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Garrison Keillor

Midwest misbehavior in the strangest places

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, and they were a little happy about the fact that the Hawkeyes were walloping the Gophers, 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 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.

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.

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 stupendous, until 50 women waiting for a stall start shrieking, "Hey, there was a line!" and pound on the door and security pulls them apart and there's shame, of course, but also pride — they crossed a line and it feels brave 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, 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, "What were you thinking?"

© Garrison Keillor. All rights reserved.

Midwest misbehavior in the strangest places 12/05/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 10, 2008 9:09pm]

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