Generally, there aren’t a lot of role models on Seinfeld. I won’t spoil the series finale for anybody who hasn’t seen it, but the lack of role models was kind of the point of the not-so loved ending. Still, if you’re going to pick somebody to emulate, it’s obviously better to not take too much inspiration George Costanza. I think even Jason Alexander, the actor who masterfully played him, would tell you that.
But just because his life was often a disaster, it doesn’t mean he didn’t have his occasional moments of brilliance.
George’s Moment of Brilliance
I’m thinking of the episode, “The Label Maker,” which first aired on January 19, 1995. The episode opens with Jerry Seinfeld (played by, um, Jerry Seinfeld) and George at a hot dog cart, and they’re discussing the fact that Jerry has some tickets to the Super Bowl. He would go, but he has a wedding to attend. So Jerry offers the Super Bowl tickets to the perennially hapless George Costanza.
George is interested, at least at first. He looks at the tickets and is pleasantly stunned.
“Row F?” George exclaims.
“Row F, in front of the G's, hobnobbing with the D's and E's,” says Jerry.
George asks: “How ‘bout Kramer or Elaine. They don't want them?”
Jerry responds: “Elaine laughed at me, Kramer's only interested in Canadian football."
Well, you’d think that George would then take the tickets. After all, Row F, Super Bowl game. This is, for a lot of people, a once in a lifetime chance. But instead, he says, “Wish I could help you.”
Jerry urges him to accept the tickets and suggests he take a romantic interest named Bonnie. But then George asks: “You paying my hotel and airfare to Miami?”
“What do you think?” asks Jerry. (In other words: no.)
“So in order to use these,” George says, “I gotta spend, like, fifteen-hundred bucks.”
Referring to the tickets, George adds, “This is a bill for fifteen-hundred dollars. Plus, she'd ask about the sleeping arrangements, that whole sleeping arrangement conversation is depressing.”
Why We Should All (Occasionally) Think Like Seinfeld's George Costanza
A lot of prizes and purchases sound fantastic until you really start thinking about those ancillary costs and the consequences of spending that money or accepting a gift.
A few examples come to mind.
A house. You buy a house, and you aren’t paying for only the mortgage but homeowners insurance and property taxes. You have to cut the grass, which means buying a mower or hiring a service. You need to put furniture in that house. You’re going to be hiring plumbers, heating and cooling people and maybe an exterminator. You’re doing more than buying a home – you’re helping to employ a small army of people.
A car. Pretty much the same thing, only a little smaller. You’ll be paying for car insurance, gas, oil changes, tires and on and on it goes. But do we think about that when we buy a car? Some of us do. I can guarantee George Costanza does.
A pet. I love pets. My teenage daughters and I have a dog, three cats, two rats and two reptiles (a blue tongued skink and a leopard gecko). And fish. But I can tell you that when I’ve given in and bought the various pets that we've had over the years, I never think about the veterinarian visits, the cost of one of our cats clawing up furniture, the food and cat litter… and on it goes. Again, I guarantee that George Costanza thinks about that.
A hobby or a sport. Unfortunately, just about everything you want to do on a regular basis is going to incur some regular costs. It’s easy to buy a bunch of golf clubs but not think about fees that you’re going to have to pay, to play golf somewhere. If you buy a birdhouse for somebody, that’s a really nice gift, but if they’re going to use it to its full potential, they’ll be buying bird seed for years to come.
None of this is bad. I’m not suggesting that we don’t buy a house, a car, a pet or take up a hobby. I’m just saying that George Costanza has the right idea, to think about the ancillary costs that go along with any big purchase, or even a gift. One of the dumbest things I ever did was buy an expensive car when I was 23 years old.
I had had a rough year, having moved out to Los Angeles after college, and I bounced from job to job for awhile and finally found a great one at a teen entertainment magazine. And my old car broke down, and I convinced myself that I deserved a new car. And I guess I did deserve to buy another car. But a new car? And a sports car? It was a Ford Probe, which may have not been a true sports car, but it was sporty.
Anyway, long story short, I couldn’t afford the car, and I had absolutely no business buying it. It made zero financial sense for me to get it. But get it, I did, and it took me seven years to pay off (I think it was originally supposed to be paid off in three or five years).
So, yeah, two years later when the Seinfeld episode, "The Label Maker," aired, I think George Costanza had a moment of brilliance when he recognized that those Super Bowl tickets were not really free but an invitation to spending a lot of money that he apparently didn’t have.
Not that Costanza was always so brilliant, and he was definitely cheap. If you’ve seen “The Dinner Party,” another hilarious Seinfeld episode, you might remember how he was grousing with Elaine because she thought they should bring their hosts at a party a bottle of wine.
George was aghast. “I don’t even drink wine,” he complained. “I drink Pepsi.”
And then the rest of the conversation went along the lines of…
Elaine: You can't bring Pepsi.
George: Why not?
Elaine: Because we're adults?
George: You telling me that wine is better than Pepsi? Huh, no way wine is better than Pepsi.
Jerry: I'm telling you, George, I don't think we want to walk in there and put a big plastic jug of Pepsi on the table.
George: I just don't like the idea that every time there is a dinner invitation there's this annoying little chore that goes along with it.
Depending on your point of view, the man has a point. If you know anybody like George Costanza, you may not want to invite the guy to a party, but you probably should ask him to come with you the next time you walk onto the lot of a car dealership.