Senator Craig and the Good Idea Gone Wrong

The coverage of Senator Larry Craig’s conduct in the bathroom of the Minneapolis airport is out of control. Craig said in a public address shortly after his guilty plea had been made public that he had “made a mistake” in pleading guilty. I’ll say.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a sucker for the tale of a die-hard anti-homosexual’s lusty and scandalous public outing. However, I’m not so quick to decide that this is what Senator Craig’s situation ultimately boils down to. I’m much more inclined to believe him. He made a mistake, or more probably a few mistakes, and it is likely now to cost him his career. In my mind, he is not yet a seedy sex-villian set on exploiting public restrooms for sordid sexual encounters. What he is, certainly, is a dope. A huge dope.

First of all, Craig didn’t have an attorney present. In fact, it seems — from the police report and plea document, as well as by his own admission –that he neglected to consult with anyone before signing his name to a document which found him responsible for two misdemeanors. Now, I’m no lawyer, and I disagree with suggestion, put forward by one cable news anchor, that because Craig is a lawmaker he should automatically understand every aspect of the law. In my opinion, one of the problems with the lawmakers in this country is that their are too many lawyers among them. (See The World is Flat for a novel idea — that those who make policy should be none other than those who have experience and expertise in the field for which they make policy, i.e., scientists, health care workers, educators, etc.) However, I do know some lawyers, and I’ll bet Larry Craig knows a few hundred more than I. And yet, he didn’t call one.

What a dope.

His refusal before the fact to consult with anyone may speak to Senator Craig’s guilt. His guilty plea certainly does. More than that, however, it speaks precisely to a point which he himself made. He wanted it all to go away. If this had been a traffic ticket, he likely would have been right. In fact, if these same charges were brought against him in some other context, he may very well have been right. A disorderly conduct and interference with privacy charge may very well have disappeared without a sound (and certainly with less of a sound) if Senator Craig had, say, had one too many drinks at the hotel bar, lumbered up the hallway singing “Hail to the Chief” and accidentally walked into the wrong suite.

The idea was good. The arresting officer made it clear enough. “I don’t want to take you to jail.” If you cooperate, you can go home. Sign the paper, pay the fine, get on with my life. It may in fact be a good indicator that Craig intended to do nothing wrong that he plead guilty without a fight. He misunderstood the charge, or underestimated its impact, and for that he is sorry.

I don’t know that this would be less of a story, sadly, had he brought his lawyers into it. He would not be under fire for his “secrecy,” but some other aspect of the story would surely take the reigns.

On a related note, I, for one, am now utterly frightened of public restrooms. And not remotely so for fear of potential Larry Craigs waiting in the stall next to mine to tap their feet and touch the stall partition. I’m afraid of arrest. Using a public restroom has always been a self-conscious event, especially when sitting on the toilet is involved. I am worried that my unavoidable fidgets and sideways glances might be misconstrued by some plainclothes cop in the next stall for a come-on.

This reminds me of a middle school insecurity and a flash game I once played. (This was years ago. I played flash games before flash games were the thing.) In middle school, if my experience can be generalized to any degree, using the rest room involved some level of ritual in and of itself. Doing a number 2 meant going to the very last stall. This was the only stall with a door on it. If I, in the midst of a doorless crap, had caught the baby blues of some other unfortunate irregular, I would have been devastated. Humiliated, even. However, I would hardly have cause to accuse the young man of interference of privacy. Much less imply that he was “cruising.” (When my mom was young, “cruising” was what you did on a Friday night. Down to the movies, up to the BurgerSpot, over to the Five’n’Dime.)

Number 2 in middle school also often meant waiting an inordinate amount of time. This, however, for reasons diametrically opposite to those of “cruisers.” You see, if you could hold it long enough and be very quiet, you could be absolutely certain that there was no one in the restroom, no one outside the restroom, no one in the hallway who might catch a whiff and wander in, just to poke fun at you.

The flash game, which incidentally still exists and can be found in an updated version here, suggests theoretical situations you may encounter upon entering a restroom. With 6 urinals in all, variously occupied by other gentlemen, you are to choose your urinal based on a notion of restroom etiquette and assumed male homophobia and sexual uncomfortableness. If you choose a stall too near another guy, you lose. (If you choose one too far away, you look like a homophobe, and thus, implicitly, a closet homosexual).

I was reminded of this game by an implication of the arresting officer that Craig waited specifically for this certain toilet to open up. By the time the Senator had dropped trou and sat down, it seems, he was already under suspicion. A tap of the foot, a wave of the hand, and he was under arrest. It seems to me that this sort of sting, in which vague gestures and foot motions are taken for explicit language and intent, borders on thought crime.

I can imagine a situation, and this may be one, where someone innocently made moves that unfortunately had been set aside in someone’s book as code. The men’s room has its own mysterious culture, and, just as nodding for a refill in Sri Lanka will get you none, tapping your foot in the toilet will get you fellatio.

Or get you arrested.

Maybe not a homosexual. Maybe not a “cruiser.” But what a dope…

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About Noah Brewer

I am an English teacher and Debate coach living in Carrollton, GA. I like gardening and critical theory. I like teaching and learning. I like language and technology.
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