We all looked up to Norman. Middle school is a tough time for everybody, but somehow he could make anyone laugh. I remember the first day we noticed Norman’s genius: he had just asked Mrs. Thatcher if he could go to the bathroom. She gave her usual response: “I don’t know, can you?”
“Alright already ya kolboynick, I know my bladder’s no good anymore but go easy on the chutzpah why don’t you.”
The room fell silent. No one had ever stood up to Mrs. Thatcher like that. Who was this guy?
“Costs an arm and a leg to take a pisch around here, oy vey.”
That did it. The class burst into laughter and cheers—we had found a new hero. After that, Norman became a celebrity on campus. No one was safe from his quips, as we found out the next week during dodgeball.
“Norman what are you doing with that crossword puzzle?” Coach McMillian yelled. “Get in the game!”
“Jeez I’ve been schlepping my books around all day, gimme a break!” Norman started to leave. “And on Passover of all days, I tell ya this fast will be the death of me.” Coach McMillian was stunned. We were on the ground laughing our heads off.
To us, Norman was just the funny guy, a source for laughs. But none of us ever really thought about Norman as a person. Did he have feelings underneath those thick square glasses and that perpetual musk of gefilte fish? One day, we saw him sitting alone at lunch. Danny went up and asked him what was wrong. “Women,” Norman replied.
“Hey I’ve been there too buddy,” Danny said. “You just gotta work up the confidence to ask her out.”
“Feh, fat chance for a schmoe like me. I get so anxious when I talk to girls I schlock up my words and act like a yuck-a-puck. Women never go for lousy meschugeners like me.”
That tore the house down. Norman had outdone himself this time. The cafeteria erupted in applause as we surrounded our hero and cheered him on. Always the humble comedian, Norman pushed us away and started to leave, but the crowd pulled him back and lifted him up on their shoulders, chanting his name as his eyes welled up with tears.