the CITY that seinfeld built

stela xhiku

 
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SeinfeldXher or Xher-o in the Xhiku house – was the only show I watched during my teens. My parents got rid of basic cable sometime before high school and we were left with Netflix’s red-envelope programme (always and only the Holocaust movies my parents are real sweet on) and the Seinfeld Box Set.

Friends have an incomplete sense of how close I feel to Seinfeld. A boyfriend met my parents and listened to my dad, who thinks Xher is important to all American households and never dreams he could be leaving anyone out, basically run lines around the dinner table.

The same boyfriend later chaperoned me to my first Seinfeld trivia event where I taunted the woman one table over and screamed NO when I placed second. (I do have some blind spots, because my dad stepped on, like, two DVDs.) Around that time, the series became available on Hulu and there were many Seinfeld-related activities around town to celebrate, including a Seinfeld apartment where I met the Soup Nazi and was interviewed by the Wall Street Journal which gave me the occupation of  “Seinfeld Fan.” 

So, for this, the last installment of Newest York's The City Of series – a three-parter that analyzes New York City as presented in film and TV, I would like to talk about the pure, the personal, the perfect Seinfeld – which, as a New New Yorker, I finally understood as more honest than funny.

*

Watching him from the suburbs, Kramer seemed a true pathogen for dragging a TV-set out of the dumpster, and for making a coffee table out of a broken car windshield.

In all nine seasons, his apartment is basically unformed and erratic. Why? Because he gets sudden visions and has real follow-through. He puts in wooden wallpaper so that his apartment looks like a ski lodge, he inherits a hot tub, installs a screen door, a garbage disposal (in the shower), a stronger showerhead, a reverse-peephole. The only project he doesn’t execute is the first he ever mentions, in the second season when plans to do away with his furniture and put in wooden levels, “you know, like Ancient Egypt.”

What does Jerry do to his pedestrian unit? In all nine seasons? Well, he starts to reorganize his closet.

I, myself, am a Kramer. Trash is trophy, and I’ve frequently rearranged my space and lifestyle around an acquisition. And then I brag about it. We all do!

Not only am I fine to walk any piece of trash home, I’m also just as prone to claustrophobic fits that end in a remodel. Last year, I made a very elaborate canopy bed that ran, like a train, from my skylight. I made it out of black silk and felt opiatic before I felt cramped. Then I hung two large street lights over my bed and pretended (still pretend) that I was on a boulevard.

*

There’s a crowd in this city, and anyone is worth knowing but none are worth any effort.

Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer can’t seem to shake each other. Acquaintances come, go with no expectation of return. Friends-of-friends are known by name, but by name alone. Kramer’s best friends Joe Mayo, Lomez, Specter – only names in a tall tale. Even Bob Saccamano, who had a mysterious encore as my Facebook password, or Len Nicademo who had gout.

Ballplayer Keith Hernandez and Ramon the Poolboy court Jerry’s friendship. Elaine gets close to befriending a group of three decent men. None of it works! Not on the show! And not in real life! They call it a situational comedy but it’s so goddamn universal!

Relying on organic interactions-as-needed is selfish, sure (especially as seen on the show), but it’s also the only way in a city so vivid with options.

Take Puddy, Elaine’s on-again, off-again boyfriend – a famous moron, whose lobotomized presence is ironic for his interesting backstory as skilled car-mechanic (turned car-salesman), devout Christian, and recovering germaphobe. Puddy turns up as an act of god and whimsy – because Elaine needs to move a bureau, for instance.

Fairweather friends abound (and deserve no resentment!) and with them, fairweather activities.

George dates a zoologist and the world seems to quickly minimize towards the zoo with a subplot dedicated to Kramer’s altercation with a monkey; a gymnast has Jerry and us going to the circus; a communist infiltrates the narrative as Elaine’s boyfriend and pretty soon George is looking at communist personals ("Appearance not important,”) and Kramer is whispering communist propaganda into children’s ears during his shift as mall Santa.

This is to keep a tight narrative, I know, but after nine years in New York, it doesn’t feel contrived. The flashes of interest, the glimpses into other routines and different spheres, come with the slightest change and the faintest exposure.

Last weekend, the J train acted up, forced me to walk to the C, took me to the West Village which became a temporary headquarters. I became a regular at the Marlton Hotel cafe.  Last month, I started going to a barre studio that decreed that I must then work out of the Mulberry Public Library where I met all of the other casually insane daytime visitors. One of them, when I knocked on the bathroom door he was occupying, said he’d be right out and started counting down from 30 seconds. And when he still didn’t make it in time so he started going EH H EH EH, like a buzzer.

But before New York could confirm it, Seinfeld suggested it – suggested that parades will blockade you to either East and West of Fifth Avenue; that a punch card is actually a ball-and-chain; that disembodied muffin tops are a viable, potentially viral, small business (I lived through the cronut and all I got was this lousy t-shirt) but they pose the common city problem of proper, painstaking disposal. Seinfeld even prepared me for pigeons veering for my head even though there’s a lot of ground and even more sky, but still the bird wants to see me, personally, flinch.