Local writer Ilan Mochari’s debut coming-of-age novel “Zinsky the Obscure” was just published to great critical acclaim. Ilan is also a journalist and a business writer, and he’s covered Boston sports for nearly four years. And, yes, like so many writers before him, he’s also spent a lot of time as a waiter. We chatted about his new book, his predictions for our local sports teams, and just how much you should tip at restaurants.
Congratulations on your book! Was Zinsky based on someone?
No. The first time Zinsky appeared was in a short story I wrote in the third person in 2003. But the book, as a project, has four overarching ideas. First, the mother of a friend from college died, and I wondered what that would be like. How could one understand what it is to bereave a mother? Second, I had already created Zinsky in a short story. The third was a novel I wrote called “The Invincible Instinct,” in which the main character, Harper Pratt, is the roommate of Diana Kennedy, who is the second leading character in Zinsky, after Zinsky himself. The fourth is based on this Jewish guy named Joel Buchsbaum who lived in Brooklyn. He was a draft analyst who lived in a rent-controlled apartment in Flatbush and spent his days watching videos of football games. I interviewed him for a piece for Inc. and found him so fascinating. I thought, who is going to appreciate this life?
You’re also a business writer. Have you seen anything while covering finance that you thought was so strange it could only happen in a work of fiction?
The short answer is no. Generally, everything I have covered seemed suitable to our litigious, greedy world. Although, now that I think about it, there’s one exception: Joe Woodland, the man who invented the barcode. He died a few months ago and The New York Times obituary on him was so interesting. It talked about how he got the idea for the barcode when he ran his fingers through the sand at the beach. The lines gave him the notion; it was a storybook eureka moment. It was another 25 years before the barcode was put into commercial use, and it had morphed a little by then, but there is no question that Woodland was the inventor.
Let’s talk Boston sports: predictions about the Bruins? The rest of the Sox’s summer? How do the Celtics look for the draft?
The Bruins look like they are on a mission. After Game 7 with Toronto, when they scored three times in the third period and then in overtime, they have been 8-1. It looks like they are preordained to win the Stanley Cup.
The Celtics are in a tough situation. I am a bit of a contrarian, and I don’t believe you should give up and blow up the team. Look at what’s happening right now in the finals—you’re seeing the Spurs, who have two old players and a young point guard, just like the Celtics have, and it’s working for them. I’m just not a believer in blowing teams up.
And the Sox look like they are a playoff team. The big worry was offense, and they’ve proven last week they can score. I’m a big believer in the team. I think they can make the playoffs and maybe win a round or two, but I don’t think they can make it all the way.
You’ve been a waiter for nine years. What’s the best advice you can give for restaurant patrons?
Always say “please” and “thank you.” And always tip 20 percent. If the service is egregiously bad, then you don’t have to tip 20 percent, but those are really the two things.
Four Questions is a weekly interview column featuring interesting people connected with the Greater Boston Jewish community. Find past columns here. Have an idea of someone we should interview? Email Molly!
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