(Mike Royko is on vacation. While he's away, we're reprinting some of his favorite columns.)
I RODE A CAB the other day that had a hand-drawn sign on the --board that said "No Smoking."
Although I smoke, complying with the sign wasn't a problem. I'm not the kind of smoker who makes a fuss about being deprived. If somebody doesn't want me to smoke in his presence, I don't. As non-smokers everywhere are angrily saying, why should they be subjected to somebody else's smoke?
After we had gone about a block, I said, "Will you please turn off that noise?"
The cab driver, a shaggy-haired man in his 30s, looked in the mirror and said: "The what?"
"You mean my radio?"
"Yes, the radio."
"What's wrong with it?" he said.
"It's giving me a headache. The music is bad and there's static. You ever hear of the problem of noise pollution? That's noise pollution."
He shook his head and turned it down.
"I can still hear it," I said.
"You want a different station? Some other kind of music?"
"No. I hate music. I haven't liked any music since Spike Jones' band."
He shook his head again but snapped the radio off.
He probably thought I was rude or worse. Maybe you do, too. And maybe I sounded that way.
But it's now my policy to meet intolerance with intolerance. I don't know if that's fair, but when it's over, I feel better.
It began a while ago with one of the two women at the next table in a restaurant. She was my first exposure to the anti-smoking crusaders.
I was having dinner with a pal. We hadn't even ordered when she turned toward me and said very firmly, "I'd appreciate it if you didn't smoke."
Before I could do anything but look surprised, she launched a California-style lecture. "Respecting rights of others . . . menace to the environment . . . intruding on my space . . ."
Before she was finished, I had squashed my cigarette and said, "OK, OK."
Because I'm a fair person, I could see her point. A little of my smoke might have drifted in her direction, although the place seemed very well ventilated.
About halfway through the meal, I turned toward her and said, "Excuse me, but could I tell you something."
"Yes?" she said, glaring at me in anticipation of the request she knew would come: Could I have just one cigarette?
But I fooled her. I didn't mention smoking at all. I just said: "I really don't care about your neighbor's medical problems. Or your job. Or your vacation plans. Would you lower your voices so your conversation doesn't intrude on my space?"
She knew exactly what I was up to. She gave me a look of contempt and said: "Really. The tables here are so close that we'd have to whisper."
"Try," I said. "I'd appreciate it."
But they didn't. She said, loudly and clearly: "Oh, he just thinks he's being clever . Oh, he's so" -- and she dragged the word out -- "so clevvvverrr." And they went on talking just as loudly.
That was it. War. I attacked on two fronts.
First, I told my friend a dirty joke. No, it wasn't dirty, it was filthy. It had no swearing or gutter language. But a really good, filthy joke is even filthier if told in clinical terms.
Then I told another one. And their nostrils quivered and they ate faster.
It seemed only fair. If I had to hear about their neighbor's intestinal malfunctions, why shouldn't they hear my filthy jokes?
While I told the jokes, I took out my cigarettes and lighter and put them on the edge of the table.
When my last bite was gone, and the coffee cups filled, I picked up the cigarette package and sort of fondled it. I could see them watching.
Then I slowly slid out a cigarette and tapped it on the table. And tapped and tapped it. Then I put it between my lips. She was not only watching, she was starting to look homicidal.
I just kept it there for a minute. I took it out while I said something. Then I tapped it some more.
I picked up the lighter. But I just held lighter and cigarette in my hands, as if distracted by conversation.
Finally, I snapped the lighter a couple of times. She cracked under the pressure.
"Waiter," she said. "Check."
And they hadn't even had coffee or dessert.
As they rose, she glared at me and said, "Do you know what you are?"
I smiled, put down the unlit cigarette and said: "Thanks to you, much healthier."
So, you see, we can all coexist, if we just try.