“I don’t know what your parents did to you.”
August 20, 2011

(another Seinfeld-in-culture note to readers before you read on to more Seinfeld-isms below)

Elaine delivered the above line into George’s neurotic implosion over a date gone wrong (“She wants me to like her, if she likes me. But she doesn’t like me!”).

Parents magazine delivered a Seinfeld line in a sidebar story in their August issue (p. 116) for 2010. (This isn’t the first time Parents has done this. More on that later.) The line–“Serenity now!”–is arguably one of the most memorable…and most translatable-into-real-life…to ever come out of the show. And you don’t have to be a parent to appreciate it.

What parents in particular can appreciate is the way the line came to fuller human life with two words that George’s nemesis, Lloyd Braun, tacked onto it later in the same episode:

“Serenity now. Insanity later.”

Easy to see why that one probably won’t appear in Parents magazine–never mind that it’s even more revelatory about life. You do the hard day punctuated by Serenity now!‘s to fight off the insanity, then collapse onto the couch after the kids are in bed. You’re still trying to erase the blasted look on your face that says Insanity now–like some war-like movie about the horribleness of human nature directed by Francis Ford Coppola is about to go down in your house. What do you do?

You try not to think about what your parents did to you, for one thing–that’s what you do. And if that doesn’t work, you pop in any Seinfeld involving the Costanzas (e.g., “The Serenity Now”) and think, “Well at least I don’t have it that bad.”

“Chinese food!”
July 29, 2011

A diversionary shout-out to use when it appears to someone that you’re digging yourself into a hole, but rather than come clean and get out of it–you’re acting like you meant to dig that hole (and you’re not stopping until you get to China).

When Jerry got into a phone call that he suddenly wanted out of, a bystanding, quick-thinking George rapped on the counter like a knock at the door and chirped, in a gravelly falsetto, “Chinese food!” George’s parents later used the same diversion on him–much to his derision, when he found out that they basically wanted out of talking so much to him.

Quick, we need a distraction! It’s the stuff of TV and movies because it’s the stuff of life–trying to do something spontaneous (or unusual…or wild…) without others questioning you (or judging you…or laughing at you…) for it. It’s not that you don’t want them to know; you just don’t want them to know right away. If you can find a way to distract them, you’re out the door, you’re free. You just need a start.

You need look no further than Costanza. Chinese takeout is the perfect distraction because, universally loved as it is, it’s also a suggestion. People are moved by their stomachs, so you’re using it–as the Costanzas used it–to move someone on. “Nothing to see here, just…something to eat here.” Now they’re thinking of something to eat there. Hmm, that sounds good.

Make mei fun their fun, and you’re on to your fun.

From “The Junk Mail”
Episode 5, Season 9
Seinfeld Volume 8, Disc 1
Timecode for the scenes: 00:03 (George’s “fakeout” order), 02:27 (Frank and Estelle’s)

“You ask me to get a pair of underwear, I’m back in two seconds.”
February 8, 2011

A snappy observation to use when someone you know is asked to do something, and they could be moving a little quicker. They could use a little motivation. So you decide to give them some.

Setting up his son George with a job interview with a bra salesman, Frank Costanza told him that he should know something about bras–then admonished his wife Estelle to go get one of hers to illustrate. George objected to the discussion, but Frank pressed the point. And when Estelle took too long, he pointed that out too…in his own fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants kind of way.

Our motivations come mostly by example: we pick up things from parents, friends, teachers, etc., and imitate (or amend) them. Then we reach a certain age and stop thinking of how such examples apply to us–and start talking to others, exclusively, about examples that apply to them. Because they sure could use the help.

Thanks to Frank you now have a fresh example for helping those slow-goers you come across: toss some tighty whiteys at them. This will confuse them, initially, as to where you’re going, but they’ll come around: no, you’re not going “commando” on them; you’re commanding their attention by giving an illustration to make a point.

Just be sure you have a point, or their reply is likely to be the equivalent of a “wedgie”–suddenly and unexpectedly yanking you into a laughable-yet-uncomfortable position.

From “The Sniffing Accountant”
Episode 4, Season 5
Seinfeld Volume 4, Disc 1
Timecode for the scene: 3:40

“Serenity now!”
September 8, 2010

An insane shout-out for those You vs. the World moments, because you’re trying to get it together—and you’d like the World to get it together too.

George’s mom, Estelle, had just ignored Frank’s advice in the car, which led to Frank’s outburst for peace and quiet. Frank’s doctor had given him a relaxation tape that exhorted the use of this line in stressful times. “Are you supposed to yell it?” George asked. “The man on the tape,” Frank answered, “wasn’t specific.”

TV Guide magazines shelved in the right order, a son who knows what the standard bra sizes are—these were just a few of the specifics that kept the stars aligned in the world of Frank Costanza. So when he started randomly yelling this line, we knew…something was missing. We don’t know what exactly. The reason Frank’s doctor gave him the relaxation tape is no clearer than why the man on the tape wasn’t specific.

Even if something is missing with you too, Frank’s “tape” is now yours to use anytime, anywhere. Any explanation to others for your outburst—that can be missing too. Because if you’re mad enough at the World to open your mouth like this, you’re sufficiently mad to keep it closed too…and no one will think anything of it.

Indeed, as George and company showed, everyone else will probably get in on it too.

From “The Serenity Now”
Episode 3, Season 9
Seinfeld Volume 8, Disc 1
Timecodes for the scenes: 00:15 (that’s the main scene, described above), 00:40, 2:58, 8:15, 17:29-30, 22:08 (all of those were from Frank!), 8:45, 22:20 (George), 14:38, 14:50-51, 14:58, 15:06, 17:55-56, 18:07-08, 18:15-20, 18:28-40 (Kramer), 17:31, 17:48 (Lloyd Braun)

“…there’s not enough voltage in this world to electroshock me back into coherence!”
September 6, 2010

A rare confession for those times when circumstances leave you speechless–and you’d like the same to happen to anyone who asks you about it.

George’s parents, Frank and Estelle, had argued themselves into a seemingly irreconcilable difference of opinion and separated. Discussing her newfound singlehood with George over coffee, Estelle talked of getting an eye job because she was now “out there.” She was out there alright, came George’s reply in so many words: out of her mind. And if she didn’t get back into it, well…

None of us lives in some emotionally-impervious bubble, keeping to ourselves within it and others outside of it. If we fashion a “bubble” of time and space, the unexpected soon occurs and emotions strike—lighting us up like one of those see-through orbs with the lightning-y bolts. The effect is no mere salty discharge from the eyes, but a stunned state of mind from electrical charges in the heart. You can’t talk about it, except maybe to zap a line like this—introducing it either conditionally (“If I lose my job…”) or declaratively (“And now that I’ve lost my job…”).

An “Oh, let me guess…” right into someone else’s delicate situation works as well. The stark image of this line—and your determination to stick it to them—should be enough to pop their bubble.

From “The Fusilli Jerry”
Episode 21, Season 6
Seinfeld Volume 5, Disc 4
Timecode for the scene: 1:47

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