The Jerome Seinfeld situation comedy program that used to fly at us through the rectangular altars in our living rooms was smart. Drawing from their life experiences, the creators, Jerome and his friend Lawrence David, realized that the addition of a wacky neighbor can add dimension to any scenario. Without Kramer’s coffee table book about coffee tables, without Kramer pretending to be the Moviephone guy when people dialed his number by mistake, without Kramer owning a meat slicer that allowed Elaine to feed a locked-in kitty through the slot under the door, without Kramer using butter as a suntan lotion,
the plot lines of Seinfeld would quickly have lapsed into nothing more than “emotionally-stunted New York man with a couple of needy friends goes out on a lot of dates.” Kramer was an essential ingredient in the success of the show. Kramer added spice. Kramer was the zing, the pepper, the hot chili flakes sprinkled onto what would otherwise have been a humdrum loaf of rye bread.
I can hear your clamor of objections, you know: Chili flakes on rye bread? What the hell kind of cruddy metaphor is that, O Lame English Teacher? The beauty of twenty years of teaching, though, is that I’m prodigiously able to block out objecting voices and continue happily tra-la-laing down the winding path that maunders the contours of my brain, smilingly oblivous to all protests until the last final exam is graded. …which is to say, You Stickler, that I’ll just be over here in my sparkly majorette uniform, turning somersaults across the expanse of my frontal lobe with my pet monkey Chico Bon-Bon, while you stand phlegmatically at the counter kneading the bread, resolutely refusing to stir in the slightest hint of chili flakes or whimsy because it’s. not. in. the. recipe.
So, yes, Kramer lit up the episodes; he amplified the absurdity; he made everything more fun.
I’ve realized lately that material goods do the same thing in the sitcom of my life (tune in this Thursday for a very special episode in which Jocelyn and Bob Saget rescue Kitty Purry from a tree by throwing pies at her until she topples to the concrete–landing on her feet during the laugh-filled final moments before theme song swells!!!).
Erm, so Stuff is my Kramer because it makes my days infinitely more fun.
Certainly, I know the values talk this decade is vehemently anti-stuff, bloviating that we shouldn’t find joy in consumerism, that things can’t fulfill us, that genuine contentment comes from intangibles,
but try laying that line of thinking on a World War II POW who survived by eating a bowl of seaweed every day for three years and then, at war’s end, came home, emaciated and traumatized, to discover he could afford to buy a new house. Pretty much, I’m okay with Soldier Boy squealing softly when he limped weakly into the foyer–quite able to will him the rapture of trailing his fingers across new Formica counter tops. It’s a thing? And it makes you happy? Here are the keys, Joe. Just remember to turn off the porch light when you hit the sack.
We might argue here that I’m setting up a false analogy, as I’m no prisoner of war recently released into a welcoming economic boom, and that limping towards stuff on shaky legs is somehow more palatable than twirling towards it, giddily, as I do. Fair enough. But how could you expect anything less than a false analogy from an English teacher who willfully constructs deficient metaphors? (*In for a penny, in for a pound, she bromided*)
While I’m considering dangling a participle here, just to derail my main point even further, I’ll back off and let your false analogy accusation find purchase. Indeed, I’m no POW (although I’d argue twenty years of teaching freshman composition does place me on the POW continuum), and I can concede that my delectation of consumerized commodities is both superficial and unattractive.
despite being herded into buildings of organized religion as a child and therein admonished that I required forgiveness,
And despite wearing gauchos with clogs in the 1970s,
Despite opting to lie in and nurse my hangover rather than attend 8 a.m. media studies class,
And despite allowing myself a feeling of secret superiority for being the first-chair flautist for several years running in junior high,
Despite the fact that I think “flautist” is only second to “piccoloist” in pretentious musician diction, yet I use both liberally in the hopes that I sound couth (to tell you true, I actually like to call piccolo players “microflautists”),
And despite eating other people’s sweets if they’ve gone to bed and left them on the counter,
Despite devoting too many dollars to gossip magazines so that I have fleeting amusement on the treadmill,
And despite watching my high school honors English teacher, Mr. Bushnell, literally pin my good friend Jeremy to the wall for eating Corn Nuts (“I told. you. I. can’t. stand. the. smell. of. those.”) in a shocking and memorable display of power’s desire to humiliate,
I don’t really do guilt or shame. Remorse? Yes. Regret? Hmmm. A wishing that I weren’t what I am? Not so much.
When I observe guilt in action, it just seems like wasted energy. Guilt is an after-the-fact desire to change a game already played. To me, it seems a more constructive use of energy to do one’s best as the thing is happening rather than to fret through a post-mortem of guilt as a means of processing disappointment in the final result; naturally, one’s best may sometimes still result in a fumble, but honest effort and good intentions in the moment revoke Guilt’s press credentials and quash his right to show up in the locker room after the game and scornfully eyeball the players’ sweaty torsos while smugly adjusting his fedora and jotting notes on a flip pad. Although you might want to argue at this point that Guilt personified would never wear a fedora, I’d argue right back “How do you know? Have you ever met him? If so, was he in a locker room? Because Guilt makes very specific post-game sartorial choices. And also, if you’d stop trying to question my every rhetorical move, we could get to the point a whole lot faster without all these unnecessary distractions.”
…which is to say, in regards to banishing Guilt to the corridor outside the locker room: all we can really do give our best coverage, keep an eye out for the chance to intercept, and, if our best still bungles the ball, we should doggedly decide to change the way we attack the next game. Later, secure in the knowledge that we went balls deep out on the gridiron, we can crack the locker room door, peek into the hall, put our thumbs on our noses, and let loose with a mischievous finger waggle towards Moping Guilt, out there bemoaning the lack of even a bench upon which to plop himself and act petulant.
Oh, and by the way, Sticklers, please note how artfully I did not end that previous with a preposition. I may tolerate the odd off-kilter metaphor here and there, but closing a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I will not put.
I suppose I should acknowledge here that a football/locker room metaphor is about the most ludicrous scenario this jasmine-tea-drinker could ever attempt to draw, seeing as I’ve never actually been able to watch a football game (ah, but my language is imprecise: it’s more that I’ve never wanted to watch a football game; I’d probably “be able” to watch one, but there’d have to be a $10,000 reward slipped into my gorgeous Haiku wallet at the end of the match when the ladies are trudging exhaustedly off the pitch). Anyhow, better I had gone with an orchestra comparison–*typed the girl who played piano, flute, and bassoon in the 7th grade*–and worked up some sort of scene along the lines of “guilt over messing up one’s fingering has no place after the concert is over, when the woodwinds have all convened at Shakey’s to hang out and pelt each other with pineapple chunks from their Hawaiian pizza.”
In sum, when it comes to the feelings of pleasure I derive from stuff, I don’t need to go back and do a slow-motion replay of either the game or the concert (although I do imagine a slow-motion replay of the microflautists tooting out “Flight of the Bumblebee” might offer up ample diversion). I’m in the present with it, and I’m all good with my tendency to applaud elatedly when I open a box from Boden containing the geometric-patterned skirt I ordered.
Other things have also recently infused my days with Kramerish brio:
1) You may have heard the sound of one hand clapping a few weeks ago when we drove our new car home from the Kia lot. The other hand, I kept on the steering wheel, of course. BECAUSE YOU CAN NEVER DRIVE TOO DEFENSIVELY WHAT WITH ALL THOSE TEXTING KIDS ABSENTMINDEDLY SWERVING AROUND THE ROADS THESE DAYS!
As strict Toyota/Honda used car owners, this purchase was a decided departure for Groom and me (if you just read this sentence and thought, “It should be ‘Groom and I,'” then you need to stop clapping about the Boden skirt now and start slapping yourself with those hands of yours; to use the nominative case “I” is a severe mistake. Rather, since the pronoun is the object of the preposition “for,” you need to use the objective form “me.” Honest to Diana Hacker, if you use constructions like “for my husband and I” in daily life, you to keep up that self slapping for at least five more minutes. Trust me, case misuse does not make you sound smarter. Dummy.). A new car? One with Bluetooth that takes voice commands and places phone calls for us? One with new car smell that didn’t come from a bottle? What are we, adults?
Under the domino effect of buying stuff, the purchase of a new car meant we then had to buy a handheld car vacuum–imagine the masses of crunched-up leaves on the floor mats in October–and, of course, color coordinated fuzzy dice to hang from the rear view mirror. Look at us, caught up in a cascade of consumerism!
2) Something about pulling our 20-year-old television set out of storage when we returned from Turkey made us wince. Maybe, just maybe, Modern Family would be even funnier if it were broadcast from a flatter screen; maybe, with a tighter frame to the tv set, the writing on our favorite shows would be even more dense and the irony further compressed. Naysay if you will, but I maintain that Heidi Klum’s “auf wiedersehen”s carry added depth and force when they bounce out of our new flat tv (plus, we’re now equipped to camp at KOA’s across the country!).
3) With no clear recipient for his allowance dollars in Turkey (the little miser would not let me convince him that buying a donkey was a good long-term investment), Paco saved up last year and, upon our return, bought himself a Wii. You might have heard the squishy sound of his Crocs stampeding into Target in late July, and in the months since then, you might have heard the eight-year-old’s exclamations of joy as he leads a Lego Captain Jack Sparrow through sword fight after barrel jump. From this jasmine-tea-drinker, you may have heard exclamations of revelation as I play basketball in Wii Sports Resort and find myself discovering that “shooting hoops” is actually something quite different from rolling an embroidery hoop around the back yard with a stick while Paco tries to pierce the moving circle with an arrow from his crossbow. Who knew?
The great thing about the Wii’s version of shooting hoops is that I never have to stop and extract an arrow from my calf, a change which is already racking up significant savings in ER room co-pays…which in turn means the Wii is on the way to paying for itself, and if that’s not clever consumerism, I don’t know what is!
4) In case you need even more evidence than this post has already provided, I’m kind of an idiot. Occasionally, I try to package this as “charm,” but the perspicacious eye won’t be fooled. A litany of my idiocy in the past year would include the moment when I leapt into a transport vehicle in Goreme, Turkey, with such alacrity that I didn’t notice the video camera still lodged in the couch cushions at the pension where we’d been staying for the previous ten days. By the time we realized the loss and called the pension, some mendacious backpacker had already peculated it, tossing out two of his three pairs of grey boxer shorts in order to make room in his Kelty for his “new” video camera.
Doubtlessly, Stickler, you are thinking here that I should have been gender neutral in my depiction of the corrupt backpacker. However, I know the thief was a “he,” as female backpackers only steal hearts, not video cameras.
Once we returned home, Groom found a coupon and a nice little camera called a “Bloggie” (so small is it that the backpacker who one day will discover it left on a chair in Caribou Coffee will only have to shed one pair of boxer shorts to make space in his backpack). And of course, how is a video camera ever NOT fun?
5) Then there’s been the addition to our lives of cell phones. I’m still amused that we went to Turkey and got cell phones and cable for the first time. Upon returning to the States, we were well able to leave the cable behind, but we did decide that cell phones have their uses. For example, I can prop mine between the pages of a book, marking my spot long enough for me to raise a mug of jasmine tea to my lips.
Our phones are cheap and pay-as-you-go, which is probably best, seeing as I got myself wound up with excitement that I had a new gadget that clearly would need a cute cover; after several weeks of searching for The Perfect Phone Case, I found just the brightly-colored bubble-covered sheath I’d been envisioning. Later that afternoon, my cell phone safely protected by its brand new cover, I managed to smash the screen.
6) One of the first new purchases that greeted me upon return to this Great Land of Stuff was a new laptop, kindly financed by my college. I’d researched and chosen the thing while in Turkey, but, oddly, the college refused to send it to my address of 2306 Dusty Lane, Village in the Middle of Nowhere, Turkey. Thus, I had to wait until we got home before ditching my old laptop, which had been literally unusable for months, before the squishy sound of my soft wedge boots could be heard stampeding into the tech guy’s lair on campus.
In some ways, the new laptop didn’t bring much Kramer into my days, as it has thus far been the instrument for teaching 160 students in six online classes rather than a giddy new blogging platform. However, the new laptop is a “tablet” model, which means that when I’m sitting at a soccer game, cheering for Girl, attempting to peck a few sentences into a document, and Paco starts whining that he’s bored, I now have the option of saving my work and handing the laptop over to him so that he can draw scawwey robot monsters until the battery dies. Alternately, I can just stuff the tablet into his whining maw and solve the problem that way. Either way, I am in no fashion whatsoever violating the college’s policy on acceptable use of technology. There is too a little-known loophole that allows for the cramming of technology into gullets of pissy children who refuse to open a single one of the six books Mommy brought along for their amusement.
7) Let’s take stock: I’m so in love with stuff that I lost a video camera, crushed the screen on my cell phone, and lodged my laptop into my kid’s esophagus. Ah, but I’ve failed to mention the part where I left my beloved iPod on the airplane when we flew back from Istanbul to Chicago. At the start of that twelve-hour flight, I took out my iPod (no need to get too moany about its loss; it was a Shuffle) and, thinking I might tire of watching bad tv–as if such a thing is possible–during the flight, tucked it into the pocket in front of me, way down by the barf bag. Twelve hours later, during which we were hardly fed or watered but were well sated with episodes of Mike & Molly, I stood up, gathered six of our eighteen (this one time, I’m not exaggerating) carry-on items, including a wooden cane, into my arms, and booked off that plane, screaming, “Sweet Juan Valdez, but we’re back in a country where a decent cup of java is possible! Outta my way, Grandma!” Just as a side note, a wooden cane is very effective at getting Grandma outta one’s way even if Grandma herself is leaning on a cane for support. Younger biceps trump years of practice when it comes to Cane Wars During Deplaning.
The next day, as I readied myself for a long-awaited run through the trees of Minnesota’s Northwoods, I realized the loss of the iPod. Taking a page from the travel guide of a stinky backpacker, Barf Bag had stolen my iPod.
Fortunately, Paco had been using a Shuffle all year in Turkey to listen to music at night while he “slept.” Back in the States, he is no longer scared (except of zombies, severely-bobbed hair, and Michelle Bachmann), and so he has yet to notice that Mommy’s using his iPod to listen to her boyfriend Dan Savage and her girlfriend Terry Gross as she runs. He also has yet to notice there’s a laptop dangling from his tongue.
The greatest Kramer fun I’m getting these days from Paco’s iPod comes from Mark Maron’s WTF? podcasts, in which he interviews comics and provides insight into that subculture. Running along the Lester River a few weeks ago, I had to stop, bend over, and put my hands on my knees, I was laughing so hard at the comedian who admitted he’d had to stop masturbating in front of his cat because, well, the cat found the motion of male self-pleasure equivalent to dragging a piece of yard around the kitchen floor. How could Mr. Tiddybomboms resist pouncing on The Best Toy He’d Seen Since Squeaky Mouse? Ruing the claw marks on his own tiddybomboms, the comedian had to switch up his habits and lock Mr. T in the laundry room before heading off to “play his microflaut.”
8) In addition to my new laptop, currently housed in Paco’s soft palate, we also bought a new desktop computer upon our return. The old one had been near death before we stored it in the basement for a year, and, unlike me, it was no better for the year off duty. Again, Groomeo did his research, found a deal, and hence it is that I’m currently typing at an only-slightly-dusty HP right now, listening to my fine hate-filled boyfriend Eminem rant about “sliming grills of roaches,” and you have to know this jasmine-tea-drinking English teacher loves her some vivid language backed by slithering snake, gibbering fake, fibbering flake beatz.
9) Although not packed into the eighteen carry-on items (or into the neck of the wooden cane), Turkish textiles made their way home with us and have me gobsmacked with satisfaction now that they’ve moved in to our house. Groom, when not researching deals on technology, banged out a platform couch (a “sedir”), ordered a massive chunk of foam, and put together the basis of our Turkish sitting room. I get full-on sense pleasure, not at all akin to having my genitals attacked by a giddy kitty, from the feel of the kilims under my feet and the woolen pillowcases behind my back.
10) Perhaps I’m preaching to the converted, but are boots not awesome? The only time I ever think Groom isn’t perfect is when he voices an opinion that it’s possible to have too many boots. Like, what is that?
The important part of this bullet is that I got some new wedge boots (remember how you heard them stampeding into the tech guy’s lair a few points back?). And they are soft. And they make me tall and powerful. And sometimes I can be found wearing them even when I’m not wearing a bra.
As you do.
11) One of the highlights of my autumn has been putting my hands on to the stuff called “bulbs.” You need to stop thinking of that kitty attacking the comedian’s tiddybomboms. Not those bulbs.
I mean crocuses, daffodils, hyacinth–my hands in the dirt, black fingernails, the promise of color after a long, grey winter. When the first tendrils poke up through the last mounds of snow come April, I will again be delighted by the purchase of hundreds of bulbs.
Then the deer will come through in the dusk of a wet morning and eat every burgeoning plant, making me wonder why I bought all those hundreds of bulbs–for deer brunch?
Ah, but then the slew of bulbs in pots, hidden up on the deck, will continue their growth, and the only thing more gratifying than outfoxing a fox is outfoxing deer. I fully plan to sit out on the deck, surrounded by crocuses, croaking with delight. (please tell me you’re croaking with delight right now over that loose “dittogram”–“crocuses, croaking”)
13) My last months have also been zippier thanks to the piece of stuff called Kindle. Indeed, my e-reader, while lacking the lush sensory appeal of an actual book, brings me books either too popular or too obscure to get through library loan. 3 a.m. has seen me clicking the page turn on Unbroken (Laura Hillenbrand), Searching for Tamsen Donner (Gabrielle Burton), It Looked Better on the Model (Laurie Notaro), Mama Lama Ding Dong (Ayun Halliday).
That Kindle is so weird. It only likes books by women.
14) While Paco was saving up for a Wii last year, Girl was continuing to save up for a trampoline. The thing was assembled in the back yard in early August, and in the last few months, it’s hosted hundreds of jumping parties and been the catalyst (don’t you love it when catalysts host?) for the creation of at least twenty new spring-based games. Easily, if you are thinking of the best things for kids, the best place to toss dollars at youngster stuff, I have to say the trampoline is the best Item of Amusement we’ve ever come across for our kids–except for the easel Girl was given when she was two. Trampoline and easel. Were I able to bring both along to soccer games, I might be able to refrain from wedging my laptop into Paco’s neck.
You knew the verb tense in that last sentence is my all-time favorite, right? I adore it for being called the Future Unreal Conditional. More than a verb tense, it’s a mindset, the kind that allows a Kardashian to wed and then assert, “We’ll be together forever.”
15) Tottering around on wedge boots, cruising through digital books, pretending I’m an Irish step dancer on the trampoline, shooting hoops without injury, breaking and losing technology–all are examples of how my life is richer thanks to things. Supplementing this list is a new musical instrument in the house: the clarinet. With a switch of schools this year, Girl was no longer able to pursue viola, as her new school doesn’t have orchestra. Greeting the idea of change with her usual equilibrium, she announced, employing polysyndeton,”I’ll play clarinet, or I’ll play flute, or maybe I’ll play saxophone, but whatever it is, I’ll like it, and I’ll practice lots, and I’ll work ahead in the book, and I’ll start composing my own little flourishes, and I’ll gross out my brother with my spit rag, and suddenly I’ll seem like someone with musical ability after all, and that will be a great development for a girl just entering middle school!”
That might not be word-for-word. I was paraphrasing, after all.
16) This last isn’t a new purchase; it’s just a thing that adds a kind of mellow spice to my days. It’s my bike. With the local exercise trail now paved all the way to the nearest grocery store, I’ve leapt on Bikey after dark and gone on family missions for ice cream bars. I’ve pedaled it towards ingredients for lasagna. I’ve ridden home hitchingly, trying to balance four bags on the handle bars and the backpack on my–you guessed it–back. The wheels spin; the gears click; the ice cream and my head get soft; the semicolon is repeated to set apart items in a list.
At the end of most days, I realize I’ve had a really good time, and it would be disingenuous to pretend the stuff in my life hadn’t contributed to the feeling of contentment.
if the car drove away
if the television, Wii, Bloggie went black
if the cell phones, iPods, computers disappeared into the ether
if the textiles unraveled
if the bulbs refused to bloom
if the Kindle refused to recharge
if the trampoline crashed to the ground
if the clarinet and the bike decided to pull a “dish ran away with the spoon” elopement,
I’d still have plenty:
love, friendship, health, an amusement park of a brain,
and a kickass pair of wedge boots.