originally published April 12, 2013
Today I’m writing with a tiny lead weight tugging at my ventricles, that slight but heavy feeling of a closing chapter. I have spent the last three years getting caught up on my Bachelor’s degree, and today I attend my final classes before getting plunked back into the real world of office-dronism. As an adult with a family and pets and a mortgage and all those infernal trappings of grownuphood, I have had to forsake some of the traditional aspects of college life.
I never joined a fraternity, despite having prepped extensively by watching Animal House dozens of times in my life. I joined no clubs, took part in no activism, and experienced zero drunken three-way orgies. I have conducted no keg-stands, joined in on not one hacky-sack circle, and the last time I drank beer through a funnel was four years ago, at my brother-in-law’s wedding.
But now is not the time for regret. It might be time to look at what I’ve missed out on, but I suspect I’ll do so more with passing curiosity than with any morose self-kicking. Take for example the panty raid.
The first panty raid went down at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois. From what I can gather, panty raids also hit their peak with this first effort – it was pulled off with such planning and forethought, its perpetrators should have been given extra credit. The men snuck inside through the heating tunnels under the Women’s Building. They then let their buddies in through the door, locked the housemother in her room, and cut the lights and the phone lines until they had acquired whatever was their requisite number of female undergarments. It was an elaborate job.
Usually a panty raid is designed to protest early curfews, or rules that keep boys out of girls’ dormitories. Girls were often happy to join in the protest, and gave up their underthings willingly. Of course, sometimes things went wrong, like when 3000 men caused $10,000 damage in 1956 on the University of California, Berkeley campus. But the fad withered away with time, as most dorms became coed and the things worth protesting required a different approach. An anti-Vietnam panty raid probably wouldn’t have done much good.
A Harvard student named Lothrop Withington Jr. – who may have the most Harvard name in history, unless he named his kid Lothrop Withington III – gets the credit for starting the fad of swallowing goldfish. The guy was running for class president in late 1938, and his campaign manager, who was either a brilliant media manipulator or a terrific prankster who wanted to knock Lothrop down a peg or two, suggested he try something wild as a publicity stunt. Lothrop called together some reporters in the Harvard Freshman Union, and sucked back a live goldfish with a mashed potato chaser.
What followed was a nationwide fad the following year, as everyone wanted to “be as hep as Lothrop,” as the kids might have said (but probably didn’t). I haven’t heard of anyone keeping this fad alive today. Maybe with those delicious cheese crackers, but that isn’t going to attract a lot of media attention.
Here’s one that clearly doesn’t happen much today, mainly because there are no phone booths left to stuff. Perhaps the next incarnation of this fad should be to see how many people can be stuffed inside an Apple Store. The one at the mall near my house usually seems to have a couple hundred in there at all times, so you’d need a pretty strong turnout if you’re going to pile up to the ceiling.
The phone booth fad started in Durban, South Africa, then made its way to the US via Britain and Canada in the spring of 1959. The South Africans called up the people at Guinness, and established a World Record of 25 people crammed into a booth. The closest anyone came to that number was when 22 students at St. Mary’s College packed into a booth to be photographed for Life Magazine. If your school has a lot of short, skinny kids, and happens to be conveniently located in the 1950’s, I say go for 26!
The fad of streaking dates as far back as whenever the first modicum of shame over our genital bits began to ooze its way into our collective psyche. A guy was arrested in London for streaking on a bet back in 1799. But it didn’t become a college fad until sometime in the mid-60’s, quite possibly at a school in the Los Angeles area.
Streaking on campus is practically endorsed now, with traditions dating back to the age when current students’ grandparents may have attended school. University of California, Santa Cruz has the First Rain tradition, in which students run naked around campus during the first rain of the season, usually in October. If we did that here, it would be the first snowfall of the season, and it would be insane. Rice University takes its streaking seriously with the Baker 13. Every single month on the 13th and 31st (or the 26th if there is no 31st), a group of students run around campus wearing nothing but shaving cream. Seriously, a twice-monthly naked sprint – they should put that on their website and in their marketing material as a draw for exhibitionists and voyeurs alike.
The record for biggest streak is held by the University of Georgia, who launched 1543 simultaneous bare-assed runners on March 7, 1974. Erskine College in South Carolina only had about 150, but they get the nod for most streakers per capita, with 25% of the student population taking part.
The University of Michigan used to run the Naked Mile on the last day of class, beginning in 1986. In the 90’s they’d get as many as 800 students taking part. This school opted to be a buzz-kill though, and they ensured a tough enforcement of public indecency laws to deter the Naked Mile from continuing. When 24 students participated in 2001, the tradition was pretty much dead. School administrators warned students that streakers would be busted and declared sex offenders for life under current laws. Talk about being complete dicks about a few innocent dicks.
Okay, so most of those fads had tapered into non-existence by the time I went back to school for this degree. But I still feel as though I missed out on some of this experience. I’ve had a blast, met some great people, and at least I’ve maintained my commitment to a steady intake of beer, so I stand by my student-ness. Only now I drink good beer, not cheap beer.
Some sacrifices are simply not necessary.