August 29th, 2007

When correctly viewed, everything is lewd: Craig and the cop

The rather Byzantine story of Senator Larry Craig of Idaho, who was arrested for lewd behavior in a Minnesota airport restroom staked out by an undercover cop in a sting operation, and who copped a plea for disorderly conduct instead, teaches those of us who are relatively (or maybe even completely) unfamiliar with men’s room etiquette that they are places where users must pay strict attention to the location of all body parts at all times.

No, I’m not talking about those body parts. I’m talking about feet; it seems that playing footsie between the stalls is a big no-no, even when the feet in question might be on the no-man’s-land of the border beneath the stall wall.

Not that I’ve ever thought of playing footsie between the stalls; the most I’ve ever done along those lines is to study the shoes next door for fashion tips, and imagine what the person who goes with those 6-inch green platforms or those Birkenstocks might look like. That’s the sort of thing we do in ladies’ rooms for fun.

Fortunately, while imagining, I don’t tap my feet. In the ladies’ room it might not even matter, but in the men’s room, it’s a signal that the festivities are about to begin.

And don’t get started on hands; in fact; don’t even think about it. That line between the stalls cannot ever be crossed, even (as Craig rather unconvincingly alleges was his motivation) to pick up a piece of paper.

It also turns out that, in the men’s room, peeking through the crack in the door is another highly verboten act—especially if it goes on for a while, as it allegedly did in Craig’s case (although I wonder whether the cop really timed it at two minutes).

And all of this is happening in newfangled men’s rooms with stalls. I can’t even imagine the exquisitely nuanced etiquette (oh, maybe I can) necessary to get by without arrest in men’s rooms sporting the old-fashioned row of urinals. Those men’s rooms always seemed to me to be one of the main drawbacks to being a man, but I guess they’ve mostly been phased out, although they were good for one of the funniest scenes of my early childhood movie-going career when Andy Griffith rigged up a whole row of them to salute when his drill sergeant came in for latrine inspection in “No Time for Sergeants.”

But I digress, as I often do.

Apparently, one of Sen. Craig’s initial suspicious acts was to place his wheeled carry-on bag in front of him in his stall when he first settled in there for a what-have-you. The arresting police officer said:

My experience has shown that individuals engaging in lewd conduct use their bags to block the view from the front of their stall.

No doubt he has a great deal more experience than I with individuals engaging in lewd restroom conduct. But I’ve logged my share of time in airport restroom stalls, and my experience has shown that individuals with wheeled carry-on bags are a rather tight fit in there to begin with. My experience has shown that individuals with wheeled carry-on bags in airport restroom stalls have nowhere else to put their bags except up against the door.

I’m not saying that Craig wasn’t soliciting the cop. He may indeed have been. But the behavior he engaged in just wasn’t enough to be considered “lewd” in my book. I would have thought something more should be necessary before an arrest could be made.

And even if Craig went so far as to attempt to solicit sex from what he thought was another consenting adult in a men’s room in the Minneapolis airport, I don’t much care. It’s risky behavior, to be sure, but what’s the crime in asking, especially through relatively discreet signaling?

Now, if Craig had actually gone ahead and begun to perform a sexual act in that men’s room in public view, that’s when the term “lewd conduct” should have kicked in (and even the stall, in this case, could arguably be considered “public”). But his acts as described were pretty far from fitting that definition—with the possible exception of the “staring through the crack in the door for two minutes” part. But that would fall under the heading of voyeurism rather than lewd conduct, the definition of “lewd conduct” being that a third party who might be expected to be offended is exposed to the sexual behavior in question, or that a child is the subject of the attentions.

As it is, Craig was arrested for a sort of Kabuki theater of gestures that are suspicious but could be explained in innocent ways, although it would be a stretch. But whether or not Craig was in fact intent on having some sort of sexual contact with his neighbor in the next stall, the behavior he exhibited needed to have gone quite a bit further to have justified an arrest.

[The title of this post comes from the 1965 Tom Lehrer song “Smut.”

Give me smut and nothing but!
A dirty novel I can’t shut,
If it’s uncut,
and unsubt–le.

I’ve never quibbled
If it was ribald,
I would devour where others merely nibbled.
As the judge remarked the day that he
acquitted my Aunt Hortense,
“To be smut
It must be ut-
Terly without redeeming social importance.”

Nographic pictures I adore.
Indecent magazines galore,
I like them more
If they’re hard core.

(Bring on the obscene movies, murals, postcards, neckties,
samplers, stained-glass windows, tattoos, anything!
More, more, I’m still not satisfied!)

Stories of tortures
Used by debauchers,
Lurid, licentious, and vile,
Make me smile.
Novels that pander
To my taste for candor
Give me a pleasure sublime.
(Let’s face it, I love slime.)

All books can be indecent books
Though recent books are bolder,
For filth (I’m glad to say) is in
the mind of the beholder.
When correctly viewed,
Everything is lewd
(I could tell you things about Peter Pan,
And the Wizard of Oz, there’s a dirty old man!)

I thrill
To any book like Fanny Hill,
And I suppose I always will,
If it is swill
And really fil

Who needs a hobby like tennis or philately?
I’ve got a hobby: rereading Lady Chatterley.
But now they’re trying to take it all
away from us unless
We take a stand, and hand in hand
we fight for freedom of the press.
In other words,

Smut! (I love it)
Ah, the adventures of a slut.
Oh, I’m a market they can’t glut,
I don’t know what
Compares with smut.

Hip hip hooray!
Let’s hear it for the Supreme Court!
Don’t let them take it away!]

[ADDENDUM: Varifrank has a good post on the Craig episode.]

[ADDENDUM II: My informants tell me that the urinal is alive and well in the modern men’s room. You might want to use this helpful teaching tool to get some tips on how to choose your urinal. Extra credit if you get the last one right.]

34 Responses to “When correctly viewed, everything is lewd: Craig and the cop”

  1. schnargley Says:


  2. Brian Says:

    Since we’re talking about American guys, oh yeah. Anything other than eyes-front and pretending that you’re the only one in the room is absolutely verboten. You do not make eye contact, you do not greet, you do not engage in conversation. You sure as hell don’t lean over to look at anyone else. Anything that even smacks of you thinking about violating the area around our usual comfort zones is verboten.

    And most men’s bathrooms these days include both a row of urinals and a row of stalls. Urinal etiquette is, as you might expect, even more fraught with peril.

  3. gcotharn Says:

    This Senator – who I don’t recall hearing of before, even though I sorta kinda follow politics – is too muddle-headed dumb to represent the people of his state. If he doesn’t resign, he desereves to be defeated at the polls, for that reason.

    Matt Foreman, of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force:

    “What’s up with elected officials like Senator Craig? They stand for so-called ‘family values’ and fight basic protections for gay people while furtively seeking other men for sex. Infuriating pathetic hypocrites. What more can you say?”

    The underlying allegation, I think, is that Christians represent ourselves to be somehow above sin; or without sin If/when Christians represent ourselves this way, we are actually committing sin by failing to recognize our fragility, our weakness, and our susceptibility to sin.

    However, being against gay marriage does not equate to representing ourselves as being above sin. While it is true that one can be hypocritical and hold a political opinion, holding a political opinion does not equate to being hypocritical.

    I’m quite certain some smart gay people are against gay marriage. This is no proof of hypocrisy. Some of this group are surely Christians. Again, this is no proof of hypocrisy. It is not even an indicator of hypocrisy. If you believe the state has a legitimate and rightful interest in encouraging traditional marriage, you can easily be patriotic, gay, Christian, and un-hypocritical.

  4. The Unknown Blogger Says:

    What’s your point here Neo?

    That the undercover cop should have waited till they were in the same stall with their pants down?

    Ask Stumbley or Richard Aubrey if they’ve ever let their shoes touch those of the guy in the next stall… 😉

  5. Jason Bontrager Says:

    On the topic of men’s room etiquette, a good tutorial can be found here.

    Consequences for rule violations are covered as well.

  6. Corrie Says:

    Don’t quite understand why Craig was charged with lewd conduct for looking at someone and tapping his feet, while the guy who admits he is a pedophile and has posted pics of young girls & instructions on how to stake them out on the net cannot be charged with anything.

  7. Ymarsakar Says:

    One’s an easier target than the other way. Politics is like war. It is a jungle. Survival of the fittest. Of unk gets in the way, you got to get him out of the way. It is how it goes.

  8. Harry Says:

    I’m very shocked, Neo, that you thought the urinal was extinct.

    There was an internet puzzle game a few years back about urinal etiquette that was fairly funny. I found this one is still in existence.

    This sort of bathroom discussion reminds me of the all male dorm where I lived for 2 years, which had only gang showers. The feminists of the day were insisting that this highly desired dorm should be half given to women. This was a perfectly easy suggestion to implement, since the dorm had an axis of symmetry right down the middle.

    The funny part was that the feminists did not even consider that women would ever use gang showers, which were the only kind available in the buidling. So they insisted that the administration must first replace the gang showers so that the dorm “could accommodate women” (and their delicate sensibilities, I presume).

    This episode was an unpersuasive introduction to feminist thought for skeptics like me.

    A few years later, of course, the administration did exactly what the feminists demanded.

  9. Tatyana Says:

    Tangential professional note: standard layout of Men’s public restrooms (airport’s definitely applies) requires inclusion of both toilets and urinals.

    Exact amount of fixtures is determined by building code/use rules, per projected occupancy of the building. Usually if 6 fixtures required, 2 of them must be urinals. Toilet partitions are mandatory: stalls with doors (33″w regular, 5’0″wide wheelchair accessible) for toilets and partition screens between urinals. All dimensions and materials are standardized.

    Just saying.

  10. Harry Says:

    I didn’t tag the URL correctly (and no preview function).


    If I blundered again it is:

  11. stumbley Says:

    Hey, UB, I’ll tell you about my shoes as soon as you let on when your NAMBLA membership expires…

  12. camojack Says:

    Ah, Tom Lehrer songs, that brought back memories.

    As for the topic of discussion, I’d call it entrapment because as I understand it, the undercover cop acted receptive to the alleged advances. If it was me in that situation, then I’d let the individual know in no uncertain terms that his interest was unwanted…and that should be that.

  13. Richard Aubrey Says:

    Two things bother me about this. One is that, as neo says, Craig’s actions might be innocent. That’s possible, although, as she says, a stretch.
    The other is that we have only the cop’s word as to the actions which might, in fact, have been innocent.

    What would be the difference if Craig had done none of these things? It would be the cop’s word against his and he’s still screwed.

    How do we know, for certain, that Craig’s actions really are generally accepted signals?

    I would be really annoyed to find a public restroom used for sex. I would also be really annoyed to find a public restroom used for a cop who’s p***** off his sergeant and gotten the rotten detail. And needs to make a quota.

  14. pst314 Says:

    I’ve witnessed behavior like that, I deeply resent such intrusions on my privacy, and I see no reason to tolerate it: If Craig started peeking into my stall, running his hand under the partition, and pushing his foot up against mine, I would have stomped his foot and smashed his knuckles. Pigs deserve to be treated as pigs.

  15. kungfu Says:

    Craig could make it to Guantanamo on less evidence.

  16. Occam's Beard Says:

    Craig was just giving the universal signal that he wanted to be a Democrat.

    Sorry, just kidding.

    Seriously, though,

    1. Craig clearly was cruising. No reason to doubt the cop’s word; Craig is the only one with reason to lie.

    2. If Craig initiated the festivities, it’s not entrapment. Initial receptivity is irrelevant. Think of undercover cops busting prostitutes, or illegal arms dealers. Just saying “no” off the bat defeats the purpose. Initiating the transaction is entrapment.

    3. Some elsewhere have bleated the old saw “don’t the cops have anything better to do?” Answer: keeping a lid on perverts in public restrooms – where kids go, for God’s sake – is a perfectly justifiable and reasonable use of police time, IMO.

  17. Richard Aubrey Says:

    Occam. Craig is not the only one with a reason to lie.
    I understand entrapment.
    I also understand that this would have gone exactly the same way had Craig been completely innocent.
    It appears he was not.
    My concern is that had he been, nothing else would have changed.

  18. Occam's Beard Says:


    Fair enough.

    I’m not clear on why the cop would lie, but I’m willing to concede the possibility. The preponderance of likelihood would still seem to favor Craig’s lying over the cop’s.

  19. troutsky Says:

    Hey, y’all! I think Craig should drag this out for several weeks and make a big defense based first on the definition of “lewd” , then claim entrapment, then claim his original guilty plea was ill advised (oh ,yeah, he already tried that), and finally try the “I was to drunk to know what I was doing ” defense and go in for treatment.

  20. The Anchoress » Blog Archive » Scanning the sphere: Hill’s funds, “Art” fun and Couric’s Sour Puss Says:

    […] I’m not all that interested in the latest “Gay Legislator” scandal but if you are, neo has an amusing take on it. […]

  21. Bugs Says:

    I’m sorry, but no American male is that clueless about public restroom etiquette. If he wasn’t cruising for gay sex, he had something even creepier going on. Not sure he needs to resign, but he definitely needs to come clean about whatever his issue is – assuming he knows what it is.

  22. Concerned citizen Says:

    So he’s a hypocrite, so what…

    What I don’t get is why does it look like he’s being sacrificed by his own party?

    What is the message the Republicans are trying to give?

    We don’t tolerate bathroom toe-tapping, or is there something else going on?

  23. Nyomythus Says:

    He’s a creep how ever you wish to spin it — he should resign, yesterday.

  24. d neal Says:

    Dear neo-neocon:

    Read Laud Humphreys’ ground breaking study of a men’s restroom in a public park, Tearoom Trade: Impersonal Sex in Public Places. You can learn there of the intricate pattrens men have devised to signal their desires.

  25. douglas Says:


    “Tangential professional note: standard layout of Men’s public restrooms (airport’s definitely applies) requires inclusion of both toilets and urinals.

    Exact amount of fixtures is determined by building code/use rules, per projected occupancy of the building. Usually if 6 fixtures required, 2 of them must be urinals. Toilet partitions are mandatory: stalls with doors (33″w regular, 5′0″wide wheelchair accessible) for toilets and partition screens between urinals. All dimensions and materials are standardized.”

    All this depends on what municipality you are in. In some public restrooms (usually parks or at the beach) stalls have no doors, presumably to make it impossible for people to have enough privacy to engage in lewd conduct. Of course, you then have little privacy to engage in use of the facilities. Also, military toilet facilities in barracks often have no stalls or dividers of any kind.

    Typically (I guess the ladies wouldn’t know), urinals outnumber stalls between 1.5:1 and 2:1. Since urinals take up less space, we have no lines while the ladies wait. If there were a female fixture akin to a urinal, and the women would actually use it, there might not be lines. Keep that in mind next time you complain about the wait, ladies.

    Also, for all the ‘mind your own business’ etiquette of men’s rooms, if you’re in there with guys you know, there’s plenty of conversation. But if I don’t know you- keep to yourself, please.

  26. Tom Says:

    Does anyone else recall Walter Jenkins, senior LBJ aide and father of six, caught in a homosexual sex act blocks from the White House in 1964? More people went to bat for him then than for Craig now. Jeez, Craig didn’t actually DO anything, like expose himself, etc., etc.
    This is a wonderful example of the judgmental immorality of our times; Nifong lives! It is politically correct, or at least OK, to be overtly gay and proud of it, housing a male prostitute while serving as a Congressman from MA, but woe to those who are conservative, anti-gay marriage, and “violate” an entrapping cop’s space in an adjoining stall!

  27. Hyman Rosen Says:

    Craig pleaded guilty to the disorderly conduct charge. Whether or not cops should be cruising for bathroom cruisers, that’s hardly what a really straight man who was so accused would do. As for political correctness and what’s OK and what isn’t, it’s Craig’s fellow Republicans who are trashing him and relieving him of leadership positions and urging him to resign. The Democrats are just indulging in schadenfreude.

    The anti-gay agenda so beloved of the Right Wing is evil, and must be fought in every way possible. It’s very useful in the fight to have some of the most ardent supporters of this agenda exposed as being gay themselves, because it allows for the sly implication that all such supporters are gay hypocrites. It’s fine that there are logical fallacies here – the point isn’t to win the debate on style, but to end a system of laws and customs that denigrate and disenfranchise an unjustly vilified minority group.

  28. yonason Says:

    Fist, let me say I do NOT condone what senator Craig did. Picking a piece of paper off the bathroom floor?! Doesn’t he know how unsanitary that is?!! Disgusting!

    But, seriously. Let’s think about this “out of the box” or stall, or whatever.

    Suppose some gay person starts coming on to a straight. And suppose this straight doesn’t like it and refrains from decking the S.O.B., but instead complains. Do you for one minute think that the Lefties won’t call that straight a “homophobe?” and try to characterize him as a “danger to society?”

    But, when a political opponent is in the role of their favorite persecuted minority, well, that’s different now, isn’t it?

  29. L i a m Says:

    The thing that makes me laugh is the how puzzled people are with how innocous the signals used were. What I would retort with, at what point should they wait for before arresting someone cruising? Wait until the suspect whips it out?

    I remember back in the 80’s when the Michigan State Police were chasing naked men around the rest stops outside Ann Arbor. Clearly not a “repressed” environment – gays still felt the need to cruise.

    Cruising is the maximum expression of irresponsible male sexual behavior. And this being commented on by a male.

  30. Ymarsakar Says:

    Rosen gives you a true idea of how immoral and expedience based such revolutionary Leftist beliefs are.

  31. SDN Says:

    “The anti-gay agenda so beloved of the Right Wing is evil, and must be fought in every way possible.”

    OK, then. So your opinion of what’s evil justifies any behavior you want to pursue. Hope you don’t mind if I adopt that stance.

    As for the “pleading guilty”, ever watch Law and Order? There are lots of people, when confronted with the power of the State, instinctively know that if they fight, they won’t win, and that by daring to assert innocence, they guarantee a harsher penalty. I don’t fight traffic tickets unless I have a witness in the car. If the IRS says I owe more taxes, I pay them, because it is cheaper that way, and because I don’t feel like appearing on the audit list for the rest of my life.

    Hell, look at Tom DeLay. Charged after the DA of the most liberal jurisdiction in Texas had to empanel 5 grand juries to get what he wanted, and yet years later, the DA hasn’t actually held a trial, despite DeLay’s attorneys trying to compel one. Couldn’t have been that the DA knew that unlike liberals, conservatives would actually uphold their own rules and force him to step aside? Naahhh!

    At some point, the right-wing needs to actually start acting like you claim it does. The vilification won’t change, but the number of Leftists around to engage in it will be a hell of a lot smaller.

  32. SPH Says:

    Men’s rooms have still have urinals. And they have always had toilets. There is another HUGH breach of men’s room etiquette.

  33. AlanWR Says:

    Why is his own party quickly turning on him to resign? One reason and one reason only. The press is in bed with liberal politics, he will be hounded out if he runs again and a Dem will replace him. Get out now and let an appointed Republican encumbant run and retain the seat.

    Republicans don’t care any more about his actions in that stall as the democrats do. They both care about the number of seats they will have after the next election. Anything that can be used to win an election will be used.

  34. WEVS1 Says:

    Camojack writes:

    “As for the topic of discussion, I’d call it entrapment because as I understand it, the undercover cop acted receptive to the alleged advances.”

    I don’t think this is entrapment at all. For it to be entrapment the cop would have had to come on to Craig, instead of the other way around. Entrapment has nothing to do with being “receptive to alleged advances” by a perp.

    Here is another situation that makes this a bit clearer:

    A) Dope dealer walks up to an undercover cop in the restroom of a dance club or bar and offers him dope.

    B) Cop accepts offer and “buys” dope.

    C) Cop arrests dope dealer after buy.

    That is not entrapment.

    SDN writes:

    “As for the “pleading guilty”, ever watch Law and Order? There are lots of people, when confronted with the power of the State, instinctively know that if they fight, they won’t win, and that by daring to assert innocence, they guarantee a harsher penalty.”

    As I recall, the senator said he pled guilty because he “just wanted to get it behind him” and that he didn’t realize he should seek the support of counsel. This is someone who spends the vast majority of his time surrounded by lawyers and works in an institution formed to create laws. In other words, if anyone in this country understands the implications of pleading guilty to a crime it is senators like Mr. Craig. Anyone who falls for the “but I just didn’t understand our legal process” line is, frankly, willfully allowing themselves to be misled.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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