Revisited: Remembrances of college

While my 17-year-old son considers his options for college in the fall, I’m reminded of the exhilaration of my own post-secondary educational experience some 35 years ago. As I’ve recounted to him numerous times — I’m hoping at least one account will make it past the iPod — it remains to this day one of the greatest experiences of my life, right up there with Daniel’s birth, my marriage to my wife, and the day I found 57 cents under a park swing when I was four years old. (It seemed like a big deal at the time.)

I graduated from Miami Norland High School in 1971, about 150 in a class of 991. As such a successful senior, I had my choice of virtually any public college in the state, primarily because they were legally bound to accept me.

I chose Florida State University in Tallahassee, over 400 miles northwest of Miami. My reasons were not the soundest: I longed for cooler weather, it had an active countercultural movement, and it was the farthest I could get from my dreary teenage life without leaving Florida. I was interested in pursuing a journalism degree but failed to notice in my research that such a program was not offered at FSU. Oops.

Since I couldn’t major in the field I wanted, I decided instead to work on the student newspaper. The Sunday before my first official day as a freshman, I showed up at the student union offices of The Florida Flambeau, wanting to be a reporter. I remember sitting in the hallway outside the newsroom, too scared to walk in and introduce myself but too overweight to avoid being in the way of the scurrying journalists who kept tripping over me. One of them finally asked what the hell I was doing on the floor, and my career in mass communications was launched.

I absolutely fell in love with the place and rose quickly through the ranks. My very first news story, on a new sleeping concept called the waterbed and students’ reaction to it (“they’re not allowed in the dorms”), soon gave way to meatier stories about all the political activity on campus. Both the draft and the Vietnam War were still in full swing at the time, and student protests had caught the attention of the state’s media. About the same time, a member of the state Board of Regents heard that male and female students were commingling, shall we say, in state-funded dormitories, which she colorfully labeled “taxpayers’ whorehouses.” By reporting on these events as an outsider instead of as a participant, I could share in the excitement without experiencing any of the risk (a good thing in the case of anti-war protests, not so good with the whorehouses.)

By the end of my sophomore year, I had become editor of the paper. I was spending all my free time in the newsroom, as well as a good bit of the time that I should’ve spent in lecture halls, laboratories and the library. We clustered around the ancient AP teletype machines and watched as the demise of the Nixon presidency unfolded in smeared black ink. We yearned for a similar scandal in our own corner of the world, so we found some faculty members who didn’t like the university president and started giving them press. But the excitement of the era was definitely on the wane. We could tell our chances of being shot by National Guardsmen were rapidly diminishing.

With the fad of opposing an unjust colonialist war losing its luster, it was time for a new craze, and I had an idea. I’d read a small article on the wire about a so-called “streaking” incident at a Midwestern school but the most compelling part of the story – photographic evidence – was missing. We ran the item, then I planted a fake meeting notice in our paper of the FSU Streakers Club for the following Friday night. Organizer Ed Mims failed to show up for the meeting, primarily because he didn’t existent, though about 20 others did come, including me as the reporter. When the group finally got tired of waiting for Ed, someone else took charge and recommended that FSU put itself in the national spotlight.

Within a few days, we got a tip to have a photographer ready at 1:30 p.m. in the parking lot near the Chemistry Building. In the interest of providing written documentation of the event, I went along and, sure enough, a naked guy emerged from a car and ran across a small grassy median before ducking into another car and driving away. We got five shots, two of which were genitals-free, and the least fuzzy of these made it into the next day’s Flambeau. The following day it was reproduced in the Jacksonville and Tampa newspapers and by the weekend, it made the pages of Newsweek magazine. FSU was being credited with starting the latest college fad as streaking broke out at campuses all over the country.

These were heady times as we attempted to capitalize and build on our new-found notoriety. We scheduled a mass “streak-in” on the campus’s main quadrangle, Landis Green, which brought out more local families and their picnic baskets than any actually nude people. Several locations did attract small aggregations of mostly male naturists – I still have a photo taken outside my freshman dorm of probably 50 or 60 streakers milling around the bicycle stands, frozen in a miraculous moment reminiscent of the Austin Powers openings, with all naughty bits hidden.

Soon the thrill and novelty of streaking began to wear off, despite our desperate attempts to lengthen its duration in the national consciousness to something more akin to Vietnam. We convinced a cub reporter to borrow his roommate’s cane so we could feature him on the front page as the nation’s first blind streaker. On April Fool’s Day, me and another editor got a guy to lie naked on the ground and we dragged him by his four limbs in front of the camera as the first dead streaker. For reasons that make sense in hindsight, we had to abandon attempts to record the first bicycling streaker.

Through it all, I never once participated in any actual streaking, not because of any quaint notions I had about journalistic integrity (ha, ha) but because I was rightfully ashamed of my own personal body. We had a ton of fun, nobody got hurt, and we all ended up with great stories to avoid telling our children.

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5 Responses to “Revisited: Remembrances of college”

  1. Paul Dixon Says:

    As Davis’ college roommate, I can testify as to the accuracy of this account. I have always credited you, Davis, with igniting the national streaking craze, for better or for worse.
    I do remember the number of streakers on Landis Green a bit differently, however. The Landis Green streaking actually took place over two consecutive evenings (a Thursday and a Friday), and there were an estimated 700-800 streakers both nights, running to and fro under the newly-installed orange-colored street lamps. A truly amazing sight that I will never forget, and I, like you, elected (erected?) to not participate in the mass nudity due to my personal insecurities about my Irish heritage, if you get my drift 🙂

  2. S Fox Says:

    There was certainly no streaking in my college daze, or at least none I can recollect.

  3. M Keel Says:

    As a FSU student at the time, I remember this well. However, I question the part about the “cub reporter” with his room mate’s cane. The blind streaker featured in the Flambeau was, in fact, blind. His name is Nick (last name withheld to protect the guilty.) I think I still have the year end issue with his centerfold.

  4. Paul Dixon Says:

    To further reinforce the historical record ( and to further delay actually having to file my damn taxes today), the photo credit on the original photo that was published in Newsweek magazine belongs to a guy named Gary Bernatowicz.

  5. Wade Black Says:

    Gary Bernatowicz was a student in my freshman comp class at the time [hi, Gary!] and he ralied a number of my other students to join the mass streaks. That must have been the spring of 1973? The blind streaker was known campus-wide as Blind Jack. I think his first streak was at the Pastime, and he later was a Landis streaker. I THINK the picture of the blind streaker is actually him, running across Landis with his white cane stretched out in front of him. Blind Jack also took a number of film classes, usually off to the side of the auditorium with Ruth Stone describing to him whatever was appearing on screen. He might even have been a mass comm major. FSU later took streaking abroad. The FSU London Center and the FSU Florence center became centers of European streaking, carrying the practice abroad as they spread out on visits to other cities. FSU is unfortunatetly absent from the two wikipedia articles on streaking — one of the reasons to forever question wiki’s ability to get the full story. #8->

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