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Monday, November 22, 2010

Ironing and Mad Men

So I'm ironing some shirts, his and mine, and threw the first season DVD into the TV, episode one.

And there's something really nice about ironing, something about the heat of the iron and the scent of the starch, and the instant gratification of seeing order come out of wrinkly chaos.

And there's something boring that makes me feel antsy, there's four -- FOUR -- shirts hanging there, and it's the detail that so time-consuming, the points of the collar, the cuffs, between the buttons

Yet once you give yourself over to the task -- take a deep breath, accept that each shirt is going to take five or six minutes each, remind yourself that this is the task of the moment -- it becomes, well, not so bad.

And through all the shirts, I'm watching Don Draper macho his way through the first episode, the calm condescension to the African-American waiter, the way he uses his mistress for fun and profit, and when he gets into work late the next morning, the way he pulls a blindingly white laundered shirt from his desk drawer and changes clothes in his office.

Later, Joan gives Peggy a lesson on how to be a secretary, and it includes how to take care of her boss. Have a needle and thread handy. A fifth of something. Bandaids. Be something between a nurse and a wife.

I guess, as I'm standing there ironing, I'm being a wife. But one of the shirts was really a blouse; it's mine, to wear to work tomorrow. Maybe I'm being my own wife.

Which is the difference between me and the 'girls' on Mad Men. I never had to learn the lessons Peggy does. No one ever had to 'train' me the way Joan does Peggy. Peggy learns the lesson, but soon discovers she wants more. She -- graduate of a secretarial school -- wants the office, and proceeds to work her way up to one. Me -- a college graduate -- never gave a thought to being a secretary. I was an editor from the start.

It's November 22 -- President Kennedy died today, 47 years ago. I'd just turned 8. The world I'm watching on Mad Men died that day too, although it took most of the '60s to realize it. Those of my certain age watched it implode throughout our childhoods.

Forty-seven years has not expunged the tedium of ironing, nor the chaos that ensues when society rearranges itself. But the fallout: When I iron, it's by choice, and for myself; I could just as easily drive by the dry cleaner. And I don't measure my worth by my ironing. Maybe that's the biggest difference between me and Peggy, or me and Don Draper.

A clearer perception of my place in the universe, and my own, and everyone else's, acceptance of it, whatever that may be.

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