Let me tell you how I met Hank Levinson.
It was around 1996 and I lived in a small one bedroom apartment just a block from the Eugene library. It was my first experience living entirely on my own without parents, friends, a partner, or roomates. I didn't have a car, just this beautiful blue and purple Trek bike which I'd lug up the stairs and park in the hall between the front room slash kitchen area and the bathroom slash bedroom area.
It was a nice enough apartment for one person and there was a certain thrill of having a bathroom all to myself but it was lonely. I didn't have many friends and only two in Eugene, one of whom didn't want much to do with me. I didn't have social support systems and when I did put my foot out I got burned (that is a story for another time). My time was therefore dedicated almost entirely to University studies, the daily trip to the local convenience store for smokes and soda, and trying to keep from falling back into the deep-dark precipice of suicidal Depression I'd only just recently worked so hard to climb out of.
This is where I spent most of my waking hours, at this octagonal kitchen table. I didn't have much but I tried to surround myself with images of hope. On the cold brick wall you see pictures of Nirvana, Tori Amos, art by Kahlil Gibran, cards people gave me over the years, and Deepak Chopra. There was a little Aslynn the lion on my monitor--I don't know where he is today, lost to the years. To my right the phone that never rang, at center the monitor to my old 386sx33 computer which was sufficiently powerful to write papers with Word 2.0 (under Windows 3.1), and to the very left an Apple IIc I'd purchased at a yard sale.
So how did I meet Hank: Phone, 386, or Apple II?
For those who knew Hank the answer isn't surprising, I met him due to our mutual interest in the Apple II computer. Given my abundance of time and lack of social support systems I spent a great deal of time on the internet via my 386 and one day I'd found a group called comp.sys.apple2 on Newsnet via good old Eugene Freenet. I posted a request for help regarding the Apple II and within a few days someone named Hank Levinson reponded.
Hank was different than all the other people I met online. He wasn't there to flame or to brag, to get laid or to wax poetic about their lives. The fact was he was a genius but you'd never know given how humble and warm his letters were. Did he help me with my Apple woes? Absolutely. And he, a fifty something teacher of mathematics at Rutgers University in New Jersey was a voice of support in the darkness.
After almost a year of friendship he sent me my dream computer, an old classic Apple IIgs which I have to this day. He sent me hardware and software manuals and helped me understand calculus. He listened to all my stories and gave me much needed advice on relationships (most of which I ignored given I knew on some level that I needed to fuck up for myself to learn for myself thus proving to me that even if life came with a manual most of us wouldn't use it). And then one day he offered to split a plane ticket with me so I could visit him for a week on the east coast.
I said yes.
This was the first trip I'd taken on my own anywhere and I was nervous. My parents, who were kind enough to provide me with money for the other half of the plane ticket, were afraid he was some kind of internet pedophile but I knew Hank was just a giving and loving human being. At 1am when he picked me up from JFK International out in New York my empathic perceptions were confirmed when his handshake went instantly to a warm hug. A warm smile hidden under his beard was a frequent vision during our conversations that week.
I took a camera on the trip but I only took this one picture before bording the Delta flight out of Portland, Oregon:
I'd thought to myself that my memories would suffice, that I wanted to savor every moment without letting the camera get in the way, but instead I find myself wishing I'd taken some pictures. I wish I had pictures of him at 2am while we sat in a quaint little diner in New Jersey that first evening eating greasy all American chow. I wish I had pictures of his old house which was a mess of books and computers and clothes and cats. He had one Siamese cat, Catenary, so named because when it arched its back it was shaped into the geometric shape it was named after. I wish I had pictures of the dozen exotic restaurants he and his beautiful wife took me to, where every plate cost at least $30 and me, having come from a home life where my average meal consisted of Raman Noodles and two pieces of bread, felt overwhelmed by his kindness (and love for good food!). I wish I had pictures of our trip to the university where we stood outside for fifteen minutes because someone had called in a bomb threat (which apparently happens frequently during finals--he was considerably less concerned than I was). I wish I'd taken pictures of our day in Manhattan cruising the streets, stopping at youth center where he rebuilt old computers to help teach at-risk youth. I wish I'd taken pictures of him spending the early morning hours soldering motherboards or the time he took me into his basement to show me the only legal Apple II clone (The Pineapple) and the only illegally made Applie II which looked almost identical to the real one but had been manufactured by Chinese communists.
A thousand memories and no pictures so I share my memories with you here.
I didn't hear too much from him after my return home. I think in part he was frustrated that I would take his advice on relationships, all of which turned out to be right. The guy was worried I'd make the same mistakes he had in his youth--and being the stubborn jackass I was bak then I did just that. And then...and then we completely lost touch and I thought he'd given up on me and it stung every time my mother asked how he was.
"I don't know," I'd say and do my best to change the subject.
And then one day out of the blue about five years ago I received a short and pained e-mail from him. He explained he had a stroke and apologized for not keeping in touch. I wrote back and never heard from him again. The friendship was so strong before and the vaccume...I had to put all thoughts of our friendship aside until one day I could bare it no more and began searching the internet for him and asking anyone I could find, "Have you heard of Hank Levinson?"
A few months later I received a response and was given this link. Since this information may not be present a year or a decade from now I've chosen to copy it here as The Temple will exist for all my days remaining:
"At 9pm today (10/19/06), I recieved news that an old friend had died on 10/18.
He was Dr. Henry (Hank) Levinson, PhD- Mathematics; retired professor of Rutgers U. He was a long time friend until a series of strokes shattered his life in 2002 and he became something awful and ugly. He suffered more strokes until he died from one yesterday. He has 65.
I dont slight him for becoming what he was these final years, his first sroke left him blind, emotionally unstable and palsy; some of the intellect he once has, his ability to reason- gone. He became hateful and wretched. He was not the same person that many knew him from before: happy, out going, helping.
He has travelled the world, spoke several languages, taught classes in nations around the world, and have a complete set of theorums named after him. Without him, computers would not be where they are today, for he designed the formula on nano topology that allowed microprocessors and other computer chips to run faster than 200MHz. Back then- silicon would vibrate at 200MHz that after a while, they heat up and fracture from the vibrations. His formulas are still being used to create the chips we use today.
He's done many things, and would often share his knownledge, wealth and experiences with those less fortunate than himself.
It would be a long obituary if I sat down to say what I have to say about him. He was a friend, a mentor and a father to me. One who hated my abilities because they were being wasted on me. I say that because of my ability to solve complex math equations in my head, but not being able to explain how or why.
But we shared in many projects, helped in those who needed help, advanced the boundries of technology (his part) and the access thereof (my part). I have to say that without him and his work, the world would be a very different place today.
Hank, you'll be missed."
It is a true loss to this world to be without someone as intelligent, creative, compassionate, and loving as Hank was. For a time he was my voice in the dark. He gave me hope, he provided me with wisdom, and he accepted me for who I was no matter what.
Here are some pictures of Hank that were shared with me by the person who was kind enough to inform me of his passing.