A Passive Aggressive Battle Of Wills at 40,000 Ft
I thought I'd start this whole thing off by telling you about who I am, or, if I'm dead by the time you're reading this, who I was while I was still among the present tense.
You're probably a total stranger, wondering why you should invest yourself in one of my stories. I mean, who the Hell is Drew Rhodes anyways?
Well, let me tell you a story. It's completely true, by the way. All my stories are, although I don't blame you for not necessarily trusting someone who seems to have such a poor sense of judgement. This story takes place on a flight from San Francisco to Iceland.
The flight was the first leg of a trip to Paris. My stop over was Reykjavik, and this leg of the trip was also the longest- eight and a half hours of having my knees crammed violently into the seat in front of me. The flight took off from San Francisco at 10:20pm and landed in Reykjavik (REV) the following day at 1:45pm.
My best friend, Airbo, dropped me off at the airport with plenty of time to spare. I said goodbye to him, and bade him take good care of my dog, Buckminster Abbey, who I was leaving in his care. I got my ticket from the check-in counter (if you go to the counter and not those check-in machines, the boarding pass you get is much more robust and better for scrapbooking- if you care about that sort of thing.) I made it through TSA, successfully convincing the TSA to hand inspect all 35 rolls of the 35mm photographic film I was bringing on my long trip to Europe. And then I waited, like, fifty minutes for my flight to board.
I’m pretty open about the fact that I do not like flying. To me, it is a necessary evil. I’m not saying that modern airplanes aren’t marvelous things, flying through the air like ugly miracles at heights and speeds incomprehensible to the passengers inside.
I’m also not afraid of crashing. I was a flyer in the Air Force and experienced take-offs and landings that would make anyone but the most hardened person violently poop through their pants. I'm also sufficiently depressed enough that if we did crash, I'd probably greet the cold embrace of death with a tepid, "meh."
What bothers me about flying is how I feel on an airplane. Airplanes are stuffy, cramped, and smelly. The alcohol is too weak and too expensive. Airlines don’t respect their passengers. They make their seats too narrow and too close together to marginally increase their profits. My patellas jam uncomfortably against the seat in front of me while my shoulders push against the passengers on either side of me. This is all the same whether you pay $200 or $2,000.
My favorite way to travel is by train, which gives passengers room. You can relax on a train, get up, walk to the dining cart, and write. You don’t have to go through demeaning and generally useless security procedures to get on board. For a relatively small fare, you can even book a sleeper cart. They are absolutely lovely.
In contrast, I have never been able to sleep on a plane, being far too uncomfortable, and this flight, which would take me through the night and halfway to another day, would be no different.
But the absolute worst thing about flying is the other passengers who you are crammed together with like toes mashed inside of a shoe that is two sizes too small. Now, I am not saying that trains attract a better class of customer, so much as that planes treat their passengers so inhumanely, that even well tempered passengers are bound become belligerent A-holes eventually. For example, take the person who had the seat next to mine on the flight to Reykjavik.
Now, I try not to judge people based on appearances. For example, the fellow sitting in the seat next to mine was an East Indian fellow he had his shoes off and was picking at his bare feet and had a bunch of garbage- empty food containers and such- piled in the seat next to him. We had just started boarding and this guy, who couldn’t have been there for more than a minute, was relaxing like he’d been there for years, making no motion to clear his materials from the seat next to him- my seat.
Now, part of me saw this guy and thought, “That’s really gross. Why are your feet out? And why is there a bunch of garbage on my seat like you personally bought an extra ticket just to stow it there?” But I’m well traveled enough to consider that different cultures have different ways of feeling comfortable while traveling, and just figured that, although his behavior was considered rude where I’m from, it could be normal wherever he’s from, so I tried to reserve judgement.
I made my way down the impossibly narrow airplane aisle looking for an open overhead compartment to stow my carryon bag- the only bag I had for three weeks in Europe. It was mostly photographic equipment with one underwear, one shirt, two pairs of socks, and a toothbrush thrown in for good measure.
I stowed my bag in an overhead compartment a couple spaces away, and then pointed out my seat, which was a middle seat in the row of seats between the two aisles, to the man and made a motion like, “Mmm.. Could you?” towards the trash. He took about five minutes to clear it all off my seat, doing it slowly and begrudgingly, like I had just barged into his personal aisle and started bossing him around.
I hate to be impolite, so I said nothing to the man as I took my seat, nor did I make any kind of passive-aggressive face at him to suggest my annoyance, like I would have at most people under normal circumstances. After all, I was going to be sitting next to this gentleman for eight and a half hours and even though I had no interest in talking to him, I didn’t really want things to be weird between us either.
Regardless, the man seemed annoyed that I was now occupying the seat that his refuse once had and after there seemed to be a lull in passengers boarding the plane, he turned to me and said that the plane had finished boarding and that I should grab one of the free seats available, of which their were many.
Now, if I was an intelligent man, I would have remembered hearing something about the plane being fully booked by the stewardesses while waiting for the plane to board, but either my brain wasn’t quite fully functional or I just couldn't resist the opportunity to take a seat away from this man, who was picking his toes inches away from my knee.
I spotted a lovely, empty window seat on my same row and moved to it, figuring that if someone came and claimed it, I could justifiably claim that I’d just accidentally taken the wrong seat, which is exactly what happened. I apologized to the man who’s seat I’d nearly stolen and moved back to my original seat next to the man with the bare feet, who was now irate that I’d reclaimed my own seat.
He tried to convince me once more that boarding had stopped, but I knew his game now and wouldn’t move. I told him that I would stay in my seat and he yelled at me, adamantly claiming that he had head the loading doors close and no new people were boarding, despite the fact that more and more people were filing down the two narrow aisle ways and finding their seats.
Now I’m a firm believer that if a person is adamant enough, they can convince a weak willed person that reality is different than how their own eyeballs perceive it, which is what this person was trying to do with me, but I wasn’t going for it and after a bit, he calmed down.
I briefly considered writing all this down in my journal and reached for it, but the moment I did, the man stealthily snuck his elbow down upon my armrest.
Stop me if you've heard this one. I’ve been all over the world and if there’s one thing that I’ve found universally true, it’s the rule of armrest distributions in airplanes. That rule is this: window seat gets a view and one armrest, the aisle seat gets an armrest and a little bit of extra legroom, and the middle seat gets both armrests. I was in the middle seat and this was especially important for me as I am a broad man and need the space. But the gentleman sitting beside me apparently didn’t see things that way.
He was in an aisle seat, and while he was taking liberal use of his extra legroom- now sticking his hairy, bare feet out into the aisle for all to see, he wanted my armrest as well.
And initially, I made no protest about it. I've never laid claim to being a subtle man, but I knew in that moment that I was taking back my armrest the first chance I got and any indication that I wanted it would just make the man covet it more.
So the second he leaned over and his arm came off the armrest, I slipped my elbow in and took it back.
He did NOT like this, and started trying, gently at first and them with greater force, to shove my arm off the armrest, but I was not budging. The man had pushed me too far, and this was where I made my stand.
Friends, relatives, and ex-girlfriends of all varieties can attest to my infuriatingly stubborn nature and bull-headedness, and it is with great respect that I say this man seemed my equal in those measures. He pushed and pushed at my arm, but I refused to act like anything at all was the matter. In fact, I acted as relaxed and aloof as could be, pretending that I could not feel the encroaching of his elbow at all!
Finally the man turned on his side in the chair, turning his back to me, and I thought possibly he had given up. But his incredulity pushed him on, as he tried to cram his entire body, legs and bare feet and everything, sideways into the narrow gray and purple airline chair. He tried so hard and fit so poorly, that his back pushed against my shoulder and his ass came to rest on my elbow.
He was sitting on my arm, but I refused to acknowledge his passive-aggressive behavior or move my elbow. Instead, I just sat there with a strangers ass on my arm acting like nothing at all was out of the ordinary.
At one point, as this guy sat on my arm with his back fat pushing well into the boundaries of my seat, he turned around to me and said in an incredulous tone, “Could you please move your elbow, it’s poking into my back.”
I think by back, he meant, “butthole.”
I turned to him, looked at him dead in the eye, and said, “NO.” Then I turned my head back to the front of the airplane and went right on pretending that this man wasn’t sitting fully on my arm, which of course, he was.
The whole thing was preposterous, but what’s more, we went on like that for the entirety of the flight! Eight and a half hours- him sitting uncomfortably on me, me being uncomfortably sat upon, and no-one saying another word about it. Locked in a ridiculous passive-aggressive battle of wills over a stupid armrest.
Then the plane landed and we both got up, collected our carryons, and left like nothing had ever happened, never to see one another again.
I'm not sure what this story say about me, but if it doesn't hit upon something important and quintessential about me, I don’t know what will.