I WAS TALKING to my pal Jake the other day. Jake cleans swimming pools for a living and supports the arts. He frequents art houses with names like "Girls Girls Girls" and "Continuous Nude Dancing."
Jake and I visited one such establishment where, in the grand tradition of investigative journalism, I probed his feelings on First Amendment rights and public morality.
"Jake, do you agree with the Supreme Court's recent ruling upholding a state's right to enforce local standards of morality vis a vis public exhibitionism?" I asked.
He lit a cigar. "Hey, this is a nice place. Don't come in here and talk trash."
His eyes wandered to a blonde named Desiree who had just come out on the runway to the sound of "Simply Irresistible." She stood in front of a large mirror, holding onto a pole much like those in firehouses, and started to dance.
"Maybe I should put this another way."
"Maybe you should."
"Uh, do you think that what that girl is doing up there ..." I looked toward Desiree to see what exactly it was she was doing up there and promptly lost my train of thought.
"A feast for the eyes, ain't it?" Jake said. I noticed he was puffing hard on his cigar.
Desiree, who was not exactly overdressed when she came out, was becoming even less so.
"Uh, Jake," I pressed on. "Do you think what she's doing up there ought to be protected under the Constitution?"
"You won't find many constitutions that can compare with that there ..."
He had a point. And, I noticed, so did Desiree.
"Uh, Jake, I meant the U.S. Constitution."
"I've seen the U.S. Constitution." I wouldn't have picked Jake as a guy who would visit museums. Just goes to show you, people can be very complex.
"It's up there in Boston Harbor."
"Jake, thats the USS Constitution. That's a boat."
"I know. Old Ironsides." I noticed Jake was perfectly capable of having this conversation without ever actually looking at me.
"They used to have some great strip joints up there in Boston."
"Jake, I'm talking about the United States Constitution, the legal document that set up the entire country."
"Don't you just love the way she does that?" Desiree was doing some expressive dancing. It would be difficult for me to interpret what she was expressing, but the best I could tell is that she was expressing a deep affection for the pole. In fact, had any firemen come sliding down that pole at that moment ... well, somewhere in town fires would be burning unattended.
"Jake, do you think what that girl's doing right now ought to be protected under the First Amendment of the Constitution, which, by the way, is 200 years old this December?"
"Is that the one about going to any church you want?"
"Partly, but it's also about freedom of speech."
"Well, she don't say anything. None of the girls ever say anything. They just dance and strip."
"Yes, but some legal scholars argue that dance is a form of expression and, as such, is protected under the First Amendment."
"That's fine with me."
"The court has ruled that local jurisdictions can enforce their own local standards."
"They've ruled that they can require pasties and G-strings."
"That's what they said."
"But ... but ... they gotta be able to express themselves ... fully, don't they? Isn't that what America is all about?"
"You mean to tell me they can do that in a supposedly free country?"
I gave him the bad news.
Jake seemed upset, so I tried to cheer him up. "The Supreme Court says nudity is OK if it's part of a "legitimate artistic endeavor" such as a play or an opera.
Jake was ticked. "Those things cost a fortune, and you gotta sit through a lot of talk, talk, talk before there's any action, and those actresses, they don't have the kind of talent these girls have. And you can't slip into a play on your lunch hour for a beer and some babes."
I watched Desiree. I had to admit she was displaying a very special kind of talent.
"Well, Jake, look on the bright side. It's up to each local jurisdiction to draw up its own standards, and it looks like nothing is going to change here."
He seemed relieved. "Well, that's good."
I glanced at Desiree, who was now dancing with her own reflection in a huge mirror. Both of her seemed to be having a good time.
Dick George is the producer and head writer of CRABS, the Maryland Public Television show that just won seven Emmies (and was canceled). He writes from Baldwin.