Growing up in the East Flatbush section of Brooklyn, I had two homes. There was the apartment at 254 East 89th Street where I lived with my parents and brothers, and then there was the house at 393 East 58th Street where I spent most of my free time with my friend Paul Levitz.
Paul and I had met at Meyer Levin Junior High School (a.k.a. P.S. 285), through a mutual friend, Steve Gilary. We were the school’s contingent of comic book fans and quickly bonded on our mutual love of comics and collecting. Together, we started publishing fanzines in the late-1960s, crude, forgettable affairs produced on Xerox machines that no one but a few close friends and our parents ever saw. In 1971, we finally found a fannish niche to fill, scraped together a few bucks, and published the first issue of Etcetera, a newszine that eventually became The Comic Reader, marking Paul’s debut as a publisher and leading both of us to careers in the comic book industry.
Between 1968 and 1973, when I wasn’t home or in school, I was likely at Paul’s house. Paul’s parents, Alfred and Hannah, welcomed me (and the rest of that era’s members of fandom who constantly tramped through the place) with open arms. I came to feel like a member of the family and, I like to think, that feeling was reciprocated. In high school, when I was having trouble with Spanish and algebra, Mrs. Levitz would often sit with me at their dining room table (where we also produced our fanzines until we outgrew that space and moved the operation down to the basement apartment) and helped me with my studies. We sat at the same table with Mr. Levitz as he tried to teach us how to play bridge. Neither attempt at tutelage was successful, but they never lost their patience or their good cheer.
Mrs. Levitz was, as Paul’s perpetually slender form will attest, one of the world’s worst cooks. But she fed us toast with butter and grape jelly or happily drove us to pick up a pizza to make sure none of us starved. She wasn’t that good a driver, either, but she was always there to chauffeur Paul and us, his pals, wherever we needed to go.
When I got married to the first former-Mrs. Kupperberg, Mr. and Mrs. Levitz were, of course, on my guest list. As I introduced my bride to them, Mrs. Levitz smiled sweetly and said, “You’re a grown up now, dear. You can call us Alfred and Hannah.”
I didn’t keep in as close touch with them as I should have over the years, but Paul and I did and we used one another as conduits to pass pleasantries to our respective parents.
Several years ago, Paul gave a party at his house to celebrate his father’s birthday. I came with my son, Max, who was almost the same age I had been when Paul and I first met in the late-1960s. When I walked into the room with Max, she took one look at him and her eyes went wide with total wonder and delight. She took my hand and said, “He’s you, dear!” and, for that moment in a kitchen in Chappaqua, it was 1968 and we were back in that little house on East 58th Street in Brooklyn.
But Brooklyn was a long time ago. My father has been gone for nineteen years, Alfred passed away several years back, and I lost my mother just six weeks ago.
Now Hannah is gone too. She was, to the end, a feisty, outspoken little woman with an iron will and an intense love for her family: Paul and her three grandchildren, Nicole, Philip, and Garrett, and, in my heart at least, me, as well.