Baltimore County firefighter Jim Whittaker raised his voice a few more decibels yesterday as he tried again to convince his co-workers at the Fullerton firehouse that Anita F. Hill was sexually harassed by Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas.
"If she's a liar, she's one of the best I've ever seen," Mr. Whittaker announced for at least the third time.
Firefighter Al Fincham rolled his eyes. "She's a lawyer," he said with a shrug.
The heated debate at the northeastern Baltimore County firehouse was echoed in hair salons, bars, bowling alleys and shopping malls across Maryland yesterday as people declared their loyalties in the collision between Ms. Hill and Judge Thomas.
At The Hair Act in Lutherville, the women having their hair cut, curled and colored were unanimous in their judgment.
"They all think she's lying," said hairdresser Robin Kahl, 31.
K? "That's what they were all saying. They don't believe her."
When Vera D. Jacques, who lives in Govans, arrived at Penn Station to pick up her niece, Angela Hamlet, who is visiting from Philadelphia, the two women found themselves united in their view.
"She's lying," Ms. Jacques said as her niece nodded in agreement.
"Hell has no fury like a woman's scorn. She is probably jealous because he married a white woman," said Ms. Hamlet, who is black. "She's very angry that she can't be a part of his world. It's about jealousy."
Like almost everyone interviewed, Ms. Hamlet was furious that the hearings are being televised.
"They couldn't find anything on him, so they are doing this," she said. "It is a high-tech lynching, like he said. It's a message to little black kids that this is what will happen to you if you dare
dream about doing something as great as this."
But Wendy Brown and Sheila Smith, who were sitting at a table in the Randallstown branch of the Baltimore County Public Library, said they were convinced that Ms. Hill was telling the truth after they watched the hearings all day Friday.
Ms. Brown, a 28-year-old sales representative with Procter & Gamble, said a woman of Ms. Hill's intelligence and stature would never put her career on the line by lying about sexual harassment. She has too much to lose, said Ms. Brown, who lives just north of Memorial Stadium in Northwood.
She and Ms. Smith, 29, did not think Ms. Hill had undermined her credibility by waiting 10 years to come forward with her graphic charges. They believe she stayed quiet to protect her career -- a wise decision.
"She's working for the man who's supposed to be protecting us from all of this," said Ms. Smith, a day-care provider. "So where's she going to go? Who's going to believe her?"
If she had come forward at that time, she wouldn't be a law professor at Oklahoma State University. "She'd be hiding out in some little town teaching kindergarten," Ms. Smith said.
Others found it hard to take the entire spectacle seriously. At a motorcycle gathering at Fort Smallwood Park in Northern Anne Arundel County, Joe Werner simply laughed about the hearings.
"If he did it, so what?" said Mr. Werner, 30, an Easton maintenance worker. "Ted Kennedy's sitting in judgment?"
At the Hollins Market, butcher Robert Kinsey chopped meat and kept an eye on the small color television to keep track of the latest twists in the Thomas hearings.
"I believe Judge Thomas is not guilty and that Ms. Hill is not telling the truth," Mr. Kinsey said. "I see mistakes in her testimony. So far, Judge Thomas has done a better job. I feel he should be nominated."
Between customers at her sandwich shop at the market, Sophia Tsamouras agreed.
"I spent all evening Friday and most of the day Saturday watching," Ms. Tsamouras said. "Any man who has achieved what he has deserves the position. We've heard nothing else other than this one accusation. It's disgraceful."
At Riordan's Bar, Joyce Dolan, a nurse at Oakton High School in Vienna, Va., said she cannot tell who is lying, Ms. Hill or Mr. Thomas.
"They both deserve Academy Awards," said Mrs. Dolan, who added that the hearings were a hit with students at her school. Most were amazed by the graphic language being used on television.
"The kids were coming down and saying 'Wow, you should hear what's on TV,' " she said.
At the Little Campus restaurant and bar in the shadow of the State House, a half-dozen patrons watched the Penn State-Miami football game on the bar television while the hearings continued on another channel.
Bartender Pat McCall said most of her customers "think it's just a waste of time. They haven't proven anything. A lot of people think it's a shame that they're putting Thomas through this. It's the same questions over and over."
Ms. McCall said she doesn't know what to think about the contradictory testimony. "I have to take into consideration that 10 years ago she was a young person trying to become prominent on her job," Ms. McCall said. "If she had said anything, she probably would have been forced from her job."