Have you guys noticed that it’s been really effing hot lately? Like, so hot you just want to walk around with as little clothing as possible? The women of the free Outdoor Co-ed Topless Pulp Fiction Appreciation Society have noticed, and are beating the heat with the kind of casual nudity we can all get behind. Their mission statement, “Making reading sexy” is accomplished pretty simply. Show up in a park, take out a book and ditch your shirt. And why not? The law says they’re well within their rights, and who can argue that lying out in the grass and reading Mickey Spillane is scandalous? Heartbreakingly, they currently only meet in Manhattan. But since a love of reading isn’t restricted by borders, I spoke by email with a member of the society who mysteriously gives her name only as A.A. about how and why to go topless and the eternal optimism of the male half of the species.
Are you holograms? My friend is convinced you’re holograms.
Yes. We’re cunning, tactile, life-size holograms. Your friend has figured out our secret.
Why do this in parks, as opposed to in the yard of someone you know?
Well, when you live in New York City, the city’s parks are your yard — or the closest thing you and your friends have to one. Besides which, why in the world shouldn’t we? Does anyone ever — EVER — ask a man, “Why did you choose to sit on a towel in Central Park without your shirt on, instead of doing it in someone’s yard”? If anyone ever did, the answer would be, “Because I fucking felt like hanging out in Central Park, not in someone’s yard, you got a problem with that?” But that never needs to get said because no one would ever dream of asking. So why do people think it’s okay to ask women that question?
Why pulp, as opposed to other genres, like say, literary fiction or memoirs?
Our members have wide-ranging tastes, and once in a while you’ll see Steinbeck make an appearance at one of our get-togethers, or Anais Nin, or Zora Neale Hurston. But pulp fiction feels particularly well suited to our adventures — it’s entertaining summer reading, slightly lurid, and features cover paintings in which women display the same disdain for wearing clothing that we do.
Is the Society like a book club, where everyone who shows up reads the same thing and discusses it, or is it more freeform?
It’s more freeform. We do have multiple people reading the same book sometimes and in that case they do sometimes get into discussions, but generally it’s just a batch of friends all reading for pleasure and enjoying each other’s company.
Are single guys welcome as well? Or is “co-ed” used more in the way that Mitt Romney (presumably) refers to young college women?
Ah, the “co-ed” question. We try hard to keep the female-to-male ratio as high as possible, since even if the guys are completely nice and cool and supportive and non-pervy, the atmosphere would be different if it were, say, six girls and six guys (never mind six girls and 60 guys, which it could easily turn into). So it’s usually six or seven or eight girls and one or two guys, and the guys generally stay quietly on the sidelines (which is why they don’t turn up in the photos on our site much, though if you look hard you can spot a couple). But most of our members are women, and it’s likely to stay that way.
Who are your favorite authors, pulp division and non-pulp division?
Me personally? On the pulp side, I love Lawrence Block — amazing, amazing mystery writer. I also like the books my friend Charles has written (especially the two he wrote as “Richard Aleas,” Little Girls Lost and Songs of Innocence), but he’s a friend, so I’m biased. On the non-pulp side, I like some of Paul Auster’s books (especially early ones like The Music of Chance), and Kurt Vonnegut, and Graham Greene.
Do you think there might be a day in the future when women can hang out topless and not have to read to ward off strangers? Will you feel at least partially responsible for that, if it comes to pass?
Listen, that day is here, only not so much in this country. If you go to Spain or France or the Caribbean, you can go topless and no one says a word. And you know what? When we hang out in Central Park, hundreds of people see us and just smile and keep on walking. It’s just that inevitably there’s one pervy guy who sits nearby and stares or comes up and says “Can I take your picture?” and having the books to hide behind does help in those cases. Will it ever go away entirely? Probably not. But I do think we’re having a small impact. Now when we go to Sheep Meadow and get topless, we often see other women doing it too. It makes us very happy and proud to see that.
Do you have any words of advice or encouragement for any woman thinking of ditching her shirt but is still a little skittish about it?
Do it with friends. One woman alone is still potentially a target, at least for ogling and comments. It takes balls of steel to come up to a group of half a dozen topless women and make an ass of yourself, and even if some steel-balled guy does it, it’s easy for the group to send him on his way and laugh it off. One other piece of advice is to remember that you’re 100 percent absolutely within your rights to do it — anywhere a man can go topless, you can, too. And finally, don’t worry about what your boobs look like. This is not a beauty pageant; it’s not about providing pleasure for people who see you. It’s about enjoying the sensation of the warm sun and cool breeze on your chest.
Do you tell just anyone who wants to join where and when you’re meeting up and see who’s brave enough to come out, or is there some kind of selection process or filter?
Yes we do some filtering. First we filter on gender: we get a lot more inquiries from guys (ever the optimists) than from women, and since we want our events to be female-friendly and female-focused, we only send invites to a small fraction of the men who contact us. For the women, we describe what we do, so we’re sure the person understands and is still interested. If so, we see if their schedule and ours match up at all, and if the answer to that is yes, we invite them to an event.
Why go fully topless instead of stopping at a bra?
Only someone who has never worn a bra in 90-degree heat could ever ask “Why not stop at a bra?” Guys take their shirts off when it’s sunny and hot because they’re sweaty and want to cool down, or because they like the feeling of the sun and the breeze on their skin, or because they’d like to get a bit of a tan, or because they’re proud of what their workouts have achieved and want to show it off, or just because they feel like it. Girls are free to do the same thing, for the same reasons. Such questions , with the implicit judgment that a reasonable woman might content herself with half-measures while her male peers are free to enjoy full comfort and full free use of public spaces, go a long way to perpetuating double standards and repressive treatment of women.
Hey, Rosa Parks, why? Why do you guys do this, as opposed to just sitting in the back of the bus? Is there something wrong with the back of the bus? It’s the same bus; the back’s no different from the front. Couple of yards further back, but so what? You still get where you’re going in the end. So just explain to me, why — why aren’t you satisfied with less? Why do you insist on being treated as equals?
Apologies for getting annoyed, but this superficially innocuous question is actually anything but.
Are there plans for the Society to expand into Brooklyn? Or at least visit? We have wonderful parks.
Yes! We’ve had a number of requests for some outer-borough events and it’s just a matter of picking a time and place.