There are plenty of famous and even ubiquitous episodes of Seinfeld. See also this blog. One of the most famous is in the George Costanza collection, an episode called “The Comeback,” though a more ubiquitous name may be “Jerk Store.”
In this episode George, who works for the Yankees organization, is in a business meeting. George, unabashedly eating shrimp, is met with “Hey George the Ocean called, they are running outta shrimp” by a character named Reilly–nondescript white-man-business-type. The whole boardroom erupts in laughter and George, mouth full of shrimp, looks bewildered. On his drive home, George explodes with what he thinks is the ultimate comeback for Reilly: “The jerk store called. They’re running outta you!” He tries out the line on his friends who are unimpressed. Though George is undeterred.
Later, George finds out that Reilly has moved to Akron, Ohio to work for Firestone Tires. George books a flight to Akron under false pretenses of handing out free snow tires at the Yankees games. George, in the Firestone version of the Yankees’ boardroom, shovels shrimp into his mouth once again, recalling the earlier scene. Reilly uses, “The ocean called,” again and receives the same reaction as he had before. And George happily launches into “Oh yea? Well, the jerk store called. They’re running outta you!” to which Reilly replies that it doesn’t matter because George is their all time best seller. Again, the crowd loves it. George replies, “Oh yea? Well I slept with your wife,” and the crowd is silent. Another man says quietly to George, “His wife is in a coma.”
In this fictional story, George’s desire to go back and use his line sends him on a flight to northeastern Ohio where he’s again torn apart. Of course, for most of us, when we think of a great line or speech later on, we do not book a flight in order to say our piece. Maybe we mumble it to ourselves, write in a journal, call our moms, but largely, the thing we wish we could have said, goes unsaid. And in this case, I feel George. Because the weight of what I didn’t say is sometimes mentally monstrous to carry around. The burden of the perfect retort or lesson I could’ve taught that person is often a lot to hold.
There’s a comedy bit I heard on Pandora once (cannot remember who the comedian was) with a real life example of “what could have been said” that goes the way we typically expect. The comedian is on a plane, using his phone when it becomes time to seal the cabin and take off. The woman in the seat next to him, whom he does not know, says, “You need to turn off your phone.” He knows that you don’t have to do that anymore and says that to her. She repeats, “You need to turn off your phone.” Again the comedian says to her, “You don’t have to do that anymore.” The woman says her piece a third time and the comedian complies and turns off his phone, to not create a scene.
He ends the bit with, “And now I think about her every day.”
I get it. This is me. If I don’t say what I needed to, or like the comedian, I do, but I am not understood or really heard, I will quite literally think about it forever.
One of my favorite pastimes is to say in my head, what I wished I had said out loud. See also this post. Do we all do this? Live an experience and then later plan the perfect response, a killer speech, or the best comeback. It’s amazing what a little space and time to think can sound like aloud…in my head.
A few weeks ago I taught a “candlelit” yoga class. I taught the “candlelit” at a different studio for a few months and was familiar with the setting of the dimmed lights and the battery-operated candles. I set everything up in the studio and went back to the desk to check people in. I always left the front dimmers on for the first 40 minutes of class–I liked the ambiance and it allowed people to see their own balancing in postures.
But when I returned to the room, the lights were off. I turned them back on and began to teach. About 30 seconds into Sun A, a male yogi whisper-yelled to me, “The lights are supposed to be off! This is a candlelit class!”
Stunned, I ignored him and continued teaching the class. About a minute later, the same man followed me across the room and said it again as I adjusted someone else’s spine in downward facing dog. Again, I ignored him and continued to cue the class. Like a child throwing a hissy fit, he marched over and turned the lights off himself. I spent the subsequent 56 minutes considering whether or not to turn the dimmers back on and planning what to say to him after class.
I was a little trippy over my words that class because I couldn’t stop thinking about this guy’s gall and because I was in my head thinking about how to address him on his way out. He had undermined my method, interrupted our flow, and weirdly approached me as I had my hands on someone else’s hips.
Class ended. The man headed to shower, came out, snidely thanked me for the lavender towel, and then left. It may have just been me but he had the smuggest look on his stupid face. And I did not say anything. So much like that nameless comedian, and like George before him, I cannot stop thinking about it.
It’s like I’ve got my own little court of justice in my head and my mind will not rest until what’s deserved is delivered. I spend a lot of energy with my girls encouraging self-advocacy and reminding them to ask for what they need. And sometimes, I just don’t do it myself.
I think what’s worse than the perpetrator, Reilly, the woman on the plane, the guy in the yoga class, getting away with something–quite honestly something he/she might never think of again–what’s worse is the weight of what I could have said.
I am not advocating for going around throwing insults at people, saying “Yes you do look fat in those jeans,” or openly telling people their way is the wrong way. But when someone else steps into my territory and disrupts my peace, I think it’s best to speak. We spend a lot of time tip-toeing, apologizing for standing in the way, mumbling “sorry” when what we really mean is “excuse me.” In this era of lies and misleading statements and alternative truths, I think it’s best to live unburdened, to unload the weight of what we could have said. And just say it.