The punk rocker in me is viscerally opposed to anything that receives mass acclaim. Which is why it wasn’t until this summer that I got bit by the Mad Men bug. As always, I’m six years behind the times. On a hot summer day of cat sitting in Cobble Hill, my best friend (the Romy to my Michelle) and I decided to get with it and watch an episode of the slick AMC series about a New York City based Advertising Firm in the 1960s. Everyone’s panties were in a twist about the show and it was high time we found out why.
Five minutes in I was head over heels hooked! Jim Carroll junkie level hooked. From the moment I saw him, Don Draper represented so many things within myself that I both aspire to and so many things I deplore. In him I found an addiction that could not be pacified. I inhaled five seasons of MM in just a few weeks. Not since My So-Called Life, have I been so consumed by a world created on the small screen.
The first byproduct of my Man Med obsession was chain smoking. I’ve smoked on and off since the age of twelve, and was now full swing into a pack a day. My colossal vanity is aspirational and Don Draper is the king of sexy cool smoking. More so than James Dean, Keith Richards, and Lauren Bacall combined. His smoking is an emotional crutch, as well as a snapshot of the times. Don’s two pack a day habit is another symptom of the hole in his heart. And to this, I relate completely. Chronic throat pain aside, my increase in smoking led to a sharp decrease in appetite and before I knew it I was unintentionally dropping pounds fast.
Unlike Don Draper, I cannot hold my liquor and although my wine consumption was boosted it paled in comparison to Draper’s round the clock booze pounding. However, I did find myself indulging in a parade of vodka martinis when out socially. Without realizing it I had started to tap into the alcoholic trigger of my genetics. I was testing the waters and getting deeper and deeper in the red. All this because I wanted to keep Don Draper company and exercise some form of catharsis by watching myself destruct.
Like Draper, I am wounded but resilient. My childhood is a checkered web that reads like a magic realism novel. And although my upbringing wasn’t quite as Dickensian as Draper, there are strong enough parallels to make me profoundly attached to this character. I wanted to hurt like him, fuck like him, excel professionally like him. In short I wanted to emulate his bravado in any way I could without raising too many red flags.
The genius of Don Draper’s character is that despite the womanizing, the heavy drinking and whatever else, he is fundamentally a good person. If we are to define “a good person” as someone with the perpetual drive to better themselves. Don Draper has that drive. He is broken, fucked up in ways that are hard to articulate, but he is real. That is to say he goes to the dark places, tangos with his demons. I’d like to think that despite the horrible things I’ve done in my life and the people I’ve hurt, that I am still a good person. Don reminds me that it’s ok to be a wreck, as long as you keep pushing forward. Always ahead into some possibility of the future.
When Don Draper visits his then secretary Peggy Olson in the hospital and tells her to “move forward,” I felt as if Draper was holding me by the collar and shaking me like a ragdoll. When he says “It will shock you how much this never happened”, I believe him. I find the courage to forge ahead despite the ghosts of my past with the conviction that I can lock it all in a chest and start fresh. Denial? No. Simply a determination to live in the present regardless of the demons that lurk behind each drag of my cigarette.
Nathalia Perozo is a Chilean born poet and LGBT advocate. She received her MFA from The New School, and her BA in Comparative Literature from Queens College. Nathalia lives in New York City.