Recently we attended a graduation. Not a cast-of-thousands ceremony with tickets more coveted than invites to Windsor Castle. Nope. Bible College commencement. Still, I was relieved when we arrived early ( say Whaaaaatt?) at the venue—a large church. Plenty of seating. Relief lasted until we saw the long line of cars turning into the parking lot.
“We have to save seats for the rest of the family!” I shouted over my shoulder to my husband, and sprinted for the building. An elderly man saw me coming and tapped along furiously ahead of me but I put on some speed and beat him, along with a little lady in a wheelchair and the pregnant couple with a toddler.
In the lobby, several clueless types stood around chatting, either going on faith that the best seats would wait for them, or because they already had their placeholder on duty.
I’m a self-appointed placeholder. Vivid mental images drive me to it. Ones involving Standing Room Only, anterooms with a fuzzy video feed, or balcony seats so high that George Jetson might buzz by and wave. So if no one else volunteers, I take it on myself to save seats. Sometimes I conscript my husband to help.
Prime seats chosen and the prospective number in our party tallied, my husband and I set to work spreading two humans to cover twelve chairs. We did the One-Bun-on-Two-Seats trick. That was four. My purse saved another spot, my makeup case was commissioned to reserve #6. Our respective programs saved seats Seven and Eight but that left four seats we couldn’t figure out how to reserve. Necessity is the mother of contortion. We leaned forward (uncomfortable in our seat-straddling posture) and draped arms over the seat backs in front of us. It was the perfect position to watch the methods of other placeholders.
Across the aisle from us a young lady tried vainly to make her size 2 sweater cover three chairs. She arranged and rearranged and twisted and finally, in an act of desperate self-sacrifice, yanked on the sleeves and extended their reach by a good seven inches. With brave tears she turned from the ruins of her cardigan and went in search of her people.
Requiring less martyrdom but more coordination is the Stand, Seek and Shoo method. This allows one to mark territory not by physical procurement, but by shooing away any and all approachers. One remains on location, scanning all three entrances. You’ve seen these people. They keep weight balanced on the balls of the feet and regularly sweep a searchlight gaze across the doors to watch for their latecomers. They flap vaguely menacing hands at anyone who casts a sideways glance at the unpeopled seats. When they spot incoming, you’ll see them call, wave, and sometimes whistle at their people, and you know you are watching the elite multi-taskers of placeholders.
The ones that scare me are the Sit and Scowl types. Most of them, I’m pretty sure, were born pre-Baby Boom. They sit smack dab in the middle of a section and glare at passers-by. In times past I’ve had the temerity to point questioningly at the seats surrounding these dour and forbidding folks. And scurry away with a clipped and authoritative “These seats are saved” ringing in my ears.
Our own pragmatic adaptation of various methods doesn’t really have a name. My husband is the more relaxed of us. I try to look serene and at ease, facing the front. I attempt to read the program I have spread open two seats to my left and one row ahead—it is difficult to look at ease when sprawled over multiple seats in two separate rows. I try to avoid anxiously cranking my head over my shoulder looking for the rest of our group because for pity’s sake people are giving us dirty looks. Here I employ the apologetic upward glance, at least 50% insincere because it is mixed with “Maybe if you’d gotten here earlier you, too, could be spilled over all these seats.”
Finally my husband, stretching so his muscles don’t seize up, says, “They’re here.”
We wave casual hands and smile graciously at their thanks and collect up our personal effects. Then we settle down as if this whole placeholder thing were nothing, absolutely no big deal. And inside a smug little portion of our brain is saying “If it wasn’t for me you’d be watching this entire ceremony on a twelve inch screen in the overflow room.”