When I arrived at UCLA in the late 1980s, I was lucky enough to be given the office directly across the hall from Mel's office.
I was delighted with that arrangement. I was already familiar with Mel's scholarship. His early writings on mundane reason and reality disjunctures had literally blown my mind when I'd read them in grad school, and his critique of labeling theory helped clarify what this whole "ethnomethodology thing" was all about.
I also had an inkling of Mel's remarkable sense of humor and playfulness. He had given a talk at UCSB when I was a graduate student there, and Don Zimmerman introduced him with an unforgettable anecdote. Don and Mel were on a long flight to some conference, and they passed the time by entertaining the possibility that North Dakota does not exist. More precisely, they were engaged in a tongue-in-cheek thought experiment, exploring how one might sustain the account that North Dakota doesn't exist. Thus, every reference to it - in literature, on TV, and in conversation - would have to be explained away as a joke perhaps, or an ironic comment, or a metaphor for something else, and so on.
The scholarly Mel and the playful Mel were, of course, very deeply intertwined, both pointing to the alternate possibilities that lie beneath the taken-for-granted surface of things. A conversation with Mel was like a magical mystery tour - the most mundane subjects would become occasions for wild and wonderful flights of fancy. I would bump into him in the hallway or at the copy machine, we would start talking, and Mel would start riffing.
I have to say I had the most amazing copy-machine conversations with Mel! Those moments were always stimulating and fun; now, in retrospect, they strike me as precious and irreplaceable.