October 18, 2016

History in the Making

The end of this interminably painful election cycle is finally approaching, and that turns out to be shamelessly relevant to another installment of my childhood writing. I've unearthed two artifacts, one a piece of journalism and the other a work of fiction, that provide some historical perspective on the last time a Clinton entered the White House.

I wrote for my high school paper, The Centipede, and eventually became the Features Editor. (I'll delve more into my life as an intrepid student reporter in a future post.) When I learned there would be a polling place located at our school in November 1992, I mobilized some of the Centipede staff to conduct exit polls. The resulting article, "Poll Predicts Election Results", demonstrated that as Precinct 6 of Concord, Massachusetts goes, so goes the nation.

A refresher: In the 1992 presidential race, Bill Clinton was elected into office with a comfortable lead over incumbent George H. W. Bush. Independent candidate Ross Perot took a strong share of the popular vote. For me, and for most of the people around me in a largely Democratic state, Clinton's election was a significant triumph. I was 17, and I had no memory of a time before Bush and Reagan.

My article about the election is mostly a dry comparison of our exit poll to the election results of the town, state, and nation, for the presidential race and the state referendum questions. I report that some voters "agreed to disclose their choices only if the reporter stepped into the side hallway, away from the line of people waiting to vote," which makes me wonder how annoying we were and how well we planned the logistics of our polling. I do at least remember doing advance research to determine where pollsters were permitted to stand.

The closing of the article also sticks out in my memory, because when I got this scoop, I knew it would make for a killer ending: "Perhaps the most interesting result of the exit poll was the confession of a hassled looking woman with a young boy. When asked for whom she voted, the woman responded confidentially, 'George Washington,' before the toddler dragged her away."

Unlike the article, I didn't remember anything about the lightly fictionalized story I found in my notebook from a few months later, on the occasion of Bill Clinton's inauguration. As usual, this piece ends just at the point when it's starting to develop a plot, but it offers a good picture of my excitement over Clinton's election.

The night before the inauguration, Dana watched the superstars fawn over Bill. She lay sprawled across her dad's bed with her math book open in front of her and guiltily watched the Inaugural Gala. Sure she had a lot of homework, but this was, as her mother would say, "history in the making."

Dana felt a certain obligation to watch the show anyway, since she had missed most of the election coverage. She hadn't seen any of the debates, though she was sorry to have missed Stockdale from the imitations she'd seen the next day. She had watched most of Clinton's speech after he won the Democratic nomination, but that was mostly because she wanted to see what Gore looked like. And she'd only seen about 5 minutes of Clinton's acceptance speech in November.

The gala was probably the most interesting, and certainly the fastest moving, part of the '92 election. She hadn't been that transfixed since she watched the election results slowly trickle in.

Dana was most fascinated when the cameras trained in on the reactions of the soon-to-be-First Family. Especially Chelsea, who had on a nice dress but a weird hairdo. Dana felt really bad for Chelsea. This poor girl would never have any privacy again. And people were always saying nasty things just because Chelsea wasn't that good-looking. Dana wasn't much of a knockout herself, and she had been a real pizzaface during puberty. But Chelsea had to go through puberty on national TV!

At ten minutes of twelve the next day, Dana's French class began begging the teacher to let them go watch the inauguration on the TV in the cafeteria.

"S'il vous plait, Madame," the students begged in a chorus of mediocre accents.

"C'est l'histoire," someone attempted.

Finally, Madame relented, as Dana had known she would. Dana had seen the Clinton/Gore bumper sticker on the teacher's car.

A bunch of students hurried off to the caf, while others, who had only wanted to get out of class, headed the other way. Madame went to watch in the teacher's lounge.

The far end of the cafeteria was mobbed. Dana, who was rather small, squeezed around people's bodies until she could see the TV. Some woman was singing in an opera voice, but the students were ignoring her.

A bunch of kids began an off-key rendition of "Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow." Dana tapped her feet.

"If I hear that song one more time, I'm going to scream," someone said near her ear.

Dana looked. It was a hot guy named Pete from her science class. He didn't seem to be talking to anyone in particular.

"Hi," Dana said. She didn't tell him that she loved "Don't Stop." It was one of the songs her parents used to sing when they were in a band, before the divorce. "Are you psyched?" she asked instead.

Pete shrugged. "Anyone's better than the Bushmeister." Dana hated people who always put weird suffixes on people's names.

Fortunately, the story ends there, saving Dana from any possibility of getting together with the annoying hot guy. Also fortunately, I had no such questionable meet-cute in real life when I got out of class to watch Bill Clinton's inauguration. "Don't Stop" by Fleetwood Mac, Clinton's campaign song, still always takes me back to the excitement of that moment. Here's hoping it'll soon be here again.

Good Stuff Out There:

→ At Literary Hub, Emily Barton discusses the importance of plot: "But any reader can tell you that this bias against plot is nonsense. Books depend upon plot. It is the armature upon which everything hangs. Self-styled intelligent readers read for plot every bit as much as those who plow through mass-market paperback thrillers and romances do. (Also, in many cases, those readers are the same person.)"

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