Watch for Those Mosquitoes

     Once upon a time, watermelon fondue, it wasn’t as easy to get water-soaked as it is today.  Taking a bath involved heating many buckets of water and filling a large waterproof tub in a large warm room (frequently the kitchen, so the tub was near the stove, meaning both the water and the bather would be warm.  (And since it was a huge waste of time to empty the tub and refill between every bather, you kind of wanted to be first in line,)

     Public swimming pools were few and far between, and there weren’t all that many private ones, either.  Your best recourse, whether your plan was to wash off a layer of dirt from the road you traveled or cool off in the summer, was to find some handy source of natural fresh water.  For those who lived near a beach, this was simple enough.  Some towns had traditional “swimming holes”, which might involve a little maintenance or supervision by the town council (more often not.)  If you lacked these things, you had to rely on occasionally finding an unsupervised bit of creek or lakefront.  If this was handy enough, you might bring a towel and swimming suit, but more often, it was a matter of serendipity.  This meant you took your chances for a quick swim by wrapping your clothes in a bundle on the shore and indulging in a bit of “skinny-dipping”, a quick bath in the fresh water.

     The world of cartoon and comic strip (and silent movie) is filled with the perils of this practice.  And postcards could not lag behind.  Chief among these perils was, of course, the danger that the private spot one found was not quite private enough.  In secluded rural areas, a lot of convenient bathing spots were known to wandering vagrants who were less interested in a bath than in a change of wardrobe.  OR a merry prankster who just wanted to see how you’d get home in your bares.

     Here our hero is beset by a playful dog.  AND a couple of witnesses who are laying bets.

     Alternately, one had to deal with the clueless, who, oblivious to your presence, nonetheless had to perch in some place with a good view, preventing you from leaving the water until they left the scene.

     There does seem to have been something of a double standard, mid-century, in how much you got to see of the embarrassed swimmer.  I think this is partly because it seemed funnier to show a bold, brave man cowering in the water up to his shoulders, and partly because your postcard artist didn’t get a lot of legitimate chances to draw nudes.  There ARE postcards involving female skinny=dippers in the early twentieth century, but in the cards I’ve seen, the women do not appear at all: there’s just an eager man hunting along the riverside after he finds piles of clothes. 

     This card makes use of the punchline of a fine old joke and loses a little in the translation.  (See, in the original, the swimmer realizes someone is coming but doesn’t have time to get to her clothes.  She grabs up an old washtub on the bank for modesty and snaps at the new arrival “Do you know what I think?’ and then…yeah, it’s not much funnier the way I tell it, is it?)

     I could whine about the joke here, too, if I wanted to.  This is a mere accidental skinny-dipper, someone who somehow got to the water past a number of onlookers, and never realized she’d forgotten an important part of dressing for the beach.

This is just a contextual gag; the sender simply wants to know what you’ve been doing, and uses this skinny=duiipper to frame the joke.

     There WAS at least one other joke about skinny-dippers, when the swimmers don’t realize they are being observed.  This one takes a neutral approach, but there are others which deal with the inconvenience caused to the accidental witness.  The poor would-be fisherman has his whole afternoon plan has been thrown off.  Might as well go home, if there’s nothing to do here after all.

     And there’s this wonderful scene which mingles inconvenience and embarrassment and a horrible lapse in logic that of course I am going to froth at the mouth about.  Let’s turn my complaints into a game, shall we, pickled marshmallow?  Which of these two is more clueless: the man who sat down to read, not noticing the clothes spread out on the rock, or the woman who has made it to her clothes without him seeing her, and lacks the brainpower to pick up ger undies and slip away?  Or is she just trying to decide whether to do that otr stay and watch HIM disrobe?  Frankly, they are both dim enough that if I was writing this little script, they would wind up at the end being embarrassed and getting dressed in a hurry in each other’s outfit.  Ah, the treasures the world lost because I wasn’t around to write for postcard companies.

     I think I’ll cool my seething brain with a nice cold shower.  I’ll pull the curtain.

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