With Hillary Clinton the odds on favorite to be the Democratic presidential nominee, many a look 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.
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.
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 one episode.
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.
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.) 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.
Some more Clinton era nostalgia
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:
ALSO ON CLINTON-ERA NOSTALGIA