Joe Kertes, Wayson Choy and I were all English teachers at Humber College in the eighties and the nineties, often teaching remedial English or ESL, and living the lives of communications teachers everywhere – which meant hundreds of papers to mark at mid-terms an end-of-terms, and then blessed relief over the summer.
We were all somewhat literary – I was working on the side with Descant , a Canadian literary journal and Wayson was involved with theatres. Joe Kertes published first in 1988, probably the first Humber College teacher to publish anywhere, and went on to win the Leacock Medal for Humour. He then started the Humber School for Writers and published adult and YA books. I published next in 1994, a novel called Dinner at the End of the World. Wayson, the oldest of us, published last, in 1995. I remember saying to him to enjoy the moment because publishing glory did not last – that book, The Jade Peony, has gone through around 30 printings, sold tens of thousands of copies, and been adopted in classrooms across the country.
Since then we have all published to greater or lesser acclaim, depending on the book, and I now run the writing school Joe started while he has gone up to be dean and Wayson has retired to devote more time to writing.
The one constant has been our dinners, usually at the Pearl Court Restaurant over on Gerard near Broadview. We meet there every couple of months to overeat and talk about the college and literature and who is doing what.
These dinners have been a refuge and a consolation over the years – gratifying to begin again after Wayson’s heart attacks (twice!), after one of my manuscripts went bust, after various types of turmoil at home or at work. During the summer writing workshop, we’ll have a big crowd there – the late Paul Quarrington, Guy Vanderhaeghe, Alistair MacLeod, Kim Moritsugu, Isabel Huggan and others.
But usually it’s the three of us, talking about what we have read or where we are in our books. Wayson is always throwing out old versions, discovering the key to his new book practically every time we meet. Joe and I soldier on as time permits due to our day jobs. We gossip about writers we know and the books they are writing. I suspect we never reach the intensity of My Dinner with Andre, but on the other hand, we have never had a dull moment. After we’ve paid the bill, we’re often still at the table an hour later.
Wayson goes in for minor surgery on December 21, 2010. No big deal. We talked less about that than my own new novel, Underground, out in March next year. Joe told some funny stories about Russell Peters, who received an honorary degree from the college.
But I think of another writer friend of ours, Bruce Jay Friedman of New York. He’s sweet and smart and funny and he has great stories to tell of his lifetime of lunches with his two friends, Mario Puzo, who went on to write the Godfather novels, and Joseph Heller, who wrote Catch-22.
Bruce is the last one left of them.
Wayson, Joe, and I are not quite at death’s door yet. On the other hand, who knows? We’ve had a lifelong conversation that included literature, among other interests. It’s been very good. I hope it goes on for a long time.