Karma, Karma, Chameleon
On a recent episode of Fresh Air, Terry Gross interviewed comedian Louis C.K. and they played this soundbite from his new show:
I see soldiers fly all the time, because that’s how they get to the war. . . they just go to Delta, and they just wait in line to go to a war.
And they always fly coach. I’ve never seen a soldier in first class in my life. It could be a full-bird colonel. He’s between two fat guys in coach. . .
And every time that I see a soldier on a plane, I always think: You know what? I should give him my seat. It would be the right thing to do. It would be easy to do, and it would mean a lot to him. . .
Because I’m in first class – why? For being a professional (beep). This guy is giving his life for the country… and I should trade with him.
I never have, let me make that clear. I’ve never done it once. I’ve had so many opportunities. I never even really seriously came close.
And here’s the worst part: I still just enjoy the fantasy… I was actually proud of myself for having thought of it. I was proud. Oh, I am such a sweet man. That is so nice of me to think of doing that and then totally never do it.
On my way home to Chicago I went through Atlanta and as soon as I landed there I rushed to the gate of my connecting flight to get a seat assignment. When I saw that there weren’t any agents at the gate I made a beeline for Au Bon Pain where I bought a giant salad and proceeded to slather creamy ranch dressing all over it – oh how I’ve missed you, Ranch! Then I sat on the edge of my seat facing the gate until a worker appeared. I sprang from my seat and threw my things together, but my adrenaline took a nosedive as I heard her tell me that the only seat left was a middle one. When I got on the plane I started to panic a bit as I saw that the legroom was nothing like the previous flight; this plane was configured for passengers to be able to perform dental work on each other. My tension began to melt away when I saw that my seat was actually in the exit row; so roomy in fact that to grab my bag from the floor I had to stretch my leg as far as possible and hook the strap with my foot. I was all set to relax for the last leg of my trip home.
And then, the woman sitting in the aisle seat in the row in front of me and the heavyset man sitting next to her got up to make way for a giant man, a soldier dressed in army fatigues. He had to be well over six feet tall and three hundred pounds and I couldn’t imagine how his body would fit into the space of the window seat he was assigned. But somehow he wedged himself in there.
As I sat eating my salad waiting for takeoff that Louis C.K. bit was playing in my head. I thought of my roomy seat but determined that with the oversized salad container the extra space was necessary for the job at hand. That salad tasted so good, but I was having a hard time swallowing it because I couldn’t stop thinking about Rambo jam-packed into his seat and the injustice of it all. Seriously, he’s willing to give up his life for what and the airline can’t even give him a preferred seat. I thought about tapping him on the shoulder and offering him my seat, but for some reason the scenario seemed too uncomfortable. I pictured everyone in the row having to get up and out of their seats and I couldn’t imagine the Hulk wanting to inconvenience all of them or draw that much attention to himself.
After I finished my salad there was an announcement that we weren’t going to take off for an hour. I went to the bathroom and when I came out I saw that G.I. Joe was in line. I knew this was my chance. So I stood in the aisle waiting for him to make his way back to his seat and when he approached I said very awkwardly and sheepishly, “Hey, do you want to switch seats? I have this big one and I’m small and you’re big and have that seat.” And when he thanked me I said, “No, thank you.”
So I crammed my body into the window seat and immediately was met with a wave of claustrophobia. I could barely force my bag to the floor, let alone under the seat in front of me. Somehow though, even with the portly man in the middle seat overflowing onto me I felt so good knowing that maybe I made a little dent in making that soldier’s day. Then I thought of that episode of Friends when Phoebe set out to do a “selfless good deed” – a good deed that wouldn’t leave her feeling good about herself, something that Joey said was impossible.
Now, ten days later I was at the KLM desk at O’Hare this morning and again didn’t have a seat assignment ahead of time and found out that there were only middle seats available. After my initial panic, I asked if there was anything else available. Somehow an aisle seat appeared just then in row 44. I realized that sounded pretty far back but decided not to ask what I didn’t want to know. When I boarded I found my seat exactly where I feared it would be – in the last row. I played the game “Would You Rather?” and decided that I would prefer an aisle seat in the last row to a a middle seat. I quickly realized that this last row seat actually came with two saving graces – first, the seat did recline and second, the bathrooms were not in the far back but in the middle of the plane. So I settled into my aisle seat of the middle area with four seats across.
About twenty minutes into the flight the unthinkable happened – the husband and wife who had the middle two seats got up and sat in another row leaving the woman on the other aisle and me to look at each other as if to say, “What the heck?” And, “Well, if this is true this is so awesome!” For the rest of the 7-hour flight I was able to spread out over two seats as I watched “Crazy, Stupid Love,” “New Year’s Eve” and enough of “Horrible Bosses.”