The caressing sun breaking through the clouds, soft piano music in the background, and a gaggle of topless women reading in the grass. I love New York!
The Outdoor Co-ed Topless Pulp Fiction Appreciation Society visited Bryant Park last Wednesday, behind the New York Public Library. After members removed their tops, they whipped out a variety of reading material, from a novel called "Brainquake" by the film director Samuel Fuller to "The Getaway Car" by crime writer Donald E. Westlake.
Most New Yorkers took the group's visit in stride. A scattering of businessmen on lunch break took surreptitious photos and videos. A couple of teenage boys strolling by did double takes, also snapping some photos on their iPhones, then quickened their stride out of the park, obviously eager to get home and crack open a book.
I asked co-founder Alethea Andrews how the topless reading group came about. "Four summers ago, a friend and I were talking about the fact that it's legal for women in New York to go topless anywhere a man can," she said, soaking in the rays, "but you never saw women exercising that right. We formed a group because there's safety in numbers, and made a book club out of it."
Since then, the group has had more than 100 women join them for such events. Wednesday's gathering included a bartender and a computer scientist.
The tranquillity of the afternoon was temporarily disturbed when Fox News reporter Jesse Watters showed up with a cameraman. You'd think he'd pursue the reading or freedom angle. Instead the reporter started grilling one of the women on the Middle East. Maybe the rubes who might watch such an ambush on Fox would slap their thighs and chortle, but to the sunbathers and other sophisticated New Yorkers on the scene, Watters was the one who appeared clueless.
Andrews and her merry band shrugged it off. "This group is really about equal rights," she told me. "When it's 90 degrees out, it's simply more comfortable not to have a sweaty shirt on -- never mind a shirt and bra. People who treat women's breasts as somehow more scandalous than men's are being foolish."
Sounds right to me.
Playwright Mike Vogel blogs at newyorkgritty.net.