Space Invaders: Cramped Quarters with Strangers

airplanerowHe wasn’t so much as fat as he was just simply… too large. Everything about him – from the gruff way he took off his headphones to the manner in which he catapulted himself into the seat next to me — had an invasive, overreaching breadth that managed to exaggerate his proportions. In reality, he couldn’t have been that much bigger than my own dad, perhaps taller but no heftier. Still, I felt myself being marginalized into the far corner of row 27.

If he were actually as big as I imagined him to be, you would think he would be more considerate of the space in which he occupied. Namely, mine. From the moment he sat down, his arms went instinctively towards the armrest between us, the frontline of our impending six-hour war. Instead of simply taking the 50% of which he was entitled, he took 105%, quickly invading the ever-shrinking zone my $395 coach ticket afforded me. What should I do? Push back? Say something? Pull my hair out and weep silently? The rules of engagement for the frequent flier can be hell for the non-confrontational. When he turned to retrieve something from his bag, I planted my tiny arm down between us in the vain hope that it might deter future encroachment. It didn’t.

His presumptuous takeover reminded me (quite regrettably) of my ex-roommate, who, instead of assuming I might want to use my half of the fridge (not to mention shared closets, cabinets, and the bathroom in general), would fill it to the brim with her own supplies, “kindly” insisting that if I needed space, I ask for it. The request left me waylaid in extreme irritation and social paralysis. I didn’t want to have to ask for the space I was entitled; I just wanted it to be there. Thus, my only logical solution was to keep empty soymilk cartons in the fridge as a placeholder for my future cold-storage goods. This, of course, left me feeling like a raving lunatic.

From an early age, I learned the value of property rights. After each dinner at the local Chili’s, my brother and I would order a hot fudge brownie sundae to split. And when I say split, I mean split. A line of demarcation was made down the center with a serrated steak knife and we would race towards its edge from our respective starting positions. Not keeping up meant the potential loss of territory; whoever finished first always tried for a shot at your remaining portion. While it didn’t necessarily demonstrate respect for property rights, there was still a valuable lesson to be had there… somewhere… I think.

Whatever the lesson was, my flying partner today certainly didn’t learn anything close to it himself, as was clearly evidenced when he later forcefully nudged my arm in a silent demand for the gum in my purse.

I wonder if this stuff happens in Business Class.

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