The Faucets and Fatalities of ‘Mad Men’

Gee, I was all ready to be one of those nit-picky people who zero in on one detail of a “Mad Men” episode – a song, a phrase, a scrap of clothing – and then chide the show for having it wrong, showing something a little out of time.

“Mad Men” prides itself on its detail, so this is a challenging game to play. Already this season, they changed the song in the season premiere when critics balked. “The Look of Love” wasn’t the song Mrs. Draper sang saucily to her shocked party guests; it was the end music that played over the title. Still, because the premiere takes place in 1966, a single not released until January 1967 would have been out of place. It was switched for the premiere to “Walk On By.”

“We have replaced this song with one more suited to the time period,” he informed critics before the March 25 premiere, explaining, “Although we take license for artistic purposes with the end-title music, we never want the source music to break from the time period we are trying to recreate.”

So when the latest episode concerned, at one point, a faulty Delta faucet, I thought I was onto something. Did these things exist in 1966?

Alas, they did. The single ball valve faucet was developed by a Detroit manufacturing company that called it Delta (because of the shape of the faucet looked like a lower case d – and Delta was the fourth letter of the Greek alphabet).

Though it was so odd, they had to at first give it away to plumbers, it eventually caught on, and indeed is still very popular today.

I became well acquainted with it when the one in our house started dripping incessantly. Just like the one in Pete Campbell’s Cos Cob house. He rolled up his sleeves to repair it, but during a dinner party it turns into a fountain, dousing the women folk who had gone into the kitchen to clean up.

Enter superman Don Draper, who doffs his shirt (and gaudy plaid sportscoat) to do the repair himself.

Things were tougher in the 60s, we are reminded, because they didn’t have YouTube videos for would-be do-it-yourselfers to watch over and over before venturing to the hardware store and trying to fix it without calling a plumber.

Yet from watching those videos – and attempting the fix – I also know that the main fixing done on the faucet isn’t beneath the sink, but at the faucet itself, where a special “Delta screwdriver” is needed to disassemble it, fix the washer settings or whatever, and replace it.

Draper seemed to have this covered, but still he fiddled beneath the sink a little too much. And I only know this because my own attempt to replace the Delta faucet with new inner parts resulted in stopping the drip, yes, but causing a whole new problem: cascades of water flowing from the base of the faucet when it’s turned on.

Fixing the faucet was the sexiest thing Don Draper did in that episode according to some women’s comments in the show. I got no such praise, though perhaps it’s because I, like Pete Campbell, failed in my manly attempt.

The other thing that hit home in the episode titled “Signal 30” was the cautionary gorefest of a driving safety movie issued by the Ohio State Patrol in 1959 that everyone had to watch in the 60s. Kids used to talk about it for years before they got to drivers ed: “Wait til you see ‘Signal 30.’” When I finally was subjected to it, the gory footage of blood and death, supposedly from actual accidents, looked so foreign (maybe because the cars were all much older models) that it seemed all faked.

Certainly it had no effect on Campbell, finally getting his license, or the teenager he had his eyes on.

And maybe that part, finally, is the detail with which I’d like to slightly quibble.

Because this is the 21st century, you can have “Signal 30” at your fingertips. Watch at your own peril.

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