Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Row 14

Ticket in hand, I walked down the narrow aisle of the commuter jet.  Seat 14A, that's what I was looking for.  I spied row 12, moved two rows beyond, and sat down in the best of both worlds; a combination aisle and window seat.  Oh yeah, the armrests were all mine.  :-)

I started the settling-in ritual.  Adjust the backpack at my feet.  Grab the book.  Tighten the safety belt of my seat.  Look up to see a guy staring quizzically at me.

Wait.  That last part is not routine.  As I'm piecing this information together, the guy says to me "I think you're in my seat."

I furl my brow in confusion, and reply "No, I think I am where I am supposed to be.  I have seat 14A..."  And as I am looking up at him, a quick glance to the side catches the row number.  It's 15.  For a moment, I am thoroughly confused.  I could have sworn that I sat down two rows beyond from where I saw row 12.

"Oh, I'm sorry.  Somehow I managed to miss my row," I tell him.  Quickly I gather my things, and we proceed to do that nameless dance you have to do when moving around someone else on an airplane.

He sits down.  I move up.  OK, row 15.. and there's row 14 where I am... next to row 12.  Row 12.  Row 12?

I sat down in row "14" with a confident reassurance that I can still accurately add two to twelve, but I couldn't help but be amused.  There is no row labeled 13.  Triskaidekaphobia strikes again.

This irrational phobia is still made manifest more often then you think.  New hotels, airplanes, sports stadiums, etc. all avoid the number 13.  In hotels, it's usually just the thirteenth floor which is "skipped," but I've also stayed in some hotels where the thirteenth room on every floor was omitted from being labeled as such.

Of course, the label does not change a thing.  A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, and a thirteenth row in an airplane still exists, even if it is labeled as the fourteenth row.  The fear gets even more irrational when you consider that where we start numbering is essentially an arbitrary convention.  There is no reason why you could not start numbering the rows from back to front in an airplane, or numbering the floors from top to bottom in a hotel (although it is more intuitive with our conventions).

So how does this relate to religion?  One theory is that triskaidekaphobia originated due to Judas being the thirteenth guest to sit at the table for the Last Supper, from where Judas would go on to betray Jesus, but the origin not really important.

The point is that triskaidekaphobia exists, in our modern world, without any kind of rational reason to have this fear.  Yet people with triskaidekaphobia are frightened to the point of feeling that their lives are in mortal danger from an arbitrarily assigned label.  It is a visceral feeling which shakes them to the very core.  And it's all... in... their... head.

Sometimes things which feel so real to us are nothing more than the lies we are willing to believe.


  1. Don't you hate it when you're absolutely, without a doubt, no question about it, totally *sure* you're right, but then discover that you were wrong? Ha--funny story there! In some countries they believe that throwing a chicken into an active volcano will prevent it from erupting. In the U.S. we believe that terrible things will happen if we sit in row 13. Which one is the so-called "primitive" culture?!? Triskaidekaphobia makes me laugh.

    In the spirit of complaining about air travel. . . I just returned from a flight, too, and although I was (unlike you) able to identify my seat assignment correctly, I had the misfortune of sitting next to two young lesbian women who were so in love that they felt compelled to show it in the form of gratuitous public displays of affection for the entire duration of the flight. Granted, a heterosexual couple doing the same things would have been even worse, but man, that was really annoying and rude.

  2. That type of mistake happens more often than I care to admit. :-O And I'm sure I am still racking them up. The key is to be able to laugh at yourself, and, perhaps more importantly, extend some grace to others when it happens to them. :-)

    If you follow the link to Wikipedia, you'll see references to some other cultures who fear different numbers, like 4. At least one of the cell phone manufacturers makes a special cell phone for them so that no row of numbers starts with 4.

    I heard they also tested a model without a 4 altogether, but you can't get any information on it. (Bad joke, I know.)

    I'm not sure which is worse: too much PDA or guys who have the audacity to surf porn in public. Thankfully they are few and far between.