I, along with at least 1,000 other aspiring comedy writers, unfortunately did NOT get to write for the remarkably popular “Seinfeld” TV series on NBC from 1989 to 1998. It’s perhaps more frustrating in my case because I had “an in.” I used to play tennis with George Shapiro, who was co-executive producer of “Seinfeld.”
In fact, before tennis one day, right after I had recounted my experience with a dead battery and a AAA tow truck operator who didn’t speak English, George told me about “Seinfeld,” then in pre-production. “It’s uncanny because you’re like one of the characters — you walk and talk like them and every one of your stories would make an episode.”
“Gee, maybe I could write for the show?” I responded hopefully. “Oh no, Jerry and Larry are doing all the writing.”
Disappointed, I didn’t even know the “Larry” was Larry David who would go on to create and star in “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” which ran for eight seasons on HBO. (Another show I didn’t write for but, that said, at least I never lost to George in tennis.)
I mention all of this, not to lament the big fish that got away but rather as a caveat. I’m about to share with you the legal dilemma of a legendary, albeit colorful Santa Monica figure. Maybe George Shapiro was right? This story might have been a “Seinfeld” episode.
A recurring theme of “Seinfeld,” was when a character, however well-meaning, would stick his nose into a situation only to make it worse. (I hope I’m not about to do that.)
For example, in one episode, Jerry convinced Pakistani immigrant Babu to serve only Pakistani food in his restaurant. Heeding Jerry’s advice, Babu proceeded to go broke. Depressed, he confronted Jerry, “Where are people? You see people? Show me people! There are no people!”
Jerry’s good friend, George Costanza did it, too. He felt sorry for the black security guard in his fiancée’s uncle’s high-end clothing store who had to stand all day. So George got the guard a comfortable chair to sit in. Unfortunately, it was so comfortable the security guard fell asleep while a robbery took place.
So it is with some hesitation that I introduce you to Ignacio Alejandro Benavides, who goes by “Alex” and has owned Alex’s Shoe Repair at 1921 Main Street (between Pico and Bay) for the past 33 years. Regrettably, even though yesterday was Christmas, this is not exactly an uplifting holiday tale. (Unless you’re Charles Dickens.)
You see, on Jan. 5, Alex is due in court and faces eviction, much to the chagrin of the legions of his loyal customers who see this as another example of gentrification. Back in April, Alex, who’s 66, had a heart attack and fell behind in his rent. When he moved here in 1983, the rent was $600 a month; now it’s $2,000.
I attempted to reach the landlord, whom I gather lives in New York, but, as of press time, we haven’t connected. (Actually, he’s the son of the late landlord, as Alex thinks the father would never have done this.)
Alex is an extremely hard-working, “old-school” craftsman, but he’s not without eccentricity, including the shop itself, which is seemingly floor to ceiling shoes. Customers learn that with Alex it’s best to call before going in to pick up your shoes or leather items. This trait is reminiscent of the story about the man who goes into a thrift shop and buys a 1970s Saturday Night Fever suit in pristine condition for $5.
Pleased with his purchase, in the pocket, he finds a shoe repair claim check. Curious, he goes to the shop and presents the stub. The cantankerous owner goes into the back room and comes out moments later. “They’re not ready yet,” he says casually, “come back Tuesday.” (I told that joke to Alex who said in earnest, “I don’t get it.”)
One thing’s for sure: Alex definitely doesn’t need all this stress. I’m hoping the landlord somehow reads this and, in the holiday spirit, crafts a compromise. I’ll report back after Jan. 5.
Even though “Seinfeld” went off the air 17 years ago, I still wonder if Alex and his crowded shoe repair shop would have made for a funny episode. Then again, those 1,000 other aspiring comedy writers are probably wondering the same thing about the Alex’s in their lives.
Jack is at facebook.com/jackneworth, twitter.com/jackneworth and email@example.com.