art galleryfictioncolumnistsbachelor girlkidstable of contentshumormemoirspersonal essayreviewscontributorsback issueswebringslinks

Revealing snapshots of fascinating people. Here our writers meet all sorts of sane, insane, strange, creative and magnetic folk. You'll love their stories..

Feature Profile


The Streaker
Ryan Van Winkle
























Just maintain eye contact, I tell myself, Don’t look away. No fear... No fear and then we’re off into the fleshy madness. Joel screams, "Let’s GO! Naked guys, naked guys running at you!"

It’s Halloween and the grain alcohol and adrenaline are warming parts of me that have never seen the sun --- never mind the Syracuse cold. We’re huffing fast down the street -- past Clintons, nuns, Lewinskys, flappers and pirates. Joel’s 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 don’t want to see you!" My lungs are burning, my chest is heaving and Joel is about to high five me. He’s in much better shape than I and is doing a dance in the street saying, "You’re great man, that was fucking great. Oh man -- you’re 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 can’t 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 he’s completely insane. He warns me as he reclines on a couch, "If your going to get into my mind, it’s going to get scary."

Max Klopell, a friend of Joel’s, tells me after I agree to the Halloween streak, "You know if I did any of the stuff Joel asks me to do I’d be in jail."

But I had to go with Joel because his rationale was so appealing, "It’s an idealist thing. Because life is so monotonous. Sometimes you don’t feel alive and I want to make my life extraordinary. I’ve got to do something crazy sometimes or I fear I’ll 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 he’s ever been and it’s 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. He’s a Senior majoring in both Philosophy and Television, Radio and Film. He’s on the wrestling team and participates in many campus groups. He’s 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, they’re insecure of themselves and aren’t going to boo. It’s the upperclassman, getting ready to go into the capitalist, greedy society that can’t deal."

It’s 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. "C’mon let’s party," Joel cried, jumping up and down trying to excite the crowd. The music was turned off -- silence. They didn’t 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 didn’t get it, "He said, ‘I just can’t understand that. Why? Why?’ Some people can’t understand I’m doing something out of the ordinary. They’re so set in how they think things should be."

Joel knows he’s different, "got a couple of screws loose." His thought process is amazing. When you say to most people, "Wouldn’t it be funny if somebody’s 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 California’s 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 Joel’s 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?

It’s 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.

"It’s all about the reaction," he says, adjusting himself in his gray sweats, "If I saw someone doing something crazy I’d love it. It transcends our fears, let’s us know that life isn’t dismal. I don’t do this because I want people to say, ‘oh I’m scared!’ and then call the cops."

Joel’s encountered a cop a few times. Once after running naked through a Denny’s 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 I’m naked and he’s 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 wasn’t worried, "I knew the consequences and I didn’t care. If I go, I do. Things don’t affect me. You could chop half my finger off and I’d be okay. I figure, this is new, I might as well enjoy it." He wasn’t arrested that night. It is the way things go, he says, once the cops get over the initial shock and anger they usually think it’s pretty funny. They know he’s not hurting anybody and he explains to the cop what he’s been explaining to me, "I wanted to live a bit."

"I’m just a regular guy," he insists, "I don’t do drugs, I don’t 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. He’s soon pointing a finger illustrating how he held up McDonald’s with a zucchini. Then he’s cracking up about the time he ran onto a driving range dressed as Santa Claus yelling, "If you don't hit me you’re going to get coal in your stocking!" Then there’s 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 they’d go under tables and play with people’s shoelaces, they were treated like they weren’t 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, I’ll feel better. It’s the same with asking a girl out -- what’s the worst that can happen?"

I think, "embarrassment, mockery," comparing my lumpy-in-the-wrong-places bod to Joel’s trim one. He encourages me, "People think it’s cool if you aren’t great looking or well hung. Listen, I wasn’t getting all that much drag when I was swimming, you know? They know you’re not showing off." He was right, people are still mentioning Halloween to me. "We miss out on so much opportunity. It’s training for getting out of a rut. At least they’ll 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. "It’s 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 he’s worried that he’ll 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.


Mail us with your comments.

DUCTS summer issue 2001
art gallery | fiction | columnists | bachelor girl | kids | humor | memoirs | personal essays | profiles | reviews | contributors