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.
Give me smut and nothing but!
A dirty novel I can't shut,
If it's uncut,
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!)
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.]