Romance, requited or not, can be a costly proposition. The Secret Service, guardians of the president, and the Army, guardians of the rest of us, are still trying to tally the dimensions of the carnal carnage at Cartagena.
The General Services Administration (GSA) is still counting what the agency spent to take 300 guvvies to Las Vegas for an "executive workshop," learning how better to serve the nation (but mostly how to serve themselves). The tab so far is $823,000, but tips might be extra, and that doesn't count what a "regional commissioner" spent on scouting trips through the Pacific and Asia. There's no word yet on whether and if so how much the GSA spent on fancy women.
Heterosexuality in high places is clearly running amok. And it's not just the guvvies, either, and not just in steamy foreign places where furriners lie in wait to lure good Americans into misadventure. Bobby Petrino, who had taken big steps in building a football legend at the University of Arkansas to rival that of the Bear at Alabama, went for a motorcycle ride through the Ozarks with his sweetie, and when his big Harley crashed into a thicket of briars and saplings, he was fired for lying about the error of his erotic ways. He blew an $18 million buyout when he was fired "for cause." Love can be a many-splendored thing, but splendor usually costs extra.
The White House, the Secret Service and the Army are trying to figure out exactly what happened to whom and how and when, but the first lesson drawn from the escapade in Cartagena is that the time to bargain with a hooker is before, not after, the angel of desire alights in a tryst under a canopy of candied gossamer. Everything we know about transactions in a shady boudoir — learned from movies, novels and boasts heard in a barroom — shouts that nobody ever, ever gets to run a tab. It's always cash and carry, and the customer pays when served. How could Secret Service agents, paid to be observant, have missed that?
The escapades of the GSA executives are naughty enough and demonstrate why nobody trusts the guvvies with other people's money. But GSA executives are not responsible for the safety of presidents. The Secret Service provides bodyguards, ready and willing to take a bullet for the chief. The randy agents in Cartagena were ready and willing to take advantage of an opportunity to get a little lovin' on the side.
"They never told me they were with [President] Obama," the hooker whose argument with her john unraveled the scandal told the New York Times. She met the agent at a bar, and he invited her back to his room. The $800 agreed on presumably included the condoms she bought on the way to his hotel. But she may be the first hooker in history not to press for the money upfront. She was more anxious not to be taken for a hooker. She's an escort. If a Ph.D., even if honorary, can insist on being called "doctor," a newspaper reporter calls himself a "journalist" and a short-order cook is a "chef," why can't a hooker be an escort?
"An escort is someone who a man can take out to dinner," the lady explained. "She can dress nicely, wear nice makeup, speak and act like a lady. That's me."
When the front desk called the next morning to tell her that, escort or hooker, there was a hotel rule that she had to leave by 7 o'clock, the agent offered her $30. He explained that he was drunk when he agreed to $800 the night before. That was his story, and he was sticking to it. Or so he thought.
This is a particularly sad episode for the Secret Service, which has been trying for four decades to live down a reputation for drunken malfeasance on the night before John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, for partying until 5 in the morning at the Fort Worth Press Club. One of JFK's agents later told author Edward Klein ("The Kennedy Curse") that "drinking, partying and sex became part of traveling with the president." Shocking indeed.
Most Secret Service agents, like most Washington bureaucrats, lead sober, sedate and safely dull lives, and the most wicked thing the Secret Service has done lately was closing Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House, which made a nice parking lot for the agents' SUVs.
But in Washington, perception is all that matters. It's a lesson Washington never learns.
• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.
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