June 2, 2005

My most memorable evening at the Regenstein

Lately, one question comes up in just about all of my conversations: "What are your plans after graduation?" Funny thing, but each time, I am no more prepared to respond than the time before. Instead of looking forward to the rest of my life, I find myself sorting through the events and memories that have shaped my undergraduate experience. After four years, I've accumulated a wealth of stories. Rather than weaving these into some kind of statement about what the University of Chicago has meant to me, I'm just going to tell one of them.

This is the story of how the track team streaked in the Regenstein Library.

To begin with, it was no ordinary day. For its naked exploits, the team had chosen the busiest, most intense study day of the year: the Sunday before finals week of winter quarter. Naturally, this was no accident. I guess the sheer lunacy of the idea appealed to this 19-year-old frosh with an overdeveloped sense of espirit de corps. Then again, this would be the Mount Everest of streaking events. My excitement did not, however, drown out all the nervousness. I recall studying in the Reg that Sunday, butterflies in my stomach when I imagined myself naked, surrounded by serious, unsmiling security guards.

There were about 10 of us that year, the second year of the run. We met at the seal in the Reynolds Club at 11 p.m., and together crossed the street to the Reg. Things looked different to me, maybe because we were about to commit a crime. People were nervous, I was nervous, and still somehow unbelieving that in a matter of minutes, I would be naked in the library.

We mounted the book stacks stairwell, adrenaline coursing, to the fifth floor, where we made our way to the southwestern corner to shed our clothes. The atmosphere was not erotic, but I recall some awkwardness. I was not used to casually taking off my clothes in front of girls, and equally unaccustomed to seeing them strip down right next to me. I tried not to look too closely at anyone, which was not the easiest thing in the world. It was Billy Cottrell, team genius, who broke the ice by taking off his pants. We stripped to the essentials—running shoes—and shuffled in an efficient, if undignified, pack towards the fifth floor reading area.

We were cruising along with leashed nervous energy, and then we hit the doors. We went through them. "Team Naked" streamed out in all its glory—to where they were waiting for us. Word had gotten around that the track team was streaking the Reg that night, and we were met with screams, applause, and yes, camera flashes. There was no lolly-gagging on our part; this was pornography in motion. We looped around the fifth floor, the fourth, third, and second, converting the library into a naked running carnival. No security guards were on hand; only adoring, or perhaps objecting—but at least vocally appreciative—peer library users.

We called it quits after completing our circuit on the second floor. The feeling was exhilarating, like a great sledding run or rollercoaster ride. Climbing back up the stairs to where our clothes were, we slapped fives, and walked out together in a group. Some people were clapping. If you'd asked me then, I probably would have said I would do it next year for sure. But I never have. Still, my hat is off to those who keep the tradition alive year after year. This streaking event is distinctive in its design: It is not about sex; it is about stirring things up.

By late February or March, things at the University tend to get a little stale. People spend more time inside—and in the libraries—during these months than they do at any other time of the year. Libraries are serious places, and tend to rub off on the people who use them. Turning the library into a forum for kinetic, naked activity is designed to shock, and that is just what it does. For a brief interval, students drop their books and emerge from their study holes, to shake their heads about how crazy the naked people are. The dynamic of the Reg changes, and the result—I can say from both sides now—is damn funny.

I have done a number of crazy things during my undergraduate career. Chicago is the kind of place that requires one to do crazy things now and then, or else go crazy. But no single adventure rivals my streaking experience at the Reg, not in terms of sheer audacity and subsequent satisfaction. Bounding naked through the throng of Reg-rats on that Sunday night, my teammates and I gave one brief, shinining "fuck you" to the grim pressure of finals week at the University of Chicago. And then we went back to studying.