Larry Says Goodbye, and Wesley Morris Rides His Bike on the Sidewalk

We’ve been gone for weeks! Maybe you felt our absence; maybe you didn’t. Maybe we’ve lost our entire audience. During the last few weeks, there were a few news events that we wish we could have commented on, from the Curb Your Enthusiasm finale to the death of OJ. We will try to catch up. 

Wesley Morris Rides His Bicycle on the Sidewalk 

New York Times critic at large Wesley Morris wrote a generally insightful (but maybe overly thoughtful) essayon Curb Your Enthusiasm during our vacation, to mark the long-running show’s final episode. 

He spun off the tracks (and up onto the sidewalk) about halfway through:

One evening last October, I was biking down a sidewalk in my neighborhood, whose charms include its cobblestone streets. Usually, to avoid the rumbling bumps of the final block, I opt for concrete, which isn’t kosher but is convenient. I don’t have to do much to ensure no one’s walking past this patch of sidewalk because no one ever is. This particular night, however, I shared the pavement with a man walking two dogs. He was stooping to gather their leavings when I announced that I was passing on his right.

“Get off the [expletive] sidewalk.”.

I should say that this man was long, balding, middle-aged, bespectacled. Larry, essentially.

Morris, who is Black, concludes, “He wanted to be rid of me, because I represented either a composite of policy breaches or a wave of racial ones.” 

Instead of apologizing and going on his way, Morris follows the dog-walker down the street, pestering him, asking “Why the anger?” and generally making a nuisance of himself, before he finally gives the poor man some peace. 

In Morris’ view, he’s an innocent bystander, and the dog-walker was Larry David, at his most curmudgeonly and irrational. 

This, oddly, missed the essence of Curb. To take the most obvious misanalysis, Larry David’s character on the show is cranky, cantankerous, petty and sometimes unpleasant, but he is not racist. It would be very un-Larry-David to demand that a cyclist stop riding on the sidewalk because the cyclist is Black. Larry’s social awkwardness and lack of judgment might be misinterpreted as racist, but Larry’s misplaced sense of justice and right-and-wrong precludes any kind of racism. 

Morris also miscasts the roles: as one of our writers noted in a comment to the Times, if this were a Curbepisode, Larry would be the one riding on the sidewalk, and when confronted about it, he would prattle on about “the cobblestone exception”; his accuser would say, “there is no cobblestone exception.” Larry would say, “Everyone knows about the cobblestone exception!” 

In an appropriate karmic twist, in the season’s final episode, a speeding cyclist would knock Larry down on the sidewalk. Everyone would quote the cobblestone exception in the hospital, where he’d be stuck in traction with a broken back. When Larry would sue to cyclist, the judge would find for the defendant, citing the “cobblestone exception.” Before the season fades to black, Larry, in his body cast, in severe pain and emotional discomfort, would stare into the camera and disclaim, “There is no cobblestone exception!” Cue clown song. 

Morris also, appropriately, by exercising a myopic, Larry-Davidish sense of justice, brought down upon himself the same kind of social opprobrium that Larry himself often experiences. 

“I too, live in your neighborhood,” wrote one reader, “and I, like the gentleman with the two dogs, would like you to get off the (expletive) sidewalk! There are bike lanes. We pedestrians are fed up with both motorized and regular bicycles, on the sidewalks, zooming past us with no warning, or coming directly at us.”

“My dog was nearly strangled by a cyclist veering onto the sidewalk in the dusk,” another reader complained, “because he couldn’t see the [leash] between me and my dog.”

“I hope this guy didn’t write this article to justify riding his bicycle on the sidewalk,” another writer vented. “If he did, it’s not working! Keep off the sidewalks. It’s a joke to you but terrifying for many of us.”

“The jerk with the dog is right,” wrote “BKLYNJ. “If you’re older than 12, don’t ride your bike on the sidewalk.”

“My 76-year-old mother stepped out of a boutique onto the sidewalk,” complained a reader, “and was run down by a bicyclist.”

Another reader objected to Morris’s harassment of the dog-walker and what seemed to be his attempt to escalate.

“[T]he incident as described could have been short lived,” he noted, “if [Morris] simply apologized to the pedestrian on the sidewalk. ‘So sorry. Won’t happen again.’ Instead the writer, who should not have been on the sidewalk with his bicycle, tries to shift the issue. ‘Sir, why the anger?’ He is angry because the writer does not acknowledge he is wrong and does not apologize and then dares to follow him.”

“You ride your bike on the sidewalk,” complains “Mooße”,  and you “get told to get off the sidewalk where you should not be riding your bike and then get into an argument with the person that told you to get off the sidewalk and then intimate that the other person, who did nothing wrong, told you that you don’t belong on the sidewalk, which you knew already, … because of race? I am willing to bet that you still ride your bike on the sidewalk. You are part of the problem with the world.”

Finally, a reader who identified himself as “kl” wrote, “I am that dog walker, though I usually don’t curse and my anger is more at the scooter drivers than cyclists — but Wesley, consider that someone’s ire is compounded when they consistently encounter riders impinging on pedestrian space.” 

Fitting that an article about Curb spawned a Curb-like mini-controversy. 

No further word from Wesley Morris on the cobblestone exception. 

And About that Final Episode

The following ramble contains spoilers for the final episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm.

The final season contained multiple references to Seinfeld’s much-derided 1998 final episode, so anyone with two eyes could predict where this was going, to a full-fledged remake (or parody, maybe) of that awful calamity.

Let’s remember what made Seinfeld’s final episode so bad, and see how Curb managed to avoid the same pitfalls, while hewing closely to the same tone and theme. 

NBC, facing the end of its most popular show, decided to milk it for every last penny. So before the episode, NBC aired an hourlong retrospective clip show, featuring excerpts of some of the most memorable moments of the previous nine years. It was not especially entertaining, on its own, but it was to be expected, back then. 

What made the whole evening especially tedious was that the final episode, which immediately followed the one-hour clip show, was also a one-hour clip show.

In the final episode proper, Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer find themselves in Latham, Massachusetts, where they witness a carjacking but make fat jokes instead of helping the victim and are subsequently arrested for violating a local Good Samaritan law. At the trial, various antagonists from prior episodes testify about the gang’s bad behavior throughout the course of the series, testimony that would never have been allowed in court (and which, if it had been allowed, would have led to a quick reversal on appeal), accompanied by clips. You generally do not allow evidence that someone is a bad person in a criminal trial if it is not probative of whether the accused committed the crime. Even non-lawyers could recognize an unbelievable plot that exists solely as a device to pad the show with clips from prior episodes. 

In Curb, by contrast, Larry is on trial for being a good Samaritan, giving a Black friend in Georgia a bottle of water on a hot day while she stands in line to vote, in violation of a state election integrity law. 

His lawyer essentially asks for jury nullification, arguing that the law is unjust, and comparing Larry to Jesus. 

This “opens the door,” as lawyers say, to an examination of Larry’s character, an invitation the prosecutor accepts with gusto. This is not a one-time protest against an unjust law, he argues, but part of a pattern of aberrant behavior, which must end. Larry is not a good fellow acting as a matter of conscious, he’s someone who breaks laws and social norms just because they’re there, and unless he’s imprisoned, next time will be worse. 

No one watched Curb Your Enthusiasm for its accurate citation of applicable precedent, but the resemblance to real life helps here, and the Curb finale was funnier than the Seinfeld finale as a result. Parroting the Seinfeld plot worked as a meta-parody, as an appropriate comeuppance for Larry the character, and also as a final act of curmudgeonliness by Larry the writerBoth funny and satisfying, in ways that Seinfeld never was. 

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