The Rules

“Hey, a rule is a rule. And let’s face it: without rules? There’s chaos.” – Kramer.

I’ve been watching a lot of Seinfeld of late and it got me to thinking I’ve never had an original idea in my whole life.

Take, for instance, my coffee table. We didn’t invite it into our home, it was here when we arrived. It is essentially a piece of bent transparent Perspex, probably hailing from some minimalist trendy furniture boutique because our urban jodhpur-wearing landlady is a bit like that. Not only is it entirely invisible, it also has curved sides you have to be wary of: place your bowl of Oat So Simple a careless inch too far to the sloping left and you’ll have a cereal-based catastrophe all over the carpet, a radius of oaty spatter reaching corners of the room you never even knew were there. When drunk, one might be inclined to climb underneath this plastic dome and look up at the ceiling: an expanse of white marred only by the light fittings, the pepper grinder, and the Radio Times. I like to pretend they are deep-sea fish and I am Steve Zissou.

So I’m watching an episode of Seinfeld: The Truth (Season 3, Episode 2). Kramer bursts into Jerry’s apartment proudly brandishing a windshield he had found on the pavement outside, unable to believe someone would throw something so useful away. “You know, I’m gonna make a coffee table out of this,” he says, to which Jerry replies, “Well, wouldn’t it be invisible? What are you gonna do, just sense it’s in front of the couch?”

Looking at my own invisible coffee table, its vague outline only deduced from the gouged imprints in the similarly trendy carpet beneath it, I can recall at least three occasions on which I have said to nervous houseguests, “Yes it’s invisible but it’s fine. You’ll sense it!” before, without fail, they leave with horizontal shin-bruises identical to my own. Prior to watching The Truth the other day I had no conscious recollection of that fucking episode. I don’t know how much of my personality is down to me and how much I have pinched by osmosis from the most successful sitcom of all time, but if I think about it any longer I’ll probably just have to top myself.

Re-watching Seinfeld from the beginning in an epic arsenumbing marathon wasn’t even my idea in the first place: it was my pal Nat Metcalfe’s, who is one of the few people in England to even know what Seinfeld is. When I first came to the UK four years ago I was horrified to find that no one had seen it, the show having been victim to bad scheduling. Though if you ask anyone who was unemployed for any length of time between about 1995 and 2005, chances are they’re a Seinfeld fan due to the vast amounts of telly they imbibed at ungodly hours in their similarly ungodly underpants. In Australia it’s on TV more than Friends is everywhere else in the world, or at least it was for a solid decade from about 1990. There were re-runs on weekdays at 7pm and new episodes Wednesday nights at 7:30pm on Channel Ten. Everybody knew that. The airing of the final episode made headline news. Having been programmed from a young age, Seinfeld has tinted my world. For better or worse, I see everything through Larry David’s thick lenses.

Nat and I work in a comicbook shop and are thus on the frontline of awkward human interaction. Similarly programmed, he has been my sounding board for every moral dilemma I’ve had since late 2008. And when I say “moral dilemma” I actually mean stuff like “Hey Nat, would you ever send an email marked as High Priority?” What follows is half an hour of discussion about whether boldly assuming your own blather to be the most important piece of mail that recipient has to deal with is wrong, right, or “Maybe a bit dickish.”

I’m constantly recounting awkward minutiae to be pulled apart and examined. The etiquette in the line at Pret. The correct number of biscuits to be taken if a packet is offered, and how the rules change depending if it’s a half-empty packet, or a higher quality of biscuit. How to correctly return a pair of perfectly fine though ill-fitting jeans to the shop, having underestimated how fat you actually are. Every single moment has the potential to go horribly, though seemingly infinitesimally, wrong. “Is this weird? Am I wrong?” Nat does too, though would probably be quick to point out he’s not asking me because he thinks I’ll give him the socially correct answer, but because I’ll make him feel better about whatever it is he’s doing, be it eating an entire Dinner-For-Two microwave meal in one sitting (Answer: this is perfectly okay as one dish counts as one dinner) or doing a post-match analysis on how the round system worked at the pub last night: Did I see how he was forced to buy himself the second pint despite buying everyone the first round? Do they not know the rules? ARE WE NOT LIVING IN A SOCIETY HERE?!

Jerry: I can’t sit by and allow this to go on! It’s a moral issue is what it is!

George:  You can’t compromise your principles!

Jerry: How am I gonna live with myself?

George: Can’t live!

Jerry: I’m not religious but I certainly know where to draw the line.

George: This country needs more people like you.

Jerry: There should be more people like us!

George: That’s why the world’s in the shape it’s in.

Jerry: You’re tellin’ ME!

Any conceivable situation you can think of has its parallel Seinfeld episode. Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer have been everywhere you’ve been and everywhere you think you’re going. And there they are asking, “Is this weird? Am I wrong?” What are the rules by which wrongness can be judged? Nat decided one day that Seinfeld is The Rules. I’m extrapolating here, but we can consider it a sort of Ten Commandments for how to do things and how not to do things. Mostly how not to do things. Instead of Jesus, we’ve got Jerry. Instead of Judas, we’ve got Newman. And it seems to be working out for us. It’s sort of a two-man religion, but we’re taking new members as long as you know The Rules. Is this weird? Am I wrong?

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