“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.”

“If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right.”
July 6, 2011

A logical observation for helping someone find their way when they’ve lost it, and what they need to be shown how to use is not their GPS transmitter, but their BS detector.

No job, no money, no place but my parents’ house to live, George sighed to Jerry and Elaine one day. “Every decision I’ve ever made in my entire life…has been wrong.” His direct admission led Jerry to this indirect exhortation–Do the opposite–which led George to change everything. Suddenly, life was no longer taking a bite out of George; now it was the other way around.

We, like George, often don’t learn until later that some steps we’ve made in life were the equivalent of stepping in it. We take that job. (Later: “What BS. I should’ve taken a break.”). We dated that person. (Later: “That dating service was BS.”). We pursued that degree. (“Why did I pursue this BS? I should’ve gone for the BA!”) And we should’ve seen it coming. If only we’d had a Jerry initially to point it out–to help us separate the bull from the viable.

When you use a line like this to help a George you know–that project manager, prodigal sibling, or fast-food-drive-thru worker, to name a few candidates–expect that not every one may be as receptive as George, who took to Jerry’s sage-like words like an acolyte to a mantra. (“Jerry,” George said later, euphoric from his opposite successes, “this is my religion.”) For all of its likely rewards, the opposite has its risks of humiliation, retaliation, loss of membership at the health club, etc. And that’s okay, the sage-like smile on your face will say.

You’re okay, that is, with your risk in saying this for their reward, which is that they would actually arrive at something for once in their lives…which explains why you’re quoting Jerry here in the first place.

You had to, or else you were going to lose it just listening to them.

From “The Opposite”
Episode 21, Season 5
Seinfeld Disc 4, Volume 4
Timecode for the scene: 1:38 (for Jerry telling it like it is); 12:10 (for George taking it as his religion)

“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

“…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

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