Category Archives: Matt Christopher Books

Notes on Nothing: 25 Years of SeinLanguage

This month marks the 25th anniversary of the debut of Seinfeld, as the genre-redefining sitcom first graced our television screens as The Seinfeld Chronicles, with very little fanfare, on July 5, 1989. It went from an afterthought, a summer run-off and near footnote, to a comedic juggernaut that indelibly altered the television landscape. Since I noticed many websites and bloggers and critics providing their valuable insight and analysis, I thought I’d throw in my two cents as well. Because if there’s anything the internet needs, it’s more of the same.

First, if not for Seinfeld it might have taken me another couple of years to understand masturbation, or least be aware of its existence. It’s no exaggeration to say that one of my initial brushes with self-pleasure came courtesy of “The Contest,” the landmark episode that somehow danced around jerking off for 22-minutes but never explicitly said it. Later, I’d come to realize what a masterful performance it was, what a majestic ballet to say so much without every saying it. It was truly bit of brilliant lingual gymnastics (and even later I’d realize that they maybe applied their cunning linguists to cunnilingus, but that was far behind my realm of understanding at that time (and possibly at this time)). Even if I didn’t fully comprehend what they were discussing, it was an eye-opening experience to just barely grasp that these people were talking about what seemed like the most adult of activities, at 9pm, on NBC, when I was sitting in my bedroom eating ice cream (I was lucky enough to have a television of my own from a very young age, which allowed me to probably watch a lot of TV that I shouldn’t have (see: Silk Stalkings)). I was used to Full Houseto Growing Pains, to Saved by the Bell, where the epic romance between Zack and Kelly seemed as important and real as anything could ever be. This is was a different kind of show, with a different kind of language, with a different agenda. Again, I didn’t quite process that at the time – I couldn’t – but I knew it was nothing like the shows I was accustomed to (TGIF, The Disney Afternoon, for the most part). It gave me a view into the adult world, and in many ways it was as formative in my education as Health class and freshman year and my one summer at sleep-away camp. To me, at eleven-years-old, the people on Seinfeld were grown-ups doing grown-up things. Not just masturbating, but sitting in a diner drinking coffee, going to the movies, seeing the baby, arguing over whether or not soup is a meal, dating a different gorgeous woman every week, hanging out with Keith Hernandez, just popping-in at your friend’s Upper West Side apartment. But also masturbating.

<!–more– More Nothing: Jews, Jewiness & Keith Hernandez…>

Secondly, Seinfeld was perhaps the first time I recognized Jewiness on TV, especially Jewiness that was camouflaged as something less overtly Semitic and thus more palatable for the general audience (there was, of course, CBS’s Brooklyn Bridge, a favorite of my father’s, but that was hit-you-over-the-head Jewish, and was more like historical fiction. Also, I think I imagined the Seavers  from Growing Pains as Jewish somehow, for some reason, despite the frequency of Christmas-themed episodes, Alan Thicke’s hair, and, later, Kirk Cameron’s big-time, overwhelming Jesus-ness).  Even as a child I identified with the characters of Seinfeld on a cultural level; their conversations, their cadences, their backgrounds, their outlooks, they just felt natural and familiar, and at the same time it was Jewiness without the Jewish grandmother or the random yiddish phrases or the Shabbat candles or, really, all the guilt. It wasn’t arguing about how long to cook the brisket or who has better matzoh ball soup or why aren’t you a doctor like your brother, it was sitting in a coffee shop arguing about buttons, about sex, about nothing. It wasn’t the Brooklyn Dodgers, it was the New York Mets. It was the modern Jewish experience stripped of all the traditions and customs and weight and distilled down into Jerry Seinfeld’s nasally voice, upturned nostrils and early-90s mullet. And, perhaps more significantly, it wasn’t until years later that I realized, as many others did, that “Costanza” was not a Jewish name, because to me, and to everyone, George Costanza was a Jew, through and through. Yes, growing up on Long Island, the Jewish-American experience felt very similar to the Italian-American experience – I often felt like an honorary Italian – but there was no mistaking George as anything other than a bundle of Hebrew neuroses.  In retrospect, knowing that George was based on Larry David, this seems obvious, but we didn’t know that then, and it was just another way that Seinfeld accomplished something real and spectacular.

Finally, Keith Hernandez is my favorite baseball player of all-time, a fact that was certainly bolstered by his memorable turn in “The Boyfriend, Parts 1&2.” However, even though I was a huge fan of Mex (as his friends call him. His friends and me) following the Mets ’86 World Championship, displaying a Hernandez 8×10 on my bedroom wall and a Starting Lineup figurine on my shelf, I wonder now if Hernandez is my favorite player because of his memorable turn in “The Boyfriend, Parts 1&2.” And, taking that a step further, I wonder if Seinfeld became my favorite show specifically because of Hernandez’s memorable turn in “The Boyfriend Parts, 1&2.” Hernandez, now a Mets broadcaster (and prone to his share of off-the-cuff gaffes), is left-handed and played 1st base, while I, currently unemployed, am right-handed and played the bench, so there’s not much in common that would inspire me to choose Keith as my favorite player, making his appearance with Jerry and Elaine more important than any of his baseball accomplishments. Or, perhaps, was it just my favorite show continuing to provide moments that bolstered its position as my favorite show? Whatever the reason, it was truly an intersection of the Venn diagram of things that I love. Add in JFK assassination conspiracy theories – something I was weirdly into as a kid – then you had, maybe, the perfect episode of television for twelve-year-old Seth, and another example of why Seinfeld seemed to speak to me so clearly.

Looking back, I think that as a child I imagined that I would turn out like Jerry one day; a neurotic Jew living in his Manhattan apartment surrounded by his vapid friends. I also imagined that I would turn out like Danny Tanner, a clean freak raising three kids in the suburbs with the help of my weirdo aspiring stand-up comedian friend who lives in the basement and it’s not at all creepy, but when you’re young and have never really left Long Island those two futures aren’t mutually exclusive. Obviously, my adult life has not turned out like either of those two, because 1) they’re fictional and 2) I can’t afford to live in Manhattan or the Bay area. But, certainly, living in Brooklyn and remaining an uppity, thin, neat, single Jew, I hedge much closer to the Seinfeld side of the spectrum. And I do wonder how much is nature and how much is nurture. The show, no doubt, shaped my life, but I think it was also created, and shaped, for me and people like me. Which is why you can turn on TBS and find any episode of Seinfeld and, laugh track be damned, it’s still brilliant.

It doesn’t take a doctorate in media studies to assert that Seinfeld forever changed, redefined, television. I’m not the first, and I won’t be the last. But the way it gave new meaning, and a lasting meaning, to things like Junior Mints and the Mackinaw peaches and Bosco, and then introduced phrases into our lexicon like “close talker” and “puffy shirt” and “not that there’s anything wrong with that,” is something that perhaps can only be rivaled by The Simpsons.* Over two decades later you can throw out an off-hand quote from Seinfeld and someone will immediately get the reference. The series didn’t just make a contribution to the television, it contributed to our vocabulary, it contributed to our culture. In nothing, they found everything.

*Interesting to note that when I went to sleep-away Jew camp for the first and only time in 1997 I recorded audio from two shows onto cassette and listened to them on my Walkman before bed, my surrogate for an actual television. Repeatedly listening to those poor quality recordings done on my Sony sports radio probably got me through that summer. One of those shows, of course, was Seinfeld, and the other, naturally, The Simpsons (specifically, this one). 
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Filed under Brilliance, Intersection of the venn diagram of things that I love, Matt Christopher Books, Nostalgia Corner, Seinlanguage, Wake Up, SF!, Woody Allen, Bar Mitzvahs & Bagels

Bruce Vilanch: Secret 24th Member of the USMNT?

As I mentioned yesterday, I fell hard for this year’s World Cup, watching more soccer than I ever imagined I could, transfixed by matches like Ivory Coast vs. Greece, arranging my schedule around France vs. Switzerland. But even though I watched the majority of knockout games and an entirely unnecessary amount of group games, regardless of the matchup, it was the U.S. Men’s National Team that really stole my heart and refused to let go (despite only winning one of four games, and losing their last two. But we won’t focus on that). I didn’t know much about the team before the tournament, other than that Landon Donovan was not on the team and Tim Howard is really, really good and Clint Dempsey is not Clint Mathis. But by the time the USMNT rolled into Salvador’s Arena Fonte Nova to take on Belgium we could roll off the names Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman and DeAndre Yedlin like we had been following the club for years. In a truly abbreviated amount of time the USMNT became our team the way that the New York Rangers are our team, and as we lived and died with the Broadway Blueshirts into the Stanley Cup Final, we felt similarly about the USA squad. And even though the dream only lasted a couple of weeks, our bond was deep, if only so brief.

But a few days ago we stumbled upon Inside: U.S. Soccer’s March to Brazil, an ESPN Films series covering the journey of the USA team from the World Cup qualifiers to their departure for Brasil, and all the roster changes and training sessions and Jürgen Klinsmannisms in between. And since beginning the series I’ve been obsessed. It’s just like in 6th Grade when everyone fell in love with Green Day’s Dookie (or so they professed) and wrote the band’s name on their backpacks with Wite-Out and then discovered their early stuff like 39/Smooth and Kerplunk (except in my case it would have been Billy Joel and collecting all of his albums that predate his Greatest Hits Volume 1 & Volume 2). March to Brazil is the USMNT’s early stuff, and I’m really digging it. Sure, they’re raw and unrefined, and there will be some personnel changes before they settle on the definitive lineup, but the soul is there.

But as much as I’ve enjoyed this series, learning the background of these players that I cheered so hard for just two weeks ago, there was something else that I found absolutely stunning: Bruce Vilanch was a member of the USMNT.

Well, maybe not exactly, but he definitely makes an appearance in Part 2, evidently having traveled on the same flight as Defender Omar Gonzalez. Take a look:

 

Did you catch him? Look again:

Bruce Vilanch Omar Gonzalez USMNT

 

Let’s go in for a closer look:

Vilanch-CloseUp

 

Well, if the one size too small graphic t-shirt and red glasses don’t give it away, then the blond Fry Guy hair sure does. I mean, it can’t be, but it’s gotta be:

Bruce Vilanch

Now, as I said, I’ve watched a Bruce Vilanch-worth of USA soccer and haven’t seen the writer-comedian anywhere else, but is it possible that the Off-Center Square was Jürgen Klinsmann’s secret weapon? Did Klinsmann do what Whoopi and Billy have done before him and Get Bruce? Did Vilanch keep Michael Bradley at ease with his playful, suggestive puns? Did he help immerse Jermaine Jones and Julian Green in American culture? Did he trade hair secrets with Graham Zusi and Mix Diskerud? Or maybe, just maybe, he was making a surprise cameo in Kyle Beckerman’s engagement photos? Whatever the reason, Vilanch needs to be on the roster for 2018.

We’ll never be able to beat the Germans by playing their game. We need to create our own American style, embrace what makes our country unique. Maybe, just maybe, Bruce Vilanch is the key.

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Filed under Freak Out Control, Huh?, Intersection of the venn diagram of things that I love, Match Games, Matt Christopher Books, Monster Mash, What? Too fabulous?

Brooklyn is the Center of World (Cup)

WorldCupHeadquartersWell, it’s finally over. After a month of great, often breathtaking games matches and gorgeous goals, the World Cup finished its 2014 run in Brasil yesterday, leaving us both sad and already overflowing with excitement for 2018 (and 2022 on our home turf?) I watched more soccer football in the last month than I had in my whole life prior, and it’s not even close. Even more, I think I watched more of the beautiful game in the last four weeks than I have of baseball all season. And I love baseball. But the Mets are mediocre and uninspiring, and just plain difficult to watch. And, well, the World Cup worked very well with my current unemployment flexible schedule. Will I continue this trend and begin to tune into MLS games on a regular basis. Probably not (last night’s Seattle Sounders vs. Portland Timbers prime-time matchup notwithstanding). I already went down that road four years when I really thought I was going to be big LA Galaxy fan, and that didn’t last long (but that’s the worldwide appeal of David Beckham, I guess). Truth is, I’ll probably finally get back into baseball post-All-Star break, or, perhaps, if the Mets continue to make mediocre an art form, I’ll just kill time until hockey starts again (whose void was filled so wonderfully, and at just the right time, by the World Cup). But I’ll be ready for 2018 in Russia, and I’ll always treasure the last month, when I felt at one with the world and the world felt like it came to Brooklyn (and I spent way too much time in a bar before 5pm).

My lasting memory, I think, will be that every bar, cafe, restaurant, McDonald’s, hair salon and tax preparation office seemed to be broadcasting the matches, trying to capitalize on a popularity that I didn’t quite realize the tournament possessed. There was no shortage of establishments showing the matches, and, it felt, no shortage of people who were interested in watching. Walking around Brooklyn, it sure felt that soccer, after two decades of promise, had finally arrived.

World Cup Bars Brooklyn, Greenpoint

 

Our collective  fútbol fever may now have subsided, not likely to return for another four years. But from now until then, we’re still infected, with another outbreak just lying in wait, from Brooklyn to Chicago, from Seattle to Kansas City, to Los Angeles to the White House. I look forward to the relapse.

 

 

 

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Filed under Across the pond, Local Flavor, Matt Christopher Books, New Favorite Show, The Roaring 10s!

The Return of the King

Since sources indicate that the Cavaliers are delivering a strong pitch to LeBron James to return to the Cleve, I thought we’d have a little fun, step into the fantasy machine, and imagine what King James might look like in a Cavs uniform, should he choose the city so nice the Browns have called it home twice. This is a very crude mock-up, but I think it gets the idea across: LeBron would look GREAT in the ol’ blue and orange. The talk is very preliminary, but it just feels right, doesn’t it? LebronPrice

Sure, we’d all like to flee to the Cleve. But it looks like LBJ just might do it.

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Alexi Kovalev: The Original Troller

Alex Kovalev 94 Stanley CupFor the past two months, as indicated by my (attempted) playoff beard, I have been fully absorbed with the New York Rangers post-season run, something that has now become, thankfully, an annual occurrence. For years the Rangers franchise (and fanbase) suffered through a post-1994 Stanley Cup Championship hangover, hurling gobs of money at player after overpriced-player, the vast majority of which were either too old or too injured or too ill-suited for Broadway (see: Bure, Pavel; Lindros, Eric; Fleury, Theo; Gomez, Scott; et al). However, this syndrome ended, oddly enough, with the lockout of 2004 and the strong play of another imported superstar, Jaromir Jagr, who bucked the trend and helped turn the Rangers into a perennial playoff team. A decade later the Rangers have established themselves as one of the most consistent teams in the NHL and arguably the most successful in New York (take that, the Liberty!), and, now, they’re about to appear in their first final since that ’94 dream run But before we look too far ahead to Game 1 in Los Angeles tomorrow evening (8pm EST, 5pm Pacific, sometime in between in the midwest), let us quickly look back at that legendary 1994 squad, the team of destiny that exorcised the demons of 1940 and firmly established the likes of Brian Leetch, Mike Richter, Adam Graves, Stephane Matteau and even back-up goalie Glenn Healy as immortals, and elevated captain Mark Messiah to legitimate god status. But it’s not any of those champions we want to talk about today; no, right now we’re focused on that young  dynamo out of Togliatti, Russia, the one with the fast feet and the quick hands, the one with the broken English and who broke through defenses. That, of course, being Alexei Kovalev. Long before current Rangers defenseman and Minnesota native Ryan McDonagh announced himself as a force on the Rangers blueline for many, many years to come, Kovalev was the premier #27 in a Rangers sweater. His speed, stick-handling and clutch scoring made the right-wing a quick fan favorite at Madison Square Garden, and in only his sophomore year in the NHL he was playing big minutes and scoring big goals. But it wasn’t just his explosive skating, triple dekes and dangerous wrist shot that endeared himself to the Garden faithful. It was also, his big, bright, goofy personality. More specifically, it was his troll. Yes, throughout the ’94 playoffs Kovalev kept a lucky troll doll at his locker. And when the Rangers won the cup, breaking the curse of 1940, the troll was there, sharing in the celebration. What Kovalev might have lacked in English proficiency, he surely made up for with youthful exuberance. With his electric play and a genuine enthusiasm that transcended any language, Kovalev made an indelible mark on that ’94 cup run and on our childhood. And so it was no surprise that his appearance at last week’s Eastern Conference Finals Game 6 at MSG sent the crowed into a mid-game frenzy, showing that if you win in NY, you’re a hero for life. He might be twenty years older, his baby face morphed into the aged countenance of a grizzled hockey veteran, his English no longer just barely comprehensible, but sporting that iconic hat (and surprisingly nondescript official t-shirt), Kovalev is as beloved as he was twenty-years ago, a champion not for a year but for eternity. Alex Kovalev NY Rangers Playoffs Now just imagine the reaction had he brought the troll.

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Filed under Freak Out Control, Local Flavor, Matt Christopher Books, Nostalgia Corner

When is a Horse a Fans of Bulls?

When he’s Horse Grant, of course!

Horse Grant

Go horses! Go Bulls!

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Parting Shot: Gold Glove 1st Baseman

photo (6)
Soft hands, no mustache, can’t lose.

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Filed under Dillon Panthers, Fashion Show at Lunch, Mancrush, Matt Christopher Books, Parting Shot