Allumni News

[Jan: This one’s for you.]

An e-mail from our class representative informed us that, following the passing of our senior year class president, who turned out to be an avid duck hunter, his family had enclosed his ashes in a decoy and set it bobbing on his favorite lake with a brass plaque affixed requesting anyone who found it to use it for a season and then set it back adrift. I thought this a lovely idea by the family, though it seemed to me that, between global warming, toxins in the air and water, and feral cats, our feathered migratory planetary co-habitants had enough to worry about without our senior class president being used to kill more of them.

Our rep also informed us that she had seen the recent documentary about the celebrated film director who had been two years ahead of us. My only concrete memory of him is when he stood in Quaker meeting and confessed his sincere disturbance at no longer being able to believe in God. (A member of the English department, a conscientious objector during WW II, then stood to comfort him.) A friend who later followed the director to Columbia reported back that he had fallen in with an to-be-utterly-scorned crowd of those who wore black turtlenecks.

None of this could have been foreseen by a reasonable man in 1960.

Just Sayin’

In today’s New York Times, Michiko Kakutani reviewed volume one of Volker Ullrich’s new biography of Adolph Hitler, which focuses on his “Ascent.” In analyzing how this “self-obsessed ‘clown'” amassed power, Kakutani (and perhaps Ullrich) notes in order his “‘bottomless mendacity,'” his skills as an “orator and actor” to play to the “fears and resentments” of his “lower middle-class, nationalist-conservative, ethnic-chauvinist” audience and offer “himself as he visionary leader who could restore law and order,” and to present the preset in terms of “decline and decay” and himself as the one person capable of leading it to “greatness.”

Sound familiar?

Two Joes and a Jill

Here’s the link to my latest article:

It begins: On December 12, 1942, “The New Yorker” published a 7000-word profile, entitled “Professor Seagull,” by Joseph Mitchell. The subject was Joe Gould, a 53-year-old Greenwich Village eccentric, who was said to be writing an “Oral History of Our Times,” consisting of a record of conversations he had overheard over the last decades and essays related to these conversations. It was, Gould claimed, several times the length of the Bible and, most likely, the longest book ever written. However, having learned that the Metropolitan Museum had stored its most valuable holdings into a bombproof shelter for the duration of the war, Gould had placed his history in the stone cellar of a chicken and duck farm on Long Island, owned by a woman who was out of the state, making it unavailable for Mitchell to read.

Marketing Report: Week 19

Sold two “Cheesesteak”‘s. The first, to a doctor at the health club, almost occurred some weeks ago, but he didn’t have cash, and it took him until now to get me a check. The second was to a stranger whose eye was caught by my “Buy Bob’s Books” sign in the café. (“Are you Bob?” he said.) That also was delayed because I couldn’t get the damn gizmo which enables my iPhone to take credit cards to work, but I went home and practiced, and the next time he came in, I was ready. (He turned out to work for the university guiding professors into the wonders of computer-assisted research. He’s hoping to publish a sci-fi novel, perhaps with illustrations, so I shared my several months worth of business wisdom with him.

In other news “The Schiz” is at the printer’s. It’s having trouble with a couple illustrations — technical trouble thankfully, not content trouble — and Milo is on top of it. The estimated shipment date of October 17 may be delayed but not by much.

[“Cheesesteak: The West Philadelphia Years: A Rememboir”: $20 from Spruce Hill Press, POB 9492, Berkeley 94709. $15, if you meet the author at a café. He’s the one with the “Buy Bob’ Books” sign.}

Immigration Reform

Adele and I ordered a Panini and salad dinner from two Mexican guys behind the counter at Café Triest on San Pablo. We got espressos to go and met Giti, who is from Iran, and her husband Bob at Strings, a converted laundry, which has been hosting two-to-four house concerts a month to crowds of up to a hundred for twenty-three years.

Last night’s show was a four-woman flamenco group. The singer was a gypsy. One dancer was from Turkey. The other dancer and the guitarist were Spanish-born. They were great. The place was packed. Two weeks before it had been three men (Yoruba) originally from Nigeria. They were great too.

It occurred to me that if Donald Trump had been president, none of the people I have mentioned in the above two paragraphs, except for “Bob,” would have been barred here.

Hell, if he had been president in 1890, Adele and I wouldn’t be here either.

BOB LEVIN’S BOOKS are available from

Mind and Body

Last week, in this very space, I complimented my mind. Now I have a bone — most likely in my right arm — with which to pick it.

For over 20 years, I played in a weekly pick-up basketball game in a North Berkeley park. The game broke up in the late ’90s, and I hadn’t even picked up a ball since I’d quit playing a few years before that.

In 2013, a guy from the game moved back to Berkeley from Israel, where he’d been living, and arranged a reunion. We’d meet once each winter in a hofbrau and once each summer at the park. Those who felt able to played; the rest shot around or sat. I sat. Until two days ago, when I stepped onto the court.

I eyed the basket. I cocked my elbow and snapped my wrist. The ball plopped to earth, as if shot, midway between my pointed fingers and the basket. It did that again. And again. Eventually, I managed to semi-regularly hit the rim. Its underside.

What is going on here? My ability to toss a crumpled sheet of paper into a trash can is as good as its ever been. What particular nerve endings have quit on me?

I do not expect an answer, but for those of you who have read this far, here is a link to an article I wrote following the first of these reunions.

Marketing Report: Week 18

Sold a “Cheesesteak” to a lawyer-pal in the locker room of the health club — and have committed to buy his forthcoming book of poems. And had my first Facebook-related sale (“Best Ride”) so that venture has more than paid for itself, not counting the time it’s devoured.

Response-wise, the wife of the couple at the café who bought “Cheesesteak” four weeks ago stopped by my table to say she and her husband “both loved it.” They wished I had written more. “Sorry,” I said, “but that’s all my first 25 years gave me.” Then another café guy, a couple years younger than me, an engineer, I think, into computer stuff, told me it had taken him a while to get into it because our lives were so different, but then he thoroughly enjoyed it. (This was unusual. People are more apt to say how much we had in common despite our different backgrounds.) He is Berkeley born-and-bred, so I’m guessing his parents were academics — and back then Berkeley was a quiet Republican-voting town.

In other news, “Schiz”‘s cover is done — a knock-out — and all but off to the printer. Now I have to decide if I want 750 or 1000 copies. On the one hand, when I had a commercial publisher, my last two books didn’t break into four digits. On the other, the cost difference isn’t much, and 1000 is a cooler number.

A couple articles should be going up on-line soon.

Finally: “Cheesesteak”: Send $20 to Spruce Hill Press, POB 9492, Berkeley 94709

I recently finished…

…”Away Game” by Bob Levin (Burnstown. 2016).

That’s one of four writing “Bob Levin”s I’m aware of — but the only one, myself excluded, with whom I have a relationship.

This relationship began we he submitted a piece to “The Broad Street Review,” where I already contributed, and the editor asked us to work out who would be called what. It turned out Bob the Younger had graduated from the same high school as me, ten years later. He was a good basketball player, and when my novel “The Best Ride to New York,” which was about a basketball player, (still available from this very web site) came out, some of its steamier passages caused faculty eyebrows to be raised in his direction when he returned for a reunion.

He’s a newspaperman in Toronto, and this is his first novel. It’s about fathers, sons and baseball. The 1964 Phillies are here (I still have the scars), the 1955 Dodgers (I remember where I was when…), Cool Papa Bell. There is loss, romance, a murder to solve (or prevent) — and time travel. It all cohere’s. There is not a misplayed word or ill-timed step to trip you. All bases are tagged. In the clutch, Levin delivers. It’s sweet and sad and the plot carries you smoothly along.

Pick it up.

I recently finished…

…Elaine Dundy”s “The Dud Avacado.”

I’d first heard of her a few years ago from my expatriate writer friend, R, who no longer speaks to me because of political differences. He had actually recommended “My Old Man and Me,” but I could never find that. I picked “Avacado” off a book store shelf a couple times but never got past the first page. Then I read a review of a memoir by her daughter from her marriage to Kenneth Tynan, Tracy, which got me interested again.

Dundy, I learned, was the sister of Shirley Clark, the director of the film of “The Cool World,” which had been one of my favorite novels when I was in high school. And Dundy’s marriage to Tynan was rife with alcohol, drugs, affairs, and violence, consensual and non-.

“Avacado,” Dundy’s first book, a comic autobiographical novel, published in 1958, about a young American girl, Sally Ann Gorse, on the loose in France, is not nearly as exciting. (One of the problems with “Bad Boy” — or “Girl” — novels before Henry Miller got legal is that they just couldn’t be that incorrigible.) The first half, set in Paris, barely held my attention. Things improved when Gorse fell in with a film crew in the south of France, and as it moved toward its conclusion, it was fine.

Mainly though I found the boo of sociological interest. Gorse reminded me of Sally Bowles or Holly Golightly, but she was written by another woman, not a gay male. I couldn’t recall any other women of the time creating a similar character but there probably were some. Jane Bowles? Diane DiPrima? I suppose that’s why “Avacado” became the “cult novel” it’s cover proclaims. It was a guide for young women who wanted to be an “adventuress.”

And I bet Eve Babitz, whose books of the early ’70s I really liked, read it a couple times.

Writing News

Layman Poupard Publishing has acquired the right to reuse my piece “The Anti-War of Harvey Kurtzman,” which originally appeared at on 9/4/13, and later at on 4/19/14. It will now be included in a volume to be released by Gale/Cengage Learning, a “literary reference publisher. This volume will be about 350 pages long, cost $300, and have a print run of 325. The “Academic Advisor” for this operation is M. Thomas Inge, the popular culture anc comic arts scholar.

That’s all I can tell you. But I’m happy to be included.

Also Layman Poupard pays more than the Journal did for the original.