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They call it the 'Geek Streak'

By Matthew R. Perrine
July 22, 2007 | Duluth Budgeteer News

Paul Lundgren knows streaking is illegal, but he’s not sure exactly why.

To him, it’s no big deal. It happens every year at Geek Prom, the self-explanatory event he started in Duluth five years ago, and no one seems to mind.

“I’m out on the dance floor, having a good time, and all of a sudden I hear this screaming,” is how he described the first “Geek Streak.” “I turn around and they ran right past me. As soon as I turned around, there they go.”

The tradition, which lasts “probably 40 seconds or less,” was never an issue until Geek Prom 2007 — held earlier this year at the Science Museum of Minnesota in St. Paul — when all of the participating streakers (six males) were ticketed for the offense.

Not only that, but they were also pepper-sprayed by an officer from the St. Paul Police Department.

“The fact that these guys were ticketed is one thing, but the fact that they were pepper-sprayed is a whole other issue,” Lundgren said. “That kind of sticks in everyone’s craw that was there. They did this in a crowded room. People who were just standing there got hit. … We got a letter from one person, who has asthma, who was having trouble breathing all weekend. They had to go to the doctor on Monday.

“You know, since it’s the Geek Prom, I have to imagine that there’s a lot of people with asthma and other (conditions like) sensitive skin.”

The offending officer, Genaro Valentin, was hired by the museum as event security along with another police officer.

“It was either just a Barney Fife-like blunder on his part — without much thinking to it — or else it was well-thought out,” Lundgren said. “In which case, how horrible was that?”

One of the six streakers was Duluthian Ben Fisher-Merritt, who’s done the “Geek Streak” all but once. (He was on his honeymoon.)

“It takes being out of the country for me to miss it,” he joked during a telephone interview Tuesday.

Fisher-Merritt — aka King Geek 2003 — recalls the May 12 incident vividly. He and four of the other would-be streakers’ first stop was the men’s room, where they ditched their geek attire.

As Lundgren tells it, St. Paul streaker Jackson Kisling was actually a last-minute addition to this motley crew.

“(He) was actually in the men’s room ... when the guys came in and started taking off their clothes,” he said with a laugh. “They just looked at him and said, ‘Are you in?’”

And, oh yeah, he just happened to be on his honeymoon at the time.

“So, imagine if you will, that you’re his new wife,” Lundgren said. “You’re at Geek Prom with your new husband, he goes to the bathroom and, the next thing you know, you seem him running through the room naked and getting pepper-sprayed and ticketed.”

Fisher-Merritt, who was playing the role of “lead streaker” that night, laughed when he recalled the area of the museum they first jaunted through: the Human Body Gallery.

“I find that extremely amusing,” he said.

Far less amusing to Fisher-Merritt and his cohorts, though, are the $3,640 in legal fees they face. (Lundgren admits it could’ve been a lot worse, though, as the attorney cut them a deal: $1,000 for the group instead of $1,000 for each individual.)

Nevertheless, Lundgren and the rest of the Geek Prom “prom committee” are looking out for their nerd brethren.

They recently announced an Aug. 3 benefit concert at Pizza Luce, which will feature performances by Minneapolis’ Trailer Park Queen (a former Geek Prom act) and local outfits the Gallows, Haus Meeting and the Lake Superior Cacophonic Choir.

Lundgren wants to host a raffle on top of the concert, but is unsure of the legality of that.

“We don’t want to have an illegal raffle and then have to hold another benefit to raise money to cover whatever fines arise from our illegal raffle,” he joked.

Fisher-Merritt did admit, though, that the $3,640 is far better than the alternative. Their attorney worked out a deal where, as long as they don’t commit the same offense in the next year, the incident will be washed from their records.

This is good news, as streaking falls under the general umbrella of indecent exposure: After two offenses, you have to register as a sex offender. (Fisher-Merritt, a 26-year-old married father of one — who also holds an elementary education degree — said that “doesn’t look so hot.”)

Their attorney called the deal “buying justice.”

“Let me tell you,” Fisher-Merritt quipped, “justice is expensive.”

The St. Paul Police Department did not immediately return requests for a public statement on the Geek Prom incident.