Oct 16, 2018
The Answer to the Naked Man's Question
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A version with nude photos is on Tales of West Hollywood.