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Frank McCourt died today, after developing meningitis while struggling with melanoma.
Mr. McCourt won the Pulitzer Prize for his memoir "Angela's Ashes", but more importantly (to me, anyway), about two decades previous to his receiving literary accolades, he was my high school English teacher. I had him for two semesters, once in my sophomore year, and then again as a senior.
To say that his classes were a little offbeat would be a serious understatement. More often than not, Mr. McCourt, sporting bloodshot eyes and the faintest whiff of last night's pub, would conduct a monologue about the vicissitudes of life and the various lessons he had or hadn't learned from them, in his always witty and heartfelt Irish brogue. He'd go on little tirades about how his bankrupt brother could get credit cards but he couldn't, or how the historically recent notion of "falling in love", with its likening of romantic attachment to some cosmic dog shit that one accidentally steps in, has led human beings to plumb the depths of misery...
When the class's attentions actually did turn to the study of English, we would often read Mimi Sheraton's restaurant reviews in the New York Times, the prose of which could transport Mr. McCourt to a state of rapturous joy. It wasn't until I read Angela's Ashes nearly 20 years later, that I understood his fixation on Ms. Sheraton's columns. He'd grown up quite literally starving, and the eloquent superlatives lavished on edibles by Mimi Sheraton must have put words to his own lifelong fascination with food.
When I mentally time travel back to high school, I often find myself sitting in Frank McCourt's classroom.
He was my favorite teacher.
Rest in peace, Mr. McCourt...