At the end of August 1954, the head of RAND’s security detail is called by the Santa Monica police station. An officer announces that two cops arrested a young man in a men’s bathroom in Palisades Park that morning. The man claimed to be a mathematician employed by RAND. He was charged with “indecent exposure,” a misdemeanor. RAND confirms that John Nash is indeed an employee: Nash has been targeted in a “police trap,” and he will have to be fired, since criminal conduct and “sexual perversion” are grounds for dismissal and the cancelation of one’s security clearance. Nash is fired, though he immediately denies being a homosexual—even pulling out an image of Eleanor and John David to show to the security officers who come to remove him from his office at RAND. The charge, “indecent exposure,” means that Nash had likely been caught masturbating and making a come-on to another man in the bathroom.
Nash is caught in a “police trap” that discriminates against homosexual men (in the 1950s, sodomy—sexual relations between gay men—was a crime). Though it is never clear whether Nash was actually soliciting other men for sex in the Palisades Park bathroom, it is likely that Nash made some kind of sexual advance on an undercover officer: the desires he has long repressed have been publicly revealed. Still, Nash denies that he is a homosexual to the RAND security officers, showing that he has yet to come to terms with these private (though powerful) desires. Indeed, he will never publicly admit to them, since to do so would be dangerous.
In response to his firing, Nash “acted, weirdly, as if nothing had happened,” though news of his arrest is quickly transmitted back to Princeton and MIT. Nash appears “unscathed” after the incident, but the course of his life has been forever altered: Nash realizes that he is no longer invincible. The stress his arrest causes him may have catalyzed his susceptibility to schizophrenia, since psychological stresses are thought to contribute to the onset of the illness.
Throughout A Beautiful Mind, Nasar attempts to explain why Nash may have begun experiencing schizophrenic episodes later in life, at the age of 30 and the height of his academic career. Many schizophrenics begin experiencing episodes earlier; so why did Nash become ill later in his life? Though it is not clear to scientists and psychiatrists what exactly causes schizophrenia, stress is one potential contributing factor. In addition to humbling him somewhat—showing him, perhaps for the first time, that his actions could have consequences—Nash’s humiliation in California may have contributed directly to his eventual mental breakdown.