These past four years, Ive taught a class where elementary-aged public school kids learn to program beats on drum machines and pen original lyrics, plus write hilariously mean reviews of albums by New Orleans artists, which Gambit Weekly has been kind enough to publish. This teaching jobs part time nature has allowed me to, in my abundant spare time, chase my dream of becoming a professional author and freelance journalist. But this week I dumped both vocations; after seven years as a New Orleans bohemian, I finally caved and took a full-time job as assistant editor of a Metairie-based trade magazine that details the coin-operated game industry: pinball machines, video poker, crane games, etc.
My first day, I honest-to-god wrote a piece about the company that pioneered Whac-A-Mole.
But of course I gave the after-school program two-weeks notice and told the magazine that, until then, I would spend only half-days reviewing the latest gumball dispensing technology, before leaving to go teach. This delays my 40-hour-a-week sentence, plus gives me some valuable last days to crank out a few final songs with the smart kids of Behrman Elementary on the West Bank (watch upcoming issues of Gambit for the final album reviews by Mr. Michaels Class).
And thus, I felt a renewed sense of purpose driving the crappy little car Im lucky to even own over the bridge today. But in the cafeteria during homework hour, the sixth graders in my charge would barely speak to me. Per usual; on the cusp of puberty, thats just how many sixth graders roll. Ariol however, asked what I did for Mardi Gras. This started a small discussion, in which only the smartest girl, S_____, did not participate. S_____ (whose name I will protect, because I promised her I would) generally never speaks to me no matter what. Wont answer my questions or even acknowledge when Im addressing her. I cant help thinking this is my fault; since shes so artistic and smart, and all her other teachers love her, I fear S_____ simply realizes something about me that the less perceptive kids do not.
But something strange happened with brilliant, distant S_____, when at the lunch table I mentioned last-nights Grammys. Ariol replied that she had missed the Grammys beginning, because I had to do my homework.
Oh man, I missed the beginning too, I commiserated, which sucks since Prince gave out an award at the beginning!
S_____s head snapped up from her spelling homework and her eyes met mine for what seemed like the first time ever: Prince was on?!
And there I thought I had her. Prince is my favorite of all time. Hes actually on this computers screen saver right now as I type -- not a pic from last nights Grammys though, but from the seventies: a shot of Prince wearing only a small black silk speedo, and making a contorted sex face, while strangling a wood-grained Telecaster. He looks completely and totally metaphysically engrossed in the act of music-making, although if you look closely, his guitar is unplugged. Prince is awesome, I nodded to S_____. You obviously like him too, no?
No, that's just my uncle, she said quickly before stopping dead. Her eyes then darted away -- less like she was lying than that shed simply screwed up and told the wrong secret.
Wait, what did you just say? I asked.
Nothing... I mean... she stammered. Nevermind. This was not an act; she was obviously nervous, when usually shes ice cold, far more together than me. Far more collected than I was now.
Oh no. No, no, no. Repeat what you just said, S_____. You just said Prince is your uncle, didnt you?
Its not Im not supposed to
Oh my god. It's true.
No. Hes not, OK? she lied. While she and I havent communicated much, Ive observed her enough to know shes too mature and confident to play coy for my attention. Everything about her seemed to make sense now: her shy confidence, just like Princes; the silent way she communicated her whole cocky-yet-smart personality through simple sly shifts of her eyes.
He is your uncle! I accused. Admit it.
She sighed, irritated.
Oh man S_____, you cant do this to me, I implored. You completely ignore me all semester then out of nowhere you say Prince is your uncle and now you wont even
The other sixth graders turned to her: Prince is your uncle?
"See!" she shouted at me, seeming really skittish now. Just drop it Mr. Michael, please. Seriously. Drop it.
I stared at her through another moments of awkward silence before we all lined up for one of my final Music Writing classes ever. Princes niece happened to be the last one still stuffing her bookbag at the lunch table. I slid in beside her. Listen, I said quietly, I can understand why you wouldnt want people bothering you about it. Maybe someone told you not to mention it to anyone, and thats cool. But if you tell me the truth I promise I will never repeat it to anyone, and I will never ask you another question about Prince. Just tell me the truth, please?
O.K. what? I beamed.
Yes, I will tell you the truth.
O.K. Go ahead.
S_____! Tell me!
Not now! she pointed to the other kids, whod again tuned into us. Here she giggled for what seemed like the first time since Ive known her, yet I still believe shed meant what shed accidentally said. When no one else is around, she promised quietly, passing by me to join the line.
By the end of the days recording session she still hadnt admitted anything. It's unfortunate though, that whenever she finally does, I obviously cant tell you