For one reason or another I have spent a lot of my life hanging around airports. My observation is that, whilst such environments may occasionally bring out the very best in people, the opposite is far more frequently the case.
I was looking through some stuff this morning and came upon this little airport story that I must have produced for a competition some time. I’m not sure if I even bothered submitting it. Certainly I am sure that it did not impress the judges.
And I apologise if you have seen it before ….
The rain outside is beating relentlessly against the glass. Gutters overflowing. Waterfalls descending from the roof above until the wind gathers them up and redirects them through every little crack in the windows and under the doors. The staff fighting back with towels and mops. In the distance the aircraft barely visible. Grounded by a force greater than technology. Wings like dead branches quivering in the gale.
Nothing to do but to think and to drink. With a group of stranded transients. Marooned in the airport hotel bar.
On the anniversary of 9/11. Which has added a tension to the air that you can almost taste in the beer. Images of that previous morning of terror flashing across some of the television screens. And on others, scenes of the present wave of mayhem and destruction pouring down on us via the wrath of nature. Such that one might believe that God really does prefer the other side, after all.
The bar is nearing capacity. There’re three couples sharing a table and a few bottles of wine to my left. Straight in front, against the far wall, a group of about twelve Japanese girls occupy a set of horribly coloured lounges. Half the girls are closely examining their phones whilst the other half slump, heads on each other’s shoulders, trying to sleep. At individual tables business men tap away on computers or engage in deliberately loud, allegedly urgent, phone conversations. To my right a table of four Samoans sit in tracksuits, laughing and throwing peanuts at each other. They are part of a football team. They have had too much to drink. So have I.
A fat man stumbles through the door clutching a shopping bag marked clearly with the ‘Toys-R-Us’ logo. Water is dripping from his hair and from his clothes and from his shopping bag. There’s one spot available at the bar beside me and he heads for it immediately, lunging forward before lowering himself into the seat and releasing the long deliberate sigh of a man who is accustomed to failure yet remains surprised with its regularity.
He looks around him and at the bar and at the television screens and he says, “what a mess.”
I’m not sure if the comment is for me. So I ignore it. Then he repeats himself. More forcefully.
“What a fucking mess.”
“Which one?” I ask, as casually as possible. And then he gestures to the screen and to his clothes and to the weather outside and then, somehow, to the whole universe.
“All of them,” he says.
So I pause to let the thought linger a while before giving him the response he wants. “Yeah,” I concede, “I suppose so.” I’m thinking that’s the end of it.
But the dude won’t shut up.
“All of them,” he continues, “the religious scum-bags and paedophiles who are taking over the planet and the climate that is trying to kill us and the bombs that go off everywhere and the earthquakes and the floods and the famines and the guy who is banging my wife.”
This is interesting, I suppose. He has my attention for a moment. I’d like to know how one person’s sense of perspective can be so skewed that they might form a mental link between natural disasters, global warming, international terrorism and what is likely, let’s face it, nothing more than an everyday instance of infidelity.
But turning to really look at this poor sap for the first time I realise that no clues to the nature human existence are to be found within him. He’s just looking for sympathy.
“Bummer,” I observe, after pretending to give it some thought.
And now he’s starting to cry. Pulling a wallet out of his back pocket he withdraws a crumpled photo of a fat little boy. “That’s my son,” he informs me, somewhat unnecessarily, “Jack. He’s eight years old. I get to see him for one weekend a month. And that’s this weekend. And now all the flights are cancelled. I’m stuck.”
“Bummer,” I repeat, with decreasing interest. I can see, though, that he’s becoming agitated. He is getting louder and perhaps a bit aggressive.
“Have you got any idea what that means?” he’s hissing at me, “do you know what it’s like to be separated from the one thing in the world that you truly love?” I give the question some thought. Honestly. But then I have to confess that no, actually, I don’t what that’s like.
And now he’s beginning to yell. The Japanese girls are all awake and staring in our direction with expressions of concern. “Look at this,” he’s openly weeping as he reaches down into the shopping bag, “I’ve got new toys for him and everything,” and from the bag he produces a scale model of a fire engine and what looks like a replica of a Smith & Wesson.
“Gee,” I say, “a plastic gun? Do you really think that’s appropriate for an eight-year-old?”
My well intentioned snippet of parenting advice is not well received. He’s suddenly on his feet and standing over me. I’m beginning to understand why his wife may have looked for alternatives. “What did you say???” he’s shouting, “What did you say??? Are you telling me how to raise my own son?” The tears are still in his eyes, but sorrow is quickly making way for blind rage. His face is the colour of the toy fire engine and he’s waving the toy gun in my face. Things are beginning to get a bit weird.
I catch the first signs of movement to the right out of the corner of my eye. And by the time I look around the four Samoans are already careering towards us like a small herd of buffalo. The Japanese girls are screaming, and someone is yelling out, “He’s got a gun! He’s got a gun! He’s got a gun!”
Then the sound of breaking glass and breaking timber and possibly breaking bones. The startled cuckold letting out a sad grunt as the air is forced from his lungs. Two of his assailants pinning him to the floor as the other two begin laying in with the boot. The bartender appearing suddenly with a baseball bat determined to get a piece of the action. Somebody’s pushed a button and an alarm’s gone off and I think I can see policemen running towards us.
There’s a quarter of a cheeseburger on my plate so I pick it up and finish it. I look to take a last swallow of beer, but my glass has been upended in the excitement.
But looking outside there appears to be, by some miracle, a break in the weather. I can see lights moving out on the tarmac. Gathering my things I step around the bodies and walk towards the door. There’s a burger and four beers on my tab, but nobody seems very interested in that, so I keep my wallet in my pocket.
And suddenly they’re calling my flight.
Things are working out quite well.