Monday, August 8, 2016

David Carr died...

...about a year and a half ago, and I'm sorry to say I still can't find mention of him anywhere at our shared alma mater.*

Mr. Carr, a 1974 graduate of Benilde High School, was a writer for The New York Times and author of the memoir The Night of the Gun: A Reporter Investigates the Darkest Story of His Life, His Own.

(I just read that AMC is developing a miniseries based on the book that will star Bob Odenkirk as Carr.)

When Carr died, in February, 2015, I sent a tweet to the Benilde-St. Margaret's Twitter page with the information. The response was something anodyne like "Our thoughts and prayers are with his family," to which I concluded that they had no idea who David Carr was.

I was disappointed for two reasons. First, not only was Carr one of my favorite writers, but he was also widely-admired by the cognoscenti. Someone at Benilde should have known who he was. Doesn't anyone there read The New York Times? Or is The Wall Street Journal the newspaper of record there? Among the moderately-literate, David Carr was a household name.

(Full disclosure: my son's future father-in-law, who just retired from his post as editor at HarperCollins, once played cards with Carr in Manhattan. Very cool.)

The second reason is even worse: Or did the good folks at Benilde know about David Carr all too well?

Carr, as I mentioned, was the author of a memoir that was mildly disparaging of the high school we both attended in St. Louis Park, Minnesota (all emphasis mine):

It was assumed that I would go to Benilde High School, a suburban all-boys Catholic school where my older brothers had gone. We were expected to work summers and pay half the tuition. I caddied at a Jewish country club, came up with my share, and hated nearly every second of it. Benilde had the same triumvirate that existed in every high school at the time: jocks, nerds, and freaks. I self-assigned to the freaks.

As I wrote in 2013:

Now, I guess my experience at Benilde was a little different from Carr's. First of all, he and I could have been a "tag team": Carr graduated in the spring of 1974 and I transferred in as a junior the following fall. (We moved to Minneapolis from New Jersey that year -- the subject of another post.) So our paths narrowly missed. Also, I didn't actually attend "Benilde," but rather Benilde-St. Margaret's. (The two schools had merged over the summer.) And, finally, I would characterize my experience at BSM as an overall positive one, after the initial shock of transferring into a newly-merged school as a junior while not knowing a soul in the entire state of Minnesota.

Carr's description of Benilde as a triumvirate made me think, though: to which of the three groups did I belong?

And again, in 2015:

As I remember it, Benilde-St. Margaret's, as it came to be known by the time I arrived for my junior year in 1974 (it merged with a girls' school after Carr graduated), was divided into "burnouts," of which I assume Carr was one, and "straights," which included me (surprised?). So it's just as well we never met; I kind of doubt Carr would have liked me -- he was cool and I wasn't. (I did know his cousin, though -- a little.)

I'll bet what really bothered the "nice people" at BSM, though, was that Carr's memoir recalled his early life as a drug addict, wife-beater and all-around thug before he cleaned up his act and became a reporter for The New York Times.

But isn't that a great story? Guy hits rock bottom and then fights his way back up to become a big success? Who wouldn't love that?

Well, BSM, I guess.

Benilde has gotten a lot more conservative -- and "fancy" -- since I graduated way back in 1976. The place that almost closed its doors in the early '70s now seems to be one of the more "prestigious" schools in the area. (Go figure!) And, since BSM is a private school, of course, they have to always be "selling" themselves. After all, if Benilde isn't "better" than your local public school, then why on earth would you spend thousands of dollars to send your kid there? And the last thing a Benilde parent wants is for their little dears to turn out to be drug addicts like Carr! (No one else at Benilde has ever tried alcohol or drugs besides Carr.) No, BSM parents expect their precious offspring to remain squeaky clean and go on to a suitable Catholic university like Notre Dame. (And don't even think about following in Carr's footsteps to be a "writer." It's strictly business, law or medicine for my Johnny or Janie!)

You know what would really impress me? If Benilde-St. Margaret's were secure enough to say that, yeah, David Carr struggled after graduation but turned out to be a famous, gifted writer. We don't care what he said about Benilde -- we're proud of him just the same!

* If I'm wrong, please tell me in the comments section below. Or tweet to me @BoringOldWhtGuy or send an email to the address in the upper-right corner of this blog.

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