Larry David’s Rule Book for How (Not) to Live in Society

Suppose you’re out at brunch and find yourself in a buffet line that a fellow diner does not appear to have noticed. He casually approaches with his plate and tries to serve himself. Do you A. join the hangry mob cursing him or B. rise to this man’s defense, because you can see that he’s holding a plate, which means he already waited in line and is now returning for another helping? If you’re Larry David, not only is the answer B. but the misunderstanding warrants, in your scratchy Brooklyn accent, a triumphant clarification: “That’s not how we do things here in America! We don’t wait for seconds! Never!

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Larry knows from buffet breaches. He once caught someone pulling what he termed a chat-’n’-cut, gaining proximity to food by talking to someone with a choicer position in line. He doesn’t like it but is impressed anyway. (“I respect your skills.”) Another time, when a restaurant employee accuses him of violating its buffet policy by sharing his plate with his manager and main man, Jeff, a lawyer magically appears to clarify for the employee that after a diner purchases a meal what he does with it is his business. Justice — and brunch — have been served.

But now let’s suppose that you’re a serious, middle-aged woman named Marilyn, and you’ve decided to host dinner for your new beau’s closest friends, and the guests include this Larry David, whom you’ve already had to shoo from the arm of one of your comfy chairs. The group raises a glass and toasts your hospitality — well, everybody except you know who. Susie, who is married to Jeff and clearly finds Larry as much of an irritant as you’ve begun to, asks, “You can’t clink, Larry?” Why should he? “Because it’s a custom that people do, which is friendly and nice.” Larry takes a sip of water and asks the most peculiar question: “What is this, tap?” It is. His response? “Surprised you don’t have a filter.” Do you A. serve him your coldest glance and witheringly reply, “You have no filter,” or B. ask him to leave your home? If you’re Marilyn, you do both.

Susie Essman, who has been the show’s true superego, and Larry David in Episode 5 of Season 12.Credit…Warner Bros. Discovery

These stories hail from “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” which is scheduled to deliver its final episode on April 7, after 12 seasons and 24 years on HBO. In each incident, bald, bespectacled, wiry, wealthy Larry has stepped out of line, once physically, to defend or offend. I went back and watched the whole series and would like to report that television has never had anything like this show, nothing as uncouth and contradictory and unhinged and yet somehow under a tremendous amount of thematic control, nothing whose calamity doubles as a design for living. It presents the American id at war with its puritanical superego. Sometimes Larry is the one. Sometimes he’s the other. The best episodes dare him to inhabit the two at once, heretic and Talmudist.

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