Tuesday, April 07, 2015

COLUMN: Naked Guy

(Pic courtesy Todd Mizener, The Dispatch/Rock Island Argus)

Ah, column writing time. Hmm, how to use my allocated space to change the world THIS week?

A serious journalist would dissect last week's State of the Union address. Or I suppose I could enter the national debate on "American Sniper." Perhaps it's time for a transformative hard-hitting essay on the state of race relations. Maybe I should finally unleash my revolutionary multi-step plan for comprehensive socio-economic reform.

Or maybe I should listen to all the people on Facebook and write about the naked guy. I knew I shoulda kept my online yap shut. But it's too late now. Changing the world will have to wait.

Downtown Moline plays host to a sea of colorful characters, not the least of whom are my amazing co-workers here at the Dispatch/Argus. But recently a few of us lucky ones have encountered a new colorful character -- a flesh-colored one.

The first time it happened was last fall, and I just missed it. I know this because I returned from lunch that day to a gaggle of giggling co-workers all telling me, "You just missed it!"

"Missed what?" I asked with a full belly and bewildered gaze.

"NAKED GUY IN THE ALLEY!" came a half dozen responses. Apparently while I was on my lunch hour, a guy came sauntering down our back alley 100% free of the cumbersome burden of clothing. I guess he marched around the area for a bit rather purposefully while bellowing something about the end of the world. Eventually, he made his way to one of Moline's busiest streets where he was quickly nabbed by police, who safely and efficiently whisked him off to whereever one takes afternoon nudists.

In retrospect, the weirdest bit wasn't the naked guy stomping through downtown. No, the weirdest part was my immediate disappointment to have missed it. "Aw, nuts," I recall thinking at the time, "I always miss the good stuff."

It wasn't until a few minutes later at my desk when I thought it through. "Wait a sec," said the normal part of my brain that doesn't crave the unwanted and unwarranted spontaneous view of a stranger's nether-regions, "I'm kinda GLAD I was at lunch. Eww."

That was the last we saw of Naked Guy. I know what you're thinking -- and you're right, it IS tough to get through the holiday season without any good indecent exposure. Somehow I soldiered through -- until this week.

It was the end of a challenging workday and I was headed to my car. My brain was multi-tasking: What to have for dinner? What's on TV tonight? Do I need cat food? And that's why I almost screamed when one of our photographers squealed up in his car, rolled down his window, and excitedly said, "NAKED GUY!"

I could only hope he was talking TO me and not ABOUT me. I can be absent-minded for sure, but I was pretty certain at the very least that I was wearing pants. The only response I could muster: "Again??"

Sure enough, I looked down the alley that led to our parking lot and there he was -- a one-man fleshy flash mob pacing around in his birthday suit. And yes, this particular suit had seen a fair share of birthdays indeed. Our employee lot is big. There's plenty of room there to hold any kind of naked parade you fancy. But because karma hates me, this particular naked parade was marching in circles around MY car. Greeeeeat. Cautiously, I took a few steps forward until our trouser-challenged friend turned my way and started yelling something about Jesus and the end of the world.

Now, I might make light of the absurdity of the situation, but please don't confuse kidding for mocking. This guy wasn't just recreationally streaking on a balmy January evening. It was pretty clear he was suffering from something fairly profound and needed help beyond what I could offer. It was also pretty clear that I wasn't making it to my car without an encounter I'd prefer not encountering. That's when I picked up my phone and called 911.

"What's the nature of your emergency?" asked the operator.

"Clothing," I explained, "or lack thereof. There's a naked guy wandering around downtown Moline who needs some help."

To their credit, the first responding officer was there within SECONDS, not minutes. It was a female officer, who looked about as thrilled by the prospect of touching this guy as I did. Thankfully, backup was right around the corner, and back up is exactly what I did while the officers did their job with impressive ease. The guy resisted at first, but within minutes, they had him calm, covered, and in the back of an ambulance. Hopefully he's getting the help -- and the pants -- he needs.

Of course, me being the absurdist I am, I couldn't help but ponder things when I got home that night. Wouldn't it be just my luck if he was right? What if the world really WAS ending? What if my last thought ever on Earth was, "Man, I shoulda listened to Naked Guy?" After all, karma DOES hate me. But if that were the case, I can think of an even worse scenario:

What if, right this very second, the big guy in the sky appeared before me, right here in my living room, and spake unto me thusly: "Bad news, Shane. I'm ending the world, right here and now. But you can stop it if you head out, sound the trumpet, and get as many people to believe you as possible. Oh, and one other thing... I'm gonna need those pants."

Granted, those wouldn't be the actions of any loving god I choose to follow, but if you believe the story of Abraham and Isaac on the mountain, you know that He can be a bit testy at times. I think I'm pretty safe in saying that, should this absurd scenario ever happen to me, I'm pretty sure I would single-handedly be responsible for the end of days. I'm not sure if anything, up to and potentially including a divine order from above, would get me to wander about town wearing only a smile. Nope, just can't do it.

If I could find a way to bathe with clothes on, I'd do it. The dressed version of me isn't much to look at; the naked version can't be an improvement. And it's not because I'm a chubby guy, which I am; I'm pretty sure that even if I had abs of steel, they'd stay hidden under a loose t-shirt. It's just how I roll.

Thankfully, I'm going to assume that any higher powers up there have better things to do than torture me with my own nudity. And I'm pretty sure the scenario I invented is nothing more than the plot of the 1977 movie "Oh God," except I'm not John Denver and I'm not wearing pants. And if that's not a world-changing image to leave you with, I dunno what is.

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