Letters

Letters 02-01-2016

Real Contamination In 1968, Chicago (its Mayor Richard Daley in particular) felt menaced by anti-war protesters (Abbie Hoffman in particular) threatening to put the hallucinogenic LSD into Chicago’s water supply. In reaction to the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., we reacted vigorously to a perceived threat of chemical or biological terrorist attacks on our water supply. A religious cult contaminating a city water tank with salmonella in Oregon, sickening about 700, was the only such attack in our country until now. The water supply of Flint, Mich., was attacked and contaminated, not by terrorists or protesters, but by our own government...

Why The Muslim Debate? I was passing through your fine town last week and picked up a couple copies of Northern Express. There I noted a discourse concerning the Muslim situation in Dearborn. It is interesting to note that I see similar conversations in newspapers and blogs throughout the country and, in fact, throughout the world...

Kachadurian Has It All Wrong Thank you for continuing to publish Thomas Kachadurian’s bigoted editorials. If not for this publication, I wouldn’t know that such people lived in my sweet northern Michigan...

Over The Line I felt Sarah Palin crossed the line when she indicated our president did not care about those like her son who came home wounded. No one challenges her on these remarks; to me it is shameful...

Flints’ Man-made Disaster Governor Snyder’s Financial Emergency Manager Law has created a State of Emergency in Flint. In 2011, newly elected Governor Snyder signed Public Act 4, giving him the freedom to take over any city government his office found financially bankrupt, with power to override any decision of elected city officials. This law showed his primary motive — money before people. In November 2012, the People of Michigan voted down his Financial Emergency Manager Law, as they resented losing control of their cities. In December 2012, he showed his contempt for the people’s vote and signed a revised version, one that did not give power back to the people...

Defending the AR15 And Gun Rights I was amazed to read David Downer’s recent letter. He admits he is a gun owner but he expresses his ignorance of what an “assault rifle” really is, and thereby spreads the antigun position that an AR15 is an assault rifle...

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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