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IMG_6493When we chose the location for this weekend’s get-together — the far west end of 55th Street, where a tree-shaded, grassy lawn slopes down to the edge of the Hudson River — we had no idea that we would be next door to the world’s largest convention of sneaker enthusiasts, “Sneaker Con.” But when we arrived, laden with books and towels and tasty things to eat, we found a line of people carrying cardboard shoeboxes and wearing the most striking footwear. What was at first a short queue soon snaked around the entire perimeter of the lawn, encircling us to the tune of at least two hundred eager souls — most of whom, for lack of anything better to do while waiting to be let in, seemed to be watching us and speculating on the question of who we were and why we had no shirts on.

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But — and this is why we love New York so — the speculation was good natured and polite, and aside from a very few nervous visits from inquisitive teenage boys, nominally asking us this or that but actually just angling for a close-up view, we were left to read in peace. (One of our number did comment at one point, “I think we’ve jump-started puberty for several people on line.” She wasn’t necessarily referring to the chronologically young, either.)

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Our attendees this time included two representatives of the Feminist Press, who came bearing gifts, samples of their line of female-authored pulp fiction, and a French journalist working on a magazine article about America’s top-freedom movement; all three cast inhibition aside and joined us in bare-breasted relaxation. Other attendees hailed from as far away as Australia, Israel, and Barcelona and as near as the Upper West Side. One of us had to leave halfway through for a dog-walking gig; one arrived late after a long evening bartending. We also had not one but two physicists and a brief discussion of molecular dynamics. Alongside our customary stash of pulp fiction (including, hot off the presses, a new paperback edition of Lawrence Block’s amazing A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES, basis for the forthcoming Liam Neeson movie), we read Sartre and BULLFINCH’S MYTHOLOGY. We ate chili-laced popcorn and coconut chips, fresh lychees and blueberries, petits fours from Maison Kayser, and some utterly delectable homemade tollhouse cookies. (One of our members brought her boyfriend, and her boyfriend brought the cookies. Good boyfriend.)

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At one point, one of us, demonstrating considerable dexterity and upper-body strength, clambered up the nearest tree and deposited herself in the crook of two branches and proceeded to read Truman Capote from her perch.

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At another point, we found ourselves discussing nipple piercings (one of us had just gotten hers done the day before).

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At yet another, we communed with the gaggle of geese that frequent the lawn.

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Was the afternoon perfect? Almost. It did drizzle at one point, and more substantial rain threatened. But we defied the threat and, improbably, the skies cleared. Neither we nor the geese were forced to fly, and our feathers remained blissfully unruffled.

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IMG_6715Today, thanks to Andy Golub, was New York City Bodypainting Day, a celebration of art and the  naked body. While normally only toplessness is legal on the streets of Manhattan, full nudity is legal if it’s in the service of an artistic production, and there’s no question that this gathering of a few dozen of the nation’s finest body painters was an artistic production. Working with a common color palette and a mandate to incorporate eyes into their designs, the painters attacked the problem with relish, producing human canvases that were imaginative and beautiful.

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And it was wonderful to see so many people boldly and proudly naked in the sun, on the street at the Columbus Circle entrance to Central Park. Spectators watched, remarkably politely, and the moral fabric of the city was not rent asunder despite the presence of dozens of bared penises, unclothed vaginas, and breasts of every shape, size, age and gender. (Not to mention the handling of same, in full view of onlookers of every shape, size, age and gender.)

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Which begs the question, of course, why it’s okay for people to see this once a year when paint is involved but the other 364 it’s grounds for arrest. But one step at a time.

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IMG_6378Two of our members told us about a spot in the city we’d never gone to before: Pier 64, part of the rebuilding in recent years along the Hudson River waterfront. What used to be a frightening no-man’s-land has been reconceived as an urban greensward, complete with abstract sculpture, sloping lawns, and views all the way down to the Statue of Liberty and the new Freedom Tower. (Is that name growing on anyone yet? Should we just call it One World Trade Center?)

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So,we visited. And it was every bit as beautiful as we’d been led to believe. Fortified with handmade mini-eclairs from the Eclair Bakery on East 53rd and books ranging from our current go-to bit of pulp fiction (Samuel Fuller’s last novel, BRAINQUAKE) to a cool library find (Alexandre Dumas’ GEORGES) to a work of evolutionary biology (SEX AT DAWN by Christopher Ryan), we enjoyed our own variety of afternoon delight.

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Was the event spoiled when a scrofulous spectator opted to unzip and pleasure himself a few yards away? Not hardly, thanks to the eagle-eyed member who spotted the infraction and loudly called him out on it, sending him scurrying in search of a rock to crawl under. Otherwise our hours passed blissfully, companionably, peacefully, and altogether too quickly. Day’s end came too soon! And summer’s end looms just past the horizon, with August only days away. How many shopping days left until Christmas? We don’t want to think about it.

Let us bask in the sun, let us while away the eager hours, let us fill ourselves with stories and cream-filled pastry and dreams of warm tomorrows.

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IMG_6162Sometimes you just need to have faith.

The weather forecast promised — threatened — rain for three days running, and specifically said it would rain today. Well, we’d planned an outing to Bryant Park and didn’t mean to be dissuaded. So out we went, hoping against hope that the rain would hold off one afternoon longer.

And did it ever. What began as a grey, grim, cloudy day turned into one of the loveliest of the summer. When it became apparent that it would, the staff at Bryant Park took down the ropes keeping people off the grass, and we were the first to lie down on the lawn, inaugurating it with our nakedness.

IMG_6119IMG_6165IMG_6198Some interesting encounters with passers-by, as is always the case in Bryant Park (bigger parks offer more spots for relative privacy; Bryant is basically one rectangular lawn, so everyone can see everything). This fellow stopped by to say how brave and courageous we were, and kept saying it until we finally (bravely and courageously) wished him godspeed and sent him off to meet his wife at Grand Central.

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This fellow stood painting us, and the result placed us on a lawn by the sea.

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And this little piggie…well, you can read his employer’s name on the side of his microphone, so you know he wasn’t likely to be our favorite person of the day.

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But…those encounters all fall into the category of sideshow. The main attraction was the chance to be out in the sun, to roll in the grass, to catch up with old friends and make new ones, to eat Tom Colicchio’s unspeakably scrumptious cinnamon buns, to read Anais Nin and Donald E. Westlake and Samuel Fuller and Beautiful Creatures, and to do all this without the encumbrance of a bra or bikini top.

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We even attracted a convert to the cause, as a recent NYU grad, seeing us relish our liberty, came over and asked if she could join us. Of course, we said. And then there were eight. (Or sixteen, depending on how you’re counting.)

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The lesson being, never trust a weather forecast.

Though we hope we can trust the one for this coming Friday, since it’s projecting sun…

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IMG_6080The Fourth of July is always a birthday celebration, but this year it was doubly so for us, since one of our members was celebrating her birthday over the same weekend. We took over the roof deck at our favorite Chelsea hotel, blew up the inflatable pool, brought some red, white, and blue mini-cupcakes from Baked By Melissa, and held a joyful double celebration that wound up being our best attended ever. A few timid first-timers asked not to have their photos blogged, so you won’t see them here, but rest assured that everyone was blissfully and un-self-consciously bared beneath the sun. (Yes, our birthday girl celebrated in her birthday suit, and isn’t that the way it should always be?)

As a reminder, if you’d like to join us for one of our events sometime and you’re an open-minded, free-thinking, body-positive woman whose favorite things include reading books and being naked, just drop us a note at toplesspulpfiction[AT]gmail[DOT]com. We’ll be very glad to hear from you.

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IMG_5747We usually meet in the middle of the day, but with sunset not arriving until after 8pm this time of year we have the opportunity to do the occasional after-work event for the convenience of those of us who toil at 9-to-5 jobs. This Friday we met downtown in the vicinity of Battery Park and watched the sun take its leisurely plunge toward the Hudson. Frisbee players and little kids with water guns and sundry other New Yorkers bade the week goodbye as we read Borges and Zadie Smith and Life of Pi and Gypsy Rose Lee’s The G-String Murders. (Isn’t only one of those properly pulp fiction? Well, yes. But it’s fun to branch out from time to time. And we also had a choice selection of morsels from Hard Case Crime, including advance copies of Brainquake and Easy Death, to give us our RDA of pulp in our diet.)

We didn’t quite make it to sundown (it got a bit chilly, forcing us back into our shirts), but it was a lovely afternoon and evening, out by the water, taking the air, our brazen shirtlessness not bothering anyone.  It felt so…civilized. And at the same time, so natural.

Want to join us next time? We welcome open-minded women of all backgrounds, ages, comfort levels, and literary tastes. Just drop an email to toplesspulpfiction[AT]gmail[DOT]com and we’ll add you to our super-secret invite list…

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IMG_4609Some of you have noticed the sudden appearance of graphic novels in our reading stacks this year. Yes, it’s true: some of us are aficionados of the four-color page. One or two of us even work in the field. And we’ve always had the occasional copy of this or that hiding in the periphery of our photos. But the particular books that have caught people’s eye recently are the mammoth hardcover tomes you see here, sent to us kindly and generously by the editor and artist and graphic designer Craig Yoe. We have no connection to Mr. Yoe; we’ve never met him; we don’t get a commission from him if someone buys one of these things, or from the doctor who gets the business if you develop a hernia from carrying one of them around. We just like them. Enough to make an exception to the “Don’t accept any more free books from anyone” rule we adopted at the start of the year when we saw how many we already had to read and recalled how oh-so-brief summer is. But these gorgeous things…yes, an exception was made.

If you’re into gorgeous things too, don’t deny yourself the pleasure.

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IMG_5704For the past four years, anytime we wanted to take a break from the great outdoors (whether it was too cold or too hot or too wet or whatever), we’ve retreated to Athena Spa, a two-story refuge in midtown near Madison, where they let us take over one of the floors and roam free. We’d hang out reading in the Hwangto dome sauna or inhaling the burning, herbaceous steam in the wet room or sipping drinks and nibbling tasties in the lounge or getting the kinks worked out of our backs and shoulders and butts and calves by their talented masseuses. All naked, of course. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen six or eight or a dozen New Yorkers, many of whom have never met before, walk in off the street, take off every stitch they’re wearing, and luxuriate in the combined bliss of pampering for the body and sparkling conversation for the soul.

Well…nothing lasts forever, alas, and after more than a decade of chasing winter chills and unlocking clenched trapeziuses, Athena is closing its doors at the end of July. It’s the classic Manhattan story: they lost their lease. The owners are directing customers to another spa further uptown, but…it’s not the same. Not even close.

So we returned this week for a farewell bash. Toasted the old place with champagne and SkinnyGirl…brought some Amy Tan, some Stephen King, some Hard Case Crime, some PREACHER…brought together members originally from the UK and Poland, from L.A. and Atlanta and Ozone Park, an NYU frosh and an MIT grad, a downtown artist and an upper west side novelist, and enjoyed four hours or so of unmitigated pleasure.

Goodbye, Athena. You were special, and will sorely be missed. (And we mean “sorely” literally.)

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IMG_5556Some of us live in Bushwick, some in Greenpoint, some in Ridgewood (NY, not NJ); a few live in Manhattan, but generally not in tony Upper West Side digs. A conversation at our last event involved one member exulting over having recently gotten 28 books for $23 at The Strand.

But a love of personal freedom, and of wearing less clothing when it’s 90 degrees outside, knows no socioeconomic bounds, and this past Saturday one of our members invited us to her penthouse apartment, complete with 3,000 square foot sundeck.  (Sundeck? At 3,000 square feet, let’s call it what it is, a whole second apartment.)

And it was a perfect day for it: clear and bright and sunny, but with clouds scudding across the sun just often enough to keep you from feeling achingly hot. We had close to two dozen people show up, including some old-timers, some first-timers, and everything in between. We had a barbecue grill turning out mouth-watering morsels (thank you, Fresh Direct), and we had a blow-up wading pool big enough to hold eight or nine of us at once. We had copies of Aristotle and The Master and Margarita, Carl Hiaasen and Agatha Christie, Nicholas Sparks and Dan Brown. Plus comics — one of Eric Shanower’s Oz adaptations and, thanks to Craig Yoe, the gorgeous hardcover collection Jack Cole’s Deadly Horror.

But most of all we had the sublime pleasure of lounging around under the sun in as little or as much clothing as we felt like (which for most of us meant nothing at all). And why not? Who did it hurt? We know there are some people who would wag a finger at us and talk sternly about morality, but aren’t they the same people who think things were better back in the Garden of Eden?

Well, postlapsarian we might be, but this Saturday we made ourselves a little Eden. How do you like them apples?

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IMG_52xxYesterday, ten of us met at noon on the sun-dappled lawn of Madison Square Park, sandwiched between the Empire State Building to the north and the Flatiron Building to the south…and, for a time, between two school groups, one of young’uns who couldn’t care less about boobs being bared nearby (what’s more appropriate at lunchtime than boobs, in the eyes of nursing-age tots?) and one of slightly older ‘uns who were more intrigued but perfectly polite about it.

Afterwards, a friend of ours who couldn’t make it this time spotted the following on Facebook: “Today we had a great field trip to the Museum of Mathematics and Madison Square Park. However, if you ask my students, the best part was when several Nudists decided to sunbathe right next to us during lunch.”

Nudists? Not really; just a group of friends, women and men, who all enjoyed being shirtless and comfortable under the sun in 87-degree weather. Unless you’re prepared to call all the other shirtless men wandering about the park “Nudists” for doing so, the term’s a bit much for us.

Not to say none of us were tempted to lose our bottoms as well. But we’re saving that for the weekend, and a slightly more private outdoor spot.

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