Wednesday, April 10, 2013

If my life were like MAD MEN

I watch MAD MEN and enjoy it. Then I read Alan Sepinwall’s recap and realize, “Holy shit! I missed half of what was going on!"  There was all this symbolism and existential meaning and I was concentrating on whether we’d see Megan naked.  Matthew Weiner writes on numerous levels and I marvel at Alan’s ability to analyze each one.  But it got me wondering – what if my life were like MAD MEN?

I went down to the beach for what I thought was lunch. But really I was trying to recapture my youth. It harkens back to the day in 1989 when, during a WINGS rewrite, I turned to Steve Levitan and said “I used to go to the beach all the time as a kid.” Not coincidentally, that particular WINGS episode had a moment where Joe ordered a sandwich from Helen.

For lunch at the beach – I had a sandwich.

The only question is – did Helen represent my mother? Or Manuel who makes sandwiches at the Apple Pan? Or Helen Dukoraniweiz, a girl I once sat next to on a bus? Sometimes there are no clear answers in my life.

The following day I was in the Hamburger Hamlet in Van Nuys, unbeknownst to me celebrating or mourning the passage of time as I did at the beach, thus perpetuating that theme, when I bumped into an old friend from my radio days.  She said, “Hi Beaver” reminding me that I had two identities. To the world today I’m known as Ken Levine, but back then as a disc jockey, I answered to the name Beaver Cleaver. A chill went up my spine as a deep dark secret suddenly resurfaced. There had been a Beaver Cleaver. I had taken his name. And all the time I used it I lived in mortal fear that I would be discovered… and sued. I was living a lie, and not even making good money.

For a long time I kept this from my wife. And then one night she broke into my desk. And there they were. KYA surveys with my picture. Airchecks of me on WDRQ playing more of Detroit’s rock and soul. I explained it was a past life. Beaver Cleaver was dead. Well, not the real Beaver Cleaver but the persona Beaver Cleaver. She accepted that but asked why I picked such an utterly stupid name? I don’t know. Sometimes there are no clear answers in my life.

My radio friend’s name was Helen. Wait, could that be the Helen who made Joe his sandwich? She said I was sort of her mentor. At first she was very timid. It was hard for a woman to break into primarily a man’s business. But as time went on she became more confident, and eventually she took on the style and characteristics of me. She would have changed her name to Beaver except for… well, you know.

I had dinner that night at the Apple Pan with my daughter, Annie. Her real name is Diana. New theme: we all have dual identities. But does that theme clash with the other theme that we all long for the past (if in fact that was the other theme – I know it had something to do with reflection)?

I remember the day Annie came to work with me. It was last Friday when we both helped punch up a pilot. I thought back to how she has changed over the years – how she’s developed from a little girl into a lovely young woman, and how I’m still pitching the same jokes. In fact, the joke I pitched for that WINGS scene that was rejected made it into the pilot.

Later that night I was sitting at a bar at the Courtyard by Marriott in Century City (no significance, I just get points toward a free room) feeling sorry for myself. Did that joke mean all of our past experiences are valuable and will at some time be called upon? Or does it mean that I’m just a hack? Sometimes there are no clear answers in my life. Jesus, I’ve even started repeating sentences.

A mysterious woman sat down next to me. She ordered a martini and the chicken wings appetizer. WINGS? She noticed I was depressed even though I said nothing. But my crying might have been a tip off.  She said, “Are you sad because you’re lonely?” No. “Sad because you’re getting older?” No, but thanks for bringing that up. “Sad because you’re in need of sex?” No, unless that’s an offer. “Sad because there’s ultimately no meaning? No. “Then what is it?”

I took a drink, thought back to the beach and the pilot and my daughter and all the other clues and suddenly it became crystal clear.  I didn't need to join some crackpot artist colony in Palm Springs or have seven affairs.   The existential answer made itself visible to me.  Here's what I realized:

This is the type of article that would be perfect for the New Yorker’s “Shouts & Murmurs” feature but they never even respond to my submissions.

At that point the PA began to play "Hooked on a Feeling" by David Hasselhoff . I have no idea why.  And then the lights went out but the song kept playing.  This is tough to take every week. 


Chris Santucci said...

Very nice, Ken. At this point, I thinking of renaming the show to "Sad Men".

Madame Duchery said...

I truly laughed. Good job.

VincentS said...

That reminds me of the story from THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE. Frank Sinatra was de(re?)-brainwashing Lawrence Harvey and when the camera was on Sinatra his face was out of focus. All the critics complimented the choice. They said that Sinatra's face was out of focus was because he was being seen from Lawrence Harvey's distorted point of view, that this face was out of focus but his the oak-leaves on his uniform was in focus to symbolize how all countries' military deindividualizes, etc. Then the director admitted that the reason was that the focus puller screwed up and Sinatra's performances weren't as good on the subsequent takes so they just decided to use that one.

Charlie O'Brien said...

Ken, it easily have been a pilot for a show I would truly watch.
Thanks for working in a WDFQ reference as I worked across the street at CKLW - so even more reasons to be sad and miss a time gone by.
I was feeling OK - but now you've made me thoughtful and pensive. That feeling may go away, after I eat a sandwich at lunch.

JT Anthony said...

Cheers to Ken for yet another mish-Mash of deep thoughts. I'd like to Volunteer reasons not to dispare and it's this, Everyone Loves Ken! Let your Wings soar, fully knowing that some of your readers think your posts are Almost Perfect! Perhaps if you let some things into your life, like Karma, & Beg for some sort of forgiveness from the universe, then maybe you'll stop thinking, "Where The Hell Am I in this big world."
Take note: your work has reached an incredible cross-section of people--lay and religious--from Mariners to Padres across the entire US. Some claim you've even made the Orioles on the east coast chirp a little louder.
You've entertained us for all seasons too: in winter--when us gentiles get our Frasier trees for Christmas--to summer--when Beavers use their teeth as Cleavers to make their homes.
Be assured that your work will live on in our collective consciousness as we will always be reminded of your contributions whenever the networks show reruns of The Simpsons.

David from Boston said...

Ken, why do we love this show so much when there is not a single like-able character? (Admittedly, I am only just starting out on my MM journey, having just gotten seasons 1-3 on DVD, do they introduce anyone to root for?)

jbryant said...

Loved the way you paralleled Beaver and Dick (um, Whitman).

Just curious--does everybody at that Marriott bar know your name?

Anonymous said...

LOL! I have to watch Mad Men, read the critics' analyses and then watch the show again. A LOT gets past me. Julie, Burlington, Iowa

Tony C said...

Awesome. Fun read. That was the first Mad Men premier that I flat-out didn't like. After it was over the terms "pretentious" "self-indulgent" "boring" and "same old crap" all sprung to mind. Glad someone had the balls to skewer it.

Eric said...

Next week on Ken Levine:

"I'll have the Pastrami."

"Did you see the traffic today?"

"We're almost out of milk."

"I gotta use the bathroom."

James said...

I always meant to ask you this for Friday questions; this is as good a time as any. Were you ever interested in writing an episode of Mad Men? It's not sit-com, but it has a lot of humor, it's character-directed, and it would offer an opportunity to write in a longer, deeper form without worrying about 30 seconds going by without a laugh. You were already a version of it for MASH, so it's not completely foreign to you.

PG said...

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.....or something like that.
I also can't believe that you don't get grabbed up by the New Yorker when they are so eager to publish the drivel churned out by Lena Dunham about "puppies"!
Maybe you just need to get naked in public.

deanareeno said...

@David Kruh "do they introduce anyone to root for?"

Sally Draper. I hope that kid turns out OK.

Mike McCann said...


You win the audition to be Ken's new promo voice.

Peter Aparicio said...

Hi Ken, I have what I think is an EXCELLENT idea for a (yuck!) reality show. Whjat do I do with an idea? How would I package it? Sell it? To whom? Help!

Breadbaker said...

Ken, do you see the parallels? You checked into a Courtyard by Marriott because you needed the points. Mitt Romney is named for the founder of Marriott. He didn't get enough points to be President.

It's plain as day. There are no points, just Sheratons and Hiltons, both of which have given Don Draper and his then wife free rooms in exotic locales. Proving that he lives a better life than you or Mitt Romney. Or me. Or anyone.

Barry Gilpin said...

@David Kruh Do you not root for Peggy most of the time? Sure, she's made mistakes along the way, but she seems to be the most humanized of all the characters.

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Kathleen said...

My stomach hurts and I'm in tears because I've been laughing so hard. That was brilliant, Ken. Thanks so much.

chuckcd said...

And sometimes a banana is just a banana...

thomas tucker said...

This sounds like it could come straight out of the old Woody Allen book "Without Feathers", which was hilarious.

XJill said...

@ David - I agree with B. Gilp, Peggy is the "rootable" one.

One thing I've always thought was hilarious is MW's interviews / BTS where he explains what a scene "means" and more often than not it's totally the opposite of what I took from it. I like Mad Men but sometimes it's all just a bit too pompous for its own good. So this piece is a great much needed laugh.