Modecai & Me
Went bicycling this fine October day. Unusually fine for a Montreal fall day. The leaves were turning their brilliant browns, reds, yellows and all the in-between shades. Especially up on Mount Royal.
Proud of myself, only walked the bike once and only for the last bit of uphill. Then the glorious downhill. The mountain and the city a blur. All the way down Camille Houde – that’s the name of the road, named after one of our famous crooked mayors – all the way to Bleury (Park Ave. of my childhood). Almost past the gazebo.
The Mordecai Richler Gazebo. After three years of bickering and politicking, Montreal’s most famous novelist – for some, most famous Anglophone novelist – for some, most hated Anglophone novelist -- got a rundown, rotting gazebo named after him. And after $175,000 the rundown, rotting gazebo was renovated. You just know if Richler is somewhere looking down, he’s probably dipping his acid pen into his satiric ink.
There was a dapper gentleman sitting alone under the Mordecai Richler gazebo roof, contemplating the beautiful October day. Watching the city hurry by.
I took a picture. He turned to me and asked if I knew who Richler was.
“Yes,” I said. “He was my creative writing teacher at Concordia University.”
“J’aime ses livres,” dit-il.
He went back to contemplating the busy city.
I remembered one incident in Richler’s class.
He was sitting at the head of the table, smoking his cigarillo, listening in a bored way, to yet another deeply “angsted” short story by one of the many bearded pipe- smoking students. The class was mainly made up of young men. Richler was not a very good teacher. He either liked the stories (not many) or not (mostly). No real critique or comments.
There was a knock on the door.
A short, older gentlemen stepped in. He was wearing a rumpled, worn grey suit and a tie that looked like it had never left his neck. His shirt collar tips were curled up. He was holding a battered briefcase.
“So you’re Mordecai,” he said/asked.
Richler eyed him with suspicion. “Yes.” He replied cautiously.
“So you’re Mordecai Richler the writer?” he said/asked again.
“I got stories for you.” He placed his briefcase on the table, clicked the latches and lifted its lid.
“I’m afraid that you can’t just come in here with your stories.”
“Aren’t you teaching the writing stories?”
“So I got stories.” And he began to unpack stories the way a salesman displays his wares.
Richler watched – we all did – him put about a half dozen manuscripts on the table.
“So what?” Richler asked.
“So what kind of stories you want? Shtetl, salesman, war, I got all kinds.”
“Don’t be afraid, choose one.”
Richler decided to be polite. Hadn’t seen him polite since the course began five weeks earlier. “I’ll take a salesman story.”
“Good. Here.” He handed over a manuscript, put the rest back, and snapped the briefcase shut. “I’ll be back next week.” Then he left.
A week later there was a knock on the door.
“So? What do you think?’
“Well, It’s not very good.”
The old guy grabbed his manuscript. “What do you know, you schmuck?”