Writing Mad Men

My husband and I were talking yesterday about the powerful visual and aural story that the show Mad Men puts on the small screen. We got to talking about one scene from the first season in particular, where Joan and Roger are at the St. Regis Hotel, and she realizes that the relationship is not what she had wanted. There’s a very powerful feeling of loneliness and alienation conveyed, especially in the final scene, where they are standing apart in front of the hotel as though they don’t know each other. The Big M asked, “How could you set that scene in a book?”

“I don’t know,” I responded. But I thought it was a very interesting exercise, so I decided to give it a try.

Hope you enjoy it.


She sat on the end of the bed waiting for Roger to finish his cigarette and zip her up. In front of her a few of the slim, metal bars of his gift peeped out from the white sheet covering it. The parakeet within twittered. She repressed a shudder and sat up straighter.

“You have a lot of rules, Red,” he had told her. She did, and she had followed them all. From her first day she had been the Brigitte Bardot of the office, all curves and sultry confidence. As she walked, her almost palpable wake of sexuality pushed aside the boys of Sterling Cooper, keeping her always, just barely, out of reach. They salivated for her attention, their tongues practically hanging out like cartoon wolves. She talked to them. She smiled at them as though they were intimate friends. But she never let them touch her. She had bigger plans.

Roger Sterling had been her plan. He was handsome, rich, powerful, and unhappy in his marriage. She was the new 1960 model, the Calamine lotion to his midlife itch. She had worked him for over a year before making her move, had been working him still.

Everything had been on her terms. She would see other men. She would not make last-minute plans. No apartment visits. They would meet at the St. Regis Hotel. She would leave with what she had brought, plus his gifts of jewelry. It was all very neat and simple, and it was designed to build tension until he could no longer stand to live without her.

“This has been the best year of my life, Red,” he had told her on their previous afternoon together. “Before I met you I was so unhappy I was thinking of leaving my wife.”

She had been leaning against him as he said this, letting him zip up her dress, and she had reached up a hand and playfully smacked him on the cheek. He had laughed. He was always joking. It was one of the things she liked about him.

He had suggested then that he might get her an apartment. It would be a fourth-floor walkup with no doors or windows so that only he could get in. He wanted her all to himself. Her heart had leapt, but she had smiled demurely. She had known she was getting close, and she hadn’t wanted to spook him.

Carefully, she had explained the rules again. She was setting the hook. They had made love then, the carefully zippered dress just as carelessly removed.

Now she sat rigidly as he knelt behind her on the perfectly white down-filled duvet and zipped her up. He kissed her neck, his afternoon stubble grazing her skin, and the smell of cigarettes, brandy, and European cologne that combined meant Roger to her overwhelmed her. She swallowed hard, and looked away from the birdcage.

She was as neatly trapped as the tiny parakeet. Roger had told her today that he would never leave his wife.

“You want to go first?” he asked.

She nodded, not trusting her voice not to quiver. She stood up and carefully smoothed her dress, then picked up her handbag and walked to the door.

“Don’t forget that.” He glanced at the cage.

She nodded again and picked it up. It was bulky but surprisingly light. She carried it through the mahogany and gilt hallway and onto the marble elevator.

“Ground floor, ma’am?” the elevator operator asked. She nodded, and straightened up, ignoring the reflection of metal bars on the mirrored door in front of her.

Outside the St. Regis she waited at the taxi stand, her figure a rosy Raphael painting of quiet dignity against the golden background. A few seconds later Roger walked out and over to the opposite side. He lit a cigarette.

She chanced a look at him, but he was staring off into the distance, a businessman waiting for a cab after a business lunch.

Thirty minutes before, they had been joined together. Now they stood fifty feet apart as though they didn’t know each other.

And she realized that it was true.

Categories: Fiction


4 replies

  1. You could do pretty well as a writer. You did one thing that most amateurs and even some professionals forget, and that is that we all have five senses. Too many writers out there focus on two senses – sight and sound – because they are the easiest to evoke and describe. Scent and touch, however, tend to have far more powerful responses. (Taste is, well, a special case.) Sight and sound is a television. Scent and touch grab you and pull you into the room.

    Good job!

  2. Wow, I am so impressed. I love that you even took on this self-appointed task — and then did such a great job with it. I doubt I would have caught on to the birdcage/prison metaphor by watching it on TV. But it came across so strong in your writing.

  3. I love this post. I remember that scene from Mad Men and how you could actually feel the change in her perception of their relationship. Love your take on it! Amazing word images…wow..

  4. Thanks for the nice comments!

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