I called Bubba McCoy to make sure he knew there was an executive order from the governor that everyone wear a mask starting Monday.
"I'm glad you called," he said. "I need somebody to tell me where Asa Hutchinson gets off ordering something like that all by himself. He ain't no king. I thought we had two branches of government."
Well, I told Bubba, it's three, and, actually, he'd raised a good point that could well be litigated.
I explained: The executive-branch article of the state Constitution declares the governor the supreme executive authority of the state. There is a state statute--that's a regular law, less than a constitutional principle--authorizing the governor to declare a state of emergency and, in that state of emergency, exercise emergency powers extending to the issuance of executive orders carrying the force of bills enacted into law by the Legislature, but only for the duration of the emergency.
But somebody could always file suit that the governor had no authority to make him wear a mask--to argue essentially for a right to breathe a virus on people.
I didn't like the odds. But my law degree is pending.
"I just wondered," Bubba said. "I guess I get what you're saying, though you could be making it up as you go for all I know. But it don't matter to me. I don't have to wear no mask."
Yes, I told Bubba, indoors or out, if not able to keep a six-foot distance, he would have to wear a mask or risk getting ticketed and fined, not that the local officer he drinks coffee with regularly there at the auto emporium trailer office would ever cite him.
"I know more stuff than you think I do," Bubba said.
"This order from His Royal Highness King Asa says I have to wear a mask if I'm less than six feet, indoors or out. I'm putting a sign up on this office door saying keep six feet away from me if you come in, or six feet away from another person already in here if there is one.
"I haven't had two customers in here at once since the '90s. Two customers is what we call a traffic jam over here.
"Outside on the lot, I can easily stay six feet away and talk an old boy into a pickup. If I can't do that, I ought to get out of the business.
"For the three old boys that sometimes come in here for coffee, I have carefully measured the distance and placed these four chairs six feet apart with all of them six feet from the table with the coffee pot.
"So, I don't need no mask, thank you very much," Bubba concluded.
Why go to all that trouble rather than just put on a mask if somebody comes in?
"I'm not real crazy about smelling my own breath," he said, "especially after three or four cups of this strong coffee."
But Bubba's dear wife, one of the finest women in the region, had sewn scores of masks. Why couldn't he keep one around?
"Oh, I got one right here in the drawer, in case somebody decides to hold a damned convention in here."
Doesn't he need a mask when he drives to Tennessee to the car auction?
"I don't need to go to any car auction until I sell something here and make some room. This ain't boom-time for quality used vehicles over here."
More generally, then, I wondered what Bubba thought of the mask mandate.
"I think Walmart made Asa do it. That's what I think."
Good for Walmart, then, I said.
"Look, it don't take a doctor to see that this virus hops around when a lot of people bunch up together. They do that over in Little Rock. They do it in Memphis. They do it up in northwest Arkansas.
"I ain't even had all three of the coffee guys in here at one time this summer. The biggest group I'm ever in is three, counting myself, and these other guys aren't any more likely than I am to have the virus.
"But my point," Bubba said, "is that I get the need for a mask where there are lots of cases. If the governor feels a need to order 'em worn, it's all right by me, I guess, though some people are gonna tell him where to put his mask.
"And I don't think the local authorities over here are gonna go around like meter maids writing up no-mask tickets. It's gonna be mostly talk, like most everything else anymore."
I thanked Bubba, and he asked me whether I thought the Hogs would play this season.
I told him it was looking like Sam Pittman might stay undefeated a while.
"Yeah," he said. "And that's the only way."
John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at [email protected] Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.