Elevators and Aprons

LIKE many, I’m feeling bereft. “Draperless.”
How do 13 weeks race by in such fast-forward fashion?
This season’s Mad Men was filled with grist and grit as it side-swiped the abstracts of “equality” and “change.” (Something’s coming, rounding the corner: Pete Campbell’s turtleneck promises so.)

Hollis, Sterling-Cooper’s Sphinx-like elevator operator, and Carla, Don and Betty Draper’s unflappable maid, have been floating in the background for three seasons adding social tension to the pastel landscape.

Remarkably, they’ve done it in near silence: Hollis couldn’t have uttered more than 100 words; Carla, perhaps just a score or so more.

No matter. Much of their bewilderment, frustration, anger (often bemusement) is communicated through eloquent body language — Hollis’ steely stare into the middle distance of closed elevator doors as blustering admen fill up the small space with hot air, Carla’s flash of a glare when Betty remarks about the Civil Rights Movement, “Maybe, it’s not time for it happen .” This is only moments after Carla, upon Betty’s arrival home, has quickly silenced the radio news report about the four little girls who lost their lives in the 1963 Birmingham, Alabama church bombing. Carla’s body language — tightened shoulders, a trace of a wince — telegraphs layers. It was bad enough to absorb the reportage, the nightmare in broad daylight, but even worse it would be to stand and listen along side Betty’s dispensing of perfumed platitudes in her tidy knot-wood kitchen.

Earlier in the season, Hollis tamped-down emotions of his own when Pete Campbell asks about what brand of TV he owned. Hollis crisply answers, “RCA.” In turn, Pete informs him: “A lot of Negroes prefer Admiral.” Hollis stares dead ahead.

Hollis and Carla’s world is about to change. Everything will shatter. The fissure will open wider. Something new will step out of it; a new day born. Looking back from the perch of the future, we know, there will be more bad before good, but too much has transpired to say “it isn’t the time.” Until that moment, Hollis and Carla will continue to avert their eyes and stifle what’s thumping deep inside, at the core.

I know Hollis and Carla. They’ve sat across from me at Thanksgiving; they taught me how to crochet; they told long, winding stories sitting in their own easy chair with a high-ball glass in hand; they brought oversized plush-toy ducks in lavender top hats for Easter and Scotch-plaid jumpers (just like daughter Sally Draper’s), for Christmas.
So when I look at those eyes, beyond the masks they wear, I know the anecdotes they will spin when they are cooking in the culture-comfort of their own warm kitchens. The elevators and aprons tucked aside; quite soon, memories.


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