We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master - Ernest Hemingway
Monday, May 2, 2011
Charlie Hatton - A Disease, About Nothing
Well, here I am -- again. Still awake at three AM, staring groggily past the early-morning dreck filling the television screen. There's no sleep in sight, I've seen more Iron Chefs in a row than an all-robot culinary school, and the specter of morning is looming over me like the alarm clock of Damocles. How did it come to this? Again?
I blame Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
I've done an enormous amount of soul-searching, you see -- it's remarkable what you can accomplish when you're awake in the dead of night, barely-watching old CSI reruns -- and I've come to understand the pathology of my condition. The TV, she calls to me -- with her siren song of old familiar shows and memorized lines, of friends from Friends and good eats on Good Eats and Frasier. From Cheers. She swaddles my brain in a downy haze of rewarmed spectacle and witty repartee, lulling me into a trance broken only hours later, when it's already too late. It's four in the morning, and there's work tomorrow. The ship is on the rocks. The rats are swimming away. And either the mermaid is a sea cow, or I fell asleep during a Roseanne marathon. Woe is the captain.
Oh, I can fight the monster. If I only break the telly's hypnotic gaze in time, I can be free. I can earn the sleep of blissful mortals with the simple press of one tiny 'OFF' button. Some rare nights I do taste victory -- and drool it onto the pillow, mostly -- but those are hard-won battles. One night, the power went out around eleven -- I slept like a baby. Election night is good for sleeping, when the reruns are all preempted by spittling wags and self-congratulatory baby-kissers. Sometimes, I think I'll get there -- I'll actually kick this drug and my nights -- and my slobbery pillow -- will once again be my own.
Enter Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
The problem, it turns out, is Seinfeld. It's an eminently watchable show, and intimately familiar. Catching a favorite Seinfeld rerun is less like rehashing an old dusty sitcom episode, and more like catching up with old friends. "Hey, tell us that story again about the no-fat yogurt." "Remember that time you started swimming in the East River? Hoo, mercy."
In and of itself, this is not so sinister. The local network throws a Seinfeld at us around seven in the evening, which is super. It's a little after-dinner, pre-prime-time aperitif -- an amusing and fruity sip between courses to cleanse the palate and aid digestion. My funny bone, and my lower intestines, heartily approve.
It's the next scheduled episode that hurts. The eleven thirty Seinfeld is no light airy spritzer. It's a dense, sticky brew -- like Guinness laced with Bazooka Joe -- meant to drop you on the couch and ensnare you there, like some inescapable Br'er Comedy, until the not-so-wee-any-more hours of the morning. Get hooked into that Seinfeld after the local news, and you might as well kiss your drooling pillow good night.
Cue Julia Louis-Dreyfus, with an ominous background play-in. Something in a pipe organ. Nice and foreboding.
There are many flavors of Seinfeld, each with its own eye-magnetic field. The Constanzas-heavy episodes, for instance, could barely pull a paper clip. All the yelling and fighting -- if I wanted that, I'd wake my wife up at two-thirty, instead of sitting on the couch. No, thanks. Ditto the Uncle Leo episodes, the few mostly about Kramer, or in Florida with the elder Seinfelds. I can walk away from these, without feeling the merest tug from the couch.
But the stories written for Elaine Benes, played by the dastardly sinister Ms. Louis-D? That's a whole different ball of magnet. The Christmas card nipple, Mr. Pitt's Hitler moustache, and the dancing -- good lord, the dancing -- these episodes will lock my buns to couch like I've just been given a SuperGlue enema. I'm surprised cars and parking meters and airplanes flying overhead aren't sucked through the wall into the time-shifting vortex that is a late-night Elaine-y Seinfeld. But they're not. Just me. Over and over again.
So here I am, on the couch at an ungodly hour, putting in my own personal graveyard shift at the TV rerun factory. I knew -- or should have known -- what I was getting into hours ago, when I decided to kill "a few minutes" watching the end of the 'breast implant' episode. And now I'm stuck, with dawn around the corner and no one to blame but myself. And Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
This is your brain on 'Seinfeld disease', kids. It's real... but it's NOT spectacular.
Charlie Hatton is a Boston-area blogger and recovering standup comedian offering smart, sophisticated humor about life, language, and the size of his naughty bits. Not necessarily in that order. He writes regularly at Where the Hell Was I?, and slightly irregularly anywhere else he can get away with it.