Growing up at a summer camp in the North Woods of Wisconsin, I heard my fair share of campfire stories.
But first you must enjoy the lyrics to the Camp Golden Eagle fight song, sung to the tune of On Wisconsin:
Golden Eagle, Golden Eagle,
Keep your sites on high.
You can beat ’em.
You’ll defeat ’em.
Get in there and
Fight, fight fight fight.
Golden Eagle, monarch regal
I can’t remember the last two lines, because I’ve always been so confused by: (1) who are we beating, defeating and fighting (surely not the neighboring girls camp) and (2) what is a "monarch regal of infinity"?
Now, to the campfire…
The Naked Runner
The first campfire story was always the continuing tale of Hayward Doke, famous throughout the North Woods for having the funniest name in the world.
At the end of the campfire, we would sweat through the annual description of the gruesome tale of the razor-fanged weasel who could tear through your tent and then slash right into any boy’s stomach who had recently eaten chocolate. (No problem, we don’t have chocolate on this canoe trip — hey, wait, didn’t we have hot chocolate after dinner?)
But in the middle of the campfire storytelling, there was always the Story of the Naked Runner. As it began, one of the counselors would excuse himself, taking the shovel and toilet paper into the dark of the woods.
The remaining counselor would tell the tale: a long time ago, in these very woods, an upstanding citizen had some sort of crisis (business, love, psychological, familial) that ended with him trying to escape. Well, during his escape he got caught (in the thorns, in the fingernails of his wife, in the car door, in the fangs of the creature who likes chocolate) and all of his clothes were torn off.
But nakedness did not cure his fear. He just kept running. "And, it is said, he still runs through these woods. And…he…is…known…as…THE NAKED RUNNER!"
At the shout of "THE NAKED RUNNER," a man wearing nothing more than his boots would come streaking out of the woods with a scream, bounding right toward us, jumping over the fire — his nakedness illuminated from beneath (a singular sensation for all) — landing on the other side of the fire, and bounding back into the woods.
It was always a squealing good time seeing the first counselor (the one who earlier disappeared with the shovel) play the role of the Naked Runner. Only the first-time campers would be surprised at the theatrics. The rest of us would simply hold the secret until "THE NAKED RUNNER" was cued, and then we would laugh and laugh.
Naked Runner, 2.0
What follow is a terrible story, one that has haunted me for years. It is a bare glimpse of abject terror — and my own lack of action.
I remain horrified.
Ten years later, I had traded Golden Eagle for Greenwich Village.
On summer’s evening in the West Village, we took a walk down Bank Street, enjoying the night.
As we passed a typical brownstone — stairs rising to a grand doorway
— the big door slammed open. There stood a completely naked woman.
Slender, attractive, in a hurry. She ran down the stairs, faced us
without a word, and took off, running west down Bank Street.
We were stunned. Women don’t run down the street naked without having a great reason.
We had absolutely no reaction. We saw her disappear down the street.
As she disappeared, we realized: She was running away from someone.
And we missed our chance to help in any way. She was gone, g-o-n-e. Gone to the west.
We looked back up the stairs of the brownstone to see…
Naked Runner, 2.1
A man, completely naked pounded out the front door with a slam.
He ran down the stairs and stopped in front of us.
We bore the look of the deer in the headlights.
His look said, without words,"Which way?"
We all pointed east. He sprinted down the street in the opposite direction of the woman.
It seemed clear that they weren’t meant to be together right now.