Consuming pop culture is one of my favorite introvert activities. In Problematica, I’ll explore the political implications of a specific pop culture piece — a song, a character from a film or book, a TV episode, etc. — that I love, regardless of how good, bad, or mixed its politics may be.

The last job I loved quitting was cashiering at a health food grocery chain. I’d worked on-and-off with this company for eight years (both in Tennessee and North Carolina) and found it a pretty okay place to make a crappy wage. That is until I started working a checkout lane. Cashiers do the dullest, most repetitive work, and worse yet catch all the complaints. At a health food store, the insufferable yoga Karen quotient is off the charts. They’re just some of the worst customers you’ll ever meet. And since I was a head cashier, I often wound up being the “manager” with whom they needed to speak.

On my second-to-last shift I worked until close and had to open the next morning. And since I had to drive thirty minutes to get to this dumb job, I decided to spend that night at my sister’s house just a few blocks from the store. She and I had a couple drinks that evening, which put me in a jolly mood. Though I still had one shift to go, I was fully feeling that “no longer give a fuck” glee. She asked me all about the yoga Karens, because we share a deep affinity for hating terrible customers.

I impersonated this one woman’s deeply serious and self-important tone. “She was like, ‘I was here a few days ago and got the vegan collards from the hot bar… and there was a piece of meat in it! I have been a vegetarian for eighteen years. It’s very dangerous for me to eat meat. Because it’s been EIGHTEEN YEARS. I just wanted y’all to know.’” 

My sister and I groaned simultaneously. I laughed and said, “I know she’s probably full of shit and that didn’t even happen. She could’ve said something then and got her money back. She hangs out in the cafe with her bratty children all day so she had plenty of opportunities. She didn’t want a refund, she just wanted me to know she’s important.”

My sister asked, “What do you say to someone like that?”

I chuckled and said, “You know that part in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure when he accuses Francis of stealing his bike and they fight in the pool? And Francis’s dad breaks up the fight and Pee Wee’s like ‘I’m soooo sorry’ in this phony caring way right before he gives them the trick gum? I just channel that. I’m fake apologetic like Pee Wee in that moment and that gets rid of them.”

That’s when my sister fell out laughing. She knew exactly what I meant because she’s loved Pee Wee’s Big Adventure ever since it was released in 1985. But if you don’t know or recall what I’m talking about, here’s the context: Pee Wee’s amazing red bike gets stolen right after spoiled rich kid Francis Buxton tries to buy it off him. Of course Pee Wee immediately suspects his nemesis, so he sneaks into the Buxton mansion and busts into Francis’s private indoor pool. The two boys scuffle until Francis’s dad intervenes. Of course, Mr. Buxton refuses to believe his “angelic” son could be a thief and demands that Pee Wee retract his accusation. 

Then Pee Wee says in an extremely gentle, contrite tone, “I guess I was wrong. We don’t have to involve the authorities in this matter, do we Mr. Buxton? It was a simple mistake and I’m really sorry.” This appeases Buxton who then demands an apology to his son. Pee Wee then pleasantly offers them some trick gum and departs merrily, moments before black drool comes pouring out of their mouths.

I would love to have played such a prank on that yoga Karen — maybe stick a chunk of faux-chicken in her vegan collards — but that could’ve resulted in me getting fired. Throughout my many years of customer service, I’ve learned that simpering contrition really is the best way to deal with these creeps. Just as Pee Wee knows Francis is lying (he totally stole the bike), I know when I’m dealing with a wealthy, self-centered fibber who’s flexing their power over me. So I just channel Pee Wee’s fake apology to get rid of them as fast as possible. And then I daydream of the workers’ revolution. Trick gum and struggle sessions for all the yoga Karens.

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