How Streaking Saved My Life
I began my senior year of college full of that wide-eyed wonder more often associated with toddlers and idiots. I had spent the summer bumming rides around the country; I'd just discovered the psychedelic power of dextromethorphan; I'd shaved most of my head bald and I thought I looked awfully cool with my new mohawk. I was a freak of the first magnitude.
The specter of graduation loomed large, but it cast no shadow across my mental horizon. While my classmates prepared resumes or applied to graduate schools, I was dreaming of the revolution. What the baby boomers did in the '60s was nothing, a mere fillip; a continuous revolution was possible; indeed, it was necessary -- and (it seemed to me) imminent, so close that I could almost taste it. Soon people everywhere would be quitting their jobs, leaving their homes, banding together and roving the country to spread the New Word....
It was a simple matter of formulating the Word that would open their eyes, a task to which I devoted all my mental energies. I studied mystical religious texts and took drugs for inspiration. In the meantime, I did all I could to stir things up and let my freak flag fly.
September 7th, 1989: The Word Made Flesh
I dropped my shorts and ran from the porch of Ballantine Hall wearing nothing but a pair of Converse low-tops and a bad haircut. I ran like mad up the curving asphalt drive, past pop-eyed students and astonished professors. A flurry of wind-borne papers filled the air as folders and notebooks fell from paralyzed hands. A great shout rose up in my wake, cries of outrage and whoops of jubilation mingling together. And underneath the roar there was a great rustling, as of leaves in the wind, as certain inspired students slithered out of their clothes and ran after me.
Sound fantastic? OK, I confess: It didn't really happen that way. The cheering, frenzied crowds existed only in my imagination. The reality was at once stranger and more mundane.
As I pounded up the pavement toward 7th Street, my mohawk and my genitals flopping from side to side, I was practically alone. Where had all the throngs of students gone? The campus was suddenly deserted. The few stragglers didn't notice me, engrossed in conversations about math homework or keg parties. They didn't even look up as I charged past.
I tried my damnedest to attract attention to myself. "Take off your clothes!" I shouted. "This is what college is all about!" But nobody cared.
(One curious young man was prompted to inquire: "Why'd he do that?" His accent marked him as a native of Da Region. I was well out of earshot by this time, but the comment was reported to me by Kurt Danneman, a friend who had taken it upon himself to videotape this little gambado. Kurt answered the young man thusly: "Didn't you hear what he said? Because he's in college!" The young man said, "Well, I'm in college, and I don't run around naked." To which Kurt replied: "No, you just talk funny.")
The Long (and Nervous) Arm of the Law
After I passed between the Art Museum and the HPER building, I ran out of steam. I smoked Camel (unfiltered) cigarettes in those days, and I just didn't have the aerobic stamina to keep running. I slowed to a leisurely walk.
I heard quick footsteps behind me, but I didn't turn around. So blithe and naïve was I, O Reader, that I never imagined a police officer would pursue me for such an obviously harmless prank. Imagine my surprise when I felt a hand grab my arm forcefully -- imagine my rude disillusionment as the cuffs were locked around my wrists -- imagine, if you will, my painful discomfiture and bemused chagrin as Officer Cavender held me on display on the edge of 10th Street, naked, hands twisted behind my back, as he attempted to radio for assistance.
Alas, Officer Cavender's walkie-talkie was broken. Either that or he'd forgotten how it worked. He was nervous, after all. He was younger than me, and it was probably his first arrest. In any event, he was unable to make radio contact with the dispatcher. So we stood on the curb together watching the rush-hour traffic roll by -- he in his skin-tight blue uniform, I in my skin-tight skin -- and we waited for a random police cruiser to rescue us.
I would pay for it later. And much more.
Needless to say, I was unable to provide the necessary identification when they booked me. If only I'd had the foresight to stuff my driver's license up my asshole! (But if I had been blessed with foresight I would never have gotten busted in the first place.) So, after the fingerprints and the photographs and the paperwork and the insults were all accomplished, I was carted from the campus police station to the city police station, where I sat and waited in the stainless steel drunk tank and waited, all by my sober lonesome, until my fellow dormie showed up with my wallet.
In the days and weeks that followed, the town suffered a rash of copycat streaking. A lone man with a ponytail was spotted on Kirkwood on the very night of my arrest, running naked and chanting, "Na-ture is the way for me!" The next night a group of four party-goers, including a prominent local bartender, ran around the block naked. Another mixed foursome sprinted from Ballantine Hall to Woodburn Hall in broad daylight, in various states of undress. (One of these individuals has gone on to fame and fortune as the webmaster for People Magazine.) No arrests were made.
My Probation Officer
Jill Barnett was assigned to be my Probation Officer.
I told her that I was not sorry for what I had done. "It was stupid for me to be arrested," I told her during the Presentence Investigation. "I think the law is wrong. I never thought about the legalities of what I was doing because it was clear to me that nothing was wrong with it. Until someone can tell me why it is wrong I will continue to think that I am right."
This statement demonstrates my naïveté once again. I had missed the point entirely. No one wanted to engage me in a discussion about values or morality. I had not yet discovered that jewel of wisdom which has brightened my life from that time 'til this. I will share it with you shortly.
Ms Barnett was not pleased with my statements. "He displays little remorse for his actions," she told Judge Kenneth Todd. "I respectfully recommend that the Defendant be assessed a maximum sentence."
The maximum sentence for Public Indecency is a full year in jail. Twelve months locked in a cage for being naked? No -- for being unrepentant. Such a system is clearly designed to foster and reward hypocrisy. It made me sick to my stomach. It also scared me shitless.
Before the Law
My lawyer might have advised me to be more circumspect, to toe the line and play it straight. I might even have listened. He did advise me to speak respectfully to the judge himself, and to call him sir or Your Honor. I recommend this strategy to anyone who gets in trouble with the law. Get a normal haircut, wear the nicest clothes you've got, and be very meek and humble. It just doesn't pay to play it any other way.
While the legal proceedings dragged on, Indiana University began their own process of harassment. The Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities charged me with violating University regulations. I received a letter from Judicial Officer JoNes Van Hecke citing the chapter and verse, sections 1.13(a) 5, 2 and 1. "Specifically, it is alleged that you ran down the sidewalk while not wearing any clothing."
I went to my Judicial Conference. I went to my Hearing Commission. They placed me on Disciplinary Probation. I went to my Review Board Appeal. I had a special meeting with Michael Gordon, then Dean of Students. It ended in a shouting match.
Neither were my parents pleased with my behavior. They cut off the financial-umbilical cord, more out of displeasure with my wacky hair-do than anything else.
Meanwhile, the state's justice was comparatively swift. Two IU professors testified as character witnesses at my hearing, and my lawyer copped a plea on my behalf:
I also had to pay a couple hundred dollars in to the court and to the probation department for their trouble, and of course $20 to the police for the flashlight Officer Cavender dropped. But most of my money went to my lawyer, whose fees totaled $500.
I was also entitled to an earned dismissal if I kept my nose clean. Sadly, I was arrested again before my probation ended. That, of course, is another story.
The Last Laugh
I was unable to do the road crew work because of a pain in my lower back (a malady from which I have happily recovered), and so I was assigned to do a total of 40 hours of community service work at the Monroe County Public Library. The library in turn assigned me to work at Bloomington Community Access Television (now CATS). It was there that I learned all "the cool, judiciously applied editing tricks" (Wired magazine) that have led me on to fame and poverty as an independent television producer. But all that came later.
Eventually I graduated, but my battle with the University continued. It was a moot point in some respects, but I felt that I had a solid case. In my final statement to the new Director of the Office of Students' Rights and Responsibilities (who had inherited my case from his predecessor), I summarized as follows:
The new director sighed. He offered me some M&Ms from a giant dish full of candy. "Tell me, Bart," he asked in a haggard voice, "what exactly is it that you want?" I told him that I wanted a clean record. He nodded. Then he offered to destroy the only remaining copy of my file if I would just shut up and drop the matter for once and for all.
I left his office for the last time and stepped out into one of the most beautiful spring days I have ever seen. The air itself was vibrating with life. The sunlight, the leaves, the fresh air -- I was glad to be in southern Indiana, glad to be in Bloomington, glad to be such a fucking pain-in-the-ass that I finally got my way, even if it didn't really matter to anyone but me.
Even after all these years, I'm still not sorry. I still have no remorse for my actions. In fact, I'm glad I broke the law. It changed my life for the better. I was naïve and idealistic -- now I'm cynical and idealistic.
I learned a valuable lesson from my experience, hard-won wisdom which I will share with you now. It is simply this: NOBODY CARES about what's wrong and what's right. The only people who care are the people who don't matter. The only people who matter are the people who don't care.
And that's just the way it is in our society. Status quo.
But it hasn't always been this way. And it doesn't have to stay this way. I still nourish dreams of revolution. But the scale of the struggle is much larger than I knew. The forces which conspire against us are much stronger than I realized. Which is not to say that we're helpless. But the revolution will require more than just one person running across campus naked.
Perhaps if I could organize a naked parade...
B runs across the campus of Indiana University, wearing nothing but a mohawk and a pair of Converse All*Stars.
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