First I pissed off @musickillskatie (Katie Something from Vanderpump Rules) on The Gram by calling her a “character” on that show, and now I’ve gone and so “infuriated” comedian and author Jennifer Kirkman that she blocked me.
During both of these incidents, the tone perceived by my audience was completely different than what I was feeling when I wrote. Therefore, it must be me. As a writer, I am responsible for my tone coming across correctly to my readers. I look askance on people who argue “you read me wrong; that’s not what I meant.” I frequently tell my rhetoric students that it is their job to be understood through their technique.
Kirkman is a comedian promoting a book. It is a truth universally acknowledged that comedians travel constantly for their jobs. I’ve chuckled through many comedians’ sets about the frustrations of travel. They have mostly been polite chuckles meant to encourage the live performer, because I can’t relate to their airport stories. Every time I’ve been on a plane, it’s been to take an exciting trip somewhere and the airport experience was just part of the adventure. That’s how rarely I fly. I can use “airport” and “adventure” in a sentence together.
Comedians are only a tiny subset of passengers who travel for work. Thousands of people take regular business trips several times a week. A TSA agent is to them what a slowpoke in the fast lane is to me. Hell, I can’t even really complain about traffic, since I have a short work commute. So here is Jennifer Kirkman-comedian, author-early for her flight and extremely satisfied with her position in the line. The TSA agent decided that something she was carrying counted as a “carry on” and therefore exceeded the allowed number of “carry ons.” According to Kirkman’s Instagram story, she was forced to put the object into her computer bag, walk from her place in line to do so, and ultimately lose her place in line. And she was fucking pissed.
She. Was. Period. After. Every. Word. Level. Pissed.
Her Instagram post said it was a “stupid rule.” She exclaimed that the “rule” was SO stupid and she was so mad, that even though she’d been told to put the object in her computer bag and then take it out once she got back on the plane, she took it out while she was walking, in full view of the TSA agent who had inconvenienced her. She described the incident with plenty of sensory detail, so I felt like I was there watching it happen.
Only I found myself seeing it from the point of view of the TSA agent, not the angry, inconvenienced customer. In my job as a teacher, I frequently have to enforce rules that teenagers feel are “stupid.” I frequently enforce rules that other teachers don’t bother to enforce, and since they don’t, I get extra attitude when I do. It also made me think of the time I took my daughter Viva in line with me for Star Tours at Disneyland. When we got to the place where children are measured for the height requirement, Viva was just a tad too short. She was really close to being tall enough, probably a quarter of an inch, but she was not tall enough. The employees said, “She isn’t quite tall enough yet,” and I said, “Okay, let me call her dad over to get her.” One of them cried “Oh, my GOD!” and the other one immediately added, “Thank you for not arguing!” Bemused, I smiled a little and replied that the rule was clearly posted and why would I argue over a rule? Both of them snorted bitterly. “Literally everyone argues with us.”
I guess I’m a little rule follower. Maybe that’s bad. Maybe I’d be in front of a military tribunal answering for my atrocities by saying, “I was just following orders.” The rules I enforce are designed for either safety, efficiency, or both. If people in my job or the Star Tours line monitor’s job or the TSA job start picking and choosing when we enforce the rules, it becomes pointless to have rules.
I didn’t mean to be an asshole to Kirkman, whose books I’ve bought and read. I like her. I believe she has been mistreated online and by male comedians who don’t respect her as an equal. I didn’t feel any malice or even judgment when I fired off my comment. I said what I would say to an angry teenager who was going off to me about another teacher who had pissed them off for enforcing a rule. “Just doing her job. She doesn’t make the rules.” I never expected her to write me back. At first I was excited seeing “@mrs.odie” in my notifications. After all, I am a fan. I only follow people on Instagram because I am their fan. Once, Kelly Oxford wrote “@mrs.odie LOL!!!” in response to my post on her feed, and I fangirled in circles for ten minutes.
But Kirkman didn’t have an “LOL!!!” for me. She had a piece of her mind.
My comment “infuriated” her. She didn’t understand why I made it. A fair point. I should have just said nothing. She went on to say that it wasn’t a rule and that the other TSA agents weren’t doing what this one did. She said some other things, but you get the gist of it. Kirkman clearly felt that she had been singled out for unfair treatment. She felt justified in her demonstration of defiance (taking the object out of the carry on in front of the TSA agent before she was supposed to), and she felt justified in her anger about it on Instagram. In fact, I think she was so righteous in her anger that she didn’t notice she’d referred to the “stupid rule” twice in her post before telling me that it wasn’t even a RULE.
Now that I’ve examined the encounter, it occurs to me that on a subconscious level, I was reacting to Kirkman’s post as if it were a situation that happened to me at work once. Students can’t leave campus through the teachers’ parking lot, but they try anyway. It’s closer to where they park their cars than the pedestrian walkway they are supposed to take. Since most of them are ditching school, it also allows them to bypass the security checkpoints that would send them back to class where they don’t want to be.
It’s dangerous for students to walk through the parking lot. They could be hit by cars. It’s the law that students have to be in school unless they have permission to leave. I have a key to the gate and I had to leave early to go to an appointment. When I got out of my car to unlock the gate, a flock of students appeared, trying to get by.
“You have to go through the attendance office,” I stood patiently, not opening the gate. Two of the five or so kids turned around and headed back to the building. They knew the rule. They tried their luck breaking it. Failed. Quit.
“Come on, my car is right there,” one of them gestured.
“Look, I’m not going to unlock the gate. It’s the rule. It’s for your safety. I can’t let you out this way. Go to the attendance office and check out the right way.”
“Other teachers have let me go out this way before!” she insisted, even as another one of the students said “Let’s go,” and headed toward the building. “No!” the student insisted, “It’s a stupid rule. My car is RIGHT there!” Her friend kept walking away. One friend stayed stubbornly by her side.
I pulled out my cell phone and called the attendance office, “I’ll have a security officer come out here and sort this out, but I cannot let you out through this gate. It’s for your safety.”
“You’re a BITCH!” the girl shrieked at me. She threw her backpack and purse over the fence, then climbed after, landing with a thud on the other side. “Come on!” she said to her friend. The other girl heaved a sigh and climbed, had considerably more trouble, but eventually made it over. Boy, did they show me.
If I had let them go out through the gate, they would have thanked me and been nice to me. If they’d gotten in a car accident or gotten pregnant while they were supposed to be on our campus behind a locked gate, it would have been my fault. I reasonably tried to keep them from breaking our school rule, regardless of what my coworkers do or don’t do, and they did it anyway. I was annoyed, but I did what I was supposed to do, and I felt fine about it. I didn’t say “no” to be a bitch.
And if they don’t like it, they can block me on Instagram.