Editor’s Note: While this post was originally published back in 2007 as The Streak, I’ve gone back in and done a little Spring Cleaning – adding much more to the tale. My year-long series, Forty for Forty – is all about recounting pivotal persons, places or things in my life that made me the guy I am today. This one touches on a host of them. From my shy early beginnings to my grand opening in college – this one sort of hits all bases and really provided me with a good deal of hints to the guy I’d become. So, if you read it way back when, I guarantee it’s mostly nude… errr, new… now.
In parsing through the pages of my life, I have come to a curious conclusion. While I lived my days on the straight and narrow, as bland as the English diet I subsisted on in my formative years, somewhere around the age of 17 I burst from the shell kicking and screaming and ready to make up for lost time. That final Senior Year in High School may have been ‘too little, too late’ to make a run for Everybody’s All American – or Homecoming Queen 1989 – but it was just the right time to reinvent myself as I entered the hallowed halls of Zoo-Mass.
You can keep your Yorkshire Pudding. Easy Ed wanted enchiladas.
So – it was at the University of Massachusetts, that my current personality finally took root and turned an awkward young adult into someone with some semblance of confidence. Now, I don’t carry it in spades but I’m leagues ahead of where I once was. Of course, I’d like to think that all I did was bring some balance to the force.
In this day of Facebook – where every age of our life has seemingly folded in on itself – when old high school buddies mingle with Monkeybar Mafioso – it’s easy to forget that as I’ve aged, my personality has experienced subtle tweaks. Those who knew me then and those who know me now (or at least – met me sometime over the last 20 years) have two totally different descriptions of the same suspect. My High School alumni might peg me a wallflower; the shy guy in the back of the room desperately clock-watching and counting every minute until the class bell would ring – thus springing me into the great wide open and saving me from getting called upon to speak in class. I was a fairly smart guy – so it’s not like I didn’t know the answers – but I held this anxiety inside at speaking out in class.
Now, I wasn’t a complete social outcast as I had a decent group of friends whom I lived to make laugh – but on the grand stage I’d freeze. As my High School years wound on, a lot of that anxiety was shed and I started to get more comfortable in my own skin – beebopping between the class cliques. I didn’t pledge allegiance to any of them but I was fairly friendly with all groups – and once I realized how foolish it was to swim through that school as a complete clam – I started having a much easier time socializing with all parties.
College was a whole different ball game. A spare white canvas to splash some paint upon and begin coloring in the corners of that unpredictable life to come. And I hit that ground ready to run. It helps that the end of my Junior Year in High School and the entire Senior Year were complete high points. I loved every minute of going to school; even dragging my ass there on those rare days when I woke with some nagging illness for fear that I would miss even a moment of the good times and camaraderie. When that final bell rang and we tossed on the robes and tassels, I shed more than a tear. I’d known most of those kids my entire life and I couldn’t help but feel that while we all began things fairly tight in the early elementary days – then chased down separate paths somewhere around middle school – we all united, bonded fast and furious when we approached the Finish Line.
In those final days of Spring 1990, you could feel that kinship. A fierce devotion was forged to stay in touch no matter where our roads lead – from the moment we tossed those caps, in every long, lingering post-grad goodbye hug and the keggers that raged through that celebratory night – as we looked forward to one last blast of carefree Summer before we turned the page and bid each other a fond adieu. It was a fool’s promise then – but we young and didn’t know what we know now. Perchance to dream.
Yeah – it all ended on a high note.
For me – it was just another rung up a sweet uphill slope; for things only got better from there.
Right around the time I turned 16, I couldn’t wait to get to college. That’s probably a result of too many screenings of Animal House and Revenge of the Nerds. While I was far from the party guy in high school – those movies sold the fantasy of a world removed from reality. Sure, we’d learn some – focusing on those disciplines that fueled our passion; for me – journalism and writing. But we’d have crazy fun in the process. And somewhere there – at that utopia planted in the mythic Happy Valley – I was bound to butt horns with some crusty old dean. Time to make the fiction a reality.
From beginning to end, my collegiate career at UMASS was better than I ever could have expected. My wildest dreams pulled into a waking life that I never wanted to shut my eyes from for fear of missing a treasured memory. That place recharged me, rejuvenated me and reconfigured the guy I was. I may have walked in there a gawkward frosh (yeah – I made that word up – that’s one of the little perks you get when you major in Journalism), but very quickly I made the place my own.
My parents should be pleased that they produced a son with a decent head on his shoulders (and as we now know – fairly bullet-shaped but a pretty ripe melon for this bald cut.) So, while I dove in and just soaked up every blessed breath of free air that first year, I capped the Freshman year with some decent grades on those pesky Gen-Eds, took on some extra-curricular activities (most notably in a 3-year stint writing for the largest college daily newspaper in the country – The Daily Collegian) and found time to take on a little side job to earn some extra scratch for the essentials (something had to fuel my raging midnight D.P. Dough calzone addiction).
Most importantly, I followed the sage advice imparted by a senior adviser during Freshman orientation.
“You want to study hard. You want to do well. But when you look back upon your college career – sixty years from now – it’s the friendships that will mean the most. So make the most of this and make this college your castle.”
I’m sure I’m paraphrasing, but the message was loud and clear. Study Hard. Play Hard. Like they say, everything is good in moderation.
Well, that sage (actually a senior Residential Adviser enjoying the final moments of his sunset year), spoke the truth. Years later, I’ve got a decent career working for a tech firm in the financial services industry pulling down enough dough to raise a family of two kids, one dogs and a beautiful wife, and I couldn’t be further away from my college curriculum. The degree in Journalism simply bought me a spot at the interview. The only reporting I’m doing these days is shouting out box score results from my desk to my cubicle-bound cronies. (Geez, I gotta’ stop writing that and reminding myself how depressed I should be that I am in a job for the money and not doing what I really enjoy).
Anyway, back on track, that first year at UMASS was the proverbial whirlwind. There was enough incident and anecdote to fill volumes (it’s amazing how with the right amount of spit and polish anybody can weave the little details of their lives into some semblance of a compelling fiction.) All of those tales are chapters for another day.
For dramatic purpose, we need to skip ahead two years and land at the tail end of Junior Year – Second Semester.
UMASS is divided into residential areas. At the time there were five (think the five original boroughs and think of me as Leonardo DiCaprio in Gangs of New York and you’ll sort of get the picture – and when you think of me as Leo, try to strike Growing Pains from my resume).
There was Southwest, which is dotted with high-rises and is essentially where students go before they die or drop out. That area is the sole reason they call the school, Zoo-Mass. Central and Orchard Hill abut each other and are fairly indistinguishable. The Earthy Crunchy tree-huggers seem to gravitate to that residential area for some reason and the only major event of note is during the Spring Mud season, the hills that slope from their dormitories to the outskirts of campus make for nice human mud slides. Then there is Sylvan, which is distinguished by the fact that all rooms are suites (or collections of 3 – 4 dorm rooms in segmented living areas). What this meant was if you had a group of 6 or 8 buddies (or militia members), you could live (or assemble) in some semblance of privacy.
I lived in Northeast (Thatcher dormitory to be exact). Northeast was laid out in a ring, with seven dorms surrounding a traditional campus quad. Northeast sat at the top of a hill, looking down upon the quad, which provided a nice vantage point to scope that grassy expanse of land in hopes of spying some diversion (Frisbee, Whiffle Ball, Jarts) which could segregate you from your syllabus.
The Northeast Quad also became home to the annual Northeast Streak Week, which I am proud to say, began its inaugural run at the close of my Junior Year and became an annual event thereafter.
It all began so innocently.
In a weird twist of fate, I arrived at Thatcher in early September 1990 to find three of my fellow Rockland High School alumni living in the same dorm. While I bunked with my buddy Rich, a floor above was our RHS pal Eric (Buzz) who was rooming with another High School emigrant Casa. To that mix came one of my best amigos, Jay, who transferred in during the sophomore year from Northeastern. Five guys from the same lunch table were now living in the same dorm. Give us time and we’d rule the five boroughs of Zoo Mass.
It was Jay who shook up the quiet confines of Northeast with his public nudity. Much like a young Kevin Bacon taught us it was our right to dance, Jay assured all it was OK to drop pants.
Looking back now, the No-Boxer Rebellion started fairly small. One day, while cresting the stairs of the dorm, I looked up to see Jay strolling by wearing just a sock and a guitar. The guitar was on his back. The sock on his front. You do the math.
From that came tales of co-ed naked dance parties. All very chaste (think the warm confines of a nudist colony or nude beach) but naked nonetheless. We would hear whispers and innuendo but none of us could ever really latch on to the specific coordinates of these couture-optional soirees, so they remained just that. Myths.
Then came Finals week in the final weeks of May. The way UMASS is set up, classes end and give way to a few days of prep before Finals commence. These are supposed to be study days but the majority use the time to decompress. To let loose, let down your hair, take a deep breath and CHUG CHUG CHUG before diving headfirst into the abyss of all day exams.
Regardless, the fear of Final Exams set everyone a little on edge. It was tough to relax knowing that these tests were make it or break it for another year (little did we realize, it was a state school so as long as you kept sending a check you could stay enrolled until they granted you a Common Law Fellowship).
Still, our own personal Che, or Jay, Guevara felt the air of uncertainty and in the great collegiate tradition, seized the day.
It was a warm Spring afternoon, just a shade past Five O’Clock, as I sat in the Dining Commons noshing on some Wheat Chex (I owe General Mills my life for helping me soldier through that horrid meal plan) when I heard a sound of thunder. It began small, like that famous Jurassic Park water drip. One tremor was followed by three or four. The din grew louder. The tables began to shake as place settings and coffee cups vibrated so rapidly they almost took flight. Something was coming. Fast and hard. Suddenly, there was movement off to the right. Just above the seating area, where a bank of picture glass windows provided a view of the gentle hills above, a flash of flesh bloomed. There was Jay, running naked as the day he was born (assuming he was born wearing Nikes), followed by a small herd of fellow students. (“My God, he HAS a small army!!!”) The all-caboose train departed as swiftly as it arrived and the stifling silence was soon shattered by laughter.
Everyone’s day had been made.
The next evening, as I was waltzing through the Campus Center on the way to the Blue Wall for one of their kick-ass chocolate chip cookies, I spied a familiar site. Not Jay, but his comrade-in-arms, BJ. BJ was a band mate of Jay’s and was one of those guys who’s very easy to get to know. He was a liberal free spirit but one of those very laid back casual guys who didn’t try to assault you with their agenda. Anyway, BJ was trying to prop open the North Entrance of the Campus Center and was directing a few lackeys to strategic positions nearby. I mosied over and asked him what was up. “Round 2” he replied. I asked if I could help and he directed me to the South Entrance. It might look too conspicuous to Campus Security if two doors were propped so BJ wanted me to hang by the entrance and when the time was right, to simply hold the door open for a small stream of guys and dolls.
“No problem”, I replied. I moved southward and took my position.
The clock struck 10:00 p.m. and the Campus Center was abuzz with the usual assortment of students, grabbing snacks or a cup of java or simply hanging out and jawing all night. With no school tomorrow (and more importantly, no exams) this night had the feeling of an all-nighter. Despite the assorted activity, a hush seemed to draw over the crowd. The proverbial ‘calm before the storm.’ Then it began. That low murmur which gave rise to a moderate rumble and finally became a cacophony of thunder. Something wicked this way comes.
Through the North Entrance they funneled in. Jay and BJ were leading a pack that had easily doubled its population. What was once a Baker’s Dozen, was now somewhere north of 25 bounding birthday suits. They poured into the Campus Center and every clothed individual just stopped dead in their tracks as the skin stream wound its way through. As they neared my perch, I grabbed for the door, swung it open and granted them safe passage into the night. Once again, the silence was met with laughter.
Everyone’s night had been made.
This brings us to the third, and final, night of our tale. Word from the front lines was Jay Guevara was going to stage the last leg of this year’s rebellion in the center of the Northeast Quad. His hopes were to turn the Quad into one massive clothing-optional block party. He and his posse were looking to get things started by doing a few laps in the au-natural around the perimeter of the quad. They knew that the more laps they did, the more attention they would grab, which would then coax people out of their rooms and into the great outdoors where the likelihood that more people would join the cause increased.
I’ve got to give it to Jay. He knew how to inspire people. I speak from experience.
Yes, tis’ true. That night, I decided that I was a doorman no more. No, from here on out, I was enlisting. This was the most important decision of my life. I could no longer sit and watch them march off to fates unknown without doing a thing. With that pledge, I officially signed up for my own Tour of Booty.
I headed down to the dorm rec room, which had now been transformed into a staging area (complete with changing curtains and tanning beds). There were students assembled everywhere, ready to toss aside everything (or at the very least their button-flies) for Jay’s cause. The numbers had risen from the evening before. The crowd had to be 100 deep. Gazing around, you could easily discern the noobies from the vets.
The rookies were the ones wearing pants.
Greeting Jay, we reminisced briefly about our days at RHS. Days spent idly playing stickball in the street or Pac-Man at the local 7-11. Innocent times. Gone now like so many quarters to Inky, Blinky, Pinky & Clyde. Now, here we were, all grown up. Ready to go make a stand. Ready to believe in something. ANYTHING!!!
Ready to get naked because there was nothing better to do.
We shook hands and then Jay motioned to the clock. 11:55 p.m. No more time for pleasantries. Jay rose and marched towards the dorm exit. The rest of us waited a tick, thinking back to our loved ones, to the girl we had pining for us back at home or the parents ready to bake us an apple pie, and then we said goodbye to all that. As Don McLean’s voice warbled through the tin speakers of some dude’s Casio, we bid adios to innocence and sayonara to our underwear.
Jay stood proud atop the hill Thatcher sat upon and looked down on the quad. Despite the late hour, every window in the seven surrounding dorms was ablaze with blinding light. A sea of stars nestled below a sea of stars. And further below, just upon the grass, was a Woodstock in waiting. There were people everywhere. Some clothed. Some not. All awaiting their William Wallace. Their Maximus. Their Jay Guevara.
He stepped forward to say a few words of inspiration.
“The university calls us free…
…but we are not free.
As long as your skin suffocates beneath the constraints of your Claiborne.
Your Bugle Boys.
YOU — WILL — NEVER — BE — FREE!!!”
The crowd was his – their attention rapt – each and every person hanging on each and every word. A collective thought coursed through the crowd, our hive mind picking up the signal and passing it further down the line.
“Amen, brother. (PAUSE) Hey, is it cold out here or is it just me? (PAUSE) It’s called turtling!!! It happens to a lot of guys!!!”
Suddenly, trouble brewing. Blue and red lights bathed the dorm walls. While a few people popped in pacifiers and waved their light sticks, the rest of us know the 4-1-1.
It was the 5-0.
The Campus Cops moved in, en masse, taking stations all around the perimeter. Cruisers blocked the two main entrances to the quad. A cop on horseback arrived and stood sentinel a short distance away. From the trees came a couple plain clothes detectives. A mailbox flashed a badge. They were everywhere – crawling out of every gas station, residence, warehouse, farmhouse, henhouse, outhouse and doghouse in the area. The jig, it would seem, was up.
We all looked to Jay.
Being the closest to him, I saw a cloud of doubt dawn across his countenance. As quickly as it formed, it dissipated and in its wake was steely resolve. We had come to streak DAMN IT, and streaking was what we’ll do!!!
Jay opened his mouth to issue a proclamation to his followers. What infinite words of wisdom would flow? My mind wandered.
“ON MY WORD… UNLEASH HELL?!?!?”
Jay silenced my introspective inquiry with one word.
And with that, we were off. Shirts were shorn. Pants were dropped. And an entire student body of student bodies began to run for their lives. But a curious thing happened. The cops didn’t move. They just sat and watched.
Those perverts!!! They were just here for the show.
So, we continued to run. A great mass victory lap around the Quad. Smiles all around. Everyone felt great. Everyone felt free. I contemplated high-fiving some fellow streakers, complete strangers, and then thought better about it. After all, I DO know where their hands had been.
As quickly as it began, it ended. The majority of us reconnected with our clothing and then just hung out (pun intended) enjoying the cool night air and the instant karma Jay’s rebellion granted us. The night’s entertainment carried on for a bit as some more adventurous types staged an impromptu clothing-optional variety show.
There were streakers with sparklers. There was a streaker wheel barrel race (my buddy Justin placed third, I think). There were streakers on roller blades (yeah, we winced too!!!) There was even a streaker game of leap frog (the one time the cops looked like they might have to step in and enforce some blue laws.)
Everyone’s semester had been made.
Eventually, the night came to a close. And the day dawned. And the books opened. And the Finals were taken. And we closed the book on another year of college. One more down. One more sad step forward towards responsible adulthood.
A year later, the scene played out the same way. While it wasn’t the same as the first year (what was once a spontaneous rebellion had now birthed a National Holiday of sorts), it was thrilling to see the genesis of what could potentially become a campus tradition.
A few more years went by, and on a lark, my buddies Sean, Justin and I decided to head to Amherst for a little post-grad reunion and to sip some fine brews from our favorite ale house, The Pub. Sometime, late into the evening, we decided to take a walk from town to campus to take in the familiar sites and haunt the hallways of nostalgia. As we crested the hill that runs behind Thatcher, we heard a familiar chorus drift up from the valley below. Justin checked his watch and the date and deduced that we were just days away from Finals Week. We all looked at each other.
We beat our feet in the direction of the sound. As we pushed through some brush, we came face-to-face with a lot of bush. The whole Quad was stacked with naked students, who were keeping up tradition by tossing aside their inhibitions, just as quickly as their Abercrombies, for a few moments of freedom.
We smiled at what we had wrought.
Like most rebellions, it all started so simple – with a guitar… and a precariously placed sock.