Different Slants

Seeing the World from a New Angle

Joy’s Diamond Ring (3):Romance & Racketeers…by Robert M. Katzman

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

Part 3 (scroll down for parts 1-2)

In the furniture store’s office, there was a secretary who answered the phones and did all the filing as the various orders came through from all the salesmen who worked there.  She was a young black woman who set up all the appointments, called “leads” (and pronounced like “leeds”) for my father and the other salesmen to go out and try to make sales.  She was a pretty woman—I met her several times when I was a child—with a big smile and a friendly, cooperative attitude.  She was very popular with all the salesmen.

Her name was Lorene.

One morning, in 1958, when my father came in as usual to pick up another stack of leads waiting for him in his box on the wall so he could contact potential customers and make arrangements to see them, he was surprised to see Lorene sitting at her desk, quietly crying.  He had never seen this happen before.

After a moment, not sure if he should intrude in her privacy, he asked Lorene what was the matter?  Was she sick? Did one of her relatives die?  Could he help her somehow?  My father was very chivalrous and protective of women, and seeing her sitting there crying in that office was disturbing to him.  He told me all about this incident years later, just like he told me one hundred other stories about his life.

Lorene blew her nose, wiped her eyes and told my father that she’d broken up with her boyfriend because he was always drunk and he kept hitting her.  Now he was stalking her and refused to leave her alone no matter how much she pleaded with him.  She was terrified and felt she was at his mercy.

My father became angry upon hearing her words.  A completely different situation than he was expecting from her.  Flowers wouldn’t do it, this time.  He had three sisters including his baby sister Estelle, then 34 and now 86.  In my father’s immigrant world, no one touched the women.  A rule had been broken.

My father asked Lorene for her former boyfriend’s phone number.  She hesitated, unsure what this friendly Jewish man had in mind.  But then she wrote the boyfriend’s number on a scrap of paper and handed it to him.  My father assured Lorene he would solve her problem.  That was his whole persona.  He would either become the Lone Ranger himself, or knew where to find someone else who would assume the role.

A few days later, my father came into the furniture store to pick up his leads from Lorene, and she quietly asked him to step inside of her little office.  He went in there, waited and then she whispered to him,

“What did you say to him?  My boyfriend called me up last night screaming about cement shoes or something like that and then told me he was through with me, that we were over.  He said he’d never, ever call me or follow me again.  What did you do?”    

My father smiled his enigmatic smile and asked Lorene if she was satisfied with the present situation?  She smiled at him the way I saw women do when I was older, whenever they needed a guy in their life to help them for one reason or another.  He told me that she hugged him, that the bad guy disappeared from her life and everything went back to normal in the furniture store’s office.

So, who was it that made the persuasive phone call to the scary boyfriend?

Was it my Dad?


My Dad decided the situation required someone more qualified than he felt he was to permanently resolve it.  My Dad called Buddy.

Buddy the Hun.

Buddy knew what to say, he knew how to say it, and most convincingly, make it crystal clear that he knew people who would actually follow through with corrective measures if it became absolutely necessary.  Buddy’s objective was to make it unnecessary.

And, as my father was certain it would be in this complicated ethnic stew of—a young black woman, a middle-aged Jewish man, his well-connected formerly incarcerated German pal from the past and by implication, the German pal’s skilled and experienced Italian associates—the matter was swiftly and bloodlessly resolved.

In the very simple world of those Chicago tough guys, talk was always preferable to other means of conflict resolution, as long as all sides understood that the talking would either be effective…or else it would be a preliminary stop on the way to a different manner of settling their differences.

Real power, it turns out, is not having to actually exercise it.  

How did my father know this dangerous man from a different tribe than his own?

For that, we go back to 1928, just before the beginning of America’s Great Depression, to Chicago’s old, immigrant and frequently violent West Side.  There were large Catholic Irish gangs, numerically smaller Jewish gangs, Catholic Polish gangs, Catholic Italian gangs and one misplaced German Lutheran, Buddy the Hun.

After many nasty initial clashes, the Irish and Jewish gangs made an accommodation with each other to aid each party’s particular needs: The Irish, who spoke English, or a variation of it, sought political power (and respect) in a hostile Protestant environment; the Jews who (mostly) didn’t speak English offered to provide to the Irish the business skills they possessed to financially back their political quest—if the Irish would protect them from the Poles.

The Jews would also rise in political influence, along with the Irish.  The other major attraction of the Jews to the Irish Catholics was that they weren’t Protestants.  A very unique alliance.

There was no real interaction between the Jews and the Italians. Maybe because we both look so much alike, a gang fight would be too confusing.  Most people think I’m Italian.  I don’t mind at all.

Between the Irish and the Italians, I’m not sure.  But when Buddy’s immigrant German family landed in the mean West Side tenements with all these factions, Buddy managed to link up with the Italians for protection.   For certain, no one could be alone.  Perhaps the Italians felt that this lone Lutheran could serve as an emissary between the various groups.  Perhaps his ability to speak English and German made him useful to them.  I don’t know how he became part of the Italian gang, but that’s how Buddy met my Dad.

I do know that generally speaking, at least initially, none of the Catholic groups mentioned liked the Jews, because, well, I think we were supposed to have killed Christ or something like that 2,000 years ago.  Truly a grudge of biblically epic proportions.

What I’ve always wondered about was why wasn’t their common Catholic heritage enough of a bond to cause all the Poles, Irish and Italians to get along better than they did?

They all had the same Pope, so wasn’t that enough?  They all had the same Christmas, and Easter and saints and all wore crucifixes around their necks and had them on their walls.  Maybe they had different saints?  I’m confused.

On the other hand, if any of this made any sense, I wouldn’t have a story.

One interesting sidelight to this complicated and dangerous mix of standoffs and alliances was that however they met, my father spoke fluent Yiddish like his Lithuanian mother and his Byelorussian father.  Yiddish is an Eastern European language that is a mixture of Hebrew, Polish and mostly German.  Germans know a Yiddish speaker isn’t speaking German exactly, but they can understand most of what they hear.

Buddy spoke German like his parents did.

So whatever intersection brought this vulnerable German into contact with an equally vulnerable Jew, they both literally spoke the same language.  What’s more, they could speak it to each other in some situations where other people around them couldn’t understand what they were saying.  Perhaps they served as contacts between their gangs and a friendship developed.  Perhaps they felt they could trust each other.   I do know that my Dad taught me you can never have too many friends, if they were real friends.

Buddy the Hun’s name was derived from World War One (1914-1918) when the ferocious and unstoppable German Armies swarming through Central Europe were attacking the British, the French, the Belgians and the Russians, all at the same time.  That reminded some contemporary writers of when Attila the Hun (A.D. 406-453) swarmed over the Alps, with his elephants, into Italy and devastated Imperial Rome.

Since Buddy was the lone German among all those Italians, he was given that unique nickname, which was actually a sign of his acceptance into the group he sought to join.  There were many famous nicknames of tough guys and criminals then and now, too, both in real life and in the movies, like:

“Lucky” Luciano…Tony “Big Tuna” Accardo…”Scarface Al” Capone…”Little Hymie” Weiss…

Harry the Horse (Guys and Dolls)…Nathan Detroit (Guys and Dolls)…Machine Gun Kelly…

Dutch Schultz…”Bugsy Siegel” and I suppose we could throw in Billy the Kid, too.

In my Dad’s case–even though not a criminal–his actual name was Israel, so he naturally became “Izzy”.

As far as Buddy the Hun’s time in a Federal Penitentiary, what I was able to pry from my father was the following, aside from being told it wasn’t polite—or safe—to ask such a thing:

Doing time was not exactly like having a hangnail, but whatever the actual crime Buddy supposedly committed was: Maybe he did it.  Maybe he didn’t.  Maybe he was watching.  Maybe he was driving.  The thing is, no one talked after the fact.  Doing time could be like an investment that paid off later.  A person’s willingness to make a sacrifice of some years of their life in order to protect the larger group, could provide a lifetime of respect and appreciation when they got out.  That same sacrifice also provided protection to the person when he was inside the prison, as well.  There had to be motivation.

Everyone was equally vulnerable one way or another, both inside and out, so the existing mob power structure was strictly respected.  Or put another and more ironic way, Rules for Lawless People.

This was Buddy the Hun’s world.  My father, though outside of it, understood it and never judged him.  There were Jewish criminals too, and no one was immune from the cops, when they came seriously looking.  What my father offered to Buddy was unbroken friendship and also a link to the Jewish community, something quite valuable.

Buddy was grateful for that bond and they remained available to each other, as necessary, through the decades to come.  You can never have too many friends, if they were real friends.


Publishing News! 

Bob Katzman’s two new true Chicago books are now for sale, from him!
Vol. One: A Savage Heart  and Vol. Two: Fighting Words

Gritty, violent, friendship, classic American entrepreneurship love, death, heartbreak and the real dirt about surviving in a completely corrupt major city under the Chicago Machine. More history and about one man’s life than a person may imagine.

Please visit my new website: https://www.dontgoquietlypress.com
If a person doesn’t want to use PayPaI, I also have a PO Box & I ship anywhere in America.

Send me a money order with your return and contact info.
I will get your books to you within ten days.
Here’s complete information on how to buy my books:

Vol 1: A Savage Heart and Vol. 2: Fighting Words
My books weigh almost 2 pounds each, with about 525 pages each and there are a total together of 79 stories and story/poems.

Robert M. Katzman
Don’t Go Quietly Press
PO Box 44287
Racine, Wis. 53404-9998                                                                                                                    (262)752-3333, 8AM–7PM

Books cost $24.95 each, plus shipping

For: (1)$3.95; (2)$5.95; (3)$7.95; (4)$8.95 (5)$9.95;(6) $10.95

(7) $11.95; (8) $12.95; (9)$13.95 (10)$15.95 (15)$19.95

I am also for hire if anyone wants me to read my work and answer questions in the Chicago/Milwaukee area. Schools should call me for quantity discounts for 30 or more books. Also: businesses, bookstores, private organizations or churches and so on.

My Fighting Words Publishing Co. four original books, published between 2004 and 2007 are now out-of-print. I still have some left and will periodically offer them for sale on my new website.

 Twitter handle: bob_katzman

1 Comment »

Comment by Don Larson

July 23, 2010 @ 10:17 am

The story demonstrates that often the threat or actual use of violence resolves issues most effectively. Many people already knew this. Thanks for your version.


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