I had barely recovered from the blow of losing the Most Popular Bob Levin at Google crown (see blog of April 19, 2009) to the Meryl Streep-dating fullback on the Eli eleven featured in the documentary "Harvard Beats Yale 29 - 29." Then the e-mail from the editor of the Philadelphia-based on-line magazine which has been publishing my reminiscences about growing up in the ‘50s - basketball, Jewishness, my West Philly neighborhood - landed. Another copy had gone to a second emigre from Brotherly Love. A longtime magazine and newspaper editor and columnist in Toronto, he had, unaware of my oeuvre, pitched the editor a series of his reminiscences - West Philly, Jewishness, basketball. The editor was not opposed. His concern was the fellow's name: Bob Levin.
I was not completely surprised. A friend had reported my namesake's existence a few years ago. Then it had not seemed a problem. Hell, I'd thought, maybe the confusion will sell my books to his audience. (I was more involved at the time with another Philadelphia Bob Levin, transplanted to Virginia, whose e-mail address I had somehow inherited. For a while, I was advising him of overdue library books, but by the time I'd cancelled the account, I was down to receiving solicitations for donations to not-progressive-enough-for-my-taste Democrats.) Now action seemed required. I had struggled long and hard to establish my reputation as an edgy cult favorite. (Or maybe, more precisely, I had stumbled blindly into it; and perhaps "cult" isn't quite the term either. Does it count as a "cult" if your regular readership can fit comfortably into a Volkswagen? Let's just say that more than half my readings raise a minyan.) What if this newspaper fellow's columns concerned Astrological Signs or Restaurant Openings or Stock Tips? Worse yet, what if his prose blew mine off the freaking page? I had mental lists of writers in whose shade I did not mind standing, but what if I wasn't even Best of (Singular) Breed? Dare I go forward as Bob-the-Lesser-Levin? Bob-the-Elder-Levin? Old Original Bob Levin? Classic Bob?
Once I hit "Reply All," things got weirder. It turned out that my northern neighbor - revealed through ensuing e-mails to be as intelligent, well-spoken, and considerate as would be expected of anyone with his name - had graduated the same small Quaker high school as I, but ten years later, when he'd captained the basketball team. My first novel, a copy of which I'd donated to the school library for its Alumni Authors not-quite-a-shelf, concerned a basketball player, and when its language upset some faculty members, a woman still at the school accused him of having written it. (This was news to me, and it made me wonder about the fate of subsequent books I'd donated, which were about underground and alternative cartoonists and whose illustrations had relegated them to the Adults Only section of even my local comics store. It also may have explained my failure to land more votes for the Distinguished Alumnus award.) He had even been on campus last month for his fortieth reunion, while I was there for my fiftieth. Subsequent events led him to find my picture on a web site, and he now believes he'd seen me.
But he hadn't introduced himself because, as he put it, "I hadn't known you were... Bob Levin."
Causes Bob Levin Supports
Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, ACLU, PEN, Berkeley Emergency Food & Housing Project.