Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Pryor Memories

Photo taken from the liner notes of Joe Henry's fabulous album Scar and the song Richard Pryor Addresses a Tearful Nation. I think it's a Henry Diltz.

In February of 4th grade, my teacher put 25 or so scraps of paper in a bag and we all drew names for a Black History month oral reports. If I remember correctly, the selection process went something like this:

Rufus: Yeah! I got Harriet Tubman. The Underground Railroad is awesome!
Kaylin: George Washington Carver! Sweet! That coupled with my debilitating peanut allergy so severe that it has required our principal to ban my friends from bringing PB&J to lunch is such delicious irony!
Burton: I had a dream I got Martin Luther King! And I did!
Limburg: I love the stop light and I picked that guy who invented it!
The Nabob: Richard Pryor? Aw, man. Did any one get Archibald Alphonso Alexander? I'll trade with you because I don't care what Jack Evans says, the Whitehurst Freeway is my top all-time favorite freeway.

My recollection of this may be a bit a tad off, but I do remember being severely disappointed at drawing Pryor. First of all, I knew Walter Payton* was one of the names in mix and his scrap of paper was never drawn. Second, I don’t think I had a clue who Richard Pryor was. My 4th grade knowledge of stand up comedians consisted of an old Bill Cosby record and quoting hand-me-down lines from Eddie Murphy's "I got some ice cream and you ain’t got none cuz your on welfare" bit.

I complained mightily to my teacher and offered to trade Pryor for Payton. No dice. We reached a compromise when she told me I could do both of them and I foolishly agreed.

I had completely forgotten about all this until this weekend when I heard a Pryor obit on NPR and realized I already seemed to know a lot about his life. I got to wondering several things about my teacher, including what kind of woman would trick an 11 year-old into doing two reports and why she would assign one of those to be about a drug addicted, foul mouthed stand up comic whose material was too mature for me to listen to/understand. There would seem to be hundreds of other possible individuals in the history of black America who would have been more appropriate for a 4th grader. Also, there was scant information about Pryor in the elementary school library so my parents were greatly inconvenienced as well.

I don't recall much about the report itself except standing up in front of the class and delivering a line from a Pryor biography. Something about "using a comb to rake crack rocks from the carpet." I remember having only a vague understanding what I was talking about. But I bet whoever had to follow me with their boring old LeVar Burton report was kicking themselves.

I killed on the Walter Payton presentation, though.


*As a child, I tried to incorporate the NFL in any school project. In third grade we had to pick a partner and write a report on a state capital. My female partner was aghast to see that I had taped pictures of Mile High Stadium all over our paper on Denver. My dad was aghast I had cut up his Sports Illustrated.

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