Thursday, September 25, 2008

Mad Men Women.

This most excellent graphic, "Casting Call" was created by Dyna Moe. I ORDER you to go check her out. Stop reading. Do it now.

So like a lot of people, I'm obsessed with Mad Men. You must know by now the show won Best Drama Series at this year's Emmys. As a result, my Google Alert "Mad Men" simply overfloweth with praise, interviews, even fashion tips.

But see, I'm obsessed with Mad Men Women. Because I know them. Growing up, I lived with them. And as a young woman, I was them. So many of the show's moments snag something inside me and give it a good yank. The first time Peggy Olsen flung out her IBM Selectric cover like it was a blanket, and then used it to secure her typewriter against that evening's dust, a memory file drawer was thrust open and I was 19 again, working for a small group of lawyers, typing their letters, their invoices, their envelopes. I wore a pink angora cowl neck sweaterdress to my interview, and later both my bosses told me it was what got me the job. It curved in all the right places. Yeah, I guess I should've been aghast, but instead I blushed. Frankly I was flattered. My whole life I was always the bookish one. I had never been viewed like that and to my utter astonishment, I loved it. For just a moment, I was Joan Holloway. And it felt powerful. Every woman should work her inner Holloway sometimes.

Another show moment - when Betty Draper, perfectly coiffed and attired at 7am, begins to make breakfast by prying open a can of frozen orange juice concentrate. My memory mind goes utterly, completely berzerko. I almost blow a memory gasket. Betty dumps the stuff in with a sick plopping sound before adding water, and there goes another yank in my gut. As a girl, that was my job. Plop it in the pitcher - that stuff that looks vaguely like something the cat yacked up - then add exactly three cans of water - or was it four? I had completely blocked out that part of growing up. Do they even make that stuff anymore? It tasted horrible. And it made crappy popsicles. That little monstery guy from the Saturday morning cartoons extolling the virtues of frozen orange juice popsicles made in ice cube trays with toothpicks. So healthy! So lacking in taste and they always fell off the toothpicks.

But I digress. Mad Men Women are brilliant. The level of detail is almost like someone had a time machine. Particularly with the clothes. I mean, my mother and grandmothers must've had literally HUNDREDS of housecoats. Now there's something that has gone into fashion extinction. Maybe it's time for a comeback? (Yeah, no thanks). And all those frilly nylon nightgowns Betty is always flouncing around the house in with a glass of red wine in her hand? If she was a long-haired brunette that could be my mother. Just unreal. I have so many memories of her lying in bed in one of those things, sometimes in the middle of the afternoon, talking about how she doesn't feel well. Or she's tired. That's one good hard hurtful yank every time a scene like that appears. What, did Matthew Weiner somehow download the contents of my brain into his computer? Is there some sort of invisible Matrix-like cord coming out the back of my head and directly into his steno pad? It's just a little too accurate to be comfortable. It makes my stomach hurt, but in a really really good way.

I used to dig through my mother's chifforobe to examine those flouncy oh-so-flammable gowns, fingering the material, wondering if I'd ever be able to fill one out. They always seemed more like costumes than clothes. They were like flimsy little Kleenex. Or Tinkerbell's wings. Or ballerina tutus. And Nan Jordan had hundreds - because she loved them, but also because my Nana worked in the lingerie department at Newberry's in Front Royal, Virginia. So Nan could count on one every Christmas and birthday. I swear if ol' Matthew ever writes a scene where little Sally Draper ends up playing with Mommy's gowns while Betty is out shopping, they might have to cart me away to the funny farm.

Nan, my mom, was so much like Betty in that everything had to be "just so" for company, but once the curtains were closed it was wine and housecoats. Her dinner parties were true practices in early 1960's Camelot protocol. I mean, the woman majored in Home Ec at a woman's college for chrissakes! The buffet was her work of art - a special serving plate for every offering, real cloth napkins, hell, we even had a multi-tiered "tree" for cookies. And Sinatra on the turntable.

My favorite scene of Mad Men Women? Well, it's one that COULD have happened. It feels so real that it might actually have. Several of the neighborhood women are sitting around the living room, looking 1960 fashionably fabulous, smoking and drinking cocktails in the middle of the afternoon. Quietly projecting that kind of unadvertised, secretive power that kid gloves, kitten heels, Tangee red lips, leopard print hats, and ornate costume jewelry impart. When you wear "clothes that fit" (to quote Michael Kors) you can't help but walk a little taller I think. These women may not have had powerful roles in their lives, but they sure as hell projected their power through their clothes.

Anyway, amidst all of this fashion "power" Sally and Bobby Draper come rushing in, wearing dry cleaning bags over themselves, screaming, "Look Mommy! I'm a spaceman!" I lost it. Laughed so hard I spilled my drink, peed my pants, then fell outta my chair. But the next line was the real classic, the clincher, pure Nan Jordan. "Children, if my clothes are balled up in a ball in a big wrinkle in the bottom of my closet, you are going to be in BIG trouble." Drag on the cigarette. Sip of the cocktail. After a withering look to the kids, another one to the ladies that says, "God! These kids today." Love it, love it, love it. This snapshot could've been pulled directly from my family album. Minus the dry cleaner bags though. Nan was a scaredy cat when it came to letting us possibly suffocate ourselves.

Simply put - Mad Men Women Rule. Their kind of power is what makes the show for me. Here's a sneak peek at this week's episode - all I can say is, "Go Peggy!"

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Monday, September 15, 2008

South River.

So my husband and I took our doggie Lois for an afternoon hiking trip in Shenandoah National Park yesterday. A trip way overdue. Imagine. We moved here in April, we're less than 1/2 an hour from the park's entrance, and we hadn't yet gone hiking. Unusual for us.

The day was hot and so muggy you could drink the air. The no-see-ums were going crazy. For some reason, they leave my husband and doggie daughter alone, but they love me. I was slapping myself with a shirt the whole way - like a horse flicks its tail I was slapping my shirt, thwack thwack.

As we started down the hill at the trail's entrance near South River picnic area, it was so quiet it felt like the whole world was holding its breath. No breeze, no birds. Not even any insects. Every living thing seemed to have sought cooler shelter. At one point a woodpecker began to hammer and it was like a machine gun, sharp and painful.

The trail was so incredible, better than anything we had hiked in the Laurel Highlands when we lived in Pittsburgh. Towering trees spread their arms, carpets of fern wrapped around their feet like Christmas tree skirts. Boulders covered in moss hunkered down in shallow streams that burbled and sang. White toadstools so huge, I half expected that caterpillar with the hookah to appear and offer me a piece. We even saw a copperhead, curled up under a rock, sunning himself on a ledge by a waterfall that raced down the side of a mountain. As we walked I was internally slapping myself for not doing this more often. I grew up in Richmond! Why hadn't I spent my entire waking life, every minute of every weekend exploring every nook and cranny that this park had to offer? As a child, my sister and I had often hiked up Humpback Rock with our mother's father, but I remember those hikes with equal measures of dread and misery. It was more of a forced march than a leisurely afternoon. Not quite Bhutan, but close. Get to the top as quickly as possible, snap a photo, then back down equally fast, slapping mosquitos the whole way. I did have a glimmer of nostalgia when I spotted a child with a huge walking stick - I remember Granddaddy talking to us about the virtues of a good one.

This hike was much more my style. I even abandoned my own walking stick after a while. It became just another item to carry. The trees were so lush and cool, and the shade was wet, mossy, and green. While the other two seemed to race ahead, I lagged behind, marveling at how everything seemed to be made of fuzzy emeralds. Covered in a soft grassy carpet. For a moment I imagined myself to be the park ranger in Prodigal Summer, tracking the trails, making sure everything was in its place. In that book she and her lover spent hours just trail hiking, never speaking. As our footsteps softly plodded through the leaves and wet earth I started to understand how you could actually end up doing that. I talk a lot, a whole lot, but here I started to get very quiet inside myself. I didn't get quiet entirely, but I started to. I could feel it.

I love when I find myself in situations where I can actually feel myself slow down. Actually see my mind's eye stopping instead of darting in every direction. Just look at the leaves. Just marvel at the size of that mushroom, which looked more like an ostrich egg than anything else. Orange, white, with brown spots underneath.

So often I am racing inside. My thoughts, my mind, my tongue are all in a tither to outrun each other. But here I felt quiet. So when the breeze began, I actually heard it. I really felt it on my skin instead of just saying something inane like, "It's about time! It's frikkin hot!"

When we got lost my mind picked up again. It had been napping, but there was that old monster anxiety freaking out because we didn't know exactly where we were at that very moment. But instead of crying, I took a breath. Then another. This moment really was so sweet after all. How often do I get to walk in this incredible lush paradise of green with just my husband and my dog. It kind of felt like what heaven must be like. Just us three. Walking. Enjoying each other. Enjoying the day.

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