An Open Letter to the Woman in Seat 16B on United Flight 889

January 12, 2009

To One of Whom it May Concern:

When I saw you in the terminal at LAX you didn’t look so bad. The worst one could say is that you had a much younger boyfriend (husband?), and that hardly seems derisive. You were quite pretty, actually.

Your blonde hair was exceptionally natural in a terminal full of bleach-headed does. You appeared to carry yourself with grace that doesn’t exist in women under 30 – silvery threads spun free from the pony tail haloing your face.

And I certainly wasn’t planning to hate you. That was a surprise. I’ll be the first to admit that an hour-long flight to San Francisco is an awfully short time to plant the seeds of The World’s Greatest Hate. But, I’ll also be the first to argue that you really only needed about 13 minutes of that hour.

We took off and I was feeling so good that I drifted off to sleep. Then, like Encino Man, I was thrown, shattered, and jilted into a new and terrible world. In this world, your seatback was flying aggressively and presently at the bridge of my nose.

Now your natural grace was gone. You were not wise and well-fed, you were fat and grey-haired. I was confused and furious. Surely there was an explanation. You must’ve tripped a secret switch, or perhaps there was a malfunction with your seat-leaning mechanism. No humane cause could spur such a seatback attack.

But it soon became clear that, indeed, this was the case. You were a seatback terrorist and were not beholden to the social contract the rest of us lived by. I let the roots of my hate take hold. Succubus. I dehumanized you – having read Shooter, I know that it’s necessary to view the enemy this way during war time.

I bided my time, raining an almost unperceivable volley of seat kicks to discomfit you. No need for a hasty, all-out offensive. Surgical strikes were the deadliest. And soon it became much like a medieval siege – a waiting game.

F**k. You. 

Then, my grace arrived in the shape of a beverage cart. You leaned forward and took the glass from the stewardess! Was this it?! NO, it wasn’t. Your seat stayed directly in my face. I blacked out with deafening rage.

I came back; you jostled about. You were looking for the little silver button of salvation. You were going to raise that G.D. seat back up. You did! And, at this point, many would’ve gloried in their freedom.

But, Woman in Seat 16B, freedom isn’t free. So, I lodged my steely man-quads against the back braces in your seat much like the steel girders holding up the Golden Gate Bridge are lodged against the sea bed. Eternal vigilance was the price for liberty (which is both a truism and a great bumper sticker).  

You turned in your seat, ready to recline into imperialism. But guess what? No dice this time! Oh, geez! You looked confused. You looked like you’d never encountered Knees of Justice before. I’d wager, even if you had, you’d not encountered a pair like mine.


You looked to your boyfriend for help. I looked at him, too, and saw that his face didn’t read with casual, San Fran, bohemian smile lines. Now, he was a joyless husk – a man changed by the leathered wing beats of a harpy relentlessly hovering over his hunched spine.

I leaned back in my seat (without leaning my seat back) and smiled the smile of a man toppling his opponent’s king piece. Checkmate. How did that feel for you? To be figuratively toppled at 30,000 feet in front of the one you love? I hope that as wonderful as I felt, that’s how destitute and alone you felt, you poisonous daughter of Eve.

I slowly became aware that the arc of my happiness was rising still higher. I was becoming unreasonably happy. I wanted to laugh out loud (or, perhaps LOL). Maybe it was the excitement at my trip, but more likely, it was that I have a finely-tuned sense of justice due to my pastoral vocation in the Universal Life Church of Modesto, California, and that sense of justice was wallowing in its own justice juices.

I breathed in the ambrosial fumes of my victory, and to make a long, nearly-erotic tale short: you continued to writhe uncomfortably for the remainder of our flight.

When we arrived, the passengers all stood and gathered their things from under their seats and overhead. Those who were shorter, like the woman sitting next to me, asked totally ripped dudes to help them with their bags. And, of course, we happily obliged.

But then, some veiny, demon whores from nether realms, couldn’t extend their claw’d wing joints up high enough to reach the overhead compartment. They, too, needed help. One of them in particular turned to her male familiar and asked if he thought the sterling man standing behind her would help. The man knew the answer and said nothing in return. She cast a long glance at her slave, then a shorter one at the Man of Silver and Might. Then, defeated, sat back down to wait for everybody to deplane before she flapped up to get her bag.