Maury Z. Levy

Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

10 Most Popular Stories

In Uncategorized on June 17, 2012 at 5:29 pm

There are over 50 stories and columns on this site. They cover a period from the late 1960s to the present. Publications range from Philadelphia Magazine to Playboy, from New York magazine to a book from Random House. The ten stories below represent the most visited pieces in the last few months. Just click on titles to go to stories. Enjoy. [All stories are copyrighted by Maury Z. Levy, 2011. All rights reserved. No story may be used, in full or in part, without the written consent of the author.]

1. Poor Butterfly: The Muhammad Ali Story In 1975,  Ali had been the king of the world for a long time. He was always surrounded by press people fighting for interviews. He talked a lot, but never let anyone get really close to him. Until this.

2. Jimmy Stewart: The Interview America’s favorite actor talks candidly about knocking Hollywood on its ear and Garbo on her ass.

3. The Sex Chapter From the book Gym Psych: the Insider’s Guide to Health Clubs. Written at the height of the fitness craze, this became a tongue-in-cheek manual for those who knew it was better to look good than feel good.

4. Jessica Savitch: Please Don’t Send Me Panties Before she became the talk of the nation, Savitch was the queen of the Philadelphia new jungle. Follow her adventures with co-workers, bosses and fans who send underware.

5. Dead End at Toms River: A Bizarre Murder Mystery  A young girl disappears from the streets of Philadelphia. Her body is found half a state away in the woods of Toms River. In pieces. The murderer? No one knows. Certainly not the cops.

6. Raquel Welch: The Playboy Fashion Guide Interview One of the most beautiful women in the world shows it was brains and a really good sense of humor that got her to the top. Oh, and that she likes French asses better than American.

7. The Last Steve Carlton Story  When the future Hall of Fame lefty came to Philadelphia for one of the greatest individual seasons ever, he soon became known as the enigma who never spoke to the press. This was the only in-depth story Carlton did before he shut down.

8. Soul on Ice: What You Never Knew About the Philadelphia Flyers This is a happy story. It’s the story of a lot of all‑American boys from Canada and a Jewish vegetable hustler from Washington and Kate Smith and Ed Van Impe’s jockstrap.

9. Terry Bradshaw: The Playboy Interview This hit the stands the day the Steelers’ QB won his first Super Bowl  and his first Super Bowl MVP trophy. Most of America thought he was a country bumpkin. Here, he showed a side they’d never seen.

10. The Best of Philly. And the Worst: In the Beginning We never knew that this little feature we invented one day at lunch would become an institution. Dig in.


The Magic Bus: All Aboard The Oxford Circle Shuttle

In Philadelphia Magazine (1970-1980), Uncategorized on June 14, 2012 at 11:44 am

By Maury Z. Levy

IT WAS RAINING NOW. It was Monday morning and the thick gray air was chilly and damp and it was raining now. The skies had been holding it in for a week and now they had 
burst open to soak the streets and break the promise of 
an early summer. People walked along quickly under black umbrellas with their collars up and their faces down and 
automobiles with snow tires still on made a whirring sound as they moved up Susquehanna Avenue, heading 
for the Mansion and the Park, never stopping.

For a week, it had been summer again. For a week, the 
kids with bandanas around their heads roamed the streets in shirtsleeves, while men stood together on corners and 
drank the contents of brown paper bags and women in 
housedresses pushed strollers up and down 17th Street looking for bargains.

For a week, the desperation of North Philadelphia was no longer quiet. For one great week of Indian spring North Philadelphia was alive and ticking with anticipation of the warmth ahead and some memories of some heat behind.

But the Monday morning rain put things back to normal. It was trash day and the beginning of another week.

The flat-red pushcart of the 15th Street Junk Shop 
made its way up French Street toward 17th. The man behind it was old and black and he was wearing a dark 
plastic raincoat with the hood up over his head and the drawstring knotted around his chin so that all that could 
be seen were the slits of eyes that stalked the curbside cans for salvage.

He pushed his way between the cars parked on one  side of the narrow street of ancient brownstones. It was the side of the street with the signs that read “NO PARKING 
MONDAY 7 AM TO 7 PM-PARK OTHER SIDE.” It was 7:20 
a.m. and French Street was asleep.

Bucking traffic, he turned right on 17th and pushed past 
the cozy old James L. Claghorn Elementary School. The rain made the gray 84-year-old building wetgray.

Claghorn takes up less than a third of the block. It is 
surrounded by a big black iron fence that comes to within a few feet of the tiny building. Pressing against one side 
of the fence—in what is supposed to be a schoolyard—is a black iron pole that holds a slightly bent basketball 
backboard. There isn’t even enough room in the yard for a half-court game and even less room to hang the blame, because back in 1884 outdoor sports were not exactly national pastimes.

Claghorn sticks out—an ancient school in a procession of old stores. The building was supposed to be torn down 
back in 1944, when it had reached its 60th birthday, but 
that was a war year and people had more important 
things to do than break up little old schools. Somehow it 
never got back on the demolition list and so for the past 
24 years Claghorn has been living on borrowed time.

Across the street from Claghorn is a luncheonette, the 
hub of what little activity there is at 7:30 on a Monday 
morning. There is a bus stop on the corner there and a 
handful of people were huddled in the doorway of the 
luncheonette to avoid the downpour and wait for their 
bus.

It was 7:40 now and the bus hadn’t come yet and the 
doorway was filled to capacity. As they craned their necks 
to watch for the bus, none of the people in the doorway 
seemed to take notice of the scattering of kids who 
made their way down 17th Street toward Claghorn, 
soggy brown lunch bags firmly in hand. Read the rest of this entry »

Dead End at Toms River: A Bizarre Murder Mystery

In Philadelphia Magazine (1970-1980), Uncategorized on February 2, 2011 at 9:41 am

A BLOODY INQUEST INTO THE MUTILATION CAPITAL OF THE COUNTRY
By Maury Z. Levy

ON SUNDAY THE TURKEY BUZZARDS flew low to the pines. You could hear their wings flapping a few hundred 
yards away as they swooped down into the garbage that 
hid in the trees. They are big, lazy birds, the turkey 
buzzards.

They were not an unusual sight to the people who lived 
in the dirty white cottages on Oakwood Drive or to the 
people in the wooden piney shacks on Crescent Avenue. 
Oakwood is a straight arrow off Route 571, a dead-end 
turn from the Phillips 66 station. Crescent is a big loop 
from 571. You pass the shacks first, the ones with the 
Russian names out front in this strange settlement called 
Rova Farms, where the people are peasants who live off 
the land, eating from little vegetable gardens fertilized by 
the dust of the road that passes a few feet from their 
doors.

It’s a very insular community that revolves around the 
big church around the corner on the Cassville-Freehold 
Road, a stately structure topped with big golden onion 
domes. Behind the church is a nice clean cemetery where 
the Russian peasants have buried their dead for almost 
100 years.

You can see the tips of the golden onions from the 
point where Oakwood and Crescent run into each other 
and end. There are traces of a crude dirt road leading off 
that intersection into a hole in the woods. It’s a street 
with no name, a road that’s the width of one car, if you’re 
crazy enough to try to drive it. It’s murder on your wheels.

You curve past old beer cans and rubbish and you wind 
around the giant worn-out truck tires to the blond wood 
Emerson television set with the busted picture tube that 
sits two blocks back in the middle of the road that goes 
nowhere. Dead end.

These woods have been the dumping ground for a lot of things. The trees are very tall and very thick. So most 
people didn’t give a second thought to the turkey buzzards. 
Maybe an early season hunter had left his prey to rot or 
maybe there was something edible in the roadside trash.

But by Wednesday in what had been a very hot and 
humid week, things began to get a little strange. The 
humidity put a heavy lock on the air and a terrible smell 
started coming from the woods. The radio dispatch room 
in the Jackson Township police station got a couple calls 
about it. They sent a man out in a car. He drove up 
Crescent and down Oakwood. He smelled it too.

ON SATURDAY Steve Soltys brought the family down 
from Jersey City. Soltys finished work at 5:00 and came 
home and changed to get the blood off his clothes. He and 
Helene put the two kids and the dog in the car and drove 
to their summer cottage on Oakwood Drive, about eight 
miles west of Lakewood and a short holler from Toms 
River, the Ocean County seat.

While the family unpacked, Soltys let the collie out. 
But Yukee started charging through the woods after rabbits. Steve Soltys, 34, had to run out and get him. He got 
close enough to see the dog had something in his mouth. 
It wasn’t a rabbit. He came up closer and it looked like 
an arm, it had fingers and everything. First he thought it 
was part of a doll. And then he saw the fingernails. They 
were long and well-manicured and were covered with very 
bright red polish. It was a human arm. Read the rest of this entry »

My Life as a Jew: A Trilogy (in Three Parts)

In Uncategorized on January 23, 2010 at 1:14 pm

ON SUNDAY, THE RABBI LIT UP

By Maury Z. Levy

The first time I almost died was March 23rd, 1959, the day I put on tefillin. I came of age in an old white house on Bustleton Avenue in Northeast Philadelphia, where boys were bar mitzvahed and girls were frowned upon.

“My god,” said the rabbi,” with a look on his face as if the Red Sea had just closed back up. “You can’t put on tefillin that tight. You’ll cut off the blood supply to your brain.” It wouldn’t be the last time someone would tell me that.

I was mortified. All the other boys looked at me with disdain. This is what happens, they thought, when you grow up on the gentile side of the Boulevard. My face was red, but my arm was as white as my yarmulke.

Each Sunday, for the two months prior to our right of passage, we would meet in the back of the sanctuary, sitting on folding bridge chairs, at shaky aluminum tables, eating bagels that were rubbery and cream cheese that was watery, learning the faith of our fathers.

It was the first time in my young life that I had eaten lox outside the home. In our house, lox was a delicacy, purchased only when company came, eaten only at times of celebration or sympathy. I knew full well that, if I could live through the rigors of tefillin club, we would soon be serving celebration lox, as I would become the first boy in my immediate family to become a man.

The rabbi didn’t seem to share my epicurean joy. “No, no,” he said, “holding my head in his hands. “You’re not supposed to wear it like a baseball cap. The tefillin must always be positioned in the spot that begins at your hairline, above your forehead. Now move it down below that pompadour.”

I was worried and confused. Would the rabbi notice that I had gotten some Wildroot cream oil on the back of my box?

“And your arm is all wrong,” the rabbi said, “the lowest point for tefillin begins where your biceps muscle starts to bulge. The tefillin must never pass below this point!”

Oy, how was I ever going to read from the torah if I couldn’t get some simple straps straight?

“This tefillin is too big for you,” the rabbi said, “that’s part of your problem. Where did you get tefillin so big?”

For what seemed like an hour and a half, I sat in silence. My grandfather had given me these tefillin. They had been his. He was so proud to see me have them. He said a special blessing over the blue velvet bag before he handed it to me. My grandfather was an Orthodox man. These tefillin meant the world to him.

“Who is picking you up today?” the rabbi demanded.

“My father is, rabbi,” I said with a whimper.

“You tell your father I want to see him,” the rabbi said.” With that, he walked away.

I was sick to my stomach. I couldn’t eat another bite of bagel. What if the rabbi made an example of me? What if he told my father that I couldn’t be bar mitzvahed because I couldn’t put on tefillin right? I looked at the big clock on the bema wall. My father would be here in less than ten minutes. I had to do something quickly.

With the courage of the damned, I got up from my bridge chair and walked to the front of the shull. I had to find the rabbi. He had to give me a break. As I approached the bema, I smelled something strange. It smelled like my Aunt Anna when she was nervous. It smelled like smoke. And so it was. When I got to the back of the bema, there was the rabbi, dragging on a Lucky Strike.

Quickly, my jaw dropped. You weren’t allowed to smoke in shull.

“What are you doing here?” the rabbi said, as he tried to cuff the butt in his hand. I couldn’t speak. The words just didn’t come. I had caught the rabbi committing a sin. What would Moses do?    Read the rest of this entry »

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