Wednesday, May 6, 2009


Imagine you have just taught a writing workshop to a group of a dozen women (more or less) at the YWCA in Greenwich, Connecticut. It's probably around 8:30 at night, maybe closer to 9:00, and you leave the classroom with a few others who've stayed behind to talk to you about the evening's work. You head out through the building's back doors, into the cool spring air. You say good night and find your car in the spacious parking lot. It's dark already at this time of year, though the days are lengthening at last. You get into the driver's seat, lock the car doors out of street-smart habit, and sit for a moment to write some notes on the workshop before you forget. The others have left by the time you turn the key in the ignition. You slowly roll the width of the building toward Putnam Avenue, the main artery connecting this privileged town to its neighbors: on one side, a sub-community of means, and on the other, a poor cousin just past the New York State border. You are at the place where the driveway widens and dips down to meet the well-lit avenue, when you're pulled out of the ordinary by an instance of benign but totally unexpected nakedness. A man—a flash of flesh—jogging through a small stand of trees to your right, darting around your car and off across the property to another wooded area out of view. Jogging, jiggling, sprinting away wearing nothing but a pair of reflective running shoes. This is my memory of a night in 1998, the only time a streaker has ever crossed my path directly. Skinny dipping? Yes. Witnessing of brief, unintentional flashing in public? Yes. (See my post on the perils of kilts in the Paris M├ętro, here.) Streaking? My only previous experience of this impulse toward public nudity came from the fact that, having been a child in the 1970s, my collective cultural memory includes the famous, televised moment when a man named Robert Opal, wearing nothing but a wristwatch, a gold chain necklace, and a head of long dark hair with a thick mustache to match, streaked across the stage and flashed a peace sign behind a poised David Niven at the Academy Awards in 1974. In contrast, the man in Greenwich was not streaking for an audience; he was running not in any attention-seeking way, not in a desperate way—not being chased, for example—but as though he were just out for a jog, albeit nude, the most normal thing in the world. It was as comical as it was perplexing. I laughed about it, and told the story many times to many people in the days and weeks that followed. Turns out, nearly everyone had a story of spontaneous, anonymous nudity to share. Maybe it's not so rare and startling as I imagined it was.

1 comment:

  1. absolutely not rare
    while i taught english to young children at an evening school (thank goodness those days are over), i came across one right outside the institute where i worked. he hadnt noticed there was a school there - i dont know who got the greater shock!