Recently, I was invited to a party. Despite my desperate social handicaps, described in detail in this column, the situation seemed safe. The celebrants were the 6-year-old twin children of a friend. In addition to the standard inducements of cake and ice cream, I was advised that Starbuck the Wonder Pony would be in attendance, giving rides. This critical bit of information turned the tide. I agreed to attend.
It was Tuesday afternoon. I arrived shortly after Starbuck made his appearance, and immediately went to work, lifting children on and off the pony, traveling with them around the yard with a steadying hand applied to whomever seemed to need it, and talking animatedly to Starbuck’s owner.
Whilst assisting with the pony rides, one child in particular left an impression. When it came this child’s turn to ride, his lack of satisfaction with the nature and duration of the experience made itself known. He called for help.
On the second trip, the same child reiterated his desire for a different, and better experience than everyone else seemed to be having. Again, he called for his mother.
“Mom! It’s not fair!!!!”
When cake was served, this child’s slice did not meet his expectations. He was displeased by the choice of ice cream. He muscled aside a smaller kid to get to the head of the piÑata line, and took four hits instead of the requested three. When the piÑata failed to break in response to his flailing, he frowned savagely and struck the ground with the bat provided by the hosts. It left a sizeable dent.
My observations were disturbing for several reasons. In addition to having to suppress a desire to squelch the child in question in any number of unacceptable ways, I was plagued by an odd sensation of familiarity. I felt I had met him before. On the way home, attempting to remove chocolate icing from my skirt while driving, always a dangerous proposition, it came to me. He reminded me of a plaintiff’s attorney!
The attorney in question had made a habit of sending informal requests to me via e-mail, seeking to bypass the formalities of discovery, and attempting to get more candy out of the piÑata than was his due. He had apparently never cracked a Practice Book.
When I declined to agree with his proposals, he immediately went wailing to the court, filing motions one has seldom heard of, like one of the little piggies analogized to metatarsals in my early youth. Over the life of the lawsuit, this behavior had become a pattern.
The child invitee had honed his whining into a fine art now set forth upon the playground of the Superior Court. Whenever anything failed to go his way, and could not be manipulated into an agreeable arrangement, he immediately sought a higher authority. What was most offensive about this was his characterization of opposing counsel. To us, he imputed devious and improper motives. We weren’t being fair! We were heinously attempting to deprive him of his cake and ice cream.
It wasn’t personal.
Once, shortly after 9-11, in an endeavor to defuse the mounting tension on a tightly packed plane, I heard a flight attendant say, “If you are traveling with a small child, or someone who is acting like a small child, put your oxygen mask on first, then assist your traveling companion.”
Defense work is just like that. It appears that, as I am traveling the well-worn path of medical malpractice litigation, I will periodically encounter the adult version of the child at the birthday party. He may rest assured that it is just business as usual on my side of the street; and that regardless of how selfish, inequitable or callous it may appear, I will be putting my oxygen mask on first.
Amy F. Goodusky, a former paralegal, rock ‘n’ roll singer and horseback riding instructor, is of counsel at O’Brien, Tanski & Young in Hartford.