Different Slants

Seeing the World from a New Angle

Letter to Holly-Hyphen (and the world)…by Robert M. Katzman

(Note to my Readers) Holly Rotman-Zaid is a real person, a friendly and vivacious woman whom I met at a local Chamber of Commerce breakfast.  So, this letter isn’t creative writing.  But after we met, I simply couldn’t remember her last name.  European Jewish names are not normally hyphenated.  They are already difficult enought to spell one at a time.  If my last name was Katzman-Schechter, I imagine I’d spend all my time spelling it.  All my time.  So, I decided to call that woman I met  Holly-Hyphen,  which I think is a pretty cool name for anyone.  Holly likes it, in any event.

There are other good reasons I have trouble remembering people’s names, but, well…that’s another story.  In the meantime, read this one)

Hey, Holly,

I’ve thought about how you seem to understand both the exoticness of  what I do and the tremendous challenge of trying to make people realize what treasures exist in this too small store.  Getting up every day of the week to wait in what is frequently a silent store gives credence to my alternative name for this place: 

The Paper Prison:    Can’t stay.  Can’t leave.   Jewish Purgatory.

On the other hand, now you have my first book. Like most people who don’t know me, you will be very surprised by what you learn about the bottom stratum of Chicago retail people and how on the edge they live.  About how other people who believe they occupy loftier and more secure lives (as the devastating recent Recession has proven to be a fantasy) treat people whom they feel are lesser souls then they are.

I had hoped to be able to teach a class about creative writing, to show people who think they have to study other writers before they can sing their own songs. I had two years of college, left after unexpected and major cancer surgery and never took a class to learn  what I believe is innate in some people, just as people who feel compelled to sing will often do it for free, just to be heard. 

I believe some people are born storytellers, that it’s involuntary, that they must do that–record time in some comprehensible way–and then tell others about it.  Storytellers capture time in verbal nets. They must, because sometimes there are words–ideas–that are too beautiful, too powerful, to let escape into the void.

Read my first book in order, even though the stories are not especially chronological. I intended for people to read it that way and to wonder about what will likely seem to be incomprehensible behavior.  About two thirds of the way through the book, there is one story that answers that.  My relentless motivation will fall into place after that. But once you find out why, you won’t like what you learn.  True stories aren’t always so pretty.

There are nine completed books. I have also done all the cover design, photography and when there was no picture, I drew an illustration to solve that gap. My dream is to get my books into the Chicago school system, from middle school on up. After all, I’m preserving unique Chicago urban history that no one would know any other way, in a frank and often brutal first person narrative.  Where’s the other guy who wrote a history of newsstands in the middle of the Twentieth Century?  They’re all dead now, that’s where.  I’m the relic. 

Most people who read my stories online don’t scroll back very far.  Try it. Besides the recently posted Sarah’s Bat Mitzvah story, about the hard death and unexpected rebirth of one of America’s last back-issue magazine stores, read about friendship among immigrant criminals in Joy’s Diamond Ring if you want to learn more about me and my often silent universe. 

(Read on …)

Hey! It’s Not Brain Surgery! Yes…it is (part 5) …by Robert M. Katzman

Filed under: Brain Surgery Rebellion,Philosophy,Robert Katzman's Stories,Social Policy and Justice — Bob at 10:13 pm on Thursday, April 29, 2010

Other than a murmured, “Sorry about that…”   nothing was done. 

This is why I won’t name the institution.  I don’t want to embarrass them about their cheap-ass broken cassette tape player.  Or even more serious matters to come.  But my laying there on that slab for thirty minutes listening to Buddy Holly sing about Peggy Sue over and over and over was not an enchanting experience. 

I don’t blame Buddy for this, but I am somehow less fond of that particular song—even six years later. 

After the gamma-knife machine was switched off, my boxed head was unlocked and I sat up.  I asked for my cassette tape and was given it.  I was not happy.  The operator slunk out of the room. 

Then a stocky nurse came in, all business, and told me she was there to remove the plastic box.  I saw the $3.00 screwdriver clenched in her sweaty hand.  This was so weird, man. 

I asked her if there would be any pain medications for me after the screws were unscrewed from my skull, or any band-aides.  She replied, 

“Nah, it won’t hurt you…much.  You’ll be fine.” 

Then she commenced her unscrewing and lifted the box I’d been wearing for eight hours, off of my head. 

I looked hard at this banshee in white, with her idiotic response to my civil question, like, 

“Hey, stand up take it like a man!”  Kind of attitude.  

But the pain shot through my facial nerves like electricity as each screw was turned.  Then I asked her again, less civilly, for aspirin and some band-aides as the blood from the two screw holes just above my eyes trickled down my forehead, pooled below my eyes, ran down my cheeks, dripping on my hospital gown. 

The nurse looked at me, and again brushed my request aside dismissively with a stern, 

“You don’t need it.  You’ll be fine.”   

I stared at this Bride of Frankenstein—he probably divorced her—and was tired of being polite.  I said to her, my voice becoming increasingly louder, 

“Lady, there is something very wrong with you. I’m bleeding.  Take a closer look. The red stuff dripping on my face is blood.   GET ME A DAMN BAND-AIDE AND GET IT NOW!!!” 

(Read on …)

A Brief Word from the Missing Writer..by Robert M. Katzman

Filed under: Conspiracy Theories,Philosophy,Poetry & Prose,Robert Katzman's Stories — Bob at 8:52 am on Sunday, September 6, 2009

A reflective note from Bob Katzman to loyal readers of my non-fiction story blog,                                                 

                                                        DifferentSlants.com

Yeah, I lie on my bed in the dark (carefully, on my back) wondering which Deity I offended and what it will take to appease him/her.  My world is smaller now and filled with silence.  That part, the last part, is not entirely bad.  This morning I’m going to write my long delayed Part 6 of the 7-part Grand Central Station Conversation story about 22 hours in NYC.  It will appear soon. 

Remarkably, people still go to read the other previously posted chapters 1 thru 5 on my blog, though I’ve posted nothing for nearly two months. While the story is about melancholy and disorientation as my once familiar past disappears, it is very real and human.  It’s entitled: Cursed by a Tribeca Fortune Teller 

Now, with the slow-motion closing of my 20-year old Morton Grove, Illinois back-issue periodical store, Magazine Memories, the loss of my past seems to be accelerating. 

My store closed for good last Monday, after 4 weeks of terrible labor removing 3,000 boxes and tons of lumber.  Last Saturday, August 29th, I fell suddenly from a ladder onto concrete and smashed my left side.  This morning, the hospital told me I fractured two ribs, besides other damage. 

I am essentially ok, thanks to modern narcotics, but I have had my own little hell for the past week, or rather Hell 2.0. 

So, I am trying to sort things out and figure out my future. 

Part 6 of GCSC is a zig-zagging odyssey from the mid-town Jacob Javits Convention Center on the island’s West Side, through lower Manhattan in my quest to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge located near the Lower East Side, one more time.  Part 7 was written long ago because long stories need a strong ending, and when that part crystallized for me, I quickly wrote it down. It will be posted in a couple of weeks if my readers respond to my blog and conclude I’m not dead. Or not completely dead. 

To pile on just a bit more to this bizarre moment of my physical, economic and mechanical life, my 1996 Dodge Caravan died in Buffalo Grove on Friday night.  While I waited for rescue, a transformer on a power line blew up with a deafening bang, right in front on my eyes, and all the power to that area stopped. I guess I bring my shortage of luck with me, wherever I go. 

As the sun went down, I waited and I shivered in my thin shirt.   Fall came fast, this year.

When the truly eccentric AAA driver eventually showed up–two hours later!–we got to talking about our lives and when he dropped the car and me at my mechanic’s shop fifteen miles later, he refused my offering of a $5.00 tip, saying that my life was worse than his and he couldn’t take any money from me.  After hearing his sad story, this was an honor I could do without. 

As he drove off in the dark, lights blinking, motor gunning, I stared at his red tail lights thinking to myself:

 This…is why I don’t write fiction 

 

About the writer and his other life in Skokie, Illinois:

Bob Katzman’s Magazine Museum: 100,000 periodicals back to 1576!
Wall of Rock: 50 years of cool Rock periodicals on display & for sale
4906 Oakton St. (8000 north and 4900 west) Skokie, Ill 60077
(847)677-9444 Mon-Fri: 10 am to 5 pm / Weekends: 10 am to 2 pm

Katzman’s Publishing Company site: www.FightingWordsPubco.com
Katzman’s online non-fiction stories: www.DifferentSlants.com

Poetry? For me, writing poetry is not an option.
It’s a response to emotion. Like cigarette smoke,
it’s fast-flowing, shapeless and with little time to capture it.
Writing poetry in an imperative. I say what I feel compelled to say.

I sell my five published books via mail order and accept major credit cards.
I don’t use PayPal. I just talk to people on the phone.
Fast, reliable service. Read my stories and see what you think.
I’m also available for hire to read my true Chicago stories to organizations
and answer all questions. I autograph my books when I sell them.

I am currently seeking an agent to do more readings.
Feel free to call me at the number above.

 

Bad News from Beautiful Women (#2)…by Robert M. Katzman

Filed under: Poetry & Prose,Robert Katzman's Stories,Travel — Bob at 11:12 am on Tuesday, April 14, 2009

© February 2009

 

 

Windsor Castle

Stone Henge

Double-decker

Red buses

 

I’m flying to England!

 

Pubs

Warm beer

Lusty

Busty

Bar-maids

 

I’m flying to England!

 

Fish n’ Chips

Big Ben

The Thames River

 

I’m…ok, ok, you know

 

I snake through the line

at the

International

Terminal

 Hours early

I take

No chances

 

Just

One

Carry-on

I have my book

I’m smuggling

Dark chocolate bars

In my bag

In case

I

Really

Need it

 

The line creeps along

Bags rolling behind

Impatient people

Babies cry

Among the

Thousands

Leaving

America

 

I have my

ID

Hung around my neck

I’m so ready

So organized

The ideal traveler

Ready to go

(Read on …)

Silent James……by Robert M. Katzman

Robert M. Katzman’s Amazing Story:  http://www.differentslants.com/?p=355

I published a true, inspirational story on this blog on July 4, 2008, called:

Depression, Despair and the Human Voice

It has become one of the most visited stories on Rick’s and my blog, to date.  Many, many people must know someone who suffers from the tyranny of depression, and that frank, unfiltered stories can help explain what it actually feels like, from the inside out.

Here is one more incident that I left out of this story.  I am adding it at Christmas time, 2008, because it serves as a reminder of how good strangers can be. Sometimes, we all need that.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

There was a small fresh fruit and vegetable store in Hyde Park, in 1978.  It was under the Illinois Central Railroad tracks and did a good business with the commuters rushing to their jobs in Downtown Chicago.  There was a bright, colorful public mural of grapes, apples, pears, carrots and so on painted on the brick exterior wall of the shop that faced my newsstand, just west of it, across Lake Park Avenue.

The owner was a short, stocky, black and muscular man.  He worked hard, all the time.  We didn’t talk, but we nodded to each other when we caught each other’s eye.  I knew his name was James. He was kind of reserved.  I assumed he was wrapped up in his own world of business and other problems and not in any way aware of what I was involved with in the hostile world outside of intimate Hyde Park.  He had a formality about him, a kind of dignity.  But we weren’t friends.

The only indication James might have had that I was doing something besides selling newspapers on that corner was when my enormous black and white  Gulliver’s Periodicals truck was parked outside of the store loading or unloading bundles of  thousands of current magazines.  The brick newsstand also served as Gulliver’s base of operations, initially. (Read on …)

Macho Meal for Wayward Husbands!!! by Robert M. Katzman

Filed under: Humor,Philosophy,Robert Katzman's Stories — Bob at 4:06 pm on Tuesday, November 25, 2008

From 1964 to 1969, when I was a teenager, I lived with my newly liberated father, who was originally married in 1946.  His name was Israel Katzman, but he was invited to “Americanize” his name, just before graduating from grammar school, in order to possibly prevent him from experiencing discrimination when he looked for a job.  He changed his name to Irving and Israel became his middle name.  He was practical about certain realities, but also intensely Jewish and proud of it.  Something he passed on to me.

My dad had an open door policy for wayward husbands who were temporarily dislocated, after their being ejected from their houses.  So, I got to know my dad’s friends, gradually, as they sought short-term refuge from their volcanic wives.  I would sit silently listening to their stories of woe, then hear about their hot girl friends, and eventually my dad and his pals, all in their fifties, would refight World War II.

Their side always won.

I imagine they edited their experiences because of my tender young ears, but occasionally whiskey was poured and words flowed with less reservation.  Some guys were distraught that their misadventures got them thrown out and they were filled with remorse.  Some guys needed a few bucks to tide them over, and my dad always had something to give them.  No one left with nothing.  I have no idea if anyone paid my dad back, but with all his relationships, wheels were greased and some doors opened for us, too, when we were financially backed against a wall.

I learned from all this–that friendship is not just about calling up a guy when you want to go to dinner or a movie.  It also meant that when someone was in real trouble, they could call on you, too.  My dad and I housed and fed those guys for the brief time they slept on our couch, and when they had the money, they brought us bags of food.

Sometimes, we all went out to a movie.  I was always included and the men treated me like I was one of the guys.  They made me feel good about myself, which at fifteen or so, was not a common emotion for me.  I think my father was aware of the beneficial nature of my being part of the group and not just watching them from the sidelines.  He was always aware of his responsibility to actively be my father. 

My father, born in Kentucky in 1912, was on his own for a long time before he married my mother, and he was an excellent cook. He bummed around the country during the Great Depression as a teen, got escorted out of some less friendly towns by the local sheriff, and joined the United States Army on St. Patrick’s Day (March 17th) 1942, exactly one hundred days after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941. 

                                                                                                                                                                     (Read on …)

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