NEW ORLEANS — Is THERE a Bush generation? Looking over the equally blameless faces of the new crop in Creative Writing 101, it's hard to tell. The same unmapped look of excessive health, touched here and there by pop fashion, beams out of them. The $6 Supercut specials vie with mall-bought tie-dye.
I ask them to tell a story, any story, to the class. This way I can tell how they talk, how they tell a story and what they think a story is, all useful gauges on the long and painful road to graphobia or mania.
The first to stand is a clean-cut athletic young man who lopes determinedly to the blackboard. "I was in the Coast -Guard for two years," he says, "because I wanted to fight this war on drugs every day out there in South Florida. . . and that's where I went. . . . I wanted to show my father that you can do something right away. . . My father is a West Point colonel but I rejected him and his way . "He lets this sink in, then makes a slow rotating motion on his left temple, "Of course," he admits, "there was quite a bit of Miami Vice in there. . . ."
Next to rise is a young woman tightly accoutered in frayed short shorts. She is barefoot. Around her left ankle there is a gold chain. She too lopes forward and takes several steps right and left before she tells the story of a young woman who threw up for 30 days. She describes in vivid green and orange flaky detail the interface of toilet bowl and contents. She then writes something in her diary. Her mother appears. Her mother takes her diary out of her hands.
At this point, the story changes from the third person to the first person. "So my mother grabs the diary from my hand. . . . I mean her hand . . . and she screams at me: "Why do you want to kill yourself? Everything you write is so depressing! So I say. "Mother, killing yourself is so passe! And then I go back to the bathroom and vomit for another 30 days.
"I look in the mirror and think, 'Mother, don't you know?' "That was the end of the story, and the cheerful-looking child sat down, pleased with herself. I was baffled. Her mother didn't know, and I didn't have a clue, but everybody else in class knew. A minute later it hit me. Of course, bulimia. More fashionable than suicide.
Is there a Bush Generation? Yes. They are just like the Reagan kids only much more extreme. The clean-cut man on my right - as it happened - was more clean-cut and more on my right. And the cheerful bulimic on my left - also as it happened - was more intent on the edge.
Life and death are both a little closer this year, and a little more present.
Andrei Codrescu teaches writing at Louisiana State University.