I don't mind flying at all. I'm not one of those white-knucklers during the first signs of turbulence, and I appreciate a certain level of courtesy and etiquette among my fellow travelers. As is my habit and preference, I always ask for and usually receive the exit row window seat. It has three or four valuable inches of legroom and comes with the bonus of responsibility should an air crisis occur. You have to read some nonsense about the safety of other passengers and I pretend to listen as they explain the procedures but I am really there for those extra leg inches.
I'm not one for social confrontation, especially when I was as hung over and messy as I was this morning. My flight from Montreal to Dulles was late so I was one of the last to board the plane bound for Los Angeles. I walked in the door and cursed myself for not choosing row nine, the bulkhead seats with its complete lack of leg obstruction and none of that silly safety stuff. I made my way back to row sixteen and there they were - an elderly couple with the wife on the aisle and her husband in the middle seat, huddled together with my window seat exposed.
I have always apologized at this juncture because I know the growing excitement that can build into believing the seat-next-to-you will be vacant and your elbows can fly akimbo. I've been there only to have that dream trampled on. I looked at them and acknowledged I am taking my window seat.
"Hi. Sorry to break up the party," I said, trying for a jaunty tone but by their expressions, it apparently came as hostile. I tossed my carry-on, Billy's navy blue Bulldog gym bag, onto my seat and stood in the aisle in search of a pillow and blanket. The man in the middle had one lying on his lap.
"Where did you find that?" I asked hoping he would understand my absolute need for comfy warmth. He clutched the pillow to his chest and said with contempt, "We got here on time."
"That must have been nice but my flight was late. So do you know where another pillow might be?" I was searching the overhead bins while asking.
"No." He stated it without hesitation and he said it as if he relished my impending discomfort.
When the drink cart came around the first time, I implored a sympathetic steward for a blanket. The little blue pillow once in the grip of my neighbor's defiant arms was now on the floor with his shoes resting on it. The blanket became essential because cold air was streaming onto my right arm from the exit door and to my left; his knozzled air vent was opened as wide as possible. Freezing air was blowing his toupee as if he were on the front of a sailboat. I saw he was on chapter two of a Clive Cussler paperback. Well at least he's well read, I thought bitterly.
"Would you mind closing that a little," I pointed at the vent. His wife leaned over and shot me a look I hadn't seen since I last saw my Aunt Christina.
"We like fresh air," he answered. I didn't tell him his toupee was now a white flap and the air coming from that vent was anything but fresh. I am very unlikely to ever make a public scene although there are those who know me that would beg to differ. I opted to pull out the Sunday New York Times and I started to read. As necessary, I would turn the page and fold it into manageable quarters. He, on the other hand, needed the entire armrest to navigate his cheesy novel.
There is an invisible line that dissects the length of any shared armrest, be it a movie theater or an airplane. And it is a line that should be respected, perhaps even legislated. Women seem to better understand this boundary, whether it's from manners or fear. Men are most often the offenders.
But I have a trick. I let me arm, my whole arm, rub up against theirs - our arm hairs co-mingling. Nothing makes a man retreat faster. Guaranteed. After my pasta shells lunch, I read an article on Peter Olson, a scary publishing czar that collects stuffed animals. The steward had come through with a blanket and I fell asleep, mummified in thin blue plaid.
I woke up near the Grand Canyon, a place Billy insisted was created by aliens and I wondered how many times I would be making this journey. From DC to LA and back again.
I took a taxi home, jumped into my car and drive to Mickey's to pick up Bob Slobbers. We got home and I watch him as he ran around the house with his tail wagging and making sure everything was in its place. "Safe for democracy," as Billy would instruct him when we left the house.
I looked around me. I tried to absorb everything all at once and forever. Because having accepted the job at Discovery, I realized that my home, our home, now has an expiration date.