Alan Levy’s Encounter

presented by Harry Kuhner

Alan Levy gave me the following lugubrious story for a prose anthology that I had planned as a follow-up for Wären die Wände zwischen uns aus Glas/If the Walls Between Us Were Made of Glass: Austrian Jewish Poetry/Österreichische jüdische Lyrik. I had to abandon the project, and the story remained in my papers. I am grateful to Franz Krahberger for publishing it in his E-Journal Website.

I regret that I was not able to publish Encounter in Alan’s lifetime.

Alan who had published 18 books, was the editor of the Prague Post His articles appeard in numerous newpapers including The New York Times and The International Herald Tribune.

In his obituary in the Prague Post, Mark Nessmith quoted Alan: The miracle of my life is to awaken every morning in the 21st century – in Prague.

Alan died in the city he loved on April 2, 2004 at the age of 72.

Herbert Kuhner

Encounter in a Viennese Trolley

By Alan Levy

June 27, 1979 was a very hot summer Wednesday and it was also the last day my family and I were spending in Vienna before paying a summer visit to our relatives and friends in the States. I had spent this hot day running around collecting our plane tickets, travelers cheques, insurance, getting the phone switched off, and all the usual last day errands and now, toward 5:30 P.M., I found myself packed into the back of a crowded, creaky J Wagen, the J streetcar, that I’d boarded at Kärntnerstrasse. It had just turned off the Ring and was crawling up the Josefstädterstrasse.

At the Strozzigasse Lederergasse stop, a very familiar type boarded the train. He wore a green suit, checkerboard shirt, porkpie hat, a number of gold teeth, and a walking stick. He was buffing and puffing and there I was, hanging out the window of the streetcar gasping for air, but I offered him my choice place by the window and he accepted, saying: That’s very nice of you. That’s very nice.

After he’d told me three or four times how nice I was, I told him I was getting off in a couple of stops, because I didn’t want him, of all people, to think I was the Messiah or Jesus Christ Superstar. It doesn’t matter, he said, That’s very nice of you.

At the next stop, Albertgasse, the conductor’s voice from the front car announced that, because of the delay on the J line, our tram would be turning around at the Gürtel, two stops away, but another tram was right behind us which we could see from where we were and those who were headed for Ottakring could change at the Gürtel.

Well, there was the usual grumbling about the delay and about the heat and about the crowding and about the public transport in Vienna, which gives the least to grumble about of any city I know, and then I heard one voice cut through all the rest to proclaim: That’s a Jewish disease from New York.

I looked around to see the doctor who had diagnosed this special condition as a Jewish disease from New York and, lo-and-behold, it was my friend in the Tyrolean hat. I was flabbergasted and, words – at least, German words – failed me. I just stood there, sputtering, trying to find the words to say to him: Do you know who gave you your place by the window so you could pull your lungs together and gather up enough wind to spit out such garbage?

I didn’t find the words and, before I could, the tram was at Blindengasse, where I get off. I stepped down, still sputtering, and I looked up at the open door in case I found the words. And Mr. Very Nice gazed down at me with that smile of gold and said – in English! – I know – what – you are! Then the door shut and the J Wagen pulled away.