Saturday, March 31, 2012

Mad Men: Then, Now and (One Hopes) Forever

A hundred years ago when I was too mental for a permanent job but not too mental to work as a temp (temping is a good solution for mentals as you can pass up jobs when you’re having a breakdown and, if you recover, get another assignment), I spent several days as an office drudge for an ad agency in San Francisco.

The only reason I’m recalling it now (cuz trust me, I try very hard not to recall one single thing from my odious past) is because Mad Men—praise be—has finally come back. And even though season five picks up in the year 1966, it seems not so very different from my own Mad Men stint that took place about seven years later. By which I mean that everyone who worked in this ad agency was very good-looking. Maybe not as gorgeous as Joan (a character I could watch evermore) but certainly right up there: No grown-up Chubbettes, and not one Deformo.

(By Deformo I mean a Facial Deformo, which I was at the time, and still am within my traumatized brain, never mind that I got the deformity surgically “solved” almost three decades ago. Having become a Deformo at the age of 13, I was, shall we say, acutely attuned to (completely obsessed with) the mandibular symmetry—or not-- of all others. All I wanted was to find just one other person whose mandible was even slightly askew, and every time I did not, I felt newly irate and cruelly betrayed. Which is just one explanation for why I wasn’t that sane. What I was instead was maniacally conscious of American standards of beauty and which people met them, and which did not--and, crazier yet, why they did not. I never made these observations aloud, of course, as I was simultaneously trying to pass for a person who might be mistaken, if only by the blindest of drunks,  for Jean Shrimpton.)

I’d been answering their phones for two days before I noticed the agency’s bulletin board, on which my least favorite things—photographs—were posted for everyone in the office to see.

“These are from our company picnic,” a perky version of Don Draper—if such an oxymoron could even exist—told me when he saw me studying them.

Being insane almost always you gives you a bad personality, which is why I said: “Why do you hire only good-looking people?”

Skipping barely a beat while ignoring my question, he said: “Everyone’s good-looking when they’re happy!”

“No, they’re not,” I said, which is just one reason why people with bad personalities have a hard time staying employed.

“Sure they are,” he insisted. “Look, everyone’s smiling.”

They were all smiling, displaying white and radiant teeth, their sleek tresses shining as if Hair & Make-up had just touched them up. I was preparing to say that smiles had nothing to do with it, that a euphoric Quasimodo was still Quasimodo, that a sulking Warren Beatty was even more of a sex god, and, by the by, which man would he choose to sell cigarets--but by the time I’d formulated this tirade, someone had stolen Don Draper away.

Someone like Jean Shrimpton, no doubt. For a six hour lunch steeped in equal parts Gin and Mad Sex. Unless it was someone more like Roger Sterling, in which case the Mad Sex would be replaced (as it so gloriously was in an earlier season) by Mad Barfing. 

Either way I’m grateful I can sit back and watch it, as having to live it would be too totally maddening. And I'm pretty sure--nay, unflinchingly sure--I'm quite mad enough as it is. 


  1. Any possibility of having compassion for your younger, more mental self?

    I find it's gentler on the soul.

  2. I worked low on the food chain in several superstar agencies in the late 70s/early 802. The sexist, hierarchical culture hadn't changed in the ad world in that time frame from what is depicted in Mad Men in the 50s/60s! God, how disappointed I was.

  3. Ever watch the Richs? Eddie Izzard and Minnie Driver. Series, available on DVD. Your caustic observations solicited and appreciated.