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I'm afraid of flying. I didn't use to be, not until I took a flight from Athens to Santorini a few years back. That harrowing trip was replete with shuddering plunges caused by howling 50 mph winds, screaming women and children, and the pervasive odor of vomited ouzo. I believe my fingernail marks are still in the plastic arms of my seat on that 737. Ever since then, when a plane I am on hits the turbulence, I clench my teeth, tighten my seat belt until I can't feel my legs, and imagine I'm at a vacation beach resort in St. Croix with 100 medical breakthrough Catherine Zeta-Jones clones who are constantly having wardrobe malfunctions.

Over the weekend I flew from Billings MT to Denver CO. I'm 6'6" tall, or, as I like to call it, "too fucking tall," so when my wife and I checked in we asked for exit row seats, which usually have more leg room. The moron - excuse me, I mean the employee of the airline which shall remain nameless (United) - informed us that only middle seats were available. We told him we'd stay together in our original seats, so he booked us in the middle seats anyway. Once we discovered that we had been screwed, we tried to get the gate agent to switch us back, and she politely told us that the flight was oversold and thus there were no empty seats. The airlines say they have to sell more tickets than are actually available to make up for cancellations. I think they just do it because they haven't made flying miserable enough and they feel the need to piss off passengers to make up for it.

This airline loads passengers by zone numbers, which break people into groups designed to make loading the plane take as long as possible. Since this is me and my luck we're talking about, my seatmates, both men, were of course already seated by the time I boarded. After moving the safety information cards, Hemispheres magazine, and Baby Ruth candy bar wrapper that my neighbors had so thoughtfully placed on my seat, I levered my frame into the space provided and girded myself for an hour of knee pain and stale air. The row of seats was the "exit row that is not really an exit row." If you've been on a 737 with the window seats removed at the exits, then you know what I mean. Suffice it to say that the seats were not any farther apart than any other row. Not surprisingly, my seatmates immediately claimed full possession of the armrests, leaving me to hold my hands between my knees so my elbows would not touch theirs. After the obligatory safety lecture from the eternally perky flight attendants - a lecture that had nothing to do with my safety and everything to do with lawsuit prevention, which everyone ignored anyway - we thundered down the runway and vaulted into the air like bricks don't. Ten minutes into the flight, the man in front of me craned his neck around to check to see that the tallest man on the airplane was sitting directly behind him, and then promptly laid his seat back into my lap.

There is not much one can do in this situation. When the stewardess asked if I wanted anything to drink, I did not yell, "Get me out of this fucking seat!" I simply smiled and said, "Nothing for me, thanks," while thinking, "Where the hell would I put a drink? I can't even put the tray table down without requiring knee surgery."

It was obvious this whole thing was one big damned conspiracy between the ticket agent, the gate agent, the flight attendants, and the other passengers. And I fell into it like a sorority girl falling for the "I promise I won't come in your mouth" line.

The plane did encounter some heavy turbulence entering the Denver area. Once on the ground again my wife asked me what I did to make it through the bumps. I said, "I imagined ways to beat up my seat mates." I'm afraid of flying. For more reasons than one.