|A bar in your office -- why it's good to be king|
|Office parties done right|
"Television is our friend. Nothing else gives so much and demands so little."
"Why are you reading a book when you can watch television??"
-- Homer Simpson
In some brick-and-mortar or online institution of learning, or more probably at Greendale Community College, there should be a course titled Things You Can Learn From Television. TV writers know more than you do (the first time I heard of real estate "flipping" was on "Will and Grace"), so we should be paying attention. Commercials provide plenty of time for getting snacks and bathroom breaks and checking stuff out on Google, so they've made it easy.
Life isn't much like soap operas ("Dallas") or those three-couple sitcoms (i.e., "Friends" and about a hundred others), so you have to look discriminatingly for programming that might stimulate those curious regions of your brain. But get ready for April 7, when another season of "Mad Men" begins on AMC. The people behind MM are sticklers for precise historical/societal detail and very careful costume and set design. Jeez, even as a kid I thought those foam rocks, screamingly bright lights and impossibly ironed clothes on the "Lone Ranger" were just too fake to get into. Family comedies back then were formulaic, as realistic as rubber-suit monsters, and always had the little annoying moral at the end. Even at eight years old, I thought: there is nothing to learn here. Then the next day you go to to school in the real world and come to the same conclusion. Same old, same old.
Well, we grew up skeptical but now we have, among the 900 channels of mind-numbing trash, some programs that -- while still made under the squishy rules of television -- invite you into complex worlds you may only know a little about. I've always wanted to know more about the culture of the adult American world of the early '60s that I saw bits of but was too young to understand. Despite being lost in the far ends of suburbia, my parents were involved in the Mad Men world a little, through Dad's work. A downtown club membership came with company rank, and it seemed they came alive and were actually interesting when traveling in that orbit. They had a classy stainless steel bar set and real glass swizzle sticks (why do I remember this stuff but nothing I was supposed to learn?), and an impressive "hi fi," as it was called then. When they got dressed up on Saturday night and had joke-telling adult friends over, I peered from the top of the stairs and thought, "now that looks like fun." The setting lacked any urban cool, our mid-century furniture was sad, and it wasn't powerful Don Draper and the pinnacle of social and business power in Manhattan, but hey.
So I fill in the blanks with "Mad Men" which has led to digging further into the culture of the era, including at least six pages of notes on favorite drinks of the time and the bar technicalities involved. While I know something about the politics and music, I really didn't know much about powerful drinks* because I have to admit we've always enjoyed craft beer and wine (another subject you can spend years exploring) but not spirits. Our friends Jim and Kelly sort of introduced us, as they're fans of rum and martinis, respectively. Back in the MM days, the drinks were clearly divided on the lines of masculine and feminine and social class. Even though I'm interested to find out about it, I wouldn't have liked what they did at the time. Neckties six days a week? Nah. Smoking constantly? Hell no. For manly men, the standards were the classic gin martini, old fashioned, manhattan and whiskey sour. Now the last one is all right, but the gin and bourbon in the other three, forget it. I've tried one of the finest bourbons, Woodford Reserve, and despite its beautiful color and aroma it tastes like a petrochemical. But as I have found out recently, the gin martini that my parents' generation loved so much has been replaced by a few hundred very interesting vodka-based ones. Now where's that conga line?
*As Dorothy Parker quipped,
I like to have a martini;
Two, at the very most.
After three, I'm under the table;
After four, I'm under my host.