The Aisle Seat

I'm a fanatic about the aisle seat.

I can, occasionally, give it up, if there's someone who NEEDS it more - as long as I'm still seated between people I know (because my claustrophobia is only exceeded by my pathological avoidance of strangers).

In an odd way, it's become a pretty effective litmus test. Those who cheerfully accommodate this little dysfunction tend to stick around; those who won't, do not.

Not because it is REALLY - per se - that important where I sit. But because it's VERY important to me that my life is populated by those who have as much regard for my feelings (and let's throw in fire safety) as I do for theirs.

Sure it's neurotic. But I don't sneak shrimp to my kosher or vegan pals and then mock their dietary needs.

At movies, I ESPECIALLY love the aisle seat because it allows me the room to curl into a ball and enjoy the show - secure in the knowledge that 1. I can make a fast getaway, and 2. that I will either have a wingman or a "social airbag" on my other side (who'll be there to share an occasional cinematic insight, or maybe some Milk Duds) - but whose primary purpose is to buffer me from the great unwashed.

If the seating somehow sets me off, I might have any number of responses.

The Fit, sometimes known as a Scene. Self-explanatory.

A panic attack. This often involves Exorcist-style vomiting, and usually necessitates that I spend the duration of the event in the bathroom. It's often precipitated by a large crowd, particularly a large crowd of strangers, crushing up against me. The last really dramatic episode was at a wedding I attended with my ex-fiance. Unfortunately, it was at this lovely historic home with precisely two bathrooms. One for me. One for the other 399 guests. I'm told that the male members of the wedding party ended up creating a makeshift latrine of the Carriage House out back.

The Precipitous Exit. Given the choice and opportunity, I leave. To date, I've walked out on precisely three movies in my entire history of movie-going. I forget the first. The second was The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover. When my then-coworkers stuck me next to some stranger who'd clearly bathed in an entire gallon of Wind Song (and believe me, there's a reason their slogan is "I can't seem to forget you!"), I decided that my respiratory health was worth the wasted admission price and I left. It was a sold-out house (frontal male nudity and all) - so my friends weren't at fault. Once I got some oxygen, I paged them to let them know where I was.

Last week, I walked out on A.I.

I shouldn't have gone in the first place.

I'd worked about a 16-hour day (starting at around 4 a.m.), putting the issue to bed early to beat the holiday.

I'd met a date for drinks and been too tired to even muster the requisite strength to hoist a glass as far as my mouth. (Now that's tired mercifully, he saw my dilemma and got me a straw. A better date would've hooked up an IV.)

Then a guy I know called and said that he and a buddy planned to hit the 8 o'clock show, and invited me along. Stupidly, I mainlined some caffeine and headed out.

First: they were late, so I had to be the designated seat-saver. I hate that. I grabbed the first three consecutive seats I could find. I was wearing a sheer summer dress and thin cotton sweater (which I couldn't remove, lest anyone think I'd actually BOUGHT the fake rubber nipples of last week's column). Since I had no spare clothing to drape over the extra seats, this meant a near-altercation every time somebody sat next to me, forcing me to tersely inform them, "sorry, these are saved." Twelve minutes of this, and I was getting cranky.

Meanwhile, another pal had paged me to see if I could pick him up at the airport. I was considering leaving, when they showed up, with a spare girl in tow. Meaning we had to find FOUR adjacent seats (NOWHERE near the door), AND we had to move. In the relocation, thanks to the renegotiation of seating on the part of the guy I did know, I ended up stuck next to the guy I didn't. Miserable. And pissed.

I wasn't afraid he was going to shank me, mid-movie, mind you. But I certainly wasn't going to share any popcorn with a stranger, much less any salient Kubrickian insights, especially given that he forgot my name twice in the span of 60 seconds. When he asked how I knew the guy who'd invited me, it was all I could do to refrain from responding, "Orally. How 'bout you?"

I contemplated this arrangement for maybe half a trailer before I got up and walked out. Mr. Sensitive had disappeared in search of food, so I just took off.

(You know you're not having fun when an airport run suddenly seems like a welcome oasis of entertainment.)

When I later polled my wingmen, they were dutifully outraged on my behalf. Since I am not given to spontaneous immolation, they all agreed that they would've been disconcerted - concerned even - by my unexplained three-hour absence.

My longest-running wingman added, "I couldn't have even WATCHED the movie if I suspected something was upsetting you. If I had to, I would've gone to the lobby and called you from the pay phone to see what was up. It's only a movie."

Because an aisle seat is NEVER just an aisle seat. People may have different social styles, but in the end, they value you or they don't. And when they do, they figure out a way to express it. When they don't, they express that too. Whether it's with apathy or actions or both. I get it.

I especially hate a non-apology apology of the "oh-I'm-just-that-way" variety. As if it atones for a multitude of sins. You're just "that way" because you get away with it. (Try it with the IRS. "Oh-you-know-me. I just don't pay taxes." Yeah. Be sure to email me from prison.) Anyone who's lucid and motivated enough to navigate traffic, hold down a job, or even feed oneself is socially aware enough to know when they've upset somebody.

Sorry folks. Talk's cheap. For that matter, so's Prozac. Load up... before you tangle with somebody who's not as nice as I am.