And how did you spend New Year’s Eve?

Photo: The Spokesman-Review of Boise, Idaho.
Photo: The Spokesman-Review of Boise, Idaho.

WE SAT TOGETHER in the lobby of a small Idaho airport, he and I.

He was bored.

I was bored.

We struck up a conversation in a failed effort to chase the boredom away.

Neither one of us was having much luck.

The hour was late.

And it was getting later.

He was a businessman.

You know the kind.

His pinstriped gray suit was rumpled.

His white shirt was unfastened at the top button.

His red power tie was loose.

His cufflinks were monogramed with a fancy M.

He was going home.

I was just passing through.

The voice came over the public address system one more time.

It belonged to a female.

She sounded bright and spunky and cheerful.

Flight 642 to Chicago has been delayed, she said.

We had come to know her voice quite well.

The flight had originally been scheduled to leave at thirty-six minutes after seven.

It was now closer to eleven-forty.

Delays, she kept saying throughout the evening.

Always delays.

Snow blanked the north slopes of the mountains and had spilled into the town.

It showed no signs of letting up.

The plane had not yet landed.

I figured it probably wouldn’t be able to depart when it did.

But I hung on to hope.

At eight o’clock, the waiting passengers had complained.

At nine, they walked around and flailed their arms in frustration and disgust.

At ten, they grumbled.

Now they just sat and stared at the pale green wall.

The lady might as well have been talking to an empty lobby.

Nobody was listening anymore, and if no one heard, she hadn’t said a thing.

“Helluva way to spend New Year’s Eve,” the businessman said.

He shifted his gaze from the green wall to the big plate glass window, and we watched the wind blow the snow in flurries across the dark landscape. Snowflakes were dancing in the runway lights.

It would have been a beautiful sight.

But we were tired.

And nothing was beautiful.

“It’s been a helluva year,” he said.

I didn’t know if that meant good.

Or bad.

“I lost my job in April and didn’t find another one until September,” he said.

Now I knew.

“Family?” I asked.

“Divorced,” he said. “She left me when I lost my job.”

“Kids?”

“She took them.”

His grin was crooked.

And a little sad.

“She took my house, too,” he said.

“That usually happens.”

He nodded.

“My father died in August,” he said. “I had to put my mother in a home. She couldn’t take care of herself anymore.”

“That’s a hard thing to do,” I said.

“Alzheimer’s,” he said.

No use to say anything else.

I glanced at the clock on the wall.

It was two minutes away from midnight.

We heard the lady’s voice again.

It had lost its spark, and the spunk was frazzled on both ends.

There were no delays this time.

All flights have been cancelled, she said.

There wouldn’t be any more planes coming in tonight.

She apologized for the inconvenience.

The businessman stood, stretched, and reached for his briefcase.

“Maybe next year will be better for you,” I said.

“Doesn’t look like it,” he said as he threw his overcoat around his shoulders and walked toward the door where the taxicabs would be waiting.

“Happy New Year,” I said.

By now I was talking to myself.

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  • I somehow doubt the lost job was the only cause of the divorce. There is more story. Some families survive what others don’t: the death of a child, ailing parents, job losses, market turnovers.

    Sometimes there is real strength and determination there, not just apathy.

    And sometimes it seems you just can’t win.

    • Caleb Pirtle

      You’re right, Alicia. The story we never know is the most tragic story of all.

  • Don Newbury

    Sometimes folks need–or are required–to speak, even if no one listens. The man identified by rumpled shirt and M cufflinks, needed to be heard. And sometimes one listener is plenty….Sort of like guy who bragged about rattlesnake hunt in Sweetwater. Someone asked how many he found. “None,” he said, “When you’re looking for rattlesnakes, none is plenty!”…

    • Caleb Pirtle

      Wiser words were never spoken. One rattlesnake is far too many.

  • Christina Carson

    I loved the mood. You caught it marvelously.

    • Caleb Pirtle

      Thanks, Christina. I’ve been there.

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