It’s hard to know what came first: my vague apprehension about the social constructs of dinner parties, or watching enough episodes of Seinfeld to convince me they’re a horrible ordeal. Probably the latter, since I was a little too young during Seinfeld’s original run to worry about dinner parties as an actual social obligation. But as the years wore on — and the reruns continued to take hold in my brain — the pressure of bringing the perfect babka has not abated.
Little bits of Seinfeld-originated anxiety pop up when I least expect them. The characters’ habitual acrimony with local business owners haunts me; what if they suddenly hated me at the pizza place I go to a lot? What if the people at the fruit market realized I was being too particular? Is it okay to return to a clothing store without buying anything? Seemingly communal food in the office kitchen, keeping track of what different kinds of doctors there are, close-talking, low-talking, niceties about babies, recognizing instances of “bad naked,” deciding to Costanza one’s own decision making — I’m never really safe from a Seinfeld thought creeping in.
Before this sounds too extreme, I don’t actually have an anxiety disorder. (Nor would I ever minimize the agony of trying to cope with one.) What I do have, though, in both general niceties and, uh, kind of all areas of my life, is a profound need to be right, and many, many Seinfeld episodes focus on the deep wrongness of minor social miscues. Jerry et al., particularly George, have extremely clear ideas about what is and isn’t appropriate, and seemingly tiny transgressions wind up being egregious acts of social warfare. Is it so bad to talk about a particularly important new pair of shoes? Apparently it is. Accidentally pulling a “big salad” — i.e., allowing someone to think I bought them something when I did not — is a major fear any time a round at a bar requires two sets of hands to carry it back to the table. George broke up with someone for this! And she didn’t even do it on purpose!
I can agree, though, that getting “big salad”-ed — that would be, not getting the credit one deserves — is frustrating. But I have followed Seinfeld-ian guides for things I don’t even believe in. I actually think double-dipping is fine, but I would never do it, lest I be held in the kind of reproach reserved for Other People on the show. I’m a touchy-feely person, so I kind of like a cheek-kiss hello, but again, I would never, because that’s one of the things Seinfeld told me to avoid.
This is one of the reasons I find Curb Your Enthusiasm too stressful to enjoy. While I can acknowledge its comic greatness, that show gives me severe agita — Seinfeld has high and specific standards, but Larry’s standards on Curb seem more arbitrary and more dangerous to transgress. I will never be able to meet those standards consistently enough to be in Larry’s good graces. But I’d like to think that, 25 years in, I’m living a life neurotic enough to be in Jerry & Co.’s good graces.