I sigh in despair as I begin this week's re-enlightenment, because once again, it's difficult to believe I have to explain such things. Nevertheless, it is apparent from several recent experiences that I do. And so, dutifully, I press on (though it strains my tolerance to the point of potential violence), educating the uncouth riffraff who continue to insist on leaving their homes and getting in my way.
Look, when you purchase a seat on a plane, on a bus, at a theatre—anywhere, really—you've paid to rent a space. That space is often bordered by armrests. The armrests represent the "property line," so to speak. Venture beyond that clearly defined border, and you are trespassing into space that's been rented by someone else. Lest there be any murkiness on the subject, I rephrase: In purchasing a ticket, you have not rented your seat plus part of another. It's just one seat to a customer. (That is, unless you're the type of entitled rich person who buys more than one seat for yourself. If that's you, I'm sure I'll be coming for you eventually. But that's another column.)
I have frequently found myself, of late, engaged in a strange sort of unspoken wrestling match in defense of my small kingdom of temporary territory. While sitting somewhere, minding my own business, I've suddenly detected brazen infiltrators in the form of stray elbows pressing into my sides, rogue knees wandering into space meant for knees of my own, and forearms selfishly enjoying full use of the shared space in between, then sneakily drifting beyond even those limits.
I've been forced to develop techniques. I find that a laptop or large book placed firmly along my side of the border can be quite effective in discouraging would-be interlopers. And I can sometimes catch an arm-rest hog off-guard long enough to recapture a portion of the prized turf. (Unlike them, I'm willing to share, so a portion will do.) At times, I've feigned innocence—or even sleep—while gradually fighting back the enemy with a slow-yet-forceful press.
Eventually, however, the Curmudgeon reaches a breaking point where words must be had. There was one flight during which I had to ask my row mate whether I might be able to get some of my seat back. Another exchange began, "You remember when they told us to stay in our seats? Well . . . would you?" People are usually shocked enough at being called out that they immediately comply.
Now, armrests—the common zone—are to be shared. That's the rule. To do so, you ought to decide now whether you're a front-of-the-rest person or a back-of-the-rest person. If you're able to adapt to either position, so much the better. But under no circumstances may you simply commandeer the entire rest.* That is not one of the options. Not, at least, if you're sitting next to the Curmudgeon.
It all goes back to an oft-repeated reminder in this column: there are other people in the world. Shockingly, many find it a great challenge retaining this vital information. The scientifically proven fact that there are several other beings on the planet seems to slip easily from people's memories. And so I must remind them. It's nearly a full time job. But, just as it is with armrests, so it is with these reminders of things we all used to know: I'm obliged to share.
*There are some etiquette experts—many, in fact—who hold the opinion that there's an exception to this rule. Their view is that the person in the middle seat on an airplane, having neither view nor aisle, is entitled to full use of both center armrests. It's a perfectly sensible stance with which I don't happen to agree. I say that sharing is always called for.