Essay: A Day in the Life of Grace Who Wonders Why Everyone She Meets Calls Her Karen

By Roopa Swaminathan

None of the 12 Manolo black pumps will work for the “Walk in her Shoes” fundraiser for Africa tomorrow. I need to put my best foot forward and buy a… Jimmy Choo, this time? I decide to make my way to the mall.
A bored, slow, tired, listless, and uninterested salesgirl at Bergdorf’s trudges towards me. Spending your whole life fitting someone else with the right shoe can do that. I ask for 6.5 Jimmy Choo Black pumps. She nods and goes to the stock room. 15 minutes later… still waiting.
I decide to be firm and say, “Can I speak to the manager, please?” A big woman huffs, puffs, and fast walks toward me. Apparently, my salesgirl fainted in the stockroom and was being resuscitated. I am horrified.
But life goes on. “Can you get my Choos?” The manager sputters, “Ma’am! We had to call 911 and they just got here!” Confused, I reiterate, “Sure! But my Choos?” The manager rolls her eyes, mutters ‘What an awful Karen!’ and walks away.
I wait another 10 minutes. Nothing. Between saving someone’s life and having a work ethic, the store picks saving a life.
Clearly, not all lives matter.
Who is Karen?
It’s almost half-an-hour past noon. I decide to do a quick detour to the gym. As I get into my Mercedes SUV I run into Jiang Jiyi, a soccer mom from my daughter’s school. I give her a quick bow and chirp, “Konnichiwa!” I love Japan and remember the 1.5 days I spent in Tokyo seven years back. It broadened my worldview, and opened me up to new cultures and new languages. Jiyi is why Americans love the Japanese and call them a ‘model minority.’ Jiyi replies, “Hi Kar.. uhh… Grace, for the millionth-plus-one time, I’m Chinese American. Not Japanese.”
I pump some iron at the gym and box my frustrations away.
After 45 minutes of gymming I take a quick shower and walk out fresh and run into a bright red Harvard Law School alumni sweatshirt. It’s La’Quisha who lives down the street. She comes in for a hug, but I pull back since I’ve just showered. We met when she knocked on my door to campaign for Barack Obama in 2012.
Black Lives Matter.
I’m such a fan of La’Quisha. She is so eloquent and well-spoken and such a credit to her people. We are gutted that we cannot invite her to our neighborhood gatherings because she’ll feel out of place and her kids play on their own because they don’t fit in. But La’Quisha is a trooper; a decade later she continues to live among us. We aren’t friends but we are friendly.
I voted for Mitt Romney.
My hectic morning meant I skipped lunch and need a little sugary pick-me-up. I support smaller mom-and-pop stores, so I drive out to this tiny bakery. After the sucky day today, I deserve to be loved and celebrated.
It’s almost 3pm in the afternoon when I tell the owner-cum-baker-cum-waitress that it’s my birthday.
I wait expectantly. The owner-cum-baker-cum-waitress shakes her head and says, “We don’t do our traditional free birthday cakes anymore. We cannot afford it because we lost more than 90% of our business because of the pandemic!” I’m so confused. “But you still have 10% business, right?” It’s all about the Math.
The owner-cum-baker-cum-waitress turns red and walks away muttering, “These damn Karens!”
Uhh… is she angry? Why? Sure, it isn’t my birthday today. But it could be.
Who is Karen?
I’m just exhausted with all the drama, call it a day and return home.
I pull up to my garage and see my teenagers riding their scooters in the front yard. A woman who looks just like me – with Lululemon black leggings, a white crop top, blue Toms shoes, and big round sunglasses is yelling at my teens and pointing to her phone. I rush to her. She asks, “Is this your home?” I nod. “I’m sorry! I’m not from here but I drive by because your Palo Alto neighborhood is so beautiful. But I saw these brownies messing up your spectacular lawn. Don’t worry! I’m calling 911.”
I stare my teens down who quickly go inside. I explain they’re my children and that their father is Italian, and they tan easily. She winces and says hurriedly, “Ohhhh! They’re so lucky! I’m so pasty. I never tan.” Shamefaced, she starts to apologize but I interject, “Don’t be silly! Thank you for looking out for me and my family! You’re a true American! A real patriot!” We hug it out. I invite her inside for a coffee.
The clock turns 4pm when I introduce myself, “BTW, I’m Grace!” She says, “And I’m Karen.”

Roopa Swaminathan writes essays, opinions, humor, and fiction. Her fiction, satire, and creative non-fiction essays are published on Outlook, The Lark, Kitaab, The Digital Journals, Writer’s Blokke, Eksentrika, Women's Web, and more. She now has a weekly opinion column on Elephant Journal. Her humor is published on Slackjaw, Frazzled, Greener Pastures Magazine, The Haven, and more. She refers to herself in the 3rd person, is fiercely competitive, and f*cking loves and hates amazing writers.


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