Of Prince and Begging Season
The walls were sweating. I felt the moisture when I reached out to steady myself while descending the stairs of the Warner Theatre in the wee hours of that Monday morning in 2015. The building itself had come alive and was, by the end of both shows, as spent as the people who'd gathered because Prince decided to add a second show to the sold-out date he'd only announced days earlier.
It was a no-brainer for me when my friend and concert buddy called to asked if I was down. I'd never so readily charged money that I didn't have for tickets that we weren't quite sure were legit for the promise of awful seats.* (And there's not a soul on earth who I imagine could make me do that again.) It would be his last performance in DC. I would have paid double if I had known. No one knew Stevie Wonder would be there. But there they were together, Prince and Stevie, playing music from Songs in the Key of Life. The show was one of those "you had to be there" moments. In that seat I felt closer to God than at any of the moments in the 18 years of a childhood filled with compulsory, near constant church attendance...
"Begging season" is what I call that time of the semester (well-known to many professors) when students of all stripes figure out where my office is. Students I haven't seen since the first week of class, students I've seen all semester but who've managed not to submit a single assignment, students who've done all their work but want extra credit, students who "need" grade X, and everything in between. (This is also the time of the semester when grandmothers die en masse.) Sometimes students come bearing gifts. (I don't accept bribes.) Sometimes students come bearing tears. (I hand them tissues.) Sometimes they come bearing compliments. (You can't be 42! You don't look a day over 27! My ego likes those even though I know they're bullshit.) All of these visits eventually boil down to the same question: What can I do about my grade?
April 21, 2016 began like any other day of begging season. One of my favorite students that semester "needed" an A and was stating her case when a text came through from a friend (who'd also told me, also via text, when Whitney died). "Prince is dead?" is all it read. I cut my student off mid beg and called my friend. Other students were in the hall waiting their turn to make their case. (Having students lined up outside my office this time of the semester always reminds me of that early scene in The Godfather when people beg Don Corleone for favors, hoping that he will grant them because it is his daughter's wedding day. Except that most people leave my office disappointed. And I don't promise to murder anyone.) We all began to frantically confirm the news. The students in the hall began to crowd into my office. They started swapping stories about how their parents(!) introduced them to Prince. One said that her mother used to drag the whole family to concerts whenever Prince performed anywhere near their city -- much to her father's annoyance. One began crying and stepped outside to call her mother because Prince was her mother's favorite artist. I began to play Prince's music and we had an impromptu concert in my office that Thursday. People who heard the music in the hall wandered into my office. No one begged for a grade that day.
*Seriously. We were two rows down from the very top, and these were "secondary market" tickets. I swear I held my breath until the moment the usher scanned them and let us enter. I think I might be still paying for them, but that night with Prince and Stevie together on stage has been worth every penny of compounding interest.