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Naked man says neighbors' flood lights prompted him to strip

Monday, September 04, 2000

By Tom Gibb, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

PLEASANT GAP, Pa. -- In another world, Charles Stitzer might have gotten a trophy for creative conflict resolution.

The conflict: Stitzer complained that he was bedeviled by nighttime security lights that he said shone onto his grounds from homes across his neighborhood.

The would-be resolution: On warm summer nights, he sat in the side doorway of his garage, wearing shoes, wristwatch and not a bit more. Did it for eight years. A 62-year-old retiree, lolling around in nature's own -- that ought to be enough to convince neighbors to dim the lights, he figured.

"The only way I could defend myself was with nudity," Stitzer said.

But this isn't another world. It's Pleasant Gap, a collection of about 2,500 people eight miles northeast of State College. And when a neighbor three back yards away saw Stitzer -- and plenty of Stitzer -- bending over, weeding wild onions out of an overgrown garden in the pre-dusk of June 22, she called police.

"When we arrived, he was naked as a jaybird, outside pulling the weeds in his garden," said David King, officer in charge of the local Spring Township police.

Well, technically, not naked as a jaybird, Stitzer says. He was sporting the aforementioned shoes and wristwatch. But those don't score points where indecent-exposure charges are involved.

"I had a notion to run," Stitzer said. "But I thought, 'Where am I going to run to?' "

Stitzer, a retired mechanical draftsman, has had a pretty unremarkable stint during his 28 years here. He's not married and lives with an 82-year-old woman he cares for.

His only previous nose-to-nose with the law was a drunken driving charge two decades ago, and neighbors say his biggest local offense heretofore was a certain amount of churlishness.

On June 22, though, Stitzer was charged with indecent exposure. The charge was tossed out when a district justice ruled that prosecutors didn't show that anybody was offended. So, police strengthened the language in their complaint, added a disorderly conduct charge and refiled the complaint two weeks ago. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Sept. 20.

"He'll fight it," said Edward Conner, a State College lawyer representing Stitzer.

Maybe he'll hunt for constitutional grounds; maybe he'll simply say that Pam Watkins, the neighbor who called police, didn't see all she thought she saw, Conner said.

"What could she see?" Stitzer asked. "My back was to her."

"He's not a dirty, old man. My impression is that he's harmless," Conner said. "He's just a unique individual. He has his own ideas."

And one of those ideas is that clothes don't make the man -- but, boy, on a hot day, they make the man darned uncomfortable.

So, Stitzer, a skinny man with combed-back gray hair and voice turned gravelly from cigarettes, lives by his own dress code. "But I'm no nudist," he said.

When he mows his sloping back yard on warm summer afternoons, his work outfit is a thong -- the marriage of underwear to severe minimalism. When Stitzer mows northbound, he's offering full southern exposure.

"A lot of shorts are pretty heavy material....I just wanted a thong because it was legal. I paid $17.50 for it, and I figured I'll wear the thing," said Stitzer. "If I was wearing it for show, I'd wear it in the front yard."

The thong was the fashion statement heard 'round the neighborhood.

"I've heard about it, but I never actually saw it," next-door neighbor Dyon Stefanson said. "If I saw it, maybe it would really weird me out."

"I've never had any problems with him," neighbor Rodney Walker said. "I try not to pay attention when he does his thing mowing the grass."

Eight years ago, before he says neighbors' outdoor night lights drove him off, Stitzer used to spend warm evenings lounging on his open-air side porch in his underwear.

"The night lights were so intense that I could read a newspaper anywhere on my side porch," he wrote in a letter he posted to the American Civil Liberties Union this week, bidding for their support.

So, Stitzer dispensed with the underwear and took his lounging out back, to the garage.

"After a year, I thought, 'I don't think anybody gives a darn,' " he said.

Well, Watkins did, at least when she flipped on the floodlight at her above-ground pool June 22 and saw Stitzer's backside staring back at her.

Police wrote in the criminal complaint that Watkins, two teen-age girls and several boys saw Stitzer and that folks in six other neighborhood houses also could have. "This is said to be an ongoing problem every summer," police Officer Michael Danneker wrote in the arrest affidavit.

"The complainant was just tired of seeing him walk around in the nude," King said.

Since the June 22 arrest, though, Stitzer hasn't been spending his nights outside in the buff.

It's not because of any fear of the law, he insisted.

"It just hasn't been warm enough."

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