When Pastor Walter Mitty dragged himself out of bed at 6:30 a.m. last Wednesday, he felt like he hadn’t slept at all. He didn’t feel sick exactly. It was more of a weariness in his whole body.
When he opened the shade, he saw the wind blowing the rain against the garage. The thermometer outside his bedroom read only forty degrees. Mitty shivered, and part of him wanted to go back to bed. “I’ll feel better as soon as I get myself moving around,” he thought “Have to feel better.”
He picked up the phone on the other side of the bed after three rings. “Walt, this is Michael. Wanted to catch you before you left for the men’s fellowship. Have you looked outside? Nasty, huh? You still want to go to the game later?”
“Wouldn’t miss it!” Pastor Walt was trying to convince himself that he was looking forward to shivering for three hours in the wind and cold rain at Wrigley Field. “When I get back from the Main, I’ll call you, and we’ll decide if we’re going to take the El or drive. Talk to you in a couple hours.”
Ordinarily he would have walked the four blocks to the Main Street Cafe, even in the rain. He found it invigorating. But today he decided to drive. As he turned the key in the ignition, he realized that even though he had been up for half an hour, the weariness in his body was turning into an ache. As he closed the car door and leaned into the wind for the fifty foot walk to the Main’s front door, he felt a tightness in his throat and coughed a couple times.
As he shook the rain off of his raincoat, Pastor Mitty noticed that everyone was looking out the window towards the bank. “Hey Pastor,” Eric called out to him from across the dining room, “You gotta see this.”
Mitty slid into the group’s regular booth, got on his knees on the seat and craned his neck to see what was so interesting. His eyebrows rose. “Well isn’t that the … What are the chances of …”
“Would you believe it if you hadn’t seen it?” Ash was pointing toward the two billboards mounted on the side of the Poplar Park Bank.
“Are you fellas here to eat or gawk?” barked Alice.
“And a cheery good morning to you, Sunshine,” replied Ash with a grin.
“Don’t humor me,” warned Alice. “I’m in a bad mood.”
“But you’re always …” began Dominique but thought the better of it.
Ignoring the man in the Brooks Brothers suit, Alice continued, “This lousy weather is going to keep customers away today. But what’s really bugging me is that stupid ordinance the county passed.”
“The one that banned smoking in public places?” asked Dominique as he suppressed a chuckle.
“Who do those guys think they are, telling people what they can or can’t do in their own business? We’ll lose customers if we don’t have a smoking section. Besides, it’s a free country, isn’t it? I mean, if people don’t want to eat in a place with a smoking section, they can go down the street to that fancy new Italian place.”
Mitty coughed a couple more times as Alice filled his cup. He wanted to say something in favor of the smoking ban but his runny nose was demanding a tissue.
“It’s really for your own good, Alice.” Eric’s Green Peace juices were starting to flow. “Second-hand smoke can be just as dangerous as smoking itself, and you work in this environment every day.”
“That may be true,” replied the waitress, “or it may not be true. All I know is that if that law goes into effect, I might lose my job here. That billboard on the right says it all for me.”
Four men looked back out the window. The billboard to which Alice was referring pictured a cop and a fire fighter smoking cigarettes against the backdrop of an eagle and an American Flag, all of which was crowned with the words “Freedom to choose: The American Way.”
“The one on the left is another example of self-righteous liberals trying to put their values on me,” Alice continued as she turned toward the kitchen to refill her Superior coffee pot. “That’s not what our forefathers fought and died for to defend,” she added looking back over her shoulder as she walked away.
The men’s fellowship looked back out the window. The billboard on the left had a huge cigarette inside a red circle with a line through it above the words “smoking kills.”
Four men sipped coffee and pondered the conflict displayed graphically across the street. Ash broke the silence. “Sounds to me like pro-life against pro-choice.”
Mitty’s jaw dropped. “Ash, that’s really good. You’re …” A spasm of coughing prevented him from finishing his thought, and he noticed the beginning of a headache.
“You OK?” asked Dominique.
“Sure, sure,” Mitty answered as he wiped his nose again. “Have to be. Michael and I are going to Cubs game later on.”
“You sure you want to do that?” Ash had that same furrowed brow that Pastor Walt’s mother used to get when he told white lies about why he was late for supper.
Mitty was beginning to feel testy. “Ash, I know my body. A shot of Dayquil and I’ll be just fine.” Ash shrugged. Dominique and Eric rolled their eyes. Pastor Walt was too busy blowing his nose to notice.
Eric decided to get back on topic. “The billboard on the left speaks for me,” he declared. “I’m as much for freedom as the next guy. But who was it”John Locke or someone like that”who said that your freedom ends where my nose begins? I don’t care if people want to give themselves lung cancer in their own homes, but I don’t want them smoking in public places when I’m around.”
As the breakfast gathering ended, Ash, Eric and Dominique made a quick exit to avoid shaking hands with their pastor who by now had a pile of eight used tissues next to his coffee cup.
Mitty dragged himself to his car, drove the four blocks to his house and parked in front of Michael’s. When his neighbor opened the door and looked at his friend, he said, “You look terrible, Walt. Got a cold?”
“I think it might be a mild case of the flu, Michael, but I still want to go to the game. A shot of Dayquil now, a couple of hot dogs and a beer later, and I’ll be just fine.” As he tried to pull another tissue from his pocket, the wind blew it out of his hand into a puddle on the sidewalk. Michael kept the screen door between himself and his neighbor.
“I don’t know how to tell you this, Walt, but I don’t want to go to the game.”
“Why? You afraid of getting a little wet?”
“No, it’s not that,” Michael answered. “The thing is … the real reason is I really don’t want to catch the flu from you.”