Talk To The Hand

A 49-year-old traveling salesman allegedly seeking sex in a Minneapolis airport bathroom in June noticed a boyish young man with short, sandy hair and an athletic build standing at a urinal. The salesman, peering over the top of his stall, motioned the young man to move to the adjoining commode. Once they were sitting side-by-side, the salesman tapped his left foot. The young man tapped back. The salesman then reached his hand under the stall divider and grabbed the young man’s leg. No response. The salesman peeked over the top of the divider. Staring back at him was Sgt. Dave Karsnia and his police badge; Karsnia had just nabbed another man allegedly seeking anonymous action in a restroom known on gay Web sites as Minnesota’s “cruisiest.” But rather than humiliate the man with a showy arrest next to the stalls, Karsnia wrote in his police report that he quietly led him away. As the man was being released after being booked and fingerprinted, he turned to Karsnia to say: “Thank you for being respectful, sir.”

Six days later, that polite police officer caught a much bigger fish: Larry Craig, the conservative Republican senator from Idaho who has been dogged by—and denying—rumors about being gay for 25 years. This time, though, the notoriously anti-gay-rights senator shot the smoking gun right into his foot. He quietly pleaded guilty earlier this summer to engaging in disorderly conduct in that same Minneapolis airport restroom on June 11 after he and Karsnia did the tap dance that’s considered a universal signal for a hidden hookup. Before entering the stall, Craig stared so intently at Karsnia through the crack in Karsnia’s door that the officer reported he could see the senator’s “blue eyes.” When Craig got inside, he tapped his foot, brushing it against the officer’s, and waved his hand under the stall divider three times, according to the police report. Karsnia waved his badge back, to which the senator responded, “No!” Later, in the airport police station, Craig flashed his business card to Karsnia, saying: “What do you think about that?”

Craig, though, won’t be able to identify himself as a U.S. senator much longer. After news of his arrest and guilty plea surfaced, ranking Republicans raced to distance themselves from him. Still scarred by accusations of moving too slowly on the Mark Foley congressional-page scandal last year, GOP heavyweights like John McCain immediately called for Craig’s resignation; Craig announced last Saturday that it will come Sept. 30. Earlier in the week, the Idaho senator called a hasty press conference on the streets of Boise to declare once again: “I am not gay; I never have been gay.” He explained he pleaded guilty to a crime he didn’t commit in hopes of “expeditiously” resolving the matter; he hadn’t told his wife, who stood beside him, her eyes hidden by dark glasses. By then, though, the damage was done. The Senate launched an ethics investigation and Republicans stripped the three-term senator of his ranking status on committees. Worse yet, Craig’s explanation for why his foot brushed Karsnia’s was the stuff of Leno’s and Letterman’s dreams. “I’m a fairly wide guy,” Craig told Karsnia in the post-arrest interview. “I had to spread my legs when I lower my pants so they won’t slide. Did I slide them too close to yours?”

Craig’s wide-stance defense notwithstanding, his arrest highlights the bathroom subculture of toe taps and anonymous sex in stalls. The Internet is full of Web sites that identify the best places for gay men to engage in lavatory liaisons. Sometimes the action goes on out in the open at the urinals; other times, it’s faceless fumbling in the small space beneath the metal divider in the stalls. And according to law-enforcement officials, it happens everywhere there are public restrooms—shopping malls, schools, parks, highway rest stops.

The restroom in the main concourse at the Minneapolis airport, though, is an especially hot hookup spot. Located just across from the food court and near a giant statue of Snoopy and Woodstock in aviator gear, the large restroom has nine stalls along the far left wall across from five urinals. (Craig was in the second stall from the back.) In the middle section are two more rows of urinals and to the right, a row of sinks. One Web site ranks it as Minnesota’s top cruising restroom. “This is the best spot for anonymous action I’ve ever seen,” wrote one poster to the site. Another said: “Plenty of dark stall action, too!”

Due to that Web chatter—and complaints from travelers—the Minneapolis airport police went undercover inside that restroom in mid-May. Since then, they have arrested 41 men, including business executives and airline and airport employees, according to police reports. Several undercover cops have pulled the shift inside the stalls and at the urinals. They don’t initiate contact, says airport police spokesman Patrick Hogan. Instead, they wait for a lingering glance, a head nod or that familiar foot tap. “Sometimes it does involve a considerable amount of time,” says Hogan. “It’s not glamorous work.”

Karsnia is particularly adept at catching cruisers. He has accounted for a dozen of the arrests since May, including a triple bust where one man flashed him from the urinals while he waited for two others to emerge from the stalls. (The gay activist Web site blogactive.com, which attempted to out Craig last fall, posted Karsnia’s photo last week with the caption: “Well, at least the senator has good taste in men.”) Karsnia declined NEWSWEEK’s interview request, but friends and colleagues paint a picture of a dedicated cop. Karsnia, 29, joined the airport police in 2000 straight out of St. Mary’s University in Winona, Minn., where the criminal-justice major played defense on the varsity hockey team. “He was not a bruiser,” says former teammate Dusty Verhey. “He was more laid-back, smooth.” Next month, Karsnia is scheduled to marry a fellow St. Mary’s alum with whom he has been living for several months. A humble, hard worker, Karsnia has risen in the ranks quickly and earns $75,175 a year. His bosses put him before the TV cameras when “Inside Edition” and “Good Morning America” did reports earlier this year on shuttle carts inadvertently mowing down passengers in the terminal. On his desk is a framed photo of him shaking hands with Vice President Dick Cheney after receiving an officer-of-the-year award in 2003. His former roommate Scott Kronebusch says Karsnia won’t say if he’s Republican or Democrat, and didn’t gloat about capturing Craig. “It doesn’t make any difference to Dave whether it was a senator or some guy down the street,” says Kronebusch. “It’s just his job.”

But Craig managed to raise the sincere and soft-spoken cop’s ire. In the interview room shortly after his arrest, Craig was combative and refused to acknowledge he was engaging in the Morse code of cruisers. “You solicited me,” Craig told Karsnia, according to a tape of the exchange. “I am not gay. I don’t do these kinds of things.” Karsnia responded: “This isn’t entrapment.” After disagreeing over the details of the incident, Karsnia snapped: “You’re sitting here lying to a police officer.” When Craig responded, “You saw something that didn’t happen,” Karsnia abruptly ended the interview. “Embarrassing, embarrassing,” Karsnia said with disgust. “No wonder why we’re going down the tubes.” Craig’s career has headed in the same direction. His Republican colleagues only hope they don’t get flushed along with him.