The last time I saw Andrew Martinez, he was sitting on Berkeley's grimy Telegraph Avenue wearing nothing but a backpack, sneakers and a baseball cap and holding a sign that read, "It's just a dick, man." He sort of had a point. It was just a dick -- attached to a guy with a gentle presence and magnetic smile who became known simply as the "Naked Guy" for his insistence on his right to be nude in public. (That eventually got him expelled from the University of California, and prompted the ultra-liberal city of Berkeley to ban nudity.)
I always wondered what had happened to him, especially since people around the world still ask if I knew him when they learn that I went to Cal in the early '90ss. Over the weekend, I was saddened to learn that he died in a Santa Clara County jail. Martinez, 33, reportedly was found unconscious, and officials are investigating his death as a suicide. He had been in custody since January on charges on battery and assault with a deadly weapon.
I don't know what I expected him to become. I guess I pictured him as a kooky inventor -- tinkering naked in his garage and picking tomatoes in his garden for lunch. I couldn't imagine that he suffered from demons, and was shocked at the charges against him. Like most people at school, I thought he was cool. (I bragged when the Naked Guy showed up at one of my parties; it was winter, and he was clothed.) I couldn't understand why he would let himself get thrown out of Cal, especially for such a point, but I admired him because he helped soothe some of my insecurities about my own body, which plagued me through my teens.
Martinez attracted quite a following, including a nude theater troupe known as the X-Plicit Players. (See photos of a nude rally, including photos of Martinez.) I brazenly gawked as they paraded and hooted through town. I stopped to get a good look at naked women's bodies. I had never before seen such an assortment of human flesh: saggy breasts, dimpled thighs, stretch marks, moles, scars, pimples, flabby arms. And these women weren't ashamed. In fact, they strutted. And on one of those gorgeous Berkeley days -- amid wafts of espresso and patchouli laced with body odor -- it was one of the most beautiful things I'd ever seen. They were just bodies, and they were OK with them. And at 19, that allowed me to think just a little differently about my own imperfect self.
Thank you for showing me that it's just a dick, man. May you rest in peace.