Just maintain eye contact, I tell myself, Dont look away. No fear... No fear and then were off into the fleshy madness. Joel screams, "Lets GO! Naked guys, naked guys running at you!"
Its Halloween and the grain alcohol and adrenaline are warming parts of me that have never seen the sun --- never mind the Syracuse cold. Were huffing fast down the street -- past Clintons, nuns, Lewinskys, flappers and pirates. Joels thin, graceful frame is directly in front of me, arms flailing bare feet pounding pavement as the crowd cheers. Some gasp, others laugh. Some move out of the way quickly, some are frozen in place and are told by Joel, "Naked guy touching you!" Men scream from a dark porch, "Put some clothes on! Freaks! We dont want to see you!" My lungs are burning, my chest is heaving and Joel is about to high five me. Hes in much better shape than I and is doing a dance in the street saying, "Youre great man, that was fucking great. Oh man -- youre awesome. That was awesome!"
I now understood why Joel streaks: the adrenaline rush, the raw logic of lunacy. The crowd watched us get back into costume and began saying things like, "I cant believe you guys! What were you thinking? How much have you had to drink?" My excuse was easy -- "it was a once in a lifetime experience." Joel is the professional. Joel is the man who has run naked through restaurants and 8 mile golf courses. Joel is the one bouncing on the balls of his feet, hanging like a noose, yelling "Freedom!" at the gawkers.
Joel is the first to admit that hes completely insane. He warns me as he reclines on a couch, "If your going to get into my mind, its going to get scary."
Max Klopell, a friend of Joels, tells me after I agree to the Halloween streak, "You know if I did any of the stuff Joel asks me to do Id be in jail."
But I had to go with Joel because his rationale was so appealing, "Its an idealist thing. Because life is so monotonous. Sometimes you dont feel alive and I want to make my life extraordinary. Ive got to do something crazy sometimes or I fear Ill become one of them."
"Them" being the people at Syracuse University where we are both students. Joel finds "Them" to be anal and prissy. It is the most anal place hes ever been and its certainly more uptight than his home of San Jose California. Everybody, he says, is worried bout passing the social grade and saying and doing the right things. So they do nothing. Many times during our conversation Joel simply says, "Do something, do anything."
Joel has done a lot. Hes a Senior majoring in both Philosophy and Television, Radio and Film. Hes on the wrestling team and participates in many campus groups. Hes also streaked in dozens of places dozens of times. Like on the University quad the night Freshmen were treated to a free showing of "The Birds."
"The Quad was great," Joel explains, "Because it was freshmen, theyre insecure of themselves and arent going to boo. Its the upperclassman, getting ready to go into the capitalist, greedy society that cant deal."
Its a good response that makes a streak successful. The worst was an unbearable experience at the "asshole neighbors" party. There had been tension between the houses all year. Joel and his roommates would keep the windows open and loudly discuss masturbation. The neighbors would call Joel a prick and flick him off. So one night Joel and his girlfriend ran naked into their party and began using the dance floor. According to Joel, people just turned and walked away. "Cmon lets party," Joel cried, jumping up and down trying to excite the crowd. The music was turned off -- silence. They didnt mind his girlfriend being there but they told him he had to leave -- but quick.
Joel spoke to one of the house members later that year and the guy just didnt get it, "He said, I just cant understand that. Why? Why? Some people cant understand Im doing something out of the ordinary. Theyre so set in how they think things should be."
Joel knows hes different, "got a couple of screws loose." His thought process is amazing. When you say to most people, "Wouldnt it be funny if somebodys suit came off during a swimming race?" they laugh and pass it off. Not Joel. And that is how this illustrious streaking career began. In front of 2,000 people in one of Californias statewide swim meets. As soon as the joke was made, Joel explains, he was ready to do it. His friend looked him straight in the eyes and said, "You will not do this." But there was no question in Joels mind -- he was going to swim naked. "It just touched my ego. Carpe diem. Just experience for the hell of it." His only worry was how?
Its ironic, he says, that there is no thought as to whether or not he should streak -- only ways to pull it off. He had to formulate a plan.
He practiced diving in repeatedly with his suit untied to make sure it would fall off at the right moment. He went to the 50 meter relay team and demanded he swim the last leg. Then there he was, on the blocks, "just dying and smiling." He dove in and it worked. "I almost drowned, I was laughing so hard, swallowing water, the suit down to my knees like a parachute." They lost the race but a streak addict was born.
Wanting the entire crowd to get a show Joel lifted his lower torso out of the water while doing a flip turn, hoping that people would notice the Speedo-Free Joel.
"It really bothered me not knowing if anybody saw me." He soon found out that his teammates (they walked away without commenting) and his coach (he shed a tear) saw the softer side of Joel. But what about the audience? At his Senior prom he asked some people who were at the meet if they saw "that naked guy swimming?" and many said they had, which led Joel to believe that about half the crowd caught a satisfactory glimpse.
"Its all about the reaction," he says, adjusting himself in his gray sweats, "If I saw someone doing something crazy Id love it. It transcends our fears, lets us know that life isnt dismal. I dont do this because I want people to say, oh Im scared! and then call the cops."
Joels encountered a cop a few times. Once after running naked through a Dennys in California and once on rollerblades in Syracuse. His blue eyes flash with the retelling of the story he calls, "The most legendary."
He used a rope to tie himself to a car, tossed on a ski mask, lit a cigar, and stuck about a half dozen roman candles in his belt. The car took off and there was Joel in all his glory putting Roman Candle to cigar and exploding up and down the streets of Syracuse. People started coming out of their homes to see Joel flapping by, "I heard cheers," he says smiling and scratching his spartan red beard, "It was like a whole bunch of people doing the wave all down the street." And then there was a stop sign. Not wanting to rear end the car Joel let go of the rope and headed on down the street sparking up his last fire work -- pointing it straight ahead, watching the wick to see when to release. When he looked up he saw a police officer directly in front of him. Joel was no more than a few feet away when the cop shoved his hand out of the way and bear hugged him, "and Im naked and hes like what the hell are you doing? Saying, Put your hands on the car -- take your hands off my car! and all I could say was, Officer do you want me to put pants on now?"
Joel wasnt worried, "I knew the consequences and I didnt care. If I go, I do. Things dont affect me. You could chop half my finger off and Id be okay. I figure, this is new, I might as well enjoy it." He wasnt arrested that night. It is the way things go, he says, once the cops get over the initial shock and anger they usually think its pretty funny. They know hes not hurting anybody and he explains to the cop what hes been explaining to me, "I wanted to live a bit."
"Im just a regular guy," he insists, "I dont do drugs, I dont get angry or violent."
Joel only battles the monotony of life by getting crazy. "I have done so many stupid, asinine things," he smiles struggling to remember the best. Hes soon pointing a finger illustrating how he held up McDonalds with a zucchini. Then hes cracking up about the time he ran onto a driving range dressed as Santa Claus yelling, "If you don't hit me youre going to get coal in your stocking!" Then theres the time he and a friend decided to act like monkeys in the school dining hall. They were banging trays, jumping on tables, screeching and rolling around. They were ignored. Even when theyd go under tables and play with peoples shoelaces, they were treated like they werent even there. Eventually an employee told them they had to leave and they stayed in character and had to be shooed out the door the whole time, rolling on the floor, running back and nipping each other.
"What helps me do this is the thought, What if I died tomorrow? None of this shit matters. If I do it, Ill feel better. Its the same with asking a girl out -- whats the worst that can happen?"
I think, "embarrassment, mockery," comparing my lumpy-in-the-wrong-places bod to Joels trim one. He encourages me, "People think its cool if you arent great looking or well hung. Listen, I wasnt getting all that much drag when I was swimming, you know? They know youre not showing off." He was right, people are still mentioning Halloween to me. "We miss out on so much opportunity. Its training for getting out of a rut. At least theyll remember you"
"Everybody should do it once," he says, convincing me in his living room. It is stark, there are no pictures on the white walls, just a few couches and a TV. "Its definitely a risk. You risk arrest, social rejection, catching a cold," he laughs pulling off his Mickey Mouse cap, "It gets people out of their comfort zone. It always works to shock people."
His biggest ambition, streaking wise, is to get naked and run around in the Carrier Dome during an SU football game, but hes worried that hell get his diploma revoked. More importantly, he wants ultimately to incite social change. "Nihilism will kill America," he predicts. In other words, "Do something. Do anything." But love doing it.
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