THE MIDDAY SUN
By summer 2003, I had been litigating against Gary for longer than I had litigated against Cohen. The bar arbitrators concluded I’d saved Gary’s case from certain catastrophe, and performed everything I’d promised in the October 4th agreement. However, they held the agreement legally invalid for lack of the magic words, and awarded me what they figured was the reasonable value of my services. I didn’t agree with the results of their estimations, and rejected the award.
Jim DeSimone and I prepared to march forward to trial, but increasingly he was playing Sancho Panza to my Quixote, cautiously asking whether I hadn’t considered the possibility that a jury might not award much more than the arbitrators? Wondering if we’d even get a jury, since during the years the case had been pending, invalidating fee agreements had become increasingly popular with the judges. Jim was urging me to wake up and smell the coffee. Schonbrun, DeSimone had spent over twenty-thousand dollars on the litigation, and they weren’t eager to throw more cash at a quixotic quest. His partners thought we needed to settle.
Gary, I realized, had the resources to engage in a forever war, and as I viewed the mounting debts I was accumulating, I realized I did not. Because the whole matter was so convoluted and insoluble, one evening at home, I turned to an old friend for advice. I grabbed three pennies and my favorite edition of the I Ching, a birthday gift from a friend in LA. Tossing the three pennies six times, and recording the results in a series of six lines, I deciphered the oracle and read the advice that King Wen and the Duke of Chou recorded in antiquity for the guidance of society. While it may seem strange to consult an oracle, rumor has it that the Japanese were winning the war in the Pacific until they stopped consulting the I Ching. That story may be apocryphal, but it has the ring of truth, and whenever I have faced a big legal career decision, I consulted the big Chinese book.
I had made my first big legal career decision twenty years earlier, reading the I Ching by the light of a kerosene lamp, in a little yurt in the middle of a big, muddy field in Southern Oregon. The children and my wife were asleep and it was as dark outside as if there were no cities anywhere on earth. There was no electricity or running water in the yurt, where we had lived for nearly three years in continuous poverty. The I Ching delivered an oracle that encouraged me to enter the legal profession, predicting that I would reach the heights of what it called “the way of the inferior man.” This seemed like a mixed blessing, but the oracle explained that if I wanted to obtain power, I would have to learn the way of the inferior man, because I lived in corrupt times, when inferior men control the heart of society, and superior men have small influence. As somewhat of a consolation, I should know that Heaven favored my following the way of the inferior men, so I could not be blamed. Ever since, whenever I’ve been offered an opportunity to change jobs, I’ve usually consulted the I Ching to get an understanding of the options before me.
When I consulted the oracle about my lawsuit against Gary, it told me that by continuing my chosen course, I would arrive at a complete disaster. After an understandable feeling of letdown, I began to feel relieved. There had been something behind that sense of doom that had hung over my battle with Gary. It had been an ill-advised campaign, conceived in the worst crucible of all -- pride and passion. Sun Tzu advises but one way to deal with an overpowering adversary -- don’t fight them. I had ignored that teaching for three years. I’d been in darkness so long, it was as if the sun had stopped on the wrong side of the earth. Now that the oracle had warned me in the clearest terms, I could sheath my sword and make peace.
In June of 2003, Gary and I sat in Wagstaffe’s conference room, drinking Bushmills Irish whiskey from big, square water glasses. The settlement documents were being finalized by Wagstaffe, Idell, and Jim DeSimone. My escape was pre-planned. I had booked two flights to Europe for departure the following week and told everyone that Tara and I were going on vacation, and I was settling the case before I left. The gambit had worked. Everyone came to the table and bargained hard. Only Idell seemed pained over the demise of the conflict. Another few months, he was sure, and he could have crushed me. I wasn’t giving him the chance. I saw an exit, a bright light at the end of a very long hallway, and I was walking towards it like a condemned man waking from the dream of his execution.
As I sat in Wagstaffe’s conference room, I threw the I Ching again. Sitting there, tossing my pennies and writing out the lines, I received a positive oracle. The bright, shining lines advised me to make the most of my situation, to enjoy abundance and bestow warmth like the sun at midday. The oracle had guided me to this place, and now it confirmed my decision to make peace. I hadn’t spend much time thinking about how to make peace until then, but in the future, I decided, I would explore this new land. Hidden in the changing lines of the oracle lay a reminder that the sun always passes from its zenith, that summer gives way to fall, and abundance is followed by austerity. I knew that must be true, but austerity seemed far away as I contemplated what the settlement would bring. I was ready to rule a peaceful domain.
I got up from the conference table, went downstairs, walked across the street, sat down next to a beautiful young blonde at a fancy bar, and ordered a beer. She was a Stanford student, an aspiring environmental consultant, and she was having one of those light blue drinks that beautiful young women sometimes drink. I chatted with her for about a half hour about the exciting career she was planning on having. It was great to have not a care in the world. I left the bar after finishing my beer, and walked to the corner market to buy a fifth of Bushmills.
When I got back to Wagstaffe’s office, details were still being hammered out by the two Jims, but I was ready to relax, and poured myself a splash of the reliable Irish whisky. Gary asked me for a drink. I hadn’t even offered him one, because he doesn’t much like to drink, so I knew he was trying to be friendly. I poured him a good shot, and we sat sipping the warm, amber fluid as the sun went down and the spherical lights of the bridge turned to the scalloped hem of a dress edged with pearls.
When the agreement was ready to sign, Gary and I drew out our pens and signed a new agreement, one that put all disputes to rest. It had been a long time since there had been peace between us. It felt good. We decided to have another shot and go eat dinner.
Our lawyers looked at us like we were crazy. After a settlement, the clients do not leave the building together, carrying a fifth of whiskey and wandering out to find a new adventure. But that was Gary, and that was me. We left our lawyers in the glass tower, signed out with security, and walked out past the huge brass propeller screw that dominates the entryway of Wagstaffe’s office building.
We picked up my car from the parking lot, and I drove us to Joe’s, an all-night cafeteria where Gary and I had often eaten among cabbies and nighthawks. We stood in line for roast beef, mashed potatoes, cole slaw and dessert. We set the plates down on red and white plastic tablecloths, and ate just like we had in years past. Joe’s is like that -- it never changes, so time kind of stops there. As in years past, Gary spoke to me in sharp, clipped, phrases, as if we’d never stopped being mutual venturers in the world of profit and loss. As if the years wasted in anger had been nothing more than a record skipping a groove, that we had put right at last so we could hear the rest of the song. Things were just like they’d always been, as the juggernaut of a San Francisco night spun around us, heavy with aborted dreams. In the general destruction of everyone’s expectations, the fracture of our relationship had been less than a minor matter. Still, we had marked one stone in the edifice of civilization with the scars of our striving.
We finished our food, and Gary invited me to spend the night at his place, so I drove to his house on Third Street. We were pretty tired, so after talking, we agreed it was time to crash. He insisted that I take his room and use his bed, and he would sleep on the couch. There wasn’t any brick dust anywhere, and his room was pretty clean. The bed was unmade, but looked fine, so I poured myself some whiskey, and shut the hall door. As I looked around the room, I saw that Gary’s room hadn’t changed much, except that he now had a row of porn videos on his shelf, many still in the shrink wrap. There was a book by Jared Diamond he’d once borrowed from me and never returned. I felt a silly desire to reclaim it, but let the impulse go.
There was nothing to do, so I turned off the light, and went to sleep with the bay breeze billowing the curtain over the sliding window, wide-open to the west.
When the brightening sky filled the room with soft light, and I awoke in Gary’s room, I knew there had been a miracle. It was barely six in the morning. Gary was sleeping on the couch. I wrote him a note and left it in his room, thanking him, wishing him well, and saying I’d decided to make an early start of it. I put my things in my car, carefully backed it out of his narrow garage, and drove north on Third Street. As I sped past the empty dockside warehouses, long, dark shadows alternated with blasts of sunlight that flooded the car with brightness. I got on the freeway onramp, pulled onto the eighty west, and headed for Oregon.