Sunday, April 1, 2012
Mad Men is one of the best shows on TV. It captures the essence of an era that was known for its male centric culture and hard living ethos. Think JFK meets Dean Martin all wrapped up in the veneer of Father Knows Best.
Like all good lies, it works for a while only to be done in eventually by the truth. Then instead of living a secret life, you find your deceit exposed for all to witness until you begin to hate yourself for having done it all to begin with. And to make matters worse, society's moral capital that you exploited perfectly to shield your chicanery from family and co-workers has been spent by you and millions like you to the point where your immorality has become almost pedestrian. What you used to do discreetly in a hotel room circa 1961 while sipping a martini is now plastered on every billboard and movie theater in Manhattan circa 1967. Sin is fun when it is restricted to those who have the good sense to exercise discretion but it becomes rather corrosive and corrupting when everyone else gets the hang of it.
This may all be fancy social theorizing but I think it is the direction Mad Men is taking. I started to watch the first episode last Sunday night. Funny, I had never watched it on TV and never will again. I have the DVD's and loved them without the commercials. I turned off the show after 40 minutes out of sheer boredom. The next morning, figuring I was too drunk and tired to perhaps appreciate the nuances of the show, I purchased the entire season on Itunes which will nicely be downloaded into my account after each episode airs. I watched Sunday night's premier last night and must say, my initial instinct was wrong. Contrary to many reviews, it was not boring at all. There were no blockbuster moments but the foundation has been laid for some great story lines. Here is what to expect in the next eleven episodes based on what I divined. Keep in mind that these are the prognostications of merely someone who made the mistake in life of going to law school instead of writing novels and movie scripts.
Don Draper. He turned 40 (plus six months). He will begin having an affair on his second wife. His very quick marriage to her was pure infatuation. He never loved her, something she at least shares with his first wife. You can see the seeds of his dissatisfaction by his reaction to the surprise birthday party and risque dance she performed in front of his co-workers. He has no respect for her. She exists only to the extent that she complements the image he wants to portray to the outside world. But then again, what second wife doesn't? More telling was his making love to her while she cleaned his apartment in her panties and bra. The purpose of that scene was not to highlight his prurient lust for her. What I saw were two things that spell big league trouble for any women: cellulite and sagging boobs. For a man, they can be replaced very fast. No different from getting rid of the rust on that '61 Cadillac by buying a '66 Continental. She will start nagging him mercilessly for material things. He will unceremoniously dump her. Expect her demise to be coupled with a crisis in the office as she diverts his attention from his responsibilities to his clients. But there will be one big twist.
Megan. She fits the stereotype of the middle aged man's second wife too perfectly. Call it a trophy wife, arm candy, or an antidote to a first wife who made love like a wet dish rag. The message is clear: your days are numbered sweetheart so start preparing for the downfall. And how does the ideal second wife do this? Simple. The same way Jane Greer tried to keep Robert Mitchum on her side in Out Of The Past: blackmail. Employ the Black Arts to get your way. There are two scenes that open the door to this angle. At the party, one of Megan's girlfriends alluded to her past as an actress. Megan replied that she was not successful at it. To the untrained ear and eye, this may have been meaningless. But it was not. It Manhattan, there is a time honored occupation for wannabe actresses and models and it ain't waiting on tables. Second, she apparently knows of Don's dual identity. Huge mistake on his part in telling her this secret. Here is how this will play out: Don will find out about her past. He really won't care but will use it as a convenient excuse to give her her walking papers or to just let him do whatever he wants. She will become, for him, well, what she used to be: a lady of the evening. But she will then play the trump card of all trump cards: what is good for the goose is good for the gander. He may have relieved himself of financially underwriting the real Mrs. Draper in California but now he will inherit an even bigger problem. And the lovely Megan will not be so accommodating. Like all gifted gold diggers and blackmailers, she will up the ante and push Don to his limits. Expect some big fireworks here.
Roger and Joan. There is a temptation to write him off, the victim of a heart attack. His role in the agency is becoming increasingly irrelevant. After all, he is only there because his father owned the agency with the eccentric Burt Cooper, another old fart who serves no useful purpose. But they own a majority of the agency so their weight is not that dead. But Roger adds biting humor that would be sorely missed. His one liners and even by 1960's standards, political incorrectness, are quite entertaining. And after all, getting drunk with potential clients to keep them loose is an underrated art.
He hangs around while fending off the backstabbing Pete. He is also the father to Joan's son. Expect her to dump this news on him when she divorces her husband. There is no way she is going to be content commuting every day from Fort Dix while married to a doctor who spends his days treating GI's for gonorrhea and syphilis in some desolate Quonset hut in the pine barrens. At some point, Roger will dump his airhead wife and move in with Joan.
Lane Pryce. I like this character. A very unhappy and complex man who is weak and compassionate. We learn that he is struggling financially and has shown a too eager willingness to hire Joan back and to get on her good side. There has to be an ulterior motive at least subconsciously. His money worries will get the better of him and he will start embezzling from the firm and expect Joan to cover for him. This will all blow up by the end of the season.
Pete Campbell. Not a likable guy but works hard and does put money in other people's pockets. He will give the partners an ultimatum: make him partner or else he goes. They will relent but it will be ugly.
Peggy Olson. I never liked the character. So I have no predictions other than that she will keep getting old.
Betty. A no show so far. She will divorce Henry Francis but not before having an affair with her ex husband. I predict she dies after going psycho. Maybe she burns down the house and takes herself along for the ride. She is that crazy.
A quick mention of one of my favorite characters: Freddy Rumsen. A reformed drinker who never pretended to be anything other than what he was. Worked hard and was responsible for giving Peggy credit for her first big coup: a basket of kisses. Even though he pissed his pants in front of his co-workers, he is my kind of guy.
Sunday, March 25, 2012
you begin to realize as you mature that the pastimes have many benefits independent from impressing your friends. So now in my mid 50's, I do most of my drinking and smoking alone. And I prefer it that way. As your weaknesses and deficiencies become more difficult to deny and obvious to the naked eye, the only antidote is to go it alone. Self delusion is so easy and comforting. I always entertain myself with a movie or music collection, all pre-1960, to help the charade along. That being said, I think I have found the perfect cigar: the La Gloria Cubana R Serie #7. Large ring, strong flavor, and always fresh. You can buy them at the El Credito Cigar shop on 8th Street downtown. I go there once a month to buy a box and always try to grab one piece of apparel. You can watch the old Cuban ladies hand rolling the sticks. What amazes me is that some things never change. We live in a world that is becoming ever more sanitized. The government seems to be regulating and trying to banish every sin that brings a man pleasure. Yet you can watch some 75 year sold woman roll a cigar and then she puts a piece of wrapper on the closed end by licking the cigar and making it stick through her spit. I guess they have been doing that for 200 years, the FDA and a hundred other idiotic laws and regulations be damned. So here is a salute to the perfect cigar:
And what better way and time to enjoy. Season Five of Mad Men begins tonight! So pour yourself a Scotch, light up a stogie, and step back in time to an era when all was well in the world.
Saturday, December 17, 2011
I like going to gun shows. It is not the guns that interest me. It is the people. I could never understand why the Democratic Party ever embraced gun control as a policy. There is no upside. But there is and has been a huge downside. Want to know why the Democrats lost their grip on white, working class voters south of the Mason Dixon line? No need to read any long winded books and articles employing all sorts of voting data to try and explain electoral behavior. Just go to a gun show.
The people that attend these events are "regular folks." Basically, working class, middle to lower income, overweight, high school education, very patriotic, and not too sophisticated when it comes to anything. Except guns. Economically, they are probably more in tune with the Democrats. But the gun issue is what makes them vote Republican. That is what Democrats could never figure out: that gun is a symbol of their independence and freedom. In the presidential campaign of 1992, I heard Bill Clinton give a speech where he declared that he would never take people's guns away from them. He said it in a southern drawl. It sounded convincing. I knew then that he would win. Conversely, it is accepted wisdom that a major reason the Republicans won the house in 1994 was the health reform issue. Wrong. As Clinton pointed out in his memoirs, the biggest factor was the assault weapons ban that Congress passed in the summer of 1994. It alienated the very people who would normally vote Democratic except for the gun issue. He was dead on. Democrats have always stereotyped gun owners as being ignorant hayseeds who are too dumb to know what is best for them.
Big mistake. The people at gun shows are racially diverse. But they share a common cultural trait: they have a right to defend themselves and their property free from government harassment. Here is a cheat sheet on the cultural tastes of an average gun show attendee: Dunkin Donuts over Starbucks, Walmart over Bloomingdales, Ford F150 over a Lexus. You get the drift. So if you want to take a peek inside a real slice of Americana, visit a gun show. Chat with the vendors. It is fun.
Sunday, December 11, 2011
I am a big fan of Mad Men. A great antidote to our sterilized culture of political correctness. I was watching the initial episode early this morning for probably the 10th time as I am studying the historical accuracy of the design sets and mannerisms of the characters. It is eery how they get it right. Then, with the imaginary smell of cigarette smoke in my face, I clicked on Drudge and it hit me. Is Donald Draper running for president? Take a look at these pictures.
My advice to Romney? Put a Lucky Strike in your left hand and a Scotch in your right, and, voila, you have my vote and that of another 10 million men in America. And as a finishing touch to the makeover, pursue an affair with Sarah Palin in some swanky hotel. Screw the media. It will be a huge plus. It will add a hard edge to your image. Hey, who would you rather have dealing with the dictators of the world: a guy who looks like the figurine on a wedding cake or an incarnation of a 1960's real man? I rest my case.
Sunday, July 31, 2011
Peter Falk died two weeks ago. A great actor who performed superbly in many different roles.
My first and lasting memory of him was as a cab driver in the 1963 slapstick "It's A Mad Mad Mad Mad World."
Most people remember him as Colombo, the disheveled TV detective that aired on alternate Sunday nights in the early to mid 70's.
I read many of his obituaries. There was the obligatory Colombo citing. But one columnist wrote of his best performance: A Woman Under The Influence.
I heard of the movie but never watched it. The name alone would have made me turn away. Too much 1970's New Age psycho babble about middle class/feminine dysfunction caused by who else, men. But I checked out some reviews on Netflix and put it on the top of my queue. I watched it last night with my dog and a bottle of wine. In a word, devastating. I cannot get it out of my head. The story is about a working class family whose mother, Gene Rowlands, suffers from some sort of mental illness that affects her family to the point that she must be institutionalized. She has three young children. Her husband, Falk, is a blue collar worker who, from what one gathers, works for a utility repairing broken power lines and the like. It is dangerous work. He is a moral, decent, man, who does his best to deal with something he was never really intellectually equipped to understand.
But he moves on. Like a good father and husband so typical of millions of average men of the era, he did not complain but did what he had to do and asked for nothing in exchange. The movie is made in docudrama mode. Think Curb Your Enthusiasm without the laughs. The cultural backdrop reminded me of The Deer Hunter. The rest is just one depressing thing after another.
But some scenes stand out. At the beginning of the movie, Falk desperately wants to return home from work to be with his wife. He arranges for his children to go to his mother's for the weekend. But he gets called back to work and must deal with another utility emergency. His wife goes out for a drink and meets a bar hanger on and goes back to her house and sleeps with him. Falk returns home later oblivious to the transgression. Almost makes you cry. Later on, Rowlands is watching a friend's children who are playing with her own. The father picks them up and finds the children have created a huge mess in the house. He tries to get his children out of the house and ends up in the bedroom. Falk returns home and discovers the chaos. He sees another man in his house and assumes something that is not true. He slaps his wife across her face. It is all very sad. An honest family man has had his zone of sanctity invaded. And lastly, the children. They will be forever scarred by their mother's illness. I wondered how I would have felt if in the early 60's my mother went off the deep end and my father, a man strikingly similar to Falk's character, had to deal with it. People back then laughed at such things: nut house, funny farm, loony bin. My friends would have ridiculed it and I too if the shoe were on the other foot. But thankfully for me, it was not to be.
So if you want to see another side of Falk, rent this movie. It is worth the two and half hours.