Letters

Letters 07-25-2016

Remember Bush-Cheney Does anyone remember George W. Bush and Dick Cheney? They were president and vice president a mere eight years ago. Does anyone out there remember the way things were at the end of their duo? It was terrible...

Mass Shootings And Gun Control The largest mass shooting in U.S. history occurred December 29,1890, when 297 Sioux Indians at Wounded Knee in South Dakota were murdered by federal agents and members of the 7th Cavalry who had come to confiscate their firearms “for their own safety and protection.” The slaughter began after the majority of the Sioux had peacefully turned in their firearms...

Families Need Representation When one party dominates the Michigan administration and legislature, half of Michigan families are not represented on the important issues that face our state. When a policy affects the non-voting K-12 students, they too are left out, especially when it comes to graduation requirements...

Raise The Minimum Wage I wanted to offer a different perspective on the issue of raising the minimum wage. The argument that raising the minimum wage will result in job loss is a bogus scare tactic. The need for labor will not change, just the cost of it, which will be passed on to the consumer, as it always has...

Make Cherryland Respect Renewable Cherryland Electric is about to change their net metering policy. In a nutshell, they want to buy the electricity from those of us who produce clean renewable electric at a rate far below the rate they buy electricity from other sources. They believe very few people have an interest in renewable energy...

Settled Science Climate change science is based on the accumulated evidence gained from studying the greenhouse effect for 200 years. The greenhouse effect keeps our planet 50 degrees warmer due to heat-trapping gases in our atmosphere. Basic principles of physics and chemistry dictate that Earth will warm as concentrations of greenhouse gases increase...

Home · Articles · News · Books · Just Take those Old Records off...
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Just Take those Old Records off the Shelf....

Nancy Sundstrom - July 22nd, 2004
Chris Colin is a talented young writer whose work has been featured in McSweeney’s and the New York Times Book Review, among other publications, and who served a respectable tenure as a writer and editor for Salon.com. When it was announced that his first book, a work of non-fiction, would hit the stands this summer, there was a fair amount of anticipation in literary circles.
When the subject matter was revealed, eyebrows were raised in a different way.
Conlon’s hot-off-the-presses book bears the hefty and intriguing title, “What Really Happened to the Class of ‘93: Start-ups, Dropouts, and Other Navigations Through an Untidy Decade.” What begat both curiosity and skepticism was that Conlon put forth the premise that his graduating high school class was a microcosm for a slew of the most significant events that history and pop culture could muster between 1993 and now.
Conlon’s take was that he and his classmates left high school for the real world midway through 1993 with a spirit of optimism that hadn’t been present in American youth for nearly 40 years. They’d weathered the jaded, decadent, money-grubbing, me-oriented era of the big ‘80s, and it now smelled like teen invincibility. After all, Clinton was newly installed in the White House, Big Brother no longer lurked in the form of the former Soviet Union, and the mere suggestion of a new thing called dot.coms promised lucrative, unlimited easy streets.
When the author and his classmates reunited for their 10-year reunion, the mood was noticeably different; enough so to move Conlon to write a book that examined what had taken place during that time. The other bookend to all the aforementioned optimism was a brilliant, disgraced leader who crawled away from the presidency under a cloud of scandal, the collapse of the Twin Towers in New York City on a beautiful September day when America fell under attack, and a staggering economic downturn. There was also the chaos of personal lives put asunder by all the things that can tear a seemingly normal life apart.
Conlon profiled a diverse group of 20 of his 1993 classmates from Thomas Jefferson School of Science and Technology in Virginia, prefacing each individual story with comments by other classmates. Here is an excerpt dedicated to Chris Sununu, a minor celebrity of the school due to his rather infamous father, John:

“Wes Black: “Friends of ours would come up to him and spread their arms like an airplane, make airplane noises. He’d get pissed off. He was probably a little embarrassed about the whole [scandal involving his father]. I think that hurt him. He was a good person.”
Rebecca (Gray) Lamey: “I went head-to-head with Chris constantly. Usually what ended up happening was, he always had all the guys on his side, and I always had all the girls on my side. Something about him -- there were a lot of guys laughing and applauding him that wouldn’t have normally. One argument I remember was about the differences between the sexes. He and I ended up getting pretty heated. He was going on about how if he took a woman to prom, and rented a limo, and bought her dinner, he’d better get reimbursed for it at the end of the night. I said, ‘You’d expect her to put out just because you spent money on her?’ And he said, ‘Yes, definitely.’
Wayne Steward: “He was your typical straight guy’s guy. Our lockers were near each other. We disagreed on stuff, but at no point did I ever have a really nasty interaction with him. At no point did he ever come up to me and say something overtly prejudiced. Then again, I was already out, you know? What, you’re going to walk down the hall and call me faggot? I’d just turn around and say, ‘I know!’”
Vanya (Seaman) Wright: “Freshman year I went to Karen Taggart’s birthday party – everyone was invited. It was at a mall, and we were trying to get seated at a restaurant there and we couldn’t get in. We walked around and around for 45 minutes. Then Chris mumbled, ‘I never have to wait for a table when I’m with my dad.’ We went back and changed the name to Sununu and got right in -- though maybe they were going to let us in then anyway.”
John Helmantoler: “I really liked Chris. He was a great guy… Politically, his reputation was that of a Rush Limbaugh/Fox News type. That was definitely an accurate portrayal of him. He was definitely of that ‘intolerant’ camp -- I suppose I was, too -- though it’s a bad word. He was of that party line -- ‘What the hell’s going on? We’re making these people heroes and martyrs for coming out of the closet!’ In our defense, we hadn’t seen this before. It’s usually not until college that you start seeing this stuff, and for us it was happening in high school.”

Conlin’s school was a specialized one located just outside of Washington, D.C, and its students were, for the most part, bright and gifted, with unlimited potential. Among his classmates were Karen, a rebel who walked out of her LSAT exam and became an inner-city teacher; Ryan, who drifted to Buddhism after giving up his dream of being a doctor; and Lesley. We also meet the homecoming queen who morphed into Fair Trade activist, the transgendered Matthew/Anne, and others, whose stories touch on the war in Kosovo, being an unwed mother, leftist politics and a love of weaponry, to name just a few.
For the most part, they are all compelling stories, and Conlin is a skilled enough writer to dig for texture in his portraits of the class nerd, prom queen and local nympho, but the greater question is whether the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Do we as a society, or for that matter, does Conlin have enough perspective to be able to wax nostalgically about a time period just 10-years-old? Do the people represented here really speak for that era and define a generation in the way the author wishes them to?
In some ways, what really emerges here is a picture of a period in time, perhaps more so than of a group of individuals, but however one interprets what Conlin presents, his book is candid and generally engaging. In some ways, there’s a part of each one of us that will always be steeped in our high school lore, and there’s a timelessness in that thought that will resonate with readers and carry us back to a time when innocence, and yes, optimism, didn’t seem so far away.
 
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