Monday, August 30, 2010

Wasted at the Waldorf

As I posted on my new Twitter account this morning, I was going to try to give a slight play-by-play of last night’s Mad Men episode, but again I was left confused and thrown back as I have been nearly every week this season. “Waldorf Stories” was a difficult episode to watch at many times as we saw the different characters of Sterling, Cooper, Draper Pryce in less than desirable or admirable positions.  Much of this had to do with the allures of alcohol, which brought Don Draper to perhaps the lowest depths that he has fallen to all season.  We also saw explicitly, at least for the first time since “Six Month Leave,” how dangerous all the drinks that these men throw back can be.

This post will hopefully not come off as a diatribe against imbibing alcohol as god knows I like to take the sacrament with the best of them, but “Waldorf Stories” illuminated how fine that line of inebriation is; that line of overdoing it that we all look out for and acknowledge so well.  It’s been well documented this season that Don is in the throes of a serious drinking problem.  We saw him curb his thirst last week only to fully unleash it this week in the aftermath of his winning his first Clio award.  Don and Roger have already started in on their drinks before the award ceremony and they continue drinking at it.  They watch as Duck Phillips, their former colleague and enemy, makes a fool of himself during the ceremony because he is too drunk and has fallen completely out of the sober state he was in during Season 2.  Then, Don wins the Clio and in the spirit of the moment decides to try and seal the Life cereal campaign with an impromptu pitch back at the office.  In the meeting, Don rambles through a pitch. This is not the Don we are used to seeing, especially as he tries to drum up another powerful presentation about the pains of growing older in order to sell Life cereal.  However, due to his inebriated state, Don is unable to completely win over the Life people – his presentation didn’t cause goose bumps or tears like his Kodak “Carousel” presentation did in “The Wheel.”  They want a better tag line.  Don tries to impress them by riffing on the spot, which becomes an embarrassing display that is hard to watch. Finally, he stumbles upon “Life. The cure for the common cereal,” which is a line he had stolen from the rejected copywriting candidate he had met with earlier that morning.  Peggy immediately recognizes this fault as she was in the meeting, but no one else does.  Everyone is pleased and it is cause to continue the celebration.

That night at the bar, Roger, Joan and Don all continue to celebrate.  Roger makes sly remarks about not being appreciated.  Roger mutters, “They don’t give you an award for what I do,” to which Joan replies, “And what is that again?”  This is one of several times in the series where what Roger does has been questioned as it does show exact results as Don’s ad campaigns or even Layne’s accounting pragmatism.  Roger always feels the unease of never being appreciated and never truly being able to articulate his role. In fact, Burt Cooper has to explain to him what his job is about in “Guy Walks into an Ad Agency.”  Here, Roger tosses off the line, “Find guys like him,” as he looks down the bar at Don who seems to be having the time of his life.

At this moment, we get another terrific moment between Don and Faye Miller.  Don brashly  “rescues” her from a conversation she is having.  The body language and the chemistry are immediately present as they begin to speak.  Faye and Don discuss the merits of winning an award and Faye says, “Award or no award, you’re still Don Draper,” to which Don responds, “Whatever that means.” This is a fantastic line not only for the viewer who knows how loaded a statement that is, but also because there are often situations where someone will say, “no matter what, you are [insert name].” That is very often a statement that one has difficulty responding to, because that requires a person to understand how another person sees them, to comprehend their appearance and their meaning to others – that is not an easy thing to do and in fact it is something we struggle with throughout our lives.  Faye seems impressed by Don’s remark, which is surprising because she seems to be a character beyond being impressed by the simple, humble and somewhat pretentious brush-off of her statement. Instead, we have to strive to respond to those kind of moments with a casual understanding that other people do see us in different lights and ascribe many different meanings to who we are and that is one of the great truths of life that we have to accept in order to continue to move forward.  However, Don is having trouble moving forward and again he makes a drunken pass at Faye Miller and spoils another intimate moment between them.

Meanwhile, back down the bar, Roger is getting spiteful and Joan wisely says to him, “you’ve crossed the line from lubricated to morose.”  Joan tells him goodnight and Roger hesitates, but finishes his drink anyway. Don continues his night be going home with another Clio award winner who hums “The Star Spangled Banner” while Don falls asleep to only be woken up by Betty who tells him what day it is and that he has forgotten to pick up the kids as he was supposed to.  Don wakes up to find a different woman in his bed and he realizes that he has seriously overdone it. If you saw the episode, you know that Peggy comes over, lectures Don and forces him to fix the situation of the stolen tag-line, which Don does by giving Danny a copywriting job.  Yet, that image of Don running the shower and hiding from the waitress he slept with is stuck in our minds, as  well as Don pouring a stale glass of whiskey to ease his terrible hangover.  That is the depth of a Sunday after a bender that some of us may know too well and that was an incredibly painful scene to watch for anyone who has felt the creases of their couch and no matter how many showers you’ve taken, you still don’t feel clean or prepared for the world.

The drunken weekend was nicely framed by the narrative of Roger “hiring” Don to work at Sterling Cooper.  We finally get the back-story of how Roger found Don at the fur company. Don was overzealous and still contained very many of his Dick Whitman mannerisms as he tried to impress Roger with his ad campaign for Play-Doh.  The poignancy arises when Don shows up at the Sterling Cooper offices and offers to buy Roger drinks. After a morning of drinking, Roger staggers out of the bar, his arm around Don, with Don offering him to get him a cab home.  The next time they see each other, Don has once again showed up to the Sterling Cooper offices to bother Roger. However, this time to Roger’s surprise, Don informs him that he’s been hired and a puzzled Roger is left to wonder if he really had.  This calls to mind Alison’s insulting Don by calling him a drunk who “never remembers anything.”  Don has made a slip as well by having to hire Danny since he drunkenly stole his line and can’t pay him off for it.  The kid is hungry and he wants a job, not just a buy out check.  Like Roger, Don is in danger of slipping, of losing his edge and his hunger.  Don and Roger are tied together in many many ways, which we knew before, but “Waldorf Stories” helps to cement and further illuminate this fact.

There are always counterparts in Mad Men and without getting too much further in plot summary, Peggy’s episode with the new Art Director in the hotel room showed how very intuitive and on her game she is.  She is able to outwit the new Art Director and force him to do some work instead of continue to be a “chickenshit” as she calls him.  She also has the confidence to go to Don’s apartment and point out that he was wrong in stealing Danny’s line and that he has to make it right.  Peggy eschews the drink, even though she is a part of this man’s world and she is able to perform her job at a continued high level.  Pete plays into this counterpart as well when he is confronted with the news that Ken Cosgrove (of course the viewer is happy) is coming back to the firm.  Seeing that his importance may be in jeopardy, Pete sits Cosgrove down as soon as he comes to the office and tells him bluntly that things have changed. Cosgrove tries to laugh Pete’s statement and posture off, but is confronted by a grim and terribly professional looking Pete.  Ken has no response. Pete notices the change in Ken’s posture and then leans back in his chair and asks Ken how his wedding plans are going.  Pete resists alcohol  (he did drink more in earlier episodes, but has been seen doing it less on screen) and has continued to do so as the show has progressed.

Again, there are plenty of themes that I am skirting over such as how we show respect and thanks to others, and how much we can really attribute our individual success to the other people in our lives.  Yet, this stuck out to me as the show pointing towards the short comings of alcohol and, being in my mid-twenties it gave me pause as so many of us turn to the bottle for some kind of self-medication or a way to show us an answer.  I’m not calling for abstinence, I’m just calling for self-awareness for I am as much in fault as anyone and am as lost as anyone (see Puddles of My Podcast theme song).  I’m just looking for some kind of answer and Mad Men is a damn good TV show that I watch at the end of exhausting weekends.

Plus, you have to love Layne telling Pete, “On a personal note, I like you very much and it pains me to hear you think otherwise.”

Until next week.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Confessions of a Geisha

I was raised a Catholic and one of the pillars of the Catholic faith is the value of confession. As early as seven years old you are taught the joy and reward of confessing your wrongs outward to someone who isn’t your mother or father or your sister or brother, but a man in a uniform, someone who can talk to God – a person just like Santa Claus in the Department Store, a proxy who can speak to the person you want to speak to.  And you are also taught at that time, at the time of Reconciliation that perhaps if you are good and concentrate hard enough you can speak to God as well and admit all of the things you have done wrong, as though at seven years old you have a grasp about what is good and what is bad.  You only have vague notions of people and of what causes pain – you are on the road to understanding these objects and words of the world but lack any true fundamental experience to create concrete definitions that can be chartered through your world, your various worlds as they begin to develop within in you in your Youth.

Now, I was raised a Catholic but I believe in the religion of Mad Men, which also preaches the values of confession and the detriment that it can cause on your life if you do not communicate or open up to the world.  Clearly Don Draper is a character who obscures the truth and does not often confess what is troubling him – and of course he did not confess his true identity to his wife until Season 3. Now, confession is not as dire as having to admit that you are living in sin and have comitted a holy injustice – for perhaps in the end there is nothing so much as a holy injustice for our religions are made up of injustices and there is only the universe in the end, so perhaps the only injustice could be one against the universe and as far as I’ve learned in my life, the only injustices that go against the universe have something to do with love and light, but I’ve been struggling for over ten years to try and put what that is to a word or words that are discernable to other people.  However, Mad Men has always explored that idea of sharing and admitting when you are wrong.  We saw this in “Shut the Door, Have a Seat,” at the end of Season 3, where Don admitted to Peggy that he had been hard on her, when he admitted that he had taken advantage of Roger’s relationship.  Don had already admitted his identity to Peggy so he was able to open the door slightly and make these admissions or confessions to the other important people in his life.

Our current 1965 Don Draper has drawn the shade back across himself.  He has thrown himself into his office life, still concealing his true identity and finding no satisfaction either professionally, personally or sexually.  I bring up “Shut the Door, Have a Seat” because it is closest in theme and tone to  last night’s episode, “The Chrysanthemum and the Sword.”  In “Shut the Door, Have a Seat,” Don found himself against a wall and instead of running away as Dick Whitman is wont to do, he decided to fight and ended up taking control of his professional life.  Here, Don is up against a wall in so many areas of his life: Betty and Henry living in his home, no woman to love him, inability to connect with his kids, another agency gunning for him and trying to take his business.  Earlier in the season we have seen him in disarray, but in this episode he decided to take control of the situation once more by leading the agency on his scheme to fake the Honda motorcycle commercial in an attempt to drive the competing agency into bankruptcy.  This was a brilliant sequence as there is no show more exhilirating than Mad Men when they kick into a frisk gear, when the whole agency is working together towards a cause as they were at the end of Season 3.  Everyone pitches in, from Joan and Don working together to lead the director on, to Peggy riding around the empty sound stage with the Honda motorcycle.  Don was able to unify everyone in the great cause of fighting for the agency, which has had its up and downs and growing pains in its first year of existence.

The fact that Don was able to do this was in no small part due to the confession he was able to make to Faye Miller in the SCDP kitchen when they share the drink of sake that was sent over by the competing firm as a joke (it had a very “I drink your milkshake” vibe).  Faye Miller admits to Don that her wedding ring is a fake, she uses it as a defense to keep people away so that she can get work done – it is an identity she uses and plays into as a means to shield herself.  Don recognizes this confession because there isn’t anyone who has used an identity to shield the world more than Don Draper.  Don admits to his insecurities regarding spending time with his children since he and Betty were divorced and admits his great sadness at feeling relieved when he drops them off and then crushed when he misses them again during the week. As Don says, “its not going well.” 

Don is able to own up to his shortcomings and his faults, just as the Japanese are when Don points out that they did not honor the rules of their own ad contest.  The Japanese know honor and they end up giving SCDP the account for their upcoming Honda car line.  We have seen Don acknowledge his situation on his night out with Lane as the two men share the same pain of loneliness and divorce.  However, that was an evening of simple action between two men.  The intimate moment with Faye Miller, will her stockings off, washing her dish in the sink while she and Don sipped sake was something very different.  He was able to make a confession. And I don’t care if you are Don Draper or another man with an  illusion of toughness or aloofness, you never feel more comfortable or open then when you confess something to a woman – it becomes your chance to tell a story, even if you lack in that area.

This was the theme that drove the episode.  In the early stages when Betty and Don argue about Sally’s hair, it is Betty with Henry Francis’ help that admits she was too hard on Sally, though that breakthrough is soon lost when Betty finds out about Sally masturbating and must take her to therapy – althought the strange moment when Betty smiles at the doll’s house seems like some kind of obscure admission in Betty’s own mind, though that remains to be seen.  Roger even has to come to admit that the Japanese must be forgiven and that he has been living in the past for so many years and can’t afford it professionally and perhaps personally to stayed tied to old grudges and prejudices.

While Don, Faye Miller, Betty and Roger have to come to their confessions in this episode, we see that Peggy, Pete and Joan have already made some sort of confession and admission about who they are.  Clearly, Pete and Peggy reached these admissions last week when they exchanged their glance between the glass windows of the office and admitted the different directions they were taking in life.  We don’t know if they will regress from the progress they made through the exchange of information that Pete would be a father with Trudy, but the beauty of Mad Men is that with a simple shot of Peggy riding on the scooter, looking carefree and iconic, that her lesson seems to have stuck. This is not to overlook the confidence and poise Pete shows in standing up to Roger’s prejudice and lack of business vision, as well as his willingness in joining Don to “risk it all” in order to land the new account.  Meanwhile, Joan, very quietly and simply acknowledges that her husband is going to be going to Vietnam and admits that perhaps the world is not a better place after World War II, but that is what the war was fought for and we have to believe that our wars and our battles whether personal or national are fought to sustain good in the world, even if the world may not ever bet better or good.

And again, this is all only scratching the surface.  We could delve further into Sally’s character and the road she is going down, but that storyline seemed to speak for itself in the sheer weight of what that little girl is experiencing. I’d like to reserve judgment until her character and storyline develops a little further in this season.  But, speaking of reserving judgment you have to love a show like Mad Men where in the first twenty minutes you can’t figure out which character is in the wrong. Whether its Betty slapping Sally, Don going on a date while his kids are visiting or Henry Francis for suggesting Betty had something wrong with her by going to therapy (and for still living in Don’s house yet chiming in about how to raise his kids).  And in the end, none of them is worse than the other because they are all human and we have to see how they try to make it through despite it all.

This is only five episodes into Season 4, traditionally, Mad Men gets stronger around episode 8 each season.  We’ll see where we’re going from here.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Puddles of My Podcast - Episode 23

Alright, my Puddlers, the hiatus may be on but that doesn't mean we can't still podcast with each other.  So, here's one for the weekend.  This is Episode 23 of Puddles of My Podcast, this is the working man's podcast, where I welcome a married man, a man who likes to get things done - Dave Singley (don't let the name fool you folks, he's really married).  In this episode, Dave and I discuss vacation, money, Puerto Rico, the present, getting married, the future, his website, freelance work, possible art shows and staying motivated.  Dave also undergoes the Puddles of My Podcast Questionnaire aka the Proust/Mencia Questionnaire.  This is a humble podcast for those pure of heart. I hope you can enjoy it.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Sanctuaries - "Queen's Gambit Declined"

Well everyone, as you know, I am still on my little mini-hiatus from regular posting, but like I mentioned here is one of the special features that is meant to fill in the absence of my beautiful writing voice on this blog.  This is the debut of the video for the Sanctuaries song "Queen's Gambit Declined."  I have covered the Sanctuaries on this website and an article I wrote about them should be appearing in Trashcan Magazine in the upcoming weeks.  "Queens Gambit Declined" is part of a single with "House of Noise," whose video will also appear on this blog in the upcoming weeks.

Without further ado, the video is below or you can view it here. Check the Sanctuaries MySpace or follow David Stern on Facebook (this guy posts legit status updates) for more information about upcoming shows and band related information.

Monday, August 16, 2010

All American Rejects

Last week I wrote that “The Good News” was perhaps the most difficult Mad Men episode to digest in the show’s three plus seasons.  That statement has been quickly trumped by last night’s episode “The Rejected,” which contained a variety of symbols that could be read as extremely meaningful signifiers or which could have been red herrings meant to keep our brains turning.  It was also one of the most thematically challenging and deep episodes that the series has ever aired. After three episodes that explicitly dealt with Don’s continued fall from the grace he had constructed about himself, we move away from Don and focus on the trajectories of Pete Campbell and Peggy Olsen.  However, we still do get our fair share of Don Draper and his continued descent.

This episode takes place in February of 1965 and, as many of us students of history know, by 1965, the cultural vision the 1960’s that is sold and taught to us was beginning to take its palpable shape.  Many people have speculated who the ultimate vehicle for the counter-culture on the show would be.  Would it be someone who came of age in the late 1960’s like Sally Draper or Glenn?; would it be a character of the periphery like Stephanie from “The Good News”?; would it be a main character who decided to turn on, tune in and drop out?  There have always been hints that Peggy would jump on board with the younger generation as the 60’s progressed.  She goes to a Bob Dylan concert in Season 2; she adopts a new haircut; she embraces new cultural values in her writing and ad ideas; she tries weedis in Season 3.  However, there is always that old fashioned element to Peggy, whether it is her inability to connect completely with the sexual promiscuity of someone like Joan, who navigates the politics and power of sex (sometimes successfully, sometimes to her detriment) openly, or her reliance on being a Catholic as part of her identity even as she grapples with the fundamentals of that system of belief, that seemed to suggest otherwise.  After last night’s episode, we see that perhaps she will tread some middle ground – a confident career woman liberated by the ability for woman to move upward in the work place who crosses paths with the youth movement of the culture and participates, perhaps not fervently or directly, with some of the countercultural and drug culture qualities that defined the late-60’s.  Certainly “The Rejected” showed that Peggy has the temperment and the foresight to participate and hold her own in an environment like the art party she goes to downtown, as well as to hold off the advances of Joyce with razor sharp quips like “He’s renting it,” in reference to her boyfriend owning her vagina – a quip that she picked up from spending years with the likes of Roger Sterling, but that would also  hold up with the best quips from the 1965-1966 era Bob Dylan. Peggy is even open to the open romance and promiscuity that also defined the late-60’s as she is more than happy to kiss the stranger in the closet during the excitement of the cops breaking up the party.  In “The Rejected” the viewer was first given a look into the romantic and artistic visions of downtown New York in the 60’s, that misty time filled with late nights and slow burning lights that fit so well in Bob Dylan songs.

As much as Mad Men is a show about Don Draper, the Draper Family as well as the work place as a whole, it is also very much about the trials and tribulations of Pete Cambell and Peggy Olsen.  If Don is the center storyline, an arch full of pathos that drives the show, then Peggy and Pete are the dynamic wing storylines that always entertain, move and touch us on terrific and deep levels.  In “The Rejected,” all of the deep emotional themes between Pete and Peggy were dug up.  Not overtly at first as Pete is faced with the dilemma of telling his father in law that he has to drop his Clearasil account, as well as begrudgingly go to lunch with Harry Crane as well as Ken Cosgrove (which is a welcome return).  Pete and Ken tensely reunite as they discover Harry Crane has been spreading some rumors (maybe some truths) about Pete talking about Ken behind his back.  Ken has lost a lot of the lackadasical charm and confidence he had in the first three seasons of Mad Men as he has seen the depressing larger scale of the advertising world and feels himself very much as a cog in the machine.  Pete and Ken commiserate, but Pete takes in every word that Ken is saying and will later parlay that into a coup over his father-in-law.  But first,  Pete learns from his drunken father-in-law that after all the hard work, Trudy is finally pregnant.  It is charming to see the slow and true joy come over Pete, since we can’t help but be reminded of how crushed he was when Peggy told him that she gave their child away.  Pete is genuinely happy when Trudy tells him herself and it is fascinating to see how he has slowly grown to truly love her from the first season through this season and how their marriage, which was rocky at first as slowly become one of the healthiest relationships on the show. But Pete, being the account man he is, figures out that he can use the child as a way to bait his father-in-law and take the entire Vicks account rather than just giving up Clearasil.  When Pete finally confronts his father-in-law with this plan, all his father-in-law can say is “you son of a bitch,” to which Pete just shrugs in one of the top moments in the entire series.  Pete is perhaps the one character who accepts who he is purely and truly and as such requests a certain respect from us as the audience. If only we were so honest about our devotion and skill at perhaps not such an admirable trade.

Yet, what is most interesting is when Pete and Peggy interact.  There are all kinds of parallels in the episode (Pete banging head, Peggy banging head) but when the two intersect the drama and history is all present.  Peggy is taken aback when one of the secretaries brings the card for Pete and Trudy’s pregnancy around.  She goes to congratulate Pete who can only think of his coup with Vick’s but then mutters, “I suppose that is cause for congratulations.”  Peggy seems truly happy for him but has to go to her office to lay down.  This is one of the most true moments you can have in TV, film or literature.  How often are we happy for someone but can’t help but feel some ounce of jealousy or regret that has laid dormant rise up with force within us and overwhelm us, even if that isn’t our true emotion?  Peggy could have had that life with Pete as she said at the end of Season 2, but she decided to give it up for her pursuit of professional and personal freedom.  However, as confident as she was in that decision, it doesn’t mean there is some regret, some vision of that “other” self that could have been that lives within her.  But Peggy is brought back to the present when Joyce asks her to lunch with some friends.  And again Peggy crosses paths with Pete in the lobby. Pete is with Roger, Lane, Freddie Rumsen and some other “old fashioned” suits from Vicks, all in a cluster of blues and greys, while Peggy is on the other side of the glass with the colorful work attire of Joyce and her friends, the young professionals who are looking for the cutting edge of the 60’s.  Peggy and Pete catch eyes and submit an acknowledgement to one and other.  That there was a connection, some moment of the universe that was strong, that tormented them, drew them together and threw them apart and will always bind them, but it was not the way it was meant to be, there was some element lacking. So they smile and embrace their present.  There is something all very Tolstoyan about it.

And still there is Don.  Don scolds Faye Miller at the end of the episode that you can’t decide what someone is going to do based upon what they have done.  Peggy and Pete have managed to surprise despite what they have done, they have been able to change and Peggy especially has shown her ability to “move forward.”  Don tried to “move forward” after he slept with Allison, but she is unable to.  She has been traumatically effected by Don’s ability to compartmentalize his feelings and reactions to people and relationships.  She breaks down during Faye Miller’s control group session, which she manipulates by “sticking her finger” in the girls’ brains, as Don says to her.  Then, when Don goes to check on her (albeit after Peggy already scolds her for her presumptions) she confronts Don about them sleeping together. Allison takes the initiative, she closes the door.  This is a shocking moment for anyone who has watched Mad Men as no one, besides Betty last season and perhaps Cooper from time to time, has confronted Don so directly about his short comings.  Then, Don crushes her again when he says that she can write her own recommendation and that he’ll sign it.  Allison loses it and she throws the metal ball at Don, reminding us all of Roger Sterling’s line that Don, “doesn’t value relationships.”

There were plenty of red herrings in this episode (the artist’s rejected photos, the artist himself, Faye Miller’s name misspelling, Faye Miller’s wedding ring) but none more important than Don’s failed letter and the old couple with the pears.  Don’s failed letter brought to mind Leopold Bloom in the “Nausicaa” episode writing “I. AM. A” in the sand before scratching it out.  It is a moment of admission that is never finished, so we never truly know where the protagonist’s consciousness is going.  Don gets as far in his letter as apologizing to Allison and then right, “Right now my life is very…” before he rips it out of the typewriter and throws it out.  This shows that there is a remorse in Don for all of his actions, which we always knew was there, but it feels as though he is recognizing it through all his drinking and acknowledging the fact that he has to rise from it.

The final possible red herring is the old couple with the pears.  This was perhaps one of my favorite lines of all times. The repeated “Did you get pears?” followed by “We’ll discuss it inside.”  Don, who is not drunk, does not encounter any young girls. Instead he is presented of an image of an old couple who has presumably been together, perhaps in that same apartment for years. Maybe kids ran through the halls and grew in and out of the apartment and set up their own lives, leaving these two behind to grow old together, to bicker, to share their lives and secrets in discussions behind the closed door of their apartment.  Don watches this and the viewer can only assume that he acknowledges that he has none of those opportunities.  He has no one to argue with or to share and discussions behind closed doors with.  Or perhaps it  has something more to do with the door itself, with the notion of privacy that speaks to where Don’s character and psyche is at the moment. In any event, the old couple is an image that leaves us thinking about the show long after its over. Whether any of these seeds or images that are planted lead to any major development, remains to be seen, however they are images that are in play and meant for us to view and enjoy.

This was one of the funniest episodes of Mad Men as well and featured some of the best lines and scenes ever – especially the Lee Garner Jr. telephone call and Peggy peeking into Don’s office.  These three major storylines were only the tip of the iceberg as we didn’t truly touch on the depths of who “The Rejected” were or are.  All we know is that Don, Peggy and Pete have all been rejected at one point or another. Pete and Peggy in this episode have been able to seemingly reconcile those long standing feelings of rejection and move forward into futures that seem promising. It is Don that is still wallowing and feeling his rejection as well as the effects of his own rejection of Allison.  He will need to move forward in some way, which is hard when you are dragging two personas, both of which may be falling apart.  Again, we wait for the next chapter in Don Draper’s long process of turning himself around.  It never gets boring.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Puddles of My Podcast - Episode 22

Its been an action-packed week for me at work and otherwise and we are going to close it out with a podcast.  In this Episode 22 of Puddles of My Podcast I welcome an ultimate ideas man, a man of many interests and distractions and one of the founders of Brooklyn Brainery as well as Ice Cream Club,  Jonathan "Soma" Soma.  In this installment of the show Soma and I discuss the state of Virginia, Indian Food, the charms of New York, starting Brooklyn Brainery, the appeals of teaching, Ice Cream Club, the virtues of good tasting ice cream against experimental ice cream flavors, alternative rock music, collectivism in Brooklyn as well as touch on what is becoming the signature Puddles Questionnaire.  This is one of the more fascinating podcasts I have done and I enjoyed it very much. 

I also wanted to remind all you Puddlers to elect to download these podcasts so that I can keep track of which episodes you like more than others so that I can cater the podcasts in order to make them as entertaining for you all as possible.  If you go to the Puddles of My Podcast archives you'll be able to download whatever episode you like with ease.

This week marks the last week of full activity for me until mid to late September. I am going to be working on revisions to From Here to the Last Mound of Dirt until then. During this time, you will still receive weekly Mad Men reviews, hopefully one podcast per week, as well as a few other special treats that will remain a surprise.  Of course you can repeatedly read the Lisbon review and try to gain as much meaning from it as possible.  That could easily take you a month.

So enjoy this sweet and savory podcast.  Take care, my Puddlers.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Album Review: The Walkmen "Lisbon"

One of the rules of writing that I’ve mentioned on this blog is that you should never begin with a quote, whether its dialogue or a quote of someone else’s. One of thhe other rules of writing is that you should never repeat yourself.  Obviously there are only approximately eight themes that we can write about: love, birth, death, passion, friendship, good, evil and youth.  With those eight (questionable) items you will inevitably come to similar thematic crossroads. The key is that each time you come to the crossroad  you approach it from a different route.  Your destination, the overall shape of the theme or virtue remains the same, but it is the the way those themes and virtues are discerned and relayed that should be different each time so that nothing is repeated.  Our days should remain this way as well despite our routines and subway routes.

So, I have written about the Walkmen before and related their music to love, passion, death, birth and youth.  I have written about Bob Dylan and life in the city and the country and spoken about love, passion, birth, death and youth. I’m not going to avoid repetition by tackling good and evil (I’m not that excellent of a writer yet), but the Walkmen will be approached from a different route than I have approached them before. This is because Lisbon is a different album than the Walkmen have ever made before. They approach the same themes and tones of their musical palette repeatedly but manage to expand the scope of their statement each time they do so.  The main thing is that “Torch Song” on Lisbon is a fantastic song and makes your mind move in all the right directions.

This past weekend I took Friday off from work to take a long weekend upstate.  The summer is hot and my job is good.  I work with all kinds of women all day and am easily swayed by passion so each day I am constantly exhaused by promise.  Living in the country has always been part of my dream, like Levin as Tolstoy’s alter-ego surveying the fields surrounding his family’s estate, watching the sun change color, water dry in the reeds and marshes and purple mountain flowers sway with the breeze and insects all the while tractor wheels or ancient scythes flash in the light below the lime groves.  So, when I can leave to go to rural places I do – mostly on the hope that I might learn to enjoy something concrete about life by paying attention to the change in demeanor from the city to the country or from the feel of dirt and the difference of air. Yet, usually, I just drink beer try to get dirty.

I left work and met my friend at the apartment she was staying in on the Upper West Side.  The friend she was staying with decorates for weddings in the city and around it.  Her apartment was littered with old bottles for flowers, pieces of wood, pinwheels made of color patterns.  There was a window next to the crates of bottles that opened out to a courtyard where small stairwells descended to the center and plants and flowers sat in the evening light.  The girl apologized about how messy the apartment was and explained that she had been very busy.  I told her that I liked a place with clutter, all the bottles looked neat and cool stacked in crates near the window, it made the apartment warmer in sme way.  She laughed at that and told my friend and I that the wedding would be near our destination upstate and that we could both stop by on our way home on Sunday. My friend and I agreed that would be nice.

Then, with coffees in hand we were in the car on the way towards the Taconic.  My friend was telling me about some new people she had met that were designing different clothes among other objects and materials.  She was making contacts in the industry she wanted.  That was where we were heading – the home of the designer she worked for.  The sun was setting and yet that coolness of August away from the city wasn’t setting in as the sky turned from orange purple to the periwinkle of the gloaming.  I thought of all the people I tried to contact and of other friends I knew who contacted other people and tried to make a start in some kind of creative business.  I thought about how much talent I had, but that thought was broken by the memory of my friends and I trying to sneak on a ferry boat from New London out to Orient Point.  I thought about the heat of the day and the look on the ferry hand’s face as we drove onboard without a ticket and he pointed us away with his brown, worn finger.

We arrived at a humble Mexican restaurant in an upstate strip mall and walked in to greet my friend’s designer boss and his wife.  They treated us to margaritas and a mexican dinner.  It was a Thursday and as the Designer Boss said, “We come here every Thursday.” The wait staff all knew the Designer Boss and his wife and they brought over several dishes that we ate down greedily.  Finally the meal was over and I motioned to pay for the check, but the Designer Boss wouldn’t hear of it and paid for the check happily. As we walked out, I thanked him and looked at a tiled waterfall in the lobby of the restaurant.  Outside, my friend and I asked if we could buy any wine or liquor.  The Designer Boss’s wife said, “You couldn’t drink us dry if you wanted to.  Besides, there’s no where to get it at this time of night.”  And as I looked around at the darkened strip mall and then the hills that rose above its sad roofs, I realized she was right.  So, we got in the car and my friend tried to keep up with her Designer Boss who was speeding around the country roads and hills he knew so well.  He beat us to his home and the motion detector spread out over the gravel drive.  There were planters with purple flowers and a built up hill the stood over the driveway and led to forest.  Next to the home, a sunroom stretched over and back and my eye was drawn to a garden and dark barn.  The light gave to the darkness and I saw the vague silhouette of a straw owl. Out in the night, I felt a great sense of distance, which I have felt at various points in my life, it felt as if some great vastness of the world sat in front of me althought it was completely unseen.

“You’ll see the view tomorrow,” the Designer Boss said.

“I’m sure I will,” I responded.

He led us into his home and we set down our bags.  He showed us proudly around this home that he had built.  He complained about dried caterpilars on the floor.  He showed us exposed beams of wood that stood underneath skylights and above the loft of the second floor.  He showed us the guest room we would be staying in – the B suite, because the A suite was being occupied by his neighbor whose floors were being redone.  He showed me his library because I confessed to working for a magazine and being interested in writing. I spotted a pool out by a light in the side backyard.

“You’ll go swimming in there tomorrow,” the Designer Boss said.

I laughed. “I imagine so. It’s going to be hot I heard.”

“Beautiful weather.”

Then he led my friend and I into his kitchen and offered us tequila, which I accepted.  My friend asked for whiskey, which the Designer Boss dismissed but poured anyway, like a doting father to a daughter, which in many ways he postured himself as.  We had our drinks in hand and then the Designer Boss said he was going to have a cigar.  He asked me if I would too, but only if I didn’t puke.  I said I would too and that I wouldn’t puke.  So we both smoked cigars out in the sunroom with a fan on above us and the humidity slowly giving way to the coolness that enters a summer night in August usually around midnight, though perhaps sooner if you are further in the woods or somewhere more northern.

“I smoked a lot of cigars in the summer of 2005,” I told the Designer Boss.

“These are good cigars he said.”

My friend asked him about his son, Max, who was in New York from Africa.  They would be seing him after he went to his friend’s wedding. Perhaps he would be staying longer.  He had a crush on my friend.

“You should watch out little girl,” he said to her. “Max likes you.”

We all laughed and the Designer Boss and I puffed on cigars and I thought about how much he would have enjoyed that. “I would that it were true.”  Then, I asked the Designer Boss’ wife about where they had lived in New York and they told us about Brooklyn in the 70’s and buying in Manhattan at the turn of the 80’s on the Upper West Side.  They told us about celebrities and neighbors who masturbated in the window.  The cigars turned in our fingers and the smoke puffed out as the red craters slowly drew towards the band by the butt. Then, the Designer Boss said he would retire with his wife and they did.  My friend and I stayed up and drank another glass each of whisky in his library with the TV on mute.  I admired a book of beatnik interviews and we talked about our separate love lifes and stumbled into slight disagreements as friends will do when they are comfortable and tired and finishing their last drinks.  Then we went up to bed, where I insisted on sleeping on the floor with a white duvet wrapped around me and pillows strewn about, claiming it was good for my back.

“I knew you’d do this,” my friend said.

Then we both slept.  She woke in the morning with the remaining coolness, which Hemingway said was the best time to write. She left the room and I spread out on the bed. I woke to an empty house, I supposed they went to get breakfast.  So I washed my face and slicked my hair back, brushed my teeth and put on clean clothes.  Then I went downstairs and into the sunroom feeling very neat with my notebook and novel hooked under my arm and then stacked on the wicker white table.  I started writing as I looked out to the view of the slight mountains and hills that spread in the distance.  The house sat above a golden hill of rye.  I looked around and thought of the Designer Boss and his family and of other small lives that were lived in these hills and began to feel melancholy. So I started to write.  It wasn’t long when the car pulled back down and my friend shouted out to me from the kitchen. They had eggs and bacon and all things for breakfast, but first we would walk.

We walked and the Designer Boss led the way.  We walked along roads that were lined with corn fields, corn to feed cows.  My friend ate some corn and mooed.  We encountered actual cows and the Designer Boss’ wife and I let them suck our fingers as we pet their heads.  We looked at barns and climbed long, slow sloping hills.  I stepped on rocks to pick unripe apples that had the perfect sourness for my enjoyment. I walked along and thought of Levin and Tolstoy and Bob Dylan in 1970 surveying their respective properties.  I had a notion of happiness and I believed that it was tied to the ability to perhaps know something greater about life in general by simply taking the time to observe it.  I reminded myself not to get to close to being like a hippy.

We returned to the house feeling healthy, warm and sweaty.  The Designer Boss cooked bacon and made over hard eggs.  We ate the eggs and bacon out on the sun room. The Designer Boss ate a bagel and pickled herring from Zabar’s.  I spread their homemade strawberry and blueberry jams out on my bagel.

“Which do you like better?” the Designer Boss’ wife asked.

“Blueberry is better.” The Designer Boss said.

“I like blueberry best,” I said.

We lingered over breakfast and made jokes. I thanked the Designer Boss and his wife several times and then asked him about hiking a hill to the fire tower.  The Designer Boss got very excited and told us that he would take us there to hike while he cut some of the rye that his neighbor had missed cutting with his tractor. Then, when we were done, we could swim in the pool with him before he went golfing at 4:00.  We agreed it was a perfect plan and were soon speeding behind him through the small town to the small mountain.  We got to the mountain and he pointed out the way.  We thanked him and climbed. I forced my friend to move faster than she wanted to as we climbed to the top and found the fire tower.  As we climbed the fire tower we paused momentarily to take in the views from the various elevations until we reached the top and watched the turkey vultures and red tailed hawks circle the tops of the trees.  We read out graffiti and then looked out at the clouds that formed shadows on the hills.

“Do you like my boss?” my friend asked me.

“I do. He likes you very much.”

“You think?”

“You remind him of something.”


“I don’t know,” I said. “I’m not sure he knows either, but its something that he can understand and it is something good.”

We were quiet after that and then made a joke about some acquaintance we both knew and decided to climb back, get back, swim and then leave.

We completed our task of swimming with the Designer Boss in his 85 degree pool (“It has to be 85 degrees”) and set off to meet our friends further upstate.  The Designer Boss was visibly sad as he helped us figure out the route to take to meet our friends.  However, he piled us on with homemade jams, zucchini bread and pesto.  As we left, the Designer Boss’ wife showed me some catnip that grew by the driveway.  We held it out to their cat, which the son had brought from Africa and watched as he curled his lip and pawed at the flower before curling up with it on the gravel.  Then I thanked her and the Designer Boss for everything and hoped I would see them soon.

“See you on Tuesday,” the Designer Boss said to my friend.

Then, we were driving up 202 N where we met our friends at my friend’s grandfather’s house.  His grandfather was an old Frenchman who did various odd jobs throughout his life but who retreated to this remote spot in the late 1970’s.  He spoke in a thick but clean French accent and seemed to wink every time he said something.  I felt something familiar when talking to him. It could have been the warmth of accumulated human experience that most grandfather’s have, or it could have been that I shared some trait of simplicity of the world with this man – the same peasant heart.  Maybe we were both just men.  I couldn’t decide.  But my friend and his wife were happy to see us and there were other friends there as well, so we cooked fresh corn and drank cold beer and cooked our dinner over a fire on an old cauldron while country music played.

The night fell in and it grew colder than it had been the night before.  We kept drinking and slowly but surely people had crawled off to bed in various spots, except myself, my friend, the grandchild of the grandfather, and his friend, the Photographer.  Since it was late and we were drunk we decided to wander without purpose in the fields and forest around the house. My friend, the grandchild of the grandfather, had directions of the properties printed in his head from memory and nostalgia so we followed him.  A new barn was being built and its fresh wood seemed to glow in the night, so we climbed in one of the windows and surveyed the craftsmanship, using our cell phone light to guide us.  When that was done, my friend wanted to walk on the path that led from the neighbors’ house to his grandfather’s rabbit hutch.  He had taken the neighbor’s daughter there one time.  We walked quietly through the yard, but couldn’t find the path.  My friend got caught in the prickers and we decided to finally give up. So the three of us boys took the road back and admired the full scope of stars that had stretched up above us.  Yet, we had to make a stop at the other neighbor’s home, the Architect.  We walked up his drive and into his yard since he wasn’t home.  He had a treated pond in the backyard and we drank beers along its zen edge.  Bullfrogs honked in the darkness and before I knew it, we were asleep out there.  We all awoke minutes later and retreated to our own beds – my friend into bed with his wife.

The next morning we cooked breakfast over the fire – eggs and bacon – and then took a trip to a waterfall landing to swim in the cold water.  I drank beers on the ride over the hills to the falls and then alongside the falls.  The boys swam to the falls and talked, watching a gay couple and their dog play with a big stick among the rocks of the fall bed.  Soon, it was time to leave there, so we drove back, picking up some supplies for steak dinner.  We played lawn games in the high heat of the late afternoon and cooked different courses of mushroom, turkey burgers and other vegetables over the fire before it was time to cook steak.  We ate thick steaks as the night grew dark and we poured chimichurri on the meat alongside beat salad and other greens. Then, there was a champagne toast, for my friend, the grandchild of the grandfather and his wife had been married only recently.  We all admired their connection and union and returned to our cups and cans.  The fire roared on and some of us fell asleep as my friend, the grandchild of the grandfather, relayed wild stories from his youth.  I dozed in and out, sipping cheap corn whiskey and making smores.  Finally the exhaustion set in.

“I was drinking for all of us,” my friend said.

“I was tired,” I said.

“No roaming tonight.”

“Maybe just some nights.”

We all retired to our beds.

The next morning we made another big breakfast. I felt rested and ate my eggs and bacon as well as homemade english muffins that my friends wife had prepared.  She cooked them over the fire.  I drank beers because the morning was hot. The conversation lingered and we discussed leaving.  Before we did, we took artsy photos in the woods with props at different locations.

“My parents definitely have these pictures. I’ve seen them,” one of the guests said and we all laughed at that.

Then, it was time to leave.  So my friend (the girl) and I set off in her car back to New York.  We drove smoothly back to the city and when we got to New York, the streets were clear, because it was a summer Sunday.  A  phrase that that day sounded so simple, old and beautiful to me.  The heat wasn’t terrible and there was no one on the road or on the streets and for a second, this great city seemed manageable.  I felt that I could smell salt water.

My friend dropped me off and I was dirty, tired, and exhausted from drinking beer and being in the sun.  So, I shaved, showered, made dinner and  bought cold Miller High Life bottles to drink in the evening.  I drank them next to the fan in my apartment and thought of going back to work on Monday.

This is supposed to be about  the Walkmen album Lisbon.  I’m not going to pretend to know what this fantastic new album is about.  All I am going to tell you is that it is the best album that the Walkmen have ever put out.  Wheras You & Me was all about a kind of wild passion for youth and catharsis – the pain of understanding that time is passing and that things are not as they once were, that what was may not ever be again, because your sisters are now all married – Lisbon is about what happens after that moment or era in your life.

The Walkmen started off as a loud band that had strange echoing guitars, organs and pianos (not to mention a fantastic drummer).  We fell in love with the anthem “The Rat” and moody numbers like “We’ve Been Had,” “Wake Up,” or solemn songs like “New Year’s Eve.”  Or, like me, you fell in love with the unbridled rock n’ roll of A Hundred Miles Off that made a person (especially a tortured soul) find meaning in the world.  There was something uncontrollable about their ability to go from cool and solemn to unrestrained and wild that fit someone who was making their way through their college years.  Then, when You & Me came out in my early twenties when I was learning to love New York and leave the romances and memories of my youth behind me and embrace the new strangeness and perhaps changes I would have to face in the coming years, it all made sense.  There was something poignant about that album. It was intoxicating enough with its use of horns, its ballads and its anthemic rockers that you just had to fall in love with it – there was no way not to because it represented something so strongly to life, to some kind of impalpable feeling or era that all people share.

Lisbon then one-ups that. Lisbon is the sound of a band that is completely comfortable in their skin.  Lisbon is the Walkmen. In many ways it is a superior summation of a band than Wilco (The Album) was for Wilco in its own clever way.  Lisbon has the rockers, it has the pop songs, it has the wailing anthems and it has the moody atmospheric pieces.  Yet, they never reach an extreme, they all feel natural, as though they are not one different song. Where sometimes that effect can make an album seem long or drawn out, here it never is.  The Walkmen understand the dynamics of their sound so well that they can subtly adjust from track to track without it seeming completely different, but when you pay attention you realize how different it is and you are never bored – there is always a vocal wail or hook or a tinkling piano, or a substantial throb of bass or some clever percussion that makes your head spin.  You’ve heard these songs before, but they have never been this good, they have never been this natural and you will never be able to get them out of their head. There isn’t much of a difference between “Victory,” “Angela Surf City,” “Torch Song,” “Blue as Your Blood,” and “Lisbon.”  The only difference is the subtle shift in dynamics. “Lisbon” itself is a tour de force in tone and atmosphere and is perhaps one of the best songs of the last ten years and it isn’t even the best song on the album, which would be “Torch Song.”

We often feel sad when athletes pass their prime or when musicians become older and start forming families.  The Walkmen have been around for about a decade.  They are starting to get their just due as one of the best rock bands around.  And I find it funny after the Strokes just played a legendary show at Lollapalooza to be talking about bands reaching maturity.  Lisbon, to me, is the sound of maturity.  It is concise at 11 tracks and each song, no matter what it is actually saying, says something about moving on with your life and finding a peace within your skin.  It is an album where you identify what your problem is, accept it and figure out the ways how to fix it.  The romance is over and so are the triumphant horns, now something else has inserted itself into your life, perhaps something that isn’t completely palpable, but something that feels comfortable and you can’t shake, because more than the romance it is this essence that you have always wanted – whatever it may be.

You can connect the dots for what this means about  a married couple, an old Frenchman in Upstate New York, a Designer Boss, two friends travelling, fires and drinking a beer in the coolness of the night.  I’m not sure what all those objects mean in the general context of the world other than that they exist and enter into my life from time to time as I try to make my way through time and learn to trust the things that I really want and not the things that the world suggests make me comfortable. Lisbon is that point, that city you reach when you find the balance of “what I want and what the world expects of me.”  That balance that can be explained by a Summer Sunday in New York City in a car, or by walking by a campfire with a cool beer and seeing a pool of water.  Those are the objects that may be there, that may reside in that city, but its all about how you get there and when you do, the music is sweet, it is challenging and it is good.

Monday, August 9, 2010

A Steak and a Smile

A smile and a steak are two images that you wouldn’t immediately associate with last night’s episode of Mad Men, entitled “The Good News.”  In fact, the “good news” is so buried within the episode that it is actually hard to discern that it is good news. Last night’s episode was one of the most difficult and perhaps darkest episodes of Mad Men that the series has ever put on air. Even today I am still turning it over in my mind to find some sort of meaning, which may be a strange thing to say about a TV show – and a slight bit disconcerting – but this is the effect of Mad Men, this is the greatness.

“The Good News” gave us a prolonged look at both the Don Draper character and the Dick Whitman character.  A lot of people who watch Mad Men are not fans of Season 2’s “California Arc,” where Don travels to California to stay with Anna Draper, the real wife of the man who’s name he stole.  Many people saw the “California Arc” as moving too far away from the heart of the show, which lies in the office, in New York, and also at the Draper household.  However, Don’s trip to California allows us to see the real Dick Whitman, whether he is a wanderer among a pack of eccentric wanderers when he meets Joy and her “family”, or when he is vulnerable, innocent and confessional when he is with Anna Draper at her home by the ocean.  In “The Mountain King,” Anna Draper tells Don that the only thing that keeps him from being happy is “the belief that he [you] are alone.”  There are intimate moments between the two that are never evident in other parts of Don’s life.  When he is with Betty he is constantly afraid of being discovered; when he is with his mistresses he is wrapped up in the romance of escape and of their youth; when he is with his children there is a glimpse into some kind of unconditional love, some openness of emotion, but that is quickly eclipsed by the lie of his identity and his role as a father to them.  With Anna Draper none of these issues arise.  As she says in “The Good News” she knows everything about Don and loves him despite of it all.  She is the closest person to him – she straddles both of his identities.

However, in “The Good News,” Don/Dick learns that this intimate relationship will soon be taken away from him.  Anna’s niece, Stephanie, tells Don that Anna has cancer and that doctors and specialists haven’t given her very long to live.  Jon Hamm does some serious acting throughout this episode as you can see wave after wave of emotion come over his face as he and Stephanie sit in his car.  This news is revealed to Don after he once again unsuccessfully tries to pick up a girl.  Here, though, we get a very open admission from Don. As he tries to convince Stephanie to sleep with him he marvels at how young and beautiful she is (echoes of Roger Sterling in “Long Weekend” from Season 1) and tells her that he and Anna never had a romantic relationship, but that “he loves her for lots of reasons and in a very different way.”  Don/Dick is capable of breaking down the different forms of romance there are in the world. He admits to his unique love with Anna, but in Stephanie he is mistaking youth with some other kind of love.  He is attracted to Stephanie’s boldness when she asks if  he is married or divorced as well as her bold statement when mocking the dating process when she says, “But nobody knows what’s wrong with themselves and everyone else can see right away.”  Once again we are presented with one of the “types” that Don is attracted to, like a Faye Miller who can make a profound statement, or a Rachel Mencken, the intellect is present.  There is also that strange element of youth that seems necessary for Don, like Ms. Farrell had or Joy. It’s something tied to that want to run away and be free that is inherent in Dick Whitman, that very Gatsbyesque element that we all have.  However, lurking around that allure is a moment like the end of The Great Gatsby, or the end of The Graduate.  That solemn understanding of what is inevitable.  Don comes to grasp this after he fights with Anna’s sister about informing Anna that she has cancer. Dick/Don tries to insert himself into the situation with the confidence and command of the Don Draper character, only he is shot down by Anna’s sister and forced to face the fact that Anna is sick and is dying and it isn’t his role to tell her the truth.  He hasn’t committed to this identity, this world enough to make that kind of statement, no matter how much he may love Anna Draper in his own unique, platonic, and unconditional way. So, he has to run away again, he has to put back the Don Draper persona.

And what we get with the Don Draper persona is nothing short of depressing and dark.  When Don gives up his idea of a vacation to Acapulco after facing the dire circumstances of Anna Draper’s illness, he returns to New York, to his once place of solace – the office – where he encounters another lonely soul in Lane Pryce.  Lane reveals that his wife has chosen her love of Britain over him and will be seeking an attorney for a divorce.  Lane has come to love America despite the fact that no one has been warm to him, as Don admits.  Lane also admits that despite his tough stance on the company’s finances, the company has done terrific business in their first year. The two share the “good news,”  silence of the office and the smooth finish of Lane’s scotch before Don decides that they should make a night of it.  They fill a flask of scotch (Don sloppily spills the expensive scotch onto the floor of the office as he fills the flask) and go to the movies to watch a Japanese monster movie. Mad Men fans have been arguing about whether it is Godzilla or some other movie, but really, who cares?  The men talk loudly during the movie and share in the kind of “Lost Weekend” mentality that all men romanticize, getting rid of any and all shackles, drinking at will and not caring for any circumstances.  The two then sit down for a steak dinner before Don decides that they should get rid of the steak and go meet two “girlfriends” downtown.  Don offers to pay and Lane stands up with the piece of steak placed firmly in front of his  crotch and shouts, “I got a big Texas belt buckle…yee haw!.”  After they meet the women (Don’s go to prostitute and her friend), Don and Lane go back to Don’s apartment with the prostitutes.  As Lane’s girl takes him into the bedroom, it is a subtle piece of acting to see Lane take off his glasses, pull himself up in stature and then lean in to kiss the prostitue. It is a release for a man who loves to work and has in a sense given up his family for his job and for his love for America.  The next morning, Lane wakes up to find Don brewing coffee.  Lane thanks Don for the night out and leaves after drinking a glass of water.  There is a subtle recognition between the two, something close to the shame one feels waking up to a hookup the day after, which is also close to the alienation one feels after revelling with a friend or person they do not know incredibly well and letting them crash at their apartment only to wake and make pleasantries and give a mild slap on the back of good will. Those emotions are stirring in the scene but Hamm and Jared Harris give us more, they give us an appreciation between the two men, that they can share their circumstances and their loneliness, can share the thrill of their new company’s modest success and the toll that it has taken on their lives.

The third leg of this episode’s base was provided by Joan.  Who butted heads with Lane at the office but then reconciled.  They are both consummate professionals whose respect held out by a quiet acknowledgement of troubles at home. Lane’s flower mix-up reminded Joan of her own insecurities towards her husband, who treats her like a child as he fixes her cut finger.  Joan’s husband who is unable to get her pregnant after she has already had two abortions. Joan’s husband who may be going to Vietnam, but who doesn’t know if he will and he throws a fit about a weekend in the Poconos.  Joan is trying to organize her life, trying to have a baby and trying to treat her personal life with the same composed manner she carries in her professional life.  Yet, at home she faces a man who is broken, whose dreams are gone and who had to resort to entering the army as a means to support her. As Greg says about Joan’s wound: “I can’t fix everything, but I can fix this.”  Joan manages to get rid of her tears as she acknowledges and admits, perhaps in a very small way, that her husband is the failure that the viewers have always known him to be.

As the show comes to an end and all the partners (and Pete Cambell) of Sterling, Cooper, Draper, Pryce are gathered around the conference table, it is Joan who sits at the head.  Light falls into the office at a slant and Joan asks, “Alright, gentleman, shall we begin 1965?”  The viewer then sees Don, looking extremely uncertain and somewhat displeased at hearing the year being said.  The face is almost identical to the hopeless look on Don’s face as he lies facedown on his bed after stripping the sheets once Lane leaves his apartment.  Slowly but surely the vestiges of the Dick Whitman persona are fading away and now he is left with the identity he created, the identity that led to his success.  But that identity is imbalanced, it is out of order and perhaps the answer to straightening it out lies in the message that Faye Miller delivered in “Christmas Comes But Once A Year,” which is the difference between “what I want and what people expect of me.”  Everyone has to reconcile these items, but no one moreso than Don Draper in January 1965.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Just Puddles

It's going to be a long weekend for me so this will be the last post.  I'll be back on Monday with a recap of Mad Men and then Tuesday will bring, what I believe will be, the first comprehensive review of the new Walkmen album Lisbon, which I have managed to get my hands on before its release.  And you all know how much I love the Walkmen, so you know that its going to be a fantastic post.  Just one more thing to look forward to next week so you don't drink to give up the ghost over the weekend.

But, to keep you occupied over the next few days, I post the next installment of From Here to the Last Mound of Dirt.  We now begin Part III of the novel, which resumes the first person perspectives of the O'Donnell family as they come back to their home after Rose's funeral and have to address the individual issues between them and in their own lives that have been rising throughout the course of the book.  So here is the first section of Part III, which you can analyze and scrape for meaning in the heat.  Enjoy:


“I can’t believe you did all of this, Aunt Erin.  We could’ve handled some of it.”

    “Please, James,” Aunt Erin says to me.

    I want to say something about responsibility and about mom being my mother and that I should do better, but instead I don’t say anything.  I smile and I put my arm around her little body and pull her close.

    “I love you, Aunt Erin.”

    “Thank you, James.”

    I let her go and look around the kitchen.  There are about a half dozen aluminum catering trays filled with food.  There are plenty of plastic cups and plates and untensils all wrapped and stacked on the counters.  She has two liters of soda and also plenty of beer.

    “That was a nice service.  They have a good cemetary out there in Calverton.”  Uncle Connor is sitting at the kitchen table.  The fading grey light comes in from the skylight.  Behind him against the back windows there is a little red and purple from where the clouds are breaking and letting the sun through.  He drums his fingers on the kitchen table. “And Douglas and his family have always had a fine business at that home.”

    “I don’t know how with that crook of a father of his and the faulty hearses they used to send around.” Dad walks in with the bottle of Sark the girls found him with last night.

    “He wasn’t a crook, Ben.” Uncle Connor says.  I can see him want to smile.

    Dad grabs two tumbler glasses.  He turns to Uncle Connor and points a finger. “Revisionist.”  He puts the glasses down on the table and unscrews  the Sark cap. “Scotch?”

    Uncle Connor shakes his head and looks at Dad. “I don’t think so, Ben.”

    I watch Dad meet Uncle Connor’s gaze.  Dad turns away and pours himself a glass.

    “Well, I think so.” Dad says. “James?”

    I shake my head.  “I think I’ll just stick with beer.”

    Dad sits down at the table and pulls his glass in.  He takes a long drink off it and exhales.

    “James,” Aunt Erin says, grabbing a tray. “Why don’t you get Tom and help me carry this stuff into the dining room to set up.”

    “You got it.”

    I walk out of the kitchen, through the living room where Eve is sitting with Liza and looking over a book.  Eve looks at me and smiles.  I feel the hollow dread in the bottom of my stomach.

   “Why did you hide my grandson from me?”

    “I didn’t, mom.  I didn’t mean to.”

    She shuts the oven and my mouth tastes like an onion.

    I move through the main hallway and to the front door.  I look out and Maggie is sitting on the front step with Jake.  The sun is shining red.  He still looks good and it surprises me how happy I am to see him.  Surprise isn’t the word – I always admired him and thought that we saw eye to eye in some way.  Even though I always felt that Maggie would break his heart somehow.  But he’s back and it would be like him to show up to the funeral without telling anyone.


    I jog quickly up the stairs, my feet making that soft warm thudding sound on the carpet.

    “Tom?” I ask again.  I turn down the hallway and look into his room.  Tom is sitting on the ledge of his window, legs draped out the window. “What’s going on, Tom?”

    He turns around and smiles. “I’m not going to jump.”

    “I didn’t say that.” I cross my arms.

    “You looked that,” he laughs.

    I shake my head.

    “What’s up?”

    “Aunt Erin wants us to help set the food up for the guests.”

    Tom turns his feet back into the room.  Red light enters onto his tan carpet.  It reminds me of too many summer afternoons.

    “Who’s coming?”

    “I don’t really know. Friends?”

    He nods and steps into the room.  He slides the screen back over the window.  I suddenly feel hot around the collar of my shirt.  Tom stretches up.  He looks lean and sharp.  He looks healthy and slightly sad.

    “I’m sorry,” I say. “About the look.”

    He walks over and pats my shoulder.

    “Thanks for coming up to get me.”

    He passes me and walks out into the shadow of the hall.  I follow him.

    “Who was that girl from last night anyway.”

    Tom doesn’t answer and disappears down the stairs.  I begin to descend but I can feel mom behind me.  I turn.

    “Be patient with your brother.  He needs your help just like everyone else.”

    “I know, mom. I know.  I love him.”

    “Good,” she holds her arm against my cheek. “Now where is that grandson of mine?”

    Of course she’s not there.

Puddles of My Podcast - Episode 21

Its another sweltering night, my Puddlers so I have to deliver you the only remedy, which is a cool, soothing conversation known as Puddles of My Podcast.  On the heels of the Tony Wain podcast I welcome in former member of Tony Wain and the Payne, Dig Shovel Dig and current member of D. Charles Spear and the Helix, Ramble Tamble and Forest City, Ted "Theodore" Robinson.  In this, Episode 21 of Puddles of My Podcast, Ted and I discuss scaring people, playing in Tony Wain and the Payne, singing country music, learning how to play music, living in Asheville, the music industry and advertising, what Ted looks for in a woman and what he hates about himself and the purpose of music in general.  This was an enlightening podcast and I hope you all enjoy it.

On a side note, if you want Mr. Robinson to send you any of his work (as you'll hear in the podcast) you can e-mail him at I recommend that you do, if only to force him to give you a live rendition of "The Man Who Plays the Music For You."

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

When Did This Occur?

This is going to be an unusual post for the blog.  I have exhausted some of ideas and my time this week by writing about Mad Men.  Last week I did a music piece on Ryan Adams. I gave you some material from the archive in a poem I wrote during the winter of my senior year of high school.  At this point I am missing out on the sports rambling but I have to sit down and think about some of the things I want to discuss. Before I take a break to edit the novel you can look forward to the following columns:

1. A new list colum.
2. A new sports column
3. Mad Men columns (continued through mini-hiatus)
4. A music post
5. A Bob Dylan post.

I was going to put up a series of old pictures of mine here because I hear that blogs with a lot of pictures get people's attention. However, I felt bad because that's not what this blog is about. So, I am going to put up a random hodge podge of little gems that I found on my computer.

Tomorrow, you will get a podcast with Ted Robinson, formerly of Tony Wain and the Pain and currently of Forest City and a variety of other bands.

Now, some random material:

The Shit - "Dear Burger King"

The Shit - "Where's the Party?"

And finally, a video:

That's all for tonight. Prize for anyone who guesses who is singing the songs and for anyone who guesses when that video is from. Although, to be fair, you would have to know about my life in order to figure out when the video is from.

Like I said, podcast tomorrow and then on Thursday another installment of From Here to the Last Mound of Earth, which you should now consider yourself lucky to be reading because it is a first draft that will be rare and worth a ton of money someday.

All for you my Puddlers.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Christmas in July (or August)

“Mad Men, you've done it again.”

That’s all I could utter after last night’s episode (Season 4, Episode 2 “Christmas Comes But Once A Year”) of Mad Men.  To be fair, I usually say that after every episode because I am an unabashed lover of the show.  However, last night’s episode really deserved that comment.  The episode had the perfect blend of all the elements of Mad Men that we love: darkness, style, office dynamics, surrealism, witty banter and quips, and multiple levels of themes that intertwine each character and relationship on the show.  We got equal doses of Roger Sterling wit, Don Draper sadness and philosophy, Joan flexing her professional muscles, Peggy’s inner conflict, the strangeness of Glen, the curiosity of Sally Draper and more darkness of Don Draper.

In the first episode of this season, we saw Don Draper had fallen from the excitement, confidence and thrill of starting his own agency.  We saw his alienation from his family, his unsure position as the figurehead of the company and as a presence within his own industry.  We saw him hire a prostitute to slap him.  Although that first episode seemed to have ended on a high note, here we are back on a low note. Instead of hiring a prostitue, in this episde Don makes an innocent girl, his secretary Allison, feel like a prostitute.  While Don is engaging in this dynamic, Sterling is made into a prostitute by Lee Garner Jr. at the Christmas party when he has to dress up like Santa and have the staff sit on his lap.  And finally, Peggy prostitues herself out to her lame duck boyfriend.  She gives up the virginity she pretends to have, which as John Lennon once inferred is always present in the beginning of a new relationship, there is always a sense of virginity.  Peggy gave that sense up, that virtue she seemed to be holding onto out of an uncertainty of her boyfriend’s strength or viability, she gave up a position of strength (withholding sex) because she was afraid of being alone.  And we see her at the end of the episode, after having sex with her boyfriend who seems confident and happy in the ignorant thought that he took her virginity, looking incredibly disappointed and disillusioned.  She has been used, except she has used herself for a cheap thrill, for the easy answer of being with someone, being with anyone.  Obviously this episode predates the Stephen Stills song, “Love the One You’re With,” but that is where that logic takes you – to the look on Peggy Olsen’s face at the end of “Christmas Comes But Once A Year.”

On a strange and different note, Sally Draper is used in a way in this epsiode.  The way that Glen befriends her as a means of testing to see if the Draper/Francis family is home in order to trash the house is a strange way of using her as a person. Now, there is definitely an element to Glen that can be seen as likable. He related to the pain that Sally is going through and he has been inserted into the show at various points (Season 1 and Season 2) as a sory of barometer and measuring stick for Betty Draper and her core personality and values. And at this point, Glen sees Betty Draper for the child she is and her inability to recognize that about herself.  She calls his mother in Season 2 when he runs away from home and thus he sees her as betraying him and betraying herself.  And now he resents her.  He is acting as an older guide to Sally and perhaps he even does have a crush on her.  Yet, the way he acted and used his phone calls to her as the way of knowing when to break into the house, suggests something more sinister.  I don’t mean to talk about these child characters in light of some of the terms above, but it just shows the different levels and shades of a theme that this show incorporates within its various storylines.

Of course, the main act of prostitution comes between Don and his secretary Allison. Over the last season and a half, we have seen Allison become a more prominent character. She first appeared in the show when Cosgrove chased her around the office in “Nixon vs. Kennedy” in Season 1 and tried to guess what color her underwear was (it was blue).  She is a reliable secretary for Don and towards the end of the last season you got a real sense of a certain professional chemistry between them that may have bordered on an actual attraction. It seemed to come more from her character as the actress gives off a terrific beam of a smile, a smile that showed a woman eager to please.  The more they interacted, the more Don seemed to reciprocate, whether from a professional appreciation or because he couldn’t resist the cute, natural looking girl with long brown hair that sat at his desk (sort of how he described how he imagined Ms. Farrell as a young girl).  However, you never thought that Don would sleep with her because it seemed like his policy to never do so.  But this is not the same Don Draper.  This Don Draper drinks too much, he doesn’t eat.  He is trying to throw himself into something but nothing is sticking. The employees are talking behind his back not in a reverential or fearful way, but in the tone of pity.  In this episode, Don does not sleep with his neighbor Phoebe who was clearly interested in him.  He couldn’t because he was too drunk and too weak from working and not eating.  He had no focus.  All he could do was try to pull her in once she tried to take care of him.  But all he did was remind Phoebe of her father who she told him was a drunk.  I read a theory that Don has been attracted to woman who are motherly and intelligent. The intelligent side would hold true for Ms. Farrell, Rachel Mencken, Bobbi Barrett (businesswise), and Midge.  However, only Ms. Farrell and Rachel Mencken (slightly) have been at all motherly.  Obviously this is the first time this Phoebe character  has been on the show so it is hard to tell, but she may fit that role. 

We were also introduced to Faye Miller who works in marketing and is trying to teach SCDP about psychology in advertising.  She seems to be that professional and intelligent foil when she confronts Don in his office for walking out on his presentation. Again, Don tries to finesse her into sleeping with him or at least going out with him, but he is not able to.  Instead he gets to hear a bit of the philosophy of Mad Men spoken to him through the character of Faye Miller when she says, "In a nutshell, it all comes down to what I want versus what's expected of me."  Don is slightly surprised at how poignant this statement is and you can see the thought to sleeping with her leave his face.  He resigns that this is a different type of woman.  Someone who may understand what it is all about.

With two options denied, Don finds himself, tired, drunk and locked out of his apartment.  He has to rely on Allison to bring him his keys.  And when she comes to deliver the keys, to let him in and “tuck him in” as Phoebe had  done a night or so before, he makes a move on her.  You can see Allison’s surprise and then the desire suddenly appear.  I read a good analysis of this scene where Allison always wanted this to happen, but her initial denial is because not only did some part of her think it would end badly, but the way it was happening was not the way she imagined it would happen.  But she gives in to what she wants and you can see the pleased and surprised look on her face afterward, while Don knows that he made a mistake.  And the next day he has to face the conflict of what he wants, which would be to have closed the office door and told Allison that he was sorry for what had happened, that it was wrong and he shouldn’t have done it. Instead, he does what is expected of him, he acts like it never happened, speaks in code (“I have taken advantage of your kindess one too many times”) and then gives her the bonus money.  The range of emotions on Allison’s face is remarkable and it is once of the pantheon scenes in all of Mad Men thus far.  The shame and guilt on Don’s face and first the beaming happiness on Allison’s face, then the warmth, the care, the concern, then confusion, then resignation and hurt.  While many think she was typing her resignation letter at the end, I think that she was doing what was expected of her – working – and giving up on perhaps what she actually wanted – Don in some capacity.  She will be around on this show, especially this season where Don is not able to escape his actions and the darkness of the world that he has created.

And I’ve already used up this much space without mentioning the return of Freddy Rumsen and the conflicts he and Peggy are going to encounter.  Not to mention how Pete is going to have an impact on this season with Peggy, with Freddy and otherwise.  Or, how SCDP are going to have to get rid of Lucky Strike or take care of Lee Garner Jr. in some way in order to move forward as a company.  Things are hitting on all cylinders already after only two episodes.  Some characters have not gotten their moment to shine yet, but Mad Men always delivers.

I do not know if Don will sink deeper into this dark path or if the next episode will unveil a path to some kind of redemption or slightly higher ground, but I like where we are going so far.  For Mad Men, this is as action packed as you can get – we are at a very high level of basketball here.