“Turn it up! Turn it up!” we yelled every time “The Streak” came on the car radio in 1974. Ray Stevens’ little ditty about a streaker was one of the funniest things my siblings and I had ever heard. We giggled and sang along every time we heard it, and one of the song’s lines, “Don’t look, Ethel,” became a battle cry in the Lanier household.
It was the seventies, and for whatever reason, some people had adopted the pastime of streaking, the act of stripping off their clothing and running naked through a public place. It was an odd trend and often made the news.
In Stevens’ song, a witness relays three incidents to a news commentator. At the beginning of the song, he describes seeing a streaker in the produce section of a grocery store.
I’s standin’ over there by the tomaters, And here he come, Running through the pole beans, Through the fruits and vegetables, Nekkid as a jay bird.
The next time, the witness spots the streaker — wearing nothing but a smile — in an automotive repair shop. In the final verse, the witness recounts watching the streaker pop out from the cheap seats during halftime of the community’s basketball playoffs. On each occasion, the witness tells the reporter, “I hollered, ‘Don’t look, Ethel.’” At the end of the song, Ethel — the witness’s wife — disrobes and streaks alongside the male streaker.
The song is a classic, right up there with, “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer,” or another Stevens’ tune that features chickens clucking to the musical background of “In the Mood.” The songs are so corny that they are funny, and at 55 years old, each reminds me of the simple pleasures and innocence of my childhood days.
But back to the fad of streaking … I never saw a real, bonafide streaker streaking around the streets or events in my hometown of Warner Robins, although on a few occasions, someone around me turned, pulled down their pants, and exposed their buttocks — an act commonly referred to as mooning, which seems kind of related to streaking in that part of a person’s nude body is revealed.
Years passed, and in 1983, I moved with a few of my belongings to a small dormitory room on Georgia Tech’s campus in Atlanta. Each morning, I walked up a big hill to attend classes and go to the student center to check my mail, eat breakfast or lunch, or get money out of the ATM. It was on one of those walks back from the student center that I saw my first streaker.
The weather was cool that day, and I was bundled up in a jacket for warmth. As I walked along the wide sidewalk from the student center to the top on the hill, I noticed something tall and pale jogging toward me. I observed other students stopping, even moving out of the way, as the pale object ran past them. As the object got closer to me and my eyes focused more clearly, I saw a young male college student in his birthday suit on a collision course with me. I saw it all in what can best be described as, slow motion.
My mouth fell open in shock; his body parts swung in the wind with each step; and to make the incident even more weird and memorable than it already was, he was carrying a torch like an Olympian.
Back at the dorm, I told my friends about the experience.
“Who was he?” they asked me. “What did he look like?”
And that’s when I realized I couldn’t describe the streaker’s face, perhaps because I was too traumatized by the spectacle of it all, but most likely because I hadn’t looked up at the guy’s face. I guess I was a little distracted.
My eyes did not see another streaker until our nephew, Alex, was born in 1987. When he was a toddler, we’d take him out of the tub after a bath, dry him off with a towel, and then, zoom, he was off to the races with not a stitch of clothing on his body. He giggled and ran through the house eluding capture. It was quite entertaining.
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“Don’t look, Ethel!” I’d yell as I chased our naked threeyear- old nephew through the house. “Why is it funny — and even sweet — when little Alex runs around the house naked, but if I ran around the house naked and laughing like a maniac, that would be unacceptable?” my husband asked me all those years ago. He was joking, of course, but I couldn’t answer his question then, and I can’t answer his question now. I didn’t write the rules of streaking, and I don’t claim to understand them. So maybe it’s best that we adults just keep our clothes on.