Topless in Texas

I’m somewhat of a narcissist, if not an exhibitionist.  No, I don’t parade around the house naked at night with the drapes wide open!  Well…not anymore.  The shrubs surrounding the house are too high anyway.  But, I do like running around shirtless.  I’m a man, so I guess I’m allowed that privilege.  It wouldn’t bother me if women paraded around topless either.  The naked form – male or female – doesn’t bother me.  Violence does.  As we officially enter summer (which started in March in Texas) and come off the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, I’m here to proclaim my shirtless adventures.

I didn’t always feel this way.  As a kid, I was afraid to go shirtless – anywhere.  I was too shy and too small.  I didn’t reach my present height of 5’8” until after I’d graduated from high school.  But, I always felt leery of what other people would think of me anyway.  I tip-toed around everyone else’s sentiments at the sacrifice of my own.  Please don’t break out the violins!  It gets better.  When, in high school, we had to play shirts vs. skins, I always prayed I’d be on the shirts team.  I envied the guys who’d run around during P.E. shirtless.  I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.

By the time I entered college, however, that began to change.  My shyness started fading like acne.  I don’t know what came over me.  I think it started not long after I had my first mixed drink, a Bacardi and Coke.  My dad made it for me.  No, he wasn’t trying to get me drunk!  He didn’t believe in that.  He always believed in moderation.  Besides, I discovered intoxication on my own, thank you.  I remembered the first time, at age 18, when I showered in the men’s locker room at a community college in suburban Dallas.  I had never done that before.  I’m not kidding!  But, by then also, I’d become self-conscious of my hygiene and physical appearance.  That’s when I began lifting weights, which increased my self-confidence, but made me even more concerned about my looks.

Now, I really don’t care too much what other people think about my appearance.  I’m not handsome by any means and I’m certainly not bodybuilder material.  Playgirl magazine and the International Federation of Bodybuilding would have a good time laughing if I submitted photos to them.  But, I don’t want to give them the pleasure of a good time at my expense.  Still, I look at this as part of my overall health and I’m rather satisfied most of the time when I look in the mirror.

In the fall of 1984, during my first semester at the University of North Texas, I took a men’s gymnastics class.  I didn’t need the credit hours.  I just love gymnastics.  In my dreams, I’m a retired Olympic gymnastics champion.  But, my dad had wanted me to play the same sports he’d played in his youth: baseball and basketball.  So, he and my mom never pushed me into gymnastics, even though I’d made it pretty clear at an early age that that’s what I wanted to do.  Instead of enrolling me in a local gymnastics program as a kid, they forced me to go with neighborhood kids to a local swimming pool during summers because they felt I needed to make friends.  And, what better way to get your kids to make friends than forcing them to associate with kids they don’t like at an Olympic-sized swimming pool where drowning is a viable option?  I didn’t really get into gymnastics until high school and continued in college where I reached the intermediate level.  After a couple of classes that first semester at UNT, I stepped into the gymnasium shirtless, wearing only a pair of gray shorts.  In the locker room after class, another guy asked me if our instructor – who looked like a pint-sized boxer – said anything to me about being shirtless.

“No, of course not,” I replied.  “Why would he?”

They guy just shrugged.  Yea, why would he?  Why would anybody?  But, I started a trend.  Within a few days, all the guys in that class were shirtless.  If you look at video of male gymnasts practicing, they’re almost always shirtless.  The sport just sort of lends itself to that.

While still at UNT in 1987, a friend and I drove down to South Padre Island for spring break.  It was pretty much a drunken blur, as collegiate spring breaks tend to be.  I also consumed too much alcohol at one point and – after a long day of heavy sun exposure – got sick.  I ended up in the back of my car curled up in a fetal position, near comatose, while my friend drove around trying to pick up girls.  But, I spent the better part of that week half naked; that is, shirtless.  My friend was subconscious about his chubby pale-skinned physique and remote clothed in a tee shirt and shorts most of the time.  He only lost his inhibitions once, when we stopped at a fast food restaurant, and his intoxicated form tumbled out the passenger side door to urinate in the bushes – in broad daylight – with some super model-type females in a car nearby – and a cop car just around the corner of the restaurant.  The girls started laughing when they saw him, and I cringed enough at the sight of it to put on a shredded tee shirt and block their view with my sun burnt self.  Other than that, I was shirtless pretty much the entire week – even driving down there and back.

I’m so hot-natured, though, it’s not funny.  Some people who don’t know me ask if I’m from up north somewhere.  They can’t believe someone born and raised in Texas could be so heat-sensitive.  Don’t you get used to it?  No, like the Republican Party, I know it’s here and I just sort of deal with it.  No one ever gets used to weather extremes.  A cousin of mine lived in Syracuse, New York for several years.  She never got used to the extreme cold.  Every morning, when she’d head out to work in winter, she’d just donned a heavy jacket and boots, before getting into the car.  The good thing is that cold weather requires you to dress heavily.  Warm weather brings out the stripper in you.  You can only take off so many clothes before you get arrested for indecent exposure or receive a phone call from a porn studio producer.  I’d prefer the latter, but no one’s called yet.  I understand they like people from Texas.  You know, everything’s bigger out here.  Okay, if you want any more info, you need to start contributing to my Charles Schwab account.

It’s odd, however, because I actually like to go out jogging in super hot weather.  If I’m trying to stay cool, I become agitated.  I grow borderline epileptic; squirming, groaning and sometimes cursing as badly as a drunk sailor who can’t get laid.  But, when I have free time, I often don a pair of jogging shorts, running shoes and maybe a cap or kerchief and hit the pavement.  People look at and honk sometimes.  ‘Are you crazy?!  It’s a hundred degrees out here!  What’s wrong with you?!’  Oh, just been out in the sun too much I guess.  I return home dripping like a Coke bottle without the rum.  There’s a small park across the street from the apartment complex where I used to live in North Dallas.  It had a basketball court, soccer goal posts and a baseball diamond.  I literally would run around that park for hours late on Saturday or Sunday afternoons.  Once a man stopped as I headed back to my apartment and said I should join him during his regular jogs.

“When do you go?” I asked him.

“Around 7 or 8 in the morning.”

“Are you crazy?!  I don’t get up before noon on weekends and holidays, unless my dog needs to go out or the building’s on fire.”

A close friend of mine who’s done some marathons likes to go jogging – at 7 or 8 in the morning.  He’d joined me a few times for a jaunt around that park.  But, that was after 10 A.M.  Sorry, I told him.  I don’t do crack-of-dawn running.  Now, that’s crazy, as far as I’m concerned.

Yea, I know.  The air is clearer and cooler and 7 or 8 in the mornings.  But, I never joined any running clubs for that express purpose.  They go running and jogging when I’m still slobbering and dreaming.

Upon returning from one spring around that park in August of 2005, a Dallas police officer happened to cruise by and literally yelled at me for being so “foolish” to run in such hot weather.  “Don’t you have anything better to do than harass me on a Saturday afternoon?!”  Someone could be getting robbed right then, and this chick is getting onto me about running in 100+ degree weather.  “I know what I’m doing!” I retorted as I sauntered across the street back towards my apartment.

Occasionally, while out running, someone – usually a female – would honk and / or wave at me.  One young woman almost popped a curb and slammed into a light post while taking a gander at me.  I wouldn’t have known what to tell the police officer if she’d succeeded in taking out that light.  I mean, could I have been fined for causing such a wreck?  Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful!  Because I’m really not.

But, I’ve had more than a few nasty confrontations.  One Saturday, I returned from a jog and decided to check the mail.  As I approached the mail box units towards the front of the complex, I noticed a group of kids gathered beneath a tree a few years away.  One girl noticed me and pointed at me with a smirk.  Another girl, about 9 or 10, suddenly leapt up and shouted, “Yo, man, you need to put on a shirt!”

“Yo man!” I screamed back.  “You need to shut your mouth and mind your own stupid business!”  The horrified looks on their little punk ass faces was priceless.  Bless their stupid little hearts.  They were so used to mouthing off at their teachers and parents they were shocked that someone had to audacity to yell back at them.  “Yea!” I continued.  “That means you, you little punk!  You don’t shout at me!  Shut your ass!”  When I retrieved my mail and exited the building, I found they still hadn’t learned their lesson and continued to smart off at me.  I drop the mail on the ground at started across the parking lot towards them.  “Come on,” I said.  “Come over here and start something.”  They all leapt to their feet and, trembling in their overpriced Sketchers, hurried away.

Another time I was loading up my truck, preparing to head over to my parents’ house, when a deep male voice hurtled down towards me: “Yo man!  You need to put on a shirt!”

I couldn’t see who yelled at me.  There were a lot of punks standing up on that third level landing, plus there was a large oak tree blocking my view.  “Hey, yo man, why don’t you come down here and make me!” I screamed back.  I stepped into the clear, in front of the oak tree.  “And what the fuck are you gonna do if I don’t put on a shirt?!”  I continued to challenge the loudmouth – whoever he was – to come down to the parking lot and do something about the way I looked.  But, he didn’t.  He was a punk, a coward, a loud mouth.

Another time I came home from work, got undressed and put on a pair of running shorts and flip flops to take my dog out for his evening walk.  After a few minutes, we encountered three girls – probably about 17 or 18 – when one of them mouth off at me, “Yo man, you need to put on a shirt.”

That ‘yo man’ shit again!  God, that pisses me off!  “Yo man,” I snapped back, “you need to shut your mouth and mind your own fucking business.  Yo man, you don’t tell me what to do.  Yo, yo, yo, man, I suggest you stop talking and keep walking.”  My dog began to growl.

That one little punk bitch got – shall we say, upset.  “Yo man, I guess your mama didn’t teach you how to talk to a lady!”

I almost leap over the fence and pounded her into the pavement.  “Yo man, I guess my mama doesn’t have a goddamn thing to do with this conversation!  Yo man, I know she doesn’t!  Yo man, you need to shut your punk bitch ass the fuck up, or I’ll shut it up for you!”

That only incensed her further.  As a young female, she obviously had grown up in this society that says females must be respected at all times.

Unfortunately, for her, I’m not good at following other people’s rules.  “I know how to talk to a lady!” I continued.  “I’m not talking to one right now!  I’m talking to you!  Your mama didn’t teach you how to keep your mouth shut and mind your own fucking business!”

Ooh, she was really mad now!  But then, she committed an even greater transgression: she threatened my dog.  I dropped Wolfgang’s leash and started around the fence.  I literally was going to do some cranial damage to her and thereby, perform a much-needed public service.  Her two comrades, however, were struck by divine wisdom and grabbed their antagonistic little friend and pulled her further down the sidewalk.

Yea, I know.  You’re supposed to let assholes like that just go and ignore them.  But, I figure if someone wants to start a fight because they don’t like how I look, then they’ll get their wish.  Kids and teenagers are especially horrified when I have the audacity to snap back at them.  Disrespectful kids – which seems to be in vogue these days – is an entirely different subject.  But, if I stand back at look at myself in such settings, even I find it amazing.  The kid who, just 30 years earlier, cowered at the thought of taking off his shirt in a high school gymnasium; the shy introvert who always let people disrespect him for fear of hurting their feelings, is now almost getting into fights with dumb asses.

At my gym, shirts and shoes are required – as always.  The former command, of course, is directed towards males, but in the interest of equality, they don’t say that.  But, I and some other men often wear tattered, sleeveless tee shirts that might make some ask how much of a shirt we’re supposed to wear.  I just cut up old white Hanes tee shirts to use strictly as gym shirts.  There’s plenty of arm room for hoisting the weights.  I like to visit the gym late on Saturday nights, after 9 P.M.  It’s ideal; there’s hardly anyone around.  No loud talking; no couples trying to show everyone how cute they can be (something I really hate); only the die-hard gym rats show up at that time of night – on a Saturday no less.  On a few occasions, towards the end of a lengthy workout, I’ve stripped off my tattered tee-shirt.  And again, no one says anything.  I don’t think anyone cares.  At that time of night, people don’t visit a gym to be sociable, much less fashion conscious.

There are entire web sites devoted to shirtless men, or the shirtless lifestyle for men.  But, there also seems to be a growing level of antagonism in American society towards the male physique.  It appears only well-buffed male celebrities are permitted shirtless escapades.  The rest of us lowly mortal males had best cover up, even in the hottest weather.  I’ve noticed, for example, young men attired in jeans and long-sleeve shirts in 90 – 100 degree days.  People laugh at a man or a young boy being struck in the groin, but think it’s obscene if a man appears shirtless in public, even in a park, or on his own property.  As usual, Americans have their sensibilities skewered.  It’s even more outrageous when I see fat chicks wearing spandex.

But, if someone is concerned about how other people look and what they’re wearing, either their life is whole and complete therefore, have nothing else to worry about, or they’re just an intrusive little fuck who has too much time on their hands and need to get pounded into the ground.  Okay, deep breath now.  Relax.  Regardless of how people feel about my physical appearance, I’ll always be topless in Texas!


Filed under Essays

4 responses to “Topless in Texas

  1. I have to admit I would rather people wear clothing in the gym and carry a towel to wipe their sweat off the equipment! I complain when I see people without shoes padding through the gym as well, I can’t help myself I don’t know where their feet have been. Other than that? Don’t care shirtless or not….do what you want.

    Dallas, well it isn’t really hot. I whine throughout the winter, constantly wanting to go home to Houston where our winters didn’t really have ‘cold’ they way they do here.

  2. Thanks for this, amigo.
    And as for your one interlocutor: It’s been pointed out that if you have to claim to be a lady (or gentleman), you’ve wrong-footed yourself.

  3. Scott Ferrell

    I am 55. I remember the shirts/skins in gym, the mandatory showers afterward. I remember wearing the 70s jogging shorts that barely covered you. Now I see kids in shorts that look like skirts. I was at a party and was talking to a 20 something “male” He said that he was 29 and never wore a jock or took a shower in a gym. He made a face and said it was disgusting. I felt sad for him.

  4. I read somewhere that many boys now refuse to shower in their school gym because they’re afraid the others will think they’re gay, or some stupid shit like that. I’ve seen some young men walk into the shower area of my local gym while still wearing their dirty gym shorts and then put them back on after they’ve showered, so they can wrap the towel around their waist! Then, they remove the shorts from beneath the towel! That’s nasty! I mean, who the hell cares?

    As for underwear, yes, I’ve seen plenty of younger men wearing boxer shorts while exercising. The boxer’s waistbands sometimes peek out from the waistband of the exercise shorts or sweat pants. I wear boxers here at the house because they’re comfortable.

    Check out this piece on the fate of jock straps:

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