August 24, 2011

Notes From My Travel Diary: Going Topless

On a summer afternoon in Düsseldorf, I went to the park and sat beside a willow tree with a steak sandwich and bottle of beer. An emerald lawn, a crushed brick walkway, hedges like walls -- no ultimate Frisbee tournaments happening here. After finishing my sandwich, I wanted to get some sun but was concerned about taking my shirt off. If there’s one thing I’ve learned after two years, it’s that Germans take their park-going very seriously.

There were an awful lot of stuffy pant / jacket combos and stern expressions. I could understand it if we were in a cemetery or locked in a conference room together, but this was a park. Who were these people? One woman was wearing black polyester pants and a quilted Chinese jacket. It looked like the sort of outfit Lady Mao might have worn while she typed up “The Little Red Book.” Which was worse -- enduring the critical stares from (mostly senior) passers-by or the shame of living with a farmer’s tan?

Fortunately the man sitting on a bench by the fountain made this decision easier. He was tanning, shirtless, but his belly spilled over his shorts in a way that made him look both naked and pregnant. A kinky tableau. As with most unfair comparisons, he made me feel better, not just about taking off my shirt, but basically about my existence. The sun felt good, and after taking off my shirt I decided to hike up my pants legs to my knees. But why stop there? Rest the beer bottle on your stomach, I thought. It’ll feel good.
And it did. Throw in a kitty pool, and you’d have a scene straight out the trailer park.


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