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ralph robert moore
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Copyright © 2001 by Ralph Robert Moore. All rights reserved.
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so there i was
september 1, 2001
So there I was, on the witness stand in the court house in McKinney, Texas, under cross-examination, the plaintiff's attorney flipping among the piles of papers on his table, eyes exasperatedly looking for the right document, to restate his latest question, his assistant, who was supposed to be helping him in his search, in fact appearing not to be helping him, probably feeling in the way, merely sitting back as the attorney's hands flipped over the reams of stapled papers, but at least she had her hands out in front of her, thumbs and index fingers twirling the air (I don't think she even realized she was making this gesture), as if assisting him by examining all the documents that didn't exist, which in fact was helpful, since the document he was seeking turned out to be, after several long minutes of silence in the court house, other than a lot of paper-flipping, in that category.
Let's back up.
As I mentioned in last week's Lately, I had to testify as a witness this past Thursday, August 30, in a civil lawsuit.
A north Texas city was suing the company I used to work for. Because of the responsibilities I held in that prior job, handling all legal issues, I felt an obligation to assist in the defense (The company itself no longer exists. All the employees, cubicles, Styrofoam coffee cups, cheap clocks with our logo we used to give out to potential clients, are gone. All that's left now, like the tapered white paper cone with its clotted residue of pink cotton candy, is the name).
The company I used to work for was a third party administrator (TPA). It processed healthcare claims for self-funded plans. A self-funded plan is a plan where the employer pays all of its employees' healthcare costs out of its own funds, and funds provided by its employees through payroll deductions, as opposed to a traditional insurance plan, like Blue Cross, where the employer pays a flat premium each year (usually several hundred thousand dollars for a small company, millions of dollars for a larger company).
The city had a self-funded plan. My company processed the city's claims.
In June of 1996, the wife of a fireman who worked for the city was admitted to a local hospital. She was pregnant. She wasn't supposed to deliver her baby for another month or so, but she was in labor. She gave birth to a premature child.
Premature babies, or 'preemies', as they're known in the medical profession, are among the most expensive patients in the world. Tiny as they are, by the time they're discharged from the hospital, after about a month and a half, they've typically racked up about three hundred thousand dollars in hospital expenses.
A reasonable question to ask at this point, given that a self-funded plan, such as the city's, relies entirely on employee contributions and whatever the employer contributes, is how is it possible that one employee's contributions (let's say $180 a paycheck), could possibly finance a three hundred thousand dollar hospital bill? The answer, of course, is that an employee's contributions can't. In effect, all the employees subsidize each other. Studies consistently show that at almost any company, ten percent of employees incur ninety percent of healthcare expenses. If you're not between hospital stays yourself, chances are you're helping pay for a fellow worker who is.
But even this subsidization by fellow employees can't cover the cost of catastrophic conditions such as premature birth, spinal injury, or AIDS. So what does a self-funded plan do?
It gets stop-loss. The typical self-funded plan is structured like this: In any given calendar year, the self-funded plan pays, out of its trust, medical expenses incurred by a patient up to a 'stop-loss limit' (usually, $150,000). If a patient's expenses during that year exceeds $150,000, the stop-loss carrier (a traditional insurance company) assumes the responsibility for paying all medical costs in excess of $150,000. In order for the plan to qualify for this stop-loss reimbursement, it has to submit any expenses above the $150,000 within an agreed-upon timeframe.
The city was suing my company because my company didn't pay the first two weeks of the fireman's premature baby's stay until after the timeframe for submitting the claim to stop-loss had expired. To qualify for reimbursement from the city's stop-loss coverage, the TPA I worked for had to submit this claim, for $90,000, within twelve months after the date the charge was incurred. We didn't submit the claim until fourteen months after the incurred date, because, despite repeated requests to the hospital, the hospital did not generate a bill for those first two weeks until then. There was a problem with their billing software. As a consequence, the city had to pay the $90,000 out of its own pocket, rather than having the stop-loss carrier pay it.
This was why the city was suing us. We knew there was a $90,000 charge out there, but didn't obtain a claim for that charge, so we could forward it to the stop-loss company, until it was too late. Our defense, of course, was that we tried repeatedly to obtain the bill from the hospital, but the hospital never sent it.
I had never testified at a trial before. I was nervous. The week before I was scheduled to appear, I did start playing-out my appearance in my mind, always with a little salt of dread in the scenes.
To me, there is something nervous-making about speaking in public, particularly when you're going to be aggressively cross-examined about what you say.
When I was a small child, I was as attention-grabbing as any other brat. That changed, though, when I went to high school.
In grade school, I knew all the kids, and their mothers. I had eaten at their houses. It was a close-knit community.
When I first boarded a yellow bus to be hauled to high-school, most of the kids on that bus were people I knew nothing about, and were in fact kids from rougher neighborhoods than the one in which I had grown up.
Around about this time, there was a show on TV called the Jimmy Dean Show. Jimmy Dean was a country singer, soon to turn into sausage-maker, not a bad one at that, who featured on his show a hand puppet known as Ralph.
Within weeks of me being in high school, everyone was calling me Ra-a-a-alph, drawing out the vowel. Because I was good-natured, I laughed along with them, which of course only made it worse. Soon the drawing-out of the vowel became more and more derisive. Walking down the halls, chemistry and geometry and English studies textbooks clamped together in my left hand by a large orange rubber band, a paperback by Theodore Sturgeon on top, my lunchtime reading, my eyes down, I became the green monkey. Soon, everyone in high school, even those boys shorter than me, felt free to make fun of me. I was the pariah. Thirty-five years later, I still remember one scene in my homeroom, me trying to sit quietly at the back of the classroom, minding my own business, and one of the boys first putting his shoe up on my school desk, curved back of black heel on the blonde grain, then with that shoe propelling all my books off the desk, open-winged onto the floor, and everybody-- I mean everybody-- in the classroom laughing, mouths wide open, both rows of teeth showing, at what a jerk I was.
I have to laugh at the teen movies made today. Most of them feature a nerd, boy or girl, who gets their shoulder jostled by a jock, but unlike my situation, I then see them scurry to a gray table in the lunchroom where a dozen other kids in glasses are talking about Titian and calculating pi, small smiles going around the table like a joint.
I didn't have that. I was utterly alone. The few friends I had entering high school soon abandoned me, in fact soon joined the pack against me, once I was singled out. Where each of us choose the crowded path we walk, I walked my path alone. I became the artificial bone for the dogs. I used to wake up on a Saturday morning and feel good, stretching, over a conversation I had had the night before, then feel depressed, realizing I hadn't had that conversation with someone my own age, but instead with an aunt. It was the hardest, loneliest period of my life. Once, my parents took us to Atlantic City, where we saw Little Anthony and the Imperials at a theater on the boardwalk. At one point in the concert, Little Anthony said from the stage, big glossy lips lowered to the microphone, "Whatever boy in this audience got the cutest girlfriend, raise your hands in the air and cheer!" I was sitting with my family. I didn't raise my hands. Later that night, alone in bed, in our rented bungalow, remembering them singing Tears On My Pillow, I started crying, and I couldn't stop. I never, ever, felt so alone in my life as I did that night. But even that night I never considered suicide, because I knew that at some point, things had to get better. They always do.
So what did I do? Eventually, I fought back. First with humor. Whenever I was called on in class, I'd rise from my desk (we had to stand, back then, to address the class), and amid the Ra-a-a-alphs and spitballs and farts, I'd give a witty answer to the teacher's question. Soon, I noticed the rude noises would subside more quickly after my being called on, so everybody could hear what I was going to say. After that, to eliminate the diehards, I used insult. When I went to college, a couple of the kids from my high school showed up in the halls. The first time we spotted each other in this slightly more adult environment, they derisively drawled out my name again. Instead of fearfully ignoring them, as I had in high school, I walked right up to them, looked the ringleader right in the eye, and asked him if his mom could suck my cock after she finished getting fucked up the ass by all the dogs in the neighborhood. You'd be surprised how quickly that sort of statement can expand the width of the listener's pupils.
I was never bothered again, by anyone. I learned my lesson. I became more humorous, and less good-natured.
It's embarrassing for me to relate this period in my life. We want to portray ourselves as heroes, but I was anything but, in high school. I was a coward. I let other people define who I was, and worse of all, I believed them. So why am I talking about this now? Only because there may be some of you, or maybe only one of you, reading this, who are going through the same degradation I went through. And all I want to say to you is that as alone as you feel right now, beaten down to nothing more than the pulses in your wrists, things will get better. I swear to you they will. And if it is horrible for you right now, if you feel alone, e-mail me at email@example.com. We'll exchange war stories.
Years ago, I read an interview with Mike Nichols, the movie director. He was a geek in high school himself. Apparently, there was one jock in particular who used to delight in making fun of Nichols. In the interview, Nichols described the absolute joy he felt, years later, after he had become a successful film director, and had fucked a lot of famous women, $1,000 designer highheels up in the air above his bare shoulders, visiting this bully, and finding out he was now a car mechanic in a New Jersey auto shop. He says he spent some time with the ex-jock, over the course of a long afternoon, amidst the whirring sounds of bolts getting power-torqued, rubbing the jock's face in all that he, Nichols, had done since high school, while this bully was crawling under cars, getting black grease on his face. My impression from the interview is that the jock accepted this turnabout more graciously than Nichols. After I read the interview, I felt sad for Nichols. He still hadn't progressed, beyond his film-making and fucking the famous, to where he could let go his past. To be honest, absolutely honest, if I saw one of my high school tormenters now, I'd sincerely shake their hand, and want to catch up over a beer. It was high school. That's what happens in high school, in an enclosed environment that's essentially Prison Lite. I hold no grudges. 'Love your enemies, because they are the only ones who force you to grow.'
So anyway, there I was in McKinney, Texas this past Thursday, August 30, knowing I would have to testify in open court. Although I occasionally speak in public, I still felt some nervousness, which I attribute to my high school days.
The McKinney courthouse is a large, square, six-story structure situated among trees, the top corners of other buildings glimpsed past the treetops, as well as a high, beige watertower with the words McKinney, Texas proudly painted across its convex side.
The day John, our attorney, and I pulled into the parking lot, it was raining, unusual for Texas this time of year.
The courtroom where our case would be heard was 296, which for some reason was on the fourth floor. Everyone we saw inside at that early hour was either in a suit, the lawyers and corporate representatives (into which category I fell), or young to middle-aged men and women in clean jeans and shirts who were quietly fighting to stay out of jail for selling dope, not paying child support, or not walking away after saying 'Fuck you' to someone else, stranger or lover.
As I related last week, in order for me to even appear in court in a suit, I had to lose some weight. To do so, I dieted, and started hoisting barbells to burn calories. I could have simply bought a new suit, but didn't want to spend that money for one day's use.
Mary had suggested I try on the clothes I was going to wear beforehand, in case I couldn't fit into them, but I didn't think that was necessary.
That Thursday morning, a few hours before my court appearance, I tried on one of my suits, which I hadn't worn in five years, and it actually fit. I proudly showed my long thumb, between bare belly and wool waistband, to Mary. She smiled quietly. "If it didn't fit, what was Plan B?"
I put my arms into a white Geoffrey Beane shirt from long ago, buttoning it up my chest, the final button, across my Adam's apple, biting deep into my throat.
"It's too tight. I can't breathe."
I have a thick neck. My weight lifting, while reducing my waist, had thickened my neck even more.
Mary clipped off the button, whipped out a sewing kit, and quickly moved the button to the very edge of the collar. I tried it on again. Perfect.
She smiled sweetly at me. "Was there a Plan B?"
John, the attorney representing our company, and me, got off the elevator on the fourth floor.
John is in his late fifties, a boy from rural Tennessee who now has gray and brown eyebrows, a pink part in his hair, bony face, and the polite, deferential manner that goes with his soft drawl.
Immediately off the elevator was a small, carpeted area. In order to proceed to the courtrooms on that floor, arranged in a ring around the six-story open space in the middle of the building, we had to pass through the upright rectangle of a metal detector.
I've passed through a lot of metal detectors in my time, but this one was certainly the most pleasant.
There were about six sheriff's deputies clumped around the detector, in pale brown uniforms. They joked with us as we went through. "Shit, y'all didn't set off that long knife you promised me you was gonna bring today. Did I offend you in some way in our previous interactions?"
John and I had to walk all the way around the ring, to the opposite side, to reach courtroom 296.
He pushed open the heavy wooden door to the courtroom.
I didn't know what to expect.
The first thing that struck me about the courtroom was its theatricality.
It was lit entirely from above, from round, recessed lights in the ceiling, throwing down a glow that made me feel as if I were on a stage.
To the right of the door was a gallery, four rows deep, of fifty seats, for observers. But the focus of the room, which was about the intimate size of a multi-plex movie theatre, was the circular arrangement at the center of the space.
Going around this circle clockwise, was the plaintiff's bench (plaintiffs are always seated to the left of the defendants), followed by the jury box, then by the chair in which the witness sits (so the jury can easily hear and observe them during testimony), followed by the court reporter's space, the upraised bench the judge sits behind, the space where the sheriff's deputy sits, on the other side of the judge, and then the defendant's bench.
At the center of this doughnut was a carpeted circle attorneys could step into to argue objections, and witnesses could cross on their way to the stand.
Our judge was a white-haired, kindly-featured woman of about sixty.
We all stood when she entered, which is required. After she established which case was being heard, she asked that everyone who would testify as a witness during the trial stand. Once all of us were standing, we had to raise our right hand and swear we would tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth during our testimony. After that, she asked all the witnesses to leave the courtroom until their testimony was required (I was allowed to stay, because in addition to being a witness, I also represented the company being sued). (Witnesses are not allowed to stay in the courtroom except during the time in which they're testifying, so that they don't hear what other witnesses say, which might influence their own testimony).
The plaintiff's attorney, who was suing us, held up a small plastic jug of orange juice, half-full, speaking deferentially. "Your Honor, I apologize that I have orange juice in the Court. I understand the Court's rules, and will dispose of the container if so requested."
The Judge folded her hands one over the other. "Well, Mr. [Blank], I think you understand the rules of this Court. If you have a medical reason to have a liquid other than water present during this trial, I will consider that exception, but otherwise, I will require you to abide by the rules of this Court."
He immediately placed the jug on the carpeted floor behind where he was sitting, so that it would not be accessible by him during the trial.
In the American judicial system, a party (person or company) is considered innocent until proven guilty. The 'burden of proof', therefore, resides with the plaintiffs (the people suing), to show that the defendant is in fact guilty. If the plaintiffs can't prove this guilt, the defendant is considered not guilty. Because the plaintiffs have the burden of showing someone is guilty, they get to go first.
The plaintiff's attorney started by making his 'opening remarks', during which he gave a brief chronology of what had happened (the hospitalization, the premature birth, the failure of my company to obtain the claim for the first two weeks of that stay in time, with the result that the city had to pay the $90,000 out of its own pocket). He also briefly explained different terms the judge might not be familiar with, such as 'third party administrator', and 'stop-loss'.
For his first witness, he called Joey, who is the City Manager of the city suing us.
I hadn't seen Joey in years, because the city hadn't been our client since the late nineties. He's black-haired, round-faced with a mustache, about five foot six, a little on the heavy side. We ran into each other that morning outside Courtroom 296 while we were waiting for the doors to be unlocked, and spent about fifteen minutes catching up, laughing. When I knew Joey back in the nineties, he had been a tense person. He seemed to have mellowed. John, my company's attorney, told me afterwards that he and the city's attorney remarked on the irony that here was this bitter lawsuit that has dragged on for over three years, yet both representatives in the case seemed to genuinely like each other.
Part of what Joey needed to do on the witness stand was convince the judge that my company was wrong to have not notified the city that it was having difficulty obtaining the $90,000 claim from the hospital for the first two weeks of the premature baby's stay (we had received and processed all the rest of the claims, representing weeks three through whatever). (When someone is hospitalized for an extended period of time, more than a couple of weeks, hospitals typically bill the stay in two week increments, known as 'interim billings').
My company's position was that there was nothing in our contract with the city that required us to notify the city of a claim we hadn't received. We had only been hired by the city to process claims we had actually received, not claims which might exist, but had never been submitted to us for payment (and in fact, we could not pay a claim unless we had received it, because one of our contractual obligations to the city was to review each claim before paying it, to make sure there weren't any noncovered charges on it). This argument had been devised by John, my company's attorney, and was probably our strongest defense.
Because the contract between the company and the city (which I had written) was very clear on this point (that the company was only to pay claims it had actually received), the city's attorney tried to get into Joey's testimony that Joey nonetheless had the 'expectation' that the company would also be responsible for claims it hadn't received, in direct contradiction with what the city had agreed to in the contract it signed.
After Joey finished testifying, the Court had to hear some pleadings from unrelated cases, which often happens during a trial, and in fact the chairs in the gallery at the back of the room had started filling up with people there for those pleadings, so the judge decided to break for lunch. The city's attorney announced, just before the break, that, "Your Honor, when we resume at one o'clock, I intend to call Mr. Moore as an adverse witness."
It was still raining when John and I went outside, at that point what Texans call 'six-inch rain', meaning six inches between each raindrop. John had asked one of the jovial Sheriff's guards where a good place to eat was in town, and we headed that way in his car, windshield wipers on intermittent.
As I said, I don't particularly like to speak in public (by which I mean giving formal speeches in front of an audience, testifying in court, etc., as opposed to speaking informally with a group of people, which I do enjoy). I seem doomed, whenever I do have to give a speech, to always have to give it right after lunch, which is probably the worse time to speak, because you're feeling a little sluggish, and so is the audience. A typical example of this was a speech I had to give a couple of years ago in Columbus, Ohio. I flew up there that morning from Dallas, raced to the hotel where I was scheduled to speak, only to find out the hosts of the event had decided it would be better if I spoke after lunch, since everybody was hungry. By the time I was introduced at the podium, and looked out over the room of faces, about a third of the audience was ready to take a nap).
John and I ate at a restaurant in McKinney known as The Pantry.
It took us about fifteen minutes circling the same block until we finally found a vacated parking space. Before we left the car, John wanted to call Jon, the Chairman of the Board of the company, to let him know how the trial was progressing. Jon was in Minnesota, about to board a plane with his wife for a cruise among the Greek Isles. I've known him for years. He's a hell of a nice guy, and a very decent man. We joked a little over the phone, and he wished me luck with my testimony.
The Pantry is in the 'historic district' of downtown McKinney. McKinney itself is a smallish city, to my way of thinking, most of the buildings only three or four stories tall. As John and I walked down the sidewalks through the light rain to the restaurant, I noticed that about one out of every four buildings, most of the buildings old-fashioned brick or painted brick edifices, the majority of which had probably been erected soon after World War II, were boarded up. I had the impression though that a year ago, there had probably been even more boarded-up buildings, that the downtown district was in the process of being revived, rather than abandoned. The area itself had a nice feel to it, lots of antique stores, small restaurants, and specialty shops.
The Pantry itself was a two-story open space inside, with uneven, darkly-varnished wooden floors. Nearly all of the restaurant consisted of tables, with a counter at the back where you ordered your food. A long line of townspeople in casual to very casual clothes snaked almost all the way back to the front door. The noise level was unbelievable. If you fired a revolver up at the ceiling, people would have looked under their table to see if they dropped a salt packet.
The menu was basically soup, sandwiches and salads. I ordered a Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad, which turned out to be a big bowl filed with dark green lettuce, with a few strips of chicken strewn decoratively across the top. At least I wasn't paying for it.
During lunch, John went over again the points I had to establish during my testimony. Because I had been called as an 'adverse witness', this was going to be even more difficult to do. In most trials, the plaintiff calls its witnesses first, people who are generally there to support the plaintiff's case, then the defense calls its own witnesses, who are there to support the defense's case. I had been scheduled to be called as a defense witness, in fact the only one, meaning that I would take the stand only after the plaintiffs had called all their witnesses. By designating me as an 'adverse witness', the plaintiffs were saying that they were going to call me to the stand themselves, out of sequence, between their own witnesses.
Why would they do that? Because it can give them a big advantage. If I'm called to the stand by the defense, our attorney, John, can ask me questions in a certain order that best lays out our case. But if the plaintiffs call me to the stand first, as they had now announced they were going to, we would lose our chance to logically present our argument, and would instead have to somehow work the argument in through my answers to the plaintiffs' questions.
John and I had both taken off our suit jackets to eat. I noticed that John, while he went over all the various points I would have to somehow include in my answers, around the plaintiffs' objections, was dripping his salad dressing all over the left sleeve of his white dress shirt. "Oh my, I don't know how that happened." We went back to strategy, me digging down with my fork through all these dark green layers of lettuce leaves, looking for chicken. John held his left arm up again, new orange splotches on the whiteness. "How on earth am I getting so much dressing on my sleeve?" I looked up at the ceiling. Was salad dressing dripping from there? I almost hoped it was.
Back in court, I was called to the witness stand.
I sat back calmly in the chair, Styrofoam cup of water by my left hand, watching the dark-haired plaintiff's attorney as he hovered his hand over a row of documents on his table, selecting one.
"State your full name for the record, please."
"Ralph Robert Moore."
"Mr. Moore, I would like to call your attention to the exhibit marked number 34 in the book in front of you, and ask you to review the first paragraph of section 6.1, please."
I read the provision.
"Have you read section 6.1, sir?"
"Yes, sir. I have."
He held his finger against the document he had in his hands, about halfway down the page, something he was evidently going to refer to after I gave my answer. "Mr. Moore, is it your contention..."
And we were off.
I was on the witness stand for three hours. Now that may not seem like a long time, but believe me, when you're battling wits with an attorney that entire period, who's being paid thousands of dollars to trip you up, and you're trying to work all this other material into your answers, in such a way that an objection to the introduction of that material won't be sustained, it's a long time.
I got everything in, despite the fact that the plaintiff's attorney on more than one occasion called my answers 'non-responsive', and despite the fact that the judge at one point admonished me about the length of my answers (in fact, at one point, our own attorney, John, rose and told the Court he agreed my answers were too long, meant as a signal to me to back off for a while before getting the rest of our defense in. Later, I asked John if I should have given shorter answers. "No, no. Certainly not. You were trying to get the truth in, but I could see that our judge wanted to finish this case quickly, and we didn't want to antagonize her.")
By the end of the day, after the rest of the plaintiff's witnesses had testified, everyone in the courtroom looked exhausted.
That may seem odd, since we were only there from nine to five, a normal work day, but during a normal workday you're doing a variety of things, and taking occasional breaks, looking at somebody's vacation photos, checking the stock market, talking to co-workers, etc. To understand a little of what this was like, you have to think of it as an eight hour meeting. One where you have to continuously stay alert, hear every word, not talk without permission, be cross-examined, or have to cross-examine, and you can't even, apparently, drink orange juice, or any other liquid other than plain water.
Mary showed up at the courtroom towards the end of the day, slipping quietly into a seat at the back. As it was, I was back up on the witness stand again, for further testimony and cross-examination. We smiled at each other across the bizarreness of this situation.
On our way home that night, we picked up bags of take-out Mexican food from Taco Cabana, a better-than-average Mexican fast-food place, and lay in bed, eating and watching TV. I felt wiped-out, but good to have this behind me.
So was my company found guilty? Innocent?
I don't know yet. The judge took the case 'under advisement', meaning she's going to review all the exhibits (evidence), and will then fax both attorneys her decision.
I like law. Along with art and science, I think it's one of the essential cornerstones of any civilization. There will always be disputes among people, and the law, as imperfect as it is, and it certainly is imperfect, seems to me to be the noblest approach to dealing with the issue of disputes. I know a lot of people hate lawyers, but I think what they really mean is the type of criminal defense lawyer who tries to get his clients off on technicalities. It's important that people accused of a crime have someone representing them who will assure their client's rights are protected. For example, that someone accused of a crime is not going to prison because a cop beat a confession out of him. Somehow though, over the years, that good intention has been corrupted by the criminal defense attorneys themselves, some of them, to where they're no longer hired to see to it that their clients get a fair trial, but rather an unfair trial, one in which their clients go free. Some criminal defense attorneys proudly refer to themselves as 'hired guns', their emphasis on the word 'guns', but really the emphasis should be on 'hired'. Their ethics are rented. It always amuses me when I see a criminal defense attorney appear on TV, indignant about the injustices being done to his client. The fact is, he's being paid to be indignant. If he had been hired by the victim's family, he'd be just as indignant the other way. An attorney like Johnny Cochran is essentially an old Greek woman, one of those 'professional mourners', dressed all in black, who hurl their bodies atop a stranger's coffin, white handkerchiefs at their wrinkled eyes, somewhere within the folds of their black mourning gowns, drachmas.
But it sure would be nice if we could settle our arguments between ourselves, if we could get to the point where we realized most issues are based on misunderstandings, or immaturity, or circumstances. The amazing thing about the people I've disliked in my life, is that if at some point I make an overture to them, or they to me, we usually wind up having a generally enjoyable conversation, all the more so because we now have one less 'enemy' in the world. Grudges, I think, only hurt the ones holding them. It's amazing how similar we all truly are. Maybe someday, we'll understand that. Maybe someday, we'll be better. Maybe someday, as afternoon loses its pastel to evening, a car mechanic in Camden will finish reboring an engine block, pulling paper towels off the roll to wipe grease off his face, tired, not knowing what he'll do that evening, a little pot-bellied, a little gray in his hair, and hear, approaching from the shadows at the open front of the garage, the "pop", "pop", of two beer cans getting opened.