She would have paid good money to figure out how someone could slur two Gs together that poorly. Hardly the good Catholic girl she’d once been, Peggy Olson could most assuredly say she’d never been as drunk as she’d seen her almost all of her male associates from time to time. They normally held themselves well, to their credit, but a tell tale sign of vice would always manage to slip out, whether it was an inappropriate comment to a secretary or slurring a perfectly pronounceable name like ‘Peggy’.
Honestly, it wasn’t that difficult.
She managed to keep from slamming her own tumbler of whiskey down on her desk; though, it wouldn’t have mattered if she’d spilled it. The office was damn near drowning in scotch whiskey and had been ever since Sterling Draper Cooper Price had somehow won the affections of the Distillers Company.
“Johnnie Walker Black,” Pete had said at first pour. The brown liquid swirled in his glass while Peggy had coughed and sputtered at the first sip. She was willing to try anything once, but this burned the back of her throat and it didn’t matter what anyone said, the warm feeling in her stomach was not comforting. Of course Pete, in his usual pompous way, went back for another sip and seemed to savour it. “You can do better, but not by much.” She rolled her eyes thinking about it again. Pete had wined and dined the Scottish Distller’s men for nearly an entire week before and after they’d landed the account.
Of course, landing the account was only half the battle. At the end of the day they were expecting a campaign, and she was finding it hard to make a compelling case for something she found absolutely vile.
“Banging on my wall isn’t going to get me over there any faster,” Peggy muttered, grabbing the glass, legal pad, and pencil from her desk. She tucked everything under her arm and held the glass in her hand, smoothing down her dress with the other before opening the office door. As mussed and harried as she looked after a long day in the office, trying to brush a wrinkle from her skirt was really the least of her worries, but it made her feel better to do it.
It took about ten seconds to walk next door to Don’s office and she didn’t bother knocking before nudging the door open with her shoulder and stepping inside. “You banged?” Her lips were perhaps more pursed than ones lips should be when addressing one’s boss, but at eight o’clock at night the day before Thanksgiving she couldn’t much help it.
“I’m a copywriter, not a dog.” But Peggy did sit, crossing her legs in a chair in front of Don Draper’s desk. She leaned forward and set her tumbler down on a coaster before setting her pad on her lap.
Don glanced at the glass. “I thought you hated it?”
“I do,” she said, her lips only slightly breaking their line. “But if Pete’s going to insist on parading the client through the office unannounced and unexpected, then it’s in our best interest to let them know we’re working on and drinking their product, isn’t it?”
“Until we have another John Deere incident,” he said, standing and making for his sideboard which also seemed to have succumbed to the Scottish invasion. “I’ll talk to him about that. Do you want something else?”
“Rum, please. Dark. Mixed with a cola if you have it.” She’d started off the night on dark liquor and would have to keep with it unless she wanted to risk being ill in the middle of mass the next morning in front of her entire family.
Don had to reach into the floor cabinet for a bottle of Puerto Rican rum (Thank God, if I never have to see another Scott again it’ll be too soon....) and Peggy took a moment to note that he was a good deal less slurred when he wasn’t yelling across the walls and offices. The only visible signs that he was under pressure and perhaps a bit drunk were the four fingers of whiskey in the glass on his desk and the rolled up sleeves of his otherwise spotless white button down. His jacket hung on the door.
She cleared her throat. “You wanted something.” At least she hoped all that banging and yelling hadn’t been for nothing.
“Yes. I want a print campaign for Johnnie Walker.” He handed over the rum and coke before sitting down and settling a rather expectant look on her.
This was becoming an increasingly familiar conversation, one that she dreaded despite telling herself that she was confident and capable of completing this assignment. Even if she absolutely hated the taste. Peggy sipped at her new drink. “I’ve brought you five proposals over the past week.”
“They’re derivative, Peggy.”
“They are not deri--”
He was going to make her eat her words. She knew it as soon as he picked up the manila folder and started unfolding the copy and artwork she and the boys had spent all of Monday and Tuesday on.
For her part, she quite liked what they’d produced. Stan had done exactly what she’d asked, creating a character around Johnnie Walker that would stand for the brand and start in their print and television ads. Johnnie was a handsome drawing of a man in his late twenties, clothed in historical garb out of some swashbuckling pirate movie. There was noticeable stubble on his face and his hair was pulled back in a queue that was going to necessitate a wig on any commercial set for, as attractive as she found the drawing, no man wore their hair like that these days; a shame that was.
She eyed the slogans and phrases she’d scribbled beneath the art. ‘The most interesting man in the world-- I don’t always drink whiskey, but when I do, I drink Johnnie Walker.’ Well, alright, that made far less sense now than it had when she’d come up with it at about one thirty on Monday afternoon when she’d been drinking whiskey since nine.
‘He saved the damsel and he saved the day... but most importantly, he saved the whiskey.’ “There’s nothing wrong with that one. In fact, I--”
Don pulled something else out of his desk and tossed it to her. That month’s issue of Playboy Magazine landed in her lap and the Playmate of the month, Alison Parks, stared up at her from the cover. (Just the fact that she even knew Alison Parks’ name was a testament to the fact that she’d been spending far too much time in the office surrounded by men of horridly questionable taste.)
She didn’t really want to touch it (yes, she’d been naked in front of Stan, but there was a difference between that letting him take pictures of it for all of America to see), but Don was nodding. “I’ll wait.”
Peggy sucked in a frustrated breath as she opened the pages. “Could you at least tell me what I’m looking for amongst the bare breasts, and cigarette ads executed with the skill of a toddler? Or are you going to tell me I’m simply reading it for the articles?”
She turned and turned, pointedly avoiding the centerfold spread of Dinah Willis (whose favorite television program was Bewitched-- how many of the men who ‘read’ the issue would actually remember that? To her it was nothing more than a waste of print and copy.) that sat just before what Don wanted her to see.
It was an advertisement for whiskey. That much she could have guessed from the start. What’s more it was an advertisement for whiskey she’d seen before, which she pointed out as she tapped the page. “It’s the Jameson Whiskey ad. I’m surprised it’s in Playboy.”
“Why?” Don asked. He picked up Peggy’s tumbler of Jameson and added it to his, making four fingers into six. Three sips bought it back down to three.
“Because I’ve always seen it in women’s magazines. The character of John Jameson-- he’s for women. Not the men. The copy’s for the men, but we know that half the time it’s the visual that matters. Too many people aren’t bothering to ready copy these days.”
He nodded again. “And when you have a character like John Jameson you’re telling the buyer they don’t have to read the copy. You’re telling yourself you don’t have to try as hard because you have the flash of a spokesman. It’s lazy.” And then he fixed his stare on her. “And you’re telling our client that we can’t produce anything but a cheap copy of something their rival vendor’s already done.”
They didn’t look exactly alike, John Jameson and Johnnie Walker. If she’d really wanted to argue the case she might have pointed out that Jameson was very obviously dressed for the 18th century whereas Johnnie Walker seemed from the later half of the 19th. One was shorter than the other, and Stan’s artwork didn’t quite measure up to the finished watercolours that Jameson’s advertising agency had commissioned. Peggy had been looking forward to the auditions where they would have hopefully found their Johnnie-- finally, a test session in this office where some girl wouldn’t be doing the Twist or the Bunnyhop for no reason whatsoever. But as she gave the Jameson art another glance it dawned on her that he was a fantasy man and she’d created another of the same. The other company had been clever not to cast an actor in the role. She couldn’t think of anyone who would do it justice.
And then of course, there was the crux of the problem that went even beyond the fact that Don was notoriously against the use of mascots and spokesman in their campaigns. There was nothing she could do to deny that she’d created essentially the same ad as their competitors, and Don wouldn’t care whether she’d done it on purpose or not. He just wanted a campaign and they would sit here through Thanksgiving to get one if they had to.
“Well?” Don gave the look of realization in her eyes a moment to pass before speaking.
She sighed. “It’s no good.”
“Neither is theirs,” he replied and Peggy looked up in surprise. Were those supposed to be words of reassurance? She couldn’t tell and Don went on. “Do you dislike like whiskey in general, or is it just Johnnie Walker Black?”
The face she made was involuntary. “I’ve been choking it down all week, and I’d honestly rather not-- any brand, I mean. I don’t like the taste, I don’t understand the ‘smooth’ feeling Pete keeps talking about, and it my stomach shouldn’t ever be that warm.”
“Yet they --and you-- are developing ads for women.” He raised an eyebrow. “Women aren’t drinking scotch whiskey, Peggy. Men are.”
“That’s a broad statement.” It was a feeble defense of her gender, and for some reason the open copy of Playboy just made it seem worse. “You can’t just say things and have them be true.”
The look on Don’s face indicated that he was of the opposite opinion. “The consumer we’re catering to isn’t female. This is a man’s drink. You and the Jameson agency gave the world a character-- someone for women to look at a swoon over. Gregory Peck in breeches.”
As if he looked a thing like Gregory Peck. Peggy rolled her eyes. “The women have a character to ‘swoon over’ so that they’ll buy it for their husbands. For the men, it’s a character the want to be. They drink the whiskey so they can be as handsome and heroic as Johnnie Walker.”
“Men want to be Frank Sinatra. They want to be Richard Burton. They don’t want to be...” he trailed off, tapping Stan’s art. “I don’t even know what he is.”
“He’s a...” What was he exactly? Oh hell. “...dandy?” she finished lamely. It sounded no better aloud than it had in her head.
“If you can’t identify the thing you created how’s the client supposed to?” Don asked, ever blunt when it came to business. “Aside from being able to tell that you ripped off--”
Peggy couldn’t stand to hear it again. “Yes. I know. We ripped off Jameson Whiskey. I’m going to fix it. I’ll write for a man.”
“No characters. No... gimmicks.” She had to hold back a groan at the word gimmick which was quickly becoming one of his favorites when it came to taking aim and shooting an idea out of the sky. “Just the whiskey. The sound of the ice as it hits the glass and the feel of that glass --heavy, with a base-- when you pick it up for the first sip. You’re trying to savour it and not drink it too quickly because it’s good scotch, but at the same time you know it’s ruined if the ice chips and melts. Then there’s the first sip; the burn in your throat, the fire in your stomach. Just the whiskey. It doesn’t need anyone to speak for it, because it speaks for itself.” And his coda, picking up his own glass and draining it. He didn’t even have the excuse of melting ice.
“If it speaks for itself then it shouldn’t need copy,” she said, only just managing to keep the sarcasm from her voice. “Johnnie Walker Black: The whiskey that speaks for itself.”
Don spoke and Peggy couldn’t resist glancing at the clock on his wall, the frustration she’d been feeling coming back tenfold. No? He could say no and not give any reason or excuse because his name was on the door, while she was left, more often than not, stumbling and fumbling for excuses every time he found something wrong with the materials she’d produced.
It was already nine fifteen and she could hear her mother whispering in her ear about how grinding her teeth was unbecoming. “Why not?”
“First of all, we’re not going to mention the label. If we get Johnny Walker Swing we’ll differentiate the label there, but not Black.” Don picked up the bottle in his hands and turned it twice. “Say Black and the buyer’s going to think it’s a malt liquor.” It was anything but. The amber liquid inside certainly looked more appetizing than it tasted in Peggy’s opinion. While Don seemed to ponder the bottle before pouring himself another healthy serving, whatever inspiration he was taking from being on the way to thorough inebriation was missing her completely.
“Fine. Johnny Walker: The whiskey speaks for itself,” she retorted, sighing.
Her mother could take her whispers to hell in a hand basket. Peggy’s teeth were moving firmly back and forth across each other. “Why not, Don? That copy is practically what you just said. It was good enough five seconds ago.”
“My spitballs aren’t the copy, Peggy. Your job is to turn my ideas into gold. Better yet,” he paused for another swallow. “Your job is come up with ideas. Good ones. We have fifteen accounts right now and I’ve had to polish fourteen of them. Let’s not make this fifteen.”
I hate this account. And no wonder. It was Pete’s client after all, so she shouldn’t have been surprised. But of the two clients to come into the office the whiskey had seemed the best project to attach herself to. It was either that or spend the next four months working on copy for a doll that wet itself and grew curly hair. “Well I like the idea that it speaks for itself, even if that’s not the copy. It sounded good when you said it.”
“You have to make it sound better,” Don said.
Better. It always had to be better. She was going to spend her professional career spit-shining Don Draper’s words so that he could collect Cleo Awards year after year. “Fine. Fine,” she said again. “I... well, alright. It’s for men. Would you give someone a bottle of whiskey as a gift? Would a man give someone a bottle of whiskey as a gift? Is it like bringing a bottle of wine to a housewarming?”
“It’s like bringing a cigar to the waiting room at the maternity ward.” So she’d been half right and thus it was the first thing they could partially agree on for the evening.
Peggy swept a piece of hair behind her ear. “Like breaking the bottle to toast a ship, or... christening a new office?”
“Or welcoming in the days of Monday through Sunday if you happen to be Roger Sterling,” he said dryly. Peggy cracked the smallest of smiles. “It’s what men give men-- our way of saying congratulations without having to say it. Without having to hug.”
God forbid the men have to express their feelings, she thought, hiding a smirk. “May I?” She reached over to take a pencil from his desk. She set her glass down and picked up the half empty bottle of whiskey. In her palm Peggy balanced the bottle, pointing to the base with the pencil. She drew a line horizontally through the air. “The way you say congratulations without having to say it.”
Don nodded. “Tighten it.”
Her brow furrowed as she thought, beating back the haze of rum over her thoughts. “Johnnie Walker Black: Say it--” Don frowned and Peggy started again. “Sorry. Johnny Walker-- no Black. It’s the way a man says congratulations on your promotion, welcome home from Vietnam, happy birthday... all without having to say anything at all. Johnny Walker: Say it without saying it. It speaks for itself.”
It was the first time she’d seen Don truly smile all day, maybe even all week, and she loathed the feeling of pride that welled up inside her borne from being the one to cause it. So much of her happiness these days seemed to balance on her work life; the few accolades she received on a weekly basis could fuel a month of sitting in that stuffed room with Stan while putting up every other male presence in the office as well. Perhaps if she were allowed to walk on stage an accept awards for her work the scraps of applause and recognition she received in the office wouldn’t mean as much as they did, but that wasn’t likely to happen. She hadn’t even been invited along to the ceremony (when had Joan ever written a lick of copy?).
Peggy grasped the bottle by the neck and set it down. “Say it without saying it,” she repeated with a nod. “Just a photograph of the bottle and then copy. No spokesman, no mascot, no watercolours.”
“No gimmicks,” Don agreed, once again draining his glass. “I’ll want drafts by Tuesday.”
“Of course. You’ll have them.” They might be in the office until midnight on Monday, but he’d have them. Anything to keep him happy now that she knew what approval tasted like with this account-- far better than the whiskey she’d been forcing down for weeks.
The air seemed thinner when she stood from her chair, or perhaps that was just a day’s worth of whiskey and a glass of rum playing tug-of-war in her head. She swayed slightly, steadying herself on the desk’s edge before she was ready to take any steps at all. She would accomplish many things in this office, but out-drinking the men was not one of them and it didn’t escape Don’s notice. “I’ll call you a cab.”
“No, no. I’m going to Brooklyn tonight, to my mother’s. That would be too expensive.” The subway ride would be longer, but at least her mind would be clear when she got there. If she got there, taking a subway all the way out there at this time of night. She took her hand from his desk and stood straight. “I’m fine, and I’m sure Megan and the children are waiting for you too, so, please. You don’t have to.”
He masked his emotions as well as he masked the whiskey flowing through his veins, yet Peggy could still see it. Nothing more than a flash, a brief shift of his features whens she’d mentioned his family. Was it a frown or a scowl, or nothing more than a furrowed brow? Was that distant look longing? And if it was, was a longing to get home or a longing to get away from it? Or was it just sadness? As far as Peggy was concerned there was no reason for that. It was his company, if he missed his family the night before Thanksgiving then why was he here? He was perfectly capable of beating and berating copy out of her at any time of day. Why nearly ten o’clock on a Wednesday night?
But the look passed as quickly as it came and with it, the moment to say anything more. Don wouldn’t have appreciated it if she had anyway, Peggy suspected. Sometimes she wondered if she’d simply dreamt that night of the Ali fight.
Don was staring at her again, his face a mask once more. “I’ll call you a cab. Take the fare from petty cash. It’ll mean Campbell shoves one less lobster dinner down those Scotts’ throats and I think that’s a burden we can both bear to be the cause of.”
She smiled. “Well, when you put it that way... thank you.”
They walked downstairs together after awhile and Don put her in the cab himself. The eighteen dollars cash in her wallet made her a bit nervous as she gave the driver her mother’s address, and she prayed he wouldn’t be able to tell that she’d had too much to drink. Don was properly intimidating, but she wasn’t.
She rolled down the window before Don could turn to find his own ride. “Thank you,” she said again. “And I’m glad we finished. You were right-- this is a better campaign.” And she was responsible for it. Peggy squashed that smug feeling before going on. “Happy Thanksgiving, Don. And my best to Megan.”
And there was that look again, but she didn’t get such a good glance at it this time as the cab pulled away from the curb. She stared back at the building for a moment, canting her head when Don turned and walked back into it. At ten thirty at night on the eve of Thanksgiving, despite a woman (and possibly even children) waiting for him at home.
It dawned on her then, that it was no wonder that Don Draper was so fond of their newest slogan. Say it without saying it. He practically lived it.