On Clinton era nostalgia, Rhode Island style

On Clinton era nostalgia, Rhode Island style

[Susan with Former President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton, early 2000s]

With Hillary Clinton the odds on favorite to be the Democratic presidential nominee, many looks backward will be given to her days when Bill was president and she the first lady.

For many, myself included, the Clinton years were good ones. For me, much was the psychic relief that the Cold War, swiftly and almost miraculously, had ended.

As a boy in the 70s, I had persistent nightmares about nuclear bomb attacks. When I awoke to police and fire lights and sirens, I thought it was an air raid. I read On the Beach, about the last days of civilization in Australia, and the Cold War thriller Fail Safe. In school we learned about nuclear winter and how humans would not survive an atomic apocalypse. And then in 1989 the Wall fell and in 1991 the Iron Curtain came down. The existential threat suddenly receded.


Fallout Shelter sign on the Twelve Corners Middle School in Brighton. Technically, the school is still a shelter with a capacity of 225. From Young citizens show their mettle at the Brighton High School Walk Out

For a period, terrorism and cultism seemed to be mostly domestic: David Koresh and the Branch Dravidians, Timothy McVeigh and the Murrah Federal Building, the Unabomber. Clinton didn’t launch cruise missile strikes on al-Qaeda bases in Afghanistan until 1998.

And, during the Clinton years, the economy was booming, partially due to the peace dividend.  Dot coms were gaining traction. I remember charts showing the income even of the lower quartiles was increasing.  Then in grad school for English at the University of Rhode Island, stipends were actually rising and grant money pouring in.

Of course, nostalgia is shaped by one’s own experience.  During stretches of the Clinton era, I was living an idyll. In school, reading Great Books and teaching freshman comp for bread and for gravy the American Lit Survey: enamored with the latest academic vogue, New Historicism, whose founder Stephen Greenblatt I finally met last year when he spoke at the University of Rochester.

And living in beach house in Narragansett a short walk away from the Bonnet Shores with the Jamestown lighthouse visible across the bay.

dand les

The beach house. Me and my sister, Leslie, circa 1998 See “A Phone Call to Manhattan”

One of my dearest friends was Susan (pictured above with President Clinton). One of Susan moments of fame was being Miss Teen Rhode Island, which I teased her about especially when Jerry from Seinfeld dated Miss Rhode Island in “The Chaperone” episode.

Former Miss Teen Rhode Island

Former Miss Teen Rhode Island

A lifetime learner, always taking a new college course, Sue is by nature an entrepreneur. She ran a successful boutique in New York City, selling the “Kat Jeans” she designed. Most recently, Sue markets pharmaceutical products to major hospitals in the Long Island area, sometimes taking the ferry back to customers in Rhode Island.

Susan at the beach house in her Kat Jeans. Later a big hit in Manhattan

A strong, independent woman — she has three children, two girls and a boy — Susan is very much the portrait of one part of Hillary’s base. Who knows, maybe there will be a place for her in the next administration?

I haven’t seen Susan in a long time. Too long, not since I was last back in ‘lil Rhody. But recently I found some old photos that she then posted on her facebook page. We laughed and reminisced. Swimming at Bonnet Shores all the way into October. Playing croquet on the lawn with Ian the English physics guy who lived upstairs.  Alas, watching at Twin Willows the New England Patriots lose to the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XXXII. The times we had dinners with former Governor Bruce Sundlun and Providence Mayor Buddy Cianci. Rhode Island is a small state and Sue knows a lot of people.


Beavertail Lighthouse, Jamestown, RI See “A Phone Call to Manhattan”

And nights when the lights from the Jamestown beacon shone into the beach house.

Be indulgent readers, the pictures are for those who crossed paths during our Clinton era Narragansett Camelot.


With Susan on the Dunes Club Beach, Bonnett Shores, RI from 30 years ago when Billy Buck broke Rhode Island’s heart

Susan showing Flynn how to properly wear a hat. Note the Kodak camera. Narragansett, 1996 or 97

Part of the gang (left to right) Flynn who now teaches English at a private high school in Virginia; Mary Ellen now a librarian in Pennsylvania; Mariella (from Spain) and Alex (from Romania) now married and living in Boston where Mariella teaches at BU. As seen, every Rhode Island playboy needs a Playboy subscription. Back in the day when the magazine still had nude pics! [Photo: Joe Volpe, now an attorney in Cleveland] 1996 or 97


Darn those old Kodak cameras and those camera straps! Susan behind the strap; Flynn sitting.


The day before my 30th birthday, Narragansett, RIs. Shirt given by Sarah Lum from her travels in the old Soviet Union. That night, I swear, I met a group of itinerant actors at the restaurant/bar in the background. A little after midnight we all went skinny dipping in the Atlantic Ocean, the troupe singing merry and sometimes ribald songs.

UPDATE: During the 2020 covid-19 lockdown, after Sue read Seriously, where can I get a shave and hair cut? And the eight barbershops on Upper Monroe Avenue, she sent me this photo:

4/23/20 “I’ve been told I look like Rapunzel!!! So done with scrunchies and hair clips!!! Dear Lord….Let us have Hairdresser’s again.”


30 years ago when Billy Buck broke Rhode Island’s heart

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About The Author


Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History and a Storyteller in Residence at the SmallMatters Institute. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, the CITY, Lake Affect Magazine and Brighton Connections. My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.


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