Frank McCourt died on Sunday.
He was best known as the author of Angela’s Ashes. But in everything that he did–teaching, writing, reciting limericks–he was a wonderfully delightful entertainer. I was fortunate to spend a week on a cruise ship with him a few years ago. I don’t think I ever laughed so hard. It was a pleasure to listen to him tell tales for as long as he could. One amusing anecdote involved the time he met the Pope. Despite his best efforts to not be overwhelmed, McCourt reverted to a slobbering Catholic schoolboy and kissed the ring. He told me that he had a whole collection of obscene lullabies but said he had stopped reciting them ever since he had given up drinking. (Darn, I thought.)
But the funniest story was about the time McCourt, who had been a much-celebrated creative writing teacher at Stuyvesant High School in New York City, ran into a past student of his. I’m blanking on the student’s name (so I’ll make one up), and it went something like this:
One day I was walking down Second Avenue, and this young man stopped me. “Mr. McCourt, Mr. McCourt,” he said excitedly. “It’s me, Rocky Malone.”
“Yes, hello, Rocky.”
“Rocky Malone. Do you remember me, Mr. McCourt?”
“I do, Rocky. I do.”
“Do you remember I was in your class, Mr. McCourt?”
“I do, Rocky, I do.”
“Do you remember I was in your class?”
“Yes, Yes, Rocky. I remember.”
“Do you remember that I wrote poetry in that class? Do you, Mr. McCourt?
“Yes, I do, Rocky.”
“And you liked the poetry, Mr. McCourt. You liked it.”
“Yes, I remember that, Rocky. It was very good.”
“And you told me I’d make a good poet. Do you remember that, Mr. McCourt?”
“I do, Rocky. Yes, I do.”
“Well, because of you I went on to become a poet, Mr. McCourt….And now I have no money, Mr. McCourt. No money. So, fuck you, Mr. McCourt! Fuck you!”
And Rocky stormed off.
McCourt laughed deeply when he told that anecdote, and he flashed his mischievous smile. He loved his stories. He really did.