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Naked Ambition

July 6, 2017
by Lisa Martinovic

I am a nudist by nature and an exhibitionist by inclination, so when streaking became a thing on college campuses, I was on the front lines. It was 1974, my second quarter at UC Berkeley. An 18-year-old free of parental oversight, I plunged headlong into whatever I felt like plunging into. By day I studied Marxist philosophy en route to a degree in political science, but the night belonged to cheap booze, Afghan hash, and windowpane LSD.

One mild March day, I was typing up a research paper in my boyfriend’s dorm room when we heard a commotion outside and went to investigate. A couple of hundred people were milling around the dining commons hoping to glimpse the streakers predicted by The Daily Cal. I’d been dying to streak ever since I heard about it. I craved notoriety and prided myself on being outlandish, taking risks that others didn’t dare. Running wild, buck naked through the streets of Berkeley would be a notch on my belt of dubious accomplishments, albeit a belt I wouldn’t be wearing while I earned it.

I convinced my boyfriend, Jeff, and a handful of other guys to bare all. In the main lounge of Norton, we stripped down to our goosebumps, slipped out a window, and dashed up Durant, parting a sea of wildly cheering students. Between the roar of the crowd and the thrill of a liberated body, streaking was as exhilarating as any drug I’d ever done. So we kept running—around to Channing and then back towards Norton, squeezing through the rowdy masses awaiting us at the finish line. We ducked into the main lounge and reluctantly reverted to the bourgeois trapping known as clothes. Out in the courtyard, jubilant fans vied to congratulate us while reporters from the San Francisco Chronicle and the Examiner shouted questions.

The next day I was a certified celebrity, an instant dorm legend. Articles had run in both newspapers, and I was besieged by autograph seekers. (OK, three.) For days afterwards I reveled in my newfound stardom.

Less than a week later came word of a streak-in at Underhill Field. Fortified with tequila, the Unit 3 Gang made our way to what was being touted as nothing short of a happening. Instead we found nearly a thousand people wandering around … fully clothed. Now seasoned pros, Jeff and I and a few others gave them a crash course in the new fad: We got naked right there on the grass and raced towards the fenceline, weaving in and out of the rubberneckers who rewarded us with applause and hoots of approval.

Detail of a newspaper photo of Lisa Martinovich and friends / courtesy of Lisa Martinovic

Emboldened, we made a jaunt to Sather Tower, our crew now about 30 strong, but still, no other women. Returning to Underhill, I sensed the vibe turning weird. We were pushing the limits of some people’s capacity for self-restraint. The dam finally burst when a pack of drunken frat boys charged us—grabbing, pawing, and pinching every tender body part within reach. We beat them back and managed to pull on our sweats. Perched on the hood of a car, Jeff and I shouted down the attackers, condemned their depravity, denounced them as male chauvinist pigs and, for good measure, capitalist roaders. They did not dispute the charges.

Now that the beasts were subdued—chastened, we thought, by our rebuke—surely it was safe to take a victory lap. We didn’t make it 10 feet before getting swarmed by the frat rats. They tackled Jeff to the ground and surrounded me. Hordes of hands invaded my body in a feeding frenzy of mindless male aggression. I swung furiously, slammed ribs with my elbows, knocked one guy on his ass, and scratched hands, drawing blood. I fought like hell until I was able to flee. Strangely, even as it was happening, I felt bewildered, not quite believing that our Woodstock had turned into an Altamont.

After escaping the mob, we repaired to Top Dog on Durant for sustenance. We were by then fully clothed, but the guys working the counter were not. In the spirit of the day they had doffed all but aprons and sneakers. I was in such an altered state that the half-naked countermen didn’t strike me as odd in the slightest. And when I told them what had just happened they responded in solidarity: “Dogs on the house!”

Jeff and I dragged our battered butts home and turned on KPFA just in time to hear the latest communiqué from the SLA. We vowed to join the revolution. But not theirs. 

Lisa Martinovic is a writer and performer now working on a memoir.

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