Dear Don Draper
June 20, 2012 | by Adam Wilson
Sunday. Father’s Day. It was a lovely day, high sixties and sunshine, the last spring wind before summer stills the air and AC units plug windows, dripping dirty water on my sunburnt, hairless head. I was at the King Suite at the hotel 6 Columbus on Fifty-eighth street, a comfortable and accommodating establishment decorated in a 1960s mod style. Zebra-patterned throw pillows and four-hundred-thread-count sheets. A Guy Bourdin print was hanging over my bed. The bathroom mirror was circular, haloed by a curved fluorescent bulb that adds a golden aura to my cheeks and shiny head. The bathroom walls were blue tile. The curtains looked like textile cutouts from old issues of Vogue. The bed was large and soft and sexy. The ceiling high and airy. I was here to channel you, Don, to gauge the world through your big brown eyes. I wanted to feel the tidal pull of a room without a past, a bed whose every morning comes complete with clean, new sheets.
That day, through my window, I could see the Columbus Circle fountain, and Central Park beyond it: fathers and sons, fathers and daughters, fathers and dogs and wives and husbands, all out for postbrunch strolls. Families skipped light-footed in the sunlight, smiling and carrying shopping bags. The fathers had received gifts that morning: new ties, new socks, new oversized grill spatulas. Their bellies were swollen with bacon and Bloody Marys. Their faces flushed rosy. They wore sunglasses and stupid shorts; their shirts were thickly pinstriped, overly pocketed, Hawaiian even; all varieties of dad-dork style. These are the new American men: nonsmokers, light drinkers, carb cutters. Boy did they look happy. It was their day.
And where were you that morning, Don? Last we saw, you’d dressed your wife as a Disney princess, and then abandoned her on set so you could drink up at the bar. Megan was lovely, G-ratedly grinning for the cameras. It made you sick to your stomach, didn’t it, the way she gave up her ideals for a little taste of fame? There was something unabashedly babyish in her joy, like a little girl playing dress up. And you were her jaded daddy. You’re the blunt realist who’s seen the gears that turn the wheels of capitalism. You work those gears, pull the levers, propagate the charade. But to buy into it like Megan did? To hang her star on an ad for Butler shoes?
So you left the studio set. You walked into a barroom. It was the kind of barroom that no longer exists, not even in the hotel I was in. This hotel does have a sushi restaurant, a good and pricey one. I was there in my most Draperesque attire: gray suit, black shoes, thin tie noosed around my neck. I don’t have hair, so I just rubbed some Brylcreem straight onto my scalp. It gave a nice smell, but left me looking like a newly polished bowling ball. I felt sweaty, and sober, and distinctly un-Draper-like. No smoke rose up to the ceiling; no lone, horny women made discreet eyes from across the room. We all ate our fish, drank our tiny cups of sake, added way too much wasabi just to feel alive. We played with our cellphones, checked in on foursquare, Instagrammed our entrees. After, we returned to our rooms alone or with wives or girlfriends or boyfriends or even children. Nothing scandalous here. No Roger Sterling humping the bitterness out of Megan’s Frenchie mom, or Pete Campbell getting his last grab of Gilmore Girl ass before she’s hooked up to the shock box and forgotten who he is.
But you, Don, were in a barroom filled with smoke and jazz and fuck-me eyes. You were in another fantasy, no more real than Megan’s ad. You met two young women. And from the look you gave right before the credits rolled, everybody knew that you were back to your old tricks. The audience rejoiced; once again we could condemn you, call you sexist, live vicariously through your sexploits. The blogs had been encouraging you for months, urging you back into adultery. We missed our escapist Draper sex tourism.
(I will spare you my first effort at X-rated fan fiction. Let’s just say, one day they’ll make a movie of all this called Mad Men: XXX. It will star a guy named James Deen, who, for the record, looks nothing like James Dean, but has such a giant penis that it doesn’t really matter. My prediction: it will be the bestselling porn flick of all time.)
Point is, Don, your life is appealing. Your life is what most men want in their wildest fantasies. But now it is morning, and where are you? Do the women sleep? Or did they slip out? Are you alone in your hotel king bed with just your guilt to keep you company? Are you thinking of Megan, crying at home, wondering where you spent the night? Or your own children, perhaps. Sally’s a woman now, and it won’t be long before she hates your womanizing ways. And what about Bobby, and Baby Gene, who you haven’t even talked to in months? Where are your ties and socks, Don, and your loving family to throw you a Father’s Day brunch?
We all make choices, Draper. You tried to choose the righteous path for a while, being faithful to Megan and a father to your children. Frankly, it wasn’t your thing. You’re too stylish to be a dork dad, too hopelessly horny to be one of those dudes who wears plaid shorts and cares about his lawn. Are you happy? Is anyone?
I can only speak for myself. I’m not sure where I stand or where I fit. My peers are having babies, cute, chubby ones that fill up my Facebook feed. Back in Brooklyn, the streets are filled with strollers. The air is filled with diaper stink. The fathers have tattoos and wear Chuck Taylors. They look like me. Perhaps I will become one.
All I know is that I can’t become you. These are different times, Don. Men carry their babies Smoking is banned everywhere but curbs and alleys. No one drinks on the job anymore, other than writers and some professional baseball players. The good foods all make you fat or make you sick or make you unattractive to women. Wearing fashionable wool suits causes me serious sweat problems. Even old Times Square has been cleaned of hookers and strip joints. And the prostitutes we do have don’t wear cocktail dresses and listen to classical music like they did in that one episode. They smoke menthols, and call you honey, and make you wear a condom for a blow job. Decline and fall, Don, the end of an empire.
And so I urge you to live it up while you can, while free love lives on and cellphones haven’t yet made clandestine adventures impossible. Live it up not just for me, but for the dads in the plaid shorts. Live it up for the ones with high cholesterol, whose doctors have put them on beta blockers and low sodium diets. Live it up for the dads who have to carry their babies on their bodies in mock kangaroo pouches. I know you don’t want to hurt Megan, but who will you hurt by staying faithful? Not just men but women too. All those ladies who wish their husbands had cheekbones like yours, who dream about your stubble. You’re our fantasy, Draper, we’ve loved you longer than she has. Make us happy, keep us hopeful, and always stay an asshole. It’s how we like you.
Adam Wilson is the author of Flatscreen: A Novel.