NEVER MIND HIS NAME. I must have known it once, and he must have told me when we met and, I guess. I forgot it again. It's not important anyway. What's important is that I recognized him after all these years. I recognized him sitting in the lobby of a hotel here, his legs crossed, wearing sneakers and clutching a small knapsack that hung in front of him. He one was the funniest kid in the school.
I walked right past him and then I saw him and I stopped, I considered saying something but then I thought I might be wrong, it might not be he, and so I just kept on going. I went a few steps and stopped again and this time looked real close. It was he - at least it was someone I knew. If not high school, then maybe college. It didn't matter which one. What matters is that I clearly remembered him as one of the truly funny people. I decided to say hello.
I walked up to him and I asked him if he went to my high school and he looked at me with absolute horror and said, yes. And then he asked how I remembered and I said I just did. I mean, I still wasn't sure that he was the funniest kid in the school so I told him I remembered because I remembered - nothing more to it. He persisted, I back-pedaled.
"How did you remember me?" he asked.
"You stood out," I said. "You were on the rifle team, right?"
Now, I was panicked. "You were just different."
"Yeah," he said, smiling. "A real cut-up. A wise guy. The funniest guy in the class."
Now is the time pause and to say that this title - funniest kid in the class - is not something you were voted. What you were voted was something called "wittiest=, which had nothing at all to do with being funny but had something to do. I think, with not being understood. Funny kids were not witty. Their humor was broad, slap-stickish, physical, and while a witty person would make you smile, the funny kid made you laugh out loud in class - made you hold it in until you would die from the pain of suppressing a laugh and them make you explode with glee, the laughter spitting from your mouth, the teacher looking at you in fury, you laughing all the more, the funny kid who started it all looking straight ahead - stone-faced.
This was the type of person sitting before me in the hotel lobby and while I did not know him personally, I knew him by reputation. He was several years ahead of me in school, maybe two or three, but he was already acclaimed. He was a type and the type was always tall and dark-haired and athletic when pressed, but more of a fan than a player. They were usually named Larry and they were always know to be bright and they were funny because they were cynical and saw the world their own way - a special, twisted way. They were wonderful people and you sort of knew even back in high school that the world would never tolerate them. Lord knows, the school didn't.
Now, he was sitting there before me, the funniest kid in the class, and he asked me what I did and I told him.
"I can turn a nice phrase, too, when I want to," he said. I smiled, "Of course, I look for something deeper than journalism. I like to go deeper than the waves and ripples."
I continued to smile.
"I saw something of yours in the paper this morning," he said. "I remember seeing something, Richard Cohen, right? What was it about?"
"Violence. You had something to say about violence. Something new, no doubt. Something that has not been said before."
He was being funny. Sometimes he had this mischievous smile, sometimes not. It was hard to tell for sure, but he was being funny, and so we continued to talk. He said he was in town for his organization, but he would not name it so finally I asked.
"Possibly you've heard of it," he said. "It's called The Divine Light Mission. It's headed by Guru Maharaj Ji."
I started to laugh. He was putting me on. I looked at him and checked laugh. Maybe he was serious.
"I know what you might think," he went on. "Lots of former antiwar people, former peace people, former rock people, freak out and believe in some chubby Indian kid. I know you might think that, I thought that once myself." He went on about the Maharaj Ji and I kept listening, watching his face very closely to see if this was a joke - a shtik. It would have been a good one, one of his best and he was among the best. Everyone had said so. He kept on talking and I kept looking for a clue but there wasn't any and so after a while I said I had to go and I left - him sitting there, his legs still crossed. I walked away and then I looked back for one last clue but all he did was give me a little wave and a little smile.