Self-Defense at 35,000 Feet

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That courtesy card doesn't mean you're being nice

A series of mid-flight squabbles over passengers reclining their seats on airplanes over the objections of passengers being reclined upon has resulted in flight diversions on several airlines over the past week, including one incident in which a woman threw her drink at the man preventing her from enjoying their flight in a reclined way by using a device called the "Knee Defender."

Throwing your soda at another passenger on a plane is just wrong, no matter how much they deserve it. First, innocent passengers may get splashed. Second, it demonstrates weak moral fiber. Anybody can throw a courtesy beverage. Order something alcoholic. You'll think twice about tossing a nine-dollar drink at your neighboring flier, no matter how offensive his or her behavior. Instead, if that behavior rises to a level of unpleasantness that needs remonstration, gently wap them with the in-flight magazine. You can also attempt to inflict a facial wound using the edge of the laminated safety card. When wielded at the proper angle, this produces a dueling scar that is the equal of any made by a thrust of the epee.

As far as the reclining war, I suggest pro-reclining passengers prepare themselves as they would for any military campaign. Do as I do—immediately after shoving your carry-on, which is technically legal but which you have stuffed with enough personal items so that it bulges outward as implacably as Russia, into the overhead bin, punching it into place with your fists so that any delicate items your fellow passengers have foolishly placed there are crushed by it, take your seat and immediately recline it. Keep it reclined during the inevitable forty-five minute wait for connecting passengers. Once they have marched aboard, nearly always glaring at you, the on-time passenger, as if it your fault the flight is delayed, the pilot will inform you that seats must be upright for takeoff.

You must comply with this, otherwise the flight attendants will come by and rap your seat moodily, treating you not as a fellow human being but as what you are to them, a temporary impediment to binge-drinking in a solitary hotel room. Do not let this prevent you from reclaiming your territory. Let that seat back again as soon as the nose wheel lifts off the ground. Pretend the acceleration of takeoff is pushing it into the nose of the guy behind you, not you personally.

Since this character has stowed his computer for takeoff, you will not be able to smash it flat onto his fingers by reclining your seat, which is too bad. Using your computer for anything other than watching movies or playing Candy Crush Saga on an airplane just screams LOOK HOW IMPORTANT AND RESPONSIBLE I AM. EVEN BEING CRAMMED INTO A METAL TUBE WITH 90 PEOPLE I DON'T LIKE DOESN'T PREVENT ME FROM CONCENTRATING ON MY JOB, WHICH IS BETTER THAN YOURS BECAUSE I HAVE TO WORK CONSTANTLY!

Yeah, right. You, my flying companion, just don't want to deal with another person who is wedged in so closely next to you that, if you were on the ground, your next move would be kissing them. My policy is to force the people sitting next to me to deal with me. I loudly give them my opinions on sports, politics and the body spray they are wearing. If they are enjoying a book or a newspaper, I blatantly read over their shoulders, sometimes turning the pages if they are slower readers than I am. If it is a book, I tell them how it ends. I don't actually have to know the ending—just making one up will cause them to slap it shut in annoyance and pretend to sleep. Then you just quietly murmur "Are you still sleeping?" every five minutes. Even though you know they are not, because it is almost impossible to sleep when you are boiling over with hatred and ill-will, they will never answer you back. Try it!

Unlike most people, I enjoy sitting next to a child. Whatever annoyances the kid plans to visit on you are more than made up for by the child's small size. My worst plane flight ever was being forced to sit next to a guy who apparently had never had a meal that didn't include cake or pie in his life. He oozed over into my seat like a haboob of flesh. He was a genial, interesting man with a nice repertoire of stories and jokes. I still fantasize about stabbing him.

A kid gives you plenty of room, and it is easy to sweep his puny forearm off the armrest. If the child decides to cry or whine, I don't care. I have a child, so I have the selective hearing that comes with raising one. If another person's child is crying, my first, happy thought is "Hey, that's not my problem," and then I order another drink.

If the child insists on interacting with me, and its parent doesn't forbid it out of fear I am planning on kidnapping the youngster, I quickly teach the baby how the seat pocket in front of it is filled with generations of filth, including intriguing gum chunks flung down there by people who were too lazy to press their used Chiclets on the bottom of their seats and crushed bits of ancient hard candy whose mouth-feel must be sampled. After a few minutes of this, the parent calls the flight attendant and requests to be seated elsewhere, and I have everybody's favorite flying companion next to me again.

An empty seat.



This is the "Courtesy Card" that comes with your "Knee Defender," a device you haul onto your airline flight and clip to your tray table so that the person in front of you may not invade your personal space by reclining their seat.

It's pretty obvious that this card is not used much. Most of the self-centered male-member heads who would use a Knee Defender (trademark thingy here), would wish to avoid the person in front of them confronting them with an angry glare and spluttering "Say what?" upon reading it. They simply employ their Knee Defender without notice and let their victim in the row up assume their seat is broken, which happens.

To cheerfully mix a metaphor here, when we're in a plane we're all in the same boat. Many people are not the correct size for an airline seat, but we resign ourselves to sitting in them for the duration of the flight anyway, because we have all bought our tickets on Cheapassair.com, which sold the seat for six dollars less than anyone else, and the airline's only way to make money is to cram us aboard like Roman galley slaves, only obese ones.

 Me, I'm in the Goldilocks zone for height at 5'10." My knees fit in the seat fine, even when you, the passenger in front of me, decides to recline your seat and test my ability to tolerate claustrophobia. I just endure this feeling of being lightly entombed until I get to where I'm going. My problem is that the average seat width in coach maxxes out at 18 inches, while I have 44 inch shoulders. They don't sell a "Shoulder Defender,' which would be something like blow-up swimmy arms for adults, and could instantly be deployed by yanking on a string when you see that another full-size adult male is going to be seated next to you.

Or you could inflate it by blowing in the tubes.

Likewise, there is no "Armrest Marauder" available. This would be a spiked forearm sleeve made of ceramic or hard rubber so you could slip it through security, designed to give you an edge for those dogfights for the armrest at 33,000 feet.

Even if they did sell those devices, I wouldn't use them. One of my few accomplishments in life is not yet turning into a whiny, self-centered bunghole who thinks that my inconvenience is everybody else's problem.

The whole tone of the Courtesy Card reeks of whiny bungholism. Take Clause 2, ""my legs are so long etc." If this over-height crybaby was sincere about being sorry to have inconvenienced you, he might add a couple paragraphs apologizing about all the times he has blocked your view at the movies or a ballgame with his elevated noggin, or for snatching up all the attractive women who are taller than you when they are wearing heels, or for dunking over you in pickup basketball games. But no; he has found the one circumstance where his overactive pituitary is a disadvantage, and he needs you to appreciate his mewling and piddling over it. Intercourse him.

Likewise, the card's suggestion that you join the Knee Defender member-head in complaining to the airline about the discomfort he has forced on you. Yeah, right. If you want a bigger seat, stay off my Cheapassair.com.

But the Courtesy Card itself is a worthwhile idea. We all have our idiosyncrasies, and having explanatory Courtesy Cards to hand out to other people after  personal interactions would help alleviate the vague sense we get sometimes that every person we meet is an offensive idiot. Mine, for example, would read:

I Am a Wiseass Courtesy Card         

I am a wiseass. I am using wit, humor and sarcasm in order to avoid dealing with you in a way which would be mundane and boring. I would like you to know about this and provide the following information: 

_If you are a Jehovah's Witness or a Mormon, and are knocking on my door in the misguided notion that I would be interested in joining a religion that requires you to knock on stranger's doors, strangers who might be having sex or concealing corpses, the answer is simply, no. It is not "I Am a Follower of the Great Lord Lucifer," which is what I told you. I actually don't believe in The Great Lord Lucifer any more than I believe in whatever cultic God or Savior you do. I advise you to go home and drink or play touch football with your kids or whatever else amuses you in the interval between now and your inevitable death. If Almighty God was really looking out for you, He wouldn't have sent you to me. Think about it.

_If you are a homeless person, and have asked me "Do you have money for a cup of coffee?" and responded angrily to my answer, "Yes, but I don't feel like having coffee right now," know that it was precisely true. It was your lack of originality that kept me from giving you a buck I could well afford to part with. On the other hand, if you were waving a cardboard sign that proclaimed you were a homeless veteran and took offense at my inquiry "Do you know any homeless guys that are not veterans? Because I would really rather give my money to them," that was sarcasm. 

_If you are a supermarket checkout clerk, and asked everybody in the line in front of me if they would like to donate a dollar to fight cancer, but then failed to ask me that question, you are a good judge of character.
 
_If you are some sweaty person gathering petitions for a ballot on Proposition Anything outside that supermarket, please know that when I said "So what you think we ought to do, instead of letting the politicians we elected actually lead us, we should block their decisions by putting it on the ballot so people who have thought about the issue for maybe six seconds can make the call? Because I think we usually get these things because the bloated oligarchs that promote them haven't been able to buy enough politicians to pass their pet legislation, and are now foisting this on us because they think  they can buy enough advertising to persuade enough dumbasses to vote against their basic interests so they can once again get what they want and screw the rest of the state," that was exactly what I think is true. On the other hand, after wasting your time with that speech and then I saying I wasn't registered to vote, causing you to want to kill me, that was a lie.

Man, this is getting to be a whole brochure. And I haven't even gotten to waitresses who have no idea what's on the menu or clerks at the DMV yet. Better finish later. And in the meantime, defend your knees.

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