Sometimes teenage surplus energy pushed me to
a more vigorous pastime than walking through woods:
shooting hoops at the playground behind
4 Court. I often ran into Todd,
nine years my senior, wearing shorts and T-shirt
nondescript enough to sweat in—
exposing limbs almost as thick with black hair
as a gorilla’s—and a Lakers cap atop
a smooth and lineless oval face.
Singing songs by Prince while dribbling,
he’d briskly sling a hook shot
over his head or launch the ball into
the single basket from the back of the half-length court.
As I guarded him one game with legs spread,
he tried to bounce the ball between them
and dash past me to scoop it up
for the score—I closed my knees
at just the right split second to trap it.
I didn’t even know he was a writer
until late in my freshman year at Roosevelt
when I went after school to chat
with my English teacher Mr. Manion
and found Todd on the stool in front of the room.
“It’s you!” he blurted, then turned to Mr. Manion
at his desk explaining, “We play basketball in the park.
He comes up to me and quotes Voltaire.”
At my age, Todd had been the Raider Review‘s star reporter.
After graduation he flunkied for a year at the Post,
then joined The Washington Weekly—a precocious
début to living by his pen
Mr. Manion called “sliding for home after rounding second base.”
Two years later the magazine folded, and Todd enrolled at College Park.
Todd invited me to his home (rather,
his parents’ home) on Crescent Road down a walkway
from the playground hidden by the outspread
foliage of small trees to “do literary.”
They were all in the studio where
his short, balding father painted,
and his mother, a plump Jewish matron,
made and sold picture frames. Todd ferreted
through a bin full of varnish and glaze
in disk-shaped canisters like shoe polish:
“Some of this action, some of this action…”
In the hall upstairs a firetruck-red
electric typewriter with a flyer rolled into
its carriage that read “THESE FAMOUS WRITERS
wrote for their college newspapers!”
commanded a tall wood stand.
The requisite bookcases lined Todd’s room;
his computer’s monitor, printer, and keyboard
crowded his desk, leaving a corner
for a picturesquely slovenly pile of
stenographer’s and legal pads filled
in blue ballpoint pen, never pencil,
with sharp-pointed yet loopy-sloped
scribbles in all directions unbounded by the
rulings—intersecting and blotting one another out,
printouts of stories, novels hardcover and paperback,
and the tabloid newsprint of D.C.’s City Paper.
Todd shared his columns in the university Diamondback
about the latest college sports scandals
and copies of a glossy, Special Report, for which he wrote
profiles of rodeo clowns and August Darnell
from Kid Creole and the Coconuts.
He idolized F. Scott Fitzgerald:
he planned a short story collection called
The Russian Tea Room and Other Tales
From the Expense Account and a nonfiction novel
about an art school prodigy from the ‘hood
murdered because, it turned out,
he moonlighted selling crack. Accomplished as he was,
I first permitted Todd to slog through my fledgling work
and he first suggested I had the gift,
pointing out and praising dexterous turns of phrase
and telling me of one piece, “It’s poignant—it gets you
right here,” then gesturing clutching his heart.
Robert Levine grew up in Greenbelt, Maryland, and studied at the University of Maryland and Emerson College. His poetry and book reviews have appeared in numerous magazines, including The Baltimore Review, The Lyric, Poet Lore, and The Alembic, as well as on the website Helium.com along with general nonfiction articles. He has self-published two collections of poetry, The Account and Mystical Symphony. He lives in Brookline, Massachusetts, where he has taught poetry workshops at the Brookline Community Center for the Arts.