Friday, April 27, 2012

Roger in the Sky with Diamonds

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA


Handjobs. HoJos. Sugarcubes.

That was almost the title of this post. It refers to the most recent episode of Mad Men. If you have never seen the show, but know what LSD is, then you should keep reading. If you wandered over here by accident or got sent here via random google search for "Mormon Underwear" and you have a disdain for mind-altering drugs and Hollywood glorifying binge drinking and infidelity, then you should just get the fuck out of my office right now.

...

Great. Now, that the room has been cleared of zealots, gimps and interlopers, and the only ones remaining are supposed to be here: acid freaks, curious dilettantes, and hardcore fans of Mad Men.

I don't watch much television with the exception of sporting events, and even then, I'm watching more sports online than ever before. The few non-scripted shows in my diet are nothing more than junk food voyeurism -- rubbernecking (or dare I say, intellectually slumming) in the reality genre. I get sucked into programs focusing on people with serious mental disorders like Hoarders or Intervention. But, I don't watch very many scripted shows and the ones I do, I watch via DVR or find the episode online. In the glorious year of 2012, it's rare that I watch a show during its original airtime. Case in point: Mad Men. Heck, Nicky and I love it so much, we make an effort to watch the East Coast feed three hours earlier.

This season of Mad Men is only six episodes in and the creative team behind the show has already crossed several thresholds I didn't think would happen until next season, or at the least, toward the end of this season. The high-water mark for this season was set this past Sunday in "Far Away Places", and episode which includes the introduction of lysergic acid diethylamide... commonly known as LSD.

You can watch the scene here (hurry up, before the YouTube police take it down)...



* * *

The year in Mad Men's universe is 1966. LSD is still legal, although the government is on the verge of shutting down that portal. Anyone who braved a jump down the rabbit hole after 1967 was committing a crime. For a couple of decades, the government sent its own operatives down the proverbial rabbit hole including members of the military, government agents, and paid volunteers (like author Ken Kesey, who was a human guinea pig for all kinds of psychedelics that the CIA fed him). It's not what they saw that scared the government, rather, it's how people felt after they crawled back up through the rabbit hole and returned to Earth's normal atmosphere. Once you get a little taste of liquid sunshine, it's difficult to listen to all the lies, propaganda, and manipulation perpetrated by the mass media. The government and its overlords, Big Business, do not want an enlightened populous. It's easy to control the masses (and more importantly, to profit off of them) when they are fearful and somewhat dumb.

Roger Sterling becoming the first psychedelic warrior (from the show) has significant meaning. LSD is made illegal by paranoid elites whom fear the drug will weaken their power and prevent them from accumulating wealth. Madison Avenue and the advertising racket reached its pinnacle in the 1950s, led by a one-percenter like Roger, but as they lose control of the masses in the 1960s, they are haunted by fears that their entire old-world paradigm (the "Conform and buy stuff!" mentality of post-war Americana) is threatened by a mere existence of LSD. Just one tiny drop will cause ripples throughout the entire society. Once every teenager and confused twenty-something starts eating acid and succumbs to the empowering drug, they will immediately turn on their friends, and within a few months, an entire generation will wake up and question everything they've seen and experienced up until that point. The old guard wants to profit off of war, while the blossoming generation of flower power seeks to "make love, not war."

This is still 1966. The Summer of Love is less than a year away. Woodstock is less than three years away. LSD is not yet a household name. Only a handful of people know about it and even fewer know how to obtain it (or cook it up yourself).

Sure, there were people were experimenting with LSD on the West Coast, most notably Ken Kesey and his band of Merry Pranksters, who crisscrossed the nation offering to turn on whoever needed a spiritual boost. On the East Coast, LSD was still in the hands of intellectuals. The psychiatric community dabbled with LSD like they would any new wonder drug touted by medical journals. Some shrinks prescribed LSD to patients, especially those struggling with alcoholism. The academic scholars at northeastern universities were interested in LSD as a means to broaden their cosmic horizons. They often dropped LSD to engage in conversations, hoping that they could break on through to the other side of the human mind. That's the fundamental differences between the East Coast and West Coast mentality driving diverse experiments with the new-found drug. The East Coasters took LSD in rigid and academic environments as a way to move back the fences a bit, where as the West Coasters used LSD to blast through walls.

Kesey and the Merry Pranksters treated LSD as a spiritual gift from the gods. Taking LSD was a regarded as religious experience, as much as it was a free-form expression -- you surrendered to the flow and let LSD take you to far-away places, both in this physical realm and the field of collective consciousness, that many of us never knew existed before we take a leap of faith and jump down the rabbit hole.

Eating acid at an Upper East Side cocktail party is not my idea of a fun time. It's probably not the best place for Roger to have his first trip (like say a Rolling Stones concert), but that's how it happened. Who would've thought that Jane, the 20-something-year old the trophy wife of Roger, would lead him down the path toward enlightenment? She told him to clear his schedule so they could take LSD together, as advised by her therapist. Roger wanted to blow it off because it was torturous marriage counseling crap. He failed in an attempt to entice Don Draper to go on road/business trip to the original Howard Johnsons, so he had an excuse to blow off Jane and her snooty friends. Draper thinks the road trip is a great idea, but rejects Roger's offer to ride shotgun, instead taking his new bride with him instead of Roger.

Roger is stuck with his wife, whom he hates and vice versa. Roger is a solipsist and uses his wealth to accumulate whatever he wants including a nice office and a pretty, young bride. Jane, who is younger than Roger's daughter, is someone whom he has nothing in common with. Meanwhile, gold-digging Jane married him for his net worth, and not for his personality, and she's paying for her shallowness by getting stuck with a surly, misogynist drunkard.


During an uncomfortable elevator ride with his wife, she admits, "I should've worn something more comfortable."

She was adorned in gaudy jewelry. Her outfit was something more fit for the opera, not for someone who is about to get thrust out of a mental cannon.

"I don't want to take it alone," she admits. "This will be good for us."

She thinks it will save her marriage because her shrink has been professing the positive attributes of LSD. Roger is just along for the ride because he has nothing else to do aside from getting shitfaced and "yell at the television."

After the dinner party ends, only one other couple is brave enough to try LSD. Jane's shrink (played by the same actress who was the mother in My So-Called Life) also drops LSD with the guests. Her husband, who is also a shrink, acts as the sober guide for the evening. He explains to everyone there's nothing to be afraid about.

"Think of it as a boat trip," he assured Roger.

That explanation must have hit the spot with Roger, who is a sailor at heart, and spent most of his lost youth captaining his father's yacht around New England. During WWII, like all good men, Roger enlisted in the military and served in the navy during the Pacific theatre. To a man who has seen the horrors of war, a minor acid trip won't be very challenging -- unless he has an insane flashback.

Roger has always been the comedic relief of Mad Men. The show's writers fed Roger the best zingers and one-liners. When the LSD is distributed on sugar cubes, Roger shoves one into his mouth, and with the wit of a Catskills comedian, he turns to his wife and says: "You never say I don't take you anywhere."

Probably the most hysterical aspect of the "trip" involved the hand-written note that Roger carries around, just in case he gets lost, like your kid in the second grade on a field trip to the zoo...
My name is Roger Sterling
I have taken LSD
I live at 31 E 66th st #14A, NY, NY
PLEASE HELP ME.
I should get some of my friends on Phish tour to write similar notes. Heck, I should get all my friends to write notes like that when we go to Vegas.

Not one to get off on cerebral conversations, all Roger can muster up to the shrink is... "Well, Dr. Leary, I find your product boring."

He referred to LSD as a product. Ha, even tripping balls, Roger is still an ad man, something that he's unable to shake when he tries to kill time by thumbing through a copy of LIFE magazine while a Beach Boys song plays in the background. Roger is naturally drawn to the advertisements, because after all, that's his business. But it's in one of those ads, where he confronts one of his biggest fears -- aging. The ad has a guy with half-black and half-white hair. It's symbolic of the struggle between good and bad in the universe. The light and the dark. It also reminds Roger that he needs to embrace being an old, rich fart and to stop trying to be someone who is not him -- the younger, more virulent version of himself.


Roger glances into the mirror and sees an image that half his face and half of Don Draper's face. Draper represents everything Roger is not -- or represents something he once was. Even though Don is one of his best friends, he still has hang-ups over Don's talent as an ad man, Don's handsome looks, Don's drinking prowess, and Don's ability to bed hot chicks.

Just as Roger is about to freak out, the sober shrink gives him a piece of valuable advice.

"Don't look in the mirror."

Always wise, especially on a psychedelic drug with such a hard edge like LSD. Nothing is more horrifying then seeing what you look like when you're tripping balls. That's why LSD is really ideal for being in nature, or dancing all night at a dark concert.

But then again, that's what LSD really is... a way to look into your mental mirror without all the hang-ups of modern society including the bombardment of advertisements and constant reminders of inadequacy.

Roger turns to the bottle to help him adjust to his unusual surroundings. He unscrews a bottle of Stoli and he's greeted by a Russian orchestra. Booze is music for Roger. He's only normal when he's swimming in a symphony of liquor. I was hoping he'd open up other bottles and hear different types of music (like an Irish band for whiskey and a reggae band for rum). When Roger tries to smoke a cigarette, it instantly shrinks. Yes, he's tripping balls.

Although Roger is out of his mind, he's relatively cool with everything. For one, LSD is not meant for weak-minded people. If you have any sort of problems, it's going to be amplified by LSD. Roger had a few hang-ups about youth and finding a place in the world that he sees changing right before his eyes. Roger is a man of the 1940s, yet he tries to cling to those social mores of pre-war America, while refusing to adapt to the modern era of the 1960s. But despite all of his emotional baggage and the fact he's a bitter alcoholic, Roger is someone who is self-aware. He knows who Roger Sterling is and doesn't have to struggle trying to figure that tough part out. Maybe that's the primary reason Roger has a positive acid trip. He doesn't freak out when he sees the truth. It's just that he's used liquor over the last few years to stay drunk so he could cloud the truth.

Meanwhile, the other guests have become wasted cliches in what reminded me of a scene from a David Lynch film... one woman is crawling on all fours lamenting about death and Jane is clutching a yellow rose and crying hysterically yet proclaiming, "This place is so beautiful I don't want to leave."

Ah, this just came to me... I almost forgot about the scene where Roger pulls cash out of his wallet and tries to pay the cabbie, but he sees old Bert Cooper's ugly mug on his money instead of a dead President.


Once Roger and Jane return home, they retreat to the bathtub to ride out the rest of their trip. Jane is clearly still in that terrified stage when she's overwhelmed by... everything. She cowers in one corner of the tub, while Roger continues to just go with the flow. Roger is in the middle of a giggling fit, which is one of my favorite portions during the back-end of a psychedelic journey. Jane is an acid newbie and thinks Roger is laughing at her freaking out.

Nope. Just tripping balls.

Cut to the next scene: the two of them lying in robes on their living room floor and staring at the ceiling. Yep, they are definitely still buzzed, but re-entering Earth's orbit because Jane becomes a little more coherent and begins to ponder the universe.

"How can a few numbers contain all of time?" she says before she changes the subject. "I can feel your lips."

In vino veritas. That's a Latin phrase for "in wine, there is truth." Basically, it's hard to lie when you're drunk. But behind every funny quip, there's a semblance of truth. Roger is the one who often speaks the truth through his one-liners, probably because he's perpetually drunk in the office but it's the booze that allows the truth to bubble to the surface. Otherwise, his lines are useless and nothing more than drunken non sequiturs.

Roger and Jane break up as the truth of their unnatural pairing unravels in front of them. The CIA was originally interested in using LSD as a truth serum. They were convinced the KGB was using it on moles, marks and double agents. The LSD trip gave a Roger a chance to confront the glaring truths in his life that he was ignoring.

Next morning, Jane forgets about their truthful conversation. Jane was so wasted, Roger thought she was speaking German (it was Yiddish). She was out of her tits but totally forgot about that brief instant of common truth... when they agreed on an amicable split. When reality sets in, she realizes what a divorce really entails -- giving up the material comforts of being uber-wealthy. Roger, on the other hand, is completely relieved. He wants to live life without excess baggage. We shall see of his first acid trip has a profound effect on his life on future episodes.

Later that morning at the office, when Roger has a chance to tell everyone his marriage is over, he blurts out: "It's going to be a beautiful day!"

Ah, behold the powers of liquid sunshine.

* * *

Nicky and I had a conversation about LSD around the first episode of this season of Mad Men. She was convinced Peggy was going to be the first character to experiment with acid, but probably not until 1967, or the next season. The current season is set in 1966, at a time in America when marijuana is occurring more and more prevalent in the lives of the characters on the show -- joints are appearing more frequently at parties, back stage at a Rolling Stones concert, and even inside random movie theatres -- a locale where Peggy Olson got stoned to the gourd and then jacked off the guy who gave her the joint.

Grass is something synonymous with the 60s. Mad Men is synonymous with hardcore drinking... during work hours. As the nation becomes engulfed in counterculture toward the latter part of the decade, people unwind differently. It's not just booze and cigarettes anymore. The floodgates opened and people began to dabble, experiment, and numb themselves with street drugs and pharmaceutical drugs. A couple of episodes ago, one character, Henry Francis' overbearing mother Pauline (with shades of Tony Soprano's batshit crazy mother coupled with the menacing reptile-like vibe of Hillary Clinton) began pushing pills on both Betty and Sally.

When the once-desirable Betty Draper got re-married and sloth bogged her down, she blossomed into Fat Betty Francis -- a despondent housewife sitting on her ass, chomping down bonbons and eating ice cream sundaes. Her evil mother-in-law (the personification of the manipulative pharmaceutical industry) told her to see a doctor in order to get prescribed diet pills which will help her shed her excess blubber.

Then there's the now infamous scene when the evil step-Grandma Pauline gave a distressed Sally a Secanol so she could fall asleep. Shit, Seconal is some heavy stuff... especially for an 10-year old girl. Junkie jazz musicians regularly popped Seconals when they couldn't score heroin.

We knew LSD was coming. But how would it be introduced? Was Peggy going to be the first one to dose via her radical hippie boyfriend? Was Harry going to stumble upon an acid test during a business trip to Hollywood? Was Don going to get dragged to a Kool-aid party in the Village with Megan and her bohemian friends? Was Ken going to score some LSD through his nom-de-plume Dave Algonquin? Was someone going to dose Pete Campbell and he'd strip naked, and run down Madison Avenue crying about how he doesn't have any friends?

"Which one of you stinkin' hippies has a sugarcube?"

Peggy. She's represents the youthful exuberance of the 1960s. How could you not think Peggy was the favorite to trip first? That's why I was shocked when Roger Sterling of all people was the first character to take a plunge off the high dive into the psychedelic waters.

Anyway, after crunching some numbers, I devised odds who will be the next character to eat acid...
Odds for Next LSD Trip on Mad Men:
Peggy Olson 1/2
Roger Sterling EVEN
Megan Draper 2/1
Ken Cosgrove 9/2
Pete Campbell 5/1 **
Harry Crane 6/1
Stan Rizzo 7/1
Don Draper 10/1
Bert Cooper 15/1
Lane Pryce 25/1
Duck Philips 30/1
Fat Betty Francis 40/1
Ginsberg 50/1
Sally Draper 60/1
Evil Grandmother Pauline 80/1
Joan Holloway 100/1
Dawn 100/1
Bobby Draper 500/1
Old Man Ginsberg 750/1
Baby Gene 1000/1

** If/when Pete takes LSD, he will be dosed.

3 comments:

  1. guessing lane campbell can be crossed of this list...

    ReplyDelete
  2. I stumbled on this site will searching on the phrase "elevator indicator" and I only have one question... Who ARE you?

    ReplyDelete