By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, August 25, 1934.
“Look at you,” declared Jimmie Frise. “Almost at the end of the summer and you haven’t a speck of color.”
“I got a good tan in July,” I said.
“It’s all gone now,” stated Jim. “You look as pallid as a garment worker. You have no more color than a sheep. The summer is the time we Canadians should soak up the sun and warmth to carry us over the long and blood-chilling winter.”
“I don’t tan,” I said. “I burn.”
“Everybody tans,” corrected Jim. “Some of us have to take it in easy stages, but we tan. Tan is the sign that you have done your duty, as a good Canadian, in so far as storing up energy against the winter. Like bees storing up honey.”
“I guess I have it inside of me,” I suggested.
“Look at those kids now,” said Jim.
Two girls and two boys were walking along King St. ahead of us. The boys were both shock-headed blonds and the girls were sleek brunettes. The boys were bare-armed, bare-necked and they were tanned a gorgeous orange shade. The girls, their backs and shoulders bared by print dresses, were a deep chocolate.
“There,” cried Jimmie, “are true Canadians. They will survive the winter. They will be full of pep next March when the last fatal blizzards blow.”
“Jimmie,” I accused, “I believe you are a nudist at heart.”
“No, just a semi-nudist,” said Jim. “I’m going down to Sunnyside this afternoon and lie in the sun. I think you should come along.”
“It’s a pretty hot day.”
“This late-season sun doesn’t burn,” assured Jim. “It has lost its sting. The sun is already sloping far down to the south, only we don’t realize it. The weather is still hot because all the heat the sun has been baking and pouring on to the earth this last two months keeps things warm. The earth has been doing what we should do. It has been soaking up the sun. But there is no kick in the sun now.”
“I’ll come,” I said, “but I think I’ll bring a parasol.”
Jimmie looked at me with contempt.
“You don’t deserve to be a Canadian,” he snorted. “You act like a soft Californian or a Jamaican. To be a Canadian you have got to be able to take it, hot or cold.”
“We will have bathing suits?” I inquired.
“Trunks only,” said Jim. “I’m going to wear my trunks and a sweat-shirt in the car until I get there.”
After lunch Jimmie picked me up at the house. He was handsome in bright blue trunks and a yellow sweat-shirt. I wore my striped dressing gown over my regular bathing suit. I beckoned him to come into the side drive to pick me up. With my family, away. I don’t want the neighbors seeing me traipsing around in a striped bath robe. Sunnyside is all right. You are lost in the picture there. But summer bachelors have to use discretion.
Spectacle of Happiness
There were thousands spread along the Sunnyside shore. Bathing, beach bathing, sun bathing, in clots and mobs and family parties, along the bright shore and the blue water, they made a spectacle of color and health and happiness.
“Now,” said Jimmie, coasting along the highway, “it is illegal for us semi-nudists to parade in half a bathing suit, so we just have to hunt along the beach until we see an unfrequented spot. There are hundreds of our fellow sun-worshippers there on the beach, lying flat and out of sight. The only time the police pick you up is when you walk around in full view.”
“It would look fine in the papers,” I said, “in the police court news-‘journalists pinched for nudism.’ I can’t take any chances, Jim. Not with my family. Let’s drive out to the country somewhere and lie down in the middle of a ten-acre field with a hollow in it.”
“The beach is the proper place,” said Jim. “What would the cows think of seeing us in their field? And, anyway, it would be a far worse crime to be semi-nude in the middle of a ten-acre field in the country than semi-nude on a city beach. You don’t understand the rural mind.”
“I’ll only tan my legs and arms,” I said. “And if the cops see you I’ll pretend I don’t know you.”
Jim parked the car. Down even with us on Sunnyside were scattered bushes and long grass and far away to the east and well off toward the west were bright crawling hordes of sun-worshippers, but in front of us were just a few scattered couples.
“This is ideal,” said Jimmie. “You can’t see a person lying down here.”
We walked down the terraces and out across the grassy and sandy approaches. The few scattered couples paid no attention to us. I observed that several of them were exposing gleaming backs to the bright rays of the sun. The water was glassy. It was a gorgeous afternoon.
Jim chose a nice spot, well distant from any others, and we lay down on the sand. Jim skillfully peeled off his yellow sweatshirt and I removed my dressing gown and spread it for a quilt to lie on.
“Ah,” we said. And it was lovely We chatted lazily about this and that. About the ancient peoples who worshipped the sun as the giver of life. About nudism.
“The Germans started this nudism,” said Jimmie. “I think it was symbolical. They went nude to show the world how thoroughly they had been stripped by the war and the pence.”
“No,” I said, “there has always been nudism. It is a deep instinct in us. It harks back to the ages when we all went around nude. But of course in those days we wore a heavy hide of fur all over us. But whenever a race gets weak and worn out nature starts stirring in their blood old hankerings and ancient instincts. The Germans after the war were weak and defeated, and to bring them back to life old Mother Nature waked in them the idea of running about naked. That explains all this stuff about the old gods and Hitler trying to bring back the ancient German virtues. It is like a sick man trying to show how strong and active he is. He sticks out his chest and talks in big deep voice, but he doesn’t fool anybody.”
“Mmmmmm,” said Jimmie. His eyes were closed. The sun was like a flood. I looked discreetly about and as far as the eye could see was just blue water and yellow sand and couples and groups of delightful people minding their own business. And not a cop was in sight anywhere. So I slipped off the shoulder straps of my bathing suit and peeled it politely down to my waist. I lay back.
“Jimmie,” I said.
“Mmmmmm,” said Jimmie.
So I just lay there and drowsed and I fell asleep.
Jimmie waked me.
“Turn over,” said Jim. “You are done on the front. Now for your back.”
I turned over. It felt cool and dry.
“What time is it?” I asked.
“About three-thirty,” thought Jimmie. “Isn’t this swell?”
“It ought to be part of the public health laws of Ontario,” I declared, “to spend so many hours a week taking the sun.”
So we talked on our stomachs for a while about ants and desert sand and grass and so forth. We thought of this good old earth with all the vasty face of it covered by these countless, uncountable grains of sand, of all the blades of grass standing pointing at the sun in a sort of Hitler salute…
“Mmmmmm,” said Jimmie, who has been tired of Hitler for four months.
I lay watching the ants and the small bugs and the fatheaded baby grasshoppers working out their silly destiny at the end of my nose, and the great sun fired its millions of life-giving electrons or whatever it is into my back and down my legs. I could feel them tingling rather tightly.
“Jimmie,” I said quietly, “did you say the August sun had no power?”
“Mmmm,” said Jim, his head on his arms.
So I fell asleep, too, and I dreamed I was Gordon Sinclair snapping my fingers under the noses of tigers in Samarkand and climbing mountains in Asia on the southern slopes, where a sun like a furnace fried my back.
Jimmie woke me.
“Wah-ho,” l yawned. “Ouch!”
“It must be six o’clock,” said Jim.
The sun was far over Hamilton, London and points west.
I started to roll over.
“Jimmie,” I said.
“Now, now,” said he. “I’m still on my face myself. Take it easy.”
My back felt as if it was all bound up with court plaster. It had a cold feeling, As I lay there a kind of shiver ran across.it. I tried to straighten my arms to lift my upper part clear of the sand. But my elbows would not bend.
“Jimmie, my elbows won’t bend!”
“Not as bad as my knees not bending,” said Jim. “Fifft! Woe is me!”
I turned my head, but something was holding the back of my neck. I moved one leg, but the skin on the back of my knee had stiffened and I had a feeling it would not stretch, like skin, but would crack, like glass.
I could see Jim. He was a bright fiery red.
“You look boiled,” I gasped.
“I would sooner look boiled than fried,” said he, looking me over.
I found that my middle section, covered by my bathing suit, still had a joint in it. Somehow, despite terrible lacerating sand and cruel spikey grass, I got turned over and sat up, with arms, legs and neck held carefully rigid.
“Boy,” I yelled, and even my voice felt crackly, “boy, come over here!”
A little boy was passing and came over.
“Please go and get somebody,” I said, “a policeman or a fireman or a doctor. Get somebody and bring them here.”
“We’ll Pay For the Ambulance”
The little boy scampered away down the beach, and in a little while he returned with a great black-armed, black-chested, black-faced life-guard in a red bathing suit and a white hat.
“Well, gents,” said the great mahogany life-guard.
“We’re fried,” I said. “My friend there can’t turn over and I don’t bend anywhere but in the middle.”
“Where’s your car?” asked the life-guard.
“Level with us up there,” groaned Jimmie.
“I’ll carry you up,” said he. “Once you get home you can go to bed and call the doctor.”
I didn’t like the thought of the great walnut hands gripping my skin. I felt as if large slithers of skin would slip off me wherever he touched me.
“Perhaps,” I said, “if you could send for an ambulance with a stretcher it would be better. We’ll pay for the ambulance.”
“Just take it easy,” said the life-guard. walking muscularly and bow-leggedly and very chocolately away.
In a few minutes he came back with two planks and a wheel-barrow.
“Easy,” I begged. Jim and I were not speaking. In fact we hadn’t spoken at all.
The life-guard laid the planks down beside me, rolled us on to the planks, skidded us on to the wheel-barrow and tenderly trundled us across the rolling sands and through the harsh grass and over all the ants and grasshoppers, up the terrace to our car.
“This happens all the time,” he said gently. He lifted Jim in his immense black arms and I noted the contrasts between his color and Jim’s. It was different.
He laid me on the back seat.
“Now,” he said, “you’ve got a good beginning. Let this lay a couple of days and then, if you don’t blister or peel, come on down for another dose. In about two weeks you’ll have a nice color.”
“You’ve very kind,” Jimmie and I whispered.
Jim, like a jointed doll, slowly turned on the switch, stepped on the starter.
“I’m glad,” said Jim, “there aren’t many turns on the road home.”
“Think of to-morrow,” I said hollowly.
“What’s the matter with the police force in Toronto!” demanded Jimmie, angrily, not moving his neck. “Why don’t they get on the job and stop this semi-nude stuff on our beaches!”
“You’re right,” I said.
Editor’s Notes: It was still illegal in 1934 for men to go topless in public. That is why when you see old pictures of people in bathing suits, the men have an undershirt part to it. Also at this point in history, Adolf Hitler had only recently became Chancellor of Germany and started consolidating his power. He would be a prominent news figure, and curiosity, but not likely considered a real threat yet.
Samarkand is a city in southeastern Uzbekistan and one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in Central Asia. The writer Gordon Sinclair was famous during this time for his stories of travels to exotic locations.
Court plaster, is just another name for an adhesive bandage.