There we were, minding our own business, just another couple enjoying a sunny day walking through town on our way to Lithia Park. Our destination was the duck ponds, this being the time of year when the duck population swells with the arrival of fuzzballs paddling furiously and performing unintentional somersaults in a quest for juicy morsels.

"On second thought, let's not go to Camelot. It is a silly place."

— King Arthur

There we were, minding our own business, just another couple enjoying a sunny day walking through town on our way to Lithia Park. Our destination was the duck ponds, this being the time of year when the duck population swells with the arrival of fuzzballs paddling furiously and performing unintentional somersaults in a quest for juicy morsels.

That's when we saw them. Two of them, actually. One on a bicycle, the other strutting past SoundPeace with a cocksure attitude that would have made Tony Manero burst his buttons with pride.

The closer we got to the park, the more we encountered. Playing guitars, walking dogs, throwing Frisbees ... sunning themselves in public!

Men without shirts. Men without hats. Men without jackets, T's or cravats.

Some would suggest they were half-clothed, but those would be the cockeyed optimists. I knew better. Even my wife knew what they were, and she barely ever sees one.

They were half-nekkid men.

The top half, to be precise.

Now, I know what you're thinking. If God had intended us to run around (or skateboard, or Segway) without clothes, He would have made us that way in the first place. The last thing these guys should be doing is parading through town.

Talk about your segues ...

Ashland, of course, has been having its share of problems lately with what the philosopher Walter O'Reilly referred to as its "nakeditity." Stories about the Harry Potter mural and a request to celebrate independence by cycling topless behind methane-filled animals and politicians have put us on the radar of more than a few tittilated news operations.

We few, we happy few, we who actually still work for newspapers love nakeditity. It allows us to haul out "bare facts," "naked truth" and other hoary chestnuts. But now, nudity has entered our public intercourse as though it was something important.

Like plastic grocery bags. Or gas. Or making sidewalks safe from stuffed bears and giraffes.

We who live in Ashland find ourselves at the epicenter: Is the Fourth of July the proper setting for a woman blowing a conch shell to ride a bicycle in a parade if she's wearing nothing but a G-string?

Are we on "Candid Camera"? I mean, have those giving others a dressing-down over appropriateness in the Ashland Fourth of July Parade ever seen the Ashland Fourth of July Parade? We take independence liberally here.

Unless you're a ceramic waiter outside a pasta restaurant. Then, we throw a sheet over you.

Ashland's only a scant 86 (see correction note below) years' removed from men in white sheets marching the parade route without much in the way of opposition. This year, in the name of public decency and appropriateness, what we're saying to a naked lady is ... put a sock on it. Or, rather, two socks.

It certainly can be argued that nearly naked women don't belong in the parade, even in Ashland, as others argue about the flyover by military jets or the presence of politicians. But is it worth losing our heads over? (Sorry, Abe. Maybe when you get back, they'll move you away from the vicinity of a theater.)

When the half-nekkid men were in the rearview mirror and we reached the upper duck pond, this year's brood of fuzzballs had yet to appear. At lest a third of the regular residents had flown the coop, not to return after the pond was drained and "cleaned" last month. The surface is a mellow green once again; but it appears the babies had been thrown out with the bathwater.

Ashland is indeed a silly place, and thank God it is. We'd have it no other way. We'll be reminded of that once again during the parade, which this year has a theme of "Commitment to Community."

Is our community committed? Should it be? I, for one, would vote in favor.

Robert Galvin is the fully clothed news editor of the Mail Tribune. He can be reached at 776-4462 or rgalvin@mailtribune.com

Correction: The original version of this column included an incorrect number of years since KKK members marched in the Ashland parade. This version has been corrected.