"There are too many people trying to save my soul at this airport" a man said to me as we sat in the bar at Chicago's O'Hare terminal.
I looked at him.
"I don't need their carnations. If I wanted a carnation I would have bought one at the florist on the way to the airport."
"They think they've found the secret of life," I said.
"Yeah and while they're hawking their carnations in the airport, their high priest is riding in a Mercedes elongated-Benz buying up half the tuna fish business in California. Then he is going to buy three more estates on Long Island, a private airplane and a 220-foot yacht and full-page advestisements in all the newspapers, and all I'm trying to do is get from Chicago to Detroit."
"They're attempting to show you the way."
"I know the way," the man said.
"It's gate F-8."
"Not that way," I said, "the real way, the only way, the way to salvation - the way to that big air terminal in the sky."
"Look," the man said, "I'm not a bigot. I don't ask anyone while I'm in transit what god they believe in, and I don't want to be told by a kid at an airport pushing flowers are some zillionaire, what god I should believe in. This place isn't a church or a revival hall. It's an airport and its purpose is to help people get from one place to another."
"Aha," I said. "Now you get the plan. The reason the kids are working the airports with their carnations is they know that people in their hearts are afraid to fly and basically we're all superstitious. To many travelers a carnation is just another insurance policy."
"But there isn't just one faith proselytizing in this airport. I've run into half-a dozen - "The True Faith." The Finger Bowl. The Last Plane to Heaven Society' and 'The Born Again Watergate Brotherhood.' How do you know which one's carnation will do the trick?"
"You just have to pray that you bought the right one," I said.
"Do you know what one kid said to me as I came away from the ticket counter?"
"She said, "The Lord has put you on stanby." Now isn't that a heck of a thing say to a guy at an airport?"
"What did you do?
"I bought the damn carnation. Let me ask you something. This was one of those cleanfaced girls - no make-up, hair tied in a bun, flowered blouse, long skirt. Suppose I went up to this kid in a public place and without so much as a by-your-level I tried to pin a carnation on her chest and said, "I want to show you the way to heaven." What do you think would happen to me?"
"You'd probably get 1 to 10 depending on the jury."
"So what right do these kids have to come up to me in an airport and try to pin a carnation on my suit and shove a Bible into my stomach?" he demanded.
"It's a good question," I admitted. "But I don't know the answer. Saving souls must be in an airport and try to pin a carnation on my suit and or they wouldn't have so many kids working them. I'll betcha the high priest takes in more in one day than Mutual of Omaha does in a week."
"Well," he said, "It's nice talking to someone at an airport who doesn't want to know what I plan to do when I meet up with Satan."
"Likewise, it's nice to talk to someone who isn't 19 years old and who claims to have found the answer to eternal happiness."
"Anyone who can find eternal happiness at O'Hare Airport in the winter," he said, "should be locked up."