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Nashville Scene Wood-Free Tennessee

Drop that erection, son; it's the law

By Walter Jowers

FEBRUARY 7, 2000:  Last week, I made fun of our Mississippi neighbors. I did it because the Mississippi legislature is considering a law that would make it a crime for a man to appear in public with his manflesh in a "discernibly turgid state," even if said manflesh were fully covered by pants, boxers, briefs, or even a sassy little French maid outfit.

Well, wouldn't you know it: Before the ink was dry on last week's Scene, a half-dozen lawyers e-mailed me and told me that Tennessee had outlawed publicly turgid units years ago. It's all there in the Tennessee Code Annotated, 39-13-511. As far as the law is concerned, being fully clothed and sporting wood is the same thing as being buck-naked. The only meaningful difference between the proposed Mississippi law and our law is that Mississippi's penalties are harsher. Get convicted there, and it'll cost you $2,000 and up to a year in prison. Here, just pay $500, and you're out the door.

Even so, getting busted for pitching a tent in public is not the kind of thing that you want on your permanent record. Better just to avoid trouble with the law altogether. So let's review: A man runs afoul of the Tennessee public indecency law if he appears tumescent in any public place, including but not limited to: "streets, sidewalks, parks, beaches, business and commercial establishments, member- and non-membership establishments, bottle clubs...."

Wait a minute. Bottle clubs? What the hell is a bottle club?

Since this is a legal question, I called smartypants lawyer Jean Harrison. She couldn't find a single person who'd ever heard of a bottle club. While I had her on the phone, I went on to ask her who's at risk under this law, and what a poor boy should do to stay out of trouble if he finds himself publicly turgid. After a little research, she called me back. "According to my husband," Harrison said, "any male between the ages of 4 and 100 may be stricken with turgidity. He further informs me that the engorgement of said private parts can be expected to strike at the moment when least appreciated."

I asked her if there was a chance of juveniles getting arrested under the law. She said that as far as she could tell, being underage is no defense. She suggested that schoolboys should keep a big fat math book handy to "camouflage the salute."

Given this alarming news, I checked with a Metro schoolteacher, who would speak only under the cloak of anonymity. "If somebody decided to enforce this," she said, "I'd spend all day citizen-arresting boys. And I teach elementary school."

Schoolboys, take note: There's a loophole. The law says it's OK to appear nude in a modeling class operated by just about any legitimate school. (Remember guys, you're nude if you're discernibly turgid, even if you're wearing a goose-down parka over the thing.) If some troublesome teacher or administrative type starts bugging you about your state of arousal, tell 'em that's not just any wood you're sporting. That's by-golly modeling wood.

For more loopholes, I turned again to attorney Jean Harrison. Says she, "The statute requires that the act of being turgid be committed knowingly or intentionally. If a man found his private parts on Defcon-5 alert, and he had nowhere to run when the Penis Patrol hauled him in for violation of the law, an enterprising lawyer would argue that he lacked the requisite intent to sport wood, and that the wood, if anything, was negligent wood. That's not a crime under the law. The Act-of-God defense could be useful as well."

Back in South Carolina, I knew a guy, Halfwit Billy, who so respected and feared the law that he would stop at green lights and wait for 'em to turn red. It occurred to me that somebody like Halfwit Billy might read this column and try to turn himself in the next time he popped a public chubby. I say don't do it. Walking up to a cop, pointing to your rock-hard unit, and saying, "Officer, I got wood. Take me in," is just about sure to earn you a beat-down.

If you're the anti-authoritarian type and you want to challenge the law, Harrison says you'd have to find a way to get yourself arrested. She doubts that any self-respecting cop would do it. Most likely, you'd just get hit with the ever-popular disorderly conduct.

I say if you're determined to get yourself arrested for public turgidity, bring at least six friends, all with video cameras, all repeating, "We're rolling, we're rolling." Get yourself arrested at the front door of the jail house, because you don't want to ride in the cop car. Have your lawyer waiting for you inside the jail house with $500 in cash. Then be prepared to spend your life savings fighting city hall.

Harrison recommends a simpler, time-honored approach: If you feel yourself getting into trouble, just think about baseball.


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