Saturday, January 12, 2008

The monster I’ve become

Flying here and there. It has been a while since I’ve been on a flight, so I haven’t had an opportunity to be forced to sit in a seat and write in my ejournal. But there I was on my last flight in seat 14 C for about five hours on a US Airways flight from San Francisco. The A321 was my home at 35,000 feet while I watched the heartwarming Nanny Diaries and a M*A*S*H episode on the cabin screen. The thing I noticed about the aircraft was that all of the aisle seats leaned toward the aisle. I guess all of the people in aisle seats who have flown to Charlotte over the last ten years made a bit of a dent. None of the aisle seats had a structural support on the aisle - just a curved bar that floated above the floor. So all of the seats leaned. You’d think they could fix that. You would think so, but this is US Airways. So I sat in the leaning seat. And that’s where I became an ogre.

First, let me say that I actually think I’m a nice person. As much as I admonish myself for taking out my anger on Walgreen’s employees, I am nice to most of them. I always thank the bus driver. I strike up conversations with seniors who look lonely. I think people are generally good. And I’m kind to children. And most pets.

Cruelty. I remember as a child, it seemed that there were always mean adults on the plane. And on my last flight, I was the mean person. Even though I really did nothing mean.

As the six-year old girl in the seat behind me colored snowflakes with her father, she continued to kick my seat. Not intentionally, I am certain. I overheard their tender conversation and put my headphones over my ears, concentrating on the US Airways in-flight entertainment: an advertisement for the Agua Caliente Casino in Rancho Mirage. But finally, I turned around, forced as polite a face as possible, and asked the child, looking at her father as I spoke, if she might try to be very careful and not kick her feet against my seat. Her face flushed with the look of shame, as if she’d been discovered doing something evil, like skipping school or punching her classmate. And the fact that another adult had spoken to her about her behavior in front of her father made it a very uncomfortable experience.

I remember feeling the same way when I was a kid. I kicked seats before I ever realized that other people had the right to the space around them. And then I was scolded by adults who were not my parents. The adults were probably very nice to me, but I remember the experiences with horror.

The girl’s father apologized and said she probably didn’t even realize she was doing it. He explained to her that the man in front of her (I was that man) could feel her feet pushing on his seat. I flashed a harmless smile, offered a meek “thanks,” and retreated to my forward-facing direction.

Somewhere in the middle of the flight, the girl’s parents traded seats. Her father moved back to 16 D and her mother moved up to 15 B. The child remained in 15 C. And at some point during the second half of the flight, the jostling began again. Those little feet, restless as they are, started bumping and pushing against my seat. I tried to meditate and remain calm. But I couldn’t even close my eyes and rest with the swinging of little feet. So, I did it again. I pivoted on my knee and peered over my seat to the eyes staring up at me. Eyes that showed a look of hate. I squinted up my eyes into the friendliest look, putting on a face that showed patience. It showed that I recognized that it was a mistake and a that I was a really, really nice guy who didn’t want to shame her but really, really just wanted her to remember that her feet might accidentally be tapping the back of the cushion. And it wasn’t a big deal, but I just wanted her to remember that we’d already talked about this issue. Her mother apologized and told her daughter the same thing the girl’s father had said earlier.

Arrival. When the flight landed and everyone jumped up to get their belongings, I turned around to give one more sweet smile to the girl behind me. But she had been replaced by a baby who had been sharing seat 16 D with the other parent. The baby smiled. Maybe the baby would tell his sister that I was nice. That she shouldn’t be ashamed. And that someday she’ll ask a child to stop kicking her seat.

Anyway, that was my first flight of two to get from San Francisco to Washington, DC, via Charlotte. On the second flight, another child, perhaps age three or four, sat behind. She had a complete meltdown, kicking and pounding and screaming. My seat shook with each kick. And I sat calmly, contemplating how I’d destroyed the life of the sweet little girl with fidgeting feet on the first flight. And I let the little monster kick the hell out of my seat. And I didn’t say a thing.

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