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The Old Scout
The Perils of Public Passion
December 2, 2008

I've been trying not to think about the man and woman from Iowa who had sex in the men's room at the Iowa-Minnesota football game in Minneapolis a week ago and to think about the environment instead, or the future of American fiction, but it is hard to put something like lavatory sex out of your mind. And the environmental impact is slight. Some paper towels, that's about it.

The Iowans apparently did not know each other until they got really, really drunk and ran into each other on the concourse. Probably their shared Iowaness in enemy territory was an initial bond — Minnesotans tell the same jokes about Iowans that used to be told about Polish people — and they were a little happy about the fact that the Hawkeyes were walloping the Gophers (55-0 was the final score), and somehow the 38-year-old woman and the 26-year-old guy wound up in a handicapped stall in a men's room and had intercourse, which drew a crowd who cheered them on.

They were interrupted by a security man who spotted two pairs of feet under the partition and saw underwear on the floor and called police, who arrested them for indecent conduct, a misdemeanor, and released the male perp to the custody of his girlfriend and the woman to her husband. That is mostly all we know, except that the woman has told reporters, "It's ruined my life," which is pretty much what a nice Midwestern lady should say after she's gotten drunk and had sex in public with a complete stranger. It shows good manners. You can't have drunken public sex with a stranger and say, "I don't know what got into me!" You are supposed to sit in the ashes and rock back and forth for a while.

Midwesterners have always needed to go elsewhere to misbehave and so when people head south to Florida or Arizona in January, purportedly for the warm weather, we know better. "Warm weather for what?" we ask. Public sex, most likely.

This is one area of life that American literature needs to explore. You read about the Iowans and you think, "I would never do such a thing as that. No no no no no no no." And it's the job of the novelist to create empathy and to write this story so as to put the reader into the toilet stall with a heart full of passion and his or her drawers on the floor.

I'm going to put them at a Minnesota Orchestra concert instead of a football game. He's there with a girlfriend he's trying to break up with. He's had two glasses of Merlot at dinner. Stravinsky's "Le Sacre du Printemps" is the opener, and at intermission he brushes against a lady in the lobby and quickly apologizes, and she says, "Are you thinking the same thing I am?" He is. Men always are. "I said to myself during the Stravinsky," she says, "that I would offer myself to the first man who touches me." This is okay by him.

She leads him into the women's john and into a stall, and she says, "I never did this before," and he says he never did either, and the two of them have wild sex and it is magical, it is stupendous, until fifty women waiting for a stall start shrieking, "Hey, there was a line!" and pound on the door and security comes running and pulls them apart and they're arrested, and there's shame, of course, being led by police through a crowd of the sensitive and genteel ("They did what? You're kidding!"), but also pride -- they crossed a line and it feels brave and good and also it's their ticket to something better. He was National Guard but now he's thinking about acting school. She's thinking she'll write a memoir called "Lavatory of Love."

All very believable, but there's one detail I can't quite get my head around. Midwesterners I know would not, even if three sheets to the wind and overwhelmed by hormones, use a handicapped stall to have sex in, just as we would never have sex in a car parked in a handicapped spot. It's a basic taboo. The adultery we cannot approve of, the drunkenness is immature, sex with a stranger is definitely sketchy, but the handicapped stall is beyond the pale. As your mother would say, "How could you do it? What were you thinking?"

© 2008 by Garrison Keillor. All rights reserved. Distributed by Tribune Media Services, INC.



From the Desk of Garrison Keillor

Garrison Keillor
Photo by Cheryl Walsh Bellville


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