The Road to Vandalay

At a cozy bend on a leafy lane named Underhill Road in the township of Greenburgh, Westchester County, lies a

At a cozy bend on a leafy lane named Underhill Road in the township of Greenburgh, Westchester County, lies a short cul-de-sac containing three very new, destroyer-escort-sized houses of the variety widely known as McMansion. The cul-de-sac is called Vandalay Court.

The name Vandalay-more frequently spelled “Vandelay”-is one that will raise an automatic red flag for almost everyone who has ever watched Seinfeld (which is to say, almost everyone), as the spurious surname, ripe with sublimely cheesy pseudo-class, that George Costanza often used in his various ruses, scams and lies. In the series’ second episode, in 1990, George claimed to be meeting one Art Vandelay, an importer-no, an importer-exporter-as a pretext for helping Jerry stake out the office building of a woman Jerry was interested in. Vandelay continued to feature as a phantom beard in several subsequent shows; and then, of course, there was Vandelay Industries, the alleged manufacturer of “latex and latex-related products” where George (in order to extend his unemployment benefits) purported to be applying for a supposed job.

Vandelay, it turns out, is a name whose spuriousness runs deep. A Google search turned up no less than 7,450 instances of the cognomen, the vast majority of which appear to be Seinfeld- related: pranks, fan Web sites, even a Harvard Business School mock case study involving a fictional Minneapolis-based manufacturer of, yes, rubber and latex products. A survey of numerous Internet pages yielded only one non-fabricated company called Vandelay, a Chicago-based importer of replica suits of armor. And a Yahoo people search produced eight listings for the surname, seven of them for “A.,” “Art” or “Arthur.” (There were also two listings, one in Massachusetts and one in Texas, for “Art Vandalay.”) A thorough investigation of these listings-conducted with the giddy, slightly uneasy feeling of making funny phone calls-yielded a bunch of disconnected numbers, one curt (embarrassed?) hang-up and a sleepy-sounding guy in Mississippi who first said “Excuse me?” and then “Oh, yeah-I think my roommate did it after the Seinfeld character, or something like that.”

We scarcely need to be reminded that the show struck a chord. Yet a funny phone listing is one thing; an actual street in Westchester, with an actual street sign, something else. The unspoken compact of suburban living, after all, contains many promises, including freedom from surprises of most sorts, and certain implicit assurances against self-parody. Suburbanites take their comforts seriously.

A call to the Greenburgh Zoning Board led to a pleasant-sounding lady who explained that, as a rule, subdivisions are christened by their developers. But tracking down the developer of Vandalay Court proved to be an unexpectedly difficult process, full of all-too-appropriate dead ends, until an updated listing yielded the developer himself-who said that it had not been he, but the surveyor-engineer of the Vandalay Court subdivision, who had named the street. Said surveyor-engineer was a man named Eliot Senor, of the Gabriel E. Senor firm of Hartsdale, who, when asked point-blank the provenance of the cul-de-sac’s name, laughed.

“Uh, Seinfeld, ” Mr. Senor said, with just a hint of “Busted!” in his voice.

The subdivision had been finished around the time the show was going off the air, he explained. “On the last episode, all the characters were on trial, and the judge’s name was Vandalay.” (Actually, it was Arthur Vandelay.) “So it was Vandelay’s court.”

Case closed? Not yet. Had Mr. Senor-the question had to be put delicately-any connection in mind at all between the street’s name and the style of houses thereon?

“You mean McMansions?” he asked. “To tell the truth, I don’t really like the term,” he said. “I’m for people building within regulations. And if the regulations say I can build within a space, why should my neighbors have more rights than I do? A lot of houses built in the 20’s and 30’s don’t have the amenities that people want-they don’t have family rooms, for example. And today we need a home office, so you don’t have to pay the bills at the kitchen table. Why shouldn’t we be able to have a master-bedroom suite with a nice big bathroom, a whirlpool? My parents’ house has a master bath that’s, like, four feet square.”

A slight sense of discomfiture hung in the air, a sense that Mr. Senor himself could possibly be the owner of a… very large new house, constructed strictly within regulations.

And so the name ‘Vandalay’ was just-?

“Good-spirited fun,” Mr. Senor said.

-James Kaplan

10 New Indie-Rock Band Names Found in Cindy Adams’ April 18 New York Post Column, ‘Little-Known Facts, Well-Known Celebs’

1. Jennifer Aniston’s Diet Sacrifice

2. Charlton Heston’s Broken Nose

3. Gabriel Byrne Loves the Accordion

4. Patricia Arquette’s Slightly Buck Teeth

5. Claire Danes’ 3 A.M. Panic

6. Drew Barrymore’s Morning Mantra

7. Gwyneth Paltrow Loves Popsicles

8. Jake Gyllenhaal’s First Driving Lesson

9. Susan Sarandon Saved An African Teenager From Poverty By Giving Her a Goat (or S.S.S.A.A.T.F.P.B.G.H.A.G)

10. Frank Perdue’s Nightclub

10 New Hard-Core Band Names Found in Thomas Friedman’s April 20 New York Times Column, ‘The Third Bubble’

1. Rule of Law

2. Will to Fight

3. Pay Any Price

4. Terrorism Is Not Communism

5. Come to Threaten

6. Arab Media

7. Frivolity of Modern Life

8. Insane

9. Huge Amounts of Technical Power

10. Moral Right

10 New Titles for European Disco Anthems Found in Mike Lupica’s April 21 Daily News Column, ‘Torre’s Fired Up, But Not Yet Fired for George’

1. “These Things Always Go Away”

2. “Everything That Has Happened”

3. “Since the Start of Spring”

4. “He Said Something Yesterday (He Has Said Before)”

5. “This Is How Things Have Worked”

6. “Don’t Tell Me I Can Make a Decision”

7. “Feverishly With Jose”

8. “Forget Whatever They Say”

9. “Except He’s the One.”

10. “Too Rich and Too Good.”

-Jason Gay

The Road to Vandalay