Monday, April 27, 2015

Archive of Recent Writing

(Note: Are you seeing weird, translucent pictures in this layout that don't connect to the post?  Me too.  I can't figure them out.  Please advise if you know much about Blogger formatting)



I had three things in common with Claudene Christian.  We were at USC at the same time, when she was a campus-famous Song Girl.  She was raised in Anchorage, Alaska and, when I was eventually stationed there, many of the friends I made had been her friends in high school.  And, knowing something about ocean rescues from helicopters, I felt connected to the Coast Guard crews who went to save her crew from the sinking Bounty during Hurricane Sandy, bringing home 14 but only recovering Christian's body. In the months after Bounty, I could not stop wondering how a woman with such a background could possibly have ended up on a leaky wooden boat in a hurricane 100 miles off the coast of North Carolina.
   My first major magazine feature and return to writing after Pararescue.

Four small stories for Esquire's Year End
"Toughest of 2015"

Proud of this one. As a Delta Force soldier, MSGT Josh Wheeler lived in secret, but his final pictures in his uniform tell his story if you know how to listen.

The Hero: Florent Groberg, Medal of Honor

Naturalized American citizen in 12th grade, Medal of Honor recipient. Interview transcript with insanely down to earth and cool dude.

The Groundbreakers: Shaye Haver and Kristen Greist

Sometimes, you get the assignment and you are so psyched because the subject is great. And then sometimes nobody calls you back. Not bad for a write-around.

Very happy to be writing and developing stories for the WaPo's Checkpoint Blog.  My first:

How the First Women Ranger Grads Are Inspiring Women At West Point 

The genesis of the story above was a feature I wrote on the Army Lacrosse team for Lacrosse Magazine.  Covers some of the same territory, more specific to the sport:
The Warrior Ethos 

(more after jump)

Friday, April 24, 2015

"Goodbye, Goodbye, Goodbye" - More hidden Mad Men

Daydream believers.
Few elements of Mad Men receive more regular scrutiny than the choice of final music that the show's creative team puts over the final credits of each episode.  Each selection is assumed to hold a deep message about a character, the episode just concluded or the series itself.
   How, then, did everyone miss this one?
   "The Quality of Mercy" (the MASH ep) closes with a trippy, psychedelic anthem called the "Porpoise Song" by the Monkees. The song fits the late-60s setting of Mad Men's 6th season and the slight unreality that has crept into the series in recent seasons.  Some commentators have also noted the "pre-fab" nature of the Monkees, and how their essential falseness might reflect Don Draper.
   But none of that is why the producers picked it.
   "Porpoise Song" is from one of the Monkees' movies, "Head," where it plays in the opening sequence.
   Quick: think about Mad Men's iconic opening sequence.  Got it?
   Here's "Porpoise Song" in the opening of "Head."
   See anything familiar?

(click through - video restricted to YouTube)

Sunday, April 05, 2015

"You Should Read My Diary" - Secret Meanings and a Lost M*A*S*H Episode Hidden In A Famous Mad Men Scene

Sally at boarding school. Can you spot the hidden M*A*S*H Episode?

[UPDATE:] Esquire's entertainment's Mad Men blog picked up this essay, edited to about half this length.

[UPDATE 2] Since being posted a year ago, most of the linked videos here appear have been knocked out by copyright claims.  Not sure if the various scenes are available elsewhere.

Today is Easter, and also the season premier for Mad Men's 7th and final season. As I watched a few minutes of the Mad Men Marathon today that always precedes the Season Premier, I stumbled onto the great episode where Sally goes to boarding school, meets the The Mean Girls and then gets high with Glen.. And as I watched, I caught an echo of what I thought was a hidden reference to one of TV's all-time great shows (also set during the late 60s), MASH.
   Then, as my mind tuned in more fully, I saw another one. Then another.
   Then I was rewinding, googling dialogue and MASH plots and wondering what I was seeing, until finally, after sifting through the whole episode, I found what felt like a key: a throw-away line that mentions a very distinctive name.
   It sent me to an episode of MASH I hadn't ever seen, but now, having seen it, I think it's a spiritual companion piece to much of Mad Men's themes, offering a perfect through-line to most of what Mad Men has become.

And I don't think anyone else has made the connection.  This is a fun one.  Enjoy.

(most images below from here)

Mad Men's "The Quality of Mercy" was late in Season 6. The scene you'll remember is the one where Sally interviews for boarding school . Here's the entire 'scene', which is four seperate sequences. I've recapped it all below, but worth watching (you can start at 1:45 and stop at 8:10, skipping the car rides, to get all the key parts). *UPDATE: video may be broken*

As part of her ‘try-out’ for school, Sally stays over in the dorms for a night, hosted by two Mean Girls who, they quickly inform her, expect Sally to get them booze and cigarettes.  Sally goes one better, and calls Glen, her old childhood friend and maybe-crush. He arrives a little later by climbing in through the girls’ window. He brings with him booze and a new, more-handsome friend, Rolo, who brings weed. One of the girls, Mandy, pours everyone a drink.  Raising his cup, Glen makes the girls giggle with a silly bottom’s-up toast only a 15yo could mistake for sophisticated: “Here’s looking up your old address.”
   Later, one of the Mean Girls disappears, leaving the group as two couples. Mandy quickly invites Glen to make out, dropping the come-hither lineL

 “You should read my diary.”

With that, she wordlessly leads Glen away to "read her diary," leaving Sally alone with Rolo, who immediately makes a move. This scares the crap out of Sally. She calls Glen back, and Glen fights Rolo (which makes Sally smile slyly). The boys leave, and – a scene later, on her drive home – we hear that Sally got a thumbs up from the Mean Girls and is now accepted to the school.
  That’s what you saw.
  But just below the surface is a trail of MASH references that lead to one very specific Alan Alda monologue that is almost a blueprint for Mad Men's later themes.  Here’s how I found it, from the big clues to the finest print:
Mean Girl Mandy and Glen.
Not pictured: her diary

  It starts with some obvious wardrobe. When Glen climbs through the window, he’s wearing a vintage OD Green Army jacket, covered in hippie-style buttons and Glen wears it unbuttoned.
It’s a broad hint about the MASH-driven counterculture but not a bullseye: it could just as possibly suggest dozens of other 60s counter-culture icons, as much Private Joker as Hawkeye Pierce.
   Not a slam dunk, as Easter Eggs go.

   Glen’s toast, on the other hand, is closer to a giveaway. “Here’s looking up your old address” is a funny line, perfectly weighted to match both the scene and the teenagers in it.  But its also obviously not something Glen made up.
  So where did it come from?
  Well, per Google, the line appears to be from Col. Henry Blake in MASH Season 3, from 1974, on an episode called "Private Charles Lamb" (a lamb is set to be roasted for Greek Easter, but Radar saves it, replacing it with a huge hunk of spam – ‘a spam lamb’). Which is to say: Glen, stuck in the 60s, couldn’t have heard it on TV directly. So now we know his words are sending us somewhere. Is it a hint that, though Glen fancies himself a wise-cracking Lothario like Hawkeye, in fact, he’s a dim but good hearted guy like Henry?  Sounds right, but a jacket and a laugh line – which could have come from Jack Benny, for all we know – is not enough.
Just seeing this picture,
you hear his voice, right?
   But we don’t have to look much farther for proof. A few minutes later, back in NYC, Don Draper is at home watching TV. We don’t see the screen, but the audio is unmistakable: dialogue from Dragnet (era appropriate!) and two of the most iconic, easily identifiable voices in American TV history, Sgts. Joe Friday and Bill Gannon.  Friday is Alan Webb – “just the facts, ma’am” - while Gannon, of course, is Harry Morgan - who went on to command the 4077th as Col. Sherman Potter.
Sally and Rolo, in happier times.
  So now we know: there’s a MASH tribute buried in this episode.  There's no going back now.
  So what are we missing?
  Well, at first I wondered about the rapist friend, Rolo. Rolo? In one line from the make-out scene, Rolo explains his name to Sally as a mix between his parents – “Roland and Lorraine” – which, thanks to Google, I discovered neatly echoes a joke at the heart of MASH: how BJ got his name. Hawkeye spends one entire episode trying to figure out what “BJ” stands for. In the end, BJ says his parents picked it because they were Bea and Jerry.
  Same as Rolo.
  (Glen cuts in: "Also, he rolls a lot of joints!").
   And then there’s The Snoopy Thing: Glen arrives when he climbs in through the Mean Girls’ window. How did he find it? He tells Sally he “looked for Snoopy.” And indeed, propped in the window sill like a Paul Revere lantern but for teen weed, is a Snoopy doll. The Mean Girls, apparently, put Snoopy up in the window so the boys could find them.

Glen (L) and Snoopy.

  And what could possibly connect Snoopy to MASH?
 Oh, right! This is 1967-68, right? The guy who played Radar – Gary Burghoff – was playing Charlie Brown on Broadway at the time! He's famous for that, right?
  And Radar’s full name was Radar O’Reilly… which, if you squint… could maybe be abbreviated/compressed to:
  R. O… L.-o.
  But Snoopy is definitely on purpose and definitely leads us to Radar, even if "Rolo is Radar" is a bit of a stretch. Nothing else about this Rolo kid – weed provider, Sally attacker - says Radar.  Well, actually Rolo drove Glen to the school, and as they are leaving, the last thing Rolo says onscreen is “I’m your ride home.” Didn't Radar always drive Col. Potter? 

(and a Rolo sidenote: Glen comes in through the window. Then one of the girls goes downstairs and brings Rolo up stairs. If there's a reason why Glen has to climb in but Rolo can just walk up, I missed it.)

  Is that it?  Have we solved it?  It’s Easter, so have we collected all our eggs?
  Let’s take one more sweep, make sure we’re not missing anything:

  • Glen dresses kinda like Hawkeye, uses a Henry Blake toast.
  • Col. Potter, eg Harry Morgan, actually "appears" (via voice) in another part of the episode.
  • Snoopy doll/driver/Radar/Rolo
  • Rolo/BJ

We're on the path, but something feels empty. There's an outline here, but its not filled in. What is this episode really trying to tell us?
   Where else can we look?

Our Mean Girls… are they MASH's Nurses?  Is randy Mandy supposed to be Hot Lips?  Hot Lips’ real name is Margaret, which doesn’t give you Mandy, but isn’t that far off, so… hmmm.

That leaves the other Mean Girl, whose name we know from an earlier scene, when Sally interviews with the Admissions woman. She ends the interview by summoning Sally’s “host," the Mean Girl, yelling out the door to her secretary: “Please call Millicent Turner from study hall.”

And with that, the Seventh Seal opens and All Is Revealed.

Oh. I get it now.

Mad Men's "The Quality of Mercy" is a tribute to the MASH episode "Who Knew?", which is episode 3 in Season 11 (the last). That episode's plot follows the accidental death of a nurse who Hawkeye recently slept with but who we, the audience, never meet.  She is dead when the episode opens. It is not as sad as the episode where Col. Blake dies on his way home (“I’m your ride home”), but it belongs on the list of MASH's other most affecting episodes.  And, probably more than any other MASH episode, it telegraphs the overall themes that Mad Men has spent most the last decade exploring.

The name Millicent Turner – our other Mean Girl - connects us to Lt. "Millie" Carpenter, a 4077th nurse who - like so many before her - spent at least one night of passion with Hawkeye Pierce. If she doesn’t ring a bell as a "beloved MASH character”, its because, unlike Hawkeye, you never met her. There was no Lt. Millie Carpenter because by the time we arrive to meet her, she’s already dead.

"Who Knew?" begins with Hawkeye waking up BJ in the middle of the night to tell him the tale of his just-completed tryst with Lt. Carpenter.  It was apparently, even by Hawkeye standards, so great that he just goes on and on about it to BJ, who just wants to sleep.  Millie Turner, it seems, for at least for one lonely night in Korea, rocked Hawkeye’s world.

  The next morning at breakfast, as Hawkeye still glows, Col. Burns announces to the entire camp: Lt. Millie Carpenter is dead.  Apparently, she went for a late walk the previous night and stepped on a mine.

A Memorial will be held and someone will have to give a eulogy.  Potter asks for volunteers.  Everyone from camp is present, but no hands go up. No one, it seems, knew Lt. Carpenter - Mille - well enough to talk about her. Father Mulcahy says he will handle it.

Back in their tent, Hawkeye tells BJ that he wants to do the eulogy. He would have quickly forgotten about Millie if she had routinely been transferred out.  But now, with her death, he feels deeply connected to her.

He asks around. Hot Lips knows almost nothing about her (“She was a good nurse”). None of the nurses knew her well either, or even liked her much. She had received a big box of fudge from home, but only shared one piece with each of them.  She was "unfriendly."

Hawkeye returns to Father Mulcahy for help. Finally. the “Padre” hands Hawkeye one last object from Millie Carpenter's effects, something that Mulcahy doesn’t want to hold on to.

What does Mulcahy give Hawkeye to help him understand who Millie Carpenter was?

What was Mandy’s big Come-Get-Me line for Glen?

“You should read my diary.”

"You should read my diary"

With Lt. Carpenter's diary, Hawkeye begins to solve the mystery of who Millie Carpenter was. He discovers that she kept the fudge “to herself” so she could share it with her wounded patients. No one saw her do that because she worked the night shift, lonely hours she volunteered for so the other nurses, whom she quietly idolized, could sleep. Back home, she was head thoracic nurse at a major hospital – the Big Leagues – but came to the 4077th to treat war wounds.

  And, reading on, Hawkeye discovers that, after their night together, Millie found herself head over heels for Hawkeye, yet afraid to tell him of her feelings. He reads the passage to BJ (this text and, apparently, some formatting I can't shake, is from here):
'There's just too much Hawkeye running through my mind. I think I'll take a walk.' End of diary.

She took a walk to clear her mind of her feelings for Hawkeye and stepped on the mine.

Hawkeye gives the euology, wearing his OD green blouse unbuttoned, like Glen. It’s a 4 minute, nearly unbroken shot of Alda, and all the themes of Mad Men are there: the loneliness, the yearnings, the struggles to connect and the distances between us. He finishes:

“See, I'm a lot like Millie. I'm not shy. I- I- I cover up my feelings with jokes and I don't tell the people l- I care about the most the most important thing that I can tell them that l that I do care. It's too late for Millie to change. That's- That's sad, but- but maybe, maybe we can take a page from her diary.”

Hawkeye finishes by going around the room and naming each of the central characters as people he loves in his life.

That's the scene - surely one of MASH's most effective - that the Mad Men writers wanted us to find.

There are a few other cute connections - Millicent wears a purple velvet dress, like Hawkeye's robe; in "Who Knew?"'s B-plot, Klinger pours Winchester booze in a paper cup - which is what Glen does when he pours drinks for the girls and makes his goofy MASH-related toast.

But I think we've nailed down.

Sally and Millicent Turner, slightly out of
focus and, eventually, not there at all.
But wait? One thing doesn't quite work, right? In Mad Men, it wasn't Millicent's diary. It was Mandy's. Hence Mandy's invitation to Glen to read it.

But that's the point. Even though all the action takes place in Millicent's room, she has disappeared from the scene by the time the moves get made.

By that time, like Lt. Millie Carpenter, she's not there at all.