Steve Jaeger loves and hates Don Draper, and he can’t help but see the complexities of Mad Men in his own boyhood memories.
I came a bit late to Mad Men. I didn’t learn about the show until the first season was over. I had been boycotting AMC ever since they began editing movies and interrupting them with commercials, so I had paid no attention to the channel at all. Then one of my friends kept raving about the show, so I said, what the hell, and watched the first episode. I have not stopped watching since then, and you know the first thing that really hooked me? The Draper’s kitchen. It was as though I was looking at my childhood kitchen on my TV in glorious 1080p.
I grew up on Long Island about thirty minutes outside of NYC in the late 50’s and early 60’s. My father rode the LIRR to work in the city while my mother stayed home and kept house. In the morning you could watch a steady stream of station wagons and sedans heading for the LIRR station as the wives dropped the husbands off for their trip into Manhattan. My mother as often as not went out wearing her robe and slippers with her hair up in curlers. In the evening my old man would come home smelling of cigarette smoke for cocktails before dinner. On nice weekends there would be backyard barbecues, often involving two or more families on the street.
All the kids played Little League baseball and football together. We joined the cub scouts and brownies, and the moms were den mothers, and the dads were pack masters. Most of the dads had fought in the war, and nearly every family had a grandparent living with them.
As kids we were insulated from any hint of scandal, but I remember one incident where one of my school friends whose father owned a local business and was very active with the cub scouts allegedly had an affair with a young woman. The kid disappeared from school never to be seen again, and our parents talked about it in hushed tones at the backyard barbecues. We were shooed away if we dared to ask a question.
What blows me away about Mad Men, season after season, is the amazing attention to detail, right down the vestments worn by the catholic priest, the bottles and cans in the kitchens, and even the casual way people toss garbage away onto the ground. I feel like I’m in a time warp and that my hideous fourth grade teacher, Miss Geiger is going to step out of the screen and crack me with a ruler.
I always find the characters on Mad Men fascinating. I wonder how many of the dads I knew all those years ago were so nice at home and so creepy when they were “working late.” Don Draper is one of those characters that I really want to like, but there is just so much about him that is unlikeable. He’s a good father, shitty husband, and taskmaster at work, but still there’s something in him that you want to like. Betty, on the other hand…
Nevertheless, I’m looking forward with great anticipation to the new season, both for the excellent story lines and also the chance to crawl back into my childhood for an hour every Sunday. I want my Maypo!
Photo by amira_a/Flickr