Ill-starred romance is the stuff of storyIt's a powerful...


August 07, 1994|By Sandra Crockett

Ill-starred romance is the stuff of story

It's a powerful tale of a teen-ager's infatuation for an older woman that comes to a tragic end. Ben Levin's true story set in Baltimore during the 1930s is one that's been bottled up inside him for more than 60 years. When he finally wrote about it, he walked away with first prize in the national "Legacies" writing contest for seniors.

The brief story is titled "A Prayer Too Far." It's about an encounter between the young Mr. Levin and a beautiful woman boarder at his aunt's home. The woman ended up returning to Germany and is believed to have died in the Holocaust.

Although he had the best of intentions, Mr. Levin writes of being haunted by the knowledge he could have been responsible for her plight.

"I had thought about writing it for years but I just couldn't get a handle on it," says Mr. Levin.

Mr. Levin, 78, is a pharmacist who owned Stansbury drug store in Dundalk before retiring 15 years ago. He and his wife, Bette, moved to Florida four years ago.

The avid writer credits his English teacher, Virginia Shaffer, with instilling a love of words in him at a young age. "And there are a lot of other people and teachers who helped me."

Besides this contest, which comes with a $2,500 award, Mr. Levin has had other successes. In 1975, he won Maryland's "Golden Pen Award" for writers over 55, and first prize in the 1990 Baltimore Writer's Alliance Annual Poetry Competition. He continues to take writing courses in Florida and teaches workshops.

So how will he spend the cash he won?

"I think I will use it to further my education," he says. "Maybe take some more writing workshops."

@ Look, Mom, no computer.

Studio photographer Phyllis Berger creates personalized collages by hand. Even draws her own lines with a T-square! A computer would save her about four hours a day, "but it wouldn't be the same. It would be too perfect," says Ms. Berger, from her Baltimore workshop, called Studio 2701.

For the last year, Ms. Berger has been building collages. The job starts when clients bring in their family photos -- sometimes out of focus. She then interviews customers, asking them what LTC places they like to visit, what things they like, what people they love. "I'm very chatty," she says.

Then, she carves out a colorful room, such as a family room, and inserts snippets of clients' photographs into a surreal interior. She also clips pictures from magazines or movie books to use in her collages. (She recently finished a collage of a wedding party in which she included photos of "guests" Cary Grant and Laurel and Hardy -- as Hasidic Jews.)

Using a technique called "forced perspective," she positions photographs of people, cats, toys, in the foreground and background. Size relationships are skewed. The collage is busy with images -- a human dessert tray. Ms. Berger also playfully tinkers with repeated forms.

Whatever the impulse, the effect is personal. No two $400 collages look like the same photo album. "I feel more like a manipulator than a voyeur," she says.

If she had the time, she might do a collage of her own family (of one husband and five children): Weekly brunch scene. French toast. Lots of coffee and conversation. Huge kitchen table dominating the piecemeal portrait.

0 "The Last Supper turned sideways," she says.

Rob Hiaasen

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