Different Slants

Seeing the World from a New Angle

Giuseppe Rabinowitz and the Interplanetary Drugstore………………….. by Robert M. Katzman

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

© September 8, 2008

Not every story, especially a true story, begins with its narrator (hero?) lying in a pool of his own blood and ends up relatively happy, um, eventually.

Not exactly “Happily EVER After”…let’s just say, happy for at least that one weekend.

Because, in 1978, my having a happy time of any length, was a rare experience, indeed. But it inevitably led to my meeting the incredible, the-larger-than-life Giuseppe Rabinowitz, a bizarre character that neither you, nor I, will ever forget.


The Incident

Part 1

In Fall, 1978, I was embroiled in a vicious competitive battle with a major Chicago magazine distribution company. It began in 1976 and would end in March of 1980. Even though they are gone now, even though their name is erased from their former buildings in Chicago, I will not name them. It hasn’t been long enough, yet, for me.

One of my good accounts, out of sixty, was located in the chic shopping Mall on Chicago’s North Side. I would deliver several heavy magazines bundles to that particular store twice each week.

The Mall required all deliveries be made in the back or west side of the building, through a slim alleyway with all the trucks backing up flush to a concrete docking area. There were no supervisory people there, just the bare dock, and frequently, I would back in my thirteen-ton truck, unload the store’s order onto my hand truck, deliver it and then return and drive away without ever seeing another person. But I would learn that the docking area was NOT unobserved. Soon.

One cool Autumn day, I was running late in heavy traffic. I quickly backed my big truck into the docking area, like I’d done over one hundred times, uneventfully, jumped out of my cab into the otherwise empty delivery area, lifted myself up onto the dock that was level with the back of the truck, unlocked the strong black iron lever that kept my truck’s overhead door secure, lifted up the door and immediately began separating the correct five bundles from the one hundred bundles squashed together in the back of my truck. I worked alone, almost always, and had to be fast and efficient to keep my accounts happy and not lose them.

I was 28, slender, athletic, pretty fit and very fast. Working sixteen hours a day was a good way to stay thin, but I don’t recommend it to anyone. Inside of my truck the overhead light was burned out, so I struggled to single out the right bundles by their account numbers. I had a computer print-out list with how many bundles there were for each account. My sturdy, aluminum, custom-designed, oversized hand truck was waiting on the dock to receive the bundles. I grabbed several bundles, two bigger ones in my stronger left hand, and one smaller bundle in my right one. I held the smaller bundle flat against my chest so I could lean my body a little to the right, to balance the dead weight of the two bigger bundles.

But in all my rushing to try to make up lost time, I didn’t notice that the back of my big truck was not exactly lined up flush to the rubber edge of the dock, as was required. No, in my haste, and in the dim light, I managed to park at a slight angle, hardly noticeable, really, except there was about a one foot gap on the left side of the part of the dock that lined up with the left side of my truck bed.

But I did manage to notice it.

As I was hauling out the first three of the five bundles designated for that stop, and I turned in the darkness to race out of the back of my truck, I stepped into that empty air where the floor wasn’t and in less than a second, I slammed into the concrete dock, face first.

I don’t remember seeing stars, thirty years later, like people in that kind of a situation usually say. I do remember how solid the concrete was when my head struck it, as I laid there, motionless. I must have momentarily lost consciousness, I guess. It would not be the last time that happened, in the painful days to come.

After some minutes, I felt many arms lifting me up and I opened my eyes.

It was much brighter now. Directly in front of me, was a large, deep-red pool of blood. My left hand had dropped the two heavy bundles, but my right hand still clutched the smaller package to my chest. My nose hurt. My right shoulder felt weird, and ached.

With the help of the many anonymous arms, I sat down on the dock, away from the pool of my blood, shining now in the bright overhead lights. I looked down and saw my jacket was covered in that same deep-red wine color. I was sticky, and dazed, too. My tongue discovered that one of my front teeth was broken.

Then some guy shoved a piece of paper on a clipboard in front of me, and put a pen in my hand. I slowly looked up from the hand holding the clipboard to the stranger’s face with a questioning look. In an emotionless voice, the stranger said,

“It’s a form for our insurance company that says this accident wasn’t our fault.”

I was groggy, but not stupid, and I smiled up at the guy, or tried to, but it hurt too much. I responded,

“Hey, you guys don’t waste much time, do you?”

The stranger didn’t smile back at me. He was all business. Then, resigned, I stated bluntly,

“Mister, don’t worry. This wasn’t anybody’s fault but mine.”

I knew I didn’t have to sign it, but I’m pretty straight and I knew that it WAS my fault and I wasn’t looking for someone else to blame.  I fully realize that any personal injury lawyers reading this must be muttering to themselves that I’m a fucking idiot and I could’ve cleaned up, but that’s why they’re lawyers and I’m impoverished.

So, consciously, I took the guy’s pen in my sticky, bloody-red left hand and signed it where he pointed. I was beginning to hurt pretty badly by then, all over.  But even so, I deliberately smeared blood over half of the form, thinking to myself,


The guy disappeared, as did what I assume were his witnesses. But they were immediately replaced by a horrendously loud wail of an ambulance that someone, maybe those guys with the clipboard, summoned (in their view, the correct sequence of importance, I guess…).

Then two new guys, pretty strong guys, lifted me onto a gurney, wiping all the blood away that continued to gush from my nose, and told me they were going to rush me to a nearby hospital. But I held up my hand.  My left hand.

“Gentleman, I’m self-employed. One moment please, while I secure my truck.”

If you are not self-employed, reader, you will assume I was brain-damaged. But if you are, then you will understand my priorities completely. When you don’t have much, you sure better protect it. I didn’t have much.

I locked up the back of my truck, after first tossing in that little package I’d kept in my right hand all that time and those two big bundles still lying on the dock, and also my valuable aluminum hand truck. Then, with the assistance of the ambulance guys who lowered me down to street level, I locked both doors of the cab. I made sure the keys were in my pocket and then I turned to the two guys, and said,

“Okay, guys, let’s do it.”

They smiled at my awareness of reality, I guess, and helped me lay back down on the gurney, strapped me onto it securely, then slid me into the back of the ambulance. They were very nice guys. They cleaned me up and stopped my nose from bleeding too. I don’t think either one of them was a lawyer. They didn’t ask me a lot of questions…always a dead giveaway.

With another screaming wail of their siren, they tore out of that dock area and raced to a nearby hospital, arriving there in minutes. Saint Israel Medical Center or something like that.

They rolled me into the emergency room, which was empty, and a youngish nurse appeared to check me out. I checked her out, too.

Cute. Irish, maybe. I wasn’t sure, because there was still some blood stuck to my eyelashes or something. But, blue eyes…red wavy hair…freckles…nice figure…hey, if I was wrong, maybe she was Scottish.  Whatever.  A welcome distraction.

After verifying that my insurance coverage existed, she x-rayed my face, completely cleaned every speck of blood off of me, examined my broken tooth, manipulated my now very painful right shoulder and forearm and told me to sit tight for a few minutes while she had a guy decipher the results of the x-ray.

She soon reappeared, told me my nose was fractured and there was nothing they could do about that. She told me to go see my dentist about my tooth. She put my right arm in a sling and told me not to use it for a while. She said falling on it while holding that little package to my chest must have slightly dislocated my shoulder from its socket. Or strained the ligaments. Or something else. She wasn’t sure. But with a smile like hers, she didn’t have to be sure. She said it would be ok, eventually.

She told me my nose was done bleeding and that,

“Ahh, noses. Noses always bleed like a son-of-a-bitch when a person falls on ’em, or breaks ’em or somethin’ like that, and you shouldn’t worry about it,…Darlin’.”  

I loved her voice.  Both tough and caring at the same time.

Then she told me I was free to go. I looked around for those two guys. The nurse shook her head. Her pretty head…and she said to forget it, that the ambulance was only for bringing in the injured, not for transporting people back out. So much for TLC, I thought, and I walked back the long mile to my waiting truck, muttering to myself all the way.

Now my shoulder and arm were on fire and I just wanted to go home.

I climbed into my truck, discovered I would have to shift the shift-stick with my left hand, a real bitch, man, and I rolled out of the deserted dock area and awkwardly drove home, thirty miles away. Shifting was nearly impossible and I was in very real misery.

I’m kinda religious, but right then, I didn’t think God was very concerned about me and my problems.  Chosen people.  Right.  Chosen for what?  Maybe God’ll get back to me on that.


Another Night, Another Hospital

Part 2

So, this character-developing moment happened on Thursday evening. I always made my deliveries on Tuesdays and Thursdays. If there was some problem, like a snowstorm or interruption in my periodical deliveries, then I always had the next day to cover what I couldn’t do on the regular delivery day, and keep my customers happy.

But the pain pills I received from the alluring Celtic nurse were useless, and the next morning, Friday, I had to drag myself back to my truck to finish the rest of my route. The sling for my right arm didn’t help, but I was careful to wear it when I wheeled each account’s magazine bundles into their store. That way, instead of bitching me out, the most natural of human tendencies, people were mostly sympathetic. A long, hard day.

Later that night, I tried increasing the dosage of the pain medication, but this was thirty years ago, and the options were mostly aspirin or narcotics. Not having any of the latter handy, I endured another miserable night. Between the constant pain–not my tender nose…not my broken tooth–but only my unbruised, unbloodied shoulder and forearm that showed no obvious signs of stress, and getting very little sleep, my temper grew shorter.

Saturday morning, in my retail magazine store, like millions of other sometimes antagonized store owners everywhere, I managed to put on a standard retail performance:

“Hello, how are you?  Nice to see you!  Can I help you?  Have a nice day………………

Until the very last second of the day when I ushered any lingering daydreamers out into the civilian world and then I savagely locked the door, put my palms over my weary eyes, screamed the desperate roaring scream of the trapped and the distressed and then fled my paper prison for my home in the suburbs.

That night, about 2 am on Sunday morning, I could no longer take the unending, pulsating, mind-shattering agony, and woke up my lovely, blond, snoring, extremely pregnant Norwegian wife to tell her I was going to seek help at the very large suburban hospital some miles from our house. I was going to hunt for narcotics. I was seeking bliss. But obtaining bliss could be elusive.

That place, that maddening illusion of concern, was a looming cement monolith by the side of the road, whose motto should have been:

Real Men Don’t Need Emergency Rooms!!

I entered the vast and empty black asphalt moat surrounding the uninviting place, hunting for the emergency entrance. I was calm, feeling that even if I hadn’t yet found relief from my torment, relief was so very close by. That possibility soothed me. A good lie can do wonders, at times, even if you tell it to yourself.

I parked in the well-hidden emergency alcove, walked in the double doors under the brightly lit sign that barked (or seemed to):

The Unwell are Unwelcome!! Seek Ye Another Manger!!

Perhaps it was my imagination. Perhaps I was delusional. There are more than a few people who would willingly attest to that last possibility. But here’s what happened next.

The emergency room, a truly wide open space decorated in a creamy beige color, was empty. It was kinda eerie, really. I rang a little bell on the counter, like I was in a quaint English hotel, which produced a sleepy-eyed desk clerk. She politely listened to my complaint and asked me to take a seat on the long long row of empty beige plastic chairs lined up against the wall across the silent room from her. She said she would notify the next available doctor that I was waiting for assistance. Lost in my grateful appreciation of her attention and evident concern, was my not quite comprehending the precise meaning of those three vital words:


So, I waited.
And waited.
And waited.
And waited.

3 o’clock, 3:30, 4 am. 4:30 am, 5 am…

I sat there in disbelief that no one–NO ONE–surfaced at that God-forsaken illusion of an emergency room, for hours. That sleepy desk clerk and I could have eloped in Indiana and no one would be the wiser. I was so tired, so much in pain, so unknowing about what to do next, when, out of some surreal parallel universe came this explosion of sound, color, faces, rolling beds by the dozen, mobs of doctors, nurses, glucose bottles on metal poles, trailing white bandages, barking voices, moaning patients…..a swirling mob scene of medical personnel and equipment. I was an unmoving speck in a tornado of panting activity.

As I watched the many serious faces, I assumed that a plane had gone down in a cornfield nearby and this was what a massive rescue attempt looked like, late at night. I was very impressed by the many orders directed by the doctors to the nurses on how to, very specifically, care for this injury or that injury. American medicine at its best, I thought, in my exhausted state.

Until I heard the faint words: Emergency Training Exercise wafting across the room, as “patient” after “patient” bent their broken legs, sat up in bed, pulled off “brain injury” type head bandages and asked for coffee. There were at least one hundred people in that emergency room, none of whom seemed to notice me. Bad idea. Very bad idea.

I stood up, looked around, and then screamed angrily at the relaxed mob of the acting injured:







After a stunned moment of disbelief—perhaps all those earnest people forgot they were pretending to be injured in an actual hospital—a couple of young doctors ran over to me to see if I was for real.

They quickly ushered me into a spotless examining room, wrote down my story, looked at my arm and after some fevered whispering, told me there was nothing else they could do.

As I numbly listened, they informed me there was no visible trauma, no cuts, no bleeding, no swelling, I didn’t have a fever, my grip was strong and there was no evidence of broken or fractured bones, either. So…..I should continue wearing my sling, be patient and my arm would slowly improve………………..

But I was already shuffling back to the parking lot, ignoring their useless, meaningless words. Fucking empty white uniforms. Like I was imagining all this. They should consider becoming veterinarians, since it didn’t make any difference at all what I had clearly told them.

There were tears of frustration running down my face, and more tears from pain I couldn’t stop. With the blinding white light of the rising sun burning into my eyes, I drove back home.

The situation was desperate. Desperate measures were required, because only a truly desperate man would consider turning for help to:

The Interplanetary Drugstore.

All things were possible at The Interplanetary Drugstore, except for one small problem:

The guerilla/druggist who ran that otherworldly place was completely insane.

Well, never mind that, I would be there when he opened up in three hours.

I knew Giuseppe Rabinowitz would never turn me away.


Why Was I Driving That Big Truck, Anyway?

Part 3

In the very beginning of my insurgency against the evil monolithic magazine distributer, in mid ’76, I made tentative and timid attempts to see if I could pry any accounts away from them to make my little company more viable. This was before I became aware that my mere existence, by itself, was enough to get some of the more independent-minded business owners to give me a chance just to spite the big guy.

There was a deep well of antagonized resentment at being forced to deal with just one company if a guy wanted to carry magazines in his store. The ambivalent attitude of the company toward complaints about service and so on was also an ongoing irritant, like:

“You don’t like our service?  Whataya gonna do about it, huh?”

While before my sharp break from that same company, whom I got along with extremely well and knew many of their employees on a first name basis, I had no awareness that other people hated them. That part was a surprise to me. Also a great asset for me to inherit.

I didn’t have to be “better.” I just had to “be.”

The irony that a mild young guy, who was so close to that big company, and knew everyone from the company president, office managers, forklift operators (who taught me how to use one) secretaries (very, very cute and flirtatious, too.) credit personnel employees and their manager, truck drivers and dock supervisors, who was unaware of other stores’ anger toward that same company, should end up becoming their most enduring rival and unstoppable competition…is something I’ve thought about many times.

Many decade old friendships were ruptured by the enmity between their top management and me. That my long shot lawsuit between us was at long last finally deadly to them was because of the large pool of friends I still had within the enemy’s walls. The people sympathetic to my ostensibly hopeless fight knew me as just “Bob” and not as whatever hostile and voracious creature the company made me up to be.

To my old friends there, I wasn’t ‘Gulliver’s Periodicals’, I was just the guy they used to kid around with and who made their days a little brighter. The guy that brought some of the girls flowers on their birthdays, and the guy who unloaded his own skid full of magazine bundles into his own van, himself, without expecting some employee there to do all that for me while I stood there and watched them sweat.

These same people watched me get steadily ground down, year after year, during my battle demanding my right to exist as their competition and there was growing resentment that such a huge company wouldn’t just leave me be. I couldn’t hurt them. It was the vast differences in our size and resources and also, I believe, my determined spunk not to knuckle under to them that finally pushed one of those nameless individuals within that big company, over the edge.

The anonymously sent letter I received in the mail one day, was an actual inter-office company memo that specifically detailed what the big company was intending to do to me–and their customers–to get rid of me once and for all. I knew the sender’s handwriting and in fact, I knew the sender exceptionally well. I never revealed the person’s name or contacted that person for any reason during the litigation—to protect that person. I learned that just because a company pays someone, that doesn’t mean they can purchase their loyalty at the same time.

I learned that friendship and compassion were real things and to some people, priceless.


Giuseppe Rabinowitz and the Interplanetary Drugstore

Part 4

So, one of the first places I went to in my initial search for magazine customers was this ramshackle corner drugstore that looked independent—Boy, was it ever independent!—and seemed an innocuous place for me to start.  It was located….. well, never mind where it was located. It was somewhere in the Municipality of Chicago and now it no longer exists.  Not even the old building remains as proof it ever existed. Maybe I’m the only proof. I’ll try to do it justice, and I guess you’ll just have to believe me.

The Interplanetary Drugstore, an adaptation of the actual name, was like no other drugstore I ever encountered. As I walked in the main door, there was an overwhelming amount of merchandise from floor to ceiling, wall-to-wall, garishly lit by flickering and buzzing fluorescent bulbs in ancient fixtures. Some of the bulbs worked, some not. It had a strong resemblance to Chicago’s famed Maxwell Street Flea Market, also known, offensively to me, as Jewtown. It was located on Roosevelt Road, just north of the growing, growing, growing University of Illinois that eventually killed it in the name of “progress.”

I still occasionally see crudely hand lettered signs, in the African-American neighborhoods of Chicago’s West and South Sides, offering passersby “Jewtown Hot Dogs and Fries!” in the steamed-up storefront windows.  And the word still makes my skin crawl, a couple of decades after the demise of that amazing Sunday morning conglomeration of anything from everywhere—much of it hot—plus old jazz and blues singers, with their eyes closed and swaying to scratchy music from old 78 rpm records, and wizened immigrant shopkeepers from Eastern Europe. It was a Shtetl Carnival, with wonderful smells of sizzling food and burning onions.

I found the aisles so tight in the Drugstore that two customers would have to squeeze by each other, compressing the mass of merchandise. There were also thick Plexiglass windows blocking access to the cashiers. The magazine rack was overflowing and disorganized, but contained hundreds of titles, especially men’s magazines like Playboy, Penthouse, Cavalier, Nugget, Gent, Dude, and others. That meant that there had to be a fast turnover, to me, because men become addicted to seeing an endless array of stunningly proportioned naked women. As a distributor, I saw this as a potentially rich account.

But first, I had to make my pitch to whoever ran the crammed-to-the-gills place to let me replace their current and long-time supplier with the completely unknown…me. So I worked my way towards the back area of the Drugstore. I imagined a kindly little old man type, like who were commonly found in my neighborhood Rexall’s or Walgreen’s Drugstores.

Mr. Druggist…where are you?? I softly sang to myself.

My path ended at the drug counter, also partially blocked with more thick Plexiglass. That was my first moment meeting Giuseppe Rabinowitz. Or rather, his broad, white-coated back. He said, over his shoulder, after he heard my request to speak with him, that he’d be with me, but first he had to take a leak, and as I looked past the Plexiglass, I saw this enormous guy pissing in the sink facing the drug counter. Well, he certainly made a strong first-impression.

While I waited, because evidently he really had to go, I looked him over. He was very tall, maybe six-foot-five or so, compared to my more petite five-foot-nine. He was wearing camouflage hunting-type pants under the druggist’s short white coat.  And that was also when I first saw the silver, unholstered 45 automatic handgun lying openly on the drug counter, next to empty plastic amber pill containers.

In my amazement at this bizarre tableau, I felt I had been transported to being inside of some old noir EC comic book, with evil around every turn, from page to page. Now we call them graphic novels.

Then the pissing druggist, as yet unnamed but hopefully done, turned around to face me. He had lush and curly black hair, spilling down his face and the back of his outfit. His complexion was olive, like mine, and he had a full black beard. His druggist white coat was halfway unbuttoned and he wore no shirt underneath it.  More black hair exploded out of the V-shaped opening.

So, at that point, at least I knew he was a mammal.

Around his thick neck–he really looked like an escaped defensive football player to me–were ropes of gold chains with different symbols on them.  One I quickly saw, was Christ on a cross.  Another one was a Cornucopia, or Horn-of-Plenty. But then, partly buried in the thicket of gold, was a Jewish Star.  At that point, I knew I was in the Twilight Zone. I had yet to speak to him since that first time. Words failed me.

But I too had a thin silver chain around my neck. I wore it instead of a wedding ring, by agreement, since my marriage earlier that year. I didn’t like jewelry at all, but that was my compromise with my new wife.

I reasoned that it was round like a ring and went around my neck, which was round like a finger, and what was wrong with that? I told my wife-to-be that if someone needed to know, I would just tell them I was married. That was thirty years ago, and we’re still together, so it has never been a problem.

But it was a little problem for me right them, with the pissing druggist, because from MY chain hung a modest but unquestionable silver Star of David. The druggist’s gleaming black eyes zoomed in on my quiet symbol of religious affiliation. At least, I’d made up my mind, unlike his massed United Nations collection.  His smile, with many carnivorous teeth, split his face.

“A YID!!”  He bellowed, and came clumping out from behind the drug counter towards me, very quickly.

I froze, not used to being classified so loudly and not that way, at all.  There was no room for me to retreat in that retail labyrinth, either.

Then the druggist lunged toward me, bending down a bit and embraced me in a bone-crushing hug. I was totally terrified.  When I say “bone-crushing”, I really mean it, because due to a failed transplant operation seven years before, I was missing half of my jaw. With my fragile face crushed up among his gushing chest hair and the sharp-edged gold charms hanging from his neck, it was truly, my worst nightmare.

“Jesus Christ!”, I thought in my panic, “All I wanna do is sell this freak some magazines!!”

And this, I would learn, was affection ala Rabinowitz.

He wore thick-soled combat boots, and carried a long jagged hunting knife housed inside of a fancy black leather sheath, stuck down inside of one of them.  He showed it to me once, when he was trying to remove something from his teeth.

He accepted me as a new supplier on the spot, mostly he said, because I was a “fellow Yid,” and he didn’t like the other guys no matter what they were.  He paid me in cash and lots of it, because he sold a ton of sex mags every week. He was a living cartoon, a kind of humanoid gargoyle, or like the blustering Bluto in the old Pop-Eye cartoons.  He did frighten me, every single week, because he moved so fast and was so crushing in his affection.

I knew he was a real-life pharmacist, because I saw his current Illinois license one day, buried under junk on his drug counter. His melodious name? Giuseppe Rabinowitz? He was a hybrid, he informed me, part Italian, and part Jew and liked both sides, so he chose to be both, all the time. He told me he had a Dago mom and a Yid dad, and he was the result.  He spoke crudely, using ethnic terms I’d never use, but he was very smart.  His many customers seemed to love him.  It was obvious in the way they greeted each other, swearing and laughing.

He’d wish me a “Gut Yontiff” on Passover or Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) or a Merry Christmas or Happy Easter!! at the appropriate times.  During those holidays, his store was overflowing with Christmas Holiday decorations or Easter bunnies and many baskets of colorful eggs, but no Jewish anything, ever.

“Not the right neighborhood,” he said to me, very quietly for a change, when he saw me looking at all the Santa Clauses and other similar stuff.

But on his drug counter, was a small and beautiful gold Menorah, every Chanukah, usually next to the automatic. He was unlike anyone I ever met.  He was his own creation.  Sometimes I came into his store with my hand truck heavily laden with his bi-weekly order, and I’d find him greedily consuming a whole bucket of greasy Kentucky Fried Chicken. He’d wipe his hands on his white jacket, whenever he had to wait on a customer to fill a prescription. His jacket smelled wonderful, when he crushed my faced into it.

One time, he told me he was having a little problem with a local cop, someone with brass on his shoulders, whom he knew had a strong preference for a very specific type of sex magazine. Very specific.  He asked me if I could help him, since neither he nor I carried such a gross item.  He had sold something to someone a bit too young to buy it and he needed to get this guy off his back.

He thought some of those magazines might do the trick.  He sounded desperate. I told him I’d find an answer for him, and fast.

As it happened, early in my first weeks as a distributor in 1976, I had been accepted by a small chain of hard-core adult bookstores scattered around the city to supply them with a few mainstream adult titles to please some of their customers. The managers of those very tightly controlled places were very business-like, but seemed very nervous too, whenever their boss called. I was thinking that people who worked for an outfit like that probably never got “fired” if there was any problem with money or inventory. They would just…disappear. But mostly, they were friendly with me.

One of them was more talkative than the others, I’ll call him Terry, and he listened to my request for assistance with a little smile, familiar as he was with a sea of men out there, all with very “particular” interests. My request was a bit more obscure than most, however, and he’d see if he could track a few down in Cleveland for me, where all things pornographic seemed to flow. I told him I’d appreciate it and I’d take care of him.

A few days later, he called me over to him when I stopped there to deliver his order. Terry handed me a plain paper bag, thick with periodicals and told me to mix them in with the old returns I was taking out–the unsold old issues of Playboy, etc.–and he’d talk to me another time.

Once in my truck, I briefly checked and what he handed me was right on the money. He later told me that a guy he knew in “The Organization” as he put it, someone who owed him a favor, had dug up a few issues of what Terry requested, and he mixed it into the large monthly order sent to Terry from Cleveland.  It wasn’t on the invoice and nobody was the wiser.

Terry wouldn’t charge me anything for it either, he said, and that he was happy to help me, or my other friend, out.  Some people are just like that, choosing just to help and not to become part of the problem while doing it.  Even so, at Christmas, some cash changed hands. My father taught me that a little cash can go a long way, judiciously distributed.  He was so right, too.

Giuseppe, or Zippy as he requested I call him, took the bag and passed it on to its intended recipient. He tried to throw cash at me, but I refused and told him I didn’t want any money, I just wanted to help him out of his jam.  He was surprised, then he told me he owed me one, but I shrugged it off.  He was a great customer, however bizarre, and I didn’t want some kinky cop interrupting our relationship.

A couple of weeks later, Zippy told me that the “problem” was no longer a problem, and I replied I was happy for him. We never talked about it after that, and eventually, I forgot about it.

But he didn’t.


So here I was, standing outside of his locked door on a Sunday morning, thirty minutes before his regular opening time.  I was dressed up for the Jewish New Year, on my way to my relatives in Skokie with my pregnant wife and first child, a daughter named Lisa, then 3, but now 33 and now pregnant herself with my first grandchild, waiting for me in the car.  I knocked on his door a few times. I knew he got there before opening time.  When he came to see who was there, my face must have told him something was wrong with me. He immediately unlocked his door and let me in.

Once inside, I quickly related the incidents of the last few days–he hadn’t seen me since the prior Tuesday–and I was going crazy with pain…and, could he help me?


He said nothing, but took my arm and led me back to where the drugs were. The good drugs. There were two of his regular pals waiting for him back there, too. They knew me and we nodded to each other, but I wasn’t in the mood for conversation. Zippy went digging for something and then I saw him produce a bottle of white pills. He poured a number of them into a small brown envelope and came out from behind his counter, where I’d been silently waiting with his friends. I was standing with my back against the wall, leaning.

Zippy had a little cup of water in one hand and a single white pill in the other. Then, he took the brown envelope and slipped into the front of my sports coat where the handkerchief would go, if I cared about stuff like that. It slipped down into the pocket, out of sight.  Zippy had a little smile on his face. He motioned to his pals to stand closer to me, on either side.  If it had been someone else, I would have been in a bad situation.  But I wasn’t.  Even so, I knew Zippy had a strange sense of humor, except I couldn’t think about that now.

Zippy then said,

“Hey Bob, take this. It’s pretty strong and it’ll break the cycle of pain and give your shoulder a chance to heal without driving you nuts. I know you gotta work every day, just like me. I wrote on the envelope in your pocket how often to take the rest.  There’s enough pills in there to see you through, ok? I don’t want you to suffer, buddy.”

Then he held up the pill and I took it, popping it in my mouth with no questions asked. Zippy quickly gave me the water. Then I washed the pill down, whatever it was. Nobody moved.

I felt strange. Very strange.

Then I looked at Zippy, who was smiling,impishly.

Then all the lights went out, and I collapsed.

But Zippy and his pals caught me before I hit the floor.  A moment later, I regained consciousness. But by then, a warm something was spreading through my body and there was no more pain.  I felt like crying with relief, but the three musketeers were laughing. Weird, man.

Zippy told me he knew the first dose would hit me like a hammer, but after that, he said my body would adjust and would recognize the new drug and not react like it did the first time. He thought it would be funny to see how I reacted to the first dose, just standing there, unsuspecting.

Ha-Ha, Zippy. Very funny.

But, man!  No…more…pain.

He told me to sit in my car a few minutes and to let my wife drive.  Then he wished me a “Gut Yontiff!” for the Jewish New Year 5739, and hoped I would get better, very fast. I stood there, groggy, for a couple more minutes, waiting for my head to clear.

Then I asked him, how much?

Zippy looked at me…like he was insulted…and said,

“Bob, forget it, please. I’m happy you came to me. I’m happy to be able to help you, man. The Yids gotta look out for each other. Like you did…for me.”

Then I remembered. Then we shook hands. No more words, but I did hug him, this time.  Or I tried to, except my arms couldn’t reach all the way around him, the big gorilla.

Like I said before, to some people, friendship and compassion were real things…and priceless.

Rest in peace, Giuseppe Rabinowitz.  I remember you.

(Written, appropriately, just before the Jewish New Year, 5769, thirty years later.)


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 $29.95 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.


Comment by Don Larson

September 10, 2008 @ 4:10 pm


Being hurt under any circumstance is unfortunate. You being self-employed, got hit with the extra burdens that injury brings. I look forward to reading the next parts.


Comment by Don Larson

September 11, 2008 @ 4:33 pm

Okay, now I read part II.

In every case of a family member or myself needing emergency care, we never experienced delay. It is unfortunate that emergency rooms, even 30 years ago were overwhelmed at times.

I look forward to the next chapters of the story and how you persevered in spite of all the obstacles in your recovery. Knowing you as I do, I know that so many other people, perhaps even myself, would have succumbed to the trials of life you have been faced with in your 58 years. You serve as an example to never quit in spite of the odds.


Comment by Bob

September 12, 2008 @ 10:24 am

From Bob Katzman

Maybe I’m the only one, and perhaps because I know what happened next, I see this as a somewhat funny story. I don’t know…maybe ya just hadda be there.

Or, maybe humor is a relative thing, in which case, I don’t know what funny is to the general population. I’ll just finish the story and let people arrive at their own conclusions.

Thanks for writing to me, Don.


Comment by Adele Ballis

September 12, 2008 @ 11:33 pm

It’s hurting just to read this. I’m feeling your pain even 30 years later. Let me know if you receive this…I don’t know how it works.

Comment by Bob

September 13, 2008 @ 6:08 am

From Bob Katzman

Dear Aunt Adele,
I’m fine, and yes I received this from you, and no, my nose doesn’t hurt anymore. The real question here is, however, have you learned to cook anything besides peanut butter and jelly, since 1957?

Why am I the only person who seems to see the humor in this story? Or maybe that’s a whole different problem?


The Good-Looking Nephew

Comment by Jordan Cohen

September 13, 2008 @ 3:37 pm

Lillian and I are so very proud of you for the manner
in which you faced such adversity with strength of character, fortitude and still maintained a sense of
Your inner strength stems in part from the ordeals endured by our ancestors.
Love and with pride in having you as cousin.
Jordan and Lillian

Comment by Don Larson

September 14, 2008 @ 10:16 pm

Okay, I read the final chapter now. A great story with an ending I never expected.

Sometimes the steps we walk on the path of life might be interpreted as missteps, but are really course corrections; adjustments from a complacency of routine to new experiences, new people.


Comment by Bob

September 15, 2008 @ 11:10 am

From Bob Katzman

Aw Don, I still miss the guy.
If anyone deserved toi be written about, and celebrated, it’s Zippy.

On the subject of pain, this morning, after a 2nd MRI, I was informed I’ll be having surgery on the actual Jewish New Year Day–September 30th, Tuesday.
It will be my 30th operation.

That’s kind of funny(a little)having the 30th…on the 30th.

I expect it may hurt some. Where’s Zippy, now that I need him, again?

See you, Don.

Comment by Don Larson

September 15, 2008 @ 10:18 pm

Hi Bob,

Today, Monday, I lost a friend of mine who was 96 years old. I met him in 1970 and he was a great guy.

Yes, we miss people who helped us and are now gone, except in our thoughts, where they live again, and again.


Comment by Don Larson

May 15, 2016 @ 10:46 am


The value of the stories never end.

Warmest regards,


Comment by David Griesemer

May 17, 2016 @ 8:26 pm

This stuff is brilliant, both the comedy and the drama. I’m laughing out loud at the comedy, years after seeing it for the first time. And the drama: three simple words “But he didn’t” referring to Zippy’s not forgetting a favor. So ominous.
Each section has its farcical charm (like the clipboard man, or Emergency Training Exercise) and could stand on its own. But strung together, as only Bob’s world can string them, capped by a tour-de-force character study, and you have the very graphic novel he spoke of, that old noir EC comic book, come to life.

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