The Gate Crasher: Mad Men, Numb Women

The Gate Crasher tries on "retro-sexuality" for a night

Building relationships with society magnates during a meaningful time in a girl’s life, thrilling as it may sound, can be a tedious process. Violent outbursts of laughter, elaborate scenes and whiffs of scandal become rights of passage, as well as occasions for endless boasting and the foundation for tomorrow’s traumas.

In Vienna, few places convey that true sense of belonging (although most prefer to pretend they belong anywhere) like the Volksgarten, where I was going for yet another night of make-believe. It was the 50th anniversary of the Volksgarten Pavillion, to be celebrated with a 1960s party themed after the TV series Mad Men.

“Hey, Cristina?” ventured my friend Roger, a sworn but gallant adherent to the concept “don’t worry your pretty little head about it, dear.”

“Yes?”

“You won’t mind if, when we get to the Mad Men party, I act like a bit of a sexist – you know, ask you to swing your fanny down to the bar and get me an Old Fashioned, and then watch you while you walk away – will you?”

This bash was going to be right up his alley.

“I expect nothing less,” I said, in all seriousness. But what I really meant to say was that I expected nothing at all. My living arrangements, far from ideal, were starting to take their toll on my well-being – both physical and mental.

As I swung from one couch to another, carrying a set of spare clothes, a charger and the occasional pocket knife in my bag, I reminded myself I shouldn’t take myself so seriously, that I disliked people who did, and that something, at some point, would have to give.

Home is where your toothbrush is, I always say –  in my case, this turns out to be anywhere.

The only times I actually did get to the place where my suitcase was, which hadn’t been unpacked in months, was for me to paint my nails red and change perfumes for a night – as though “dolling up” would keep me together while everything around me crumbled. Dinner parties, invitations, freshening up in pub restrooms and department store changing booths were all leading me to the end of endurance; I began to surrender to a constant state of weariness and got closer to feeling numb.

But surely a night spent among suave men with pumping egos would help render me clever again. So I made myself presentable and headed toward the place where everyone would be doing precisely what I was doing: Pretending to be someone else.

The crowd outside the venue was dense, exhilarated. It was divided into two groups: Those who came to party in their own times, and the rest of us, with an ardent desire to escape them. The 1960s office girls and stay-at-home wives vs. the emancipated millennium playmates – now that’s a scuffle with serious implications.

I entered, and at a remote table, I spotted my friends: All gentlemen of noticeable refinement and taste, and shenanigan professionals all. We exchanged courtesies – “Looking sharp”; “No, you do”; “Oh, you flatter me”; “Let’s get a drink, already!” not in that particular order – and I took a seat. I was the only woman in a group of well-turned-out men; A few girls had eyes on them, and I felt strangely proud. Among the cigarette cases, bow ties, hats and suspenders, I found myself surrounded by big boys’ toys and witty remarks tossed around the table. Mad Men-style, I downed my Martini in two sips.

Pivoting their knee-length garments to Wanda Jackson’s “Funnel of Love”, fanciful and romantic, ladies were diving right into the game.

“Thanks for finally making me feel like a woman,” I overheard one say, quickly followed by a playful “Buy me a drink?”

“Nicely wheeled,” I thought; I can appreciate a sister’s game. Even if you do tell the truth, they won’t believe you, so you might as well tell them what they want to hear, and get a free drink.

“Cristina, when are you going to take that damn jacket off to show us the dress?”

I thought of my suitcase, the 10 minutes on public transport it took to put on my Hollywood slum face, and smiled. And how long did it take him to get ready? Turns out Roger had even done some prior shopping for the occasion. Now his feet were killing him in his new shoes. But supporting what he calls the “single greatest philosophical idea of the 20th century” hurts.

I suddenly felt lost, not remembering which role I was supposed to play. My alter ego of the 1960s escapade had gotten lost somewhere in the night and in the process, I recalled the words of Don Draper, maddest of the Mad Men:“I hate to break it to you, but there is no big lie; there is no system; the universe is indifferent.”

Suddenly, I wanted to be gone. Like Don, I was only interested in the beginning of things. Around me, people teetered in and out of character, struggling to choose a personality for the night. It’s okay, I thought, the traumatized children of today are the Mad Men of tomorrow.

“Where are you going?“ someone asked.

“A lady never tells,“ I answered.

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