The first (and perhaps only) thing I learned in college about academic criticism is how to take an idea I was reading and compare it to something else. What if Jay Gatsby’s pink suit is like Paul’s pink shirt in Six Degrees of Separation? Now, some thirteen years later, my mind does this almost unconsciously. Most recently, it happened when I became infatuated with Dorothy Parker. I read an interview with her in the Paris Review, and the next thing I knew, I had ordered a biography of her called What Fresh Hell Is This? and a collection of her work from Amazon in the middle of the night.
About halfway through the biography, it was pretty clear to me that my friends and I are Fort Wayne’s contemporary answer to the Algonquin Round Table.
(I first drew this comparison during season five, and this season on Mad Men, Don Draper had a meeting at the Algonquin Hotel, in what I can only assume is a small nod to me from Matthew Weiner himself.)
This particular friend group originally, or perhaps just most famously, arranged itself not around a hotel restaurant but a TV show. That is why we are known as Mad Men Club. Just like the Algonquin Round Table didn’t have to be at the Algonquin Hotel in order to carry out its aesthetic, Mad Men Club needn’t be watching Mad Men in order to do its thing.
Sometimes the members of the Algonquin Round Table went to plays together, but Mad Men Club doesn’t go out very often. Occasionally, we appear in public in smaller groups. Sometimes, we can be found at Henry’s (probably at that round table way in the back), and once, three of us went to the airport in the middle of the night.
Our particular way seems to thrive better in a private milieu. We can be loud. We can watch viral videos. We can confess our strange ideas. And we can watch Mad Men.
Like the Round Table, Mad Men Club sort of sprang up accidentally—or “organically,” as member Alex Brown might say. I don’t know from whom the name came, but it definitely came from us, while the Algonquin Round Table was likely labeled such by outsiders. That’s a difference between 2012 and 1920, I guess.
I think it was me who initially invited myself to somebody else’s house, which isn’t my usual style but I was desperate for Mad Men. In March 2012, we started gathering at the one house amongst us that had cable, and I made that Mad Men-style missile disguised as a cocktail called the French 75. After that first episode of season five, we knew we had something.
They tell me it was a rousing good time.
Here’s how I know I’m not Dorothy Parker: She never drank gin.
Perhaps because Mad Men is such a good show or perhaps because we are such fun people, Mad Men Club quickly became my favorite thing. My friends are all creative types and sometimes they are harsh judges of others’ creativity. Mad Men exists outside of that. It is the one thing we can all agree is exceptional.
I’d like to harness that feeling and figure out how to apply it to each other. The thing that separates Mad Men Club from the Round Table is that Dorothy Parker and her friends supported each other creatively. They collaborated with each other and published each other’s work in all the fledging literary magazines they were always starting. Right now, we are only supporting Mad Men’s creative potential and triumphs and frankly it doesn’t need us.
I have a tendency to take things too far, to love things past their moments. I might be doing that with Mad Men Club as I fantasize about what it could be. What it is is enough, of course. If we started applying expectations to it, it might lose its organic quality.
It’s just that my friends are the smartest, funniest, most clever people I know, and I can’t help but think of all the stuff we could do together. On most Mad Men Club nights, after the show is over, we linger because we really do enjoy each other’s company. (It isn’t about the show, are you getting that?) On such nights, the conversation sometimes turns to projects we could do together.
Some favorites of mine are a comedy troupe modeled after the Upright Citizen’s Brigade, a convoy to Indianapolis to play some kind of mini-bowling game that I forget the name of, and ultimate Frisbee. (That last one is especially amusing because we are not exactly an athletic bunch.) Once, we kind of made up a parlor game and we played it until our sides hurt from laughing, like we were at a twelve-year-old’s sleepover.
So our ideas aren’t exactly “projects” so much as things we could do together in various public spaces, including the internet.
For the first fifty pages of the Dorothy Parker biography, the Round Table is made up of people who are struggling creatively and professionally. Eventually, these people achieve a degree of fame, due in no small part to each other’s influence. I don’t know that Mad Men Club has the potential to produce any Dorothy Parkers, but what if we could pretend it did? If you have five or six people on this Earth who can pretend that you might be Dorothy Parker, hold on to them.
The allure of Mad Men Club is that feeling that it exists in defiance of its place and time. Most of us are in our thirties—partnered up and busy with careers and home-ownership. We shouldn’t have time, let alone intellectual energy, to commit to a club about a television show. Friendship isn’t supposed to be so important at this life stage, but we don’t seem to notice or to care. Sure, sometimes, some of us can’t make it to Mad Men Club. Attendance isn’t what it once was, when I first read that Dorothy Parker biography and fell in love with the idea of the Algonquin Round Table, but mostly we’re all there every week drinking cocktails and sharing our perceptions about work, politics, culture, and of course Mad Men.
We get something from Mad Men Club that we don’t get anywhere else.
It’s that thing that happens at the end of the night, when some of the auxiliary attendees who trickle in and out have left and there are just five or six of us, sitting around the TV that may or may not still be on even though the focus has shifted, and we’re talking about music, Sam’s Club, standup comedy, the deep web, bathroom remodeling, or whatever our fixation of the week is.
The point is that we don’t want to leave.
We don’t want to leave this night and we don’t want to leave these people. We’ve all discussed moving away, and some of us even have. We’re all here right now, though, and it feels like magic.
So cheers to Mad Men Club. You’re the people I’d want to go through Prohibition with.