Wednesday, July 15, 2020

The Perks Of Being Called A Karen

"Like a cool summer rain, humor may suddenly cleanse and cool
 the earth, the air, and you." -Langston Hughes

"Everything is funny, as long as it's happening to somebody else." -Will Rogers
This small scene near my kitchen sink also cleanses and cools me like a summer rain. 

I heard them before I saw them.

Gracie and I were heading out from the back side of the high school, coming around a corner into one of the main gathering areas of the campus. As usual, she pranced along far ahead of me, taking full advantage of her fifty-foot leash as I strolled leisurely behind her. 

Sure enough, there on the broad sidewalk and loading zone sprawled a group of maybe a dozen students - unmasked and close together - standing in an awkward circle. Clearly uncomfortable in the social magnitude of the moment, the girls bunched together on one side of the circle, giggly and nervous, while boys strutted their emerging cleverness by talking over the top of one another. 

I'd bet my bottom dollar that they were incoming freshmen. 

I slid my face mask into place and motioned my dog to join me on the far side of the drive as we neatly skirted around the throng. 

As I expected, our sudden appearance sent off an entirely predictable thread of adolescent jokesterish commentary among the male banterers:

"Whoa, that leash is so long!"
"I thought that dog was just walking along by itself."
"But it's a dog with a really long leash." 

Behind my mask, I smiled to myself. My dog garners a lot of attention, even from preening teenagers. 

Then I heard one last quip delivered with a full measure of sass and defiance:

"And a Karen with a missing mouth." 

Wait. WHAT. Did some bratty little punk just call me a Karen?!
And in the same sentence, mock me for wearing a mask?

Uhh. OK Z-er.

Lol I must admit my temper tried to get the best of me. Behind my mask, I instantly imagined myself walking over and lecturing this kid on just how much of a Karen I am NOT, and delivering a crushing blow to his fledgling ego that this sort of indiscriminate judgment and hate is exactly what Americans everywhere are rising up to protest and change. Bad enough that we have a president who talks trash and makes fun of decent people - we don't need and won't accept these qualities in punky little teenage boys.

I wanted to turn to the girls and say, "Do not date this boy, any of you. He's a jerk."

And I fantasized about pulling Dr. Fauci out of my back pocket and setting him to deliver a firm but fair lecture to these kids about the vital importance of keeping distant and, yes, WEARING A MASK in order to get our raging epidemic under control. 

But of course, I did none of those things. I simply walked on, giving my fight or flight reflexes a hot minute to cool down. Behind my mask, I puzzled over that last offensive comment, my flash of white hot anger, and wondered what had actually happened. 

The kid was struggling to live up to a challenging social situation.
He was attempting to use humor to shore up his status in the group.
As I walked by, he tried to use the new stimuli to his advantage.
He relied on two trending tropes - white women over age 40 are Karens and masks are for squares - to try to create humor.

And after Googling around a bit and watching this TED talk called What Makes Things Funny? I learned that effective humor relies on a combination of benign violation, and that this kid's handle on creating that delicate balance needs some work. 

Growing up takes time. 

Ahh. I feel much better now. 

And interestingly, I'm quite thankful for this momentary irritation. Though this youngster was willing to put me down for a laugh from his friends, he actually brought to me a valuable and much-needed reminder. Especially during this time when our emotions are stretched so thin, genuine humor - like a cleansing, cooling rain - is a gift that we all need. 

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