I may be remembering this now from going through old photos of a younger self. Or it may be fever-induced memory from the flu.
I know it’s every school-attending person’s recurring nightmare. But. It really happened.
- I had finals.
- I was naked.
- No one seemed to notice.
I’m terrifically happy no one noticed.
I have a theory about why no one noticed: they were also naked. I believe everyone was too busy looking at the walls, their toes, or their books to notice each other. Much.
The University was a little lax on protocol. I went through the cafeteria line one day, about to dig my spoon into the self-serve cottage cheese when I realized why it was still untouched. Someone had meticulously sculpted ten pounds of cottage cheese into the shape of the Venus of Willendorf. Curly leaf parsley topped the Venus area.
Visual aid. Imagine picture with the V of W in cottage cheese:
This is not exactly digression.
The V of W incident was described to show you exactly how slightly lax the University was. (Or maybe they hired only art students for sous chefs?)
In a surreal move, the professor put the site of our final exam to a student vote. We could take it the next day in our classroom, or three days later at her house on Friday night. It was unanimous. Potluck Final with beer, at the professor’s home.
She gave country directions: take the main highway out-of-town, left at the fork, up the big hill, turn right at the bank of 12 black mailboxes on one long post. Wind down the hill, pull left into the apple orchard.
There were at least 3 banks of 12 black mailboxes at the top of the big hill. After passing the driveway six or seven times, I park in the orchard, stagger up her front stairs with my rapidly cooling macaroni and cheese casserole, nearly tripping over my floor length hippie skirt, my long sleeves catching in the goopy cheese. Drat. I knock. A man opens the door. I recognize him as another professor from a related class. Oh right. We’re combining both classes for the final.
When he steps forward to help me with the casserole, he’s no longer hidden by the door. It’s a good thing he grabs the casserole, because I nearly drop it at an angle that would definitely have burned him…badly.
He’s naked. As in…completely. As in please please please let me be dreaming, or having a psychotic break. I have no desire to see…
I catch my eyeballs before they can drop. I refuse to look below his goatee. He doesn’t seem to notice my discomfort. He turns and casually waddles to the kitchen, his white, blind-bottom-of-the-ocean colored butt cheeks quivering.
I wheel around and go back out the front door. More students are coming up the walk laden with aluminum foil covered shapes, waving cheerfully. I can’t speak. I sit heavily on the stair, hand sideways across my mouth. Unbidden, this thought comes into my mind: two white piglets bouncing up and down!
I giggle, in a panicky sort of way.
I’m having a psychotic break, it has to be. All the people coming up the walk have their clothes on. I have my clothes on. He probably had his clothes on too.
Okay. Fine. Deep breath. It’s just a teeny little break from reality. I can deal with that. Note to self: ignore naked professor and any talking footstools. Take the final. Go home. See if still psychotic in the morning.
Good to go.
I make myself follow the Vegan Pie people into the house.
The Vegan Pie people and I walk into a room full of naked bodies.
This is worse than I thought. I look hard at the couch and mentally ask it: do you like to be sat upon? No answer. Hey chair! You’re ugly, you know that? No reply.
It’s just a chair.
Vegan boy strips off his shirt.
Vegan girl drops her skirt. No underwear.
Within seconds, I’m the only clothed person in the house. Does anyone else see the danger of walking around naked carrying hot food on cheap, wobbly, paper plates?
Someone thinks I’m still dressed because I don’t know where to put my clothes. He shows me to a bedroom and leaves: instead of a pile of coats on the bed, there are neat piles of clothing. And lot of shoes. I stare at the shoes. I’m afraid to leave the clothing room. I’m afraid to take off my clothes. I’m rapidly becoming more afraid to NOT take off my clothes.
I hear splashing. I look out the window, and see about 20 people in a giant makeshift hot tub set into the deck. It’s the biggest galvanized stock tank I’ve ever seen. I hear a bonfire crackling somewhere out of sight. It hits me that the bonfire is likely underneath the stock tank. Heating the water.
Damn. I’m not psychotic. Naked people and hot tub are two things that connect with reality in a logical way.
It’s a mark of what a prude I am that I’d rather have a psychotic break than be naked in front of strangers. As I’m assessing how violently ill I can pretend to be, my professor walks in, breasts swinging.
I fight not to cringe. I really really really did not want to see that. I stare at my naked toes (sandals) and try to come up with a plan that doesn’t involve removing my clothes.
“Oh, sorry”, she says, heading through another door, “You can put your clothes on the bed, I just need to pee.” She does not close the door behind her.
Please please please let this be a psychotic break. God, are you listening?
I hum loudly to cover up…the sound. Mentally, I question the bed and the painting: So. How’s your day going so far?
No response. Hey. God. Could you help me out here? Just a teeny bit of talking furniture?
It looks like the only way out is through. I’m as totally covered as an Amish woman, albeit one with a penchant for tie-dye. I’m going to stand out a lot more if I leave my clothes on. If I am naked I can blend in with the crowd.
I take a deep breath, still humming to drown out – never mind – and pull my shirt up to my head. The toilet flushes. (Ew. Ew ew ew ew EW.) The tap runs, and my professor comes back into the bedroom. Stupid, she was not. I should have been a lot further along in the stripping process than being blindfolded by my shirt.
“Oh. Are you uncomfortable, dear?” she says, in a motherly way that makes me want to check with the dresser to see if it’s talking yet. “No one will care if you leave your clothes on. It’s optional.” She smiles brightly, making a joke “I won’t mark you down if you don’t take your clothes off!”
“Uh, no, I’m fine” I say, muffled, trying not to panic. “My shirt is stuck, I’ll be out in a sec.”
“Oh, let me help you!” she says.
The idea of my naked 50-year-old professor helping me get naked is so appalling that I ripped my way out of the wadded up shirt, not caring if I had to drive home topless. “No, I got it, thanks!” I call, as cheerfully as possible.
It takes forever, but I finally get…unencumbered. I kick my brain until it comes up with a feeble plan:
- bedroom opens to the deck.
- I will dash toward hot tub
- fly into a cannonball (people will think FUN, right?)
- and hope the ripples last a long, long time.
I race out to the deck where A) no one else is moving, thereby startling people and drawing all eyes, when B) someone yells “Dinner time! Come and get it!” while I’m still in mid-stride.
I freeze. Everyone stares.
“Cannonball?” I say.
No one responds. But fortunately the call comes again: “Dinner! C’mon people, food’s gonna get cold!”
I do my best surreptitious Lady Godiva arrangement of hair, desperately wishing it was a lot longer, but at least it’s covering up…some stuff. If I hang my head, it covers up some more…stuff.
“What are you eating that’s so good?” asks the student next to me, conversationally, adding: “Stay away from the Mac and Cheese. It’s like totally groody.” She stabs at a waxy glob of congealed cheese and waves it around on her fork. “Subjugation of cows. Uncool”, she says.
She thinks I’ve ducked my head to stare at the incredible meal on my strategically placed paper plate. I wonder if I can take the final exam without moving the plate. I decide I can work with the hair/plate thing. Maybe I won’t go completely blank and flunk. The final is 50% of our grade. “Huh?”, I say.
“Oh. Groovy, sorry.” she says.
She thinks I’m tripping.
I’m mortified. The only tripping I do is on floorboards that stick up. I am completely out of my element. I was not meant to be entrusted with Flower Power. Definitely have zero wish to Stick It To The Man. I’ve managed to fake my way through 2 years of college, fitting in with clothes bought from street vendors on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley. But casually naked? Drugs? Surreal school potluck with people boiling in a stock tank?
She leans toward me: “I hear there are some ‘shrooms in the freezer, you know, for later.”
Shrooms? She takes my blank look to be a side effect of whatever drugs I’ve ingested.
“Far out”, she says in solidarity. “Hey, catch you later girl”, she says, “This chemical cheese thing is so plastic I think I’m gonna barf. I’m getting some tofu pups.”
I’m relieved. Until I realize I’m alone. On the far side of the room. With everyone else directly opposite me.
I’m at a naked-potluck-final-exam. This is a class in the government of ancient civilizations, not Live Drawing. I’m spectacularly embarrassed. Give me the test. Let me leave.
“Well!” says my professor, standing up. The other professor pushes up as well. We’re all sitting on the floor. This puts our eye level at – never mind.
A number of people put their socks back on, because their feet were cold. This strikes me as completely ridiculous, and I’m having a hard time keeping a straight face.
Both professors are up now, passing out papers and pencils. I engage in a brief tug of war with my prof over the plate of untouched food in my lap: “Oh, let me throw that away for you.” she says.
“No really, it’s fine!”, I say, with too much intensity. I’m trying very hard not to see anything at eye level.
I’m looking a little too attached to cold food. I let it go. This takes tremendous force of will. The paper plate is my friend. I don’t know if I can make it without the plate. I need the plate.
Thankfully, books are pulled off bookshelves and handed around to serve as makeshift writing desks. Who needs a plate when you have a coffee table book (the size of Maine) on the complete works of Salvador Dali? Plate Schmate. I’m good.
Soon, there is nothing but the sound of scribbling and people thinking too hard. I finish my test in five minutes flat. Hand it in. Claim need to leave. Try not to run to room with clothing glorious clothing.
God I love clothes! The ripped shirt is problematic, but it’s one of those big Indian tunic-y things, so I’m able to tuck and tie it so most of my underwear isn’t visible.
I wave cheerfully at my classmates as I leave, sandals in hand.
I probably flunked. But I don’t care. I’m dressed! I’M WEARING CLOTHES!!!!
I get my paper back.
The professor has written in red ink across the top: yours was the most concise paper by far, very impressed.
Concise? I couldn’t write fast enough.