Essay 2: A Review of Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

It was the day after Thanksgiving. My mother and I took some of our visiting relatives to downtown Gloucester MA to look in some of the shops. I rewarded myself for putting up with the boredom of watching my mother and aunts look at tchotchkes and knick-knacks by taking a look in the bookstore across the street. There I found a copy of Ron Chernow’s celebrated biography of founding father Alexander Hamilton and the basis for the musical cultural phenomenon, Hamilton. I made plans to spend winter break with my friends Ron and Alex.

In the wake of the 2016 presidential election, the cutthroat rivalries, media wars, and outright shit talking described in Chernow’s work show that American politics has been colorful from its very birth. But as far as I know, Donald Trump never called Hillary Clinton a hermaphrodite, at least not publically. The slandering  and backstabbing of our early politicians  makes one chuckle and think “somethings never change”.

Perhaps the book’s greatest merit is how it shows our often deified founding fathers as flawed and human individuals; men who achieved great things but had great flaws and made major mistakes. Like the hero of an ancient greek tragedy, Alexander Hamilton gained glory and greatness but was ultimately brought down by his shortcomings. The life, loves, achievements, failures, rise, and fall of our first treasury secretary make a fascinating read, if you do not get too bogged down in intricacies of early American foreign and domestic policy and the origins of our two party system.

Nonfiction prose has always been difficult for me to get into and I found it difficult to keep focused at many points while reading this book. But this this just personal taste. Anyone with an interest in American history be able to get something out of it. It is a must read for any Hamilton fan.

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Essay One: On Family, or Are Bonnie and Clyde Dead Yet?

On February 18th, my family met at Camillo’s, a popular Italian restaurant in the town of Sayreville, New Jersey. February 18th is close to the birthdays of my mother, grandmother, and two aunts, and my grandparent’s anniversary. There were twenty-six of us in all there that night: my parents, me, my brother, Tom, his girlfriend, Gabby, my grandparents, my Aunt Suzie, my Uncle Steve, my cousins, Steven and Brian, Britney, Steven’s new wife, Kayla, Brian’s fiancee, my aunt Karen, my uncle Dan, my cousins Daniel and Michelle, my Uncle Tom, my Aunt Terry, my Cousin Seamus, and his girlfriend Jenna. Also there were my grandfather’s sister Pat and his brother Jack, my grandmother’s sister, known as Gidge, and her husband Red. All of us were crowded into two tables and ate off of a limited menu. When our food was brought to us, the waiters carried endless plates of chicken marsala, veal parmesan, shrimp in cream sauce, and penne vodka through the narrow passage between the two tables. I had just come back from the bathroom when the food arrived and had to stand aside for about ten minutes to not get in the way of the waiters.

I was woken up between seven and seven thirty that morning, when we left for New Jersey. During the car ride, I read one of the new books I received for Christmas, Go Down Together: The True Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde by Jeff Guinn. “Are they dead yet?” my mother asked me, I told her that I was not not even half way through the book and did not think they would be dead until the end.

We arrived at my grandparent’s house at little before one in the afternoon. Lunch was waiting for us there. I proudly told my grandparents about how I got a 100 on my last math quiz. Tom, Gabby, and their dog Tyson arrived a few hours later; Aunt Suzie, Uncle Steve, Brian and Kayla sometime after that. My afternoon was spent in the basement of the grandparents reminiscing with Tom, Brian, and Kayla. The basement, dank and filled with ancient furniture and bric-a-brac, was the scene of many of our fondest childhood memories. I also spent some time in the kitchen, while my father and Uncle Steve discussed politics, before relocating to the living room, where my mother, Gabby, Aunt Suzie, and Grandma shared family gossip and I petted Tyson.

Camillo’s Restaurant is a few minutes away from my grandparents house. My family has been going there for at least as long as I’ve been alive because my grandmother is good friends with Camillo the owner. My brother and cousins jokingly call him “Grandma’s Boyfriend.” The food is also superb, especially the bread, which I’ve often been accused of greedily consuming. In 2012, the original restaurant received severe flood damage but was rebuilt and triumphantly reopened.

Six o’clock was the time chosen for us all to meet at Camillo’s. I was seated at the second table, between Gabby and my cousin Daniel. Poor Gabby patiently put up with me talking her ear at great length but little point about the writing projects I’m working on. Daniel and Michelle mostly kept to themselves and their IPhones. I asked Michelle how she was with no response. Daniel had to get her to respond with a bad tempered, “fine.”  Occasionally I would get up to socialize with members of my family at the other table. Aunt Terry and I are both fanatical about the Broadway musical Hamilton and made plans to visits Alexander Hamilton related sites in the spring or Fall. Poor Aunt Gidge, whose mind is going, asked me to explain who was who at my table. Since I am very bad at explaining things, she was very confused. Later I had an amusing exchange with Uncle Jack, who I only remember meeting a couple of years ago. “Do you know who I am?” I asked him. He did not know who I was. I told him that I was his brother George’s granddaughter, his niece Arlene’s daughter. He forgot who I was immediately and asked me if I knew George. I again told him that I am his granddaughter. “He’s an old fart isn’t he”, Uncle Jack answered.

The entire family reconvened at my grandparent’s house after dinner. I had to pose for photographs, hiding my short, overweight, and unattractive body behind the strapping form of my cousin Seamus. Posing for photos is especially trying when you have to stand next to the Jennifer Lawrence esque looks of my cousin Michelle. The first picture was in front of the fireplace in my grandparent’s living room. In the second, we were all crammed into the tv room, Tom holding on to Tyson’s collar to keep him from running away. Finally, I was able to retreat to my room and continue watch a documentary on the French revolution. My peace was disturbed for a moment by Seamus coming in to say good night, blowing tobacco vapor in my face.

We stopped at a rest stop near the New York border the next morning to go to the bathroom. As we pulled away I said to my mother, “in case you’re wondering, Bonnie and Clyde aren’t dead yet.”