“I went around the world smoking the best cannabis,” he says. “I really had fun writing nonfiction. I got to travel, meet people. So then I was thinking, ‘What other subculture is quasi-legal, oppressed by the police? Nudism.'” Despite his personal discomfort with “nonsexual social nudism” (as proponents of this lifestyle describe it), Smith knew he had to immerse himself in the scene, just as he had with cannabis.
Among L.A. writers, Haskell Smith has long had a reputation for being a generous colleague and a dedicated mentor. Critics enjoy his gimlet eye. For the past decade, Haskell Smith has been churning out Elmore Leonard—inflected absurdist crime sprees starring flawed people doing strange things, and he has a penchant for satirical social critique on subjects from organized religion to reality TV. The L.A. that often forms the books’ backdrop resembles, as one L.A. Times reviewer put it, “the hard-boiled Los Angeles of Raymond Chandler and James Ellroy, spun out in brighter-than-life Starburst colors.” Attempts at a film adaption of his third novel, Salty, currently is breaking crowdfunding records in the United Kingdom (nearly £2 million and counting) and has Simon West (Expendables 2) attached to direct.
People didn’t even talk about sex. Maybe bringing the subject up might, you know, bring the subject up, so it was best left unspoken. But I can’t really say, because nobody really said. Although on our last evening at the hut, Harry and I were standing outside watching the sunset when Maria-Grazia came out dragging her suitcase. She was driving back to Italy that night, but that’s not why I did a double take. She appeared to be transformed. I almost didn’t recognize her. Harry laughed and said, “You see someone naked for a week and you don’t think anything of it, and then she puts on a cute dress and some makeup and you think, ‘What an attractive girl!’”
Even if you’ve been staying at a nudist resort for days or weeks, “It’s still shocking to see naked 80-year-old people in the omelet line,” admits Mark Haskell Smith, author of the new book Naked at Lunch: A Reluctant Nudist’s Adventures in the Clothing-Optional World.
While researching his previous book on high-end marijuana growers, Smith, a 58-year-old journalist from Los Angeles, “became interested in people who break the law or do things that are quasi-legal to explore their passions,” he said. Like the pot farmers, nudists “are true believers in what they do. It’s just a simple pleasure they’re enjoying, but they’ll risk everything to do it.”
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