Thursday, September 17, 2009

Why I Love Mad Men.

There will be no Season 3 spoilers here, for any of you diehards. I'm only now finishing up Season 2, and probably won't pick up 3 until it's on DVD so I don't have to watch it on my sucky tiny computer screen.

These days Jim and I have Mad Men marathons. We sit glazed over and glued till midnight muttering after each episode "do you have another one in you?" Usually we do, and when there are no more, say, when Netflix owes us the next disc, we end our nightly race despondent and hungry for more. At first, the appeal for me was in the costumes and the sets. The endless waves of cocktails and cigarettes made me nostalgic for my first few years as an assistant at American Heritage magazine, where my boss Richard Snow swears he was handed a typewriter and an ashtray when he first graduated from the mailroom. For years, I typed his correspondence daily using carbon sheets! I kept the business of the office-- author payments, etc., organized in a metal rolodex file that my predecessors, first Peggy, and then Mimi, had kept up for two decades or more.

In Mad Men, Joan's curves thrilled me; there could be a meaty fox on TV after all who's not whippet-thin! Peggy's Bay Ridge Catholic upbringing makes way for hanky panky (of the adulterous sort!) and Don Draper... well... there are no words fitting the square clenched jaw anti-hero, whose smoldering blue eyes and daily defenses of His Girls when small offenses unheard of today are made with astonishing regularity. "Leave the girl alone" he tosses off, disgusted, before making his way out of the office for discreet 4 hour Beatnik Sex. Good Lord!

Those of you who know me, know I'm at home these days, often freelance writing, and often just hoping to be, or working to be. One one of these quieter mornings when I'd had all that I take of pitching for the day I decided to pop in a Season 2, disc 1 I believe, for a second viewing. This would be for background viewing only, of course. I sat on my own couch and looked around. I'd been laid off last November, and it's taken nearly that long to embrace the peace an organized apartment gives me: my house was clean. That morning, I'd pulled on my new uniform of stretch capris and a Hanes tanktop to greet the 7:30 schoolbus. Then I'd vaccumed and swept, made beds (something I've not done with regularity the whole of my life)... there was a soup in the crockpot... a fresh wall of paint sparkled at me with the promise of the carefully chosen Dill Pickle color, and a new cascade of casually but artfully arranged black and white framed photos looked out at me....

I had a hot cup of Earl Grey with milk and honey. A blue willow bowl to use for discarding my tea bag sat next to it; isn't that what people do with discarded tea bags? On the TV, Betty Draper sits alone at her table up in Westchester, chain smoking. Betty has a full-time empathetic maid to clean up her dust bunnies, but the sadness on her face evokes the typical housewife malaise and makes me wonder when they'll introduce The Feminine Mystique to the story line. I begin to cry, and then to sob. Am I simply watching my soap opera, the way my Grandma did? It's too quiet here and I've got hours to fill. My six year old son is off to school after a blissful month at home with me, being my perfect little friend. We trudged off to museums and zoos and parks together. We got to know each other again. I like who he's becoming.

When Joan gets to take a crack at reading scripts for the Broadcasting department at Sterling, she feels the new stir of intellectual self-importance. She's smart, and aside from cracking the office whip to the secretarial pool, she now knows she can make her way among the chain smoking and drinking Men. This she seems to do for about a week, until some young guy without a clue steps in and gets The Job. She will train him, "Of course!", for his new role, before stepping back into her Office Mistress shoes. There's a scene where she's mourning the death of Marilyn, her obvious muse. I think now that she's mourning the Marilyn who married Arthur Miller and read books and was quiet in her own life and sought to improve not just her Norma Jean station, but her mind.

I see Betty Draper getting fiercer by the episode. In her quiet days, she takes her time sitting on her Davenport, pouring over Kathryn Ann Porter, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. I'm grateful that behind the new found order of my own hearth, some 40 years later, I can ditch my own malaise and get to work doing whatever it is I want to, without limitation imposed on me by men. By Mad Men.