I’m on my second of the five flights that over two days will bring me back at last to Rapa Nui, and I am hoping that my luck on this one is an omen that will set the tone for the rest of my trip: I have an entire three-seat half row to myself. 12 D-E-F: mine, all mine.
When you board a plane and find you are the first one in your seat block, your reaction is likely to depend on your seat assignment. If yours is the window seat, it’s not really a problem. In fact, you are probably going to be happy that you don’t have to climb over your new seatmates, bumping knees in the old Bugs Bunny, “’Scuse me, pardon me…” dance. Assuming of course that frottage is not your thing, dear reader (and if it is, please refrain from applying the “dear” and consider my address to you as simply “reader”)…
If your seat is the middle, you know that you are going to have to get up for at least one person, and immediately you begin hoping that the destined occupant of the window seat will at least have the good sense to show up before the aisle. And you start contemplating mathematical formulae that involve the potential girth of your immanent left and right hand seatmates, times the length of the flight, and raised to the power of the number of times each of you will have to use the restroom during the flight.
If yours is the aisle, then you sit down but don’t buckle your seatbelt. You size up every passenger struggling and sweating down the aisle towards you, and if they don’t look thin, attractive and narcoleptic, you sigh inwardly with relief as each in his or her turn takes a seat before your row or passes without a glance in your direction.
My original seat was D, the aisle. When I can choose my seats, I choose an aisle seat. I understand that this is somewhat atypical, but I like the aisle. In the aisle, you can be the courteous one, rather than the rude one. You get up for everyone else, you assist in the transfer of your seatmates’ empty plastic cups to the flight attendant, you step back into the aisle at the end of the flight to let them exit first. When I was in high school, I read the novel in which Kurt Vonnegut first used the phrase, “Kindness may fail, but courtesy will prevail.” According to Vonnegut, a young reader like myself (like myself, but more precocious to such a degree as to cause me envy), wrote to him with that phrase, explaining that he (the reader) felt it encapsulated the theme of Vonnegut’s work thus far. Good stuff. I remember all that clearly, but not the title of the book, or much else about it except that I think it was the one that had something to do with bag ladies and peanut butter. It was the first Vonnegut that I had read, and it was a little off-putting for the guy to start off by writing that a young reader had just divined the essence of his work, thereby essentially rendering the book in hand and all future efforts superfluous. I am, to be sure, rather fond of some of Vonnegut’s work,particularly Cat’s Cradle, “Harrison Bergeron”, and the author’s appearance in the Rodney Dangerfield film Back to School. My point, however, was not about the merits of Kurt Vonnegut, but about courtesy. I enjoy extending it, and that is part of why I take the aisle seat when I can. And this time my good karma paid dividends.
To be sure, I also choose a seat in the wing section when I have the option, since this of course is statistically the part of the plane where your chances are best of surviving any kind of event in which the term “survivor” might actually come into play. I heard this long ago, and my faith in this truism has been confirmed over the last few seasons of LOST. Look at the Tailies: almost totally decimated; even my favorite character, Mr. Eko, who looked tough enough to survive a direct hit from an RPG.
So now I am sitting comfortably somewhere between Phoenix and LA, in 12-E, the middle seat, typing on my laptop with my plastic cup of tomato juice on the tray table of the seat to my left, which is in the “down” position. This is the life…
(composed on US Airways #35)
Poetry at the Border: Ann Fisher-Wirth
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