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Ken Honeywell

Ken Honeywell
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA
March 20
Well Done Marketing
I'm in love with my wife; a writer and producer living in Indianapolis; partner at Well Done Marketing; founder of Tonic Ball, a benefit concert that's become one of the city's favorite annual events; co-founder of Second Story, a creative writing program for kids; a vegetarian; lead singer of Yoko Moment; a life-long New York Mets fan; a sucker for waltz time; crazy about Pernice Brothers; etc.


Editor’s Pick
APRIL 16, 2012 8:03AM

The Quiet Desperation Of Pete Campbell

Rate: 24 Flag

“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation, and go to the grave with the song still in them.” That’s from Henry David Thoreau’s Walden.


That used to be me.


It was what I told myself to feel better about my desolation, anyway: that at least I wasn’t alone. I was among the mass of men who went to work and came home to my home in the suburbs and my wife and son, cut the grass and fixed the leaky faucets. I was young and strong and successful and miserable.


So I wrote. I never talk about it these days, but I used to get up at five every morning and write science fiction stories. I suppose I was creating playgrounds in my mind–worlds over which I had total control. I didn’t share my stories with my (now ex-)wife, even after I started to sell them to SF magazines. She wouldn’t have liked them.


There’s a lot of quiet desperation in “Signal 30,” Episode 5 of Season 5 of Mad Men. The show opens with Pete Campbell watching–and laughing at–a gory film (called Signal 30) in driver’s ed class. Pete grew up in Manhattan and never learned to drive; now that he lives in the ‘burbs, a driver’s license seems a necessity. But Pete’s more interested in Jenny, the high school girl sitting in front of him. He’s hypnotized by the tap-tap-tapping of her foot in her sandal.


Later that night, lying in bed with Trudy, Pete is bothered by the dripping of the kitchen faucet. He takes action–grabs the toolbox and fixes the leak. Or he thinks he’s fixed the leak. He’s stopped the dripping, anyway.


Meanwhile, Ken Cosgrove’s been writing science fiction stories. He’s trying to keep it a secret, too–not from his wife, but from everyone else in his life. And Lane Pryce is handling his own quiet desperation by attempting a bold move: a fellow Brit who’s an executive with Jaguar invites Lane to pitch the account, and Lane decides he’ll try to land it without help from the account guys.


Of course, everything falls apart. Pete and Trudy host a dinner party for Don and Megan and Ken and his wife Cynthia. The evening begins pleasantly enough, with Pete showing off his stereo that’s every bit as large as a coffin. But Cynthia mentions one of Ken’s stories at dinner and forces Ken to confess. The kitchen faucet becomes a spraying fountain, and Don saves the day while Pete is still looking for his tools.


And Lane’s dinner with Edwin Baker is fruitless. Lane takes Roger’s advice and tries to get under Baker’s skin, hope to gain some conspiratorial advantage. But Baker professes to be blissfully happy. There’s apparently no worm in Baker’s apple.


Except that this is Mad Men, and there’s always a worm. Roger, Don, and Pete convince Lane to leave the account work to them. They schedule another dinner with Baker and find out that Lane could not have been more wrong. Baker’s looking for action, and Roger knows just where to find it at a high-class house of ill repute right around the corner. Don is the only one who abstains from sampling the goods; remember, this is our kinder, gentler, happier Don Draper, who tells Pete in the cab on the way home that he shouldn’t throw away everything he has.


It all proves just another temporary fix. The next day, Lane’s wife informs him that Baker’s wife has discovered his infidelity. Lane’s outrage is met with laughter; Pete tells Lane that Baker thought he was  ”a homo,” and that Lane had exhausted his value to the company long ago.

And Lane has had quite enough of that, thank you very much. He decides his desperation will no longer be so quiet and challenges Pete to fight, right there in the conference room. Pete’s already refused one offer for fisticuffs this season, and won’t do it again. Lane decks Pete, who slinks back to his office humiliated and defeated. “I have nothing,” Pete says to Don.


The episode closes with Pete back in driver’s ed class where another car wreck film plays, and Pete watches, bruised and beaten, as a high school boy slides his hand up Jenny’s skirt.


So what does Pete want? He does seem to have it all: a high-powered job, a pretty and adoring wife, a beautiful child, a great home, a miniature orchestra in a seven-foot coffin. Why is he so unhappy?


Why was I so unhappy? What does anybody want?


These days, I still get up early. My Beautiful Wife gets up at 4:30 to run, and I write, but not in secret. I haven’t written science fiction stories in ten years. This morning, I got up to watch Mad Men, but it was raining, so Becky went back to bed. I watched “Signal 30″ in the dark family room, then went upstairs to think about it before writing. I crawled back into bed with Becky. I lay in bed with my arm around her, our bodies pulled close, listening to the drip-drip-dripping of the rain. I didn’t want to go anywhere.

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What a wonderful review/piece of writing. Wrapping up Mad Men with your own life interspersed, makes for great reading here. It's the central question in life isn't it? For all of us, what do we want, what brings us joy and contentment. I feel asleep before MM last night although I had planned all evening to watch it, I had a busy family weekend that I wouldn't trade though. Good stuff Ken.
Always let Roger drive when fun is in the air. (I'm sending this one to my wife.)
Yes, secrets all round in this episode. Though not quite sure the Jag man (Edwin) is that happy after all. A couple other interesting things: Don doodling the noose during the office meeting, then later saying to Meagan being in the suburbs on a Saturday night is like blowing your brains out or something to that effect. Also the references to Pete's rifle that he kept in the office ... a little foreshadowing perhaps hinting at further desperation.

Ken Cosgrove has the only secret that may yet hold any promise.
Excellent summary, Ken. Pete just doesn't know what he "wants" other than some misguided notion of an "idyllic existence". And so far, he's not getting that. Will he ever? This seems to have been a recurring theme for this young man--is he "everyman"? Perhaps.
Love how you weave your own reflection throughout this review.
I'm afraid to see what Pete is going to do next.
I thought they went too close to the edge in this one. A classy brother and a fight? Over the course of a season these thing have their place but another episode with these sorts of splashy shenanigans will put them in jump-the-shark territory.

Pete's dissatisfaction is an interesting story-line. Not much of the counter-culture in this one but it's out there and he's the sort that might take a plunge. Meanwhile Don is idling and Roger? I suspect he has one big comeback left in him. Glad to see this review Ken.
What a wonderful piece of writing. I am glad you followed your heart as I never got to do, or not yet. I wrote while young but gave it up when my child was born and never went back and you spoke to my heart. You have described Pete to a T and he is now my focal point on the show since Don is too "happy" to be interesting. Overall though, I am disappointed in the direction (or lack of) this show now has. It is no longer very nuanced and my eight yo granddaughter could figure some of this out if I let her watch it. I will stick with the show since I am invested in it, but cross my fingers and hope that Weiner will answer my silent prayer to go back to how it used to be. I am so glad I found this site.
When Ken started to talk about his writing, I somehow KNEW that it would be SF&F. And when he reacted to the notion of a little orchestra in the stereo, I somehow KNEW that he was cooking up a story. Lovely.

Could Ken be a shout out to guys like Frederick Pohl and Cyril Kornbluth?
"Mad Men" was never on my TV screen; I never watched the show.

But I love reading your life.

Over and out.
Love the Thoreau quote. R
Missed this episode (damned Lazy-Boys!) though I woke up at the dinner party when alpha-Don tweaked the kitchen faucet. And then dozed again when he instructed Meagan to pull over on the long way home.

A good friend has the hours and hours of box sets, but this is still my Mad Men rookie season, and I refuse to be anxious when I miss, generally capable of filling in the blanks.
I am appreciative of the cult-like fascination: nothing succeeds like success (Emerson?!).
Think I'll follow-up midweek with these re-caps if Sundays remain this quiet....
I gave up on Mad Men last season, but I enjoyed your analysis of Pete and his life of quiet desperation. He is not a very likeable fellow, but clearly, he is not living the life he wants either, so that lends a bit of sympathy to his character.
I missed the first half and all of last week so your reviews are a must read for me. I do love the show because like you it expresses my life in those years too. It is a historical show. Important. Thanks for the great review.
I have so many great shows loaded into my DVR on Sunday cup runneth over. Due to an early schedule, I must delay gratification and parcel them out over the week, but not MM. I make it a point to watch it in near real time so I can read your review as soon as possible. Thanks for another great read.

AS for the show, was it just me or was "Signal 30" laugh-out-loud funny at times? The comedic element surprised me. I like that. My favorite episode so far this season.
This week was Pete vs. Don -- compare and contrast.

And Pete loses in every imaginable way. Except for trying, and even there, Pete tries too hard. Or better, too obviously.

Pete is almost an inverse of Don. Don ran from his past. Pete's past ran away from him.

Don started at the bottom and Pete started at the top. Except that Pete's legacy proved to offer him no advantages. Since his family had dissipated their wealth, he was left with strictly intangible advantages. But it included ties to a world that was rapidly disappearing. Within a decade, no one would care in the least about his obscure WASP background.

Don wins on skill (plumbing, no less). Don wins on confidence. And everything in between.

But the real difference is imagination. Don created himself. Out of extreme necessity.

But in the 60's -- everyone needed to be able to process and adapt to change. Or become irrelevant. Or extinct.

But it is really imagination. That's were Pete failed. Don ended up with Megan. Pete threw away his chance with Peggy -- and cast his fate with Trudy. Pete was stuck with the limitations of his limited worldly experience, but he embraced them. He made the simple, conventional choice.

Not that Peggy would have worked from him. But it still comes back to imagination. Thats what defines the winners and losers.

It isn't a hopeless moral failing, which makes it even worse when it proves to be the deciding factor.
I think many people in their late 20s and 30s have a feeling that life is a competition and everyone else is winning. But, one day, you wake up and realize that impressing the people you work with (and detest, or at least do not respect) is a waste of time.

Happiness truly does come from within.
I think you do yourself a disservice by comparing yourself to Pete. Pete is miserable because Pete is a miserable human being. Look at how he has achieved anything he has: he lied, cheated and blackmailed his way into his junior partnership, he cheated on his adoring wife, his in-laws paid for his home, and he whines and stomps his foot every time he can't get his way. He wants to be a self-made man without doing any of the work. He wants to be Don Draper without any of the pesky real-world tragedy that makes Don who he is.

I love that the writers at Mad Men give us such complex characters to enjoy.
Hi, everyone. Thanks for reading.

rita: I like busy family weekends, even when I don't want to do them.
Damon: I would always trust Roger's judgment.
Scarlett: Cosgrove. Gotta love him.
Walter: I'm feeling scared for Pete.
caroline: See above.
Abrawang: Thanks. And I dunno: it was certainly over the top, but it often is. I often consider episodes of Mad Men as self-contained works of art. They're incredibly dense.
mimi: Thanks for reading. Actually, I think the show is incredibly nuanced for TV; you must have a very smart granddaughter.
Stefan: I have read The Space Merchants about a zillion times.
mhold: Thank you, mdear.

Duty calls. More later. Thanks again, all.
Wonderful writing - every time I read you I think; this is the kind of writing that OS sorely needs more of - a man in touch with his feelings - able to make it so easily accessible and relatable.

I enjoy Mad Men. I think it is a thoughtfully written show and deserves discussion on many levels. I always look forward to your analysis and review.

But these comments have truly been entertaining, as well. Any time you bring up television shows on OS, there's always the ones who practically trip over each other to make their claim that they either don't watch TV at all, or they don't value certain television shows, or they think the shows of the 60s and 70s were so much better. Oy!
Just got a chance to see the re run yesterday, wow. I loved this espisode, Lane stepping out, Roger as Damon says, driving, Joan doing what Joan does best...
And Pete well, you summed it up as well as Nick above here.
Enjoyed this even better after I saw the episode.
Good day, all.

Brie: Me, too.
J.P.: Yes...but it's worth plowing back through all those old seasons. I envy you.
Erica: Yep. As awful as he is, he does earn a bit of sympathy.
zanelle: You're welcome. Thanks for reading.
bb: Mad Men is freaking hilarious. That's something a lot of people have trouble grasping. So dark--but so funny.
Nick: What an interesting perspective--and I think you are totally right. What Pete has is a failure of imagination. He's just not wired that way.
42go: Most people wake up. A lot don't. But I've been reading a book that suggests, for evolutionary reasons, that we're wired to care about what people think.
Survivant: I'm not much like Pete, actually. Per Nick's comment above, I've always had a pretty active imagination.
Duane: Thanks, dude. I'm off running these days, and spending most of my time over there. Submit something! (That goes for the rest of you, too.)
rita: Thanks again.
for different reasons this time, i waited days to read this until i'd seen the episode and, for the same reason, am glad i did. the contrasts between the lives/choices of don, pete, cosgrove and you that you write about - and that nick does in his comment - are a very interesting weave. one of the things i like about the series is the complex psychology of the men instead of pretending feelings/emotions are the exclusive purview of women. excellent piece, ken.
What a lovely weaving of your personal experience and the Mad Men episode. Well written and moving. Thank you.
Ken:"mimi: Thanks for reading. Actually, I think the show is incredibly nuanced for TV; you must have a very smart granddaughter."

Actually, she is, she announced she wants to write newspaper articles just the other day, without me telling her that was my original career choice. She is intuitive and in advanced classes with a vocabulary that blows me away. My fingers are crossed that she remains focused.

I meant it was incredibly nuances in the past, but many things are right up front now, like Mystery Date, it didn't take much thought to see the themes going on, maybe because I grew up then and could foresee what might be coming. That is my problem with this season, I know too much about the events of the time having lived them myself on both coasts.