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Dear Don Draper, It’s a Wonderful Life

March 28, 2012 | by

Dear Don Draper,

Birthday greetings from the year 2012! Adam Wilson here, writing to tell you that things will be okay!

I know life looks bleak right now, Don. You just turned forty. You’re feeling it. Your frown lines tell the tale, your smoke-seasoned cheek skin, the whiskey jaundice blooming in your beautiful eyes. The way your manly body slumps and crumples, finally flaccid after decades of tumescence.

It’s 1966 and everything’s orange and yellow, plush and furry, groovy, heady, already psychedelically aglow. At the end of last season you were smiling like a lobotomized monkey, gaga over Megan the secretarial sex machine, offering love and financial security in exchange for a peek at her abs.

Now you’ve got the spoils of that horny dream and it’s not a pretty sight: an open plan apartment accented by white rugs and cream-colored decorative pillows; a wife whose sexual liberation extends outside your bedroom and into the public salon where she’ll embarrass you in front of your coworkers, strutting her silky stuff while a band of blond surf bros play anesthetized hippie pop; daughter Sally quickly turning Lolita; your son Bobby all but unrecognizable from last year (it’s not your fault—they changed the actor); baby Gene with his creepy, beady eyes; plus the possibility of even more unwanted children!

Don’t worry, buddy. It gets better. You know how, in It’s a Wonderful Life, that angel arrives to show Jimmy Stewart the future and convince him not to kill himself? I’m that angel, Don. And I’m telling you to quit smoking and slow down with the drinking, and maybe get some exercise and cut carbs, because the future’s coming—and you’re gonna like it.

The quitting smoking part’s tough, I know. I’m going through it now myself. I’m on day two, and I can feel the missing nicotine like a great void at the center of my being. My fingers twitch and my armpits drip. I’m itchy and irritated and finding it hard to focus. But we can do this together, Don. We have to. Because frankly I’m not sure I can go through with this quitting thing if I have to watch you every week, guiltlessly enjoying your cigarettes, blowing billows of smoke into the stale office air.

I’m rambling. My apologies. It’s a Jewish thing. Try to help out someone else and we end up whining about our own troubles. Read a Philip Roth novel and you’ll get what I’m saying. Plus, you’ll like Roth—he’s even hornier than you are. Or, as horny. It’s in our blood. Ask Pete Campbell. Pull Pete aside one day and ask him about the things Trudy does with her tongue. But what am I saying? You had Rachel all the way back in Season One. You know from the Jewish libido.

Am I embarrassing you? Let's talk about you.

No. Let's talk about Megan. So she’s not what you expected in a wife. Twenty years your junior, of another generation. The women aren’t submissive anymore, Don, but it’s a good thing. Remember Betty, how miserable she made you? This one’s plucky and fun, fabulous and full of life. Get over your embarrassment and learn to enjoy it, because they don’t make them much sexier than she is. Have you seen the way she looks at you? That combination of love and pure carnal desire could kill a weaker man. But you can handle it, Don, I know you can. Don't get hung up on the hard-ons. We've got this medicine now, Viagra, and what it’s taught us is that manhood doesn't come in a pill. Or maybe that it does. We know now that gender is a social construct, but that’s another conversation.

Get through through the seventies. I’m not gonna lie—those thick ties and oversized collars won’t flatter your physique. Still, rock and roll is actually pretty amazing. Don’t judge the whole genre by that band at your party.

Then, you’re gonna love Ronald Reagan. Yeah, that Ronald Reagan, same guy. It’s a thing. Lots of actors are politicians now. Anyway, Reagan becomes president. He cuts taxes and speechifies and looks great in primary-color ties. He has a picture-perfect wave, a convincing dream that if the rich get richer the money will trickle down to the lower classes. You understand rhetoric, the sweet lie of the slogan.

These days everything’s different. In some profound sense, you won. I don't have time to get into it right now, but take The Hunger Games. I ... oh, never mind. I couldn't explain. But you won. The Cold War’s over, Don. Capitalism is king. Every surface is branded. Congratulations.

I have a confession to make: Sunday was my birthday too. I turned thirty and I’m not happy about it. No one likes to get older, and nicotine deprivation is hard. One day we’ll replace our lungs with silicone robot organs and smoke as much as we want.

For the moment, Don, I’m like you: a human male, mortal. I know aging sucks. I know relationships are tough and the youth culture is confusing—don’t even get me started on the whole FarmVille phenomenon. It’s a cruel world out there, Draper, but as Megan may soon tell you, we’ve gotta keep on keepin’ on.

So here’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to march outside into the spring sunlight. I’m going to walk into CVS with my head held high and buy as much Nicorette as I can afford. I’m going to go home and download Megan’s rendition  of “Zou Bisou Bisou” from iTunes (it went online mere hours after the show aired!)  and sit in my comfy chair. I’m going to chew my gum and let the nicotine show me serenity. I’ll imagine your young wife dancing just for me, her dark hair hanging over one eye while the other eye stares me down, undresses me, always open, never blinking, clear as the lungs we’ll both one day have. I choose life, Don, and I think you should too.


Adam Wilson is the author of Flatscreen: A Novel.



  1. Phinehas Hodges | March 28, 2012 at 11:58 pm

    To The Paris Review–

    While I appreciate that any corporation in any form must seek to adapt itself to this protean world, I also think this article hits a low in terms of this whole adapt-or-die-phenomena. Frankly, Adam Wilson’s only real commendable qualities as a writer, as far as I have seen, is that he is modern; and it is sad to see such an venerable magazine fall pray to the brief illusion of quality that such modernism might bring. Please, stick to publishing great short fiction (such as you did in the last edition) and try not to send someone like Sarah Fay to interview a fantastic writer like Marilynne Robinson only to ask her stupendously redundant questions.

    You don’t need someone writing blogs about Don Draper and the Hunger Games to be relevant; humans are humans. Write and publish truth. I know a hundred smarmy men who could have written this post.

  2. Joe L | March 29, 2012 at 9:37 am

    To Phinehas:

    You are clearly the pompous wet blanket of our nightmares.

    To Adam:

    Awesome piece. Loved it. Fantastic language as always.

  3. Sean C | March 29, 2012 at 10:20 am

    Great stuff, Adam. Phinehas, why so bitter? Maybe because you hang out with a hundred smarmy men? I’d think someone whose name is an anagram for “Hah Penis” would be a little less dour. Either way, I’m sure your comment has had a real impact on future editorial decisions at The Paris Review.

  4. Lorin Stein | March 29, 2012 at 3:32 pm

    Dear Mr Hodges,

    I’m sorry Adam Wilson’s piece didn’t appeal to you. (Or our interview, three years ago, with Marilynne Robinson.) Clearly there is room for honest readers to differ.

    The venerable magazine you love, however, is not The Paris Review Daily. It’s The Paris Review. Check out our 200th issue. That’s where the fiction and poetry are! I don’t think you’ll find anything to complain about …


  5. Ian Kemper York | March 29, 2012 at 3:39 pm

    So we have a letter to fictional character in a television show and Phinehas Hodges demanding the Paris Review stick to publishing great short fiction and that truth to be written a published.

    What an amazing interplay. It’s so good I have to believe Hodges’ comment was written by the editors or by Adam Wilson himself.

    Hodges subtly (or perhaps not so subtly) is linking truth and fiction: The magazine should publish fiction and at the same time truth should be written and published. These are exactly the topics I see Wilson’s piece addressing.

    By writing a letter to a fiction character, Wilson is highlighting the very personal relationship readers (or viewers) develop with fiction. Wilson cannot help but ramble on about his “own troubles,” the very real and personal tribulations of his life, while speaking to the fictional Draper. Not only that, but in so far as Wilson is giving advice to Draper we see that Wilson is empathizing with Draper, that he wants to help him in the way Wilson might help an actual person.

    What is truth? Here it is two things: truth is the very real emotion Wilson feels when relating to Draper, his concern and empathy for him; and truth is the set of principles we learn or are reminded of when we experience fiction, which in this case is the reminder that fiction affects us and urges us to live on and experience life.

    By getting to know Draper and his life, his drinking and smoking, Wilson is able to reflect on his own life and values and to say, “I choose life, Don, and I think you should too.”

    Does it matter that “Adam” is likely a fictional character as well? No, because, truth be told, I just learned to have a little empathy for those who like things (books, television shows, etc.) that I do not.


  6. Don Draper | March 29, 2012 at 5:48 pm

    Thanks for writing, Mr. Wilson. Quitting smoking may be your idea of a birthday celebration but I can think of other ways to celebrate. Glad for the heads up about Bobby. I thought it was my fault that I didn’t recognize him. Crises with my work and my ex-wife prevent me from seeing the kids as often as I’d like. Viagra. Intriguing. Can you send a sample right away to me at SCDP, Time/Life. By the way, we’re pitching another retail account and might need a Jew writer.

    To Mr. Hodges: Sounds like you need a drink, pal.

    To Mr. York: Fictional character?

  7. Jen | May 8, 2012 at 5:30 pm

    Wasn’t Dick Whitman Jewish?

  8. justin | May 8, 2012 at 5:54 pm

    30 is no age whatsoever to be writing about getting old. And clearly the fictional Don Draper is going to get left behind in the very near future of his world. He’ll be rich and bitter and confused by 50, with sexy Megan a distant memory.

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