It was on for tonight, the source on my voice-mail said, 10:30, second floor.
So here we were, me and photographer Lou Sabo, on the second floor of Hesburgh Library, the Tuesday of finals week, spring 2001, trying to record for posterity one of Notre Dame’s less-storied and probably never-before-photographed-for-publication traditions: the Bun Run.
I checked my watch. It was 10:16. If our tipster was correct, indoor Catholic streaking would commence from the stairway to our left in 14 minutes.
Lou had his doubts that we would be witnessing anything. He said that if he’d gotten such a tip back when he worked for the South Bend newspaper, he’d be expecting this to be a hoax.
I was having a hard time imagining it myself. There were a lot of people here. And this wouldn’t be like running naked across a football field. Even if the exhibitionists raced by at tailback speed, the audience would be close enough to see, well, everything.
Then there was the open stairway. It seemed to me a wholly illogical starting point. What were they going to do — strip off their clothes downstairs by the circulation desk and security guard? It seemed to me that the more sensible starting point would be the men’s room off the second-floor lobby. Which was why I snuck a glance at the men’s room door every now and then as we sat in the second-floor lobby and faced the stairs.
I also walked over and peered through the narrow vertical windows in the doors separating the lobby from the study area. A few people sat at almost all of the tables, which were covered with splayed textbooks and notebooks, the occasional bag of pretzels or container of Cherry Coke or Gatorade. Most people were talking, either reviewing material together or, more likely, postponing serious cramming till later. Crowded as it was, I didn’t get the sense that anyone was there expecting to see a Full Monty. Except us.
As we waited, Lou and I tried to look inconspicuous, an impossibility for two middle-age men, one of them carrying a camera, in a library full of college students. After a while we relocated to a position behind one end of a shelf of books in the study area. Lou rested his camera on an open space on one of the shelves while we both scrutinized the contents of the two shelves above — 36 years of Monthly Commentary on Indian Economic Conditions. Ten-thirty came and went.
I looked back through the doors to the lobby and noticed a guy in a T-shirt leaning against the far wall. Every so often he would check his watch. Suspicious. We returned to our original seats facing the stairs, and I grabbed a book from a display shelf to my left to use as a prop for pretend reading.
Carelessly, I had actually started reading Curiosity: A Cultural History of Early Modern Inquiry when I heard a noise coming from the stairwell. It sounded like the long note held by fans at a football game as they rev up for the kickoff.
“Here they come,” I said unnecessarily to Lou, who was already on his feet and bringing his camera to eye level.
Jogging up the stairway, in sharp relief against the dark gray marble walls, came a line of lean, pale, naked men. As they reached the landing, the joggers tuned right and headed past the computer cluster toward the reserve room. Lou’s camera flashed. His motor drive whirred.
It was then I discovered a funny thing about seeing people naked, or almost naked, as most of these fellows were. What draws your eyes aren’t the naked parts but the parts that are covered. I clearly remember one guy wearing a football helmet; another had on his head a T-shirt twisted into a sloppy turban. It wasn’t until I’d been watching for a while that I bothered to look, er, down, and found verification that the group included natural brunettes.
The line of naked joggers — I’d guess there were no more than 10 — made a complete circuit of the second floor. Pretty ambitious, considering the floor spans about two acres. They remained single file and bounced along at a remarkably unhurried pace throughout.
Equally remarkable was the viewer reaction. Not a single whoop or hoot. No applause or loud laughter. All looked up from their books and pretzels, but the volume of conversation didn’t change much.
The next day I talked with a female student who’d witnessed the spectacle. She said she thought the reaction was so mild because students have gotten used to finals week Bun Runs. They happen both in the spring and fall. The only mystery is exactly when the run will be, a detail usually known only to insiders and their friends.
It’s common knowledge among students that the Bun Run is a tradition of Alumni Hall, but hall residents, and especially hall staff, don’t publicize the association. Participants typically wear masks or a partial head covering to conceal their identity. This spring’s run was comparatively small. In previous years, I’m told, there have at times been more than 30 runners.
Stamping out the Bun Run doesn’t appear to be an imperative of the University administration. It would be tough to do in any case. As the head of the campus security police notes, the event is over almost as soon as it begins. He says he’s received no orders for a stakeout.
Regrettably, I concentrated so hard on watching what Lou was shooting that I didn’t catch where or how the line of streakers made their exit. The whole thing was over in two to three minutes. Halfhearted test preparation resumed at the study tables.
Walking through the lobby to leave, I heard a young woman walking the opposite way jokingly ask a friend, “Where naked boys?” “Too late,” I said as we passed.
What I should have said, if I’d been thinking quicker, was, “in the next Notre Dame Magazine.”
Ed Cohen is an associate editor of this magazine.
Photo by Lou Sabo