The ladies of Mad Men strike me as chums of Parker's protagonists.
Sure, polarizing figures evoke disdain. Whether third-world dictators, Hollywood socialites, or Dallas Cowboy wide receivers, when they stir the pot, America listens. The "Behind the True Hollywood Story" what-have-you covers their lives following their time in the limelight.
But what happens to the blips? The blahs. The nothings. The never-stood-a-chances. We all run across people who seem nice on the surface, very pleasant, kind, but slightly boring. Well, if telling the whole truth, they’re really boring. Other than pleasantries and generic common interests, no depth exists. I mean, how many times can you talk about the weather, inoffensive politics, mundane sports, etc.? Who really gives a fuck about what’s the proper stud needed in a standard household wall? These innocuous conversations don’t harm anyone on the surface, but really bore me to hell.
But we engage in them; pleasantries – despite root canal similarities – persist. No one gets harmed, and we go about our days. Then we, eventually (and sometimes thankfully), fall out of touch. Maybe a casual run-in at a convenient store or shopping mall transpires, but no scheduled meeting occurs. All parties benefit from the conversational exile – both the boring and the bored. But what lies in store for our forgotten almost-friends?
In my mind, that’s what the short story "The Standard of Living" by Dorothy Parker addresses. Simply, the narrative finds out what happens to the forgotten near-chums. It follows two bland if not slightly attractive (or slutty) friends who work as stenographers in post-World War II Manhattan. I picture the assistants that come on to the advertising executives in Mad Men, but with no emotional depth (meaning, these women don’t hold higher aspirations than serving as floozies).
Lacking an action-packed narrative arc, "The Standard of Living" deals with gluttonous, near-Gatsby gals and a Saturday-afternoon pallor game they play. The question: What would you buy if you had a million dollars? These ladies aren’t buying lots of macaroni and cheese, either (sorry Bare Naked Ladies). No, these dames – a term used in its most accurate way possible – possess a taste for the finer things: mink stoles, elegant pearl necklaces, perfume from Chesarie cats, you get the idea.
And the best part is the catch: you can’t do anything nice for others. As soon as you try to donate the money to an AIDS clinic or rescue adopted kittens or make sure the nuns in the Blues Brothers can run a school, it all disappears. The game’s purpose: act as entirely selfish as you possibly can.
Parker doesn’t fuck around with depth to these characters because there isn’t any. They want the best of the best and are chastised for acting altruistic in any way. The stories real purpose is about facing your fantasies and the world being harder (and more expensive) than you’d imagine, but I don’t care about that. Maybe I’m a lot like the Parker’s plump protagonists. I want what I can’t own, and I want to fantasize about it.
I mean, a million dollars is lot of money. It’s not what it used to be – a fact Parker alludes too – but if Regis Philbin digs it, I can too. I’d love a beach house, but that’s too ordinary – common as the ladies would say. Besides, an average beach house, even in today’s shitty economy, costs a few million. Once again, like the ladies in the story I won’t allow reality to sway my spending. Guitars cost some big bucks, but not to an excessive point. Easily, I can buy four brand new or vintage guitars (I’ll spare the axe-swooning details), and still comfortably count $950,000 in my pocket – a pretty liberal estimate. Sounds good for purchase number one.
How about a buffalo chicken factory? I love buffalo chicken, why not own a place that can serve me buffalo chicken all day, every day. Sounds good to me. I wouldn’t really want to get involved in all the murdering details, but as long as there’s some freshly-slaughtered yet delicious buffalo chicken, I’ll survive. That leaves me with like $100,000, give or take (Let’s all assume buffalo chicken factories cost $800,000).
Slowly these evolved into a genii’s three wishes, but so be it. I got a hundred grand to work with, and I’m going to make it count. I mean, season tickets to the Phillies or Eagles would be sweet. So would a private miniature golf club in my backyard. But, I really love my family. So I think a group trip to Ireland would make us all happy. There we could…
Wait, I didn’t mean it like that. They’d all be there supporting me. Any fun they partake in is purely supplemental. It’s still totally selfish. Oh come on. How could I go there by myself? You mean I LOSE IT ALL!
Maybe, I should have stuck to mink stoles like the Manhattan ladies.