When I picked up my deck stain at the Sherwin Williams store, I realized I’d stumbled onto the perfect scenario for a Seinfeld episode. I couldn’t believe that the beleaguered Seinfeld writers, who appeared to run out of ideas by the 9th season, missed this one.
I had just listened to a history of the Seinfeld show on my six-hour drive to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The audio book went into excruciating detail on the “show about nothing,” hammering away at the premise that the episodes focused on the minutiae of everyday life, taking a small incident beyond its logical extreme into the realm of absurdity.
I stared at the array of paint samples in the store. Each had been given a specific name by someone who had clearly gone soft in the head in the process. There was “laughing taffy” (i.e. pink), “blue bicycle” which was indistinguishable from “amidship.” I didn’t know what to make of “bunglehouse blue” other than it sounded like a raunchy bordello. The color “grayish” looked exactly gray to me, there was no “ish” to it.
I immediately thought of the comedic possibilities for the character Elaine, who wrote the pretentious clothing descriptions for the J. Peterman catalog. What if she received the assignment to name and to create a story about all the colors in the paint store?
The following is my script.
Scene: Jerry’s Apartment – Elaine and Jerry together.
Elaine: Jerry, remember that J Peterman description of the dark brown jacket?
Jerry: Yes, the oilskin jacket that is the color of the most beautiful brown horse you can ever imagine?
Elaine: Nods agreement. Peterman told me that description doubled sales.
Jerry: I’m not surprised. You see there are certain young girls who are, quite frankly, obsessed by horses. And when they grow up to be women they still have this “je ne sais quoi” about anything that reminds them of a horse. Some women just go for the horse. Worked for me last month.
Elaine: (sarcastically) Good for you Jerry. Well guess what. Peterman told his brother-in-law his about my way with color. The guy owns a paint shop in the Bronx and wants me to come up with names for all his paints. Thinks I can make them best sellers, that I can make his paint store into a literary salon.
Elaine opens her purse and hundreds of paint cards spill out.
Elaine: Jerry, what am I going to do? How many ways can I describe tan? I’ve got ecru, oatmeal, whey, beige, buff, tawny, taupe, sandy, straw, wheat and chaff. I’m supposed to make up a story to go with all of them.
Jerry: Wheat and chaff. I think there’s a story there.
Elaine: Chaff – what is it?
Jerry: Wheat and chaff – it’s the story of evolution. From the beginning of time humans have been separating wheat from chaff. Cavemen did it, Sumerians did it, Dervishes did it, Hottentots did it. Wheat and chaff always separated. Jerry motions to two separate piles.
You see these? Jerry holds up his thumbs. These are opposable. Jerry theatrically touches thumbs to other fingers one by one. You know why we have them, why we are masters of our own domain? It’s because we needed opposable thumbs to separate wheat from chaff, that’s what made all the difference, we’d starve otherwise. Our brains just took off from there and developed these beauties. Jerry taps his frontal lobes.
Elaine: Okay, seeing as I am desperate I’m going to call this one it “opposable ecru” and write your dumb thumb story.
Jerry: Well now, I think you’re on to something.
Jerry buzzes George up to the apartment
Jerry: Hello Georgie, tell me what is your opinion of wheat and chaff?
George: Gives a snorting chuckle. I hate the chaff. Jerry, I hate the chaff. In a relationship, I am always chaff. Discarded, thrown away like flotsam and jetsam.
Elaine: What is the difference between flotsam and jetsam? Are they separate?
George (ignoring Elaine): My goal is to rise up to become wheat, strong and proud, I will not be winnowed anymore!! Look what I got in the mail.
Jerry: It a jacket the color of the most beautiful horse you have ever seen.
George: Yes, this jacket is chaff-proof. And I will find myself an equestrian.
Kramer makes a dramatic entrance, his wiry hair vibrating with excitement, sliding in holding a box of blueberries.
Kramer: Jerry you just have to taste these berries. Bought them down at the market. They are luscious. Kramer draws out the word luscious, over-pronounces each syllable. Holds up a berry delicately between his thumb and forefinger.
Jerry: (Turns to Elaine) See Elaine, there’s an opposable thumb for you. (Turns to Kramer) Kramer what color do you think these blueberries are?
Kramer: They’re blue Jerry, there’re blue! Here try one. Kramer tries to force a blueberry into Jerry’s mouth.
Jerry: No, I mean exactly what color blue.
Elaine splats out a collection of blues and reads them off – royal blue, denim blue, sky blues, dress blues, ocean blue, navy blue, midnight blue.
Elaine: How am I supposed to make a story about each of these? Do you think that flotsam blue can be a color?
Kramer: Carefully eyes a blueberry For this berry, midnight blue is not quite right, no it’s more like 2:38 AM blue, and this berry looks like 3:45 AM blue. Kramer dumps the blueberries on the counter and starts to assign each of them a different minute of the night.
Jerry: Elaine, how about a Kramer blue? No problem writing a story this guy.
Elaine starts assigning everything in the apartment a blue color. Jerry’s bicycle blue, chipped radiator blue, worn bedspread blue and comfy couch blue.
Elaine: C’mon Jerry, give me some good adjectives that I can work with.
Jerry: Persnickety, phlegmatic, debonair, obstreperous. These very fine adjectives deserve their own color.
Cut scene to George waiting in line at the dry cleaners next to a woman. The woman touches his arm.
Woman: Excuse, me where did you get this coat?
George: You wouldn’t happen to be an equestrian, would you?
Woman: Yes, how did you know? Your coat, there is something about it. It reminds me of my horse Pally. My best friend growing up.
George: You know, I think that this brown is just the color of your hair.
As the woman shakes her hair, she gives a little neigh.
George: And your eyes, they are so blue. They remind me of something. Have you heard the Legend of the Blue-Eyed Horse?
Woman (breathless): Oh, tell it to me.
As they walk out the store, George starts his story.
George: It is an Indian legend I believe, of a horse that ran free, refused to be tamed. With blue eyes that seemed to change color with the time of day and with the season – some days they were misty morning blue, frolic blue, moody blue, come hither blue….
The woman strokes the jacket and walks arm in arm with George.
Cut to Jerry’s apartment. He is eating a bowl of Cheerios watching the television news:
TV Announcer: Who would have thought that a paint store and the literary intelligentsia would ever collide? But it has here in the Bronx.
Scene cuts to a long line outside the paint store
TV Announcer: Here in this store, you don’t just buy a paint color, you buy a story, and even famous authors are getting in on the act. Norman Mailer has described a whole suite of army green colors, Noam Chomsky, the father of linguistics, has given a lecture on the emotional impact of color, and Richard Prum, Darwin expert, has spoken on the evolution of beauty.
And here is the genius behind this happening. Elaine Benes. Miss Benes, tell me how you came up with this idea?
Elaine: (looking dazed and speaking in a scripted monotone) Every color combines a name and a story and we are inviting New Yorkers to write that story.
TV Announcer: How does it work?
Elaine: Each week we invite people to match a color to an adjective, and write a story about it. The winner will get 2 gallons of paint.
TV Announcer: I see that the adjective for this week is phlegmatic. What colors have people chosen?
Elaine: We have seen a lot of reds, but there are also some yellows flecked with green. (Coughs a little) It’s not to my taste, if you know what I mean. And also, for a small fee, you can also name one of the colors after yourself.
As he watches, Jerry drops his spoon, mouth hangs open.
TV Announcer: Here is the owner Adolf Hessler. Come on in here sir. Cut to Hessler, an enormous man, untucked shirt, unkempt hair, visible hair growing out of ears, chewing a cigar. Mr. Hessler, what is your best-selling paint?
Hessler: Anything that has to do with a horse sells. Blue-eyed horse – just got that in last week and we are already out of it.
TV Announcer: Why do you think that is?
Hessler: Dunno, but there’s something about women and horses. And then 12:04 AM Blue sells much better than midnight blue.
TV Announcer: Any thoughts on naming a color after you? Your name Adolf Hessler– pretty evocative I would think. (Hessler scowls and stomps off. Announcer attempts to reel him back to the conversation) Not that there’s anything wrong with that…
Cut to Jerry’s apartment as he buzzes Elaine up. Elaine arrives with a triumphant smile.
Elaine: Jerry, I’m a hit, New York loves me. Jane Pauly and Gene Shalit want to interview me on the Today Show.
Jerry: Are you kidding me? A paint named after Adolf Hessler – not there’s anything wrong with it…
Elaine: Yeah, yeah, yeah, but here’s the thing Jerry. These contests are getting people to pay – I mean people are paying for this. We’re raking in the money. Ed Koch wants to have a paint named after him. I told him to act quickly because we are running out of blues. This is pure profit. Even better everyone else is writing the stories for me. I’m just sitting here as the stories roll in. It’s genius Jerry. I think I’ve invented something. I’m going to call it crowd sourcing. Whadday think ?
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