Monday, May 26, 2014

Mad Men S7E7 - Waterloo

Napoleon's reign lasted over a decade and through his own will and genius the French emperor expanded his country's footprint, accumulated vast wealth, and made more than his fair share of enemies. Of course, his overthrow, brief return to power, and ultimate defeat at a place that, two centuries later, is now part of our lexicon as a place where you make your last stand, suggested that last night's "mid-season" finale, Waterloo, would result in someone's undoing. The obvious candidate was Don Draper, who, like the little French general, was mercurial, fearless in the face of opposition, reckless, and ultimately undone by his own ego. He was the only one who did not know his indefinite leave over Thanksgiving 1968 [1] was meant to be a graceful exit for committing the high crime of honesty in front of a client, but having (mostly) toed the company line after his return, he became the target of a palace coup by Jim Cutler, who leveraged Don's interruption of a meeting with executives from Phillip Morris [2] into a breach of contract action to terminate Don's partnership with the agency. 

Ultimately, Waterloo was much less about Don than Roger, his on again, off again, partner in crime and whose tortured relationship over the years could fill its own lengthy analysis. Roger Sterling was always the ultimate example of a man "to the manner born" - his father established Sterling Cooper with Bert Cooper way back in 1923 [3] and shortly thereafter, a long and fruitful business relationship [3] with American Tobacco, maker of Lucky Strike cigarettes, basically ensured that Roger would have to do little else besides count his money (and conquests) until he passed to the great beyond. But a funny thing happened on the way to "you know where." [4] Roger took some off-handed advice given to him by Don in a dimly lit bar one boozy night that set off a series of events beginning with Roger's decision to leave Mona for Jane. [5] The resulting financial squeeze made him vulnerable to a pitch to sell the agency to Putnam, Powell, and Lowe. [6] In the merger, he did not rank a box on the updated organizational chart, [7] but that mattered little as long as tobacco money continued to roll in. When the partners hung out their own shingle, it was American Tobacco that provided the ballast to do so.

When that seemingly never-ending stream of revenue dried up, [8] Roger was at sea. For a while, he took to trolling Pete Campbell, going so far as sneaking a peek at his calendar, where a planted 6 AM meeting with a representative from Coca-Cola sent Roger on a wild goose chase. [9] But somewhere between his LSD awakening, [10] seduction of Megan's mother, [11] and letting Don loose with Dow Chemical, [12] Roger got his mojo back. Sure, his bedroom had turned into a low rent 60s version of Caligula [13] and his daughter alit for upstate New York, leaving young Ellery in her family's care, [14] but Roger Sterling was again an account man, if not a leader of men. 

So it was interesting that the fulcrum for Waterloo was a very un-Roger like power play to protect his erstwhile Don Quixote instead of jettisoning him and cruising through to retirement on a wave of Harry Crane's spreadsheets and Jim Cutler's Vitamin B-12 shots. [15] Bert's lecture that Roger was not a leader surely stung, so perhaps in Bert's memory Roger finally decided to act instead of count his money. And sure, Roger's motivations may not have been entirely noble - after all, he was able to recover Joan's million dollars (plus an additional half million!) she thought Don lost when he torpedoed her, Bert and Pete's plan to take the firm public, [16] affirm his position as President of the firm while having the benefit of McCann's deep pocket, put Jim Cutler in deep freeze, avoid having to make Harry Crane a partner and oh yeah, pocket a nice payday for himself - but he still closed the deal. Not bad for the low low price of having taken a shvitz and held an early morning meeting with Jim Hobart. 

Roger's efforts to pull Don's chestnuts out of the fire were met with a surprising resignation from the enigmatic Mr. Draper. Perhaps it was, as the sound in his voice on that long-distance call with Megan indicated, a weariness over the constant battle just to get his job back, or the renewed bond he had with Peggy, but Don was surprisingly non-plussed when Roger presented him with his plan; [17] however, when it came time to sell the idea to the one person who they absolutely needed - the hollowed soul of Ted Chaough - Don poured on his incandescent charm, offering Ted the opportunity to go back to the roots that grounded them both - the purity of the pitch. In the balance, Don also put a lie to Jim Cutler's belief that Don was a charlatan - an all hat and no cattle illusionist whose fragility and weakness was exposed before the executives from Hershey's. [18] 

For Don, a man who once refused to sign a contract [19], to agree to both become part of McCann and sign a five-year contract to do so may seem surprising, but after watching his protégé slay Burger Chef he knows the future is in good hands. The juxtaposition of Peggy's pitch to Don's iconic Kodak speech [20] is interesting. The latter was delivered at a time when the country was looking hopefully to a new tomorrow, but Don's pitch was all about looking toward the past, about going back to a place where we know we are loved. [21] Now, the country had met its future - literally, men had landed on the moon less than 24 hours before the Burger Chef presentation - but Peggy leaned on the same yearning for a simpler time to close the deal. In a present that felt more disconnected than ever, when the communal experience of staring at the television deadened peoples' lives as the mood music of chaos, war, and unrest filled the screen, she offered the exact form of nostalgia Don did so many years ago - a place where we get what we want - a connection with the ones we love. 

That Don was sitting there as Peggy had the executives eating out of her hand was no doubt a point of pride, but, with the new corporate plan in place, may have been a more concrete handing off of the baton as Peggy assumes a greater role and Don a more secondary one. This generational transition was similarly done in 1963 when Roger spoke of both the decades of work he and Bert had put into the company but also identified Don as his partner "for the next 40 years." [22] Now, just six years later, it is Don who has found a mellower place that will surely be tested as it appears Ted will be returning to New York and another ghost is added to the list of those who seem to haunt him. [23] 

And to you, readers, I want to thank you for reading my recaps and sharing your thoughts about Mad Men as we all look forward to next year.

You can also follow me on Twitter - @scarylawyerguy


END NOTES

1. In Care Of, Season 6, Episode 13. 
2. The Runaways, Season 7, Episode 5. 
3. The firm's creation is dated to the 40th anniversary party held in late 1963. The Gypsy and the Hobo, Season 3, Episode 11. 
3. The press release SCDP issues announcing its severance of ties with American Tobacco notes their nearly thirty years of work for the client. Chinese Wall, Season 4, Episode 11. 
4. The Doorway Part I, Season 6, Episode 1. 
5. Six Month Leave, Season 2, Episode 9. 
6. The Mountain King, Season 2, Episode 12. Of course, Don was on a walkabout in California dealing with his own drama and might have been able to head off the whole thing at the pass. 
7. The nascent elevation of Guy MacKendrick was mercilessly snuffed out by Lois and her rogue driving skills. Guy Walks Into An Advertising Agency, Season 3, Episode 6. 
8. Hands and Knees, Season 4, Episode 10. 
9. A Little Kiss Part I, Season 5, Episode 1. 
10. Faraway Places, Season 5, Episode 6. 
11. At the Codfish Ball, Season 5, Episode 7. 
12. Commissions and Fees, Season 5, Episode 11. 
13. Time Zones, Season 7, Episode 1. 
14. The Runaways, Season 7, Episode 4. 
15. The Crash, Season 6, Episode 8. 
16. For Immediate Release, Season 6, Episode 6. 
17. As Don noted, when McCann acquired PPL (and Sterling Cooper) back in 1963, instead of being a cog in that large machine, he, Roger, Bert, and Lane formed their own agency. Now, six years later, they were running into the arms of the suitor they had collectively rejected. Shut The Door, Have A Seat, Season 3, Episode 13, Waterloo, Season 7, Episode 7. 
18. In Care Of, Season 6, Episode 13.
19. Seven Twenty-Three, Season 3, Episode 7. This was the nadir of Don and Roger's relationship, with the former making a condition of his signing a contract that he and Roger have no further contact.  
20. The Wheel, Season 1, Episode 13. 
21. Indeed, instead of going with the obvious pitch of the Kodak Carousel being a "spaceship" Don referred to it as a "time machine." The Wheel, supra. 
22. The Gypsy and the Hobo, supra. 

23. RIP Bertram Cooper, you soup sipping, avant garde art collecting, ball-less wonder. I didn't like your shabby treatment of Don of late, but, like your one-time secretary Ida Blankenship, who you once called an astronaut, you died watching the real ones land on the moon. 

Monday, May 19, 2014

Mad Men S7E6 - The Strategy

"You never say thank you." 
"That's what the money's for."

- The Suitcase Season 4, Episode 7 [1]

On Peggy Olson's 26th birthday, her night was ruined by her lush of a boss who wasn't satisfied with her tag line for Samsonite and so, made her miss a birthday dinner and with it, a boyfriend who couldn't tolerate being second fiddle to her work. Of course, what was happening that night had little to do with a tag line for a suitcase, it was about a man who did not want to hear the news of the passing of the one person in his life who knew and loved him, as flawed as he was. It was about someone not wanting to face the cold reality of life, and so, took out that frustration and fear on the only person he knew could take it. But in the end, after a night of soul baring and emotional intimacy, when Don finally made that fateful call and confirmed what he already knew to be true, he and Peggy shared a tender moment, his hand gently enclosing hers, appearing to cement a bond that had been long in forming. 

It's no surprise that the few glimpses of Don's desk we see include a photo of him and Anna Draper, but four years (and a few weeks) later, he and Peggy re-convene in that same office, but with quite a bit of water under the bridge. Instead of deepening a bond that had been built ever since Don put Peggy on the Belle Jolie account, [2] had deepened when Don visited Peggy in the hospital where she was recuperating from the birth of her child, [3] become more complicated when Peggy came to the rescue after Don crashed Bobbi Barrett's car, [4] and survived the launch of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, [5] The Suitcase was a high water mark after which Peggy and Don's relationship dissolved, slowly at first, but over time, much more quickly. First, Megan supplanted Peggy as Don's emotional nourishment; [6] then, when Megan quit the firm to try her hand at acting, Don blamed Peggy, [7] riding her mercilessly until she quit and took another job. [8]

The merger of SCDP and CGC brought Peggy back into Don's orbit, [9] but by this time, Don's blackened soul and Peggy's unrequited desire for Ted were on a collision course. Peggy has been nursing a rather stiff grudge against Don for "breaking" Ted, for crushing his spirit by dangling the threat of the revelation of their affair to a client [10] and shaming Ted, who Peggy viewed as virtuous, into absconding to California with his wife Nan and two boys in tow. [11] Of course, that was just the cherry on the sundae for years of verbal abuse, dismissiveness and humiliation that Don piled on her, but the tent poles for The Strategy were these two beautifully acted (and written) scenes between Peggy and Don that took place in Don's old office (now occupied by the odious Lou Avery) that buried the hatchet of all of that rancor. There, after Peggy had her tantrum, drunk dialed Don and tried to get pissy with him, each laid bare their fears and insecurities. 

The pitch for Burger Chef was not about mom's battle with fast food any more than Don cared about what was being offered for Samsonite way back in 1965 (a year Peggy and Don ruminate over in one of the scenes). Instead, it stood as a convenient proxy for Peggy's own perception of herself - of being a single woman at 30 unable to relate to being a mother and unsure about what families do, and to give Don an opportunity to be tender and paternal - to be supportive in ways he rarely was when the power dynamic was reversed, to acknowledge that he feared having done nothing and having no one in his life and not wanting Peggy to suffer the same fate. To tell her, because only he can and have it matter to her, that she is doing just fine. Because to both of them, nothing outside the office will ever seem as important as what happens in the office, because Peggy knows Don better than anyone and heard in his floating of the pitch from a child's point of view that he wasn't wild about the agreed upon strategy. But here, instead of being competitive with Peggy, of bickering over her desire to be placed on accounts or dismissing her ideas as kernels that he turns into CLIO award winning material, he is instead charitable and mentoring - walking her through the creative process that goes on inside his head without rubbing her nose in it or feeling the need to save the day. 

The call back to The Suitcase was unmistakable but also distinct. The Don of 1969 is a world-wearier person. For all the attention we draw to his lack of empathy or (self) awareness, he is stung by the slings and arrows of bad fortune. He may blanch at most of the rules placed upon him by the other partners (although it seems he's broken most of them in spirit if not by their letter), but he found an untapped reservoir of good will toward Peggy that was absolutely endearing and afforded him the wherewithal to put himself in service of someone who he obviously values. The two scenes between Don and Peggy are interesting in that the way they were scripted placed Peggy in the power position - she was the boss, but there was almost a Yoda/Luke Skywalker vibe to it - she'd like to underscore the possibility that the pitch could involve the mother coming home from work, but Don knows that is a story that people are not yet ready to hear. He isn't pressing to make his idea the winner, but rather, nurturing and nursing her in the way a teacher might aid a prized pupil who is on the cusp of achieving something great. 

And because of that, she finds her theme - family - whether it's around a kitchen table or strangers sitting in a restaurant, who you are with defines who you are. In so many ways, the entire arc of Mad Men has been about that quest to, as Bob Benson put it, find comfort in an uncertain world. Don long ago noted that he felt as if he was just outside his own life, trying to scratch his way into it, [12] but everyone else has wrestled with those same demons. Joan walked into a marriage with a man who thought nothing of sexually assaulting her in a fit of pique [13] because marriage and appearances mattered, it was not long after Pete married Trudy that he was telling her father he did not love her, [14] Peggy's romantic liaisons sometimes bring her short-term enjoyment, but the one long-term boyfriend she had ended up with a knife buried in his chest [15] and her swoon over Ted ended spectacularly; the marital failings of the Roger Sterlings and Don Drapers of the world are well known and need little comment. 

So it came as no surprise that Pete had no problem bringing his new girlfriend Bonnie east to show her off at the office, but left her cooling her heels when he visited his daughter Tammy in Cos Cob. Sadly, his daughter barely recognizes him and recoils behind her nanny when he arrives (and who can blame her, that sport jacket would frighten young children). When his estranged wife shows up hours later (no doubt knowing he would have to wait until she returned home), Pete does what Pete does best - acts like an asshole - but Trudy was engaged in her own tit-for-tat and when he tried to moralize about her dating habits, buried him with the same caustic tongue that warned him about opening his fly within 50 miles of their home, [16] basically telling him he no longer matters in her (or their daughter's) life. So much for "family." That Bonnie does not like "New York Pete" is unsurprising, but the reality is that "California Pete" is not that different, save for the lengthening side burns and more casual office attire. 

Meanwhile, Joan proves she's learned some lessons the hard way. Having (finally) tossed Greg out on his ear [17] and taken a pass at Roger's occasional flirtations, she was more than happy to have Bob around to give little Kevin presents or take a day trip to the beach, but when Bob pulls an engagement ring out of his (loud) sport jacket, she demurs. She'll wait for love and go solo because although the idea that we all need comfort in our lives, and particularly for those living through the turbulence of the late 1960s, she's unwilling to accept an "arrangement" with Bob, who she subtly "outs." [18]

The mood music, that is, the sturm und drang that propels the narrative, is familiar. A major account dangles in the balance, seats are being re-arranged around the table (Harry sure is getting paid back nicely for leaking word of the firm's pursuit of Phillip Morris to Don), and some reckoning is likely to occur, but beneath that, and where this show has always shined brightest, is in bonding the audience to the characters and the characters to one another. If you've invested seven seasons worth of viewing the trials and tribulations of these people, you couldn't help but swell a little at the sight of Peggy, Don, and Pete sharing burgers and sodas after all these years, all those battles, and all that heartache. The image of Don and Peggy slow dancing to Sinatra's My Way, its lyrics suggesting "the end is near" felt equal parts ominous and poignant. When Peggy softly put her head against Don's chest and he kissed her tenderly on the top of her head, it was hard not to think of a father and daughter sharing a wedding dance, but maybe it was just simply two people who long ago formed a familial bond that each had carelessly threw away and now hoped to get back.  

END NOTES

1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w2MV-x924KA
2. Babylon, Season 1, Episode 6. 
3. The New Girl, Season 2, Episode 5. 
4. Ibid.
5. Shut the Door, Have a Seat, Season 3, Episode 13. 
6. See generally, A Little Kiss, Season 5, Episode 1 and 2. 
7. Lady Lazarus, Season 5, Episode 8. 
8. The Other Woman, Season 5, Episode 11. 
9. For Immediate Release, Season 6, Episode 6. 
10. The Quality of Mercy, Season 6, Episode 12. 
11. In Care Of, Season 6, Episode 13. 
12. The Mountain King, Season 2, Episode 12. 
13. Ibid.
14. Ibid.
15. The Better Half, Season 6, Episode 9. 
16. The Collaborators, Season 6, Episode 3. 
17. Mystery Date, Season 5, Episode 4. 

18. The return of Bob Benson will surely please some, but this storyline had the feeling of nothing more than a throw away to close the Bob Benson "loop." The loss of Chevy's XP allows him to leave SC&P and go in house General Motors, never to be heard from again. Farewell, Bob. 

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Grounds For Sculpture

Today, I planned on heading to the Grounds For Sculpture for some spring photography. Unfortunately, about half of New Jersey seemed to have the same idea; however, the area surrounding the Grounds have been turned into their own sculpture garden of a sort, including works by Seward Johnson, who founded the Grounds more than two decades ago. As I discovered, Johnson's work is similar to that of Jeff Koons, each artist creates larger than life sculptures using familiar iconography as their focal point. 


Situated at the intersection of Klockner Road and Sloan Avenue right across from the New Jersey Transit station in Hamilton, this homage to Grant Wood's American Gothic rises 25 feet in the air. The first image addresses the sculpture from the front, while the second was taken from the side and beyond, using the good cloud cover today as an arresting backdrop. 



Andrej (Andrew) Pitynski - The Partisans 

A little further down Klockner Road is what I later discovered to be a controversial work entitled "The Partisans" by the Polish sculptor Andrej Pitynski. The sculpture depicts Polish soldiers during World War II, but without knowing that ahead of time, I thought these could have been soldiers from any war. 




Another Pitynski can be found on East State Road on the way to the Grounds For Sculpture. Unfortunately, it's behind chain-linked fence, so getting a good picture (without a ladder) is a challenge. 



Next up is an unusual sculpture by Garret McFann of what appear to be four Mexican "banditos," but with flat tops instead of heads. Not sure what to make of this one.



Seward Johnson - Los Mariachis 
Seward Johnson - A Turn of the Century
Seward Johnson - Whispering Close
Seward Johnson - Time For Fun

My last stop was along a patch of grass right in front of the NJT Station, where Johnson had a massive installment of five sculptures depicting couples dancing amid the traditional mariachi players of Mexico. The juxtaposition was interesting, considering the couples were all dressed in attire more closely associated with the 19th century (I learned in researching that they are modeled after paintings by Renoir). Again, the cloud cover today offered an interesting contrast and strategic use of black and white also added to the effect.











Next time, I'll get to the Sculpture Garden earlier, but I'm glad I took the trip and got these amazing photos. 

Monday, May 12, 2014

Mad Men S7E5 - The Runaways

Back in Season 4, and just off the nadir of Anna's death, and his own bottoming out in a haze of Canadian Club and reckless womanizing, we first heard Don Draper in voice over, he said:

When a man walks into a room, he brings his whole life with him. He has a million reasons for being anywhere, just as him. If you listen, he'll tell you how he got there. How he forgot where he was going, and that he woke up. If you listen, he'll tell you about the time he thought he was an angel or dreamt of being perfect. And then he'll smile with wisdom, content that he realized the world isn't perfect. We're flawed because we want so much more. We're ruined because we get these things, and wish for what we had. [1]

The Runaways was a lot about flaws, about wanting more, or getting the things we thought we wanted but discovering we wanted something, anything, else. And when that realization hits, our inclination may be to run away, whether that is literally so, as Stephanie did (turning her back on a college education and dropping out from "society"), as Sally threatens to do (unimpressed with the wealth and prestige her parents have separately accumulated and wanting nothing more than evading the overbearing thumb of her mother), or as Megan appears to want (able to pursue her career without living hand-to-mouth but too fearful to leave her husband and trying to make it on her own). It is not coincidental that this episode echoes that mid-Season 4 vibe. Like then, Don is trying to claw his way out of a hole he has dug for himself, except this time, it's not the death of the one person who knew everything about him and still loved him [2] that he is trying to overcome, but rather, the crumbling of his marriage and his nascent attempts to regain his good name at work. 

So it was apt that Stephanie Horton, the niece of Anna Draper we last saw as a sun-kissed college co-ed calls for help as she's devolved into a seven-months pregnant hippie whose "old man" is locked up. Don may have only been, according to Stephanie's mother, "a man, in a room, with a checkbook," [3] and maybe he is that to Stefanie too, but Don's inclination is to help. As luck would have it, Stephanie is in the City of Angels and Don offers her Megan's place as a temporary home until he can get there. Megan, planning a party and hanging out with her friend Amy, seems sympathetic, but once Stephanie gets there, their interaction is decidedly chilly. It goes south when Stephanie comments on Megan's engagement ring (which was Anna's) and the whole thing dissolves in backbiting and Megan's writing of a $1000 check to move Stephanie along before Don makes it out to see her. You see, Megan can't countenance the presence of others knowing Don's secrets when that redounds to making her look the fool - someone who has tolerated a mountain of bad behavior (and may be engaging in some of her own - but more about that later), is living this odd fiction of a bi-coastal, but on-life-support marriage, or just the fact that Don has this odd past that she would just as soon not be reminded of. 

By the time Don arrives, preparations are in full effect for a late 60s hippie shakedown - complete with banjo-led jam session and Megan engaging in a revealing pas de deux with a fellow long hair that doesn't sit well with Don. When Harry Crane shows up with his latest paramour, he and Don alight to a bar, where Harry shares the news that the firm is in discussion with Phillip Morris to rep their cigarette, "Commander." Of course, Don realizes the consequences of this, he's persona non grata in the tobacco world because of "the letter" he wrote after American Tobacco left SCDP, [4] and realizes this is a management ploy to force him out. When Don returns to Megan's "pad," she graciously offers up her friend Amy for a threesome. Don protests, but not too much. The next morning, Stephanie's call sends Megan off again and Don heading for the exit. 

Upon his return to New York, and with the confidence of that Don Draper, Don strolls into a private room in the Algonquin and reminds the Phillip Morris executives just what they would be losing if they forced SC&P's hand and got Don to quit in exchange for their business. The not-so subtle jab did not sit well with Lou Avery or Jim Cutler, but swaggering Don chews up guys like Lou and Jim for lunch and washes them down with an Old Fashioned. Jim Cutler may have angrily shut the door to his cab in Don's face, but the effect was akin to that of a fly being swatted away by an elephant - Don barely registered a response other than his well-known dismissive, and unspoken "fuck you." 

Indeed, this snippet echoed even further back in the show's history, to another California jag Don went on during yet another tumultuous time - Betty's kicking him out of the house in the wake of his affair with Bobbi Barrett. [5] Back then, after escaping to California and renewing his energy at Anna's home, [6] Pete Campbell let Don know about the pending merger Duck organized between Sterling Cooper and PPL. [7] This information allowed Don to deftly knee cap Duck by letting the PPL team know he (Don) did not have a contract and was planning on leaving the agency if Duck led it. [8] Unspoken in his threat was how much weaker the firm would be without his singular talent. Now, faced with a conspiracy to minimize him, Don pulls a similar stunt, reminding the Phillip Morris executives that he and Lou have the same amount of experience working with tobacco, but Don has the added benefit of knowing the other side's strategy (and oh yeah, he's Don Draper and the other guy is Lou Avery). In both instances, Pete and Harry were not enamored with the devil they knew, but the devil they did not know looked even worse, allowing Don to avoid whatever fate would have otherwise befallen him. 

The Runaways had an incomplete feel that also closed loose ends. Ginsberg, who blew onto the show with so much promise, dissolved in a weird, conspiratorial puddle, his sliced nipple (?!) the result of perhaps some undiagnosed mental condition or just the whirring of that IBM computer (I'm guessing the former). Betty tuned up her petulance to 11, first, scrapping with Sally after Sally broke her nose horsing around with her friends and then, speaking in an impolitic manner during a dinner party she and Henry threw. Betty's feelings of frustration are understandable - she questions whether her children love her, and she is watching as other women go into the work force, earn their own money and put the home maker lifestyle behind them, while she just burns through cigarettes, nursing whatever petty grudges she has. She wishes she could run away from a life that once upon a time was fully formed and accepted, but, in the exponential societal shifts occurring in America in the 1960s, is quickly becoming passé.  

And what of Megan? The obituary for her marriage to Don has been written for some time, just waiting to be published. Because we are not privy to what goes on off screen, we do not know if Don has again asked for another chance (likely) or if Megan simply likes the "bread" (to use Stephanie's term) Don provides, which allows her to cut $1000 checks without a thought. [9] But Megan's facilitation of a three way with her friend Amy may have just been an inelegant way of disguising some other affair she's having. Her flirtation with another party guest harkened back to her Zou Bissou Bissou days, [10] but this time, Don was not her intended target. And maybe she just wanted to underscore Don's amorality by watching him with another woman (even though, in fairness, he didn't seem overly enticed by the idea), or run away from their marriage in a haze of drugs, or wash away her own guilt at whatever she is doing in Los Angeles without his knowledge, or wearing the ring of a woman who meant more to him than she (or anyone else?) ever will, but appealing to Don's darker side rarely turns out well for others (or him). 

As we head into the home stretch of the first "half" of Season Seven, it appears corporate lines are being drawn - basically, the partners, save Roger, are on one side, aligned to torpedo Don in one way or the other [11], with Roger, and now Harry quietly drifting to Don's side. Out of loyalty? Perhaps. Out of an interest in securing their own place within the hierarchy? Definitely. The wild card, as always in Peggy. It was promising that Don and Peggy had what passed for a civil conversation in the elevator. When Don needs Peggy most, he can sometimes step in it, [12] but can always appeal to her interest in doing good and creative work. In the meantime, it is still thrilling to watch Don work his creative magic even as his personal life is a complete and utter mess. 

PS - Godspeed, Martian. 

END NOTES

1. The Summer Man, Season 4, Episode 8. 
2. The Good News, Season 4, Episode 3.
3. Ibid.
4. Blowing Smoke, Season 4, Episode 12.
5. A Night to Remember, Season 2, Episode 8. 
6. The Mountain King, Season 2, Episode 12. Though in fairness, Don probably recaptured some of his mojo in Palm Springs as well. The Jet Set, Season 2, Episode 11. 
7. Meditations in an Emergency, Season 2, Episode 13. 
8. Ibid.
9. $1000 in 1969 is equivalent to $6,564 in 2014. http://www.dollartimes.com/inflation/inflation.php?amount=1000&year=1969
10. A Little Kiss Part I, Season 5, Episode 1. 
11. How Don's impromptu "pop in" to the Phillip Morris meeting didn't violate the "terms" of his return to the agency is beyond me. 

12. Shut the Door, Have a Seat, Season 3, Episode 13. When Don advised Peggy he's leaving Sterling Cooper to open a new agency, he simply assumes she will come with him. It is not until he goes to her apartment and makes a more heartfelt plea, that she agrees to leave with him. 

Monday, May 5, 2014

Mad Men S7E4 - The Monolith

When the chairman of Madison Square Garden approached Sterling Cooper to spearhead the ad campaign that would result in the destruction of the original Penn Station, Don Draper observed that "change is neither good nor bad, it simply is. It can be greeted with terror or joy, a tantrum that says 'I want it the way it was,' or a dance that says, 'Look, something new!'" [1]

The Monolith, the room-sized computer that those of us in 2014 snicker at while tweeting from smart phones that have more computing capacity than was used to put a man on the moon in 1969, is met with consternation from the creatives whose bullpen is torn down to make room for this latest technology, but as with most things produced on Mad Men, it's a handy metaphor for what is going on inside our fictional advertising agency. Where once there was simple novelty at the appearance of a Xerox copy machine, [2] now copywriters sulk that their hangout is being destroyed and fear that their jobs might be next. 

But Don, as he usually does, has it right - change is agnostic, it is how we react to it that matters. Adults once took for granted that their word would be heeded, unquestioned, and final. But the "grown ups" are discovering that their children were not as clueless as they assumed. Sally's eyes were opened to the seedier side of adulthood long ago, [3] but now as a teen, she is unafraid to challenge her father and call him out on his lies. [4] 

So too is Roger and Mona's daughter Margaret, who has gone full native and shacked up with some hippies in upstate New York, shirking her responsibilities as mother and wife to lead a pastoral existence where there are no rules. When her parents try to bring her back, she cuts down her mother by reminding her that she spent most of Margaret's childhood nursing a bottle of gin. Roger, more simpatico with the live-and-let-live vibe, turns on his daughter when she sneaks off in the middle of the night to shack up with one of men at the commune, [5] only to be dismissed when he tries to forcibly remove Margaret. She calls him out as an absentee father who was never there for her when he tries to underscore her responsibility to her son Ellery. Roger may have a rotating cast of long hairs coming in and out of his suite at The Algonquin, and he's more than happy to dose and stand naked in front of the window, [6] but his conservative view of parenting runs smack dab into the counter culture and the result is a muddy suit. 

Don's problem is quite the opposite. He is the one being treated as a child. He can't even reel in a small-time account without Bert tsk-tsking him and leaning into the fact Don was placed in a dead man's office. His former protégé is now his boss, directing him to turn in tag lines for a new client like he is some sort of junior copywriter and being summoned to her office for meetings. His reaction is predictable - he has a temper tantrum, reflexively reaching for a bottle of alcohol to drown his sorrows and stumbling out of the office in the middle of the day like the swinging dick he once was. It is not until the following morning when Freddy gives him the kick in the ass he needs. "What do you want?" Freddy asks. "I want my job back." Don retorts. And while Freddy's response, "Do the work, Don," may not be what he wants to hear, it is what Don needs to hear, because Freddy basically tells him the world has changed and if you want to get your job back, stop feeling sorry for yourself and go back and get it.

On the other hand, change has given Peggy more power but she is not mature enough to wield it properly. Having Don foisted on her Burger Chef account would lead a more experienced person to tap into Don's deep reservoir of talent and skill and treat him decently and humanely; but instead, Peggy's instinct is to humiliate and belittle him. Perhaps it is just desserts for the years of suffering she experienced, but having been handed an opportunity to take on a new, and high profile client, she is ill-prepared for how to respond - indeed, she views it as a suicide mission handed to her by higher ups waiting for either she or Don to crash, instead of a chance to shine. Lost in all of this conduct is the nuanced and complex relationship she and Don share. Perhaps she has taken to heart Don's long-ago admonition to forget about her childbirth and move on, [7] erased the night of Anna's death, [8] or just simply can't let go of the fact that she thinks Don destroyed Ted, [9] but instead of rising to the occasion, she has a tantrum of her own. 

Of course, age is not determinative of a person's capacity for reacting well to change. Lou is no more mature than Peggy when it comes to Don's return. He feels threatened and is looking for any opportunity to kick Don while he's down. The rest of the agency seems to simply want to move on, with Joan dismissing Don's presence like that of an annoying gal in the steno pool, Bert telling Don the firm worked perfectly well in his absence, and the copywriters Don used to make shudder now conscripting him to move furniture with them. So it is not surprising that Don spent weeks sheltered in his office reading Phillip Roth and hanging that Mets pennant on the wall as a small reminder of Lane. No one likes to be treated like a child, but when Freddy tells Don to snap out of it and stop sulking, he is telling Don to forget the fact that his co-workers are treating him like shit, that Bert Cooper is pretending he didn't build this new agency, that Lou Avery would sooner pour gasoline than water on him if he was on fire, that his former secretary is now his boss, or that Joan, who he once counseled not to sleep with Herb from Jaguar, [10] treats him like a stranger. Do your fucking job. Be an adult. Embrace change. Do not be a monolith. We shall see how long this lasts. 

PS - Pete adapts to change with lightening speed. He went from feeling remorse that his ex-father-in-law had a heart attack to glee over being able to "kill" him by signing Burger Chef, in a nanosecond. 

END NOTES

1. Love Among The Ruins, Season 3, Episode 2. 
2. For Those Who Think Young, Season 2, Episode 1.
3. See, e.g., Mystery Date, Season 5, Episode 4, At The Codfish Ball, Season 5, Episode 7.
4. A Day's Work, Season 7, Episode 2. 
5. The rank hypocrisy regarding infidelity on the show is not limited to Roger. Don would not accept that Megan so much as kissed a man on her soap opera (To Have and To Hold, Season 6, Episode 4) and he shut down Betty's nascent attempt at re-entering the world of modeling (Shoot, Season 1, Episode 9).  
6. The Phantom, Season 5, Episode 13. 
7. The New Girl, Season 2, Episode 5. 
8. The Suitcase, Season 4, Episode 7. 
9. The Quality of Mercy, Season 6, Episode 12. 

10. The Other Woman, Season 5, Episode 11. 

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Duke Farms

Today, I went to Duke Farms, an impeccably maintained nature conservatory in Hillsborough, New Jersey. This more than 18 mile stretch of privately-owned open land is beautiful to behold, with well-marked trails and paths and overflowing with interesting vistas, sculptures, trees, waterfalls, and so much more to photograph. Oh, and it's free! Are you ready to take a tour?

I started at the Orientation Center, which is connected to the parking lot. 


After getting a map (invaluable), I crossed over Dukes Parkway West and headed into the preserve. My first stop was the Hay Barn an eye-catching structure that houses a cool sculpture garden:





Then it was off to the Orchid Range, which houses numerous types of orchids and, aside from feeling like an Amazon rain forest, had colors that have to be seen to be believed:





Next, it was on to the Old Foundation, so-called because a mansion was supposed to be built atop the foundation, but never was. The foundation itself is now covered in various plants, flora and fauna, and the trees that would have made up the backyard were in peak bloom:





As I mentioned earlier, there are numerous sculptures on the grounds, here are three more, the so-called "Blue Boy" statute (also known as the "Thorn Extractor"), a statue of the Greek goddess Athena, and the "Durham Bull" (which looked particularly interesting juxtaposed against all the color surrounding it):




Lastly, there are many bodies of water on site, lovely tree stands and even the occasional woodpecker. Check 'em out!








I really enjoyed my visit to Duke Farms, a true New Jersey treasure!

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Pumpkin


It was mid-November and I was doing yard work - a final mowing, laying down mulch, and trimming back bushes that would soon go dormant for the winter when I saw something scurrying behind my shed. The shed, or more specifically, the little burrow that has been dug beneath it, has been home to rabbits, cats, and groundhogs, so I was not surprised when I found the source of the rustling:


Aside from taking a picture, I didn't try to approach her, but decided I'd stop at the store and put some food out. The first couple of times I went back to feed her (and she was just a "her" at this point), she would run away, wait for me to leave, and then tentatively approach the can. Thanks to my zoom lens, I could photograph her from near the backdoor to my house and when I started posting pictures on Twitter




the "oohs" and "aahs" were usually followed by a "she looks pregnant" comment. I thought the same thing - or maybe it was just the way the camera was catching her, but there did appear to be a little baby bump. 


When it looked like she'd be sticking around for a while, I realized she needed a name and @sarahrodeo came up with an apt one - Pumpkin. The time of the season and Pumpkin's coat both made the name perfect. And so, for the next few weeks, we would go through our daily routine, I would leave the food out, try to sneak a picture or two, and Pumpkin would chow down and then disappear back behind (and, I assumed beneath) the shed. 

By early December, I had come to look forward to our little morning ritual, but the onset of winter was swift and unrelenting. When the first warnings of snow came, I considered trying to bring Pumpkin inside, worried for her safety and knowing that braving the cold would be hard. I thought about trying to scoop her up or getting her to walk into a cage, something, anything to rescue her, even though she would likely fight and scratch and claw, because I didn't want her to die. But she would never let me get close enough and I never got a plan together - to contact a vet (I assumed she would need shots, or at a minimum, a check up, maybe even a place to have the litter I thought was gestating inside her) or figure out where to keep her in the house or buy a litter box or who knew what. 

I could not get my shit together, with her, with my life, which had been an utter mess, and was ill-prepared for the unremitting punishment of this particular winter - the snow storms, one after the other, the endless routine of shoveling every few hours, or the brutal cold that followed day after day. I felt terrible that I did not try harder to get Pumpkin to come inside and was convinced she would perish (horribly, and possibly with kittens meeting the same fate). It got to a point where I simply had to stop thinking about it - there had already been too much heartache and pain for one year and the burden of knowing I could have done more to save Pumpkin and did not was too much to bear. 

There was not much else to do for those months other than trying to keep one step ahead of the weather and simply survive. I turned inward - work was a hot mess and I was not much better, so I just put my head down and tried to make it through what would turn out to be one of the harshest winters in recorded history while trying to put Pumpkin out of my mind. 

So you can imagine my surprise when, about halfway through March, Pumpkin returned:


Stunned is too mild a word to describe my reaction, but there she was, like she had never been away. I was so happy to see her again, so guilt-ridden that I had abandoned her and not wanting to lose this second chance, I decided I would try to bond with Pumpkin. Little by little, I moved her food closer to the house and each time, I hung around, at a respectful distance, but just long enough that she would grow comfortable with my presence. I got her a little dish so she would not have struggle to eat right out of the can (or cut her lip!) and got her all the way up to the patio. She would make funny faces that I caught on camera



and, thanks to an eagle-eyed Twitter follower, I found out she had been neutered (the clipped ear being a way veterinarians "tag" feral cats so people know they've been fixed). 

The weather was still not great and I still fretted over her safety, but as we got into April, Pumpkin was starting to have "breakfast" in my sunroom.


We fell into a nice rhythm, a 6 AM feeding and some quality time before I got ready for work. But now, instead of just seeing her in the morning, I would sometimes come home to this



so there was "dinner" too. I thought about trying to get Pumpkin inside, but in talking to a friend who had "adopted" a stray, she told me to just let Pumpkin be - she obviously had the skills to survive winter, no reason to goad her inside. So I did, and just fed a steady stream of cute cat pics to my Twitter feed instead:



As the weeks have passed, Pumpkin has gotten more comfortable - she's waiting at the door at 6 am sharp:


She is also more comfortable with her sunroom surroundings and now, after she eats, there's a looooong nap on one of the patio chairs I brought in for the winter and sometimes she "fights" the towel I left out thinking she would use *that* as her napping area:




My heart breaks a little at how precious she is and vulnerable she must feel in the big, bad world. She will now walk right past me to get to her dish, but won't let me pet her - and I'm ok with that. She does her thing and I do mine. When people "IRL" ask me how I found Pumpkin, I always tell them that she found me - at a time when I needed to know what it was to care about something more than myself, to be giving without expecting anything in return, and to get something very valuable back in return. You see, putting food out for Pumpkin and opening a door to let her inside to eat costs me a whopping 50 cents a day, but what she's given me back in return is far more valuable. Whether she's around for another day, week, month, or the rest of her life, caring for Pumpkin, knowing that for those few short hours she spends in relative comfort instead of out in the wild, where she can laze on a patio chair without a care in the world and not worry about being hurt or attacked or scrounging for food, brings me great joy. Those quiet moments we spend in the morning, when I can collect my thoughts or just read a book, watch her eat in peace and know that she is provided for, are times I cherish. That this adorable little face and spunky little personality has helped me grieve and heal and find a little solace of my own is something I could never put a price tag on. Besides, LOOK AT THAT FACE!!!






2017 UPDATE

Much has changed since this originally appeared in May 2014. For one thing, Pumpkin started coming into the house. For a few minutes at first, and then, gradually for longer periods of time. With a little trial and error, she started using the litter box too (one of my proudest moments) and even sleeping inside overnight.

Another big change was that Pumpkin's big brother Ghost found his way into the yard (and ultimately, into the house), and for the rest of 2014, 2015 and the early part of 2016, P & G had the run of the neighborhood and my house. They both usually spent the night indoors and would then prowl around outside during the day.

But one Sunday in April 2016, Pumpkin almost died. She got into a fight with something (I never found out what) and came home with a gaping wound on her right hind leg. She was reluctant to let me pet her under the best of circumstances, but as she was bleeding on the carpet, trying to corral her into a cat carrier was nearly impossible. She scratched me so hard and deep that you could still see the claw marks months later. But I finally wrapped her up and got her to an emergency care facility. I am forever grateful to the good doctors and nurses at CARES, who literally saved her life. They stitched her up (almost 20!) and were great during the subsequent follow-ups I had to do over the following weeks.

That day was one of the hardest of my life (I'm sure it wasn't great for Pumpkin either!). I was hysterically crying at the hospital and in the days after, as Pumpkin was quarantined in one room with a cone around her neck and an uncertain recovery, I questioned whether I was capable of taking care of Pumpkin in her weakened state. It was hard at first, Pumpkin was disoriented and frail and adjusting to having the cone around her neck. I was feeding her by hand (or spoon) and coming home from work at lunch every day to check on her.

Thankfully, and after three long weeks, Pumpkin was all better. Looking back, I realize how tightly we bonded and how she came to trust me so deeply to feed her, give her water, and just be there with her so she did not feel alone or scared. After Pumpkin had her cone removed (or more accurately, wriggled out of it herself) she became a full-time indoor cat. As fate would have it, Ghost also had a few scrapes that summer, nothing as serious as Pumpkin, but enough for me to make the decision that he too would become a full-time indoor cat. As importantly, I found a vet who made house calls (neither Pumpkin nor Ghost is easy to handle and the thought of getting them in and out of a cat carrier was not ideal) and so now both of my little ones are up to date on their vaccinations, get care when needed and, for the most part, have adapted to their new lives. They are by far and away the two most important things in my life and have taught me so much about my capacity to care for them unconditionally and with an open heart. 




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