PARRIS GLENDENING and William Donald Schaefer finally learned to say hello to each other just when it was time to say goodbye.
At precisely 9:52 yesterday morning, Schaefer entered the Board of Public Works room at the State House, checked the throng that packed every inch of the place and scowled theatrically, to let everybody know that he understood what they were anticipating: the final dyspeptic confrontation in the long-running public feud between these two men.
Just the previous day, in fact, Glendening, the departing governor looking to get in one last good shot while Schaefer was looking the other way, told a Washington radio station that the state comptroller was a bitter and lonely old man, and that he pitied him.
Never let it be said that Glendening can see a belt and not hit somebody below it.
Yesterday, face to face, it was a different story. Everybody decided to be a grown-up. Glendening showed up 10 minutes after Schaefer and handed him a little basket of flowers.
Schaefer responded with a gesture last seen by young ladies crowned Miss America, hands all aflutter. He meant it sarcastically, as though he suspected Glendening's little gift was intended as a put-down.
Glendening said otherwise. So Schaefer handed him a gift in return -- a photograph of ... William Donald Schaefer. The two men hugged, not unlike grudging boxers who have just pounded each other for 12 rounds and are happy just to stop being hit.
"Sometimes we agree, and sometimes we disagree," Glendening said.
The room rang with laughter, but probably a little disappointment, too. Many who filled the room had come like fans to a stock car race. They wanted to watch the final running, but they wouldn't have minded a few crashes along the way. If the state had charged admission yesterday, they could have wiped out much of that worrisome deficit.
Moments after the exchange of gifts, Sen. Norman Stone and the new Baltimore County executive, James Smith, addressed Schaefer and Glendening, and the matter of their relationship.
"I enjoyed the beginning of the meeting," Stone said. "It was worth the trip."
"Let's not test it," said Smith, putting a restraining hand on Stone's shoulder.
What's done is done. The arguments of these two men have included the trivial and the titanic. In the last year or so, Glendening turned off the fountain Schaefer dedicated to his late lady friend, Hilda Mae Snoops, and Schaefer outed Glendening's own lady friend, who is now his bride.
But, as Glendening takes his leave of office, it is clear that Schaefer's troubles with him are like many other people's. Glendening will leave office with such dismally low popularity ratings that many believe he cost Kathleen Kennedy Townsend her bid to succeed him.
This involves far more than personal peeves. It goes back to a man running for office eight years ago while bragging that Prince George's County was in wonderful financial shape -- which, in fact, turned out to be a crippling budget mess.
It goes back to a man who gave himself a sweetheart pension deal, a man who took illegal racetrack money and then, trying to distance himself from the scandal, stiffed everybody on slots -- including a mayor named Kurt Schmoke who thought he had a promise on them to help his city's schools.
It's not that Glendening's been a bad governor. In many ways, he's been fine. The Republicans made much of his big spending but, as Del. Maggie McIntosh, a Baltimore Democrat, pointed out yesterday morning, Maryland's one of only seven states that still has a Triple A bond rating.
"You don't get that by being fiscally irresponsible," McIntosh said. The truth is, it's a bleak financial time for every state.
Glendening's problem has always been something beyond politics.
It was eight years ago, when he was telling campaign crowds in Baltimore that he knew the city was the hub of the state -- while he was telling crowds in the D.C. suburbs that Baltimore's day was over.
Or it was that morning a few years later, when he took bows for stealing away the Cleveland Browns. Maybe it was the smirk on his face as he told the story, oblivious to the painful history of Baltimore's own football loss. Or maybe it was his kiss-off that day of Schaefer, who'd bled so much over the loss of the Colts and the attempt to get a new team.
Or it was Glendening getting caught on that secret flight to New York to deal with Merit Behavioral, which was willing to fork over money for reasons relating to a $25 million state contract it was trying to get.
Or maybe it was that inauguration day when he had the singer come out to serenade his first wife, Frances Anne, with "The Wind Beneath My Wings." Glendening used his wife as a political tool in every speech he gave. He wanted everybody to notice her -- until he abruptly ended the marriage, and hoped that nobody would notice that, or the untidy business that followed.
It's not that he's been a bad governor -- just a hypocritical one, on so many levels.
He made a slight peace yesterday with Schaefer. But there aren't enough flowers in the state to satisfy everybody else.