Saturday, July 05, 2003

In Memory of Mordecai Richler

It was about a week before Mordecai Richler died -- two years ago on July 3, 2001 -- that I walked into The Word used bookstore on Milton and picked up a copy of The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz. I embarrassedly explained to the girl behind the counter that I had never actually read it, or anything by Richler. "I mean, I've read his newspaper column and all, of course," I stuttered. "And I follow the careers of his kids."

The clerk told me not to feel bad: she hadn't read Richler yet either and was determined to get on it that week. Whew!

When Richler fell ill, I felt partially responsible. Here I was bringing sickness to him, simply by reading his book. But the story begins at a fictional school located on St. Dominique, just up the street from where I lived at the time, so I couldn't stop then.

The day he died, I was stunned. I felt numb and raced through the pages atoning for some imagined sin by immersing myself in a Plateau of yesteryear.

While at work, on one of my many breaks, I reached the midway point of Duddy Kravitz. "Maybe Lennie'll turn out to be the guy who finds the cure for cancer," says Duddy's father Max about his other McGill-enrolled son.

Max continues, "That would be a big thing for the Jews. One of ours finding the cancer-cure. Aw, they'd still make us trouble."

I was slightly impressed that mere hours after Richler's death, I would stumble across a cancer-related passage in Richler's most celebrated book. But I fell off the couch, when I glanced at the page number: 173. That day, the day Mordechai bit the dust, was the 3rd of the 7th month of 2001. The numerological significance blew me away.

I became convinced that this passage fell on page 173 in all copies of The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, and not just the 1969 McClelland and Stewart paperback edition that I had picked up.

After getting off work, I stayed up for a couple of hours reading late into the night, despite having worked for 13 hours straight. I had to force myself to go to sleep.

I dreamt about Mordechai. He spoke to me in my kitchen and invited me to go smoke shisha with him on Emery St. He tried to get me to donate my fruit bowl to Sun Youth. "For Mr. MacPherson," he insisted, teeth covered with tar protruding from his mouth menacingly.

When I awoke, I eschewed the morning paper for Duddy and polished off the book by the end of my shift that day. I felt cleansed and no longer entirely responsible for Richler's death. I had achieved some sense of catharsis.

The other book I picked up at The Word that fateful date at the end of June was John Irving's The World According to Garp.

Pray for him, folks.

Next entry: Back to the Toronto Fringe Festival. Email your comments and bizarre Richler-related stories to jkelly@cup.ca

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