It arrived quite by accident. Amid the usual fourth-class clutter in my mailbox (“Wax your sink—the latest in home care innovation!”) lay the thick, cream-colored envelope.
I turned it over in my hand. The richly embossed letters fairly screamed WHO’S WHO IN AMERICA. Ah, I was honored at last! That series on home vasectomy for Vanity Fair must have turned the trick. Fame, in black tails and a topcoat, was tapping at my door. It made sense. First, recognition by those tasteful delineators of American noblesse, the brothers Who. Next, the Pulitzer. Then, that little Porsche Cabriolet I’d had my eye on.
Discovery. Then dismay. The letter was addressed not to me but to an “R. J. Lunt.” Perhaps it was just another misspelling of my name. It happened to Goethe all the time. Perhaps…
I slit open the envelope and its eminent contents slid into my hand: a biographical data form; circulars advertising Who’s Who in Europe and Who’s Who in New York (known popularly in Brooklyn as Who Dat?); and finally, a letter from the Director, Dr. Halogen, urging me in distinguished tones to fill out the form and rush it back so the next edition could be complete.
A quick flip through my phonebook confirmed that my name had not been bulk-mangled. “R. Joseph Lunt, PhD” was all too real and lived on the same avenue as me, albeit on the better side of the tracks. Similar last names, same street. A simple mix-up. Of course.
Fame had once more scuttled by me! I was torn between tossing the form out or pasting it to the front end of my ’73 Impala and delivering it to Dr. Lunt in person. But time was at a premium. Dr. Halogen’s presses could be held only so long. (I could hear spirited cries echo down in the boiler room of the Who Bros. Press. “Grease up the plates, boys! We’ve got to get the ol’ WW out on time. Folks…” and here Dr. Halogen’s voice would catch, “Folks are dependin’ on us!”)
I knew that Dr. Lunt, busy man that he was, couldn’t bother with such a trifle as a “biographical data form.” I had an obligation, a trust that fate had placed in my hands. I would fill out the form. It was the least I could do for a colleague.
“Occupation”? Well, what did ‘Doc’ Lunt do? He had to do something besides rummaging around. I wrote in “Author-Adventurer.” Yes, I liked that. Distinguished. Renowned. Lots of leeway.
Next came “Date of Birth.” Hmmm. “8-19-54.” Sounds all right, eh Doc?
“Place of Birth”? “Albacore, N.M.,” in Tooraloora County. (The region had been settled by Irish Indians in the 1840s, so local legend had it.) “Mother’s Name”? A stickler. Who would name their kid R. Joseph Lunt in the first place? Of course: “Maizie.” Maizie Lunt, married to Therobald G. Lunt, of the Tooraloora Lunts. The form was shaping up nicely.
Education. I could, on one hand, put down some notable university on the chance that RJ (as I called him) had gone there. With such a distinguished lineage he could only have attended one of the exemplary Ivy League schools. On the other hand, maybe he struggled at some small, Midwestern college, working at night as a manure shredder, studying Etruscan declensions by day while fighting bigotry because he was…he was…Lebanese. Yes! R. J. Lunt, of the Lebanese-Albacore-Tooraloora Lunts.
Downtrodden, poor, misshapen immigrants (Lord! You should have seen their feet) who washed ashore at Ellis Island in 1921, only a scrap of hardtack among Therobald, Maizelle and their six tiny children. (Among them little “Arj” Lunt, the first of the Lebanese Lunts to go to school, to “get the smarts” as Mama Lunt would say later, the first to…perhaps…get into Who’s Who.)
I settled for neither small nor large but merely nondescript. Safer, and who would know except me and Dr. Halogen? I hurriedly inked in the rest.
“Ph.D. Feldspar University 1982
M.A. University of Tuolumne 1978
B.A. Wm. Westmoreland Academy 1976″
A healthy mixture of middling-to-good reputations and no-nonsense military education. I knew the dates were close, considering the neighborhood that Dr. Lunt—I mean Arj—lived in. Fancy, neo-rococo, four-bedroom houses with pink driveways. Arj was up-and-coming, good cash flow.
“Spouse”? “Susan Zuchetto.” An Italian girl. A double major in Weaving and Comparative Lit at Tuolumne U., she met Arj in Professor Franklin’s “Punk Ren” class (English Punctuation During the Renaissance) and fell in love (with Arj, that is). Their whirlwind courtship produced a love child, “R. Joseph Lunt, II (1977, male)” and two other offspring: “Pavan (1979, female)” and “Merlyn (1981, male).” Arj, ever the wag, married Susan in 1978.
As for RJ’s career…well, imagination and inspiration prudently melded. Dr. Lunt (as his friends called him) had written extensively, and the space on the Who’s Who form was criminally small. Still, the citation could at least catch the highlights:
My Life Among the Magi: An Autobiography (Geegaw and Sons, Ltd., London, 2006)
Kosher Komrades: Ten Jews Who Fed the Russian Revolution (Golden Books, 2003)
Make Room for Dada (Mental Meanderings with Stein and Schopenhauer) (Screeeech!allfawhdowngoboom Press, 1999?)
Whither Goest Goethe? (Monograph, doctoral thesis. Feldspar University Press, 1982.)
I glanced down the sheet. Only inches left. Yet the breadth of a man, a life, was to be measured in a few cramped spaces! Perhaps even Dr.—Arj—might have buckled under the pressure. It took a sharp eye and a steady pen to stay the course. I pushed on. I had no illusions.
“Awards and Honors:
Sturm und Drang Medallion, Sie Deutsche Fusselterwanger
1st Flambeau, Int. Torchbearer’s Cotillion, Mélères, France.
‘Jr. Heisman’ Trophy, Calculus Debate Squad, UOT.
James Beard Broccoli Toss, Runner-up, Feldspar University.
So far, so safe. But the rapids of Dr. Halogen’s making awaited. Five lines of “Memberships.” I knew that a man like Dr. R. Joseph Lunt didn’t run a Cub Scout troop. Arj was a contemporary, Netflix kind of guy. I had to face the Bros. Who with both barrels.
VP, Northern California Amateur Forensics League
Walnut Creek Dentrification Society
Secretary, California Writer’s Roundabout
ED Prevention Squad
I trembled with relief. A man’s life—not just any man’s, I had to remind myself—was set down in black and white. A few minor notations remained: “Affiliations” (Labor Party, Pre-Episcopal), “Hobbies” (kittens, freeway maintenance, yeast cultures). Dated and signed.
I held the form at arm’s length and took it in. Granted, Who’s Who hadn’t asked me to join their august ranks. But fate had plucked at my shirtsleeve and given me a chance to help out a fellow human being. By associating with the great, a tincture of greatness was mine.
I stamped the return envelope (no wastrel Halogen!), slid in the completed form and dropped it into a mailbox on the corner. We’d come a long way, Arj and I. I felt I knew him in a very special way.
It saddened me when I later learned that Arj had been rejected by Who’s Who and that the Forensics League had frenched his Tesla. I think he deserved better.
Robert Luhn is a terribly svelte writer based in El Cerrito, CA. His work has appeared in The Raven’s Perch, The Hudson Review, Book Forum, Harper’s, The Nantucket Review, Aberrations, Another Realm, Calliope, A Different Drummer, and Blank Expression. He collects small unattractive animals.