‘Well if isn’t Poplar Park’s two biggest bleeding heart do-gooders!”
Michael Rosenthal winked at his neighbor, Pastor Walter Mitty, as he slid into the corner booth at the Main Café this past Monday morning and said to the ever-grumpy waitress, who had been pouring coffee in their cups since Reagan was president, “And a good Monday morning to you, Alice.”
Alice put her hands on her hips and replied, “So I suppose you want fair trade coffee and vegan pancakes?” She paused for effect and added, “Well tough. We don’t have either one on the menu which you would see if you took the time to read it.”
Mitty and Michael pretended to be hurt and offended for a moment and then in unison said, “The usual, Alice.”
Michael started the conversation. “Walt, have you been following the story about the cremation of King Bhumibol?”
“You mean in Thailand?”
“Right. Walt, have you noticed how much the Thais love him? I mean, the guy has been dead for a whole year, and it seems like the whole country, and I mean the whole country, really loved him. For 70 years, Walt. Can you believe that? Seventy years he was on the throne.”
“I admit I haven’t paid much attention,” said Mitty, “but now that you mention it, Mongkut over at the Thai restaurant has always had the King’s picture hung on the wall and all year he’s had black cloth draping it.”
“I’ve been watching this funeral unfold,” Michael continued, “and what bothered me is that we don’t have anyone in Poplar Park, or the whole country, who comes even close to being loved by everyone.”
Pastor Mitty thought for a minute and said, “What you said is certainly true about Poplar Park. Enough people like Mayor Romano to get him elected, but I don’t know anyone who would mourn his passing for more than a week let alone a whole year.”
“Governor Rauner?” asked Michael.
“I see what you mean,” Mitty replied, “and if our president died, maybe 25% of the country would mourn his passing but at least as many would throw a party.”
“And another thing about Thailand,” said Michael. “Their politics are as crazy as ours, but when the office holders there line their pockets too much or grossly abuse their power, you know what happens? The army steps in and takes over and, according to Mongkut, they do a better job of running the country than the politicians do.”
“Solved the world’s problems yet?” Alice asked as she served two plates of toast, a plate with a waffle and another with a breakfast burrito, all of which she had been carrying on her left arm while carrying a pot of coffee in her right hand.
“We’ll have it for you by the end of breakfast,” Mitty replied, thanking Alice for her service. He took a sip of warmed-up coffee and said, “Michael, do you remember how, 40 years ago, a lot of us college students thought of the military as the source of all evil?”
Michael nodded and said, “But now, from what I hear on the news, it’s the generals in the White House who are creating some order in the midst of the chaos there.”
He paused, gathering his thoughts, took a deep breath and added, “So it got me thinking. Is there something about military culture which produces mature leaders in ways that elected officials can’t achieve because they always have to pander to the voters who got them where they are?”
“So,” Mitty said after taking a long drink of coffee, “which is more dangerous? Unconditional obedience to superiors who are sometimes misguided, misinformed or downright psychotic? Remember weapons of mass destruction? Or pandering to an electorate that is misguided, misinformed and projecting their anger on people who think differently than they do?”
Alice arrived just then to refill their cups for the last time. “Well, I’m waiting.”
“Waiting? Waiting for what, Alice?” asked Pastor Walt.
“You told me to wait till the end of breakfast to hear how you are going to solve the world’s problems. Your plates are empty, so I’m waiting.”
Michael winked at his neighbor again and said, “We decided that you’re the best waitress in Poplar Park.”
For the first time in memory, Alice couldn’t think of anything to say.