—TURKEY CHILI (The Other Side of Darkness)—
Done got et.
During the taping of the infamous last episode of Seinfeld, Jerry turned to Jason Alexander, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Michael Richards, and said, “For the rest of our lives, no one will think of one of us without thinking of the rest of us.” Since Michael Richards’s racist meltdown in 2006, Jerry might wish to adjust what came next: “And I can’t think of three people I’d rather that be true of.”
But let’s try it out with their characters. Kramer, I think, is actually the most dispensable. He prevents triangular awkwardness between the other three, and his next-door presence gives Jerry’s apartment the vibe of constant spontaneity. We might think we would like a Kramer in our real lives, but likely he would cause us to seek residence elsewhere. If you got rid of George, Jerry would pretty much have no real male friends, as his friendship with Kramer is due only to proximity. The intensification of his interactions with Elaine, without George there as a buffer, would force them to become intimate again, or part ways. In either scenario, Jerry really would be the great clown, the great sad, tragic clown. In the pilot, there was no Elaine character – or rather her role in the show was filled by a sassy waitress named Claire. (One could argue that actress Lee Garlington is the Pete Best of sitcoms.) But, if sassy female interaction was confined only to the coffee shop, the story’s already rampant homoerotic/homophobic tension would have toppled into a desperate swingers type of bromance. Not that there would be anything wrong with that. For a glimpse of what the show would look like without Jerry, see Season 3 Episode 4, “The Dog,” in which George and Elaine are forced to hang out by themselves. Their struggle to find anything to talk about as they sit across from each other at Monk’s – that would have been the entire show.
But what if we got rid of two of the characters? (Does this sound like your life?) What if we got rid of three of them? (Does this sound like your life?) Are all your friends only friends-in-law? These four characters can make a failed trip to the mall to find the world’s cheapest air conditioner seem like a hilarious outing; but, when the world isn’t laughing with you through the glowing rectangle, it’s just another terrible day.
One of my former students works at the meat counter in Hiller’s, and I feel vulnerable because I’m not wearing my teacher costume and because she’s witnessing the full extent of my indecision. Is there enough of a customer pileup that I need to take a number? Am I next? Why is the ground turkey on the right a dollar less that the lump on the left? Are those the turkeys they tortured first? I ask my student for half and half, a pound of tortured, a pound of untortured. This is twice the work for her, twice the plastic and styrofoam.
This is a good soup for when you’re just about to eat and you see your friend standing on the side of the road with an eighteen-pound turkey and a giant box of wine. Though the Soup Nazi menu does not specify, I thought it made sense to cook turkey chili as a white bean chili, as I already have one red chili in my repertoire (“Chili Even my Husband Likes”). I have to admit, it looks like dog vomit. It’s also one of those soups that really needs to sit a day in the fridge before it reaches a proper consistency. Right off the stove, it’s kind of watery.
Pair with The Other Side of Darkness and focaccia. You’ll find yourself in a food coma. Tryptophan!
—JAMBALAY (Ponce de Leon)—
Well, it tastes colorful.
This very tasty mélange of fish and meat with rice is an orgiastic feast for the senses. When I think of the “red pottage” that Esau traded his birthright to Jacob for in the book of Genesis, I think it was probably a lot like my jambalaya. In my experience, this soup is hardly a soup at all, as it’s the only one on the menu that calls for a fork.
I feel a little bad about not making the sausage from scrap (I haven’t been able to locate Newman’s instructional video), but I didn’t invent the chicken either, so at some point you have to say who cares? My student was not at the meat counter the last time I bought sausage, and the employee engaged me in a long conversation about whether or not it was possible to cook sausage on a stovetop. I don’t know the answer, but something gross and delightful happens when I slice the sausages: the pressure of the knife bunches the meat towards the end of the sausage until it pops out of the casing. I recommend spicy chorizo.
Remember, back in college, you had a lovely group of friends who hosted a soup party every couple weeks. They were the former popular kids in high school who had since learned kindness, and they were more than you deserved. Those warm nights overflowed with Franzia and Carlo Rossi, with compliments for whoever had taken on the herculean task of preparing the soup for the week.
But you were busy. You were ambitious. You attended a few of the soup parties, but, even when you were physically there, your mind was worrying the six hours of piano practice a day it was failing to accomplish, worrying the varsity position you’d never achieve in hockey, worrying the person from a different friend group who you were in love with.
You haven’t learned your lesson. Hitting “Play all” on the menu of Season __ Disc __ for the twentieth time, plugged into an IPA and the two-hour task of making your dinner for the coming week so you don’t have to venture out, you’ve continued to use soup, like Seinfeld, as a way to isolate yourself rather than bring people together. When the new season of Arrested Development came out, you avoided several available Bluth-themed parties so you could horde it to yourself in one ouroboric glut.
“Who would want a friend?” Jerry says.
“Why would I like him? I hate everybody,” Jerry says.
“I will never understand people,” Elaine says. Jerry: “They’re the worst.”
Every time you hear these lines and you smile and you agree, you turn a little further into yourself, bite off more of your own tail. Turn the heat up and stew in your little apartment. Mistake sarcasm for sincerity.
Serves ten. Or just you for a week and a half.
—TOMATO RICE (Sack Lunch)—
That sandwich on the right has 30 seconds to live.
We were shocked and chagrined.
The last episode of Seinfeld has been so thoroughly maligned that I’m not sure I have anything new to add to this forum. Ray Richmond, television critic, said in an interview, “The Finale, I thought it was going to be the greatest night of comedy of my life. When it didn’t turn out to be that way, I was doubly pissed off. Not only are you taking my favorite show away, you’re doing it with a [makes fuck you gesture] at the end.” Max Pross, writer for Seinfeld, defended the final episode: “I thought the whole idea of a jail scene very appropriate and right on target. It’s almost like the public forgot: these are selfish, greedy people that have been doing all these things for years.”
No, Max, it’s not that we forgot. It’s that you, you and the other writers, taught us that these characters weren’t selfish and greedy – or that it was okay to be selfish and greedy, that these were just the natural states of people who are honest with themselves about their feelings – and then you sawed the branch off behind us.
I was just finishing my freshman year of high school. I was surrounded by friends and didn’t realize there would come a time when I wouldn’t be. We kept a vigilant look-out for “Seinfeld moments” in our daily lives. Although I was hooked on the reruns, I think I had just started to become aware and punctual enough to tune in on Thursday nights (I only remember seeing two episodes when they aired, “The Finale” and “The Puerto Rican Day,” the real finale). At that time, the show was mainly a source of one-liners I could exchange with my friends, merely a miracle of separate plots lines converging into some disastrous coincidence. I was only perhaps beginning to formulate an opinion on the redemptive powers of comedy, that laughter is our best weapon against personal and global catastrophes. Those times when we feel like we’ve reached our quota of intolerance, loneliness, financial headache, romantic heartbreak, workplace incompetence, substance abuse, lack of substance abuse; those times when we’re overwhelmed by soul-crushing current events, political buffoonery, the inanity of status updates, and the uncertainty of our species’ continued existence on this planet.
Of course, our sense of humor can be used against us, and laughter can even become the real atrocity. As in bullying, as in Daniel Tosh rape jokes (decide for yourself), as in an Athenos brand feta cheese ad I came across this week that, in order to joke us into thinking their product is authentic and homemade, makes light of cultural stereotypes and centuries of women being forced to marry men they did not like.
Maybe Seinfeld goes too far sometimes; for example, in Season 3 Episode 7, “The Café,” Jerry compares immigrants to spiders struggling to get out of the toilet. “And even if you know it’s not going to make it, you root for it awhile,” Jerry says. “Then you flush,” Elaine punchlines. [Cue the laugh track.] I remember being traumatized as a kid by the only running joke that I couldn’t at least imagine myself on laughing side of. “What makes him think anyone wants to go to a circumcision?” Elaine asks in the episode “The Letter.” George: “I’d rather go to a hanging.” Elaine: “Is it that unattractive to have to take it off?” “Have you ever seen one with it?” “No.” “You wouldn’t even know what it was.” Somewhere between Season 3 Episode 21 and Season 5 Episode 5, “The Bris,” Elaine apparently has some kind of encounter, and it changes her opinion entirely. Elaine: “Have you ever seen one?” Jerry: “You mean that wasn’t…” Elaine: “Yeah.” Jerry: “No. You?” “Yeah.” “What’d you think?” Elaine wrinkles her nose and gives a terse shake of her head. “No good?” “It had no face, no personality. It was like a martian.” As a kid, I had a giant, giant crush on Season 5 Elaine, and it was that nose wrinkle that killed me. Come on you guys, you’re talking about my penis here, the most important thing to me in the world.
Humor can act as a nepenthe, tricking us into thinking it’s enough that we maintain good spirits in the face of adversity and evil. But, while joking might sometimes cause us to avoid more constructive responses, I think that, for most of us, it keeps us sane enough that constructive response is at least possible.
To peel tomatoes, plunge them into boiling water and then into ice water. Imagine your enemies’ faces as you peel the tomatoes, their hearts as you squeeze out the seeds over the sink. I put on a shirt from my hamper for the squeezing. The tactile pleasure of this soup exceeds the taste, I’m afraid. My first two batches tasted like I was just spooning pasta sauce into my mouth. This is one soup, unlike the bisque, I really recommend you make thinner. And make sure to immersion blend the thing before you add the rice.
Pair with a grilled cheese sandwich.
—BROCCOLI CHICKEN (Prognosis Negative)—
I only own one bowl.
You’ll want to boil the broccoli for a few minutes before food processing it. Leave some chunks. Big ones. As for cheese, I recommend Union Star extra sharp cheddar that your mother buys from a rural Wisconsin store and mails to you even though the postage costs more than the cheese. I recommend you wonder if it’s the first sign of dementia when you open the package in the middle of summer and see the gas-bloated lump.
Remember, a watched $200 LeCreuset enameled cast iron pan (Color: Ocean) never slides off of a burner and splashes boiling water on your foot and scorches a hole in your carpet. Especially when you just received the pan as a very generous Christmas present and might never be able to scrub the gummed plastic fibers from the bottom of the pan because the pan’s instructions tell you never to use Scotch-Brite on enamel. I’m looking at the burn mark on my carpet right now. This is why we can’t have nice things, it whispers to me.
“They are not human,” Babu Bhatt ripped out the hearts of eighty million viewers, wagging his finger back and forth. (He was talking about us, too). “They are very bad people.” That was the final verdict of Larry David, Jerry Seinfeld, and the other writers involved. But it doesn’t have to be ours. The show belongs to us now.
Let me point any likeminded readers to an Easter egg I stumbled across. Take out Season 9 (if you don’t have Season 9, buy it). Put Disc 4 in your DVD/Blu-Ray player. Wait for the menu to appear. Click on EPISODES. Scroll down the list of the final episodes and notice that the bottle of peach schnapps in the upper right corner depletes as you scroll. Click on “The Finale (One Hour Episode).” Arrow down to the bottom of this episode’s menu, highlighting “Main Menu,” which appears to be the bottom of the page. Click down once more and you’ll see that the fingerprint in the lower left corner of the screen lights up. Press enter.
You’ll find yourself watching the end of the courtroom scene; however, when Judge Arthur Vandelay asks the juror played by Myra Turley for the verdict, you’ll hear the voice of absolution itself: “We find the defendants… not guilty.”