Celebrating Canada’s 150th birthday has naturally prompted me to look back at some of the high points in the life of our country and community. While engaged in this honourable and reflective pursuit, I also came across one of the low points, and my own modest (or rather immodest) complicity.
Yes, I know I’m dating myself when I raise the long and thankfully forgotten topic of “streaking.” It was a phenomenon that swept the world for a mercifully brief time back in the early ’70s. It was a vibrant but short-lived cultural aberration that even reached Leaside’s sheltered precincts. If only for academic edification, I think streaking deserves to be exposed, laid bare, and stripped of its pretension as a bona fide trend in that strange decade all those years ago.
Streaking had reached its zenith early in 1974, when a young, longhaired man trotted on stage at the Oscars, much to host David Niven’s amusement. The camera operator who captured the moment may well have been the same one who shot, or didn’t shoot, Elvis’s illicit hip thrusts on the Ed Sullivan show years earlier. Needless to say, the Academy Awards TV audience saw only the upper torso, leaving the offending bits to our oversized imaginations. In a line clearly written before the show, David Niven drolly noted the streaker’s “shortcomings.”
Along with disco, insanely wide lapels, and platform shoes – a get rich quick scheme devised by an evil cartel of orthopedic surgeons, podiatrists, and physiotherapists – streaking was perhaps the counterculture’s last gasp attempt to challenge traditional societal mores. But to a 14 year old growing up in leafy Leaside, it just seemed like a minor youthful indiscretion, a harmless spasm of adolescent rebellion, a rare chance to feel the breeze on your entire body. Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time.
The spring of 1974 – when streaking was very big news – was alternately cool and cold, so we shrank from the idea of streaking in such low temperatures. Rather, my brother Tim and I, along with an unnamed friend, waited until the hot summer – around Canada Day – before we mustered our courage for a late-night run decked out in our birthday suits. We gathered beneath the very tall blue spruce on our front lawn at the corner of Parkhurst and Donegall. In hindsight, a clandestine meeting that involved doffing our clothes beneath a tree sporting short, sharp needles really wasn’t a very good idea. Eventually, the three of us stripped down before I raised the concern that we might be recognized even if we were just a flesh-tone blur zipping down the street. After all, I had no desire to be arrested or damage my rather lucrative neighbourhood babysitting franchise. My brother’s bright suggestion, which, inexplicably, we immediately adopted, was to cover our faces and heads with our own underwear like some kind of a Stanfield’s briefs balaclava. (All true.)
Then, in the dead of night, we dashed out from our coniferous enclave, headed up Parkhurst, and then sprinted along Bayview, passed Norwegian Ski Shop, the smoke shop, and the Avenue Barbershop almost to Mac’s Milk at Manor Road.
Leaside’s shopping mecca was deserted at that hour, so we simply turned around and blasted back the way we’d come. A few cars travelling up Bayview may have noticed us, but I doubt it. It lasted about 90 seconds before we triumphantly retreated to our prickly spruce hideout, pulling needles from various parts of our bodies. We quickly restored our underwear to its more traditional location and pulled on our shorts and T-shirts.
In the end, it’s quite possible that not a single soul witnessed our forbidden folly. But we were exhilarated by our powerful assault on Leaside’s straitlaced conventions, even if we were the only ones who knew about it.
A two-time winner of the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour, Terry Fallis is the award-winning author of five national bestsellers, including his most recent, Poles Apart. His sixth novel, One Brother Shy, was published by M&S in May, 2017.