As he walked out of the House chamber tonight, Majority Leader Thomas W. Moss Jr. of Norfolk shook his fist toward the Senate at the other end of the Virginia Capitol.
"We acted responsibly," Moss complained, angry at an impasse between the House and Senate over filling a vacancy on the powerful State Corporation Commission. "It's the bankruptcy of the whole process," agreed House Minority Leader Vincent F. Callahan Jr. (R-Fairfax).
Few days of the Virginia General Assembly are as frustrating as the last one, when the end is a few hours away and every issue has the feel of day-old bread. Today was no exception.
The day was characterized by long waits between fruitless attempts to reach compromises on a bill to restrict abortions for minors and legislative appointments to state judgeships and the corporation commission. Once the budget was approved about 9 a.m., "We could have gone home," said Sen. Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax).
After 46 days of running to catch elevators and living by index cards that spelled out their schedules by the half-hour, the 140 state legislators found the period of forced idleness nearly as bad as watching the attachment of amendments to their bills.
"I'm getting cabin fever in here," groused Del. Robert W. Ackerman (D-Spotsylvania), during one of his many strolls down the back of the House chamber.
Del. George F. Allen of Charlottesville spent some of the time fanning himself with a memo. Fellow Republican Vance Wilkins Jr. of Amherst twirled a tiny red and white flag with an emblem. Democrat Franklin M. Slayton, a lawyer-legislator from South Boston, amused others with tales of bizarre judges he has encountered.
Norfolk Del. William P. Robinson leaned back in his chair and took a nap.
"When I run out of ice," said Louise (Chicken) Olliff, who owns the snack bar in the Capitol, "they'll go home."
Like a balloon losing its air, the legislature decompressed little by little. As the 7:17 p.m. adjournment neared, teen-aged pages started plopping down in the legislators' chairs and the delegates began singing "Good Night Irene."
The pages, wearing their red and blue coats, gathered in clumps to say goodbye in corners of the legislative chambers, hugging each other and wiping away tears.
One young page, who began the first day excitedly carrying in boxes, sat disconsolately in the legislators' office building, waiting for an elevator. "Not so good," he said, when a passer-by asked him how he felt.
Three receptionists, who busily distributed legislative calendars and answered calls for information throughout the session, leaned idly against the wall of their small cubicle earlier, watching the silent telephones.
"When you get this close, you just want to get out," said Del. James H. Dillard (R-Fairfax), rocking restlessly in a chair in the House chamber. "It's the old Army thing: hurry up and wait."
Last-minute scurrying by a few key legislators still working on bills was interrupted by moments of levity. "I'm a bit overwhelmed," said Lt. Gov. Richard J. Davis as he ripped the green wrapping paper off a going-away present from the Senate to find a box of sand.
He also found a reservation for two for a week at his favorite vacation spot in Key Biscayne, Fla. Senators, who gave Davis two standing ovations, collected $1,200 among themselves for the gift.
While some legislators were planning to reward themselves with their own vacations, many said the best way to negotiate the radical shifting of gears was to return home and go to work.
"The first year I was down here I took a vacation. But I just didn't enjoy it," said Ackerman. "You get so hepped up down here, it's almost impossible to relax."
"You move at this intense level for weeks and then it stops," said Sen. Joseph V. Gartlan Jr. (D-Fairfax), a Washington lawyer. "The impact is almost physical."
"It's always a letdown," said Del. Kenneth B. Rollins (R-Loudoun). "It takes a few weeks to get over it."
About 7 p.m., some of the Senate's leaders gathered in the governor's office on the third floor of the Capitol, hoping that Gov. Charles S. Robb would urge them to end the session despite some remaining disagreements between the House and Senate. "Come on governor, we want to go home," said Sen. William T. Parker (D-Chesapeake).
A few moments later, Robb did. And the legislators quickly filed out of the Capitol into the warm February night. It was all over.