Let's celebrate May Day with the best of the three Mays who have suited up with the Birds. (The others are father and son duo Dave and Derrick May.) Of course, coming from Washington College, May 1st has a loaded meaning to me.
Back in 1968, when Lee was clouting 22 home runs in his second full season in the bigs with Cincinnati, former Washington College English professor Bennett Lamond decided to revive the British tradition of May Day by holding class on the campus green. He and his students read poetry and drank wine. Apparently, he struck a chord with those undergrads, because they returned to the green that evening, and I would wager a guess that more wine was involved. I'm not sure if there was more poetry. The event became something of a ritual, and it soon morphed into a two-night gathering at the flagpole. As the clock neared midnight and April 30 turned to May 1 - and again the following evening - college students anticipated the approach of summer and the end of classes by partaking liberally in alcoholic beverages and removing all of their clothes.
I've been surprised over the years by the sheer number of people that ask about May Day when they find out that I went to college in Chestertown. It turns out that other than being founded by George Washington, being located on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, and being home to the largest undergraduate literary prize in the nation, my little college is notorious for its annual nudity-fest. So let me try to answer the questions you and others might have about May Day.
First of all, it's not all that it's cracked up to be. The unfortunate thing about nudism is that for every person you can think of that you might like to see in the buff, there are probably ten others that you'd rather not get an eyeful of. Let me tell you; it's the latter that you remember. Excuse me while I shudder violently.
Meanwhile, the student body might have numbered 1,100 or so, but there weren't a whole lot of them who were free-wheeling (and soused) enough to eschew their mentionables and unmentionables. As the years went by, there was a larger contingent who contented themselves with standing on the periphery, fully clothed and ogling the romping nude masses. That's fairly creepy, but those that decided to take pictures really crossed the line.
However, one thing that helped keep the outlandish and playful aspect of May Day alive was the creative ways that some folks found to celebrate throughout the day. Naturally, clothes were required in classrooms, dining halls, and so forth. I can recall guys and girls wearing kimonos, bathrobes, and even yellow police tape to push the boundaries.
As for me, I did my best to avoid the eye of the desnudo hurricane until my senior year. The first of May was a Saturday, and as the evening wore on, I was in my suite sharing drinks with friends. The clock drew close to midnight, and the combination of liquid courage and the knowledge that it was now or never spurred me on. But I wasn't about to go it alone. One close friend (whose identity I will do my best to protect) agreed to be my partner in crime. We still had some modicum of modesty, so we decided to streak down to the flagpole incognito. My friend wore a gorilla mask, and I of course donned my Rey Mysterio, Jr. lucha mask. I can recall walking over to the campus green, still clothed, before quickly slipping out of my sandals, shorts, and shirt and handing them to my bemused girlfriend. I recall charging down "The Hill" behind my friend, who promptly lost his balance halfway down and rolled to the bottom. There was a certain rush of adrenaline that I felt, standing in the midst of several dozen people, no one wearing anything other than a smile. Someone I didn't even know playfully accused me of trying to hide, so I pulled up the wrestling mask and gave her a glimpse of my face. But really, there wasn't much to the whole thing. Shocking, I know. We milled about for a few minutes, had our fill, and climbed back up The Hill. I gathered my garments from my better half, put them on, and went home.
When I look back on that night of semi-reckless abandon, one thought crosses my mind:
I'm glad that I graduated before Facebook became popular.