An excerpt from

Nick: A Montreal Life
by Edited by Dave Bist with an introduction by Mordecai Richler

Back in the 1950s and 60s, Jack Kerouac was a major big deal. Still is, as a matter of fact. At least for those who remember the Beat Generation and all that.

OK, so forget Espresso Bongo and such films.

But beatniks and poetry and Kerouac's novels, especially On the Road, were the stuff that stuffed the dreams of my generation. So needless to say I was thrilled to death in the mid-'60s when some Radio-Canada TV producer phoned me up to invite me to dinner with Jack Kerouac.

Kerouac, who by this time had been doing much publicized soul-searching about his French-Canadian roots, was in town to do a lengthy interview for a show called "Sel de la semaine."

Kerouac, a Franco-American from Lowell, Massachusetts, spoke poor French and the producers thought that it would be nice to have somebody he could relate to after the show.

At the time, I had a minor reputation as having been a beatnik poet. When I was about 19 or so, I used to read my poetry at a dive called La Poubelle on Bishop Street.

They paid me $5 a night plus five free beers, which wasn't bad considering that my first job at the Gazette paid just $35 a week. So one evening about 10 o'clock, I toddled over to the basement restaurant of Castle du Roy on Drummond Street to have dinner with Kerouac and about six or seven Radio-Canada types.

Introductions were made and we all sat down to a pleasant evening of dimmer conversation.

Right off the bat, Kerouac and I got along famously, because essentially we were speaking the same language.

I recited some of my poetry and he poured great big glasses of wine, We talked of this and that, he told me about Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti and all the other big figures of the day.

I regaled him with a story about how I got arrested at the corner of Stanley and Sherbrooke streets once when I was nude and holding a copy of Ferlinghetti's Coney Island of the Mind in one hand and a glass of gin in the other.

It turned out we had a mutual friend, Graham, and he wrote a note for him and we sat there like bosom buddies, laughing and drinking.

In short, we were getting along famously.

Now Kerouac had obviously had a jump on us as far as the consumption of wine and other alcoholic beverages was concerned that day. Fact is, he was drunk as a newt.

However, when one is in the presence of a genius and visionary and all that, one tends to overlook minor flaws.

The evening proceeded smoothly until the subject of politics intruded in the conversation. Kerouac made some anti-Semitic remark and launched into a harangue about Kremlin-Zionist-Communist conspiracies and insidious infiltrations and all.

Now this was before Dr. Strangelove, but Kerouac sounded like a character out of that movie. He was insane.

I didn't know it at the time, but apparently in his later years - he finally drank himself to death in 1969 - this was one of the major preoccupations of his addled brain.

Well, no one at the table reacted much. They sat there looking serious and earnest, trying not to be embarrassed and nodding the way you so when somebody important and famous says anything, even if it is totally idiotic.

I looked at Kerouac and said: "You're putting us on, right?"

He continued his diatribe, sprinkled with racist epithets and foul language.

"You're out of your mind," I shouted at him. "I'm not going to sit here and listen to a lunatic. You're a raving maniac."

Mind, I was into the wine a bit, and my voice was near the shriek level.

So we sat there shrieking at each other while everybody in the restaurant got alarmed. Suddenly, Kerouac reached across the table and grabbed the shoulder of my jacket. He balled his other fist, and I pulled back.

He hung on to my jacket and as I pulled back he fell across the table, knocking over two wine bottles and breaking glasses.

He was still clutching my jacket when I stood up and pushed him off.

He fell on to the lap of one of the Radio-Canada ladies.

I moved off my seat and stepped into the aisle.

I noticed that everyone was suitably horrified.

Waiters and the maitre s' were running around and the various guests were trying to calm things down.

Kerouac lurched over to me and threw a punch.

I deflected his arm with my forearm and shoved.

He crashed back on to the table, knocking over more glasses.

What to do? Management most have wondered. Here was a literary lion. And there was my.

So two waiters grabbed me and threw me out the door.

I guess I lost the fight.