The Karen Vignette

September 8, 2011

The return of cooler weather has stirred my appreciation of whimsy and reawakened my hope. Not abstract political hope, like “maybe things will change,” but real, true hope that comes from a hint of proof that important things are beginning to happen.

By important things, I mean, No, my brain did not bake completely in the heat wave. As the siege of heat ends, I again have room in my mind for more thoughts than just seeking shade. Yes, I can still catch the quirky moments. Maybe, just maybe, Pedro Almodóvar is directing scenes in my life again.

Standing in the slow-moving line this morning at Einstein Brothers’ Bagels, I was trying to practice ideas I’m reading in Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting out of the Box. “That droopy faced, hunched over young woman in line is a person, not just an object in my way. Maybe she’s not spreading her miserable mood and seeking pity. Maybe she just feels bad today.” People, not objects. People, not objects.

Then, finally, it was time for the two objects – I mean people – in front of me to give their orders. They were a man and woman, probably a couple based on both their mutual disinterest and their familiarity with one another.

The order taker asked, “Name?” and the gentleman replied. I didn’t hear, and neither did the order taker. He looked directly at the man and hummed, “Hmm?”

“Karen,” the man responded. The look of surprise disappeared nearly immediately from the order taker’s face as he bent down to write the name on the order. The man smiled a little, pointed at his female companion, and then slowly reached out to touch her lightly on the shoulder, in a playful way, as if to say, “Today, we will be you, not me.”

Or maybe he was just gesturing to show the order taker that he was not, in fact, named Karen, but his companion was.

Several minutes later, the orders were slowly being filled by the people – not objects – behind the counter, people with perfectly good reasons for going slowly, I kept reminding myself, thinking about the self-deception book. Eventually Karen and company got their bagel sandwiches. The guy delivering them to their table asked if they had gotten their mocha cappuccino yet, and they hadn’t. He went behind the counter to make it and Karen headed across the room to get forks and napkins.

The mocha maker called out, pretty loudly, “Hey, Karen! Do you want whipped cream on your mocha?” Karen turned, looked at him, and then spun towards her companion, sitting at the table across the room, and swept her hand towards him, as if introducing him on stage. As if to say, “You wanted to be Karen today, so now you get to be Karen!”

He looked back at the mocha maker and replied, “Yes,” strongly and clearly.

I had to hold the chuckle back and only smile a little, because they were complete strangers in a public setting. Even though it was staged with three people at distant points in the restaurant, even though it resembled theater in the round, it was not meant for my amusement. At least not by the actors. I think the scriptwriter was enjoying giving the spectators a good time at their expense.

I have no idea if this scene translates well in writing. I have no idea if other people would enjoy the humor of it if they witnessed it as I did. Maybe I’m just a story nerd, enthralled by things others find mundane. But I want to capture it and share it, because in doing so I capture the whimsy that gave me hope by telling me the siege of summer is over, life is not just a heat endurance test, and there is time to relax and enjoy now that fall is on the way.

Have a great day, Karen!

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