Read time: 5 minutes
It was summer camp in 1979, or maybe 1978, and I wasn’t quite a teenager.
Michael Cohen was “such a sweetie,” in the parlance of the day—brown, floppy, middle-parted hair, high white tube socks with royal blue stripes, tan skin (this was pre-SPF), and a certain open-mouthed insouciance that my 11- or 12-year-old self found devastating.
That slightly agape, indignant mouth. Was that the same mouth that had inexpertly met mine, all those years ago?
By some miracle, young Michael, who was in the corresponding boys’ division at our Jewish sleep-away camp in the Poconos, chose frizzy-haired, tinted prescription glasses-wearing me over the Jodis and the Stacis and the Tracis with the hearts dotting the i’s in their names. They had perfect feathered hair and wore Love’s Baby Soft. I had literally no boobs.
But Michael Cohen thought I was funny, my first hint that that funny was my superpower. He was sweet. We kissed. He tasted like cherry bug juice.
Who’s That on the News?
I hadn’t thought about Michael Cohen in decades until the other night, when I and millions of others watched as breathless news anchors described how attorney Michael Cohen’s Manhattan law office was raided by the FBI. The Feds were searching for records of six-figure payments to women in exchange for their silence about sex they allegedly had with his client, the president.
When I commented to my boyfriend that I’d held sweaty hands with Michael Cohen during our all-camp screening of The Wiz, he gestured at the TV and asked, “THAT Michael Cohen?”
“Oh, I doubt it,” I replied. You couldn’t swing a tetherball at Jewish camp in the late ‘70s without hitting a Michael Cohen.
But then, intrigued, I Googled. I found out that Michael “I am the fix-it guy” Cohen is my age (51) and from Long Island, where many campers at Cedar Lake derived. That floppy brown hair. That entitled confidence. That slightly agape, indignant mouth. Was that the same mouth that had inexpertly met mine, all those years ago? And if it was, do I have retroactive cooties?
The slim chance that I swapped spit with the Michael Cohen who may be going to prison for violating campaign finance law has made me feel ever-so-slightly more relevant.
It was not out of the question that the boy I smooched when Carter was president was THAT Michael Cohen. I had to know, so I posted on Facebook and tagged Cedar Lake Camp alum, several of whom whipped out their yellowing camp yearbooks and scrutinized “my” Michael Cohen’s photos.
“I hate to say it, but it does look like it could be him,” Rachel commented. Because Michael Cohen is possibly the most popular name in the history of American Judaism and there were few clues online, Rachel resorted to staring at his picture and trying to mentally age his face like they do on the missing child posters. “I can see a pasty Republican version of a young Michael,” she concluded. Erica agreed: “Exactly what I thought, too.”
This set off a frenzy of speculation among my friends, one of whom posted Michael Cohen’s 1988 college yearbook photo, in which he has a mullet. It also got them musing about their own I-knew-him-when connections to other eventually famous or notorious folk.
Bygone Brushes with Notoriety
“A friend was having a party in 1997 or ‘98 and told me to be on the lookout for the cute, funny Greek comedian, who happened to be single,” said my friend Tula, who also happens to be Greek and single and really, really funny. “When he arrived, I thought, meh, and made zero effort to flirt with this unknown guy named Zach Galifianakis.”
A guy I went to college with messaged me that he was “Eskimo brothers” with the man who later became Texas senator Ted Cruz, explaining that meant they’d had an intimate partner in common. A few months after my friend and the woman hooked up in the late ‘80s, the woman mentioned she was dating Cruz. “She implied that she was sleeping with him and ‘enjoying it more’ than she had with me,” he says. “Nobody likes to hear that a woman is enjoying sex with another guy more, but when that other guy is Ted Cruz, it’s easy for one’s self esteem to plunge through the floor.”
A guy I went to college with messaged me that he was “Eskimo brothers” with the man who later became Texas senator Ted Cruz.
My friend Judith had an already tall and already earnest “Jimmy” Comey at her third grade birthday party, and still another took John Henson of “Talk Soup” fame to her prom. A friend of a friend got his first cigarette from David “Son of Sam” Berkowitz, and a guy I went to high school with stepped over a passed-out-drunk Jon Favreau, future actor and director, on a ski trip when we were all teenagers.
But my favorite brush with pre-fame came from Alison, who attended a gathering at a college buddy’s childhood apartment in the ‘90s. “His mom had brought in a six-foot sub. I had no food in my hand, so she yapped at me, ‘How come ya not eating?? Take a sandwich!!’” By 1996, that friend’s mom would be known as Judge Judy. “Judge Judy forced me to eat a sandwich,” Alison says.
Why We Care (and We Do!)
What makes these oddball interactions with future celebrities as stupidly exciting as they are? I get why meeting a bona fide famous person can be thrilling, but why should having a very loose connection to someone who was no more high-status than you were when you knew them matter at all? Yet the slim chance that I swapped spit with the Michael Cohen who may be going to prison for violating campaign finance law has made me feel ever-so-slightly more relevant than I was when I was just a middle-aged mom shopping at TJ Maxx and working on my core.
For Tula, who decided not to talk to Zach Galifianakis at that party, it was a Sliding Doors moment. “It’s kind of like a road not taken,” she says. “What if I had flirted with him? What if we got together? What if we fell in love and I was by his side while he ascended? My life would be completely different.” But he wasn’t her physical type. “Did my superficiality and vanity get the best of me? Who knows? He may not have wanted to date me. Who was I? It’s not like he tried to talk to me either,” she shrugged.
“On some irrational slightly berserk level we feel that we had a part in shaping the psyche of someone who changed the course of history,” says my friend who was in third grade with James Comey.
For others, it’s how interconnected we all are, even in a world of billions. “There is a part of me that marvels at, and is amused by, the connection,” explains my politically progressive friend who messed around with the same woman Ted Cruz would later date. “He and I have so many fundamental differences, yet we have this in common—the same woman chose both of us, and we chose her. I may not share Ted’s affinity for machine gun bacon, but clearly we are attracted to some of the same things. Maybe there is hope for bipartisanship after all.”
The guy who didn’t get quite as drunk as Jon Favreau on that high school ski trip suggests that may be a way to equalize them, now that Favreau is the more recognizable of the two. “Maybe it’s a way to say I was better than him since I didn’t vomit and he did,” he admits. “Or maybe I just like telling stories.”
Judith, the friend who had James Comey at her birthday party in the third grade (the party favor was a live salamander) thinks we care because, “On some irrational slightly berserk level we feel that we had a part in shaping the psyche of someone who changed the course of history,” she says. “What if I tried to cheat off of James Comey’s test paper and he covered it up and realized that it was job in life to foil criminals? And what if you told Michael Cohen that he wasn’t a good kisser, and he decided then and there that money was the only sure way to capture a Quality Woman? See what I mean?”
So, Was It THAT Michael Cohen?
I do see what she means. But I’ve concluded that the Michael Cohen I made out with at camp Cedar Lake was in all likelihood not THAT Michael Cohen. In my imagination, “my” Michael turned out to be a terrific guy who in no universe took out a home equity loan to pay off a porn actress. He is living happily with his lovely wife somewhere in New Jersey, composting and earning an honest living, sending his children to Cedar Lake, where they continue the tradition of innocently locking braces on Kissing Rock after shabbat campfire.
It’s a more pleasant story than any being told about THAT Michael Cohen these days, and since it’s my story too, I’ve decided on happily ever after.