“Oh…let him kill me. I won’t have to do any more sit-ups.”
September 3, 2011

(a note to readers before you read on to more Seinfeld-isms below)

It was cut from the episode, the above Costanza line, before “The Busboy” aired. (Turn on the “Notes About Nothing” function while watching any Seinfeld episode on DVD to get such priceless trivia.) George inadvertently played a hand in the kneejerk firing of a waiter at a restaurant where he and Jerry were dining. When Kramer later announced in Jerry’s apartment that the waiter had found the building and was headed up, George reacted like a man who knows a recently released convict is headed for him. This is part of what came out of his mouth.

This sort of thing didn’t come out of my mouth but it did run through my mind in recent days–let it kill me–as we feared a little for our lives in the path of Hurricane Irene. We got out of the way completely, fleeing town for higher ground, so all was well…even though, initially, it didn’t end quite as well. Returning home to find the power out for days to come, we had to seek more “other ground” (i.e., stay with family elsewhere) again.

To cut to the chase, as George might say: I’m back, baby! (as George’s father did in fact once say).

One more Seinfeld-in-culture moment, then, that I’d planned for last month: it was three years ago in August that Microsoft told the world they’d tapped the man himself, Jerry Seinfeld, to be the face of a $300 million campaign to reboot the Windows brand. The result, you may recall, was some commercials featuring Jerry and the Microsoft Man himself, Bill Gates.

The reaction of the public (or rather, the lack thereof), you may also recall, led to the canning of those commercials not long after they began airing.

We don’t need to view the “notes about nothing” on this little episode to know that Jerry didn’t get fired. One only needs to catch a show of Jerry’s tour (where he continues to play to packed houses)…

or check your local TV listings for how often Seinfeld reruns are on…

or look at how many people have friended the Seinfeld page on Facebook…

(or keep up with this guide-to-life blog…)

to understand why Microsoft hired him in the first place.

Seinfeld is a brand that needs no reboot.

“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.”

“I’m gonna read a book. From beginning to end. In that order.”
July 31, 2011

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

It was one of George’s aims, the above comment, in the “summer of George.” We’re not exactly sure where George stood when it came to books. In one episode, he was collecting them like an avid reader. In another, he was foregoing a book to watch the flick based on it, like an avid moviegoer. If George was anything like his father–an avid TV Guide collector–he was an avid TV-watcher.

TV and books (and movies based on books) had to do with one more thing Entertainment Weekly had to say in July 2008 about Seinfeld’s place among the “new classics” of the past 25 years. (We recently touched on their ranking of the show and of the man himself.) That landmark 1,000th issue ended with another reader’s poll: favorite cultural moments of the last quarter of a century.

Seinfeld‘s finale episode in 1998 was the “moment” that landed the greatest sitcom ever in this poll–and it didn’t make it past the first cut in the NCAA tourney-like, single-elimination poll. The rival that won? The finale book of the Harry Potter series in 2007.

So Jerry lost to Harry. Whoop-dee-do, we say. This is, after all, a poll that ended up crowning as the #1 “moment” the release of the iPod. Techies versus “bookies” versus the TV savvy (and more)?

Hi-lar-ious, as Newman might have said, as polls go. But fun nonetheless.

“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

“It’s a Festivus miracle!”
December 23, 2010

A yuletide observation for making something down-to-earth sound out-of-this-world. Not because it’s actually miraculous (it might even be ridiculous) but because ’tis the season.

On hearing that George’s father, Frank, had invented a holiday alternative for those on the outs with Christmas–a “Festivus for the rest of us”–Kramer was in. When an unlikely host of characters gathered at the Costanzas for the Festiv-ity (the metal pole, the feats of strength, etc.), Frank was, to Kramer, the star who’d led them there. And Kramer rejoiced.

A festive us–to drown out the rest of us–this is what we look forward to each December, like snow blanketing the daily grime. Our festivities come from these little activities (e.g., trading gifts) we don’t do at any other time of year.

It’s astonishing that this whole gig still works year after year, given the humanity–oh, the humanity–of it all. Laughing at your uncle’s jokes, finally speaking to that cousin, and so on…and doing so without clinical psychological help when it’s all done…now that’s a miracle.

Announce such “miracles” with holly jolly crispness by singing Kramer’s joy to the world.

From “The Strike”
Episode 10, Season 9
Seinfeld Volume 8, Disc 2
Timecode for the scene: 19:27

“Jerry, it’s Frank Costanza…George is dead. Call me back.”
October 25, 2010

A provocative challenge to leave on someone’s voicemail when you want to get their attention–even if what you have to say is not that important.

When George discovered that accidentally locking his keys in his car in a primo parking place at work made him look like the primo employee–first in, last out–he took off for a little R&R…until George’s boss thought he was R.I.P. And this was the WTF response that George’s father left on Jerry’s answering machine when he found out.

With texting, e-mail, and caller ID replacing voices in sending messages, voicemail demands the kind of creativity that George demonstrated when he once sang a famous TV show song with a twist on his answering machine (“…believe it or not, I’m not hooome”). But that was a voicemail greeting. Leaving a voicemail is another story–one that must often happen in mere seconds.

You can use George’s same creativity, courtesy of George’s dad, with this line that works on anyone. Substituting the proper names and even explaining the death reference is no problem because this is a shameless reference to the Seinfeld show–making this one unique among Seinfeld-isms: it doesn’t fit directly into conversation, so you’re likely to get a What was that? And that’s good, because you just got yourself a call back.

Equally good: you get to explain the origin of the reference and, perhaps, why you refer to this show at all.

And leaving a voicemail like this is a great illustration of why that is: referring to Seinfeld is the equivalent of having a bevy of comedic writers at your disposal, so you’re never at a loss for words. Not even when you call expecting to get someone on the phone and what you get instead is 15 seconds to explain yourself.

From “The Caddy”
Episode 12, Season 7
Seinfeld Volume 6, Disc 2
Timecode for the scene: 16:00

Dedicated to Chris and Matt

“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

“Something’s missing alright.”
August 25, 2010

An under-the-breath observation to make when confronted with someone who doesn’t understand why the pieces of the puzzle before them don’t fit. But you understand.

When George’s parents joined him and his fiancee, Susan Ross, for dinner with Susan’s parents, the cornish game hen they were eating set Mr. Costanza to pondering aloud which bird—the chicken or the rooster?—procreates with the hen. “Something’s missing!” he effused, and Mrs. Ross, just as she sipped her wine, amused everyone with this reply.

A penchant for puzzles is a part of human nature, hence the great range of things that come in pieces for us to try to put together: the epic picture on soft cardboard, the plot points of a mystery movie, the instructions for a new household appliance. Emphasis on the word try. To try is human, and to solve—that’s not divine; that’s human too. Some people just require a little encouragement–and maybe a glass of wine for anyone standing around watching them–until they arrive at the solution.

Which brings us to Mrs. Ross’s brilliant reply, a commentary on Mr. Costanza’s shortcomings without bringing him up short—like the famed nursery rhyme about Humpty Dumpty. Ole Humpty might’ve been too complex for anyone to reassemble, but all the king’s horses and men might’ve also just been idiots.

From “The Rye”
Episode 11, Season 7
Seinfeld Volume 6, Disc 2
Timecode for the scene: 6:56

“You saying you want a piece of me?”
August 12, 2010

A chest-puffing challenge for predicaments that call for a little diplomacy, but you’re listening to that little voice inside of you this time—and it’s saying “It’s go time.”

Discussing with Frank Costanza, George’s father, what George did to get himself arrested, Elaine said something about George’s ability to hatch such a scheme. “What the hell does that mean?” Mr. Costanza swung, his demeanor cartoonish. Elaine counterpunched: “It means whatever the hell you want it to mean.” That fired up Frank, not to defend the honor of his son or the glory of the Costanza dynasty, but to throw this sucker punch.

They went to blows, yes, but one pictures two close kids in a backyard rumble—a picture completed by Elaine’s counter-sucker-punch: “I could drop you like a bag of dirt.” This is one person’s “No, I’m not” vying with the other’s “Yes, you are,” the silly fisticuffs of family and friends. Which means you probably shouldn’t use the Costanza challenge on co-workers, cashiers, and other strangers.

But if such people should rankle you–say, they’re flouting Order and you feel like making a scene–don’t forget the cartoonish demeanor. You’re the wit holding a crowd at, say, a bar–not the nitwit starting a fight outside it.

From “The Little Kicks”
Episode 4, Season 8
Seinfeld Volume 7, Disc 1
Timecode for the scene: 21:30

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