tampabay.com

Competing with snakes and other cool things

By RICK GERSHMAN, rgershman@sptimes.com
Published November 24, 2006


There's a scene in The Untouchables where Sean Connery's character, a grizzled Irish cop, turns the tables on a would-be assassin.

Shotgun in hand, he ridicules the sort of man who "brings a knife to a gunfight."

Arriving at Lealman Intermediate School last week for the Great American Teach-In, I realized I was the guy with the knife - when what I really needed was a grenade launcher.

Important note: These weapon-related metaphors should be expressed only in your head, at least while on school property.

But back to the, um, gunfight. I had been asked to talk about journalism to groups of students at Lealman, a St. Petersburg school for kids in sixth through eighth grades.

I later learned Lealman is a school for kids considered at risk of dropping out. So this could be a challenge.

There was a fire truck outside Lealman so fire rescue workers could show off all their cool gear. Soon after, a Ford Excursion stretch limousine pulled up to give the kids rides.

Other presenters, from places such as Busch Gardens, brought in animals, including a snake. Midway through the day, a kid asked me if I brought a snake.

Sure, kid. I cover the reptile beat for the Times.

But somehow I forgot my snake today. Um ... you want a tbt* pencil?

Note: I have a Tampa Bay Times pencil too, but it's one-seventh the size.

I was in trouble. I had no gimmicks and gadgets to win these kids over, no anecdotes of rescuing kitties from burning buildings or planting a flag on the moon.

(Sure, I had one story about planting kitties on the moon, but I was making that one up.)

I didn't figure the kids wanted to know much about my role covering Tampa news, because A) they don't live in Tampa and B) dude, it's news.

So I figured I should stick with my sideline - writing an arts and entertainment column and blog, and doing occasional concert and film reviews.

So I dropped names. It worked. The kids peppered me with questions.

"You met Ludacris? Seriously? Did you touch him?"

Yes. Yes. And no.

"You got paid to watch Slipknot play live?"

Yes.

"You got paid to watch Seed of Chucky?"

Yes. But not nearly enough.

We also talked about their favorite musicians and movies, and why they liked them.

A young lady talked about rap's similarity to poetry.

A young man gave an eloquent explanation of why the Adam Sandler flick Click made him think about how to live his life.

Another young lady liked R&B artist Chris Brown simply because "he fine."

And that's fine, I told her. I like Jessica Alba because she's fine. That's all you need.

I don't know that I accomplished much at Lealman, but I hope the kids took a few things from my visit.

I hope they understood that whatever they enjoy, they can do it - or at least write about it.

I hope they realized that just because you grow up and work a serious job, you can still be a kid at heart.

And I sure hope they liked me better than the snake guy.

Rick Gershman can be reached at rgershman@sptimes.com or 226-3431. His arts and entertainment blog, The Ill Literate, is at sptimes.com/blogs/tampaarts/.