The Real New Yorker
Postcard From New York
Real New Yorkers are like Jonathan Brady, a Citibank exec-cum-off broadway playwright and producer. Brady’s play “Heroes,” which I saw a few weeks ago, exposes the New York spirit—a spirit he shares. The two twenty-something protagonists shed their mundane workaday lives to fight crime as real life superheroes, eventually capturing the “SoHo strangler.” They, like Brady and all real New Yorkers, seek to live extraordinarily; they want something more; they need to be unique.
Not all real New Yorkers are superheroes by night, but each seeks to transcend the ordinary by excelling with indomitable spirit. Those rabid Yankee fans, like one of my co-workers at ABC, at once express their individuality and collective identity through their almost-excessive paraphernalia and fanaticism. Even the owner and manager of the local Subway franchise lives a second life. As a day trader, he most likely makes more money and derives more excitement playing the volatile stock market than managing his “sandwich artists.”
There is, however, one New Yorker who best champions the spirit of a Real New Yorker. His floral Hawaiian shirt and bushy mustache set a vibrant and informal tone that is affirmed by his unruly long brown hair, barely restrained by a baseball cap—almost obnoxiously worn backwards as a final jab at propriety and predictability. He is a comedian, connoisseur, entrepreneur and two-time mayoral candidate. He is Kenny Kramer—the inspiration for Seinfeld’s Cosmo Kramer.
Last week while I was on the Kramer Reality Tour (which started before the Peterman Reality tour spoofed it on Seinfeld), I came to know what it means to be a Real New Yorker. The tour is Kenny’s latest venture to find some exciting way to pass through life extraordinarily. When disco was king, he sold electronic jewelry; he has also managed a British reggae band, appeared on Judge Judy, earned not much more than cab fare as a New York comedian, and ran for mayor on a platform of legalizing marijuana. (He says his loss can probably be attributed to pot smokers forgetting to vote.)
On the tour, we not only learned of these exciting and positively Kramerican ventures, but of the story behind Seinfeld, illuminated by a real participant. The tour began at the Pulse theater where Kramer entertained with his own stand-up and with tales from Seinfeld-past. He told about how Larry David, the co-creater and writer, ended up working with Jerry and shaping the show’s dark humor. He discussed how the real Kramer actually wanted to construct levels in his apartment (“it’ll be like Ancient Egypt”) and how Larry really ordered Chinese goop to save himself from baldness. In essence, he told how the show about nothing arose from the lives and adventures of three New Yorkers.
After hearing the behind-the-scenes stories, we embarked on a tour of Seinfeld’s New York—passing Central Park, designed by Joe Pepitone, Roosevelt Hospital, site of Kramer’s adventure with the Pigman, the International Soup Kitchen, better known as the Soup Nazi’s and finally every Seinfan’s mecca, Tom’s Restaurant (Monk’s Diner on the show).
While on this tour of New York’s landmarks, we were constantly reminded of what it meant to be a New Yorker—riding a horse-drawn carriage in the Park, trying to redeem bottles and cans for ten cents each and opening restaurants selling muffin tops. Each of these seemingly crazy schemes are nothing but metaphors for what makes a Real New Yorker—the desire for excitement, for passion, for something more from life than the commonplace.
Kramer’s tour was not just a Seinfeld reality tour but an opportunity to meet a Real New Yorker. And while Kenny Kramer hasn’t done all the wacky things that his TV counterpart has, he has achieved status in the city as a celebrity because of his insatiable thirst for experiencing life by transcending the ordinary. One could even call him a superhero—a champion of the affable and unpredictable New York spirit.
Ganesh N. Sitaraman ’04, a Crimson editor, is a government concentrator in Currier House. As an intern for ABC News’ Investigative Unit this summer, he’s busy digging up dirt on terrorists and corporate executives.