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A Call to Arms.  n.  A summons to engage in active hostilities.

The hum of the private airport lounge at John F. Kennedy International Airport soothed my ears as I munched on snacks.  I was tired, and I do mean tired.  I had squeezed in about three hours of sleep after working a full day on Labor Day, cooking four complete meals for my family (who I was leaving behind, again), and packing.

I hurriedly typed one last email to my assistant, called one last judge’s chamber to get things in order, then I packed up my things and walked quickly towards the gate since I was arriving right at the first boarding call. I was on my way to Italy, and it felt like I was dragging myself there.

When I arrived at the gate, my heart sank when I didn’t see a huge crowd of people queuing to board the plane.  The flight was now at Gate 30, an airline rep told me — seven gates away down an impossibly long hallway.

I did my best O.J. Simpson impression as I dashed down the hall. My heart was racing! Were they waiting for me? Had I been bumped from the flight? Did my Italian adventure end before it began, all because I had to finish up a few projects?

I rushed down the hallway and made it to Gate 30 where I found a large crowd. The airline hadn’t even started boarding yet. I got “in line” with everyone else and was immediately reminded that I was going back to Europe to deal with that good, old-fashioned European sense of “line? What line?”

Once on the plane, I breathed a sigh of relief.  Now I could relax and enjoy the flight overseas.  I planned to reread the novel I was working on set in Italy, and work a little on other fiction projects on my iPad.  A nice, long flight across the Pond was just the right amount of time to relax, reflect, and write.  I hoped that the person sitting next to me was as nice as the seat mates I had been blessed with in the past.

As I approached my seat I spied my seat mate sprawled out between our two seats. He had a neck pillow and briefcase in my window seat, had his tray table down, and was typing furiously on a full-sized laptop. He moved his things when I told him I was sitting next to him, but just as quickly reassembled the tray table and laptop.

An accurate depiction of my seat mate as he rushed to make some imaginary deadline.

My seat mate as he rushed to make some imaginary deadline.

Work on my iPad?  Reread my novel-in-progress?  Relax, reflect, and write?  Fuggatabouit.  Any dreamy thoughts I had about a halcyon airplane ride to Milan evaporated soon after we left the ground.  They evaporated with that first jab in the ribs.

You see, my seat mate had his elbows on both armrests — the middle one we shared and his aisle armrest — and was not moving. His problem was that he was trying to type normally in a cramped space. He caught me in my ribs a couple of times with his elbow as he typed.

Soon, the Great Armrest War of 2014 began. Mini battles escalated into skirmishes. Like Napoleon, Seat Mate believed himself emperor over all things armrest related, and he wasn’t backing down.

"Victory belongs to the most persevering." ~ Napoleon Bonaparte

“Victory belongs to the most persevering.” ~ Napoleon Bonaparte

Undeterred, I decided to give him no quarter.  I valiantly tried to fight back, eking out a space for my right elbow on the middle armrest because, dammit, my elbow needed space too!  How was I supposed to edit The Great Novel if I didn’t even have the room to put my right hand on my keyboard?

Typing in the air

How I had to type on the airplane ride over ~ purely in my imagination.

He cared nothing about my meager attempts to be comfortable. He continued to stick his left elbow well within my personal space as he, almost angrily, continued to type.

I was the proud and noble Seventh Coalition in this conflict.  Like the Duke of Wellington, I courageously waited for my Waterloo moment — the moment my seat mate would concede the middle armrest to me.  However, unlike the victorious Seventh Coalition, my Waterloo moment never came.


How not to irritate your fellow airline passengers. Picture courtesy of artofmanliness.com.

Coincidentally, this flight came a week after the infamous Knee Guard Debacle happened.  I didn’t want us to be thrown off the plane for fisticuffs like a couple of passengers had been after getting into a fight over the knee defender.  I also had no idea that a rib saver existed. Instead, I had to remember the first rule of vacationing — take a deep breath and relax.

He was lucky that I was too tired to be my usual self and hold my ground.  I notably surrendered and let him have the armrest. After all, I had the window seat.  He allowed me to keep my sidearm.  It was very dignified.

Jesus was a fence for me that day. My seat mate was not the cruel dictator I believed him to be.  Homeboy turned out to be extremely nice.

After he finished typing his manifesto, he put his computer away. We didn’t start chatting until about the last hour of the flight, but the conversation was interesting. Johnny (or was it Gianni?) lived in Milan but had been in Chicago on business. After the flight not only did he walk me to the luggage carousel, but he shook my hand in friendly farewell.

Although the result  of the mid-air skirmishes was Italy – 1, United States – 0, the final score was officially a tie.  Breaking down barriers and getting to know one another was a treat for us both (as I iced my ribs).  In the end, curiosity and kindness were the big winners.

I learned a valuable lesion  that day.  Sometimes it pays to lose the battle to win the war.