I’ve just lost $50 worth of stamps and it isn’t even 7 in the morning. Really I guess I lost them yesterday in my excitement at seeing Jon Hamm on TV. (It’s not that he’s so handsome; it’s that as Don Draper he’s so dark this season. With the drinking and passing out and walking around with bits of throw-up on his Brooks brothers shirts you just can’t believe how sunny and humble the guy is in real life!)
Today I’m driving five hours to give a talk called ‘Surprised by Joy.’ For inspiration, I reread the C.S. Lewis book with the same name but the thing turns out to be mostly about theology and the string of horrid early 20th century English boarding schools where Lewis spent his childhood. To me being surprised by joy happens when you go looking ONE MORE TIME for all the stamps you lost and come instead across a funny old photo like this one. Talk about an unforgiving style for the lady on the left, eh?
My mom was so funny always: once when she was talking to my cousin Sheil, she suddenly interrupted herself to shout, “Your teeth look GREAT!” We laughed at her then but now that I’ve become so much like her I totally get what she was doing. Just the other day I was in conversation with my friend Trish and suddenly I just had to say it: “That bra is really workin’ for you.”
Was she offended? Not a bit. “The Intimacy store!” she cried at once. “Have the fitting! Pay the money!”
Well, maybe I will. Maybe tomorrow once I’ve recovered from dispensing all that joy. 🙂
It was now, this strange new time when dogs can no longer run free and we’re all forced to overhear each other’s phone conversations
In Mad Men Episode 408, we see Don Draper alone, sleeping on his stomach in his bachelor bed, arms flung out to the side. In voiceover he’s saying that he likes to sleep; that he feels like he’s free-falling in a parachute. I feel that way too when I sleep and boy am I sleeping deep these days, just as I did in my crib when I would wake so disoriented. I’m doing that now too: I swim up out of sleep and I don’t know what year it is or how old I am. (I kind of love it, to be honest.)
This morning in the moments before waking I dreamed about Tommy Wilson, a student from my teaching days. In my dream he was still a football star, still the Class President and Prom King, only it was now and they had some new kid playing him in a sort of movie. I watched a while as the kid, not even faintly like the real Tommy Wilson, stole his life.
“You can’t do this!” I finally said to the director. “You can’t just steal a person! I bet the real Tommy Wilson is still out there! You can’t just scoop him out and put somebody else inside his name and pretend it’s OK!”
He looked at me like I was crazy. “Of course we can. Recycling: that’s what life is.”
I woke up then, no longer in safe Don Draper’s floating free-fall. Outside, a dog barked briefly, then made a strangling sound; he was leashed. Then a woman passed, talking loudly on a cell phone. So it wasn’t ‘back then’ when the real Tommy Wilson was a youth, and it wasn’t this Orwellian future from my dream either. It was now, this strange new time when dogs can no longer run free and we’re all forced to overhear each other’s phone conversations, even at day’s beginning, even in the hushed and holy hour of dawn.
A woman who worked in New York in the Mad Men era saw my column last week and wrote to say how accurate the series really is. “I was there! Most of the men I worked with were married and commuted; most of the women were single, living in apartments in the city. Some of the men certainly were sleeping with their secretaries which was especially noticeable when they went on business trips and took their secretaries along to ‘take notes’ or just took them off for long lunches. Many times the men had to stay overnight in the City because they had to ‘work late’ or ‘entertain a client.’ They all took long two-hour lunches where martinis were definitely consumed…”
She went on to say how she herself steered clear of the carefully-baited traps but boy did this email bring back memories! I was 19 with a summer job in the city at the very final second of the Mad Men era.
I remember a much older male relative taking me to lunch and ordering up those double-whiskey drinks for the both of us, even though I wasn’t old enough to drink alcohol. But nobody asked for They never did in such circumstances. If you were with an older man you were his problem – his ‘property’? – and what waiter (much less waitress) would dare question an “executive?”
The next summer when I was 20, a creepy old guy asked me to attend some conference for pay as his ‘Girl Friday’. He had already taken me along on a business lunch with several other old guys and also to the office of a local college president though I did wonder what on earth I was doing at either place since the guy didn’t know Thing One about me except that I had shiny hair and a big smile. I guess he thought he’d look pretty good walking in to a place with a spring lamb like me at his side.
Luckily I had met David the summer before who I would marry within the year. Though Dave was just 22 himself and hardly a man of the world, he saw right away what the guy’s real agenda was and clued me in so in the end I was spared…. But make no mistake you young ones: Those weren’t the glamorous times with clinking glasses and tinkling female laughter. They were the bad times when women had no voice at all or voices they didn’t dare raise.
You doubt me? Consider what Peggy endured in Season One and obviously suffers over still; just look at her face as she’s lying next to the fool she slept with last week. “I want to be your first,” he had said by way of courting her. Sorry but that sounds to me a lot like what the Conquistadors said to the indigenous people.
I’m not done with the topic of fashion quite yet. Forget that whole post about the fashionistas, let’s talk Real World. My Real World truth is this: I don’t care how popular Mad Men is, I don’t want to dress the way women they did in the early 60s. I did it once and the results weren’t pretty. That’s my mom on the left. That’s me beside her in the Porky Pig hat, I know, say no more, right? I wasn’t set free until the day came when I could choose my own clothes and ride all the way to Boston on the train to do it, landing – where else? at Filene’s Basement where females dug fast as foxhounds through bins of newly discounted apparel and changed outfits right out there in the open.
Filenes Basement closed in the summer of ’07, that wonderful get-it-for-a-song store in the bowels of its 1910 Boston building and for years as much of a tourist destination as the Paul Revere House over in the North End, as familiar to visitors as the Cheers bar just across the Common. I wasn’t much more than three the first time Mom took us there on a mission to buy her two little girls the ensemble that was the ‘look’ for all little girls in that far more formal era: a knee-length wool coat, leggings to match and a little beaked hat. I remember we met Mom’s old friend and her two little boys at the Public Garden after, had a ride on the famous Swan Boats, had ice cream sundaes at Schrafft’s, then went to this woman’s apartment where the three-year-old peed on my leg, using this funny little faucet he pulled down his tiny trousers to find. It was my introduction to the difference between the sexes, the great engine that drives our small and weak species to keep on keepin’ on.
Impelled by this same engine, I went back to that great den of bargains again and again in my high school years. It was there that my groom bought the suit he wore on our wedding day; there that that I bought the dress I wore that whole summer, a true flower- child frock which I loved with all my heart though it was so short I couldn’t sit down in it.
Those were the days all right. Here’s a look-back. Watch it and weep.