I post an extensive entry yesterday touching on the history of public cruising in New York with reference to men’s restrooms in particular; shortly thereafter news of Larry Craig’s travails surfaces. What’s more interesting to me than the case — honestly the most obnoxious thing about it is his invocation of ‘do you know who I am?’ gambit, which looks ridiculous when trying to get into a club and probably even more so when you’re trying to get out of a toilet area — has been some of the reaction to it over on the right.
Oh, sure, there’s expected stuff a-plenty — the funniest instant reaction was Hugh Hewitt asking him to go away but then immediately adding that he realized he didn’t do the same for David Vitter. The moral calculator was perhaps recently recalibrated. But honestly the most eyebrow-raising was the weird confluence of posts over at my favorite “Are you people all right? Really, you should lie down” site, NRO’s the Corner. To wit:
- Mark Hemingway’s column, not strictly a Corner entry but linked there via a post. The representation of hyperactive OMGLOL chat is one of those clunky moments of ‘how nice of you to notice that not everyone talks like you these days’ which we all might go through but even so.
- John Podhoretz being his usual ‘huh’ self with ‘a few thoughts,’ which Andy Rooney would likely have rejected in a fit of pique and Mark Russell would think are too obvious for his crowd.
- The ever-bemusing K-Lo, one of many such posts today in which she considers the idea that sex exists.
There’s a telling theme that runs through all three of these posts, though — a combination of ‘surprise’ (which I want to assume is forced but you never know — in Lopez’s case, it’s a toss-up) over the use of public restrooms in such a fashion and a sense of annoyance that it is being used that way. There’s something bizarrely naive about this which requires some further thought.
To be sure, the subjects under discussion are not regular political conversation per se. Or even common conversation (depending on one’s circles, I might imagine). But the reaction of all three is ultimately sophomoric in a literal sense — I could easily see this coming from sophomores, sure. From high school. (College, less so, and anyone older than that, please.) It bespeaks less of a curiosity about the world than a sudden nervous rush to try and isolate and pretend the worst of a situation, prurience combined with fascination — not something I’m going to pretend I’ve been immune to in the past and maybe even now (again, refer to yesterday’s post). Hemingway’s piece at the start is the most demi-realistic, at least, in that it acknowledges that cruising is hardly some great mystery, and in the grand tradition of fine bloggers everywhere, ie me, provides a handy Wikipedia link (though it’s for cruising in the UK, which is interesting in and of itself — the tradition of trying to convince people that all that nasty non-hetero stuff goes on/comes from somewhere else appears to continue apace, at least in terms of what Hemingway might be suggesting with this link in particular).
But having done that Hemingway revisits the question of it being a ‘public nuisance’ and the eternal war continues of what public space is used for. The anecdote he tells of a young kid with a lube wrapper is pretty gross, but is just that, an anecdote — if anything it confirms that litterbugs are people too, and I have to doubt that this is a national plague in particular. At the same time I think it’s perfectly sensible that any mom, no matter how comfortable/freely thinking on such issues, would rather not have to be put into a situation not of her own time and choosing explaining what such a wrapper was and where it might have been and why she’s so concerned about her kid having that in her mouth and so forth; I can’t imagine anyone saying otherwise.
After that the article descends pretty rapidly, which is a pity — there’s space for a larger discussion of the human animal at public play, for lack of a better term, and how that space is conceived and used. It’s a key part of urban planning on the one hand, expression of individual identity on the other — as such, an arguably very American issue, though hardly solely set there of course. But no, instead we get, as most everywhere else (right or left, I should note) the typical joshing with the unmissable subtext of ‘why can’t all humans be proper married couples like us who only engage in acts of copulation on our sainted marriage bed,’ or something similar. Moral fantasy mugged by reality, once again.
(UPDATE: You know, leave it to Hewitt’s main coblogger to come across even more painfully:
The mind spins. Who would go into an airport restroom seeking a sexual encounter? Talk about looking for love in all the wrong places. And how do people become familiar with these codes? Not that I would ever find myself in a public restroom stall, but if I did and the guy next to me began tapping his toes, I would have no idea that I had been invited to a forbidden rendezvous. If his tapping toes somehow wandered into my stall-space, I would break a land-speed record getting back to my departure gate.
Other questions abound. Do these guys buy airline tickets just so they can visit the flushing Studio 54 of Minneapolis gay sex? And does every airport have a similar hangout? Boston’s Logan Airport is pretty big. Maybe we have one, too. Then again, this sounds like a very Midwest thing. I think Hugh should make a point of asking Lileks about it on Thursday. I know James is busy this week gorging on the culinary delights that the Minnesota State Fair offers like DingDongs and fried MilkyWays (yum!), but if ever we needed Lileks’ local knowledge, it’s now.
The bit about state fair food near the end just makes me think of the greatest line of cinema history (scroll down to the paragraph beginning “If the movie wasn’t so afraid…”). I have no doubt this was not intentional, though. As for everything else, stabs (with a butter knife) at humor aside, it’s amazing what people either try and assume exists or alternately pretend doesn’t exist. As Barnett makes a bit clearer later on:
ONE LAST PRESSING ISSUE weighs on my mind: Why do so many of the political figures ensnared in these embarrassments seem to be Republicans? You can point to Chris Dodd’s and Ted Kennedy’s special recipe for waitress sandwiches as counterpoints, but Craig’s and Mark Foley’s antics are so much weirder and creepier. Do politicians think membership in the Family Values party provides them with a beard that will insulate them from their secret lives? Is it all an exercise in self-loathing performed on a national stage?
I won’t stay up nights waiting for the other shoe to drop but it might yet. Might.)