I remember the night Matt Weiner called the house to welcome Jonathan to his staff of writers for Mad Men season 4.
“Honey, it’s Matt Weiner!” I whisper-shouted. “NOT his assistant!”
I was so happy for my husband. Madmen was the best show on television. His career was taking off. OK, the real reason for the twinkle in my eye? I knew we’d probably get to go to the Emmys. Hey, I’d spent the past 2 years as a stay-at-home mom and we had another bun in the oven. I usually had dirty fingernails and something crusty on my clothing. I was due for some glamour.
Flash-forward through a grueling year. We rarely saw each other. At the end of it all, Madmen had been nominated for Best Drama. My first feeling was happiness. The second was relief. The third feeling was intense anxiety.
I had nothing to wear.
It’s not that I don’t like getting dressed up, I love it. But just 6 months after delivering our second child, my abdominal muscles were still loosey-goosey. I didn’t feel like myself. Still nursing, I had “all-size boobs” that fluctuated depending on the feeding schedule. I loathe the phrase, but it’s true: my body, having never left, hadn’t yet “come back.”
This was a problem. Everyone knows you can’t go to these award ceremonies looking like a real human. You have to look like a trophy wife. Since I wasn’t ready to give my husband up for a younger, less postpartum woman (and intelligence having escaped me), I decided I would becomethat trophy wife.
My normal body and I hit the town for a getup.
Lactation really adds an element of danger to dress shopping. Nothing like missing a feeding and slipping into a $3,000 bias-cut satin Narciso Rodriguez. But the all-size boobs- when on the right end of the spectrum- can really help fill out a dress. In the fitting room, that dress rocked. But later when I checked out the selfies, I couldn’t have deleted the images faster. Satin was not my friend. I needed structure. I never thought I’d say it but… I needed Spanx.
The shoes found me before the dress did. Leopard print Charlotte Olympias. 6-inch heels, 2-inch platforms = 8 total inches of stone-cold liability. In the previous three years my feet had adapted to Havianas, All-Stars and other such mother wear. But these heels were going to change my life. These heels were going to make me tall and fabulous. These heels are exactly the heels Tom Cruise wears inside his Bruno Maglis. I know it.
After the shoes had been purchased I only had $200 left in my budget. I found a simple floor-length dress at Nordstrom. No money for Spanx? No problem! Just buy a dress 4 sizes too small. That would teach my body parts to get in line! Yeah!
It didn’t matter what I did with my hair as long as there was more of it. I had been shedding the thick mane I grew during pregnancy and was now down to a few straggles. You know when you see a drag queen at Veselka at 4 in the morning and her wig is slipping back and there’s short little hairs sticking out? I had those.
I purchased a pound of extra hair from a beauty supply store. The day of the Emmys it was painstakingly attached it to my head. My migraine began with the first clip and would not leave my skull until a week later. Yet I did not say stop. I endured the pain, for the goal was near. I would soon be a vision of perfection.
My makeup was airbrushed. The airbrush machine looks like the same airbrush machine they use in Daytona Beach to make those slutty t-shirts with the fringe, and it’s loud like Bike Week, but I wasn’t scared. Beauty was my duty.
Finally, I was done. I was stuffed, heeled, poked, pinned, and airbrushed. It hurt to sit, stand, move my head side-to-side, breathe, laugh, smile, walk and applaud. I was completely miserable. This could only be the true measure of one thing: success.
And never did anyone have the good sense to snap a full-length photo.
We headed into LA traffic in a limo or a Lincoln Continental to the Beverly Hilton or the Nokia Theatre or the Superdome but it didn’t matter where I was going because I looked fucking fantastic.
When we arrived, we ran into friends and I believe I carried on a conversation for 10 minutes. Or maybe just 2. I didn’t say it was intelligent conversation, just a conversation. But that’s pretty good considering oxygen wasn’t circulating to my brain. My rig up was tight. All I had to do was make it through the next seven hours.
During the show, Jane Lynch told some great jokes. I know because other people laughed. Like I said, it hurt to smile, breathe, laugh, and turn my head side-to-side so jokes were not my friends.
And then it happened. About mid-way through the event my body started to talk to me. It said, “I need to go to the bathroom.”
I didn’t go before I left because I was too busy getting my hair did and my makeup airbrushed. I was too busy showing the babysitter how to use the TiVo or squeezing myself into my size negative dress… you know, important things.
If I were to get up now I might not be back in time and they’d stick a filler in my seat. I didn’t want to miss anything. Besides, I would probably fall walking up that aisle in those stilts. Tom Cruise would have stayed seated.
“No hablo Ingles,” I told my body.
So what happens when you hold it in for three hours? I will tell you. “It” gets reabsorbed by your body and becomes highly poisonous, highly radioactive material. Your skin turns green and sweaty and you form scales from your scalp to your toes.
Why, oh, why did my husband have to be a drama writer? You realize that the best drama category is saved for last, right?
Finally, the award went to… Mad Men! Despite the toxic goings-on I did manage to find love in my heart. I kissed my husband and he went on stage with the others. They accepted their awards and went backstage to talk to the press. I was left with the other wives. They looked so cool and relaxed. I dabbed at the sweat on my forehead with the back of my hand. Matt Weiner’s wife looked particularly stunning in a white fitted gown, her black hair finger-waved, her lips Marilyn red. Someone asked her where she got her dress. She said it was something she already had. She also did her own hair and makeup.
“You’re an idiot,” my body said.
Jonathan texted me from back stage instructing me to follow the other wives across the street to the Governor’s Ball. By the time we got there my feet had gone numb in my shoes and I found myself stumbling down the hall to a bathroom. When I came out Jonathan was there, his award shimmering in his hand under the ballroom lights. Unfortunately, cramping had now consumed my body. I took a moment to congratulate him and tell him how proud I was of him. Then I said, “I gotta get outta here.” (I bet they said that a whole bunch back in the corset days.)
I could tell Jonathan was disappointed. I had spent the whole day primping and now I had made myself ill and wasn’t able to spend the evening with him on the biggest night of his career. He was a winner, but I felt like a total loser.
I swore that next time I would wear a muumuu (which didn’t make him feel any better, being averse to tropical prints) and I would make it up to him. We headed for the sea of limos and our driver dropped him at the after party and drove me all the way home.
So if you’re wondering what you should wear to the Emmys or the Oscars or your best friend’s wedding or your cousin’s bar mitzvah I have just three words for you: Smart is Beautiful. Also, Respect Your Body. Also, Poop Before the Show. But that’s four.
I’ve never felt freedom like I did when I unzipped that dress. In elastic-band pajama pants I sat on the couch and watched the Emmys on TV. I laughed out loud. Then I began the process of removing the ten-thousand bobbie pins holding up my ridiculously elaborate Grecian bun.
In the morning we ate cereal with the kids… and Jonathan’s Emmy.
“How was the party?”
“Crazy. I got hit on. A LOT.”
“Good for you.”
“Well, they weren’t looking at me. They were looking at my trophy. What’d you do?”
“I took out my bobbie pins. It was awesome.”
Next time I’ll let the trophy be the trophy. I’ll be the wife.