Jerry’s Garage. Jerry’s Porsche-haus. I didn’t believe it until I saw it with my own eyes. I’d read about it here in The Observer a year or so ago and immediately went into a state of denial. No. Jerry Seinfeld can’t be just handing me material like this. It must be a joke. Jerry Seinfeld is a “comedian,” isn’t he? I mean, that’s how he’s identified in the media. Just because I don’t find him funny; just because I think he may be the worst stand-up comedian in recorded history, one who’s generated a devil-spawn of unfunny “observational” comedians who make interminable “cutting-edge” jokes about, you know, Starbucks calling its smallest size “tall”-stuff like that. (Roll over, Sam Kinison!) But hey, some people find the guy funny. Live and let live. So the whole Porsche-haus thing could have been Jerry’s attempt at a joke.
And then I saw it. After years in the planning, construction is going forward, even though (we’ll get to this later) the city’s Department of Buildings says the applications have not been fully approved. But I’ve been there. I’ve been to the site! It’s almost like being able to say I was there when they put the capstone on the Great Pyramid of Cheops. I was there when they were building Jerry’s Garage, Jerry’s Porsche-haus, the entire building he’s constructing on an Upper West Side street to house a very special few of Jerry’s Very Special Collection of Porsches, the one he’s building three blocks away from his $4.35 million duplex in the Beresford, so he could be close enough to say nighty-night and beddy-bye to his beloved German sports cars whenever he wants to.
I was there when it was close to completion. It’s just too good to be true. Nearly a million and a half dollars to provide housing for homeless … Porsches! Poor Jerry. I’m sure he’s very deep. But it suggets that he is just as superficial and self-absorbed as the character he played on his sitcom. More so! Even “Jerry” would have ridiculed Jerry for this tribute to childish grandiosity, this monumental folly: Porsche-haus. The Great Pyramid of Dumbness.
Before we go any further, I want to say I’ve demonstrated great forbearance when it comes to Jerry recently. It’s true I spent most of the late 90’s ridiculing the ineffable smugness of his sitcom persona in these pages. (It’s not the sitcom so much as “Jerry” I can’t stand.) It’s true I founded a half-serious “Can’t Stand Seinfeld Society” in these pages, and hundreds of people clipped out the handy membership coupon and sent it in. It’s true that I can never really respect anyone who explains to me that Jerry’s humor is really “about nothing.” That’s like sooo profound and all, no question, but it’s almost too heavy an insight for me to handle.
But, really, I’ve tried to be good. I’ve tried to lay off Jerry lately. After all, he hasn’t bothered us recently, unless you count that amazingly hostile and self-aggrandizing Seinfeld “film” called Comedian (I’ll get to that incredibly self-revealing fiasco in a moment).
After all, Seinfeld the show has been off the air for several years, and it’s possible, if you’re careful, to avoid the reruns. Jerry’s been spending his time lavishing huge sums on the extremely important task of renovating his expensive apartment. I bet he even worked with the decorator, a real hands-on deal for this important task. Look, it’s kept him out of our face.
So it’s been years now since I’ve had occasion to make fun of the Prince of Massapequa. But then I saw it: Porsche-haus, as I’m sure it will come to be called. And I discovered the Mystery of the Missing 13 Porsches-the Little Kittens Who Lost Their Mittens of the German-sports-car-collector world.
I’d been having lunch with a friend of mine at Barney Greengrass on Amsterdam and 86th, and he told me about a friend of his who takes classes at the yoga studio on West 83rd Street next-door to Porsche-haus. And how the serenity and composure of the classes had been disrupted recently by the resumption of the construction racket at Porsche-haus.
It was then that it all came back to me: the story-first reported in The Observer by Tom McGeveran in March 2002-that, after having spent a fortune at the Beresford with his money-wasting vanity renovations that gutted his apartment at one of New York’s most revered residential buildings, Jerry was now spending close to one and a half million dollars to tear down a small structure on West 83rd Street and erect an entire building that would be devoted to housing 20 of his Very Very Special German sports cars: Porsche-haus!
But not just any garage. A Very Very Special Garage, a Kozy Clubhouse (or Klub-haus) for Jerry to commune with his Porsches. A garage with a dramatic steel-and-glass staircase and a cozy little “kitchenette” where Jer can kick back and have milk and cookies while gazing over his three floors of Porsches, deciding which one he will grace with his butt next.
Of course, there were the usual complications with getting building permits, and neighbors having their lives disrupted with noise and sidewalk obstruction. But Jerry very considerately had seismograph wires drilled into neighboring buildings in order to keep track of the vibrations the Porsche-haus construction caused. He paid the yoga studio when it had to close down during the construction because the ground was shaking beneath the downward-facing dogs. That was a year and a half ago.
So here’s Part I of the mystery: The Observer story, and follow-ups in other papers, reported that construction was supposed to be completed in June 2002. What happened? Couldn’t Jerry get just the right kind of Sub-Zero fridge up to the kitchenette?
I reached spokesperson Ilyse Fink at the city’s Department of Buildings, who told me a check of the permit situation showed that the plan applications had been turned down twice since January 2000, most recently in October 2002. It’s possible that zoning limitations on garage-building below 96th Street are involved. Of course, there is the city’s housing shortage. Even though the site is narrow-only 16 feet across-the importance to the city of giving space up to a garage for one wealthy individual is debatable, if you ask me. Some might see it as insensitive to the tens of thousands of people desperate for decent housing in the city. Maybe though, if you take Jerry’s point of view, it’s much ado “about nothing.”
Anyway, when my friend and I got to the site, workers were working away, hammers were banging, hand trucks of cement were going in, the frontage was boarded up with wood, and the sidewalk was heavily trafficked with workers. The Department of Buildings spokesperson said that it often happens that construction projects go forward without their final permits, in the hope or assumption that they will eventually be granted. This is called “building at risk”-it’s not illegal, it’s just that if the permits are not ultimately granted, the builder can be prohibited from using it for its intended purpose. Gee, I sure hope that Jerry doesn’t have to put the Porsches out on the street if the final permits don’t come through! The city would then lose what will soon come to be a fabulous tourist attraction on the order of the old Times Square Ripley’s Believe it or Not freak show. One that asks the single question: Is Jerry aware of how incredibly dumb this makes him look? Or is it his statement ? Is it his in-your-face way of proclaiming: ” Say it loud: I’m dumb and I’m proud! ” After all, there are monuments to all sorts of achievers in America, but do Really Superficial Rich People have a place to call their own? Soon they will.
But the visit to the Porsche-haus construction site raised another mystery: let’s call it The Clue of the Thirteen Porsches . In the original stories about Porsche-haus, its capacity was always referred to as 20: room for 20 Porsches to nest together and long for Papa Jerry’s visits. The Speedster and the Boxster and the Carrera get lonely. Twenty Porsches! In an Upper West Side neighborhood. So The Observer reported, and in a subsequent conversation with the Observer reporter, a Seinfeld spokesperson didn’t dispute any of the facts.
By the way, do you think he has names for his Porsches? Does he call the Boxster “Gunther,” and the blue Speedster “Hermann”? Inquiring minds want to know. And the guy who designed the brand, Ferdinand Porsche-did Jerry name one after him, for his great contribution to the German automotive industry in the 30’s and 40’s, among other things?
But I digress. Here’s where the mystery enters in. I asked one of the workmen at the site (on West 83rd Street, between Amsterdam and Columbus) just how many cars the great edifice was designed to hold, and he said seven! Seven! I thought it was supposed to be 20. The buildings department said the only request they have that specifies a number of vehicles calls for “accessory parking” for four cars with a 240-square-foot addition. So that could add up to seven. I guess it’s just an oversight that seven cars aren’t mentioned in the permit application. (An e-mail to the office of Mr. Seinfeld’s P.R. rep, sent on the Friday before The Observer ‘s publication date, asking for clarification, has so far gone unanswered.) Sure, it’s unofficial, the workman’s estimate of seven cars; maybe he was misinformed, but suddenly it made me think of a terrible scenario.
Maybe because of negotiations with some zoning authority, Jerry had to downsize the original grand 20-car plan for Porsche-haus! Which would have meant Jerry having to choose. Which of the 20 Porsches would get to stay close to their Porsche-meister? And which would be banished to-horrors-commercial garages, where they’d be subject to gawking and ridicule by Other Cars and Jerry wouldn’t be able to say good night to them and make it all better?
How would he break the news to Gunther or the particularly sensitive Hermann? Would it be a one-on-one, or would he make it a Paradise Hotel kind of thing, where he’d make the cars compete in displays of affection for him to avoid being kicked off the island?
Wouldn’t that give Gunther the crafty Boxster an unfair advantage? I hear he’s been known to spread slanders about Hermann behind his back!
I feel somehow we need to do something for the Little Lost Porsches. The lonely 13 German machines. Homeless sports cars need love and companionship, too, right? Maybe Jerry could talk some of his neighbors at the Beresford into moving out to make room for Hermann and Gunther-or at least into letting them stay in the guest bedrooms. I’m sure with a few knocked-out walls, ramps (and kitchenettes), the neighbors would find it in their hearts to take them in.
Am I being mean to Jerry? I won’t say, in my defense, look how mean he’s being to Hermann and Gunther. No, I will cite in my defense the fact that Jerry consented to appear in one of the most petty, mean-spirited documentaries I’ve ever seen. The one called, misleadingly, Comedian . I never saw it when it came out, never rented it until my visit to Porsche-haus. And I have to admit I found it shocking.
It’s ostensibly about Jerry going through what we’re constantly being told is the super arduous, incredibly courageous preparation for what he’s interminably telling us is the real deal in comedy: stand-up. Oh, what a religion he makes of stand-up, particularly-or maybe because-he’s such a pathetic practitioner. The premise of the documentary is to follow Jerry after he’s taken the bold and courageous decision to “retire” his old stand-up stuff (someone alert the Swedish Academy!) and develop “all-new” material.
But we only get snatches of the “all-new” material, which is shocking in itself. Not shocking because it’s outrageous or funny. Shocking because if you’ve seen any of Jerry’s stand-up before, you would not think it remotely possible that he could find anything more pallid, insipid and pathetic to attempt to extort laughs from. But he’s done it! He’s out done himself: lip-liner! He makes fun of women who wear lip-liner. (“We know where the lips are.” Funny!) Other subjects he tells us he’s going to make jokes about: “Coffee, Starbucks[!], lips, men’s attention, construction sites[!], beauty contests, equator, DNA, blind men, nose hair.” Cutting-edge!
But the really offensive thing about the movie is that it makes a cruel spectacle of a poor young comedian named Orny Adams. A guy we’re meant to see as the young Jerry or something, when Jerry was on the make, before Jerry developed his legendary successful sitcom savoir-faire , I guess. But it’s really a portrayal that seems to express Jerry’s deep hostility to the entire stand-up comic business that he’s transcended.
In the film, Orny seems to be about on the same superficial level as Jerry is, but that could be the editing. Still, one senses that Orny has signed on to the film because he thinks that it’s his big break, that it will make him a star. (Anybody hear of him since?) Instead, he’s humiliated by the filmmakers, who show him listening to one comic say of the manager Orny and Jerry share, “First he represented Jerry Seinfeld, now he’s representing Orny Adams. What’s next, the parrot from Baretta ?” That’s funny. But it’s also really cruel, and the documentary zooms in on poor Orny’s face as he listens to the joke ridiculing him. Did Jerry sanction this cruelty? Jerry wouldn’t do that to Gunther or Hermann, would he?
Really, the way Orny is treated in Jerry’s film, it makes you fear for the future of Gunther and Hermann if they ever stall. Porsche-haus has a harsh meister. I’m open to suggestions from readers about what we should do to console and house the 13 little kittens who lost their mittens-I mean the 13 little Porsches who lost their places in the meister’s haus. Won’t someone volunteer to take them in and tuck them in at night?