Give Us This Nada Our Daily Nada
I recognize the absurdity of a blog about nothing commenting on a TV show about nothing, but Seinfeld is actually about everything (and so is this sentence) and it took a book about nothing to make me realize how complicated and deep my feelings are about a show about nothing; Seinfeldia, by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong, sports the subtitle "How A Show About Nothing Changed Everything" and this is accurate . . . the book is not some deconstructive analysis of Seinfeld's philosophy, neuroticism and anxious characterization . . . it's more of a history of change, both during the course of the show and during the course of the zeitgeist during the show's run, more of an an explanation of just how difficult it is to write, cast, and maintain a dynamic television show and maintain quality and consistency, week to week, year to year, and even day to day; Armstrong refers to the great moments in the show's history but doesn't overly describe these moments, so the writing is fast and fresh and informative (but probably only totally comprehensible to a true Seinfeld fan) and while the book is a comprehensive history of the show and the alternate universe it created (and the interaction of the Seinfeld universe with the actual universe) it also encourages plenty of nostalgia for people who watched the show when it aired . . . this is a tribute to the last time that network TV was cool, to the last time that there was a true cultural touchstone that everyone shared in a timely fashion (the show aired on Thursday night, and everyone at work dissected the episode Friday morning) and this deeply fond nostalgia about the show has motivated me, in true Seinfeldian fashion, to NOT watch any reruns . . . this is the one great sitcom I've completely withheld from my kids-- we've done The Office and Parks and Rec and some 30 Rock and lots of Community-- but I don't want them to see Seinfeld until they are ready to appreciate it . . . and this book makes me want this to happen soon; anyway, one of the interesting things Seinfeldia explores in detail is that almost all of the plotlines in the show were inspired by real-life anecdotes-- at first they used things that happened to Larry David, and then, when they ran out of Larry David anecdotes, they used things that happened to the ever-revolving crew of writers . . . Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld basically mined the writers for these real incidents and then sent them packing) and so, in this spirit, I'd like to share two Seinfeldian moments that happened to me that were provoked by the show, both of them spongeworthy:
1) I won't mention any names in this story because I'm rather embarrassed by my behavior (a common Seinfeldian theme) but the setting was a high school cafeteria-- I had "cafeteria duty," which means you need to loosely monitor the students while they eat lunch-- and there was a "close talker" in my section-- she was a Spanish teacher and when we conversed, I often had to literally back away from her to preserve my personal space (I do enjoy my personal space . . . in fact, I'm a bit claustrophobic) and this was so pronounced that she would often drive me around and around the lunch table that we stood next to . . . I would slowly back up as she got closer and closer to my face, and the other teachers in our section were English teachers-- friends of mine-- and they enjoyed watching this to no end, as the woman only did this to me, and the two English teachers were Seinfeld fans, of course (as was the close talker!) and so one day, after several months of close talking, I told my friends to find an obscure vantage point where they could observe me talking with the close talker because I was going to make history and stand my ground and we could all see what happened, and so I did it-- despite my claustrophobia-- I stood my ground . . . though I wanted to laugh-- and the two of them witnessed this from the corner of the cafeteria . . . I didn't back up, I stood solidly and she got closer and closer until she was less than an inch from my face, talking away, so close that I could see the specks of saliva on her lips . . . I didn't know what she was saying and I wanted to laugh, and I stole a glance at my friends and they were laughing and then I suddenly felt very guilty and regretful for doing the experiment, because the close talker was a super-nice lady and we were in real life, not a sitcom . . . but still, it was profoundly awesome to see just how close she got to my face, and I'm glad I had two witnesses that bore testament to this insanity;
2) the second Seinfeldian moment will only make sense to fans of a certain age-- Catherine and I often taped the show on VHS, because I went to Doll's Place on Thursday nights, and so on a hungover Saturday morning, we tried to watch "The Betrayal," which is also known as "the backwards episode" and I didn't rewind far enough and we started watching and it seemed like we were at the end, but it was the beginning, and I kept rewinding and fast-forwarding in spurts, not realizing that the chronology of the episode was backwards, taking note of the size of Kramer's lollipop, watching a scene, then attempting to get us in the right place . . . and, in a perfectly Seinfeldian technological twist, we ended up watching the episode in some semblance of the correct linear order, with many stops and starts, before we realized that the entire story was told in reverse . . . so then we re-watched it "properly," noting the irony and absurdity, of course, but not knowing that the Seinfeldian brand pre-9/11 irony and absurdity was on its way out, to be replaced by something darker, and the hypersensitive, super-silly tone of the '90's was about to end, and people my age (46) would yearn for this feeling for the rest of their lives (Beavis and Butthead).