The Hand of Doom

I hate flying these days.

I’m almost certainly not alone in this dislike of what air travel has become. After all, between widespread flight cancellations and delays, service that would make even cell phone tech support seem attentive and pleasant by comparison, and the necessary but degrading security gauntlet, in which old ladies are treated with the same level of suspicion as someone wearing an Osama bin Laden T shirt, that one has to run before boarding the plane, flying has become downright ugly. The only time it’s tolerable these days is on the rare occasion when I can score first class or business class. I used to rather like going to meetings for the chance to see colleagues and experience cities that I’ve never visited before, but lately it’s gotten to the point where most of the time I’d just rather stay home.

Of course, if I stay home, then the meeting would lose out on hearing about my laboratory’s brilliant work; so I usually go. Besides, I can always use the CME credits.

I just got back from Detroit last night, where I had made a four day trip combining taking care of some business plus visiting family. (That’s the reason, by the way, that I didn’t have time to come up with a new edition of Your Friday Dose of Woo last week.) The trip there introduced me to an annoyance on a flight that I’d never experienced before.

It was the Hand of Doom.

It began when I sat down in my seat. Although I had ordered an aisle seat, which is my usual preference, and even though the computer booking had me listed as having an aisle seat, when I checked in I was given a window seat. Unfortunately, I didn’t really pay attention or notice this until after I had left the check-in counter. It wasn’t worth the bother to go to try to change it; so, given that the flight was only around 90 minutes, I decided just to deal with it. I pushed my way through the two seats over to be scrunched like a duffel bag in the corner, crammed my computer bag under the seat in front of me, and leaned over to extract my iPod from its resting place alongside my computer.

That’s when I was smacked in the head by the seat in front of me.

Yes, the person in the seat in front of me had leaned his seat back all the way rapidly, invading my already limited space like Hitler’s Panzers crossing the Polish border–with similar results. Fool that I was, I had my seat back all the way forward in anticipation of takeoff. I figured this impingement into my space, where I was trapped an unable to do anything as long as I couldn’t lean my seat back, would only be temporary. I couldn’t have been more hopelessly wrong.

As the stewardess walked down the aisle, I figured the situation would be remedied promptly. Usually, the flight crew tends to do the last round of preflight preparation in the same way that Nurse Ratched inspected patient bed or Gunnery Sergeant Hartman inspected recruits. I couldn’t imagine that the miscreant wouldn’t be made to change his ways with a sharp rap on the back of his seat. My misery would be ended, for at least a little while, until we were in the air and I could at least retreat a bit from this unwanted intrusion by leaning my seat back.

Wrong again.

By the time I realized that no request for my front neighbor to put his seat back up, it was too late for me to try to get her attention. She was gone. I was trapped.

And then the Hand appeared.

Not content with invading what little space that I had with his chair, my newfound neighbor decided to acquaint me with some of his anatomy. Stretching out completely, he flung his hand behind him and over the back of his seat–mere inches from my face. I became intimately acquainted with that hand throughout the flight. Even once I was able to lean my seat back somewhat, it was ever-present, sometimes inches from my face, sometimes even closer, for the entire flight.

It was dark, medium-sized, and hairy. The nails were somewhat dirty, and he was wearing two rings, a gold one on the index finger and a silver one on the middle finger. He seemed to like to open and close the hand while sleeping, as though grasping at something invisible but something he didn’t want to let go of. Periodically, he would move his hand in a twirling motion, in a mannerism that reminded me quite a bit of Thing on The Addams Family or The Bangles doing Walk Like an Egyptian. Given his color, I wondered if he was an Egyptian. All I had to go on was the appearance of his hand, and I started speculating about what kind of man he was. Obviously inconsiderate, but what else?

The hand continued to hover, mocking me silently in the sky, occasionally dipping down low enough to get in the way of my seeing my computer screen, which didn’t matter anyway because his seat was leaned so far back that I was having profound difficulties using it anyway.

I started to fantasize about about revenge, about little tricks that I could pull to get even for this intrusion. It is fortunate indeed for this guy that that the rules sharply limit the amount of liquids or gels that can now be brought aboard an aircraft, which led me to check my suitcase, lest I have my too large bottle of Lectric Shave confiscated again. (I had learned my lesson.) Otherwise, the hand might have found itself holding an open toothpaste tube or mysteriously covered with hair gel. As it was, I tried to get to my bag to dig out my camera to document this apparition for all time. Again, thanks to the intruding seat back, I was unable to reach it, so tantalizingly close under the seat in front of me, yet so far that it might as well have been 35,000 feet below on the ground.

Mild physical attempts to teach some manners were utterly without success as well. When blowing didn’t get his attention, gentle taps would cause the hand to retreat momentarily, but it would always return within a minute or two. The Hand would not be denied.

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And so the flight continued. I was incredibly grateful that the flight was less than an hour and a half, although it seemed much, much longer staring at the Hand. Had this been a transcontinental flight, violence might have come within the realm of possibility. After we landed, I very much wanted to see what the owner of the Hand looked like. Unfortunately, the strap to my computer bag had somehow become caught on something under the seat where it had resided during the flight. I struggled to figure out what it was caught on and to get it untangled. By the time I succeeded, the hand was gone. Near the front of the plane, I saw the back of what I thought to be the Hand’s owner, obscured by other passengers. Other than what I had gleaned before staring at the hand, all I could say was that he was short and had black hair. I momentarily thought about running to try to catch up with him, but then decided it wasn’t worth the effort.

I left the plane, debating whether I had been a victim of the Hand of Doom or the Hand of Fear.

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