Overdressed, in a sea of birthday suits

I have a confession to make.

Well, two, actually. Depending on your year, though, you’ll likely find only one of them to be embarrassing. So, Class of 2007, here is my not-so-secret secret: I went to a Yale naked party, and I stayed. Upperclassmen: I went to a Yale naked party, and I stayed clothed.

Yes. I actually kept my clothing on for the entire party.

Let me explain. First of all, I didn’t know it was a naked party. Along with 74 other freshmen (and an assorted number of upperclassmen), I had received an e-mail inviting me to a celebration on Howe Street — not an unusual occurrence. But what was strange, at first glance, was that the sender was not a fraternity, not an organization, but simply “Yale Party.” (Fascinating: a Yale party doesn’t usually even have the know-how to get me a decent drink, but it can send e-mail.)

The content of the e-mail was no more informative. “You have been invited to the hottest event of the year, the biggest house party Yale offers, the opportunity to drink with the best,” it read. “Saturday night, 11 p.m. There will be an invite list and a bouncer.” It was signed “the Elite.”

My immediate reaction, naturally, was incredulity. Clearly, this invitation had been sent to everyone at Yale. The bit about the guest list and the bouncer was just to entice would-be partygoers, since, after all, Yalies are only interested in activities that exude exclusivity.

So, with a freshman’s glibness and a reporter’s curiosity, I started asking around. And kept asking around. Nope, nobody else I knew had received the strange e-mail.

I could have been sketched out. I should have been sketched out. Instead, I was intrigued. I went.

When I arrived at the correct address, guests were just beginning to trickle in. I stood in the corner with a rum and Coke and a friend I’d brought as a bodyguard, attempting to make awkward conversation with upperclassmen I didn’t know and probably wouldn’t see again. Well, who I wouldn’t see in the same way again.

Not that I knew it at this point. None of us did. A few more freshmen joined the party, and we stood in a cluster, talking, trying to figure out why we were here. Asking the upperclassmen didn’t help. They were friendly, but close-mouthed as soon as we broached the burning question of every frosh in the room. “I don’t know, I’m not in charge here,” said the girl who I distinctly remembered as having told me this was her house. Right.

An hour went by. “Relax” came on the stereo. Then approximately 100 upperclassmen took off their clothes.

My jaw dropped. I felt a little dizzy, wondered if maybe I’d just had too much to drink, was imagining the sea of exposed flesh around me. But it all made too much sense for me to be hallucinating. Here, before me, in the sea of suddenly, shockingly nude bodies, was the reason for the mystery, for the exclusivity, for the twinkling eyes of the upperclassmen. Here was the reason for the plastic bags stashed in corners, bags now being stuffed with discarded jeans and tank tops.ÊHere was the reason for the phallic objets d’art on the mantelpiece. I’d simply thought they had an interesting taste in sculpture.

Even before the nudity was complete, before the shock of the sudden display had worn off, most of the other freshmen were streaming toward the door. This included my friends in the corner. I was sad to see them go — their intense, immediate disbelief and disgust made me feel quite the open-minded liberal — but the image of their departure was worth it. Fresh from a ballroom dance, they cut a crisp contrast of cummerbunds and chiffon against the soft, bare skin of their former fellow partygoers.

Even with the added difficulty of trying to keep their starched white tuxes and prim satin gowns away from the warm press of flesh, though, it didn’t take them long to vanish.

I didn’t follow. In fact, I stayed until the very end of the party.

I know it sounds strange that anybody would stay after being the brunt of such a blatant joke, but it didn’t feel it at the time. After all, I was having conversations, meeting people, sharing jokes — so what if I was also constantly rebuffing more experienced guests, male and female alike, who tried to persuade me to remove my clothing? In a way, I think, I was siphoning off the nudists’ camaraderie, their sense of well-being, for myself.

The true hero of the night, however, was the one other freshman who stayed — and took off his clothes. He got big points in the Pundits’ black book. Not to mention Mardi Gras beads looped around his neck.

Well, I may not have been that drunk — er, liberated. But, even as the freak, the girl wearing clothes, I had fun.

Which is, I suppose, the strangest confession of all.

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