Two mugs in a bar — kind of an old bar, somewhat clean, but you know how hard it is to get an old bar squeaky clean. Maybe they’re old friends, or maybe they just happen to be sitting within earshot of each other at this particular moment.
The news is on TV, or maybe it’s some politicians arguing over what the gummint should or should not do and how people can’t be trusted so this has to stop.
One mug rolls his eyes.
“You know what nobody says anymore?” he says to anyone who will listen, or maybe to himself.
The other mug stares forward. The bartender dries a glass down the way.
“You know what nobody says anymore?” the mug tries again.
The other mug stirs from his reverie. “I don’t know,” he says. What does nobody say?”
“‘It’s a free country.’”
The other mug waits for more. When it appears nothing more is coming, he says, “That’s it?”
“Nobody says ‘It’s a free country’ anymore?”
“Nope,” says the first mug. “Used to be a couple guys start arguing over this or that or another thing, and sooner or later one of ’em says, ‘Ah, baloney, it’s a free country, I got a right to think that way, ain’t hurting no one.’”
“So people stopped having a right to think stuff,” the first mug says. “Maybe it’s not a free country anymore.”
“Are you kidding? This is the freest country in the world,” says the other mug.
“Maybe that ain’t saying much anymore. I mean, that one guy got fired the other day just for saying something he was thinking, you know what I mean?”
“Oh, come on, that was really stupid what he said.”
“Of course it was, but people say stupid stuff all the time, and nobody used to get fired over it.”
“Maybe they should have been,” the other mugs says.
“Really? Isn’t a free country where you have the right to say something stupid and everyone else is free to tell him he’s stupid?”
“Right,” says the other mug, “and his boss has the right to fire him.”
“Over whatever he damn well pleases. That’s why he’s called the boss.”
“The bosses call the shots,” the first mug agrees.
“So it never was a free country.”
“I suppose not, when you think of it that way.”
“But were bosses always this touchy?” the mug says.
“Seems like it used to be you had to slug the boss or steal from the company to get fired.”
“That was then,” says the other mug. “Gotta watch your step these days.”
“So I’m right,” says the first mug.
“What?” says the other mug.
“Nobody says ‘It’s a free country’ anymore.”
“Maybe nobody says it,” the other mug says, “but it’s still the freest country in the world.”
“That ain’t saying much.”
“Can I get you another?” the bartender says, sensing a situation that needs defusing. The other mug picks up the empty glass, looks inside to make sure it’s empty, and sets it back down.
“Sure,” says the other mug. “Why not?”
The two of them stare at the television screen while the bartender pours fresh drinks. On the TV one of the talking heads says, “This country is the leader of the free world, and we’re not going to stand for this.”
The other mug grins triumphantly. “See? You were saying?”
The first mug grunts.
After a minute, the first mug says, “The Sox sure stunk up the joint last night, huh?”
“Tell me about it.”