A Seinfeld moment

September 17th, 2007
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Life occasionally imitates art, in this case if you consider Seinfeld to be art. But that’s an argument for another day. What I’ll recount here is a street-level encounter in Canada’s Capital Region ™ that had shades of the long-running sitcom.

Ottawa has more than its share of street people. That is well known. After a few months, many become familiar to other denizens of Downtown.

I recognize a few, especially those that frequent the same corners or curbs day after day, regardless of the season. In fact I’ve seen a couple of them duke it out for prime sidewalk space first thing in the morning so, whatever you might think of them, many are “at work” before 7 AM – when many Ottawa white collars are still counting sheep.

One elderly lady frequents the east side of Banks Street, between Albert and Laurier. She was out in the bitterest cold last January holding out a coffee cup for spare change. Later, I saw her sharing a smoke and conversation with some friendly nearby office workers. The “Seinfeld moment” involves her.

Last week, having the early morning growlies, I popped into the new Tim’s on Laurier for their very successful breakfast sandwich. There was our elderly panhandler, having a large double double and generally chilling out. As I glanced her way, she took another sip of coffee and then … checked her watch.

That was when I started hearing mock Seinfeld dialogue. “A homeless person checking her watch?” Jerry says to George, “Isn’t that one of the BIG advantages of panhandling, that you don’t have to punch the clock?” “Look, I can see some positives to this lifestyle, low entry-level skills required, personal hygiene optional, can bring your pet to work, lots of fresh air, no supervisor looking over your shoulder, set your own hours, etc.”

All of these comments would roughly fit the reasons why the show’s main characters were all locked up in the final episode, having flouted a “Good Samaritan” law. So I’d better correct my thinking before I too get sucked into the same corrosive cynicism, breaking some law I’m not aware of. On the other hand, I still want to know why the heck she had to check her watch!

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