A Chilly, Educational Field Trip with the Outdoor Co-Ed Topless Pulp Fiction Appreciation Society
As the women reached the fountain, a security guard appeared.
"I know you're allowed," he said without preamble. "But you have to put your shirt on."
"Is this private property?" the man of the book club inquired pleasantly.
"You want to talk to our litigation team?" the security guard asked. No one had said anything about litigation. He seemed agitated. He was already radioing for backup. Seeing that their breasts appeared to be causing him some discomfort, the women retreated to a tasteful distance.
"I'm gonna refrain from answering questions," he announced. He folded his hands, averting his gaze as he waited for help, which arrived in the form of the head of security and two other uniformed guards.
"Is this a commercial?" the head of security inquired. He was wearing a gray suit and looked jolly.
"We're a book club," the book club's token male replied. "We read books."
"That's beautiful," one of the guards muttered.
"You can't shoot in front of the fountain unless you get permission," the head of security explained, smiling broadly. We all paused for a moment and watched politely as several people posed for photos in front of the fountain.
"Is it private property?" the book club man asked again.
"It is," the head of security said. "I'll stop you every time. Feel free to come back. I'll stop you." But he seemed troubled. "What are you guys protesting?" he asked after a moment. The man explained, again, that the group is a book club.
"How do I become a member?" one of the guards muttered, half under his breath.
The head of security turned to me, watching for a moment as I took notes. "Are you the official writer?" he said indulgently. He seemed to find it adorable. He chuckled.
With that the guards seemed to consider the situation handled. We left. They waited until we were most of the way across the street before breaking into laughter.
The book club decided to stop at a tiny farmers' market just across Broadway, where they lined up to buy apples. A lady on a motorized scooter gunned her engine as she rolled by, scowling. She and another woman paused a few feet away and turned to face us. The other woman, who was in her 60s and had long silvery-blond hair, looked upset.
"I'm not old-fashioned," she appeared to be saying, over and over, arms crossed, shaking her head.
"I'm amazed!" she confided when I made my way over to her. She's from North Carolina. It was her second or third day in town, and she was worried. "I'm not old-fashioned, but I think these girls are really subjecting themselves to rape. There are crazy people out there!"
When I related this to the book club members, they went silent.
"That's so offensive," one of them managed, finally. "That makes me madder than anything."
We sat for a while longer, finishing the brioche buns. An older man at a nearby table turned to a pair of teenage girls he didn't seem to know and delivered a quiet, heated lecture about the book club's lack of attire. Meanwhile, another teenager stopped by our table.
"Can I ask what your costumes are supposed to be?" she ventured timidly.
"We're just exercising our legal right to be topless," one of the members told her. The girl looked amazed. But soon enough, the buns were finished, the book club resumed its shirts, and the streets were safe once again.
Send your story tips to the author, Anna Merlan.