Wherever in life you are you always can learn, even if it’s only to know “I don’t want to be here.” Ask yourself, “Why am I here?” If you haven’t the answer, you need to find it.
Emphasis in the original.
The note was written on the back of a Wendy’s receipt dated April 3, 1999. For a Single combo and a Dr. Pepper, I paid $3.44. On the bottom of the receipt was printed the following missive: “YA’LL COMEBACK.”
Other reviewers of the sixth episode of the sixth season of Mad Men have cautioned against getting caught up in Don Draper’s power play to merge his and Ted Chaough’s agencies to get a Chevrolet—rightly so.1 This season, which begins with The Inferno (which Matthew Weiner reads, weirdly, as a midlife crisis), haunts Don with the lighter of a doomed soldier, puts Don in his mistress’s bed to the soundtrack of the Tet offensive, reveals Megan’s miscarriage and Don’s hesitation on his threshold of his own apartment, pushes Don into a self-righteous and hypocritical fight with Megan about Peggy beating him with his own words Megan’s acting in love scenes, takes Don to an award ceremony where the only people nominated for awards from his agency no longer work there, and shoots Martin Luther King, Jr., as Pete put it so emphatically, “in the face.” That’s not even an exhaustive list of how much this season has lifted Don Draper’s curtain to show the dust, mildew, and cobwebs behind it.
Enter “For Immediate Release,” which seemingly turns the season 180 degrees to look at Don reinvigorated, firing Herb and Jaguar from the company, fucking Megan with purpose, and marching to Detroit for a shot at a Chevrolet. But I wouldn’t believe Don’s turnaround—or the season’s—for a second. One reason not to trust the episode’s tone is history: Robert Kennedy has yet to be killed and Richard Nixon has yet to win election—the world will get worse, and SCDP won’t be able to escape it. Another reason is the title. “For Immediate Release” isn’t just the opening of the press release Peggy writes at the end, it’s also a definition of the episode—a catharsis from all the despair. That is a title to telegraph how we (“It’s funny you say ‘we,’” you say) viewers are being asked to respond to Don’s resurgence and to the episode as a whole, but it’s misdirection. Al’s presence but Sylvia’s absence suggests as much; so too does the camera when Don and Ted reach a deal; so too does Don’s preoccupation with starting over compared to the subtexts of motherhood (both miscarried, in Megan’s, and unhappy, in Don’s stepmother). There is no good reason to think the catharsis birthed with this new ad agency—or for that matter the new agency itself—is anything but temporary relief.
Kathy is in the bedroom reading Bring Up the Bodies. I ought to be in bed with her, a mask over my eyes so I can sleep despite the lamplight, because morning—and dog walking and breakfast making and kid ushering—will come early. But I resent that ought. Buried in it are all the things I might do to ease the burden of time; it steals the hour or so I have at the end of the day to compose myself. It steals solitude. I ought to be ironing my clothes. I ought to be researching how to keep a two-year-old from dumping his scrambled eggs in his juice or to get him to own to his own meanness. Instead, I am here in the kitchen, at a pine Ikea table so light it skitters across the linoleum if I breathe on it, writing a still life.
On the table is a straw basket of hard-boiled eggs, dyed turquoise and green and orange and yellow and purple on Easter morning in lieu of attending Easter services, on a bed of pink and yellow plastic “grass.” The light from the lamp above the table passes through holes in the straw, making the basket’s shadow equaly holey. A pair of headphones and a USB cord lie beside my computer. A box of tissues is just on the other side of my laptop’s monitor. The pattern on the box is a gray and pink spirograph tessellated on five of the box’s sides. A bottle of Bean-O. A pile of unclipped coupons. Two cloth napkins, patterned in stripes of orange and yellow and green, used at supper and to be used again at breakfast, are strewn about as though tossed on the table in a rush after eating. The background is a doorway with the side of a sofa just visible behind a floor lamp, still in its box. A box of crayons and markers sits atop the box. A toy Dirt Devil vacuum cleaner sits beside it. (It is the only vacuum we can run in the house at any time without setting off child, dog, and cat alarms.)
Somewhere, out of sight and out of the still life, lies a dog. The cats both went to sleep with Kathy, who closed her book probably after Anne Boleyn was beheaded, and nodded off to sleep as I was writing this.
Only slight hints of spring came with Easter this year. There had been just enough time to melt the snow that had fallen the weekend before. Sunnier yards had green shoots of daffodils, but ours were only just poking through the ground. Of ducks in the creek, I counted only one lone mallard on my walk. Easter day itself was marked by high cold winds and further threats of snow. The kid’s discovery of the thrill of an egg hunt redeemed such weather, however. It was excitement enough to make all the bitterness left by winter melt away.
I was at work late tonight when the overhead lights switched off. Their usual hum ceased. The brash halftone beiges and grays they illuminate by day became earthy. I heard a door shut, and then all was still.
Silence is much improved in darkness, and darkness, silence.