Different Slants

Seeing the World from a New Angle

Bill & Bob & Ellen & Larry & Hugh & Jan & Brian…by Robert M. Katzman

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 …)

Standup Guys: An American Story ……….. by Robert M. Katzman

Filed under: Friendship & Compassion,Gritty Katzman Chicago Stories,Humor,Love and Romance,Snow stories & poems — Bob at 4:51 pm on Thursday, December 11, 2008

Charlie Newman, a Jersey guy, will get all this immediately. For him, I know I don’t have to spell it out.

But for all you other guys, well, it went down like this…


Once a week, I go to this little place, a small cafe on the northwest side of Chicago–not the glamorous part–and join a rotating group of guys, and girls, to read my poetry and short stories at an “open mike” kind of place.  This venue, cleverly named: The Cafe, is so intimate that there actually isn’t any microphone.

People are quiet and respectful of the spoken word, and so no amplification is necessary.  It is a civilized two hours in our assorted lives, and the outside world doesn’t intrude in out efforts to communicate whatever is in our hearts or loins or whatever.  By around ten o’ clock, when we are done and go on our separate ways, there are hundreds of words scattered around the floor of the tiny stage, and Baki, the silent owner, sweeps them up.

Every week, one person is the “Feature” of the evening.  This means, instead of someone reading a few short pieces in seven minutes or so, one person has about twenty-five minutes to read a longer more complete work.  Some people have their poetry published by different small presses and they sell a few copies.

There are usually about a dozen people who show up to take part in this moment of culture, gradually, by the 8:30 PM starting time, sometimes a half a dozen more.  The place is so dimly lit, that if after a couple of beers, an affectionate couple decided to neck in a corner, near the bar, no one would notice.  Or if they did, well…that’s a kind of poetry, too.

Week after week, this gathering of diverse individuals occurs and the number of participants is always about the same, even though I believe I’ve seen perhaps fifty or sixty different faces that drop by on a particular night, over the time I’ve been coming to The Cafe. It’s kind of mysterious that the number stays the same, but things don’t have to make sense every single time you get involved with something.

Charlie Newman is the Master of Festivities and also reads his own stuff, but at a speed so fast, no one can be sure exactly what it was he was expressing.  Maybe he’s suggesting how fast life flies by and we better not miss it, but I’m just guessing that part. Charlie does his bit, and then introduces the first poet, and after that, by some Byzantine method only known to him, decides who follows that person on stage. (Read on …)

Vladimir Horowitz and The Generous Drunk by Robert M. Katzman

Filed under: Robert Katzman's Stories,Snow stories & poems — Bob at 4:59 pm on Friday, February 22, 2008

This 2008 story by me has been rewritten, retitled and is now posted in another place on this blog:

The Great Vladimir Horowitz, the Clueless Paperboy and the Generous Drunk

The Great Vladimir Horowitz, a Clueless Chicago Paperboy and the Generous Drunk…by Robert M. Katzman

Take a look. You’ll be surprised by where it goes.

Bob Katzman

The Buddhist-Jewish-Christmas Query……….by Robert M. Katzman

Filed under: Jewish Themes,Robert Katzman's Stories,Snow stories & poems — Bob at 10:46 am on Saturday, December 29, 2007

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

On Christmas Day, I always close my back-issue magazine store, Magazine Memories, just north of Chicago, and I try do something else more spiritually stimulating.

This year, my son David, then 29, and I decided to spend the day together, going to movies and also have dinner. He is a filmmaker and had just returned from eighteen days in Asia after being hired to record the daily activities and performances of a DJ.  He went all over, including Hong Kong; Jakarta, Indonesia;  Taipei, Dubai; and Bangkok. He especially liked Bangkok.

So, after hearing that, I suggested we go to an intimate Thai restaurant I knew about for dinner, because that’s one of my favorite Asian cuisines, as well.  We had green tea, mild tom-yum soup with shrimp, bamboo and lemon-grass, mini toasted egg rolls, spicy crispy chicken wings with sweet and sour sauce, and then roasted duck. Great food and great conversation, too.

For Dave’s 12th birthday in 1990, my wife Joy and I gave him a video camera, and it must have been the right thing to do, because now he’s traveling the world, filming it.

After dinner, I went to pay our Thai waitress, who was also the cashier. After handing me my change, she wished me a “Merry Christmas” as people had endlessly said to me that day and other recent days. Then she looked uncertain, and she said, quietly: (Read on …)

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