at good schools to learn lots of really great, crazy stuff and to meet some of the best human beings on the planet and to make memories that will stay with me until there are worms crawling out of my eye sockets. But some of the money I also spent on Long Island iced teas at Fletcher’s Karaoke Bar, White Russians at the Starboard (when I was going through the first of my many recurring Big Lebowski phases), and a share in a Rehoboth Beach weekend house two summers in a row. All that time I should have been in class at AU studying Master’s degree-level philosophy. Kant do anything about that now.
But the truth is I’m OK with all of this. I’m blue collar to the core. I’ll probably always have champagne tastes on a beer budget. I can still walk by someone else’s beautiful flowerbeds and compliment them without the least bit of jealousy. Because what is jealousy anyway but the poison you swallow hoping the other person will die? Or maybe that’s envy. Either way, I’m good. Over 2,500 years ago Patanjali, in his yoga sutras , said the hardest thing for a human being to do is to take pleasure in another person’s good fortune. Dude was right.
I’m telling you all this because maybe you’re feeling the same way. Just barely hanging on. Maybe it’s not even money. It could be a whole shitload of things unrelated to wealth and/or material possessions. Maybe you’re hiding behind your plasma TV. Holding it in, whatever it is, hoping it will just not be there one morning.
If so, I should also tell you about the time, a few winters ago, when my family was so broke, so out of food, so low on heating oil, that I sat in my fifteen-year-old Honda Accord in the church parking lot across from my house and pounded on the dashboard and cried until snot ran out of my nose and screamed “Fuck!” twenty times in a row as loud as I could until I had a headache and my throat was sore and then punched the door handle so hard over and over until I thought my hand was broken. My hand was fine, but I had royally fucked up the door handle, so much so that I couldn’t lock the driver’s side door anymore or sometimes even open it from the outside and so periodically had to get in my car from the passenger side and climb over the gear shift like some kind of goober just to get back and forth to work.
I spoke about this incident with a friend of mine who is a pastor. He advised me not to get the door fixed. To keep the handle broken as a reminder of how bad things can get, and also of how we can recover from these very same bad things. I took his advice and let that handle stay broken. I couldn’t afford to fix it anyway. I traded in the car two years ago.
But all that’s nothing.
Someday I’ll tell you about the time my wife and I lived in Ithaca, NY, when we both worked for a video store chain making five bucks an hour because we couldn’t get jobs at Cornell and go to grad school for free like we planned and working at Video Ithaca was the best we could do and the only good part was that I got to watch every Woody Allen movie for free on the in-store TV while I was on the clock. We were always late on our rent, we lived in a crappy apartment in a run-down house on Cascadilla Street, charging our groceries to a perpetually maxed-out credit card, putting ketchup on our macaroni because we couldn’t afford Ragu and I spent too much time sitting on the back steps smoking too many cigarettes, the cigarettes of a truly depressed man, watching the snowflakes, the big wet snowflakes that only the Finger Lakes can bring, as they slowly drifted down the sky to mix with my smoky breath and ash and our crazy cat, the one we had to put down after I drank too much wine one night and tried to be playful with her but she scratched my eye anyway, the eye that still aches sometimes when it’s about to rain, and nearly blinded me, was clawing at the door.
We found out later from the vet that our poor cat wasn’t really crazy. She just had a brain tumor.
I should stop now.
You laughed when you saw me standing on the sidewalk in front of Renys eating organic black beans straight from the can. You asked me to come to your house and remove the package of half-eaten vegan cheese from your fridge that I brought to your barbeque or else you threatened to use it to shingle your roof. You knew that when I declared myself a vegan after reading books by Alicia Silverstone, Kris Carr, Peter Singer, Lori Gruen, Jonathan Foer, and Moby, it wouldn’t last. And it didn’t; inspiring writers all, the failure was completely mine. My most recent promise to reboot my karma and remain a vegetarian for one whole year lapsed after about a month. Let’s all agree: my commitments to diets or lifestyle changes or whatever you want to call them has been about as firm as my commitments to quit Facebook and Twitter. Yes, I’m a chronic lapser. Well, here I go again. I watched a documentary on Netflix last night called Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead. It chronicled the journey of an Australian man named Joe Cross, who used a 60-day juice fast to cure his chronic idiopathic urticaria, a painful autoimmune disease. And guess what? It worked. That film, and the time I spent in Woodstock this past weekend, where you can stand in one juice bar, throw a wheatgrass muffin, and practically hit another juice bar, has inspired me to make some changes. I’m thinking of a line from a Mark Eitzel song that goes, “I’m sick of food/so why am I so hungry?” That’s where I am right now; sick of food but hungry for a dietary rebirth. So starting tomorrow, I’m drinking nothing but juice for 30 days. I’ve got my NutriBullet and my Jack Lalanne. My only cheat day will be next weekend when my wife and I go out for one our regular sauna and sushi dates, when we go here and then here. Like Thoreau immersing himself in a bog, I’m going to immerse myself in green juice. Now, for that one last cup of coffee…
When Henry started this blog five years ago, it was an attempt to record the simple, everyday joys of life. A virtual cabin in the woods, as my subtitle says. As blogs go, it was all over the map. It could be about anything, which in the blogging world really means it could be, Seinfeld-like, about nothing. Successful, syndicated blogs usually do one thing very well. They become time-tested, predictable products that readers can rely on day after day to give them exactly what they want and expect. It could be cooking, music, politics, sports, etc. You know exactly what you’re going to get that when you go to Politico, Deadspin, Daily Beast or HuffPo. Here, Henry tried (and tries) to do something different. Like the Ming Dynasty text called the Caigentan, or “Root Vegetable Discourse“, I’ve tried to offer up varied bits of wisdom based on my experiences enjoying the simple pleasures of life. The title of this text comes from the Chinese proverb that “One who has eaten vegetable roots for lack of anything better can accomplish anything,” or perhaps more succinctly “One who has gone through hardships can do anything.” The way I’ve understood this text is “You will be unable to find joy in this lifetime unless you can find joy in the simple pleasures of living.” I’ve written about decaying Pocono resorts, creepy naked guys, shoegaze bands, snakes falling from the sky, Bruce, and Buddha. One of the easiest ways we can enjoy the simple things in life is to take a trip to the beach. No person can stand before the ocean and not feel reborn. Now that summer is here in Maine where Henry lives, he would like to give his advice for a perfect day at the beach. There are only a few rules you need to follow. 1. Buy a State of Maine park pass. If you can afford it. This year it costs $70 and lasts all the way until December 2012. Considering the fact that it costs about $10-15 every time Henry takes his family of four to the beach, you only have to use it about five times before it virtually pays for itself. 2. Eat a big breakfast. And drink plenty of water. That way, you start the day fully nourished and hydrated and you won’t have to schlep the entire contents of your fridge to the ocean’s edge. 3. Pack light. This is ancillary to #2 above. The bigger your breakfast, the less food you’ll need to bring. Henry knows this might be tough when you have kids, but parents don’t need to give their kids snacks every fifteen minutes. It’s OK to be hungry. Additionally, if kids don’t ask for food, don’t offer it to them. Pack only what you need. In my case that would be water, an apple, sunscreen, and a towel. Maybe a book, although strangely enough, I usually don’t read at the beach. Under perfect conditions, everything you bring should fit in one medium-sized backpack. 4. Pick an old favorite… You know where your favorite beaches are. Going back over and over to the same spot is not necessarily a bad thing. Shifting ocean currents can remake a sandy shoreline overnight. Temperature, wind, humidity, and the quality of sunlight can make two different visits to the same beach radically different experiences. 5…or try something new. Take a chance. Branch out. Hike to a deserted beach and take your clothes off. It doesn’t even have to be a beach. Tap into local folklore. Don’t be afraid to ask the guy at the general store about the secret swimming hole. Go skinny-dipping in the rain. Cultivate peak experiences. Thoreau moved into a cabin and went swimming in Walden Pond in order to live deliberately. You can too. But watch out for the snapping turtles.
I’ve seen a few bumper stickers around the city where I live that read: “Annoy a Liberal: Work Hard and Be Happy.” But it would seem that conservatives are the folks who are most annoyed right now. Henry once wrote “Surely joy is the condition of life” and I wholeheartedly agree. I do work hard and I am happy. And I am a liberal. So I guess that means that I am annoying myself. It reminds me of that wonderful Sprint commercial where The Man is sticking it to himself. Conservatives are upset because we might actually pass a health care reform bill very shortly. It’s Communism! they shout. It will be the downfall of our republic! The fear-mongering has reached a fever pitch. But really, we’ve seen this all before, haven’t we? The political tactics that have been used by conservatives since before Reagan can be summed up in one sentence: The government is going to take your money and give it to Those People. Those People are the lazy ones. Those People are the ones that can’t get an education, a job or health insurance because they just aren’t working hard enough. Conservative pundits love to shout from the rooftops that they are only saying what they are saying because they love this country. But what they really care about is selling advertising. That is their primary motivation. Unfortunately, reasonableness doesn’t sell. But racism, bigotry and fear always rake in the benjamins. I know that most Americans are reasonable, and that our country has a wonderful way of correcting itself. If the laws that are enacted reach too far, we have a perfectly good and time-tested way to change them. It’s called our government. Vote the Bums Out! Isn’t that what we hear every two years? And guess what? It works. I survived Nixon and Reagan and both Bushes. But I also survived Carter and Clinton. Sometimes my taxes went up and sometimes they went down. Otherwise, my life was my own. I am sure I will survive the Obama years as well. Why? Because I work hard and I’m happy. If believing that some of my money should go to helping poor people, then I guess that makes me a Communist. I just wish we could get back to a world where we all viewed one another as friends and neighbors, not as enemies. As a Zen master once said, “Once you make distinctions (between good and bad) you are already in hell.” I would love to have a reasonable, quiet conversation with Rush or Glenn someday, but I also know that a “Fireside Chat with Glenn Beck” won’t pay his light bill. Though it pains my liberal soul to say it, the truth is that the Sean Hannitys or Bill O’Reillys of the world don’t really want dialogue, but neither do the Keith Olbermans or the Rachel Maddows. To perpetuate your own view only so that you get to stay in your TV host’s chair certainly makes for good ratings and lucrative advertising dollars, but it might not be the best method for civilized public discourse. Only if we can begin to view each other as human beings first, Americans second, and whatever political party we belong to a distant third can we even begin to fix what ails us. Please remember: Those People are Us.
I’m a vegan. There, I’ve said it. Actually, I’ve only been a vegan for a little over two weeks, but I don’t foresee going back to my old meat-and-dairy days. Not unless, like the Dalai Lama, my doctor tells me I have to eat some meat or else I will die. This strange and surprising transformation of my eating habits and, by extension, my life came about unexpectedly and completely on accident. After a wonderful week visiting my family in upstate New York, bingeing on chicken wings, pizza, and steak, I came back to Maine feeling that I had turned a corner in my dietary habits. The time I spent with my parents and my sister and her husband were great, but the food I ate while I was there was certainly not. Perhaps subconsciously I was already plotting my own personal food revolution. I started investigating vegetarian and macrobiotic diets when I came across a book written by Alicia Silverstone called The Kind Diet. Yes, the girl from Clueless changed my life. I always knew that meat was bad not only for the human body but also for the environment, but I never thought the same way about dairy products and eggs. They seemed so benign compared to the massive amounts of suffering and death associated with meat production. Did you know that dairy cows are kept pregnant all the time so that they will keep producing milk? Or that male calves born to dairy cows end up in the beef industry, usually as veal? Did you know that we use more farm acreage in this country to grow food for animals that we will eventually kill for food than we do for food for humans? Maybe you know all this and still want to eat meat and dairy. That’s fine. I certainly don’t want to come off as a hellfire-and-brimstone-preaching vegan. Less than one month ago I ate a huge steak dinner and had creme brulee for dessert, and it was mighty tasty. So I’m not going to go all Brad Pitt-in-12 Monkeys on you. But I do notice strange and almost hostile reactions from some people when I mention my veganism. Most are the “That’s nice, dear” variety. But some insist that we are at the top of the food chain and that as humans we were born to eat meat. I think there is some weird karma going on here. I can’t help wondering if people’s own buried guilt at eating meat isn’t somehow manifesting itself in these reactions. I touched on this is an earlier post when I talked about Thoreau’s vegetarianism. Thoreau once mentioned that after catching and eating a fish or some wild game, he felt that for all the slaughter and trouble, some bread or a few potatoes would have done just as well. I also notice in myself that in becoming a vegan, I almost feel as if I have joined some underground animal liberation rebellion (12 Monkeys again). I feel like an outlaw, like an eco-terrorist on the lam. And yet, did you know that raising animals for food production is one of the leading causes of global warming? I’ll get off my soapbox now and close with a few quotes from my main man. “Whatever my own practice may be, I have no doubt that it is a part of the destiny of the human race, in its gradual improvement, to leave off eating animals.” Or this: “One farmer says to me, “You cannot live on vegetable food solely, for it furnishes nothing to make the bones with;” and so he religiously devotes a part of his day to supplying himself with the raw material of bones; walking all the while he talks behind his oxen, which, with vegetable-made bones, jerk him and his lumbering plow along in spite of every obstacle.”
I have been on a quest lately to find a swimming hole within biking distance of my house. Living in Maine, and with the multitudinous rivers, streams and ocean inlets in my general vicinity, this would seem to be an easy task. But not so. Of course there are various places to swim, but I’m looking for a place a little more secluded, if you know what I mean. Thoreau and Ben Franklin are on my side in this quest for a place where I can indulge in an “open-air bath.” But there’s always the chance that I might get caught and viewed as some kind of freak. I had an experience last summer where I drove out to a secluded pond near my home. I hiked about a mile into the woods, and jumped into the water. Not seeing anyone around, I took off my bathing suit and threw it onto the rocks onshore. It was dusk, and the chances of anyone happening along were slim. And yet, who should appear out of the woods but four women. I was floating about twenty yards offshore and they called out to me, asking if I would mind if they joined me. Of course I agreed. What else could I do? They didn’t notice my state of undress, and, clad in their various swim attire, they jumped in as well. So here we have a great moral dilemma. Does a man, floating naked in the middle of a pond, admit to his newly manifested female companions that he is in fact naked and that perhaps they would like to take their leisure elsewhere? Or does he pretend that everything’s fine, just fine, nothing to see here? Well, I opted for the latter choice. But when the sun started to go down and the water got chillier, I had to make a decision. I slowly paddled towards shore, and gingerly retrieved my suit from the rocks at the water’s edge. You probably don’t know how difficult it is to put on a swimsuit while you are trying to tread water, but let me tell you, it’s not easy. As I climbed out of the water, clothed, I heard giggles behind me. They knew what had happened. I distinctly heard one of them say, “That must have been a thrill for him.” As if I was some kind of pervert. As if it was my plan to go skinny-dipping in a remote pond and hope that some women came along. Please. And yet, they had come out of nowhere, intruded on my privacy, and here I was, feeling like the creep. I remember swearing to myself that I would never let this happen again. But here I am, one summer later, looking for some kind of swimming hole utopia. I’m a married father of two, not some weirdo hiding in the bushes. All I want is someplace where I can be alone and feel close to nature. People can legally go off into the woods, drink a few Buds, and fire shotguns at innocent animals, or tear across frozen lakes on loud, belching snowmobiles, or plow through the woods on ugly, dangerous ATV’s, and all this is legal. And yet I, with my low carbon footprint, am some kind of freak. A man who goes into the woods with a gun to kill animals is called a sportsman. But a man who goes into the woods to swim unencumbered in a secluded pond is just a creepy naked guy, apparently.