Oct 16, 2018

The Answer to the Naked Man's Question

Garrett, Indiana, Summer 1970

The summer after fourth grade, when I am nine years old, lasts for months and months, hundreds of days, all bright green and dazzling.  A week in Indiana, visiting my parents' family.  A week camping in Minnesota and Canada.  Nazarene summer camp.  Swimming lessons at Longview Park Pool.

 The bookmobile every Tuesday.  The Denkmann School Carnival.  Malts at Country Style.  Sleepovers with Bill and Joel.

Gold Key comic books at Schneider's Drug Store.

Dark Shadows.  H.R. Pufnstuf.  Tarzan Theater.

David Cassidy.  Bobby Sherman.  Robbie Douglas.

 All on a golden afternoon, probably a Saturday, in my Grandma Davis's farmhouse on the south side of Garrett.  It's a big house, all white frame, the big rooms done up with flowered wall paper and thick drapes.

My brother and I are all alone.  I don't remember why.  Maybe Mom and Dad have gone off somewhere, on an expedition of their own, leaving Grandma Davis to babysit for the afternoon.

We have just come in from something or other -- puttering around in the apple orchard, exploring the old barn where Grandpa used to milk cows, or the attic where Grandma keeps hundreds of back issues of magazines, neatly bundled -- Look, Life, Better Homes and Gardens, Grit.  We kick off our shoes at the door.  Kenny heads toward the kitchen and the stairway leading up to our room.

I stop in front of the tv set, a big piece of furniture, wood-brown, with curved pillars on the sides, with a candy dish and a picture of my Cousin Phil on top.

At our house it's almost always on, whether anyone is watchng or not, a stable, comforting background noise.  But Grandma Davis keeps it off unless someone wants to watch a specific program.  It seems unnatural, wrong somehow.

I reach down and turn it on.

Kenny turns and asks "What's on?"

I shrug. "I don't know.  Maybe Tarzan Theater."  On Saturday afternoons in Rock Island, when there isn't a game on, you can see old Tarzan and Bomba the Jungle Boy movies.

The black and white screen flickers, and then pops on.  A game.

I turn it to the next channel.  Some people talking.

"Find some cartoons," Kenny suggests.

There are only three channels.  I turn to the third.

A naked man.

In my memory he's naked, although he was probably wearing a leotard.  Shirtless, though, with taut hard pecs and very thick hard biceps.

You never saw even shirtless men on tv in those days, except in Tarzan movies, so I stand dumbstruck, frozen in place, realizing that I will remember this moment forever.

"What's this?" Kenny asks.

The naked man twirls and high-steps, bulging his bare calves, across a bare stage to a young blond woman.  Then, dancing a sort of tap dance, he asks "Who....are...youuuuuu?
She starts a tap dance of her own, dances in front of him, and says "I....don't...know. Who...are...youuuuu?"

He stops dancing and glowers at her, his eyes dark, and replies.  "I am the Magic Mushroom."

At that moment, Grandma appears at the window leading to the kitchen.  "There's nothing for kids on," she says. "Turn the tv off."

"Wait...I..."  I begin.   But Kenny obligingly turns it off.  .

"Now who wants to help me bake a pie for dinner tonight?"

All in a golden afternoon.

The naked man, dancing, darting, twirling across the stage, haunts my dreams, asking  "Who...are...youuuuu?" a hundred times.  I answer in a hundred ways:

I am a boy..

I am a Davis.

I am a Nazarene.

I am a fourth grader.

I am a brother.

I am a friend.

But no answer is satisfactory.

A few years later, I realize that the scene was adapted from Alice in Wonderland.  Except it's a hookah-smoking caterpillar who asks "Who are you."  The mushroom is not a speaking character.

So where did the naked man come from?

Over the years, I've read The Annotated Alice, Aspects of Alice, The Dream Child, and a dozen other books of criticism and analysis.  I've investigated dozens of Alice movies, stage plays, and ballets in search of the one with that scene.

There was a 1966 tv movie with Alice in a hippie wonderland, but no ballet scene.

And Alice in Acidland 1969 is a softcore porn with Alice taking LSD and engaging in lesbian sex before losing her mind.  I doubt that there's a ballet scene in that, either.

I've even tried to google the phrase "I am the Magic Mushroom."  No luck.

It remains a mystery.

Still she haunts me, phantomwise,

Alice moving under skies

Never seen by waking eyes.

The dark dancing naked man still haunts me, but at least now I know the answer to the perennial question:


A version with nude photos is on Tales of West Hollywood.


  1. Before cable? No nudity on TV. Cable stations only have to answer to the cable company.

    Still, though, as a boy, I only remember a tiny bit of frontal nudity on TV. Mostly anthropological documentaries about the tropics. I distinctly remember seeing that sex scene in All the Right Moves. (Now THERE'S a downer ending. Made worse when you consider the shape western Pennsylvania is in now.) Also, the Blue Lagoon, I remember seeing Christopher Atkins full frontal. Both were in Turner stations.

    Beyond that, it was premium channels, which were out of my price range.

    So, nudes are saved for premium channels. At least full frontal. For some reason, butts were more acceptable.

    1. This was before cable. Most towns got only three channels, ABC, NBC, and CBS affiliates. Big cities had some independents. In the mid-1970s, we got a PBS station, which was a really big deal at the time. In the 1980s, the WB, Fox, and HBO.

    2. WB was 90s.

      Where I grew up, no one had TV before cable.

    3. The only show I actually remember from the WB was "Tiny Toon Adventures" (1990-1992), which never really found an audience. Everyone thought "tiny" meant "preschool," but they were actually around junior high age.


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