June 1998
s m u g
by Joe Procopio


When I first saw him, he didn't look so good. He hadn't bothered to shave or get a haircut in weeks. He was sitting in a booth in a little bistro on the upper-west side (disturbingly similar to Tom's restaurant). He was wearing sweatpants and busily scribbling into a Mead college-lined spiral notebook. Every twenty or thirty seconds, he would raise his head and laugh out loud, then tear out the page he had been scribbling on, crumple and discard it, and then begin scribbling again with renewed fervor.

Now I know why he called me. At that moment, seeing him in that state of perpetual eureka, it all became perfectly lucid.

Jerry Seinfeld was having trouble figuring out what to do next.

I slid into the seat across the booth. It was a couple of minutes before he noticed me. I ducked a couple of wads of paper. Then he lifted his head and his eyes flashed with recognition. He smiled, so I decided now was as good a time as any.



"We should maybe get out of here."

"You know, I think we should."

And with that, he calmly closed the spiral notebook and threw it across the room where it landed behind the counter with a slap. We left the diner and ambled slowly down the streets of Manhattan for three or four blocks. I bought him a pretzel and a Snapple. He took it and ate without speaking. Then he motioned to a park bench near a fountain. I'm guessing we were somewhere in the lower nineties, I hadn't been paying attention. Every so often someone would recognize him, but the look on his face, the straight-ahead stare, the droop in his posture, sent off just the right signals and nobody bothered us.

"I can't top it."

"No one asked you to."

It's a little known fact that Jerry takes all criticism to heart. His intentions really were good when he decided to call Seinfeld a run at nine seasons. He also had little to no involvement in the circus that followed. Most celebrities, especially those as one-trick-pony as Jerry is often considered, would've killed for the media frenzy that surrounded his final episode. They would have reveled in it. Jerry despised it. It made him uncomfortable. We sat there, staring at the fountain, and it was a good five minutes before he spoke again.

"I wanted black people to like the show."

"We know you did."


The last time Jerry called me was right after the Puerto Rican Day parade episode controversy. He was near tears, completely thrown by the fact that people could turn on him so quick. He never asked people to like him. Well, actually, I reminded him, he did. He slammed the phone down and called me back ten minutes later. That wasn't fair, he said, I had known what he meant. I apologized and the phone conversation turned into a long silence interrupted by him sighing every so often.

As we sat on the park bench, a street vendor sidled up with a case full of two-dollar Swiss army knives. The quality looked poor, but I can never resist. I inspected one and gave it my approval. As I was pulling bills out of my pocket, I looked at Jerry. He was looking at me for the first time since he first recognized me. I nodded toward the knives. He paused for a second and then nodded yes. I bought two and gave him one. He thanked me.

"I thought stand-up would fill the void."

"It might, in the long run." Just at that moment, a baseball came rolling across the concrete and stopped at Jerry's feet. He bent over and picked it up and stared at it, as if mesmerized by the innocent nature of the object and the hopes and dreams that it triggered inside him. A kid, maybe nine years old, soon followed in pursuit of the ball and stopped short when he saw who now had possession. Jerry gave the ball back to the kid and then continued to stare into the fountain. The kid paused in front of us, mouth dropped open, not knowing whether to say thank you or maybe ask him to autograph it. Not what Jerry needed, so I caught the kid's attention and waved him away. The kid retreated backwards for a while before spinning around into a sprint and calling out to his mom.

"I don't want to do movies."

"No one said you had to." Dusk was starting to fall, and I didn't want to leave Jerry alone, but hell, I figured as long as I was in New York I'd at least hit the clubs. But I didn't want to push. I figured he'd get to it on his own. I waited maybe ten minutes before he finally opened up.

"I want to write and help people like you do."

I had been hoping not to hear this. In fact, the last time we got into a fight was over something like this. Over stupid Sein Language. Man, I wish he'd never written that book. I hated it. And I couldn't mask that. And he could tell. He didn't speak to me for months.

"Jerry. The world doesn't need two of me. The world needs a Joe, and the world needs a Jerry. And sometimes I'm not even sure the world needs a Joe. But can you imagine if I wasn't around?"

"Yeah. That would suck."

"And it would suck just as much if the world didn't have a Jerry Seinfeld."

That did it. His eyes lit up like mirrorballs and his posture corrected itself almost immediately.

"You know what? You're right. Gosh. What an idiot I've been."

And so Jerry got up and found that little kid and autographed the ball. The kid, thinking he had met Michael Richards, was very understanding about the mix-up and told Jerry he loved him just as much as Kramer. This made Jerry smile. And I knew, at that moment, that the old Jerry was back. I had done a good thing.

Now to get to those clubs.




in the junk drawer:

and such
and such

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