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When It Changed

In the fall of 1974, about a week after I had moved into on-campus housing at Sonoma State University, I walked from my apartment to the main building to check for mail, then re-traced my steps to go to my car. My route skirted the pool. Many of my classmates were enjoying the California sunshine. That early in the semester few had coursework to shackle them to their desks, and these were the days before the dire warnings of skin cancer sounded a deathknell to the fashion of getting a “healthy” tan.

Some of the people around the pool were naked. In fact, at least a third of them were. And not just around the pool. Some of them sprawled on the lawns. Some lounged on balconies. When I got to the parking area, I found a lovely redhead atop a towel on the low knoll not five steps in front of my car. Her birthday suit was exceptionally fine.

Halfway through my perambulation, I had begun to count. The redhead made it nineteen completely undraped females, with another fourteen merely topless. I didn’t count the men, but it must have been over twenty.

Quite a display for a bashful farm kid who had never before arriving at SSU seen a naked adult woman that he wasn’t related to, or that wasn’t on film or in a magazine. (What friendly female companionship I’d had to that point had not involved total removal of clothing.) I wonder to this day what ever became of that redhead. I don’t recall seeing her before or since. Maybe I just didn’t recognize her with her clothes on. (Literally.)

The point is, no one thought the nudity was radical. It was accepted. It was constant. Formal co-ed attire at that time was a pair of worn Levi cut-offs and a halter top. No shoes, no bra, not even any cosmetics. We were living the carefree, back-to-nature, high-ideals life that our older siblings in the ’60s had fought for. Except to us, those values weren’t revolutionary. They were normal.

In 1980 I was still in college, but in that era’s dorm community, the yuppie freshman girls would phone over to the campus cops to bust the last few die-hard nudists, and the freshman guys would tell me what a savior Ronald Reagan was going to be once he was elected. The zeitgeist had shifted.

I mourn for the way it used to be. I long for that mystery redhead I never had the guts to strike up a conversation with, though she gave me a dazzling smile once I summoned the courage to direct my glance straight at her, if only to take a moment to acknowledge her presence as simple good manners required. Seems to me my generation was in a good place. As a society, we lost something when, down the road, the times they went a-changin’.

To me, the point when the pendulum gained too much speed to keep sight of the Sixties was December 8, 1980. You know what happened that night. Now here we are forty-three years later. I have yet to feel the pendulum swinging back the other way.

I miss you, Mr. Lennon.



2 thoughts on “When It Changed”

  1. I was recently talking with a friend about our wild college days at the University of Montana in the late 60s and early 70s. Missoula was a town of two cultures — the loggers (and ilk) and the students. While we didn’t have the California weather, I remember many of us romping around the forest in nothing but birthday suits (even once fly-fishing naked near a hot spring). Between the “free sex” movement, the explorations of altered consciousness, the love and worship of nature, the incredible music, and that time in our lives before responsibility fettered us, I’ve never felt so free.
    If America is truly the land of the free, let those times return.

  2. One thing I did not happen to mention is that the SSU residential community of the 1970s was managed by the student residents (with a small number of full-time state-employee coordinators in the mix). That was special. Imagine, letting a group of people self-determine how their community should operate!

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