Gerald had not told any of them why they were invited, but the invitation to the Magnuson mansion was a surprise to no one. All of them had been there before, and all were closely connected through the incredible project that had restored Kathy and Ted Randolph’s marriage. Besides them, the invitees were Shannon and Alex Torvold, Greg Laskey, Yvonne Torres, Frank and Julia Waxman, and Carolyn and Jim Randolph, Ted and Shannon’s parents. It actually seemed like a reunion.
Gerald Magnuson found no reason to apologize for the good breeding, the good fortune, and the enormous inheritance that allowed him to reside at the top of the social and economic heap. He, and everyone who knew him, considered him an exceptional steward of the many treasures with which he had been blessed. Incredible drive, deep-seated compassion, and rock-ribbed integrity had enabled him to multiply the fortune bequeathed to him. In the process, he had created employment and wealth for many others, and had given generously to worthy causes.
The death of his beloved wife a little over a year ago had muted the glow of his success, and caused him to step back from his varied enterprises while still in his mid-sixties. Fortunately, he had found new love with Elizabeth, life-long friend of his wife and himself, and the one he had not chosen when he married his first wife.
Through Elizabeth, a retired dancer and studio operator, he had received an astonishing request. He was asked to serve as a dance partner for Kathy Randolph, who was sequestered, naked, at Greg Laskey’s home. Kathy’s talent for and love of dance were discovered to be the key to her recovery from severe phobia of anything sexual.
The current dinner meeting was a direct outgrowth of his time with Kathy and a desire to use the Magnuson Foundation money to promote new and innovative human services.
Frank Waxman felt like he had been reborn. He never thought he could sell the fashion business he had built so lovingly and so successfully over all those years. At sixty, he did not consider himself over the hill. In fact, he was more confident in his analytical and decision-making skills than at any time in his life.
The wake-up call had come in the form of temporary impotence due to a metabolic imbalance. And what a wake-up call it was! He considered himself the luckiest of all men on earth to have the love of his gorgeous wife Julia. In his mind, he never used the word gorgeous - he considered it inadequate. Now forty-eight, she still turned heads wherever she went. And she made heads spin with the brilliance of her mind, as well. Their love life had always been spectacular, and the first time he was unable to perform, it jolted him as no business or personal setback ever had.
Julia was a psychiatrist, and therefore an M.D. Because of her deep love for her husband, she treated his problem gently. But as a doctor, she hounded him mercilessly until he sought medical help. At first, he tried to shrug it off as just age, but she wasn’t buying that. In her opinion, no man fell that quickly from the exceptional level of sexual performance they had enjoyed throughout their twenty-one years together.
The medical problem came at the same time as the heaviest travel demands of his career. For nearly a year, he was gone over three-fourths of the time, with some trips lasting nearly a month. The worst part of his combined absence and illness for Frank was his concern for Julia. He knew the strength of her sex drive. He could not satisfy it in the ultimate way, and he was not even there to comfort her with alternatives.
Greg Laskey was a young entrepreneur who had developed a leading-edge manufacturing logistics system. Frank became Greg’s first big-time customer, and the partnership propelled Frank’s business to the top of the fashion industry and Greg’s into a leadership position in the software business.
Greg had taken on a radical project to rescue Shannon, the adult daughter of his surrogate parents, Jim and Carolyn Randolph. He had worked out a plan with Julia, and somehow got Shannon to agree to it. Then plan involved Shannon losing a third of her body weight, obtaining a G.E.D online, and restoring relations with family members. All this took place while continually naked at Greg’s house.
During Shannon’s renewal, Julia became so enamored with Shannon’s courage and her personality that she began joining Shannon for workouts, stripping naked as she did. Since their first meeting years earlier, Greg had been close friends with Frank and Julia, and Julia’s patient after his shattering divorce. Frank and Julia convinced Greg to become Julia’s sexual partner until Frank recovered and returned from his travels.
All of those experiences convinced Frank that the time had come for a change. The company was doing well and was very salable, but he was not ready to just retire. The answer came in an offer from Gerald to manage the Magnuson Foundation. That brought him home to Julia for good with his health and vigor restored. In that role, he was a co-host of the dinner gathering.
Julia Waxman felt the same sense of rebirth as her husband, Frank. Greg came to her with his desire to help his ‘almost-sister’ Shannon reclaim her life from drugs, obesity, and dissolution. Julia’s first response had been quite traditional, knowing the heavy odds against success. When she learned of the lengths to which Greg was willing to go to rescue his erstwhile friend, she began to seriously consider innovative alternatives.
What she called ‘immersion therapy’ seemed the most likely answer, and she worked with Greg to lay out a program. She had to work hard to convince him that Shannon’s constant nudity was a crucial element. Largely because of Shannon’s strength and the incredible love and support of her family, the plan succeeded beyond any expectation. It succeeded so much that Shannon took the lead in the rescue of her brother Ted’s wife, Kathy.
In the course of Shannon’s recovery, Julia joined Shannon naked whenever possible for workouts and support. She became Greg’s lover with Frank’s blessing and encouragement. Nearly twenty pounds lighter and tighter than in her twenties, she felt ten years younger.
Kathy’s remarkable turnaround was another verification of the power of immersion therapy. Julia had the makings of a revolution in treatment, but was concerned about negative reaction to her methods within the stuffy psychiatric profession.
Among the many things in her life that she wished she could do over, Shannon’s treatment of Greg was high on her list. Best friends and soulmates since early childhood, she had spurned him when she was invited to join the ‘in’ crowd in High School. Unfortunately, that crowd introduced her to recreational drugs, for which she had no resistance.
Dropping out of school, living with a man through two kids, going through recovery twice, escaping a close brush with the law, giving up or losing job after crummy job, trying and failing numerous times to live away from her parents, adding weight to her slender 5’6” frame until she topped 200 lbs; these were the sad milestones of Shannon’s life.
Amid all the failures were two miraculous successes, Terry and Janie. Whether it was the Grace of God, or the constant presence and care of her parents, her kids had turned out far better than Shannon had any right to hope for.
At age thirty-two, Greg stepped back into her life with an outrageous proposal: stay with him, naked. Exercise, eat right, get her diploma - erase several of the failures. That was hard enough, but she had to meet with and renew relationships with parents, siblings, and children, all while naked.
Her personal trainer was a man, more accurately a Nordic god. Exposing herself to him was by far the hardest part of her ordeal. Yet, he was a kind man who saw something in her that she did not even see herself. Theirs was a moving but highly unusual romance, and from the depths of hopelessness, Shannon had risen to a fairy tale existence.
In demand by professional athletes in several sports, Alex Torvold had achieved everything possible for a trainer/therapist. Among the most respectful and considerate people alive, he rejected Greg’s request to be the personal trainer for his naked female friend. Finally giving in was the best move of his life. Within the fat and depression of Shannon Randolph lurked the woman he had never been able to find.
The fact that Shannon had two teenaged children became a tremendous bonus. Terry was the young man he wished he could have sired. Janey was a constant threat to his libido, and in total control of his heart. Shannon and her children introduced him to a level of family openness and intimacy he would once have considered immoral. Now, he could not imagine life without it.
Greg Laskey, at thirty-two, had more money than he knew what to do with, and an open psychic wound from a failed marriage. Guiltily renewing relationships with Jim and Carolyn Randolph, who had filled the role of parents during his youth, he found out what had happened to Shannon.
Driven to help his former soulmate, Greg worked with Julia on the radical plan to turn Shannon’s life around. Although following a rather different path than expected, the plan worked incredibly well.
During Shannon’s stay with him, Greg enjoyed a remarkable level of intimacy with the whole Randolph family. He was privileged to share a bed for two months with the incredible Julia. After a troubled start, he was able to play the key role in introducing the lovely Yvonne Torres to first friendship, then love - things from which she had isolated herself.
Kathy Randolph was becoming her mother, and it was about to cost her her marriage. More and more she was buying into her mother’s fanatical aversion to anything ‘improper.’ That designation covered anything related to sex and nakedness. Her deprived husband, Ted, had reached his limit, especially when Kathy’s impact on their teenaged daughters came to light.
Through the careful machinations of Julia, Ted, Shannon, and Ted’s parents, Kathy found herself naked at Greg’s house. She was free to leave, but the price was divorce. Somehow she survived unbearable shame and humiliation to keep from losing the husband she loved dearly. When her love of dance, something her mother denied her as improper, was discovered, she was on the road to normal, healthy attitudes. Her passionate reunion with Ted was just the start of an ongoing dream.
Ted Randolph let his wife, Kathy, manage the lives of his daughters far too long. When he met with his brave, naked sister Shannon at Greg’s house, he was emboldened to resolve his own troubled situation. Julia’s immersion therapy and brilliant diagnosis of the keys to Kathy’s phobias gave him the kind of marriage he had yearned for. In the process, relationships with his children, his parents, and his other sister took directions he would never have thought possible or even proper.
Carolyn and Jim Randolph were proud of all three of their children. With their youngest, Shannon, it took an effort of will to feel that pride. Nevertheless, they were always there for her, at times practically raising her children.
When it looked like Greg’s plan for Shannon would fail before it had started when they first visited her at Greg’s, they joined her in nakedness. This was a tremendous sacrifice to the naturally modest Carolyn, but typical of the lengths she would go for her children.
That move led to regular naked family gatherings. Through these, the unsuspected problems in Ted’s marriage came to light, and the plan for their correction was developed.
The storybook return of her prodigal daughter was worth any personal sacrifice asked of Carolyn. She willingly joined Shannon, naked, in support of the troubled Kathy during her recovery.
As a teen, Yvonne Torres feigned lesbianism to ward off the unwanted advances of her cousins and the stifling traditional expectations of her parents. On her own, she scratched out an admirable college career, both academically and athletically.
Yvonne built a successful business as a nutritionist while remaining isolated from both men and women. Realizing her need, she sought help from Julia. On Julia’s recommendation, Greg hired Yvonne as Shannon’s nutritionist. There was an instant, obvious attraction between Greg and Yvonne, but the wounds both carried from their pasts pushed them into a battle of wills. All was resolved in time for Yvonne to replace Julia in Greg’s bed upon Frank’s return.
After the superb meal Gerald had provided, the group of friends was sitting in the library, sipping coffee or aperitifs. Frank broke into the various conversations, and when everyone was still, he quipped, “Last time I saw this group together, we were all in much different attire.” That last time together was at Greg’s house, celebrating Kathy’s ‘graduation.’ As had become customary at Randolph family gatherings, nudity was the dress code.
“Do we need to strip before we can get down to business?” Shannon asked to a chorus of laughter.
“No, that won’t be necessary. Although, if you would be more comfortable, I can’t imagine who would object,” Frank shot back, increasing the laughter. “Seriously, there is a reason for this gathering, and I’ll let Gerald start.” Acting as if addressing a group was the most natural thing in the world, Gerald began talking.
“I have to rank my relationship with the lovely Kathy as one of the most outstanding experiences of my life. I was privileged to witness a metamorphosis that most experts would tell you was not possible. On top of that, Shannon, who was taking a lead role in Kathy’s recovery, was still completing her own incredible turnaround.”
“Both of these women benefitted from the brilliance of Julia. Her use of the immersion therapy approach was absolutely flawless. I am sure that we all know people who have tried many times to get themselves out of situations like Shannon’s or Kathy’s, or even worse. The miserable success rate is disheartening.”
“My vision is to take Julia’s approach and make it available to many people. Frank and I have decided to call the enterprise ‘Transformations.’ That name may not appeal to some of you. Since it is probably the only major decision the two of us will get to make, we are sticking with it.” This was greeted with more good-natured laughter.
“We envision one or more centers designed to house the participants, or clients as we have been calling them, for the duration of their programs. Everything would be first class, meaning the cost of enrollment would be high. There will, however, be generous Foundation money for scholarships to deserving people who cannot afford the cost.”
Gerald then deferred to Frank, who told the group, “You folks are now the world experts on immersion therapy, and that is why we are together tonight. Oh, I know, Julia is the only professional here, but the rest of you have lived through the process. Your inputs are critical. Since it’s all about changing people, Shannon and Kathy are the star witnesses, so to speak.”
Frank continued. “The question before the floor is: can we institutionalize what was done for Shannon and for Kathy?”
Julia jumped in first. “Before we get into the can and can’t questions, Frank, I need to point out that the two cases are quite different. Yes, both women underwent major changes, but in a group setting, they could not be treated together.”
“Shannon, please don’t be offended, but your experience was a, uh, perfection of the traditional ‘fat farm’ concept.”
“Julia, there is nothing you can say that would offend me as much as the body you helped me get rid of. If it was a fat farm, then I was the perfect candidate,” Shannon responded.
“Thank you, Shannon. In Kathy’s case, there was a specific phobia or group of phobias that pushed her behavior far outside the norm and threatened her marriage. Immersion had a different purpose in each case. For Shannon, it meant isolation from everything that could distract from the goal of building a new lifestyle. For Kathy is meant bombarding her with the things she feared until they began to seem normal and right. Is that distinction clear to everyone?”
“Brilliantly stated, as usual, my dear,” Frank said with obvious affection. “It appears, then, that we would need to have different programs for different needs. What are some of the different programs you envision?”
Julia took a moment to compose her thoughts before answering. “Obviously, the first is the makeover program - let’s call it the ‘Shannon’ program. That is not meant to trivialize what you went through, Shannon, but we need a simple designation. That is the one most likely to be effective for a group.”
“What we did for Kathy may represent the most difficult to apply to a group. The range of possible phobias is just so wide. The best we could do is target frigidity or sexual repression.”
“I think another area with great promise is troubled youth. Suppose we worked with the courts to offer our program as an alternative to typical incarceration. We could do that for both boys and girls.”
“Wouldn’t there be terrible problems controlling these kids?” Carolyn asked.
“I think the secret is that we wouldn’t even try. Either they control themselves, or back to the courts. On the makeover side, we only talked about women, but there may be opportunity for men’s programs, as well. I haven’t put much thought into it yet.”
“One program for men that I have thought about is what I call the ‘asshole program.” That got the predictable snickers. “Consider this scenario: a man is accused of sexual harassment at work and is about to be fired, even though he is an otherwise outstanding employee. The employer gives him an out of successfully completing our program. Or another case: a wife is about to divorce her abusive husband, but gives him another chance if he completes our program.”
“Do you people have any idea what a privilege it is to live with a mind like that?” Frank asked playfully.
“Then how come so much of your attention is directed well below my mind, lover?” This crack from Julia brought howls from their friends. “I need to emphasize that working with abusers adds another whole layer of complexity to the challenge. At this point, I would rather try to build a program that would help the abused recover. That, however, would probably be all charitable.”
“Speaking of the abused,” Shannon interjected, “Terry’s good friend Eric Kasten and his mother escaped an abusive situation. They spent some time at the home of Dex Madison, who has a strong interest in helping the abused. Dex’s wife, in fact, runs the major battered women’s shelters here in town. From a few chats with Eric, it may be a good idea to talk to the Madisons about what they are doing. According to Eric, his mother’s life turned completely around in about a week at Dex’s house.”
Alex followed up on his wife’s comments. “I know Dex a little. He was a basketball star at Addison some years back. I agree we should talk to him.”
Kathy chose this time to interrupt. “Julia, I’ve been sitting her thinking. I believe there should be an asshole program for women, too.” She waited for the surprised looks to settle down. “You were right about me. I had some serious phobias. The result, though, was that I acted like an asshole to my family.” She had Julia’s complete attention, now.
“Instead of agonizing over the perfect treatment for each person, like you did for me, why not just treat us all as assholes first. You know, thankful as I am for what you all did, in a way it was punitive, and it certainly was humiliating. Regardless of my phobia, I deserved the punishment for my actions. Aren’t we all supposed to act decently and normally towards others no matter what fears we have?”
Julia was not often caught by surprise, but this was certainly one time. “Kathy, you make some brilliant points. In my profession, we try very hard to target our treatment to the needs of individual patients. The mass approach you are suggesting...”
Gerald let out a big laugh, then said to Kathy, “Kathy my dear, I wasn’t aware you had an MBA?”
Misreading his meaning, Kathy blushed and said quietly “Oh, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said...”
“No, no, no, Kathy. What you said was brilliant. We are faced with not just a treatment problem, but a business problem. Frank’s original question was if we could translate yours and Shannon’s experiences to a group. I believe we had concluded yours was not appropriate to a group. You, however, suggested a way to make it work. Please, don’t think I was ridiculing you. Far from it!”
When no one else spoke up for several seconds, Frank took over again. “Several different programs have been mentioned, all of which sound like they meet a real demand. We need to start with one to prove and refine our concepts. Which one should it be?”
“Let me answer that, Lover,” Julia spoke up. “In my mind there’s no doubt we should start with the Shannon program. I am sure it has the greatest demand. The psychological aspects are also more straightforward - no offense intended, Shannon.”
“I agree,” said Frank. “Gerald and I came to the same conclusion. This will be a non-profit enterprise, but the ideal would be for it to break even or return some money to the Foundation. Starting with the most salable program makes good sense. Now, I need to ask how salable it will be. I don’t want to get into a big discussion of nudity right now, but let’s assume it will be an essential part of the program. Will we ever get any clients?”
“Honest, folks, we didn’t plan this as the Frank and Julia show.” Julia got another laugh out of that. “Personally, I have no doubt we can fill up any size facility we want. The number of desperate women out there is greater than you can imagine. The lengths to which they will go to change their lives is astonishing. Shannon, why in the world did you accept Greg’s plan? Frankly, you surprised us all.”
“In my case,” Shannon replied, “it was the alternative to suicide.” That brought an audible sob from Carolyn. “I’m sorry to shock you, Mom, but I looked at that bottle of pills every night and debated if it was worth waiting another day. In my case, I knew my children would be better off with you than with me. In fact, everyone would have been better off with me gone.”
“Now, every woman’s situation will be different,” Shannon continued, “but I think the common factor is self-image. When Greg found me, mine was microscopic. That was mainly my own doing - along with the drugs. Other women may have been beaten down by husbands or family or co-workers.”
“When I finally decided to accept the plan, I decided that the humiliation of being naked was no worse than the humiliation of just being who I was. At least with Greg, I saw a chance for the humiliation to end.”
“Thanks, Shannon,” Julia told her. “I believe the clients are out there, dying for what we can do for them. Our challenge is to find them. I don’t think money will be a problem, and I don’t think nudity will be a problem. Our only problem is getting the word out, and then producing results.”
“OK,” Gerald interrupted, “what are our target markets?”
“I can think of a few keys,” Julia answered, “although clients and markets are not terms us shrinks are used to dealing with. Women facing divorce because they are no longer appealing to their husbands are obvious targets. Those in therapy because of repeated failures to change themselves are another group.”
“Actually, one of our problems will be weeding out potential clients who can afford us but don’t really need us. For example, the affluent mother who wants to lose twenty pounds before her daughter’s wedding is not our target. Sure, the revenue would be nice, but there are many other organizations who can meet her need. Now, if that same woman is on the bottle or snorting coke to escape her depression over her looks, we are closer to our target.”
“I don’t want it to sound like we will just be running a nudie fat farm.” Julia had to pause for the laughter after that quip. “A svelte woman with zero self-image could fit in well. An anorexic would be a perfect fit. In other words, our makeover must not be just the body. We want women to leave with assurance of their own capabilities, desirability, and importance.”
“That, my dear, sounds like a worthy challenge,” Frank told his wife while giving her a quick hug. “I want to put off talking about the specifics of meeting that challenge until our next get-together.”
“Among this group, Julia and I and Gerald and Elizabeth will obviously be closely involved with Transformations. Alex will be directing the physical side of our programs, and Yvonne the nutrition side. Greg is considering a management role.”
“Carolyn, Jim, Kathy, and Ted: I would like to ask your help as reference sources. You have been beneficiaries of the ideas we are building on, and have, in fact, helped shape many of them. Would you be willing to meet with potential clients and share your experiences.”
“Frank, you don’t even have to ask,” Carolyn said before anyone else could respond. “We have been given an unbelievable gift in the restoration of our family. We consider it a privilege and an obligation to help others receive similar gifts. We live down the road a ways, but we are perfectly willing to host anyone who can benefit from our story.”
“Mom, the same goes for us,” Ted added. “Right now, I can’t get involved in the business side, but we are anxious to share our joy with others.”
“I expected no less, but thank you,” Frank told them.
“Folks,” Gerald spoke up, “that’s enough business for tonight, at least officially. Next time, we will add some of the folks mentioned earlier to learn from their experiences. I hope you will all give this some thought and research in the meantime. Now, our hot tub is quite large and clothing optional. If any of you wish to indulge in some nostalgia, feel free.”