“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
Timecodes for the scenes: 00:03 (George’s “fakeout” order), 02:27 (Frank and Estelle’s)

“Musicians. Get a real job.”
July 11, 2011

An impromptu observation to make when someone talks so incessantly about musical things–about, say, some new song they’re plucking–that you’re thinking Yeah, you’re really plucking something there.

“So the Raisinets are eating a box of Raisinets?” Jerry asked Elaine as they rode the subway and discussed a commercial showing various candies playing in a band: Raisinets on sax, Milk Duds on banjo, etc. At one point, the saxophonist Raisinets buys a box of Raisinets from a nearby concession stand. Elaine didn’t get it either. Jerry wrapped it up with this bon mot that he got from the scene.

You love music. (Who doesn’t?) What you don’t love are people with a mere modicum of musical skill who confuse the universal love of listening to music with the personal love of discussing music. And explicating it. And tying any conceivable topic of discussion back to it.

You mention Back to the Future and in seconds your guitarist friend is onto Don Giovanni. You try to keep up: “Eddie Van Halen did the guitar in the scene where Michael J. Fox puts the Walkman on McFly? Huh. No, I haven’t seen Amadeus. That’s why Eddie named his son WolfgangFascinating.” And there’s your polite “crescendo” as you bow out before you’re made to feel like you need the Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, Rosetta Stone for Italian, and a few other “parts in your kit” to, er, be on the same sheet of music.

Wait for this person to leave the immediate area then strum Jerry’s low note with the nearby audience–or, if you’re comfortable with your conversational talent, play this rimshot while that person has a front row seat. Don’t fret about their reaction. Eventually, they’ll understand. Anyone with so much time and energy on their hands for one thing clearly needs something else to do. You’re just helping them get to it.

Or, to put it in terms they’ll understand: You’re giving them a friendly kick in the arpeggio.

From “The English Patient”
Episode 17, Season 8
Seinfeld Volume 7, Disc 3
Timecode for the scene: 00:00 (you read that “music note” right; this scene is the prelude to the episode)

“These pretzels are making me thirsty.”
October 20, 2010

An optimistic observation to make when faced with a problem so puzzling that, even after picking at it, you’re still not sure what to do—except maybe to get something to drink.

Kramer landed a small part in a Woody Allen movie, and this was his line. He walked around practicing it so peacock-proudly that Jerry, Elaine, and George each began playing the acting coach—acting out the line themselves (which only twisted Kramer up).

Look closely at many of the books, movies, and TV shows we enjoy, and you’ll find in many of those stories a pretzel to untwist—a conundrum or mystery to solve. This is why a question like What’s the problem? is so prevalent…and sounds so different, depending on where you’re directing it: that helpful, look-on-the-bright-side-of-life sound when you address someone else’s “pretzels”(“Sooo, what seems to be the problem?”); a harried, sometimes insane sound over the pretzels affecting you (“What is the problem?!”).

Kramer’s famous line should be just as prevalent a comment. It’s far more fun, not to mention useful, to boot. No matter whose problem it is, you’re laughing at it, with a come-one-come-all kind of cheer. Come join me, that is, for a cup of courage…and put all that is discouraging behind us.

From “The Alternate Side”*
Episode 10, Season 3
Seinfeld Volume 2, Disc 2
Timecodes for the scenes: 9:25 (Kramer), 9:52 (Elaine), 9:55 (Jerry), 10:03, 10:30 (George), 11:13, 11:19 (Kramer again), 18:03 (Jerry), 20:20 (Elaine), 21:12 (Kramer et al.)

 

*Updated on April 20, 2020, for the forthcoming book!

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