Politics & Policy

Smoking in the Boy’s Room

It's a shame they both can't lose.

The catchphrase of America’s famous cowboy humorist Will Rogers was “Never met a man I didn’t like.” Judging from the activities at the men’s room of the Will Rogers Memorial Park in Beverly Hills, many of the patrons of said facility evidently feel the same way. George Michael, the stubbly boy rocker of the Eighties, was arrested therein for attempting to play footsie with an undercover cop. “Guilty feet have got no rhythm,” as George famously observed on his hit song “Careless Whisper.” After pleading no contest, he subsequently made a rock video mocking the arresting officer, with George prancing around in police uniform twirling his night stick.

It’s not clear if such an option is open to Senator Larry Craig who found himself in a similar situation in the men’s room at Minneapolis International Airport. True, the Idaho Republican was a member of the Singing Senators, the congressional barbershop quartet that also included John Ashcroft, Trent Lott, and Jim Jeffords, and he could, in theory, make a barbershop video mocking the arresting officer with, say, Senator Lott prancing around in police uniform twirling his night stick. But, absent that, Senator Craig has been reduced to the usual grim rituals of political career self-detonation, from the public statement with the tight-lipped wife standing loyally by her husband to the risible explanation (Craig’s foot brushed the Minneapolis officer’s shoe but only because, when using a bathroom stall, the senator has a “wide stance”). “I am not gay,” says Mr. Craig over and over, as somberly and emphatically as President Nixon’s famous insistence that he was not a crook. Any day now, the senator will announce O.J.-like that he’s redoubling his efforts to track down the real homosexual.

The human comedy is not to be disdained. Nonetheless, after listening to the post-arrest audio tape of Craig’s interview with Sergeant Dave Karsnia, I find myself inclining toward Henry Kissinger’s pronouncement on the Iran/Iraq war: It’s a shame they both can’t lose. As it happens, I passed by the very same men’s room at the Lindbergh Terminal only a couple of months ago. I didn’t go in, however. My general philosophy on public restrooms was summed up by the late Derek Jackson, the Oxford professor and jockey, in his advice to a Frenchman about to visit Britain. “Never go to a public lavatory in London,” warned Professor Jackson. “I always pee in the street. You may be fined a few pounds for committing a nuisance, but in a public lavatory you risk two years in prison because a policeman in plain clothes says you smiled at him.”

Just so. Sergeant Karsnia is paid by the police department to sit in a stall in the men’s room all day, like a spider waiting for the flies. The Baron von Richthoven of the Minneapolis Bathroom Patrol has notched up a phenomenal number of kills and knows what to look for — the tapping foot in the adjoining stall, a hand signal under the divider. Did you know that tapping your foot in a bathroom was a recognized indicator that a criminal act is about to occur? Don’t take your i-Pod in with you! Or, if you do, make sure you’re listening to the Singing Senators: Hard to tap your foot to “Sweet Adeline,” and if you do it’s unlikely to be in a manner sufficiently frenzied to attract the attention of the adjoining constables.

What else is a giveaway that you’re a creep and a pervert seeking loveless anonymous sex? Well, according to Sergeant Karsnia, when the Senator entered the stall, he placed his wheelie bag against the door, which (according to the official complaint) “Sgt Karsnia’s experience has indicated is used to attempt to conceal sexual conduct by blocking the view from the front of the stall”.

No doubt. But, if you use the men’s room at the airport, where are you meant to put your carry-on? There’s not many other places in a bathroom stall other than against the door, unless Minneapolis is planning on mandating overhead bins in every cubicle. In happier times, one would have offered some cheery urchin sixpence to keep an eye on one’s bags. But today if you go to the airport bathroom and say to some lad, “Would you like to take care of my wheelie for five minutes?”, you’ll be looking at 30 years in the slammer.

I’ve no doubt Senator Craig went to that bathroom looking for sex. Listen to the tape of his encounter with Sergeant Karsnia and then imagine, as Jonah Goldberg suggested, how the conversation would go if Senators McCain or Webb had been in that stall and were accused of brushing shoes with the flatfoot. Not being privy to the codes of the privy, it would take ‘em 15 minutes even to figure out what Sarge was accusing ‘em of and, when it became clear, the conversation would erupt in a blizzard of asterisks and, shortly thereafter, fists. Instead, Senator Craig copped a plea. Because of that, he should disappear from public life as swiftly as possible and embrace full time the anonymity he cherishes in his sexual encounters. Not, as the left urges, on grounds of “hypocrisy” — because he’s a “family values” politician who opposes “gay marriage” yet trawls for rough trade in men’s rooms. A measure of hypocrisy is necessary to a functioning society. It’s quite possible, on the one hand, to be opposed to the legalization of prostitution yet, on the other, to pull your hat down over your brow every other Tuesday and sneak off to the cat house on the other side of town. Your inability to live up to your own standards does not, in and of itself, nullify them. The Left gives the impression that a Republican senator caught in a whorehouse ought immediately to say, “You’re right. I should have supported earmarks for hookers in the 2005 appropriations bill.” That’s the reason why sex scandals take down Republicans but not Democrats: Sex-wise, the Left’s standards are that whatever’s your bag is cool — which is the equivalent of no standards. Thus, Monica Lewinsky was a “grown woman” free to make her own decisions on the carpet of the Oval Office. Without agreed “moral standards”, all you have is the law. When it’s no longer clear something is wrong, all you can do is make it illegal.

And so we have the bizarre situation of a United States senator convicted of the crime of brushing his foot and placing his carry-on luggage in the only available space of a men’s room stall. Larry Craig feebly accused Sergeant Karsnia of “entrapping” him but, in fact, the officer didn’t even need to entrap him into anything other than an allegedly intrusive shoe movement. That’s a crime? On the tape, Craig sounds sad and pathetic, a prominent man cornered in a sordid transaction. Yet Karsnia sounds just as weird and creepy: a guy who’s paid to sit in a bathroom stall for hours on end observing adjoining ankles. I’d rather hand out traffic tickets.

Mark Steyn is an international bestselling author, a Top 41 recording artist, and a leading Canadian human-rights activist.

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