Dear Pete Campbell, A Word of Advice
May 10, 2012 | by Adam Wilson
You’ve always creeped me out. This isn’t entirely your fault. You can blame your parents for the beady eyes and the cheeks as yet untouched by razor; for your emotional immaturity; for the fortune they squandered and the love they withheld; and for the Waspy sense of privilege they nonetheless managed to confer on your skinny ass.
And so I don’t hate you, Pete, as others are wont to do. Sure, you’ve done some shitty things—getting Peggy preggers then treating her like trash; blackmailing Don into making you head of accounts; last night’s display of pathetic adultery with that chick from The Gilmore Girls—but I feel a strange affinity for you anyway.
Maybe it’s because, despite our different backgrounds, we’ve got things in common. Fashion sense, for one. I love those royal-blue suits you somehow manage to pull off. Walking down the office halls, you’re a splash of vibrant color among the muted grays and sallow plaids. I’ve looked everywhere for a suit that shade, to no avail. Give me the name of your tailor and all else will be forgiven.
But my affinity runs deeper than that, Pete. You see, we’re both young men working in industries still lorded over by the Old Guards. Take your boss man, Draper, for instance. Dude can’t even tell the difference between The Beatles and The Wedgewoods. Or that silver fox Sterling who takes one hit of acid then thinks he’s the Dalai Lama. Megan was right to quit, Pete. You slave and you sweat and what does it amount to: a hill of Heinz baked beans.
Me, I’m in the lit world, slave to the (new) Old Masters at The Paris Review. Did you know that they pay me in back issues? That they force me to dress like a French schoolboy in shorts and knee socks, even in winter? That as part of my initiation I was locked in a room with a life-size cardboard cutout of George Plimpton and told to make love to it–tenderly, passionately–while the magazine’s staff watched and jeered from behind a two-sided mirror? [Untrue. —Ed.]
I’m sorry she didn’t turn up at the hotel room. I’ve been stood up before myself, and I know it’s no fun. Once I fell in love with this cashier at Whole Foods. She had sun-bleached blonde hair and a giant spider’s nest tattooed across her entire back. I invited her to my birthday party and she said she would try to make it, but never showed. The next time I saw her she pretended not to know me. But I got over it, Campbell, and you will too.
It’s funny, I’ve been reading David Foster Wallace’s Girl with Curious Hair. He was young when he wrote it, Pete, younger than we are. And unlike us he was a genius. It’s not his best book. His brain was slightly too big for him to know how to manage. Like Dylan in Don’t Look Back, being a dick to Donovan because he can’t cope with the breadth of his own talent.
But when I read it, Campbell, I don’t see the flaws. All I can see is the writer he’d become in his next book. All I can see is the beauty of a young man trying—trying with all his heart and all his brain—to make something new, something pure, something deeply humane.
Lennon was like that too, and he got it right on Revolver, what with the noise and minor-key cacophony cohering into some previously unexplored darkness. It’s a scary sound. Once I was driving the coastal road from Sydney to Melbourne at midnight, listening to “Tomorrow Never Knows,” when our car hit a wombat. Do you know what a wombat is? It’s like a rat the size of a small dog. Totaled the car. As if the song itself had willed the wombat into existence. We had to camp out overnight, eating cold Heinz beans with plastic spoons until we could hitch a ride to the nearest town.
That’s why Draper turned that record off. Not because he hated it. But because he saw that it was true, and the truth was angry and lonely and ultimately painful. Because Draper is an adman—he likes smooth surfaces—and when something arrives to plumb the depths of his conscious he runs, he gets drunk, he turns off the noise.
This week we lost another young noisemaker, Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys, a music pioneer who used his fame and fortune to inspire social change. He fought for our right to party, and then he fought for Tibet’s right to peacefully exist. You could learn a thing or two from Yauch, Pete, even if the music’s not your bag. Learn from Yauch, and Lennon, and Wallace. Learn that you’re not limited by what came before. You don’t have to succumb to the tired old tropes; don’t have to turn bitter and bastardly.
Yesterday in the waiting room of my therapist’s office I encountered that awful moment when the previous patient exits her session all teary and torn up and you both kind of avert your eyes but can’t quite help looking, and you know that for her the comfort’s over, and it’s back to face the world, and you’re no help, and the therapist isn’t either. Well this woman, yesterday, she had a cast on her foot, and she was drinking from one of those tiny cups that the therapists have for their water bubblers and all I could think of was why are those cups so small? I mean why don’t they just put some regular-size cups next to the bubbler so you don’t have to keep returning on your broken foot? But of course that’s the answer, Pete—they want us to return. We must keep hobbling back, keep filling our cups from the Poland Springs bubbler of life, always thirsty, never fully sated.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Just don’t return, Pete, never return. Be your own person, pave a new path, relax and float downstream. And goddamn it, man, stay away from the fucking Gilmore Girls.
It is Not Dying,