The disinhibition of alcohol is a factor in Mad Man Don Draper’s genius, fictional though it may be. That is not to say that the cruel things it makes him do don’t far outweigh any benefit bestowed on his creative life, but booze does loosen the tongue. Don reserves his expressive gifts for those who can pay. When he staggers across the threshold of the home where people wait hopefully to receive expressions of his love, his drunken persona is terse, stern and withdrawn.
Word play was the eternal game in our home. No alcohol was required to fuel this fire – my parents’ craving for recognition supplied all the combustion necessary. Mom and Dad each had their version. My mother indulged in what I have come to call the Fantasy Business game, obsessively tweaking, out loud, names and tag lines for enterprises she hoped to start to further her creative ambitions. A walking thesaurus, my father could no more stem the urge to enjoin any given word with its synonym, than the sea could kiss the shore goodbye, adios, syonara.
Participation was mandatory. While other children were being trained to be mommies and daddies and well-adjusted capitalists, the Holy Grail in our home was never, never anything half so real or pragmatic as family or money. The quest, the mission, from which all graces flowed, was le mot juste. An unspoken belief as powerful as any religion, Marv & Barbara’s confidence that finding the right thing to say, and the right way to say it, would unleash some jackpot reward (of what, I can only guess), was touchingly innocent, and heart-breakingly misdirected.
These days, I find myself on that quest again, returning perhaps reflexively to the elusive promise of words. The stakes are deeply personal. Like a grain of sand wedged into the slippery folds of my consciousness, grief has elicited a need to describe where I am, made urgent by the fear of becoming even more lost. (Ironically, the search for what to say is as “found” as it is possible for me to feel.) The nacre of words both soothes and transcends the irritation, even as it hides the initial pain. Protective, secretive, the layers themselves are where the value lies, not the seed. The pearl reveals what has happened to the oyster, but we’ll never see that annoying pebble again.
And what’s next for the poor oyster, who dies giving up the pearl? Now there, Don Draper and I see eye to eye. Delicious with bourbon.