A funny thing happened a few years back as I sat in one of the several apartments I have lived in, eating cereal and watching reruns of Seinfeld. The show underwent a change of sorts. Yes, it was still hilarious but it had also become instructive.
When Seinfeld originally aired, I was too young to dig below the surface. Kramer was funny, George was a maniac, Elaine danced weird, and yada yada yada. It was great and something to look forward to every week but that was the long and short of it.
However, I eventually became a little older and a little wiser (or so I like to think), and as a result, I’m able to appreciate things a little bit more. As I watched reruns every evening, I began pulling out nuggets of wisdom embedded in the episodes; tricks and tools to help me navigate the emerging complexity of adulthood. Seinfeld wasn’t just keeping me entertained—it was keeping me informed and preparing for what the rest of my life had in store for me.
With Seinfeld’s 30th anniversary (sort of) happening on May 31 (the first episode of what was called The Seinfeld Chronicles aired on July 5, 1989 but it took almost a year until the first season really kicked off), I decided to take stock of everything that it has taught me—specifically these fifteen episodes.
“The Parking Garage” (Season Three, Episode Six)
Recap: Jerry, Kramer, George, and Elaine spend the entire episode wandering around a parking garage looking for Kramer’s car.
The Lesson: Always remember where you parked
It might seem trivial but that’s why picking up little lessons from Seinfeld is so important. The show highlighted the trivial things in our lives. Parking garages are cold, lonely places (and that’s even if you remember where you parked).
If you have forgotten, the situation gets even worse.
There’s no shame in writing down where you parked. None whatsoever. It saves you the hassle of trying to remember the color of your level or what letter or number it was or if you need to walk left or right when you get out of the elevator. It takes two seconds and it can save you infinite amounts of headache and frustration.
I’d add that there’s no shame in writing down your hotel room number too. Every floor and every hallway in every hotel looks exactly the same. This is especially the case if you find yourself staying in hotels rather frequently. It becomes a blur of nondescript colors and black and white photos of whatever city you are in.
So write down your room number and write down where you parked. Save yourself and save your sanity.
“The Rye” (Season Seven, Episode Eleven)
Recap: Following a dinner party with his soon-to-be in-laws and his parents, George learns that his father took back the marble rye he brought because he was upset they never put it out. George, trying to not make it become a thing, asks Jerry to get one for him. Jerry strikes out, though, as the old woman in front of him at the bakery buys the last one. Not willing to let George down, Jerry steals the rye from the old woman on the street.
The Lesson: Do what you need to in order to get the job done
Should you steal a loaf of bread from an old woman? Probably not. Never say never, though. You would never want to do such a heinous thing but life is weird and unpredictable. You’d be a fool to close the door on it possibly happening.
However, should you be a reliable person, someone who is counted on to get the job done when asked? Of course you should be.
With that being said, if you are asked to get a marble rye for a friend who is counting on it, you best be prepared to do what is necessary to get that effin’ ‘ marble rye—even if it means ripping it from the hands of an adorable old woman.
Sidenote: another lesson here would be that karma is a thing, as evidenced by that same woman turning up a few episodes later and remembering that it was Jerry who robbed her. This results in Jerry’s father being impeached as the condo president.
Karma: very much a thing.
“The Marine Biologist” (Season Five, Episode Fourteen)
Recap: When Jerry runs into George’s old college crush, he tells her that George is now a marine biologist. She wants to look him up, and despite his concerns that he can’t pull off being one (pretending to be an architect was more his speed), George goes out with her.
While out on a date, they stumble upon a whale with a golf ball in its blowhole courtesy of Kramer, who had been hitting them into the ocean. Only a marine biologist can save the whale. Cue George having to pretend to actually be one.
The Lesson: Lies can come back to bite you in the ass
No one is going to fault you for lying every once in a while. That’s why we have little white lies. Some lies are generally okay and socially acceptable, whereas some are a step or ten too far.
Yet regardless of the size of the lie, you need to be prepared to be called out for lying and for the chickens to come home to roost. This is applicable even to exaggerations, which are basically pseudo-lies.
For example, I once worked on ferry boats, and when I moved to a new town and was looking for work, I applied for a sales job at a high-end sporting goods store. The fella interviewing me asked if I had any experience sailing. Well, you sail on a boat, so technically, I had worked on boats. I said yes and ended up getting the job. Not bad.
About a week or so later, we had a customer come in with very specific questions related to the best jacket to get for sailing. The guy who interviewed me (now my boss) called me over because, as you recall (like he did), I said I had experience sailing.
Long story short, it didn’t go well and I had to spend the rest of the day trying to dig myself out of the hole I had dug. However, I didn’t have to fish a golf ball out of a whale’s blowhole, so I guess it could have been worse.
“The Library” (Season Three, Episode Five)
Recap: Jerry learns that he has an overdue library book that’s been in his possession since 1971. In the face of hard questioning from library investigator Lieutenant Bookman, he is adamant that he returned it. However, after doing some research of his own, Jerry realizes he was thinking of the wrong book and that Bookman was right about him never returning the one in question.
The Lesson: Know when to admit you’re wrong
I’m a healthy mixture of Irish and French so I have a tendency to be a little stubborn. Or maybe a lot stubborn. I’ll defer to my darling wife for an accurate assessment.
Either way, I’m not great at admitting I’m wrong. I’m much better at pretending I’m right long after I’ve realized I’m wrong. It’s all about making your case with conviction; you know, sounding like you’re right instead of actually being right.
However, sometimes you need to admit that you were wrong. Sometimes you need to tip your cap to the dogged library investigator and pay your late fee—unless the late fee is a lot. Then I suppose it’s a different situation.
“The Merv Griffin Show” (Season Nine, Episode Six)
Recap: Kramer finds the old set for The Merv Griffin Show in a dumpster and brings it home. He ends up setting it up in his apartment and living his life like a talk show host complete with guests and “format changes.”
The Lesson: There’s no shame in grabbing something from the trash
People throw out all sorts of things for all kinds of different reasons. Maybe they’re moving or doing some spring cleaning. Perhaps they recently kicked someone out of the house, and as a result, are kicking all of that person’s possessions out as well.
The point here is that not all trash is “trash.” Some trash is actually pretty sweet. Don’t let pride get in the way of you scoring something pretty sweet from the side of the road or a dumpster or your neighbor’s garbage can. That something could be in perfect shape but someone just might not need it anymore. It’s their loss.
I for one once grabbed a quality 1992 Dream Team poster (it was even framed!) from someone’s garbage. That sweet poster still sits in my office today, and when someone asks where I got it, you best believe I tell them that I grabbed it out of a person’s trash.
“The Hamptons” (Season Five, Episode Twenty One)
Recap: Everyone heads out to The Hamptons to see a friend’s baby. Once there, everyone except George sees George’s girlfriend topless, Jerry’s girlfriend walks in on George’s shrinkage while he’s changing, Kramer dabbles in poaching lobsters, and Elaine grows increasingly concerned with a pediatrician’s use of the word “breathtaking.”
The Lesson: Sometimes you just need to say something nice whether you mean it or not
This is in reference to the aforementioned pediatrician. The confusion with his use of “breathtaking” started when he used it to refer to Elaine, but soon after, he also used it to describe the newborn baby despite that apparently not being the case. When Elaine asks why he used that particular adjective, he says that “sometimes you say a thing like that just to be nice.”
This does little to clear things up for Elaine but it’s also damn good advice.
It’s true. Sometimes it’s just easier to say something nice rather than say the truth. I don’t even consider it a lie. It’s a public service; something done in the best interest of everyone involved. You’re not going to tell someone that their baby is ugly. You’re going to say it’s cute or a miracle. You’re doing it for the parents and you’re doing it for yourself. It’s a win/win.
“The Comeback” (Season Eight, Episode Thirteen)
Recap: After a coworker calls out George for the way he’s eating shrimp during a meeting, he is speechless. He manages to think of a comeback after the meeting, but by the time he does, it’s too late. He eventually travels to Ohio to bait the coworker into making fun of him again just so he can deliver his infamous zinger: “Well, the Jerk Store called and they’re running out of you.”
It doesn’t work though, as the coworker simply responds, “What’s the difference? You’re their all-time bestseller.” Burned again, George says he had sex with the guy’s wife but it turns out the wife in question had been in a coma, so that doesn’t exactly work out the way George planned.
The Lesson: Dude, don’t force things
George commits a pretty serious faux pas here. Comebacks only work if they happen in the moment. They thrive on spontaneity. Without that sense of urgency, they fall flat on their face, which is what happened with George.
That’s why it’s best to let things go. Comebacks are like nicknames, relationships, recipes, doctors, and restaurants in the sense that they’re all things that can be recommended or suggested but certainly not forced. Once they become forced, they get strained and the seams show. Someone like myself who tends to act out of spite at times might actively not go to a certain dining establishment if I felt it was forced upon me.
The best things in life tend to happen naturally. A good comeback, for instance, jumps out from the internal spring of wit. There is a quickness to it; quickness that gives it life. If you rob it of that quickness, you are murdering it.
Don’t be a murderer. Don’t force things.
“The Betrayal” (Season Nine, Episode Eight)
Recap: This is the backward episode where Jerry, Elaine, and George go to India. Kramer was supposed to join them but passed on the trip, allowing George to invite Nina, the new woman he is seeing. Unfortunately for him, he was wearing Timberland boots when he met Nina, making him appear a few inches taller than he really is. Worried that Nina will find out how short he is, George keeps the boots on during the entire trip to India.
The Lesson: Don’t try to lie about your height because it’ll never work
The only time it (kind) of works to lie about your height is in sports, as teams will regularly list a player as being an inch or two taller than they really are. Everyone knows it’s not true but we go along with it anyway. You want to tell me Drew Brees is six feet tall, New Orleans Saints? Sure, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to believe it.
Under normal circumstances, you can’t pull off lying about your height so why even bother trying? If you’re short, you’re short. Everyone will know you’re short and that’s that. You can’t cheat death and you can’t cheat people’s eyes when it comes to your height.
The boot trick isn’t bad, though. As a short person myself, I can cop to using boots to make myself appear taller once or twice in my life. It felt great! But it’s a short-lived high because, dude, you can’t wear those boots forever. The truth will come out.
The truth always comes out.
“The Puffy Shirt” (Season Five, Episode Two)
Recap: While out to dinner with Kramer and his new lady friend, the woman (a low talker) says that she designs puffy shirts and asks if Jerry can wear one during an upcoming television appearance. Due to her low talking, Jerry agrees despite not knowing what he’s agreeing to. He soon realizes it, though, and begrudgingly wears the shirt while promoting a charity event on The Today Show.
The Lesson: Sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do
Otherwise known as “buck it up, buddy.” There are times in life when you just have to grin and bear it. I know you don’t want to do something. You know you don’t want to do something. Everyone knows you don’t want to do something. Unfortunately, none of that matters. Whatever that something might be is something you just have to get done.
Aside from what he does for a living, no one would ever really call Jerry a stand-up guy. If anything, you’d probably say the opposite. He’s not really a good dude. However, you give credit where credit is due, and in this case, Jerry deserves credit for sucking it up and wearing the damn puffy shirt. Why did he do it? Was it out of loyalty to Kramer or was it because he decided to be a man of his word?
Who really knows? What we do know is that he wore it and did so admirably for as long as he possibly could and that’s what counts in the end.
“The Opposite” (Season Five, Episode Twenty Two)
Recap: In a moment of self-reflection, George realizes that every decision he has ever made has been the wrong one. This prompts Jerry to suggest he try doing the opposite, saying, “If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right.”
George goes for it and immediately gets results. He meets a woman who is way out of his league and lures her in by being incredibly honest. Through that woman, he gets an interview with the Yankees, where he takes then-owner George Steinbrenner to task for his poor management, a performance that lands him a job with the team.
The Lesson: Don’t be afraid to mix things up a bit every once in a while
We all get stuck in a rut and become prisoners of the routines that make up our lives. It’s human nature to be lulled into a form of functioning complacency. There’s no shame in it happening. It literally happens to everyone.
Where the rubber really meets the road is when a person has the wherewithal and gumption to change things up and make some moves to get out of their rut. It’s a lot harder than it might seem. Ruts are comfortable places and change is decidedly less comfortable. If change were easy, more people would do it.
Everyone faces multiple points in their lives where they encounter those “shit or get off the pot” moments when they have the opportunity to make a change. They are daunting and scary points but they can also be life-changing.
Get it, son. Just do it.
“The Soup Nazi” (Season Seven, Episode Six)
Recap: A new soup stand has everyone talking but not just because of what it offers. No, there’s also the man running it: the Soup Nazi. He runs a tight ship and has no problem kicking out anyone who doesn’t follow his strict rules, a list that eventually includes Elaine after she ignored Jerry’s warnings about adhering to the stand’s ordering protocol.
The Lesson: People are going to act a certain way and you mostly have to roll with it
Do you know the My World Guy? The My World Guy is the dude who is really, really into his shit. Like really into it. The My World Guy thinks his business is easily the most important business in the world and demands you both acknowledge and appreciate that.
The My World Guy is either really good at their job and therefore easy to be left alone, because regardless of how obnoxious they are, they get results. If they’re really bad, you tolerate them and pretend they don’t exist. It’s not perfect but coping mechanisms rarely are.
The Soup Nazi was a My World Guy who definitely landed on the “really good at their job” end of the spectrum. The guy made delicious soup, so who cares if he was a lunatic and had all these ridiculous rules that had to be followed? With someone like that, you just play by their rules and reap the rewards. They need things to be a certain way to excel at their craft. You should just accept that and move on.
“The Nap” (Season Eight, Episode Eighteen)
Recap: George, while working for the Yankees, needs a place to take a nap during the day. He experiments taking naps underneath his desk. He then gets the contractor working on Jerry’s kitchen to come up and modify his desk, creating space for an alarm clock (among other changes). Things go pretty well until Steinbrenner hears the alarm clock ticking and thinks there’s a bomb in George’s desk and it’s promptly torn apart by the bomb squad.
The Lesson: Don’t be afraid to get creative and think outside the box
George could have stopped at just taking naps under his desk. It was getting the job done. It was fine. But are we really cool with just “fine?” Please. We should always be striving for better than fine, which is what George ended up doing.
How did he end up exceeding the “fine” threshold? By thinking outside of the box.
Anyone can take a nap under their desk. It’s easy, fast, fun, and effective. Comfortable? No, but that’s not the point. George was smart enough to take advantage of the contractor Jerry was using and bring him to make some quality modifications to his desk, thus making his nap station even better.
Don’t settle, folks, and after you elect not to settle, don’t be afraid to get creative—even if a bomb squad ends up getting involved.
“The Voice” (Season Nine, Episode Two)
Recap: For some reason, Jerry and George start doing a certain voice that Jerry believes sounds like what his girlfriend’s stomach would sound like if it could talk. Kramer, in between starting Kramerica and hiring an intern, gets in on it too. Everyone loves the voice except for Jerry’s girlfriend, who issues an ultimatum that it’s either her or the voice. Naturally, Jerry picks the voice.
The Lesson: Inside jokes have a shelf life
We all have our inside jokes. We have them with our friends, our spouses, our kids, and our co-workers. They’re great. As Michael Scott once said, “I love inside jokes. I’d love to be a part of one someday,” which does allude to part of the appeal of the inside jokes: the exclusivity of them. Having an inside joke with someone is like having your own language.
Yet inside jokes aren’t immune to the same pitfalls that normal jokes face, especially when it comes to how long the joke can last. All jokes (both inside and outside) can only go on for so long before they run their course. At a certain point, the joke can feel forced (and you know how I feel about forcing things). Instead of something you want to be a part of, it feels like something you need to be a part of. It gets stale.
You need to know when to pull the plug and when to move on and come up with a new inside joke. That old one will still be there and its value will actually increase some thanks to nostalgia, but throwing it up on the shelf and coming up with a new one is the best move for everyone involved.
“The Stall” (Season Five, Episode Twelve)
Recap: George becomes obsessed with Elaine’s new boyfriend, Tony. George starts acting and dressing like him, even going as far as to use some of the same “cool guy” phrases he does. Tony invites George and Kramer to go rock climbing with him, but the trip ends up disastrously, as George’s preoccupation with the sandwiches he brought for everyone distracts him from properly securing the rope, causing Tony to fall and end up in the hospital.
The Lesson: Be yourself
Tony is a cool guy. George is not a cool guy. It’s pretty simple, yet George goes way outside of his lawn to front like a cool guy and the results are damn near catastrophic for everyone’s favorite mimbo, Tony.
Would things have been different if George had acted like himself instead of a sycophantic hanger-on, a move that most likely played into Tony’s vanity and was the reason why he invited George to go rock climbing in the first place? Probably. If George had acted like himself, he’s definitely not going rock-climbing and Tony is definitely not getting seriously injured.
Just be yourself. It really is a lot easier than the alternative.
“The Bubble Boy” (Season Four, Episode Seven)
Recap: Jerry, Elaine, George, and George’s girlfriend Susan head north to spend the weekend in Susan’s family’s cabin. On the way, Jerry has promised to visit a boy who lives in a bubble because the boy is a big fan of his. George, obsessed with making good time, arrives at the bubble boy’s house way before Jerry and Elaine do and they elect to pass the time by playing Trivial Pursuit. As the game goes on, things get heated between George and the bubble boy before an argument over a misprint on one of the cards escalates things considerably.
The Lesson: Know when to walk away from an argument
Things got testy between George and the bubble boy because George was adamant that the misprint on the card wasn’t a misprint even though it obviously was. The Moops didn’t invade Spain in the eighth century. It was the Moors, which is what the bubble boy said.
George wouldn’t budge, though, and things quickly escalated as a result, ultimately culminating in the bubble boy trying to strangle George and his protective orb being punctured.
It was tragic, but even more so because of how easily it could have been avoided. Both George and the bubble boy could have admitted they were wrong and that would have been the end of it. They couldn’t, though. Both dug in, and the next thing you know, we’ve got a punctured bubble and upset townspeople forming a posse in support of their beloved sick kid.
Walk away, raise the white flag, whatever it takes. Winning an argument is great, but sometimes, it’s better just to let things go—especially when a posse gets involved.