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Column: I don’t need my emojis to be cool. The only trend I care about is vaccine chic


I have been informed, first by the young folks living in my home and more recently by (gasp) CNN, that my usage of the laughing/crying emoji is verifiably uncool. And when I tell you that this is absolutely the least of my concerns as a human being on planet Earth 2021, you can rest assured that I am not exaggerating.

For one thing, I never thought emojis were cool in the first place — how can something that, by its very definition, acts as a generic substitute for the glorious cacophony of human emotion be cool? Isn’t cool all about individuality and authenticity? Doesn’t that preclude using a universal set of pictures as shorthand for word combinations, even when those pictures include vegetables as cheeky and rather evocative stand-ins for sexual overtures?

Or am I wrong?

Probably so, because though I find myself breathless with admiration for anyone capable of clinging to a caste system of cultural heat in the midst of a global pandemic, I am not now, nor have I ever been, “cool.”

Cool-adjacent at times, but never the genuine article.

In fact, I am currently a member of a demographic generally considered the black hole of “cool.” I am a white, 50-odd working mother of three. Anything I wear, use, do or express a preference for is immediately rendered, through sheer proximity to myself, irretrievably uncool.

Just ask my kids.

Take my recent acquisition of a bucket hat. Now, I could not believe my eyes when bucket hats, of the exact kind old men during my youth wore while fishing, became cool. Yes, the colors were prettier, the textures more varied, but still — bucket hat. Yet during a short window of time in not too distant memory my 20-year-old daughter owned three. Three bucket hats.

Recently I found a winter version of said hat that was on sale. (One reason I will never be cool is that I refuse to pay full price for anything.) “What do you think?” I asked the above-mentioned daughter. “You should definitely get it,” she said.

Which clearly meant she would never be wearing a bucket hat again in her life because at some point between her buying three and me buying one, the bucket hat had become uncool.

Again.

How it is possible for any article of clothing to cycle through cool/uncool during a time when no one can go anywhere or see anyone is a mystery only Instagram can solve. While I have long denounced the craven capitalism at work in our too-often-consumer-driven definition of cool, I find it surprisingly reassuring to know that even in a state of full-on cultural suspension, the mysterious arbiters of in vs. out remain at work, like tiny and highly judgmental elves.

At this point in my life, I wear my uncoolness with pride. Considering the cycles I have seen pass me by, that stance is hard earned. High-rise, low-rise, mini, maxi, midi, crop, halter, roller skates, skateboards, scooters, snowboards, pixies, bobs, braids — my friends, I have seen them all go from hot to not. Twice. I am old enough to have literally ripped up and spray painted T-shirts in an effort to emulate the then-recently-released “Flashdance”; to have worn enormous rhinestone pins and lacy headbands in homage to a young Madonna; to have owned Jack Purcell Converse when Jack Purcell was still alive. (He was a Canadian badminton champion, kids. In case you ever wondered.)

All of which I somehow managed to do a beat too late or in the wrong color or whatever. (OK, maybe I was cool for like five minutes when, back in the mid-’80s, I strode around New York in those black flats that cost $5, thrifted petticoat-skirts and my grandmother’s beaded sweaters. But at the time, I just felt poor, and my knees now have many choice words to say about those black flats.)

I am totally OK with that too. Coolness either comes naturally or it doesn’t; chasing after it is just exhausting and counterproductive. I’m more than happy to learn that the laughing/crying emoji is uncool because gives me a perfect excuse to stop using emojis altogether. Which I did only because everyone else was using them and I didn’t want my text responses to seem, I don’t know, rude.

I’ll confess, however, that right now there is one cool group I want to be part of, possibly the only cool group I have ever actively wanted to be part of — the crew responsible for all those effusive “Got my shot!” posts.

I am far too consumed with vaccination envy to be concerned with my dated emoji usage.

Don’t get me wrong — I am very happy that people are getting vaccinated. I rejoice at every increase in population percentage, statewide and nationally. And it’s great that people are posting about it. Vaccine reluctance is potent and dangerous; images of people famous and not famous getting dosed can go far in combating it, which is important because the only way to break the pandemic is through universal participation.

Still, it’s this new group of “cool kids,” many of them over 65 — the boomers strike again! — who have me avoiding my social feeds. With great effort, I have overcome my petulant reaction to all those people who appear to be having a very cool pandemic — the perfect sourdough! the idyllic WFH retreats! the adorable pandemic pets! — only to find myself undone by my desire for the one status I deeply want to claim: “vaccinated.” And I have no idea when that will be possible.

For the record, I would never think of jumping the line in any way, which would be totally uncool; I have lived my life with a firm “no-cuts” policy (except at the 5 North to the 134 West interchange because frankly there is not enough time in the world) and it has turned out OK so far.

I have no underlying health conditions and I can do my job from home, which means I haven’t even been assigned a tier yet. My agitation over this circumstance is, I realize, the very definition of selfishness, which just makes me feel worse (although clearly not alone, as the increasing “so, um, what category are you?” responses to “got the shot” post might indicate). We’re a year into an unprecedented global tragedy and I’m mad because my good fortune puts me in the “we’ll get to you when we can” category.

Insert many uncool laughing/crying emojis here.

My sole form of comfort is that bucket hat. Or rather what it stands for. See, there’s a reason I am not cool (well, there are many reasons but for purposes of this column, and my own withered self-esteem, I am going to focus on this one): I am too busy and distracted to be cool. “Cool” is fleeting, ephemeral; by the time I get around to noticing anything people are into — bucket hats, emojis, sugar-free vanilla lattes — it’s already been in heavy rotation. Instead of “cool,” I’m “basic.”

But I’m cool with basic. And I will do my basic best to surrender to the notion that by the time I’m eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine, everyone will have one.

Because that will be the coolest thing ever.




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