By Joe Darby
Do you ever think about something that happened years ago that you wished you had handled differently? I’m not talking about really important events, nothing of life changing importance. But of little incidents that you regret for having taken a certain action, or perhaps not taking an action that you should have.
There is one particular event that happened more than 60 years ago that still kind of sticks in my craw. If I had handled it differently, I might have ended up in trouble, but at least I would have had the satisfaction of standing up for myself.
So, I was about 17 and I was driving home from Catholic High School in Baton Rouge, with two buddies in my car, a 1951 Mercury. I was on Acadian Thruway, a fast-moving three lane street and was in the middle lane. A middle aged guy was driving in the left lane and, apparently not seeing me, he tried to make a lane change and side swiped me. We called the police and, to my surprise, neither of us was given a ticket. So I was eagerly looking forward to the court appearance, so I and my buddies would explain to the judge what happened.
Well, the other guy, who was apparently in on the Baton Rouge Good Ole Boy network, shows up with a lawyer! When our case was called, the lawyer and his client went up to the bench and began whispering with the judge. This was clearly irregular, but of course I didn’t know that at the time. Later, in my career as a reporter with the New Orleans Times-Picayune, I covered the court system for many years and got to know quite a bit about the law.
What the judge was doing was holding what’s called an ex parte conference with my legal opponent and his lawyer, that is, conferring with one side only while excluding the other side, namely me. That’s against the rules. Anyway, the guy who hit me then testified that it was me who changed lanes and hit him, a downright lie. My friends and I testified as to what really happened but the judge paid no attention to our claims and he found me at fault for the accident.
What I wish I had done would, of course, have required knowledge that I didn’t have at the time. But I like to fantasize that, as soon as the guy and his attorney went up and started talking to the judge, I rose up and said, “May it please the court. I am representing myself and I would like to approach the bench. This is plainly an ex parte conference, which I should be allowed to take part in, and hear what my opponents are saying.”
Well, the way the odds were stacked against me, the judge would probably have found me in contempt and given me an extra fine. But I would have had the satisfaction of seeing the looks on their faces as I made my plea, and that might have been worth the fine.
Another thing that bothers me after many, many years, was an incident in which I hurt a good friend’s feelings. I really hate to hurt someone’s feelings and this was a lesson to me to be careful what you say. In this situation, I was a teenager also, just like in the above story. We had just finished playing a CYO basketball game and lost, partially due to the inept play of one of our guys, who made a lot of turnovers.
A bunch of us players were standing around in the parking lot after the game. It was dark and I didn’t think my friend was in the group at the time. “We could have won this game if ——– hadn’t messed up so much,” I said. Then I hear this voice from the far end of our little group say, “Gee, Joe, I did the best I could.” Well, as you can imagine, I could have dropped through the ground. I was so embarrassed. I mumbled something like, “Well, that’s okay, man, don’t worry about it.” But it was too late. I had hurt a good buddy and we’re still in occasional contact today.
A third regret involves an incident that, to be truthful, is just plain silly. But again, for some goofy reason, I remember it after all these years. Once again, it involves something that happened when I was a teenager, actually in my early teens. I was probably about 13.
I accompanied my sister and her husband to visit a friend of theirs, a very friendly, bubbly lady who liked to talk. I was sitting by silently listening to the conversations when, trying to get me involved in the talk, she asked me how old I was. “Thirteen, ma’am.”
“Ah, you’re at that awkward age. Boys your age do things like bump into doors and such.” Well, I thought to myself that was a lot of male cattle feces, but not in those exact words. I had never bumped into a door in my life!
You may see the end of this story coming. When we were leaving, would you believe it, I bumped into her front door jamb with my right shoulder. I didn’t look back and just kept going but I could imagine the lady grinning and thinking, “See, I told ya.” So my regret was that I didn’t take a little more care when walking through that doggoned door.
Of course, there are lots of other things I wished I’d done differently, but I picked these that have stuck with me for many decades. I hope you were amused and perhaps you’ve been reminded of a couple of things you would wish to change also!