Looking over the obituaries every morning is a dismal ritual for those still living long after what they once expected. Note the names and the number of years allotted. What memories of a more intimate Maui are jogged by the modest notices?
Forty years ago, a malihini from Oahu first became acquainted with Sanford J. Langa. It was only the first of many casual meetings. He was one of a handful of attorneys on the island and that meant he was involved in what a reporter considered were news stories. That was later. There was no news story in that first meeting, just a personal crossing of paths.
Some months before the malihini made the move to Maui, there was a minor matter of an unpaid medical bill resulting from a crash on Ward Avenue, just off Kapiolani Boulevard. Lesson learned: Don't try to cushion the fall of a heavy motorcycle with a foot, even if it does mean avoiding a collision with a left-turning automobile. The driver was turning into a filling station. The bike rider's judgment was fogged by a late-night confrontation at work just minutes before.
The crushed foot required a plaster cast. Six weeks would fix it. Or, so the doctor said. Six weeks turned into 12 weeks. The bone man said another six weeks should do the trick. When the doctor gave a wobbly prognosis at the end of 18 weeks, that was enough. No more plaster cast. There was enough pique involved to justify ignoring the money due the indecisive medico. It wasn't a smart move, but it was typical for a guy whose fuse was short when he thought he was being jerked around.
A month or so after making Maui home, letters began showing up in the mail. At first, the letters were polite. Something along the lines of "we want to remind you of the unpaid balance." Two or three letters later, the tone became more threatening. Something along the lines of "pay or face legal action." Later letters became more strident. Finally, there was a letter saying the next step was small claims court. The bill had been turned over to a debt-collection agency. The attorney for the agency was Sanford J. Langa. The case would be taken up in District Court.
OK. Let's see what this is all about.
At 8 a.m., the courtroom in one of those old, one-story territorial buildings on the mauka side of High Street was nearly empty. Langa leaned against the judge's bench. It all looked pretty pro forma. Langa rattled off a string of names. No response apparently meant a summary judgment. At the right name, a hand went up. Three names later, the judge saw the hand and stopped the recitation.
"Are you requesting a trial?" the judge asked.
"No. I'll pay."
Langa jotted a note on the list.
It was still early morning. Might as well go to the agency and get this taken care of. No point in trying to argue. The bill was legitimate. The agency was in a building at the foot of Wells Street. Nice young woman at the counter. When told about the case, she located a folder.
"That will be $130," she said sweetly.
"There must be a mistake. The bill was for $83, not $130."
She explained there were clerical costs and attorney's fees.
"May I talk to your supervisor?"
He appeared and repeated what the woman had said. The total was $130. Would it be check or cash?
"Uh, how much did you pay for the paper? Ten cents on the dollar?"
The agency manager, a young local, took a breath and looked down at the papers in the folder. "So you know about that?"
Yes. Collection agencies bought due bills for a percentage of what was owed. Getting part of what was owed was better than nothing. Whatever the agency could get over what it paid for the outstanding bill was profit after paying an attorney's fee and whatever the clerical work cost.
The collection agency manager was willing to negotiate. Apparently Langa's fee wasn't that high. Or maybe the doctor had been paid peanuts. The agency's profit margin got trimmed, but not by that much. A check was written for $85. It seemed a reasonable amount to get the matter settled.
That was 40 years ago.
During later decades, Sanford Langa would pop up here and there, representing this or that person or organization. It's what attorneys do. He always did it affably. Langa plied his profession for more than 59 years. For many of those years, Maui had a small legal community, more friends than adversaries and Langa was a born-and-bred Maui boy. Services will be held at Pookela Church at 2 p.m. May 18. Aloha oi, Sandy.
* Ron Youngblood is a retired editor and staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.