In the spring of 1974, the No. 1 song in the country for three weeks straight was “The Streak,” Ray Stevens’ novelty tune about that most American of pastimes, running naked in public. The tune and trend faded quickly, but it’s the first thing nudists of a certain age recall upon hearing the following tale.
On April 25, hundreds of Washburn High School students were in the late and most competitive stages of Assassins, the live-action game in which teams of Nerf gun-wielding teens “kill” each other with foam bullets. Over the past two decades, Assassins has become a high school spring ritual on par with prom and graduation, and this year, the good Catholic kids at De La Salle implemented a new rule: Strip naked and you can’t be killed.
God bless ‘em. Picking up the story here is a lad we’ll call Nude Boy, who graduated from Washburn a couple weeks ago and is on his way to a lucky Big 12 college to study business in the fall.
“It’s teams of six people and everyone has a hit list, and if you kill everyone on your hit list you make it to the final round and the winning team gets the pot of money that everyone pitched in when it got started,” Nude Boy explained over coffee the other day.
“So because of the naked rule, that night after our choir concert, me and all my friends decided, ‘We’re all going to show up at Lynnhurst Park naked for the big battle; we’re just gonna shoot naked and kill everybody and they won’t be able to kill us.’ But everybody else had that same idea too. We jumped out of the car and chased this guy who still had his clothes on, and some more naked people jumped out of a car and pretty soon you’ve got 50 naked kids running around Lynnhurst Park shooting each other with Nerf guns.”
“Fifty, seriously. Maybe more,” said Nude Boy. “Everyone [was] just scrambling. At first it was just guys doing it, but pretty soon girls were running naked, cars were driving around the park with naked drivers, and everyone was just naked as hell. It started at about 9:30 and we had a good 30 or 45 minutes of running around naked as hell. Then finally towards the end we saw red and white lights coming from the parkway, and people started taking off. I’m pretty sure there were still some cars full of naked kids when the cops showed up.”
Five squad cars corralled the group and let them go, with the officers on the scene saying, according to Nude Boy, “We thought there was some kind of assault going on. This is like our seventh call today about people running around naked. You guys are dumb. Go home.”
In the last few weeks, the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board has been in the news, with the Trust for Public Land naming Minneapolis home to the best park system in the nation, and with NAACP president Nekima Levy-Pounds and Black Lives Matter calling it out for it being too white. Turns out the naked Assassins game offers new ways towards diversity and creative ways to use the parks.
“It kind of brought everyone together,” said Nude Boy. “We had closed gun battles at Pearl Park, and I saw all sorts of kids I’ve only seen in the halls at Washburn and that I’ve never actually engaged with, and there we all were, trying to kill each other. At first it was just mostly white kids who live in the neighborhood, but as soon as word got out that there were naked gun battles going on, it was boys, girls, black kids, white kids, Mexican kids… it was just everybody was down there and everybody wanted to be naked and have a good time.”
But the good time that will live most in Miller and Mpls. infamy is the one that happened the night of April 25, 2016: The lark at LARC.
“It was dark and it was kind of cold, and everyone was just naked as hell,” said Nude Boy, who obviously relishes using “naked” and “naked as hell” as often as possible. “People would have their underwear in one hand so if someone came by you, you put it over your junk and not be exposed too much. It was a pretty nice night, the start of spring, and people were just crawling through the Lynnhurst field, completely covered in grass and dirt.
“Later that night a couple guys from my team decided to go to a movie and somehow another team found out they were there, and so they were leaving the movie theater and my friend stripped naked in the parking lot and the movie was letting out and it was really crowded with all these people going, ‘What the hell is going on?’ And a dude popped out from behind a car, naked as hell, and killed my friend in a naked gunfight, right there in the Southdale [AMC] parking lot.
“About a week after that, they got rid of the naked rule. It started at De La Salle, but the guy who runs [it] stopped it because he didn’t want people getting arrested for being naked. Washburn already doesn’t like the idea of us running around shooting each other with Nerf guns, and that it’s dangerous with reckless driving and whatever, so he didn’t want them to get even more mad about kids running around naked.
“So about two weeks after the big naked night at Lynnhurst, two guys were trying to kill me in my neighbor’s backyard and I stripped down naked while running and they ended up killing me because the naked rule wasn’t a thing anymore.”
Just like that, it was over. The world is complicated and chaotic, with all sorts of systems making humans feel oppressed, but for Nude Boy and many others who were and weren’t there that night, the thought of 50 naked as hell kids running wild through the brush of the Minnehaha Creek and the outfield grass as springtime burst forth with new life will always inspire a certain hope.
“It was the most fun I’ve ever had,” said Nude Boy, wistfully, the spring of his youth already fading in his college-bound rearview mirror. “It was just a bunch of people completely naked running over these baseball fields where we’ve played on, and it was the first time I’ve ever ran butt-naked through Minneapolis with a bunch of people doing the same thing.
“We’ve graduated already, so we can’t get in trouble from the school for being naked or anything, and the other day my friends and I were talking, like, ‘We should go streak somewhere.’ We want to do it again. It was the most freeing feeling ever.”
Jim Walsh lives and grew up in East Harriet. He can be reached at [email protected]