The Value of a Good Camel Toe
My mother would never let me enjoy the nude beach, so I had to improvise: flaunted my camel toe as I followed footprints up well-trodden dunes polluted with half-burnt charcoal briquettes toward teenage surfers who smoked hand-rolled cigarettes on their boards, my flip-flops hanging from my middle fingers as I imagined a goddess should hold her bikini at the mythological shore on the other end of the island, the one my mother referred to as Forbidden. Our neighbor, the convivial widower and double-arm amputee, would swim naked every weekend. This I learned from Paco Villarreal, our other neighbor, who sold dime bags out of the emergency medical kit inside the hatchback of his mother’s Subaru.
I peered through our kitchen window every morning as we worshipped blueberry pancakes stuffed with chunks of chocolate and peanut butter, watching Mr. Wilson’s nurse lather his hairy chest and legs with baby oil. Severed my sweet cherry from the stem, inhaled a pyramid of whipped cream as he stretched in his living room with the nimble dexterity of a gymnast, with wrinkles and arthritis. Mr. Wilson wore shorts, but Paco was trustworthy–up until the day his mom rear-ended Emily Wheeler.
Emily Wheeler was a skater chick who happened to be the daughter of a cop. They thought Paco’s mom was drunk. Emily rolled with a drug-sniffing dog famous for finding contraband at the Our Lady of Mount Carmel carnival. The German Shepherd humping the hatchback, incredulous Mrs. Villarreal obliged arriving officers by opening up. Barking and licking the Velcro where bandages and rubbing alcohol were jammed against a large plastic Ziploc stuffed with thirteen smaller baggies. Such ended the drug career of one of our hood’s most ambitious and promising entrepreneurs. From then on, we had to steal weed from Karle Shaprona’s father when her parents went out for dinner at The Cheesecake Factory.
So there I was with my camel toe all jammed in tight and with these deliberate strides like a cheetah stretching, I orbited a constellation of freckles, pimples filled with puss as the boys rubbed their longboards with Mr. Zog’s Sex Wax. My shadow drifted across their legs.
Brown Pelicans landed on pink shoulders of children who had yet to learn the value of a good camel toe. I could feel mine at the perfect angle. When it was too sandy, I knew something had shifted. But the children didn’t pay me much attention. They were more interested in the ugly girls who didn’t shave perfect; the ones where they could see the pubes peeking from the bikinis of those honor students who wouldn’t know what to do with a sack of nuts if it smacked them in the cheeks.
I had been rehearsing what I would do with testes since I learned how to spell the word. In fifth grade, I studied the VHS movies Paco’s father began collecting from the adult video store with the black-waxed windows next to the arcade. Paco’s mother never returned from her stint in county jail. A few hours before her early release for good behavior, Mrs. Villarreal took a broomstick–not just to the hatchback, but to the head.
I still wanted to see that nude beach, what it had to offer, the promise of more than cotton and polyester dampened within the crevasse of knowledge. The three of us headed out one humid afternoon in early July when our parents thought we were getting dizzy on The Gravitron at the Our Lady of Mt. Carmel carnival. Emily Wheeler approached as we rode our bikes uphill. Her dog instinctively headed for my crotch. This was where we kept the weed in case we were confronted by security forces.
We were unsure how much to wax, so we carried shaving gel and a pink razor, just in case. We permitted Emily Wheeler to accompany us,without her dog. While Emily skated down Hillside Avenue, slaloming between parked cars, we sat on the side of the cul-de-sac behind an enormous maple tree and shaved our elbows, and made sure our pits were clean. When she returned we were in the middle of the cul-de-sac tanning our kneecaps.
The ride was smooth. Sweat was juicy. My camel toe was already swollen with excitement. We did not run from the rain. We washed our spokes and waited for the sun shower to dissipate. We would undress at increments, shedding our layers like rattlesnakes and doing cartwheels on wet sand to attract attention. This was our moment to shine.
The nude beach itself was not as majestic as fabled.It was scarce and rocky on one side, broken by dandelions and uncut brush. We went to hide our bicycles, but encountered an elderly love triangle. The breeze carried the sea salt, attracting thirsty dragonflies which hovered above our heads as we joined the circle to watch.
There was no boundary and nobody questioned why we had such swagger. Emily Wheeler had her skateboard under her arm. We wondered when would be the perfect moment to start stripping. Would there be a sign? Then it happened. It looked like a shark attack. The lifeguard dragged the woman from the white water. The nudist hit her head with her board, the lifeguard unhooked the band from her ankle and bandaged the wound beneath the shade of his umbrella.
Emily wheeler was doing the wheelbarrow butt-naked, nothing more than ethereal cartwheels and specks of backwards summersaults. She started at the rocky side and followed the shoreline toward the shadows cast by spray-painted cliffs on the far crescent. She became the angel of the beach. We waited an hour until the appendages were nothing more than fingers and toes and Emily Wheeler had worn herself out so that all she could do was lie on the wet sand and wait for the big waves to roll her over. The larger ones would drag her downward with a gush of receding foam. Our neighbor was waving his leg from an inflatable raft. We felt closer to Satan and Jesus and everything meaningful that afternoon. Nothing seemed so fuzzy anymore.
We hit the nude beach every day. We knew everybody: Mr. Wilson, the gym teacher, the postman, the guy who delivers the pepperoni calzones, the woman who works at the fitness center, the alcoholic with gout who collects disability. Nobody told our parents. Nobody talked about it. There was nothing to say. It was spoken through sundrenched atonement in the tabernacle of Forbidden. The spell rode itself timeless and fierce.
The Indian summer was ending. Soon would be seventh grade, layers of clothing, skin so distant and cold. Sundrenched chestnuts roasting would be nothing but another Christmas carol. The present unraveling, we sat by the tall grass and sipped cabernet sauvignon with daffodils dangling from the corners of our lips in the shadows of the cliffs where the elementary school janitor with shingles was making love to the young single mother who worked at the Laundromat. We were tempted to join them, but instead followed the footprints of Emily Wheeler toward the shoreline where she was building an elaborate sandcastle adorned with pink shells.
Emily lost herself as a rogue wave smothered us out to sea. We knew we could have paddled horizontal to the shoreline to escape the rip current. We could have yelled to the lifeguard on the other side of the beach, held out our hands, hoping he would notice us drowning in the shadows where swimming was forbidden. We didn’t though. We unhooked the boards from our ankles by the Velcro. We swam till our arms and legs ached and then tread water and waited till time was ready to take our naked bodies under, as it would have done soon enough. We wanted the waves to take us together and hold us for a moment of sublimity. To let the current wash us away, wash us clean.