PART ONE OF TWO—A few years ago, I was pretty into this idea I had running through my head—something I’d termed “living poetically.” Now, before you ask, I can already here the questions coming my way—“What on Earth does that mean?”
Well, allow me to elaborate.
To me, “living poetically,” meant enduring some type of struggle, whether an internal or external one, for the purpose of securing some greater end later on. At the time, this idea was tied directly to my paying off student loan debt—for two and a half years, I was putting every penny I made toward reaching this goal, limiting myself in everything from the food I ate, to how I spent my time, to where I lived in order to accomplish what I’d set out to do.
(Okay, let me be clear—it wasn’t like I was living in a shack or anything. I was living with my parents, who were more than accommodating for the several years I lived there post-college. I just wasn’t spending paychecks shopping online or going out to eat regularly.)
But to be honest, my mom’s a great cook, so I really didn’t need to. I would assume most people look forward to new horizons after graduating college though, right?
That’s what I would’ve predicted for myself, anyway. But looking back on my first year or two out of college, it really wasn’t the most exciting time in my life. I mean, I was learning quite a bit as a recent graduate new to the working world, but outside of my job, I didn’t really have much else going on.
My main hobby (or at least the impression you’d get by asking me back then), was paying off my student loans. It almost became a religion for me, in a way. But when I’d talk about this, the response I’d get usually consisted of an, “Oh, that’s great!”, followed by something like, “But why do you want to pay them off so quickly? You have twenty years—why not wait and use the money for something else?”
That’s a great question.
Well, the best explanation I could’ve given probably would’ve gone something like this:
“It just feels like something I just need to do—eliminating something standing in the way of living life the way I’d like to. A life without debt from something already over and done with… that’s what I’d like.”
“Okay,” you’re saying—“that makes sense, I guess.” But, I know what else you’re thinking.
Remind me again what this has to do with Seinfeld?
(Umm, Seinfeld is amazing—isn’t that enough?)
Okay, I’ll be serious for a minute. Like I said before, it was always kind of hard to explain the drive I had to pay off my loans to other people. But, there is one thing that’s always resonated with this idea (at least in my mind). It’s a scene from an episode that aired during the seventh season of Seinfeld—one I’m willing to bet you’ll be familiar with.
(That’s right—if the GIF didn’t give it away, I’m talking about the Soup Nazi.)
Listen, few shows dominated television in the 1990’s the way Seinfeld did, and of the many iconic characters that have come to define the series over the years, there is one character who seems to live on in infamy, despite having appeared in only two episodes.
Aside from his cameo appearance in the series finale, where he acts as a character witness to testify against the Seinfeld gang as they stand trial, the Soup Nazi appears in only one other episode—his own, which is centered around his soup and the strict procedure he demands people follow when ordering.
“He’s not a Nazi. He just happens to be a little eccentric. Most geniuses are.” – Cosmo Kramer
The episode is an absolute stroke of brilliance, even when held up to other popular episodes, like fan favorites “Bizarro Jerry” and “The Puffy Shirt.” In this episode, we get a look at a multi-dimensional character whose more artistic side goes largely overlooked by his patrons—despite their appreciation for his creations in the kitchen.
Let’s take a look at a quick exchange between Soup Nazi and Kramer, the only character on the show who seems to feel that the episode’s namesake is actually misunderstood by his customers, despite the quick temper that earned him his nickname.
Soup Nazi: “You’re the only one who understands me.”
Kramer: “You suffer for your soup.”
Soup Nazi: “Yes. That is right.”
Kramer: “You demand perfection from yourself, from your soup.”
Soup Nazi: “How can I tolerate any less from my customer?“
It’s a hilarious exchange that certainly delivers not only a comedic level, but also comes through with a subtle truth that to me, still rings pretty clearly—an artist suffers for that greater end they believe they wouldn’t be able to reach otherwise.
Okay, so let me get this straight.
“Are you saying that you suffer for your soup, Andre?”
Well, a few years ago, “soup” to me meant living the kind of debt-free life I longed for. And if I’d let the debt from my student loans hang around for twenty years or so, I’d be in debt well into my forties paying off the few years I’d spent living in college apartments and fighting to stay awake through classes. In my mind, I had to make this disappear as soon as possible—whatever that might’ve taken.
But, if it’s an artist who suffers for some greater end they couldn’t reach otherwise (i.e., their soup), wouldn’t that make me an artist?
But what exactly would be my art?
Well, to answer this question, I’d like to introduce a special guest. A guest so special in fact, that they’ll need their own blog post. You might remember him from the TV show Dirty Jobs, as well as a few others that aired on Discovery Channel.
That’s right, in part two, we’re going to check in with the man, the myth, the legend—Mr. Mike Rowe.
His life story is one worth hearing (and sampling to make my point). Let’s get to the real poetry of the matter in this next post.