At times, it seems the neighborhood has come to absorb them as part of the scenery, with the naysayers left to gripe among themselves or make feckless calls to the police. That is, until a Sunday night last month, when a cop car driving down Castro spotted Mills in the buff and made a U-turn.

The lieutenant, new to the precinct, said Mills was under arrest for a public nuisance. Mills argued that the charges wouldn't stick, and two more squad cars soon pulled up. So did John Fitzinger — "standing in the street with a smug expression on his face," Mills says.

The police officer cuffed Mills and put him in the car; Mills persuaded the cop to drive to Hartford Street and retrieve his shorts and garage door opener from a planter. Once at Mission Station, Mills was handcuffed to a metal bench. Twenty minutes passed until a lieutenant told Mills he could leave without a citation if he'd promise to go home. Mills agreed he would — just for that night — and the police even gave him a ride home.

"They're just trying to intimidate me," Mills says. Some nudists are worried that the Castro nudists will draw unwanted scrutiny to nudity in San Francisco, even at events where it's welcomed like Bay to Breakers, Folsom Street Fair, and the World Naked Bike ride.

"I don't want the guys in the plaza to push the [city] into thinking they have to pass an anti-naked ordinance to get rid of them," says Rich Pasco, the founder of the Bay Area Naturists, who usually stick to nude beaches.

Case in point: Berkeley. People's Park had long been a nude-friendly space where a nude theater group named the Xplicit Players put on shows without much complaint. Then Andrew Martinez showed up on UC Berkeley's campus naked in the early '90s, and both the university and the city banned public nudity. For that reason, Mills says he doesn't want to "push things too fast or too hard. The social goal is to disarm the prudish people," not give them more fuel. To better their public image, he's even suggested the nudists start a weekly trash cleanup.

City officials don't seem overly worried about them. At least outgoing Supervisor Bevan Dufty doesn't. Dufty, who has represented the Castro for the past eight years, also happens to be raising his 4-year-old daughter in the neighborhood. The nudists have been out when he regularly sits in the plaza with her to people-watch.

"She's fascinated with penises, so she kind of pointed out there are penises and I said, 'Yep, they are right there,'" he says. "I said they like to have people pay attention to them and are very comfortable being naked." A politician who grooves on a Pride parade float with his daughter on his hip, he says it's a false choice between a family-friendly Castro and a sex-positive one. "It's much more difficult to explain racism, violence, and war," says Dufty, who plans to run for mayor next year. "Explaining to her what a sex toy is will be a walk in the park."

For now, the nudists seem to be moving into the Castro for good. Yet there's always the possibility that it will be just a fad, fading away as the novelty wears off. "I would really like to be married and not do this," Fishback admits.

"I've done it over and over again and it gets to be kind of routine," Mills says. "The heart-pumping excitement isn't there."

Only in San Francisco is the biggest threat to the public nudity movement not the cops, or prudes, or even kids. It's boredom.

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