It was during my college years that I first became aware that “Carl” (or “Karl”) meant “loser.”
If you’re old enough to remember the “Mad Libs” games, then you’ll remember that Price/Sloane published a number of fun books. I obtained one of those little paperbacks while living in Kentucky and attending Union College. Although I can’t remember the exact name of the book (it may have been simply, “The Name Book”), it had to do with names and their meaning, except that the “meanings” were humorous. When we looked up “Carl,” the book said simply, “Carl sweats a lot.”
Naturally, being one of the many Carls/Karls in the world, I’m quite sensitive to this or any negative perception of my name. Apparently, the world looks down on Carl/Karl as someone who is either a dork or someone who will eventually come out on the bottom of the heap. I’m thinking of an episode of “NCIS: Los Angeles” where Carl was working inside the organization as a valuable addition because of his technological skills. As the story progresses, it’s revealed that he’s actually a mole, trying to undermine the organization. He’s brought to the interrogation room where he remains cocky and confident, knowing that he’s got everybody else by their throats, until someone presents him with some information of which he was unaware and which indicts him. He’s carted off like a frightened schoolboy, his last words as he’s leaving the room being, “Where are they taking me? Where are they taking me?” Carl, the loser.
Then there’s the commercial where two men are preparing a field for a baseball game. I think it’s a baseball game. What do I know – I’m the world’s worst sports fan. Anyway, the point is that the one man is supposed to be laying out the white lines on the field, but he’s become so distracted that the lines are wavy and run wildly all over the ground. “Think anybody will notice?” he asks his partner when he comes back to reality. “Yes, Carl, I think they will.” Once again, Carl, the loser.
Or how about the new Caesar’s sports betting ad, where “Caesar” addresses a huge crowd of excited subjects, and a man in the crowd gets Caesar’s attention to ask a question. The man in the crowd wants to be sure that he can get the Caesar’s benefits only by playing the Caesar’s game and nowhere else (a truly stupid question). Caesar knows this guy, because he addresses him by name: “Yes, Carl, you can only get Caesar’s benefits by playing the Caesar’s game,” making the man in the crowd look like a fool. But why wouldn’t he be? He’s Carl, for crying out loud.
Think about it. When was the last time somebody named Carl was put in a positive light? Oh, sure, there’s Carl Sagan. And Carl Sandburg. But even influential leaders named Carl/Karl come with baggage (I’m thinking of Karl Marx). We Carls have a lot to deal with when it comes to our image.
I’m not doing such a great job myself of elevating the name to a more admirable level. I’ve had the uncanny ability most of my life to use my “Midas Touch,” only in this instance, I don’t turn things into gold – everything I touch turns into a muffler. I can almost always count on things falling apart or angering people if I take something on independently or try to initiate something without consulting someone first. Unless I check out details with someone else, my ideas will invariably result in complicating situations, stalling progress, or completely bringing things to a grinding halt. That’s why I don’t offer suggestions anymore. I wait to be told what to do, and then try my best to follow instructions exactly.
And isn’t that just what a loser does?
[Last-minute addition: Before I even got to post this, another example of my Midas Touch skills has happened: Karlyn called to ask me to bring one of her meds to work. I quickly got dressed and headed out with the medication. On my way there she texted that she needed to eat something in order to take the meds – would I please bring two of the small bags of Goldfish Crackers from home? So, since I didn’t want to have to waste time going back home, I swung around to the Redner’s store and got a bag of Goldfish Crackers. When I got to her work, she criticized me for not waiting outside of the building as she had specifically asked in her text (she didn’t want to make a scene by taking her meds where someone else could see her), so we stepped outside. When she saw the bag of crackers, she said, “What’s THAT?” I explained that I was already on my way there when she texted for the crackers, and so I went to the store to get them for her. Would you believe it – they were the wrong kind! “That kind makes me sick,” she said. She started crying and made an effort to understand that I was trying to do the best I could under the circumstances, but, what else could I do? If I had gone home to get the exact kind of Goldfish Crackers she wanted, she would have had to wait longer to get her medication. Has there ever been such a Karl? Such a loser? Is there nothing I can do right anymore?]