Louis sits outside the courthouse where he works, eating his lunch. As he sits, Joe Pitt joins him. Joe asks Louis about his sick “friend” (whom we recognize as Prior), and Louis admits that he’s getting worse and worse. Louis notices that Joe, like Louis himself, is eating hot dogs for lunch. Louis says that he “can’t help himself.”
The phallic symbolism of the hot dogs is childish, but also rather funny. The message is clear enough: Louis “can’t help” but indulge his desires.
Louis talks about Ronald Reagan, and suggests that Ron Reagan Jr. is homosexual. Joe tells Louis that he shouldn’t make these assumptions. Louis explains that it must be hard to be in the Reagan family—indeed, it’s not a real family at all. Being Reagan’s child, especially, must be exhausting. Joe seems oddly impressed with Louis’s honesty and insightfulness.
Louis sees through the thin veneer of respectability and family values in Reagan’s idea of America: he senses that Reagan’s conservatism is just a convenient, nostalgic illusion. Joe is predisposed to agree with Louis, since he’s been thinking about his own concealed sexuality lately.
Louis gets up to go back inside, but Joe stops him. He explains that yesterday—a Sunday—he went in to work, foolishly thinking that it was Monday. Walking through the hall of justice alone, Joe wondered what would happen if all the justice and love in the world disappeared. The result would be “heartless terror,” but it would also be “great.”
Joe is so desperate for freedom—freedom from Cohn, from Harper, from Mormonism—that he can only imagine it in near-apocalyptic terms. At this point, he’s willing to take a “leap of faith” and suddenly abandon his wife and his religion to be with another man.
Joe tells Louis that he can’t force himself to go back into the courthouse that day. Louis asks if Joe wants some company, but Joe doesn’t reply. Louis tells Joe that people have to be willing to break the law in order to be happy. He goes on to say that he hasn’t been sleeping well lately. Louis wipes Joe’s lips for him, and then walks back into the courthouse.
Louis’s physical intimacy with Joe is a clear sign of budding attraction. Joe doesn’t interfere with Louis’s actions at all, even if he doesn’t reciprocate, either. This suggests that he’s cautiously interested in Louis, but has been sexually repressed for so long that he doesn’t really know what to do when a man flirts with him.