Over the past decade, aside from our annual beach trips, we’ve almost always met in Manhattan. It’s not that we don’t have plenty of members who live in the outer boroughs or in Jersey — we do. But Manhattan is central and easy to get to and more people know how to find their way to a spot in the middle of Central Park than to one in the middle of Prospect Park. Anyway, with one thing and another, until last month, we hadn’t held an event in Brooklyn for years.

We finally broke down and did it when we heard from someone who was curious about our group but asked if we ever met in Brooklyn because she lived near Park Slope and wasn’t taking public transportation while the pandemic was still going on. Would we consider returning to Prospect Park for the first time since the New York Times filmed interviews with us there?

Of course we would. Bringing our message of freedom and equal rights and body-positivity to new places is what we’re all about — it’s why we post photos of our events on this blog, and taking a subway to Brooklyn, if not the least we could do (pandemic and all), is certainly not too much to ask.

So off we trekked, to a lawn in Prospect Park called Nellie’s Lawn, which we’d never been to but a) had the virtue of presumably being a grassy surface good for sitting on (it’s right there in the name) and b) is labeled on Google Maps, so anyone with a working cell phone could locate it.

It was late September, but the weather was absolutely gorgeous — not chilly at all, but not sweltering either, the sun laying its honeyed autumn rays upon us like a gentle benediction. (Have we been reading too much poetry lately? Bite your tongue. There’s no such thing.)

We shared Nellie’s Lawn with a wide range of Brooklyners (or visiting Manhattanites, who knows?), among them a martial arts dude practicing his staff katas, some kids playing football, and a swimsuit model posing for a photographer with a baby slung in a Bjorn across her chest.

In this crowd, we attracted exactly zero attention when we bared our breasts — no comments, positive or negative; no stares; no But what about the children? The children were happy playing football, thank you very much. Everyone left us alone, which is exactly how it should be.

We ate our snacks and read our books and at no point did anyone make us feel even slightly unwelcome.

What of the Brooklyn dweller who originally asked us to come? She showed up with a friend in tow and they sat a respectful, socially-distanced distance away, and this first time, neither of them chose to go topless themselves. Which is fine of course. We’re all about choice. No one should ever feel the slightest pressure to go topless, and no one should ever feel the slightest pressure to not go topless. Our new friends wanted to see what it was like, and we were glad to show them.

They couldn’t have had a better first exposure. Now they know firsthand that, at least in New York, women really can go bare-chested without fanfare or scandal, without stress or shame. And maybe next time they’ll try it for themselves. We were all first-timers once, some of us not so very long ago.

Baby steps are steps. Whether it’s getting us out of our comfort zone when it’s confining us to Manhattan or getting a first-timer out of her comfort zone if it’s confining her breasts under a shirt and bra, we all need a little encouragement, a little evidence that this new experience will be fun rather than fearsome. We’re so glad we got that encouragement — and even more glad that we got to give it back.

If you’re a first-timer and you’re either curious (but nervous) or nervous (but curious), we hope you’ll reach out to us at toplesspulpfiction@gmail.com and let us help you dip a toe in the water.

Or a nipple, as the case may be.

The summer of 2020 ended on September 22, but lingering breaths of warm weather have been teasing us ever since. And we’ve been taking advantage of every last one. If it’s somehow 70 degrees on Halloween, we’ll be out there, eating our Skittles and candy corn in the altogether.

But Halloween is still weeks away, and it was more weeks away when we took our last visit of the year to the hidden clearing in Central Park where we enjoy the luxury of solitude and the concomitant freedom to get naked in the sun. Yes, generally it’s only toplessness that is permitted in public places in New York, but there is an exception for the creation and exhibition of art, and photography is art. In any event, solitude means no one sees. And how can you meet a giant balancing boulder with anything less than your full naked self?

Of course, the giant balancing boulder is only one of the spot’s many charms, and we enjoyed the rest in our usual, eponymous style.

(Eponymous! Concomitant! Who knew a visit to our blog would be more demanding than the SAT?)

What did we do all afternoon? Bask. Stretch. Share tales of pandemic-era woe, like the time opening a jar of hot sauce led to a finger brace.

Read, of course.

Munch, of course.

And sew masks. Because pandemic.

And then…and then…we went home, knowing fall and winter were nipping at our heels. But we’re grateful for the last days of peace and pleasure, warmth and comfort.

Okay, okay — pandemic, yeah, we know. But it was still summer, and we still did things.

And being who we are, we did them topless every chance we got.

Mostly we did them right here in Manhattan…

…or near enough to be a short bike or car ride away, but we did them, and we posted about them on Instagram and other social media, and we thought we’d share them here too, as a sort of memory book of the lighter side of the Corona Summer of 2020.

There weren’t any flights to the Caribbean or Europe — or even to other states, sometimes — but we still made it to the beach.

We’re especially proud to say that some of our newer members who hadn’t gone topless on a U.S. beach before…

…made their topless-beach debut this year. “I just want you to know,” one member wrote to us, “that I’ve been so much more comfortable getting topless and it’s because of your page and going to the nude drawing event that inspired me, and seeing the things you post make it so much more normal. Thanks so much for being amazing!”

We also had our first ever mother-child check-in from the beach!

Of course, the beaches weren’t always open, so sometimes we only made it to a pool–

Or to the forest, or the woods, or the nearest river or stream —

or the nearest cornfield —

or our own back yard —

–or the roof.

In urban areas, we sometimes took 90-degree weather as an excuse to go topless in the street.

And with outdoor dining on the menu, we sometimes dined outdoors without tops too. (Which in at least one case led a passing pedestrian to stop and tell us how pleased she was to see us exercising this freedom and how she wished she’d had it when she was our age.)

We did other things too — like get tattoos and piercings once parlors reopened.

And create art, whether on canvas–

— or in the air.

We had fun. But through it all we remembered summers past, when no one had heard of “social distancing” and masks were only for doctors and trick-or-treaters. We were reminded by looking over photos like these from last summer’s visit to Coney Island, which only surfaced this summer (they were taken with an old-fashioned film camera, and the photographer didn’t get around to developing them until now).

This year we spent more time indoors, more time in masks, more time alone.

But we also found ways to get out under the sun, ways to get together with the people we love, and ways to enjoy breaths of fresh air.

Even in hard times, life finds a way. And we are so grateful to have found not just one but so many ways to make even this difficult year a source of naked joy.

Central Park in New York City covers 840 acres. We know this because Google tells us so. The highest point in the park is a little grassy spot called Summit Rock. Google will tell you that too, but if you go there you know it without googling — the winding climb to get the summit gives you the idea. And once you do get there, while it’s not the utmost in privacy, it’s tucked away enough to give a dozen topless women a chance to relax without worrying unduly about being the center of too many spectators’ attention.

Not that we object to spectators, and we did encounter a few. Some dogwalkers passed us by, and some plain old walker walkers. There were picnickers in the distance, enjoying the same lawn we were, and why not? Peaceful coexistence is what it’s all about.

The dozen of us flowed in and out as the afternoon wound on, and included first-timers and long-timers, singles and couples, students and teachers (not from the same school!). People came from way downtown and way uptown and the outer boroughs; in a first for us, one was driven to the event by her dad.

We came with our usual accoutrements: something to eat, something to read. (What goes together better than a blackberry and a Bradbury?)

We hydrated.

We made each other laugh.

And we kept ourselves cool.

This was in September, when the weather was still warm, though on the edge of turning. It has since turned. But we remain hopeful — call it foolish optimism if you must — that October or maybe even November might hold a day or two warm enough to return. It has happened before. Not every year, but from time to time. (One time even in December!)

But we knew as we met that it was likely to be for one of the last times this season. In recognition of current circumstances, everyone wore masks coming and going and for the most part maintained social distance. Both facts added a touch of melancholy to the proceedings. But seeing friends is still seeing friends, and being topless outdoors is still being topless outdoors, and what a true and inexpressible joy both can be.

If you’re an open-minded woman in the New York area (or at least curious), we hope you’ll join us sometime and experience that joy for yourself. It may have to wait until ’21 — so many things will. But the opportunity will come, and when it does, we hope you will too.

It is extraordinary, when you think about it, that there should be any private spots at all in a city of 8 million people. Even factoring in those who’ve fled the city because of the pandemic, and the tourists who didn’t come this summer, you’re still talking about millions of people tightly packed together in a space a lot smaller than London or Rome. The island of Manhattan is smaller still, and anyone on the island who craves a bit of greenery is likely to head to Central Park. So you’d expect every path and hill and lawn in the park to be packed. And yet — the quieter spots in the park are quiet indeed, the secluded spots secluded indeed, and a group of friends seeking privacy in the park can generally find some.

We found some on one of the last weekends before Labor Day (which is the unofficial end of summer, since after Labor Day in New York the temperatures drop pretty sharply). There’s a clearing near the north end of the park that can only be reached either by a winding dirt path on one side or a steep grassy slope on the other, and because of those two obstacles, very few people find their way there — probably a lot of people don’t even know it exists.

The grass gets tall here — park staff don’t come by to cut it often, maybe because it’s hard to ride a mower in there.

There are patches of rocks that get warm in the sun–

–and a couple of boulders that look precariously balanced but have been balancing that way since before our grandparents were born.

There are trees for shade, and local wildlife to share it with.

Not to mention less wild life: one of the rare strangers who did wander by while we were there was this woman with her dog, and she apologized profusely for letting her dog off the leash, which apparently is some sort of violation of park rules unless you do it before 9am.

But we told her we didn’t mind at all.

And by the way, speaking of violation of park rules, while being topless is clearly legal anywhere in New York, for women as much as men, being fully nude generally isn’t allowed for either women or men, unless it’s in the context of creating or exhibiting art. Now, we think creating these photographs we share with you is an example of creating art, but who knows if park officials would concur?

But it’s like the old maxim: if a tree falls in the forest and nobody hears it, did it make a sound? Only for “tree” read “vagina,” and…well…you get the idea. Nobody who saw us was bothered by the sight. Barely anyone saw at all. And can you really argue that anyone on earth was harmed by a handful of people enjoying the sun without a bit of fabric covering maybe 1% of their body? Because a thong’s clearly allowed. Topless is allowed. A g-string with a triangle the size of an ATM card is allowed. It’s bizarre to make so much of so little.

That said, for most of the time most of us were just topless, and doing the sorts of things we usually do — reading,

Sharing snacks,

Chatting with friends,

Comparing vibrant hair colors,

And catching grapes in our mouths when pitched through the air. (What? What did you think was going on? From that far away??)

Members in attendance included first timers (“No one’s ever seen me naked except my husband!” one told us) and old friends…

…and first timers brought by old friends.

We love that some women who started as first timers just a month or two ago are now on their fourth or fifth event with us. We hope they’ll be members for years to come.

And speaking of years to come…we’re not sure how much we’ll be able to meet in the fall and winter this year. Normally, around this time of year we’d switch from outdoor events to indoor and find spas and restaurants and karaoke bars to visit in the altogether. But with Covid still uncured and the risk much higher indoors than out, we’re kind of in a holding pattern, trying to figure out what we can safely do.

It doesn’t mean we’ll do nothing — for sure we’ll find some safe way to have fun. But we almost certainly won’t do as much, and that added a bittersweet cast to this (almost!) last sunny day.

Of course, once in a while we get lucky and late September has a warm afternoon or two. Sometimes even October! If you like what you see here and would like to be a part of it, please email us: toplesspulpfiction@gmail.com. It’s not too late. But it’s getting later. Carpe diem, as they say.

After our last rooftop event, where only three people came, we weren’t sure what to expect the next time we put out an invitation. But we guess the timing gods were smiling on us, because the weather was just perfect and lots of people were longing to get naked.

Now, a word or two about health matters: there’s obviously still a pandemic on, and we all want to be careful about our health and the health of people around us. Some people who came kept masks on the whole time, or most of the time.

Some stayed on the screened-off north side of the roof where there was more than 6 feet of separation between each lounge chair and the next.

Some who went maskless and hung out closer than 6 feet were from the same household, so that’s not an issue (or not more of an issue than it is the other 20+ hours of the day they’re together).

And of course the event didn’t get truly full until a couple of hours in — before that people were well spread out. And being outdoors reduces the risk of transmission pretty dramatically. But having said all that, at the event’s busiest, some people were probably sitting closer than they should have been. Happily, it’s been more than 2 weeks, and no one got sick. So, whew.

The flip side of the greater number of people who were there is the enormous sense of community and warmth and kindness and simple human contact that everyone felt. It meant so much to a group of people who have been starved of all of the above for months.

Just seeing the variety of women (and one or two supportive male partners, but mostly women) was inspiring. Every age, every ethnicity, every body type.

We had people who’d been naked at Burning Man 6 years running and people who’d never felt the sun on their breasts before. And because the rooftop is private, it’s a totally safe space to discover what it feels like to be naked outdoors and to get comfortable with your body.

Just for the fun of it, one of our members printed up a stack of glossy cards featuring 50 different photos of us, and on the back of each, information about the group and women’s legal right to go topless in New York. We passed them around, so that we’ve got something to hand out the next time we meet someone who’s not aware of the law.

We also got some reading done — we are a book club, after all.

And some snacking–

And some personal photography–

We listened to music–

–and we listened to each other.

We also just made friends, and did so across boundaries. Two members discovered they went to the same school but had never spoken there. Members decades apart in age bonded over similar tastes in reading. People worlds apart in experience hung out and were just humans together.

It was truly a blissful afternoon, free not just from the constraints of clothing but from judgment and shame and self-doubt and self-hatred. In a word, it was happy. We were happy. And at a time of great national (and global) stress, simple happiness is — you’ll pardon the expression — nothing to sneeze at.

Our very last event before the pandemic arrived, back at the start of March, was in Washington Square Park. We were all innocent then. There were thousands of people in the park, all clustered close, no one taking precautions. Precautions against what?

But returning to Washington Square for the first time since the lockdown was a very different experience. We kept our group to half a dozen people and the space around us was emptier, too. And if you look closely you might spot something different about what we were wearing.

It feels strange to bare your breasts but cover your mouth — a peculiar inversion of the ordinary. Caution tinged with fear. We all want to stay healthy, and to keep our friends and families healthy, and to keep total strangers healthy too.

And yet…the ice has started to thaw in the arctic summer of 2020. New York, once the disease’s epicenter, has gotten infection rates to a level low enough that, especially outdoors, your odds of contracting Covid are pretty remote. And the fact is, you do sometimes have to eat; you sometimes have to drink. So after a time, with a hint of the embarrassment other people might feel about exposing their nipples, we slid our masks down. They were never far away, and maybe they weren’t off for so very long, but they did come off.

And the results were joyous.

It was delicious to see other people, to be outside our apartments, to breathe fresh air.

Of course, as our tree-lined surroundings might suggest, we’re not out of the woods yet. But we’re hopeful. And after so many months of grim statistics and isolation? A little taste of hope feels awfully good.

It’s funny how different the same place can feel depending on how many people are there. The boulder at Riverside Park was a happening spot when we showed up with a dozen people in tow, but a week earlier, on a day when the weather forecast ominously promised rain, only two people came and it was the difference between a symphony and a solo, or maybe a novel and a short story.

The same is true of our favorite rooftop sundeck. We came on short notice one day a few weeks back during a brief lull in a ferocious heat wave, and the three people who made the trek up five flights of stairs had all the chairs and all the couches and all the snacks and all the shade to themselves. It was a chance for a first-timer and a long-timer to really talk, something that’s less likely to happen with ten or twenty other people around.

We did get to evaluate an outfit specially designed to show off your underboob–

–and better yet, got to take said outfit off:

And later got to turn a picnic blanket into a Lord of the Rings-style traveling cloak–

But outside of those moments the space felt quiet, spare, serene, It was a nice change — but definitely a change. There was silence. There was room.

Then, a few weeks later, there was another event. And this time the place was hopping.

Same location; totally different place.

If you decide to come out with us sometime, you can let us know which sort of event you prefer. Smaller, quieter, more private, or bigger, livelier, more effervescent.

We promise: we’ll find the event that’s right for you.

Even a city as densely packed as New York has some secluded spots where a girl can get some sun in privacy, or close to it. A few clearings in the northern reaches of Central Park, for instance, are remote enough that we’ve enjoyed them Emperor’s New Clothes-style. (What, you don’t see our bathing suits? But they’re woven of the finest transparent silk!)

But perhaps our favorite secluded spot is this enormous boulder in Riverside Park, on the far West Side, overlooking the Hudson.

It’s tucked away among the trees without any signage to point you to it, and even if you stumble onto the narrow dirt path that takes you there, you can’t see anyone lying on top of the rock if you’re standing on the ground. And who would go to the trouble of climbing to the top of an enormous boulder?

Well, we would. Because once you do, you discover one of Manhattan’s truly wonderful and remote oases. Yes, you sometimes spot broken glass littering the surface, or other sketchy bits of refuse; every Eden has its serpents. But if you want to relax unobserved and unmolested it offers a sprawling, craggy, rugged sanctuary, which also happens to be perfectly suited to our current situation, since it’s easy for people to distribute themselves 6 feet apart along the massive rock.

It’s a particularly nice spot to bring first-timers since while you’re up there you’re not visible to random passers-by who might stare or take issue. Not that we get much of either anymore — New Yorkers seem to have gotten used to the idea that women can go topless the same as men can — but just in case. And we did have several first-timers this time around.

We also had old friends there, some of whom we hadn’t seen in an awfully long time.

Two of the new members in attendance were celebrating birthdays, and we were delighted to celebrate with them. (Randomly, they happened to be the oldest and youngest members there.) A few of our number were preparing to head off to their first year of college. One had recently moved to New York from overseas. One had spent the summer leading BLM protests. Several were starting new jobs or looking for them. In other words, our usual diverse range of backgrounds.

But what all these women had in common (along with the couple of trusted men who tagged along supportively and respectfully) was this: a conviction that equal rights isn’t an empty phrase, and that feminism isn’t an empty promise; that strong, smart, confident, independent women can do anything their male peers can, and need to be free to; that the human body, and specifically the female body, is nothing to hide or to be ashamed of; and that sometimes, on a warm summer afternoon, there’s just nothing better than the touch of sunlight on your bare chest. Half the population shouldn’t be denied this simple pleasure.

And so we partook of it, along with other simple pleasures, like snacking on ripe summer fruit, enjoying a cold beverage —

— or reading a good book.

It was a blissful and empowering afternoon. We’re thrilled that so many of our members showed up for it. The crisis of the past five months isn’t over yet — but at least in New York it feels like life is cautiously returning.

Which brings us to this invitation: if you’ve never tried going topless outdoors but you’re curious about it, we hope you’ll drop us a note. You can email us at toplesspulpfiction@gmail.com, or find us on Insta or Twitter. One way or another, reach out. Because all women deserve to share this experience. And the summer isn’t quite over yet.

Each year for the past seven, painter and activist Andy Golub has organized New York Bodypainting Day, where dozens of models and artists from all over the world gather in a public place and create art together, using the human body as their canvas.

This year, we were sure the event would get cancelled — everything else had been. The Olympics, movies, Broadway, school. But when July 25 came around, god bless him, Andy was out on the street in Times Square. With a smaller group, it’s true, but there all the same, everyone wearing masks (sometimes two!) even when they wore nothing else at all.

This year’s theme was “freedom” and it was expressed in ways both explicit and implict. Images included raised fists, floating balloons and, naturally, birds.

But the visuals on display also included the simple fact of uncovered human bodies, and there’s no symbol of freedom more potent than that.

As a women’s group, we’re not generally advocates for men’s right to expose themselves, in part because that sort of exposure is so often wielded in an aggressive or hostile way. But there is no automatic reason that a man’s body should be a forbidden sight and no reason it should be an object of shame. A penis can be beautiful too.

As can vulvas, of course.

We applaud the women and men of Human Connection Arts, the nonprofit organization behind the event, for sharing their bodies without shame or fear.

(Yes, a few people deferred the moment of nudity to the last possible instant and covered up with paint as quickly as possible. But that’s okay too. Bravery takes many forms.)

And we thank Human Connection Arts for letting us participate! A chance to be naked in Times Square? We wouldn’t miss it for anything.

Of course, Times Square being Times Square, we weren’t alone. At one point a religious group marched through, protesting sin and attempting to save souls; at roughly the same time, a random neighborhood denizen, seeing our nudity, decided he wanted to share his own. Both incidents were a tiny bit stressful in the moment, but you know what? We love that we live in a city big enough to contain them both.

After the painting was done, the group took a walk down Fifth Avenue, past the main branch of the New York Public Library and on to the Empire State Building.

The crowd of spectators amused, enthralled or inspired by the procession may have been smaller than usual — and it’s for the best that it was — but the message was the same: we all have a right to be free, and artistic freedom is among the very highest forms.

Of course, it does lead one to wonder why a person going naked in Times Square on July 25th was free to do so, while a person doing the exact same thing at the exact same time in, say, Central Park (or even Bryant Park, just a few blocks away) would get arrested for indecent exposure. Or why the same person, unclothed to the same extent, standing on the same exact spot, would get arrested for it on July 24 or 26. Why is this sight wholesome and harmless one day and banned the next? Why must freedom be doled out with an eyedropper rather than erupting like, um, let’s say lava from a volcano?

But if drops of freedom are what we can get, we’ll take it for now. Remember: Enough drops, over enough time, can break down walls.