Robert M. Katzman’s Amazing Story: http://www.differentslants.com/?p=355
© Halloween, 2011
Every so often, as present civilization seems to be crashing down around us, and civility with it, good happens.
Why this is always a surprise mystifies me, but just as there’s more darkness in the Universe than light, perhaps that out-of-whack ratio is mirrored here on Earth with evil overwhelming good. I don’t want to believe that is true. I have evidence to the contrary that spontaneous good both exists in the most modest of people, and that it is either an inherited trait, or a mutation.
Though my story was written on Halloween, it is more goodhearted than all the witches and goblins who surface that day, and is much more of a Thanksgiving Day story, at least to me. Let me introduce the cast of this absolutely true little drama, which begins in frigid winter, 1967 and ends in sunny June 2011, forty-four years later.
Bill Reynolds, Ellen Teplitz, Larry Mallette, III (who was not yet born when this story begins), Bob Katzman, Hugh Iglarsh, Jan Muzzarelli, and Brian Hieggelke.
I just noticed that there are eight sets of double letters scattered among the seven of us, and four of the uncommon letter “Z”. But that has nothing to do with my story…or does it?
Come back in time with me and see how all these seven strangers gradually met, and then what happened.
In December 1967, in Hyde Park, a neighborhood about six miles south of Downtown Chicago, I was seventeen and operating a wooden newsstand on the corner of 51st Street and Lake Park. That distinctive community was also home to the University of Chicago, and I was in my last year as a senior in the University’s high school, known embarrassingly as The Laboratory School, but mostly called Lab School or U-High. I was a writer on the school newspaper.
It was expensive and the only way I could keep going there was paying the tuition by running the primitive and so-very-cold-in-wintertime newsstand, seven days a week. No parties, no dances, no irresponsible adolescence. It was a glamorous school with many pampered children of famous people, wealthy people. As you might imagine, while standing on a corner in sleet and enduring icy winds blowing off Lake Michigan, I did not see myself as one of them. The small school population was an impenetrable clique. A sexy new girl student always found a way in. A guy hawking newspapers with black headlines screaming about Viet Nam? Sorry. Full up.
There was a kerosene heater inside my shack, and it kept the dark and worn wooden interior reasonably warm. The problem was my endless running back and forth between cars lined up impatiently waiting for their Chicago Daily News Final Markets Red Streak, prevented me from being able to sit down long enough to thaw the chill in my teenaged bones. The shack had a double window on a track so I could open it by sliding it back and forth. When it wasn’t rush hour, I stayed inside and stared at the empty street, thinking about my chances.
Movies frequently made a corner newsstand look like a colorful or romantic sort of place with the old guy working there dispensing ancient wisdom, smiling and beaming at the passing parade. Norman Rockwell.
I was failing algebra and mastering curb service. I resented the impatient customers who never tipped and rarely said ‘thank you,’ and wasn’t able to find some nice warm girl, a pretty girl, to be my girlfriend. Real life.
So, on one of those grim winter days, this short girl wanders down to me from the corner. She was older than me, a little chubby, wearing big fluffy ear muffs and a warm black winter coat with a furry hood. She wore practical glasses, had a shy smile and mittens on her hands. She was wearing warm-looking boots. She looked to be about five feet tall. An escaped Santa’s elf.
I was standing there on a rectangular piece of construction-quality plywood to keep a barrier between the cold cement sidewalk and my frozen feet. Huddling behind a two foot wide vertical wall attached to the newsstand that served, badly, as a wind screen, I waited for her to tell me what newspaper she wanted. And I waited some more.
The girl looked at me for another moment; she seemed to be struggling to get up the nerve to speak. Shy?
(Read on …)