Different Slants

Seeing the World from a New Angle

Hey! It’s Not Brain Surgery! Yes…it is (part 1)…by Robert M. Katzman

Filed under: Brain Surgery Rebellion,Life & Death,Philosophy,Social Policy and Justice — Bob at 4:55 pm on Sunday, April 4, 2010

By Robert M. Katzman

(Author’s Note: I began writing this new story in early March, 2010 in my newly re-established back-issue periodical store, Bob’s Newsstand, located in Skokie, Illinois, just northwest of Chicago.

My young daughter, Sarah, now thirteen, asked if we could go somewhere on her spring break from junior high for a few days, since she, her mother Joy and I, had gone nowhere for over a year, even before the old store closed.  To her surprise, I agreed to find a little place to stay for a couple of days in central Wisconsin, a favorite state of ours.  After a tough year, Sarah was not expecting yes.  She was pleased.

At random, totally at random, I found a modest B & B in a small town called West Bend, northwest of Milwaukee, just west of Cedarburg.  The picture of the 1893 Victorian house perched high atop a hill was spectacular.  I found the tariff to be fair and reasonable.  We made a reservation and arrived there from our home twenty-five miles south of the state line in about two hours.  The house’s owners, Darrell and Deborah Ziebarth, soft spoken and laid back, met us in the foyer and gave us a slow tour. The house was in terrific shape, a virtual museum of clothing, furniture, vintage photography, architecture and very good food, with all sorts of antiquated touches to make the experience even more charming at breakfast time.

I decided to see if I could finish my story there, which has proven to work out on previous trips to little towns around America.  Different place, less distractions.  While there, I learned something about Deborah’s family that neatly intersected with a recent part of my own life.  I could not have possibly known about this in advance, making the coincidence all the more appealing to me, a person quite caught up in history.  I don’t just read about the past, Reader, in a way, I live there.

Deborah is a direct descendent of William Brewster, known as the Father of the Pilgrims, who were originally known as the Separatist’s Movement in Britain.  Brewster left Scooby, England in 1607 to escape religious persecution and went to seek refuge in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.  Later, in 1620, the Brewster family found passage to America in the Mayflower ship and once here, established the Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts.

So, ironically, to me at least, I started writing the first half of this difficult and intimate story of coming to terms with broken things I can not repair, under the gaze of an 1681 English newspaper, the Observator, which was part of a sort of museum-like display on my store’s wall of antique paper, and then finished the story’s second half in the home of a woman whose family had left that exact same country, except 74 years earlier than my own fragile newspaper’s date.  That meant that the Brewster’s had (eventually) been already living in America for 61 years when that newspaper was first printed.  The Seventeenth Century, completely by chance, witnessed both the beginning and end of my story.  Not exactly common in the very beige and corn-filled Midwest.

Beginning my story in Skokie, Illinois—a town not usually noted for its Pilgrim ancestors—is something that could reasonably be expected.  I worked there every day, so why not?

But completing it in West Bend, Wisconsin? Totally unexpected.  Or, in other words, perfect.

Curious people, if you want to see Darrell and Deborah’s grand old jewel box of a house on a hill, go to:


This is not some ad for them, but rather, it is a way for me to express sincere appreciation to both of them, really nice and spiritual people, that I was able to find a quiet place to write this very painful and personal story under the soft yellow light of their Victorian lamp’s fringed shade.  The only sound was that of my black pen racing across a yellow pad, giving vivid new life to dark and distant incidents.

May it inspire you.)

Part One

In fall, 2003, after a summer of traveling alone around the USA with a mini-caravan carrying 10,000 small posters I was test marketing at nine county fairs from Dothan, Alabama to Tulsa, Oklahoma, I decided to make a career change.

I’d spent my life operating a wide range of businesses since 1965, from newsstands to delicatessens and thought that perhaps it was time to try another path.  I enrolled at DePaul University in Downtown Chicago to see if I could earn a degree as a teacher.  I was 53 years old and I thought maybe I could help other people, somehow, with all I had learned.

At this same time, I was bothered by a strange pain in both of my forearms, whenever I used my arms to push open a glass door to enter a store.  That kind of motion.  It wasn’t the weight of the doors, it was the action itself; kind of a muscular ache.  But I thought little of it, really.

After all, I’d spent the last four months erecting and then disassembling a twenty-foot wide by twelve foot high by ten foot deep county fair booth consisting of 75 pieces of lumber and exactly 100 steel bolts with both washers and wing nuts, and then covered the whole framework with layers of huge bulky waterproof tarps to protect my inventory from summer squalls in the countryside.

My booth took the longest to construct and was always the last to be taken down, but it was by far the coolest booth wherever I went.  Definitely hard to miss.

So I naturally assumed I was in generally excellent condition, no smoking, no drinking and very flexible and that the strange muscular pain in my forearms was transitory.  But, it persisted, so I went to my regular chiropractor near my original back-issue magazine store, Magazine Memories, in a northern suburb of Chicago.  He had often helped fix my cranky lower back when it went out of whack, so I thought that maybe the pain was somehow muscular/skeletal in its nature.

But my regular Chiro guy was on vacation, so I picked another place to check it out.  I wasn’t really concerned.

(Read on …)

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