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Amateur Night

November 18, 2013 | by

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Image via Pod Collective

Instead of attending my ten-year high school reunion I went to a psychic healer. This was the Boston suburbs, on the eve of Thanksgiving. Annually, on the night in question, prodigal Massholes in the eighteen-to-thirty-five demographic flock to the bars in Allston, Brighton, and downtown Boston for both informal and official reunions. Said reunions are marked by blackout binge drinking, vomit-flooded gutters, vomit-mouthed makeout sessions, and less-than-sober car rides back to the suburbs in mom-borrowed minivans. Boston radio DJ’s have euphemistically dubbed it “Amateur Night.”

If this sounds appealing, then we may have been friends in high school—at least in a superficial, pass the blunt kind of way—but no longer have much, if anything, in common. I don’t mean that to sound snobbishly pejorative. I grew up just outside of Boston, in Newton, Massachusetts, a wealthy white enclave famous for Fig Newtons, a high concentration of psychiatrists, and its recent reign as CQ Press’s safest city in America. It is a place filled with driven parents and overachieving children; of the roughly 350 students in my graduating class, nearly a dozen went to Harvard, not to mention all those who attended safety schools like Princeton, Brown, and Cornell. Many of my former classmates have gone on to great success. But high achievement and Frat Boy idiocy are not mutually exclusive. Like Clark Kent, my former classmates slip easily from business attire to superhero casual, removing stiff shirts at happy hour to reveal Red Sox logos. By day they are lawyers, doctors, and titans of industry. By night they drop their ‘r’s and instigate fisticuffs with tough-talking townies. In part, this performance reeks of rich kid guilt—it’s a certain kind of slumming—but more so, I think it speaks to something particularly Bostonian, a product of drinking too much dirty water, or years spent sitting in obscured view seats at Fenway, or a Kennedy-inherited Irish McLiberalism, in which money is disconnected from decorum.

I know all of this—the styles and habits of my former classmates—through Facebook, of course. I have followed these classmates for years online, sharing in their triumphs and tragedies, comparing my sex partners to theirs. In a sense, social media has rendered reunions obsolete; it has killed our curiosity. No longer does one attend a reunion wondering whatever happened to so-and-so, or shocked that the band geek has blossomed into a beauty. And though romantic comedies have emphasized the important role reunions can play in the healing of one’s high-school psychic wounds, the truth, these days, is that life’s winners have already etched their humble brags into our collective conscience online.

But maybe I was just bitter and embarrassed. It’s not that I was in such bad shape ten years on—I’d managed to kick a drug habit (Tylenol PM), move out of my parents’ basement, and trick a wonderful woman into dating me—but that in a group of high achievers, I was definitively unimpressive. After a long period of unemployment, I had moved to New York and become the cliché of a struggling writer, working part-time in a bookstore, publishing occasional TV recaps online, and squeezing into the skinniest jeans I could manage. I’d received a number of rejections on my autobiographical novel about a twenty-something stoner who can’t get over high school. Read More »

2 COMMENTS

Dear Don Draper

June 20, 2012 | by

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?

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9 COMMENTS

Dear Lane Pryce, Some Retroactive Advice

June 6, 2012 | by

Dear Lane Pryce,

I feel like Eminem when he wrote to that dude Stan, recommending psychiatric treatment before realizing that Stan had already driven his car off a bridge, pregnant girlfriend tied up in the trunk. Or like the guy in that Phil Collins song “In the Air Tonight” who could have saved that other guy from drowning, but didn’t. Or like Count Vronsky in Anna Karenina, who was so busy partying with socialites, he didn’t realize his girlfriend was depressed and fucked up on morphine until it was too late.

[Spoiler alert! -Ed.]
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11 COMMENTS

Dear Joan Holloway, Was It Something I Said?

May 31, 2012 | by

Dear Joan,

Just wanted to check in, as I can’t help but feel slightly responsible for your actions in this week’s episode. I thought these letters from the future would do you all some good, providing twenty/twenty hindsight into your blindingly Day-Glo historical moment. But Doc Brown was right: messing with the past can alter the future in unexpected ways. Matthew Weiner and company thrive on this very notion; they’ve remodeled the mid-sixties into an era in which cigarettes don’t cause cancer, and the advertising industry is the pinnacle of glamour, filled with beautiful people in beautiful clothes making eyes at each other across rooms then retreating into bedrooms with beautiful bed frames for bouts of steamy congress in which panties always match the bra, and a woman can achieve orgasm just by inhaling Don’s smoky musk.

No surprise, then, that here in 2012 we’ve gone gaga over sixties style, sporting skinny ties and summer plaids, puffing cigs like we’re unaware of science, and ruining perfectly healthy marriages because, according to Pete Campbell’s friend from the commuter train, variety is the spice of life. We should probably all reread Richard Yates. Maybe it was wrong to tease you with a glimpse into third-wave feminism when the second wave is only now breaking against your shoreline.

But don’t think I’m judging you.Read More »

2 COMMENTS

Dear Joan Holloway, the Sixties Will Pass

May 23, 2012 | by

Dear Joan Holloway,

First off, a thank you. Thank you for reminding me why I still tune in. Things were iffy for a while, what with Don’s extramarital dalliances confined to the boudoirs of his fever dreams, Betty in a budget fat suit, and Campbell and Price going all Fight Club on us.

But last night you were back, barely contained by a skin-tight scoop neck that left no curve concealed. You were back and in top form, trotting out instaclassic lines, like “My mother raised me to be admired,” in your signature, sultry deadpan. You were back, and what I’m saying is, Joanie, without you there is no Mad Men; there are men and they are mad, but you add the uppercase.

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3 COMMENTS

Dear Betty Draper Francis, Stop Weighing Your Food

May 15, 2012 | by

Dear Betty Draper Francis,

As I write this I’m live-streaming President Barack Obama’s Barnard College commencement speech on my laptop.

What’s a laptop? Imagine a typewriter that’s also a Sears catalogue that’s also a post office that’s also a high school yearbook. Oh, and in the dark before dawn, when the wind howls like a pack of rabid Dire Wolves and thunder claps like a thousand canon balls colliding in the ether, you can log on and look at pictures of cats wearing Halloween costumes.

As for Obama, it’s true: he’s of African descent. More importantly, he’s brilliant and beautiful and a supporter of gay marriage. I wish you were with me, Betty, watching the president tell the women of tomorrow that, yes, you can close the gap between life as it is and life as you want it to be. Read More »

9 COMMENTS