“I should explain, Mr. Peggy Olson is an award. An award given every year on behalf of a committee organized originally by Peggy Olson.” she says.
She goes on.
“Every year is different.
Some years men have been stellar individuals. True champions of women.
Other years, to be more honest, men have been awful, try-hard bitches.
Bourgeois bitches. Social climbing morons.
Bitter bitches. Bitches with the life sucked out of their bones. Bitches with…darkness in their eyes. Bitches who wanted to be loved but couldn’t find a home.
Sad…used-up, tired bitches. Miserable bitches.
…And nobody told Peggy. Nobody had the heart to tell her in the off years that these men weren’t…all carbon copies of the kind of people she believed she and Stan embodied.
“Was it like a beauty pageant for men?” asks a Millennial man.
“She would never have called it that.” says Lacey.
“No.” says a friend.
“It wasn’t degrading to men. It actually became a very progressive social event.” says Lacey.
“Did Stan censor her more carnal instincts?” asks a man.
“Yes. But I’m sure Peggy did that herself too.” says Lacey. “Really, I think Peggy more or less was guided by Stan. He brought more depth and meaning to the event. It truly had years where it was…shocking.” says Lacey.
“Shocking in the best, most humanitarian and socially uplifting way?” asks a Liberal.
“Yes! And those men set the standard. They were ambassadors of hope and freedom to the world.” says Lacey.
“Sounds like a beauty pageant for men.” says a skeptical man.
“But it wasn’t conceived as such.” says Lacey.
“Okay. But did these men who won usually-Were they-“. He raises his hand. “They were usually pretty?”
Lacey pauses to mentally reflect on the list of men. Examining their faces in her mind to look for some sort of male beauty.
She has to admit it. That is the norm.
“Yes.” she says. “I suppose that is the trend.”
“So is the award seen as a status symbol in some communities?” asks a man.
“Possibly.” Lacey says feeling heartbreak as she sees it.
“Well, why do you think sad, miserable jerks try to win?!” the man protests.
“I thought it was a fluke.” says Lacey.
“Like a flaw in the overall framework of the organization?” asks another man.
“Yes! Did you ever meet Peggy?” Lacey asks.
“Oh that’s right! You were friends with Peggy!” says a gay man smiling.
“Yes! She was amazing!” says Lacey.
The man nods. “What was her vision?”
“She told me that it was to empower all people.” says Lacey. “But she saw the award as way to give men the credit that they deserved.”
“Is that what she told you?” asks a man.
“Yes! It was on a day when I was having drinks with her at lunch. And my husband was so tired from working. And I felt so sorry for him. And she told me that this award was a way to show hardworking, loving, men like him that we see them. And love them.” says Lacey. “That we see them the way they see us.”
“And that sold you on it?!” asks a Boomer seriously.
“Yes! She was such a strong, bright, adventurous woman. She gave so many of us a different perspective at lunch.” says Lacey.
“At lunch?!” scoffs a perfume hater.
“Oh! That’s right! In your mind…lunch is what? A social status symbol?” says Lacey, finding that bizarre and mildly gross. “It’s lunch. Why is eating lunch a thing only rich people do?” She thinks. “You can’t be that-You can’t be suffering that much? Right?”
“No! I eat lunch!” says a female hater.
“Then why do you focus on it so much?” asks Lacey.
“It’s more that you can eat outside of your home. And spend hours away from responsibility. Etc, etc.” winks a feminist professor at Lacey. Lacey and her had a long discussion once where Lacey mentally exhausted the woman discussing issues of the day. And yet Lacey felt appreciative of her insight. And they made an agreement that whenever Lacey got confused by an issue of social class and the professor was present that she’d say, “Etc., etc..” and wink.
“Oh! I see.” says Lacey still concerned.
“Why didn’t your husband tell you you couldn’t donate money?” asks a gay man.
“Oh dear. You’re a few steps too far ahead.” says Lacey.
He looks mortified. “What happened?”
“I thought I’d already told you.” says Lacey.
“Wait. What?!” asks a Boomer man. “No. You can’t be serious?”
The gay man screams. “Oh no! Oh no!” he says. He looks at Lacey with sadness. “Who were these women?”
“Sarah from the gardening club. Mrs. Mark Andrews from church. My-my former sister-in-law. And a nanny who was living with my husband’s cousins family who never seemed to go home.” Lacey laughed. “She was Austrian. Very sweet!”
“Oh you mean an au pair?” asks a woman.
“Please. That’s rude. You know my French is a personal embarrassment to me.” says Lacey.
“Oh! That’s right.” the woman says, apologetically.
“Lacey nobody talks in French anymore!” says another woman condescendingly.
“That’s ignorant, bourgeois and disgusting.” says Lacey.
The woman turns around matter-of-factly.
“You should learn French, dear. It’s a beautiful language.” says Lacey to the woman.
Her son looks back at Lacey aghast. The woman laughs.
“It’s not funny! The murder of language is a cultural-“. Overcome by rage and grief Lacey shakes her head in disgust. “It’s death of our souls. Don’t mock French.” she says. “Language is our consciousness. It’s a dance. The dance of life.”
“You’re an idiot! That’s pretentious bullshit that doesn’t make sense! I’m smart! And I don’t get it!” says a perfume hater.
“No! I doubt that. Just think about it. Maybe it will inspire you and make more sense eventually.” says Lacey without condescension.
“Anyway! You were saying?” asks the gay man.
“I’ve lost track.” says Lacey.
“Sarah. From the gardening club?” he asks.
“Sarah?” asks Lacey.
“Lacey, were you in love with any of these women?” he asks grinning.
“No. I’ve never experienced that feeling for another woman. But they were lovely!” she says fondly.
“Why did you meet each other?” he asks.
“Oh just for fun.” she says. “You know. Just to feel human.”
“That sounds like fun.” he says.
“It was.” she says.
He smiles. “Lacey. These women were all using each other.”
“No! They weren’t. That’s vile.” says Lacey. “That’s vile.”
He shakes his head. Closes his eyes. “So they were all real platonic friends?”
“Yes.” says Lacey.
He cries. Stands-up. Has to walk-off.￼
“Except, sweetheart. What…was…Peggy doing there?!” asks a man.
“I’ve thought all these years that she was our friend too. Although sometimes she could be so…distant. And I’d try to get her attention and she’d avoid eye-contact and run off back to work.” says Lacey.
“Did she ever confide in you?” asks the gay man.
“Yes! But Margy told me not to trust her. Because she didn’t. But that was when Margy and Luther were getting divorced. And I was suspicious of both of their intentions because they’d always seemed so genuinely happy.” says Lacey. She feels terrible for prattling on. “Margy was my friend who also knew Peggy. I was the one who introduced everyone to Peggy.”
“Where did Peggy meet Margy?” asks the gay man.
“I don’t know. Margy was involved in the feminist movement. She spent a lot of time in Greenwich Village at rallies and Peggy met her there.” says Lacey.
“And how did you meet Peggy?” he asks.
“She was at a dinner party my husband and I went to.” Lacey says. She grows suddenly embarrassed. She looks off.
“And you got along with Peggy?” he asks.
“She was very quiet during dinner. And I was concerned about her actually. She seemed so intense and quiet.” Lacey says. “But then-“. Lacey hesitates. “We were making love in the bathroom and she walked in on us. And at first she was aghast but then I saw her smile.” She thinks. “Not in a malicious way. In the most…artistically gifted and sensible sort of way. And I talked to her afterward and apologized.” says Lacey. “And she said she was sorry too. And I said, ‘You’re married though? Right?’ and she laughed.” Lacey tries to remember. “She beamed. Not grinned.” Lacey thinks. “And then a look of sadness came over her face. And I intuited that she was lonely still for some reason.” says Lacey. “So I said, ‘Why the sadness?’”
The gay man takes a deep breath and smiles. “And she said what?”
“She said, ‘I can’t go home. I need friends. Real friends. But I don’t have them here.’”
“And so I offered to introduce her to my lunch friends. Not as a final destination, so to speak, but as a way to get to know her better myself. And the first lunch was delightful. The second one we took a venture to Italy. And she spent an extra week there.” Lacey thinks. “I had to go home on time.” Lacey thinks. “She said to me, ‘I can’t go back there again. Wherever that was. In Europe. It’s like being in the circus.’” Lacey thinks. “I felt so bad for her. I was always careful. But it was the early 1970’s.” She closes her eyes. “I said, ‘Just come to lunch!’ and so she did. And she seemed like herself. For months. But then one day she was cold. And I called her and apologized and she said, ‘I love you all. You’re a part of my heart. I feel…free when I’m at lunch. I can say whatever I want to say. And I know I’ll be loved. And welcomed back. You guys are like sisters to me. But-‘“. Lacey thinks. “‘I saw my old friend Don today at the funeral of a friend. Roger. Did you know Roger?’ she asked ironically.” Lacey thinks. “And I said, ‘Roger who?’ and she said, ‘Roger Sterling.’ and I realized that we knew his last name but not him.” Lacey looks concerned. “‘Don told me to stop going to lunch. He said it would make me wish I was dead. But I told him it’s the opposite. And he told me to be more careful.’” Lacey sighs quietly. “And I told her, ‘That’s very wise. We do adore you. You’re a dear. But I worried about you when you didn’t come back from Italy on time.’” Lacey goes on, “I think she said, ‘You remind me of my mom!’ And then she giggled.” Lacey thinks. “And then she said, ‘I’ll probably turn into her too soon.’ And she hung-up.”
“How much did she get from all of you?” asks the gay man.
“About four or five million.” says Lacey.
“All at once? Or over time?”
“Over a period of about two years.” says Lacey.
“And she used all that money to start this organization?” asks the gay man.
“Yes.” says Lacey.
“The name?” he asks.
“The name was Stan’s idea.” says Lacey. “It was supposed to be a tribute to his love for her.” She thinks. “A tribute to his…progressive thinking.”
“I knew her too, you know.” says the gay man.
Lacey looks at him inquisitively.
“Do you know-“ He lowers his voice. “Pete?”
“Pete Campbell?!” asks Lacey. She looks dumbfounded.
The man shrugs.
“Pete is my distant cousin.” says Lacey.
He blinks repeatedly. “Wait! What? So you grew-up playing with him?”
“Distant cousin. But yes. We met once or twice at someone’s house in upstate New York.” she says.
“Did Peggy know that?!” he asks.
“I’ve always wondered if she did.” muses Lacey.
“She did.” he confesses. Peggy died two years ago.
“Oh.” Lacey is hurt but hides it as much as possible.
“You couldn’t have expected her to tell you!?” he asks.
“My father is-“ Lacey starts. “He was.” she corrects. “He was her son’s legal guardian.”
The man glares at her.
Everyone turns to Lacey.
“My distant cousin Pete had an illegitimate son. And his brother figured it out. He was having Pete watched.”
She has everyone’s attention.
“He took the baby away almost at birth and my father was declared the baby’s legal guardian since the mother had been deemed possibly insane.”
“That was Peggy!” he says, almost shaking.
Lacey looks stunned.
She collects herself. “Well!” she smiles. “My father placed him with our family in New York and he became a painter. He lived in rural France for years.” She thinks. “He had a daughter and a son. But then his wife and him divorced. He died of lung cancer recently too. Too as in Peggy also-“
The man nods interrupting her.
“Peggy’s cancer was in her ovaries.” says a man foolishly to correct Lacey.
“Yes! I know.” says Lacey.
The gay man looks distraught.
Knowing Lacey’s sense of humor a man comically asks, “Hey! That’s not the type of cancer Michael had. Is it?”
“No! He was born cis. As was I.” Lacey says.
A trans woman laughs. Then collects herself. “That’s true.”
“How do you know that?!” asks a perfume hater.
“I’ve never seen. But I have a feeling they are cis.” she says.
“But you don’t know!” one insists.
“Anyway, I think she met him in Italy. I think that’s why she disappeared, Lacey.” says the gay man.
“You think she was trying to find him?”
He nods his head yes. “He was on vacation. She saw a photo of him in your house at that dinner party.”
Lacey looks sad. He looks concerned.
“I spent hours taking care of him when he was a baby.” she says.
The gay man starts to hyperventilate. He calms himself.
“He was like your nephew?”
“Yes! I keep photos of all of my nieces and nephews up in my house.” says Lacey.
“She told me he looked just like Pete but with her eyes.”
“They did have similar eyes. I think I thought that was just because his mother was Norwegian.”
He thinks. “Oh! You’ve seen other Norwegians with those eyes?”
“Yes! Not all Norwegians. I’m slightly Norwegian. On my mother’s side. But it’s not uncommon.” Lacey says.
“Actually, that’s probably true if you’ve observed those shape or color in other Norwegians?” asks a man from the organization.
“Yes!” says Lacey.
“Pete was her one true love.“ says the gay man.
“Did Stan know?” asks Lacey.
He looks at her…eyes distant.
And then it all starts to make sense.
“He told her that every woman he loved other than her his whole life was a facet of her dimly reflected to give him hope of God’s existence.” says the gay man.
“Did Stan know that before she started Mr. Peggy Olson or after?”
He laughs. Closes his eyes. “He always knew.” he says uncomfortably. “They had no secrets.”
“Why didn’t you raise her son?” he asks.
“I was only 17. And I did help for over a year. And I checked on him regularly. He thought of me as his aunt. But my father wouldn’t let me raise him as my son.” says Lacey. She sighs. “Did he think of me as his mother?” she asks.
“Yes! And it killed her.” says a woman from the organization as the gay man falls into tears.
“Oh! He was like a son. But I wanted to respect his father. I-I-I wonder if she understood him correctly. His father did check on him too eventually. Not until after they moved to the Midwest though. My other cousins didn’t want Pete to interfere in raising him.” She thinks. “They felt that Pete’s life in the city doing what he did had altered his character and judgement.”
“He said you were his heart.” says the gay man. “Like a mother.”
“Like a mother. Not literally his mother.”
“She loved it! She didn’t hate you for it! It just broke her heart that she couldn’t be his mother.”
“She never felt she was in her right mind when she gave him up.” says the woman.
“Wait. How distant was Pete?” asks a Gen Z woman.
“A fifth cousin. But my parents and his kept track of such things. Our family meant a lot to us. It still does in a way.” says Lacey.
“Did he wish you and his dad had gotten married?” asks the gay man.
Lacey looks shocked. She chews her gum. Thoughtfully.
“Pete is not someone I would have married.” says Lacey. “He was truly like a cousin to me, however distant.”
She thinks. “Did he ever meet Stan?” she asks.
“You don’t know?!” asks the gay man.
“No! He was a grown man eventually and he never told me he’d met his mother-No! Actually he did say he’d briefly met her. But it sounded like she was disappointing.”
The gay man looks confused. “Why disappointing?”
“She was so businesslike. And he’d always imagined she would be more affectionate and maternal. Like a female version of his father. Pete was actually a very proud father. They were close towards the end of Pete’s life.”
“So she seemed cold?” asks the woman.
“Yes.” Lacey closes her eyes. “She wasn’t cold. She was scared.”
“Scared of what?”
“Scared of being…common and dull.”
“What did Pete think of the Mr. Peggy Olson Award?” asks Lacey.
“He refused to talk about it.” says the gay man.
“He did get angry every time I brought her up towards the end.” says Lacey.
“He was suicidal once.” says the gay man.
Lacey thinks about the competition. “This was Stan’s organization. Her idea. Her premise. Her attempt at liberation. But it was Stan’s tribute to his love for Peggy.” says Lacey. “His sense of irony. His rage.”
“Was Stan homophobic?” asks the gay man.
“Oh, I don’t know.” says Lacey. “Did he think Pete was secretly gay?”
A man cracks-up laughing.
“What was Pete’s problem?”
“Honestly?” asks Lacey.
“Yes.” says the gay man.
“He thought he was ugly.”
“But he’s-He was straight?” asks the gay man.
“Yes.” says Lacey. “I never dated him. But yes. I’m quite sure he was entirely heterosexual.”
“That’s what I thought too!” he says, as if part of an unknown argument.
“You were there when she died. What did she say?” asks the woman later.
“She said, ‘Where’s your office? Pete!’” says Lacey.
“Did she sound happy?”
“Yes! Very. And in love. I knew she loved him. But I didn’t realize how often they secretly saw each other.“ says Lacey.
“Does it hurt that she didn’t tell you that part?” asks the woman.
“No! It baffles me. I would have loved to be more helpful. But it would have been stressful too.” says Lacey.
“Lacey have you had a stressful life?”
“Yes! But it was happy too.” says Lacey. “I’m hurt but we’ll sort it out in Heaven.”
“So you just worry she was using-“
“For the dough?!” asks Lacey. “Pretending to be friends.” She thinks. “I’ll sort it out when I can talk to her in the presence of God. I want to hear her own…actual side of things.”