Kurt Vonnegut’s concept of the false karass from his masterpiece Cat’s Cradle (1963), has assisted me to understand how things work, and don’t in social events.
Vonnegut’s definition of the false karass, (or granfalloon) is a group of people who imagine they have a connection that does not really exist. (A karass is a group of people linked in a cosmically significant manner, even when superficial links are not evident.)
That Vonnegut, however cynically admits to a divine purpose in his book is remarkable in itself.
How this concept has played out in my life may best be illustrated by two small examples.
When visiting friends in Buenos Aires, Argentina an evening ‘out at the clubs’ was planned. My hosts determined that I should borrow some clothes so as not to look “too American” and thus avoid becoming a target of the pickpockets known to frequent train stations and other gathering places.
Suitably disguised (in a shirt and blue jeans), we set off for the evening. While standing on the platform awaiting a train, I assumed what I thought of as an ‘Argentinian stance’ to better blend with the crowd.
Out of nowhere, a ‘man on the street’ news reporter and camera crew approached me and abruptly thrust a microphone in my face. She urgently asked my opinion on who knows what? I was busted. All I could do was stammer that I didn’t speak Spanish in broken Spanish.
Our best efforts ended up signaling every pickpocket within fifty yards that an illiterate foreigner was primed for fleecing. However, we drew so much attention that anyone with malevolent plans steered clear of our party.
Shortly after moving to Los Angeles I was invited to a costume birthday party to be held for the American drummer of what was then a prominent English rock ‘n’ roll group. Jane, my date was high school friends with the drummer’s wife. It sounded like it might be fun. Jane always insisted that one of their hits was about her.
I was told the planned theme of the party was for everyone to dress as the ‘minister of a church’. There didn’t seem to be much to that requirement. Having lived in the South, I thought I could do a funny version of a huckster – Southern preacher/snake oil salesman. I found a loud, plaid, polyester jacket to go with a straw hat, string tie, spats and some other details.
When we arrived at the party, I was chagrined to see everyone dressed in long black robes as ministers of the Church of England. One was dressed in drag as a nun. The theme was in the vein of what Monty Python might do. It made perfect sense that an English band would play with that theme. I didn’t get the memo.
Of course, everyone ignored me. They didn’t know me and it was a party for a member of a close knit group. I had no standing. A non-entity, I felt as appropriate as a beach toy at a baptism.
Then came the big surprise. Jane’s ex-husband arrived carrying a cheap prop cross and dressed to look like Jesus Christ.
He didn’t dress according to the rules either, but being long-time friends with the group, he got a pass. It annoyed me since I was technically dressed as a minister – perhaps in the uniform of another team, but hey…
I always maintained a standard that if dressed in costume one should try to be ‘in character’. When the ex and I were introduced I mustered up my best Foghorn Leghorn, southern drawl and delivered a line that bordered on ironic genius.
“Ah’ve heard a lot about you but I don’t believe we’ve met.” If he was in character, his graceless portrayal was too subtle for me. I offered my hand to shake but his cross was apparently too cumbersome for him to reciprocate.
And not one seemed to notice the brilliance of my delivery.
The rest of the party has faded from memory. Like many parties, the most interesting moment is when you realize you have no reason to be there.
Nowadays I side-step any false karass that looms on the horizon. I have a strong sense of those with whom I am cosmically linked. The evidence is irrefutable.