It’s too hot for golf, and catching up on Mad Men and Girls

by Rob Tiller

On Friday the temperature got up to Fahrenheit 105 here, setting a record. As happens periodically, I’ve been thinking lately about improving my golf game, and I was planning to do some practicing after work. My thought was to hit a 20 or so mid irons/hybrids, about the same number of three woods, then about the same number of drives. Then I thought I’d’d hit some finesse shots of thirty to sixty yards, some sand shots, some short chips, and some putts.

I enjoy swinging a golf club and watching the arc of the ball, and I don’t mind a bit of heat and sweat. But there comes a point somewhere in the high nineties when it’s just not fun anymore. I decided Friday was such a day, and cancelled the golf idea. Instead I went home and had one of Sally’s cocktails, a new recipe called Dirty Dick’s Downfall, involving Bombay Sapphire gin, dry vermouth, and Campari. It was delicious.

Lately we’ve been watching the early episodes of Mad Men, which we continued on Friday. We don’t watch much TV for the obvious reasons — it’s mostly dreck, we’re busy, and we usually have more interesting things to do. But after listening to enough interesting people make provocative comments about Mad Men, I decided to give it a chance. It still amazes me a bit that this is so easy with our little Roku box and streaming Netflix. We’re now up to episode 19 of the available 52.

The first thing I liked about Mad Men was the look. I was a kid in the early sixties, and the mise en scene take me back to when I was beginning to take shape as a personality. The clothes are spot on, as are the interiors and the ugly cars. The show reminds me of how much people smoked and drank — a lot! Smoking was, and is, a terrible habit, but the depiction seems true and evocative.

At first I had my doubts that a show about the advertising business could avoid boring clichés. I didn’t particularly like any of the characters, and the rampant sexism made me wince. But after a few episodes I began to see that beneath the gleaming, glamorous surface of the show there was another level. The writing and acting don’t call attention to this, and this is part of what I like. We are often unsure about the interior lives of the characters, which at first I took to be a failure, but I gradually came to see it as a conscious artistic strategy. Not all questions have answers. It’s bracing, and leaves room for imagination.

For all the boisterous high living, there is something fundamentally sad about the characters. Sadness is a part of normal life, of course, but is not usually visible or sustained on TV. This is part of what makes the show provocative. I don’t know if this eventually adds up to real tragedy, but even if it loses its way and flames out, it’s been worth watching.

Apropos of television, I’ll note one other show I thought well worth watching this season: Girls. The HBO comedy written and directed by and starring twenty-five-year-old Lena Dunham is about a group of young women living in Brooklyn. Dunham went to Oberlin, my alma mater, and I recognize something in her sensibility of my Oberlin and my early days in New York. It manages the amazing high wire act of being original and funny, at times scandalous, and at times undeniably true and moving. N.B., it is most definitely not suitable for children and may offend those offended by sexual subject matter.