Thursday, May 1, 2008

Dinnertime conversations in an eccentric household:
James Joyce’s Ulysses as a Seinfeld episode

We are a silly family (see post on Urban legends and bad poetry). Some of our silliness takes place at dinnertime. My son often acts out colorful characters and zoned-out teenage conversations from his day, and sometimes the topics among the rest of us verge toward the absurd.

Take last night’s dinner conversation. After my son made a reference to “Khan!" from the Star Trek "Wrath of Khan" movie, I told him that he shouldn’t make a cultural reference to a movie he’d never seen. My husband said, “That’s ridiculous, people who have never read Ulysses make references to it all the time.” (He looked pointedly at me).

“Hey, what if we had the Seinfeld cast could act out highlights from James Joyce’s Ulysses?” I said, suddenly inspired. “You could have George be the guy in the book who talks about the shrinkage-inducing sea.” And then we were off—Elaine as Molly Bloom, Jerry as Leopold Bloom.

Some background: I’ve never managed to get all the way through Ulysses—its mostly male-centric world has always seemed alien and alienating to me: men getting drunk together, masturbating, peeing outside, etc. As a freshman in college, the first time I tried to read the book, I got stuck on the phrase in the first chapter of the book: “the scrotum-tightening sea.” It just stopped me right there. I was naïve and didn’t exactly know where a scrotum was and I had no idea how the sea could tighten it up.

Years later, when George on Seinfeld came in from a swim and said, “I’ve got shrinkage!” it was a Eureka moment for me. “Scrotum-tightening sea!” some part of my brain acknowledged. And, immediately, the dejected realization — "Is that all it was?"

Maybe someday I’ll actually read Ulysses and write this whole thing up as a lost screenplay. But here’s what we’ve got so far:


Chapter 1

Stately, plump George Costanza came inside from the backyard where he had tried to take a swim. He peered into the kitchen and called out coarsely, “The water in that pool is cold and I’ve got shrinkage!” (Laughter; pause.) “It reminds me of my mother.”

Chapter 13

Jerry comes in and slaps some cash on the counter. “Let’s just say,” he confides to Kramer. “This afternoon, on the beach, I wasn’t the master of my domain.”

Chapter 18

Elaine explains her latest date. “I put my arms around him and his heart was beating like mad and then--Yada, yada, yada...”


I wish I knew where to put “Serenity now!” and “No soup for you!” (Bloom—I think it’s Bloom—talks a lot about soup in the chapter where he goes to a pub for lunch, but no one denies him food), and “Not that there’s anything wrong with that!”—and all the other Seinfeld expressions I was able to Google tonight, but I don’t know the book well enough to place them. If you, dear readers, have suggestions for more Seinfeld/Ulysses scenes, please send them on.

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