When I lived in Gandhi Hall at St. Joe’s in Philly in the early 1970s, there were no cell phones. Instead, we had a single pay phone on the wall in the hallway, shared among 20-some guys.
Let’s stop right here and explain to the youngsters: A “pay phone” was a large, bulky telephone with slots for coins so you could insert money to pay for your phone calls. A local call cost ten cents, and you could talk for as long as you wanted. Any call beyond the local area (which was extremely small) was charged by the minute. Normally, the operator came on every three minutes and told you how much more money you had to insert in order to continue the call. The “operator” was a person who worked for the phone company and helped connect calls from the caller to the receiver. She (operators were almost always female) also disconnected your call if you didn’t insert enough money into the phone, no matter how much you pleaded with her not to do so.
Anyway, in our dorm, we had a single pay phone on the wall. One evening in March, 1974, probably around 7 pm or so, that phone rang. One of the guys went out into the hallway, answered the phone, talked for a minute, then hung up. Then he came around to the rooms and told everyone that someone — he didn’t know who — had just called, said they were calling all the colleges in Philly to say that there was going to be a streak-in at Chestnut Hill College at 9 pm that night and everyone was invited.
Again for the youngsters: In the early ’70s, “streaking” was the practice of taking off all one’s clothes and running naked through a public place. It was one of those fads that began with college kids and worked its way all the way up to the Oscars. A “streak-in” would be a gathering where a bunch of people all got together for streaking — some to streak, some to watch.
Ray Stevens even wrote a hit song about it. Check out the video:
This particular streak-in promised to be interesting, because Chestnut Hill College was an all-girls Catholic college a little north of St. Joe’s. What would the nuns think?
“Here, hold our clothes.”
If you read the earlier article about the origins of Capt. Eddie, you’d anticipate that, clearly, the Captain and the guys in Gandhi Hall would be up for some fun. So as the appointed time approached, we gathered together some “refreshments,” piled into a couple of cars, and made our way to the Chestnut Hill campus.
We arrived to find several hundred people — at least — milling around on a large grassy open area of the campus. Off to one side and up a little hill were several campus buildings, in front of which sat a number of vehicles, among them some police cars. It was a chilly night, with the temperature probably only in the upper 30s Farenheit. We hung around, basically twiddling our thumbs, for 15-20 minutes, maybe more, waiting for something to happen.
Finally, Piece O’Shit and I looked at each other, said something to the effect of, “Somebody’s got to get the ball rolling,” walked over behind some bushes, and began to undress.
We called to a couple of the other guys, who gave us looks of disbelief. They should have known better.
“Here, hold our clothes.”
“You’re not serious.”
“Do we look serious?”
Piece and I looked at each other. “Ready?” “Ready.”
We were off.
We came out from around the bushes and began running across the grassy area wearing nothing but our sneakers. For a minute, nothing happened. Then people began to notice. The word spread quickly through the crowd. A huge cheer erupted. Flashbulbs started popping. Piece and I were laughing like crazy, waving to the crowd like rock stars as we went, watching dozens of flashbulbs going off, and listening to the cheers.
Suddenly, in addition to the flashbulbs, there was a spotlight shining on us! A TV camera? (Make sure you get our good sides…) Then the spotlight started to move, and we saw it was attached to a vehicle. Holy shit! The cops were after us.
Now things were getting serious — complicated by the fact that neither of us had ever been on this campus before, so we had no earthly idea of where we were going. How can you outrun the cops, in the dark, if you don’t even know where you are?
“Put your hands up.”
I really don’t remember a lot of the details of our run, except that it was kind of long. The newspapers the next day said it was over a mile. We were kind of proud of that.
At one point we passed a dormitory and thought about hiding in there. But we feared the door might be locked, and with the cops behind us, we’d be trapped; or if we did get in someone might just give us up. So we didn’t take the chance, we just kept running.
At another point, we found ourselves running through a cemetery — I don’t know how. Then, looking between some buildings off to our side, we saw a city street at the other end. Hmmm… Dare we run out into that street and maybe into a store? Then we saw a cop car drive down the street…. nix on that idea.
There was a little driveway parallel to where we were running, where the police car chasing us was now driving. So we veered off to the side, where the car couldn’t follow, and continued running through a field or a park or something. We heard the cop car stop, the cops get out, the doors slam. Damn. Now they’re following us on foot. Persistent little buggers.
Then we made our fatal error — probably from watching too many chase scenes on TV and in the movies. We were running along the top of an embankment. Down below us was a brushy area. We thought maybe if we go over the side and hide in the bushes, the cops will stay on the path above and run right past us. It always works in the movies. We agreed — that’s the plan. Down the side we went, into the bushes, crouching down in silence.
We heard the cops’ footsteps coming along the path above us. Getting closer. Getting closer. Then they stopped. We heard rustling in the grass as they came down the embankment.
Crap. We knew we were sunk.
A minute later, two Philadelphia policemen came around the side — one with his gun drawn!! — and said, “Put your hands up.”
We stood up slowly, raised our hands, gave each other a quizzical look, and said something like, “Where does he expect us to pull a gun from?”
The cop ignored the sarcasm and, after assuring himself that we were harmless, holstered his gun. Then the fun began. We were handcuffed behind our backs, escorted into the police car, and driven back to the area near the campus buildings. A paddy wagon awaited. We were taken over to the paddy wagon, put into the back, and the door slammed behind us. There were some other guys already in there. I don’t think they’d been arrested at the streak-in, I think they were just in there when the wagon was sent to Chestnut Hill. We chatted with them a bit, and they expressed their sympathies for us.
Sneakers and handcuffs were all we were wearing.
Going to Any Lengths to Help a Brother Who’s Down
It was, shall we say, a wee bit chilly. Now that we were no longer running, but were instead sitting in the back of an unheated police van, we were beginning to feel the cold. There was a small window-like opening covered with wire mesh in the wall between the front seat of the van and the back area where the prisoners were held. The opening had a slider that the cops could use to open or close it. It slid open, and one of the cops in the front seat, with a notepad in his hand, began to ask us nosy questions.
What were our names? Where did we live? What were our dates of birth? How do you spell “Perrone”? Nosy, invasive stuff like that.
In the background, we could hear the police radio. Various calls sending officers here or there, intermingled with bursts of laughter. The cop told us the laughter was for us. Apparently we were now celebrities with precincts across the city.
As we answered the cop’s questions, we could see out the front of the van that our friends — and our clothes! — had made their way over and apparently figured out where we were. We asked the cop if he’d be able to get us our clothes. He made some smart-ass remark, we pleaded in a sufficiently humble manner, and he grudgingly acceded. He got out of the van, and we could see him in a fairly animated discussion with our friends. After a minute or two, he took our clothes in a large bundle in his arms and walked toward the back of the paddy wagon.
All right! Now at least we might warm up a little.
The back door of the van opened, the cop tossed our clothes in a large pile on the floor and said, “Have fun gettin’ into them.” The door slammed.
Dirty bastard. Oh, well, we probably deserved it. I’m sure we would have taunted him if the shoe had been on the other foot.
Luckily for us, the other guys in the paddy wagon were sympathetic to our plight, and a couple of them actually helped us into our clothes — as much as we could get in, still being handcuffed behind our backs and all. You might think it would be awkward standing there naked and handcuffed, with another guy pulling up your pants for you, but it actually wasn’t. It was instead the very warm and fuzzy feeling of a guy going to any lengths to help a brother who was down. So with pants on and shirts basically wrapped around our shoulders, we waited for whatever next move the cops were going to make.
Totally and Completely Impotent
After what seemed like an eternity, the cops climbed back into the front seat, cranked the engine, and began pulling away. Before they’d gotten back into the van, we’d seen them once again talking to our friends, hopefully telling them where they were taking us. We drove a little ways across town — still hearing the chatter and laughter on the radio — and then pulled into some precinct headquarters, whose number or name I certainly don’t remember after all these years. I’m not even sure I knew it then. The cops opened the back doors of the paddy wagon and told us to get out. When we were out, they removed our handcuffs, had us collect what remained of our clothes, and escorted us inside to the booking desk.
As we entered, there was a mixture of cheers, jeers, taunts, and laughter. Imagine how the cops in the TV show Barney Miller would have reacted in that situation, except put 20 or 30 cops in the office instead of only a half-dozen. Let’s just say we did not go unnoticed.
The cop who was processing us tried to impress us with the seriousness of our offenses. We were still taking it kind of lightly, but he told us we were in some deep doo-doo.
“What are we being charged with?” we asked.
The response: Indecent exposure. Disorderly conduct. Resisting arrest. Inciting a riot.
What???!!! The first three, okay, we can understand. But inciting a riot?? Isn’t that something you charge people with when they’re trying to get a large crowd of people to, like, smash windows and set buildings on fire? What the hell is wrong with these people? This was a college prank. Have they no sense of humor?
The guy remained dead serious, writing up whatever papers he had to write up. Along the way, he mentioned that there were a couple of girls who had also decided to streak after they’d seen us. Had we seen them? No, we hadn’t. Oh, too bad, he says. One of them was also arrested, she’s being booked now, too.
When he finished the booking process, he turned us over to another cop who took us down to a holding cell, put us inside, closed the door and locked it.
It was at that moment, probably for the first time in my life, that I felt totally and completely impotent. I realized that my fate was 100% in the hands of someone else. Not 99%, not 99.5%, not even 99.9%. One hundred percent under someone else’s control. That door was locked, and there was absolutely nothing I could do about it. Nothing. I was trapped in that cell until someone else decided I could get out.
It was a feeling of complete and total hopelessness that is really difficult to describe. Normally, even in the worst of situations, there is at least a little something you can try to do about it. You can try this, or you can try that. Even if there’s virtually no chance it’s going to work, it fills the need to be able to try. It holds at least the tiniest bit of hope.
But when the cell door slams and the key turns and the cop holding the key walks away — end of story. There is absolutely no hope whatsoever. You are completely at their mercy.
Lucky for me, they put Piece and me in the same cell, so at least we could talk to each other, reassure each other, keep each other company. Also, we had our clothes and we were no longer handcuffed, so we could get dressed and feel at least a little bit normal. Piece was a smoker, and they also let him keep his cigarettes, so he lit one up.
I have no idea why — I had never really smoked in my life at all — but suddenly the idea of having a cigarette appealed to me.
“Can I have one of them?” I asked.
He chuckled, because he knew I didn’t smoke. Not tobacco, anyway.
“Sure,” he said.
So we both sat on the little benches on the sides of the cell, smoking our cigarettes, just killing the time. We had no idea when they would come to let us out. It could be an hour. It could be a month. Who knew? So we just got into that resigned, Zen-sort of state where we realized — and accepted — that everything was completely out of our hands. What would happen would happen. And we were good with that.
Start Spreadin’ the News
I think I smoked another cigarette along the way. I think at one point we laid down on the two small, hard, wood benches and tried to sleep. (Didn’t work — for me at least.)
After a few hours — I really couldn’t tell you how many, although for some reason its being 3 or 4 am sticks in my mind — but after a few hours, a cop showed up at the door of the cell jangling some keys. He opened the door and told us, come on, it’s time to go. And he brought us back up into the office where we’d been booked.
There was a crowd around one of the desks: several of our buddies and a few cops. We joined them.
One of the cops explained to us that we were being charged with the aforementioned crimes (indecent exposure, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, inciting a riot), and that we were being released into the custody of our friend, Pat. (For some reason, Pat did not have a colorful nickname like some of the rest of us. It was not because he wasn’t a colorful character.) The cop explained that Piece and I were minors (we were both 19 at the time), so we could only be released into the custody of someone over 21. Fortunately for us, Pat was over 21 — the only one of our friends on the scene who was — and he had agreed to sign whatever papers needed to be signed to get us out of the slammer.
Here again: a guy going to any lengths to help a brother who’s down.
We were told that there was a court date set for us at some point, I forget when, maybe a week or so later. And if we didn’t show up, Pat would be in big trouble. (So would we, of course.)
And with that, we were turned loose. We all got in the cars and headed back to St. Joe’s.
The next day, we were celebrities. Not only was the news all over the campus, but it was all over the city. Philly had three daily newspapers in those days: the Inquirer, the Evening Bulletin, and the Daily News. The story of our arrest was in all three of them.
I think it was such big news because we were the first three people ever arrested in Philadelphia for streaking. The fad had been around for awhile. People had streaked here, and there, and elsewhere. But it was always treated as a prank, no one was ever arrested.
Until us. Because, I guess, we tried to incite all those nice little Chestnut Hill girls to riot. Or something like that. Heck, maybe that’s a compliment.
A couple of weeks later, I got a large envelope in the mail. It was from a friend of mine who was going to school in Erie. Inside was a copy of the Philadelphia Inquirer containing the story of our arrest. Across the front was written something like, “You mean to tell me you couldn’t even outrun two of Philadelphia’s finest??!!”
When I went back home for vacation or something awhile later, my aunt told me she had seen the story as well. “Tell me the truth,” she said. “Were you drunk?” I admitted that, yes, we had indulged a little beforehand.
So, yeah, it appeared that word got around. Piece, and me, and the girl whose name I believe was Roseanne were getting our 15 minutes of fame.
Lack of Prosecution
When the court date came, the three of us, with a bit of a posse in tow, showed up at the court. A lawyer came over to talk to us. He said he was the public defender who had been assigned to our case. He told us that essentially our arrest had been a big mistake, and that he thought they were going to drop the charges against us. He said that when all those people started arriving at the Chestnut Hill campus that night, the Mother Superior had gotten nervous, so she called the police to make sure nothing got out of hand. But she’d had no intention of having anyone arrested for streaking. And, more to the point, she had refused to sign a complaint against us, and she was not going to show up in court to testify against us.
Just as importantly (for our own satisfaction, at least), he told us that our arresting officer had been disciplined and transferred for causing all this ruckus, when he wasn’t supposed to hassle us at all. (I wonder if they said anything to him about pointing a gun at us.) So, our lawyer said, we should just sit tight, wait for our case to be called, and everything would probably work out.
The judge entered. He looked like he was 110 years old and mad at the world. Our hearts drooped a little at the sight — this guy’s going to throw the book at us, we thought. We waited through the cases that got called ahead of us, ranging from drunk and disorderly to assault with a deadly weapon. Then they got to us.
The three of us stood, and for some reason we couldn’t help giggling. I’m sure that didn’t help our case. Our lawyer approached the judge, as did a police officer. They all stood at the bench talking for what seemed like a really long time. Then the discussion broke up, our lawyer came back to us and told us that we should be really grateful to the Lieutenant because he just did us a really big favor. Then the judge began to speak.
He gave us a long lecture about basically what terrible people we were, what horrible crimes we had committed, and that he could sentence us to jail for a long, long time. He told us we really needed to get our acts together. He went on and on, and again, we couldn’t help but giggle once or twice, although we really did try to stifle it. Finally, though, he said he was dismissing the charges against us for “lack of prosecution.”
And, yes, I do remember that last quote there, “lack of prosecution.” It is accurate, and it means basically that no one showed up to press charges against us. I presume this means “including the police,” because I suspect the police could have prosecuted us for any of the crimes we were charged with without someone else coming in to sign a complaint. Which is why, I presume, we are still to this day grateful to the Lieutenant who didn’t nail us to the wall. Because I’m pretty sure he could have, even without Mother Superior’s consent.
So we were turned loose. With some experiences and some memories and some stories to keep with us for a lifetime. (Hey, grandkids, what do you think of your grandparents now?) We decided this outcome was worthy of a celebration, so before leaving the court we arranged a big party — I forget if it was for that very night, or maybe for the coming weekend. But we definitely needed to celebrate.
It was the Gandhi way.