Different Slants

Seeing the World from a New Angle

Stand-Up Guys: An American Story……by Robert M. Katzman

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

(Reprinted from the original publishing of this story, December 8, 2008, just before Christmas Eve 2012.  I hope it warms your hearts like warm brandy, just like it did mine when this frankly incredible story actually happened, four years ago.

Yes, there are good people out there, and you never know when you will meet them, even on the darkest of days.  If anyone wants to post a comment, there ‘s a space to do that after the end of my tale.  I hope you do want to say something. Maybe you will tell someone else about it if they too need cheering up.  Right now, I believe a lot of people need cheering up.

So, Merry Christmas.  Here’s my little story, set during a fierce blizzard in Chicago, four years ago. Every word you read happened, as in all my stories.)


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.

My first time as a “feature” was December 9th, 2008.

I do write some poetry, and have been since 1958, but eventually I figured out that I’m a story-teller, so I pretty much stick to that genre at this point.  I picked out a couple of short stories that would fit into the available time slot and practiced reading them aloud, even though I’ve done about 50 public readings of stories, over the last few years.  By reading my story out loud, to myself, I quickly discover which sentences are too clunky to read without awkwardly tripping over ungraceful words and phrases.  It’s a useful exercise and makes reading it a more fluid experience for me and for my listeners.  Then I can concentrate more on the emotion of the story, and less on being able to say it with any clarity.

I also decided to include a little musical bridge to tie the two stories together.   Just a tiny bit of multi-media to make my stories less predictable and more interesting.  My theme was unbridled passion, and the two stories occurred in 1962, when I was twelve and in 1967, when I was still sixteen at the time of the story, in January.

The first story, in 1962, was about an incident where an older bully from my school hurt me badly in the playground and, in my irrational and vengeful fury, I attempted to kill him after school.  Not your average childhood tale.  The title of the story is: Caldwell Vigilante.

The second story, called Snowflake, is about my falling in love at sixteen with a beautiful eighteen-year-old girl I met at a party during Chicago’s greatest blizzard in recorded history.  It is very romantic, a little sexy and very vivid, as it describes my eventual broken heart, when the girl married another guy closer to her age.

So I practiced, rewrote some of each story, fiddled with which parts of which songs to play to connect the two stories and convey time passing from 12 to 16.  I wanted to give a good performance.  I cared.

I asked some people I knew if they would come, including my wife Joy and my aunt Adele, who was a surrogate mom to me.  I also asked the young manager of the FirstBank in Skokie, Illinois, when I received a line of credit to publish and promote my four books currently out there, and selling.

The manager’s name is David Putrus.  He said he said he would ask some of the other workers at the small branch bank if they would like to come, too.  David had never seen me read anything live, at that point.   Although he is the same age as my own son, also named David, 29, we have become very friendly and he has made an unusual effort to help me become better known as a writer.  FirstBank is a small chain of about Five neighborhood banks that provide more personal service than a large bank would for someone like me.

I also asked a friend of my son’s, Alan Lewis, who knows how to operate a little video camera, if he would come and film me, so I would have a recording of the night, since I had no video record of my reading anything.  He said he would come.  He told me he had just started a new job and wasn’t sure what time he would get out of work, but if he could come, he would.

Earlier on the same Tuesday I was to be the feature, I received a call from a man who had become aware of an earlier four-part true story I had already written, called The Compassionate Cops of Wales, and had posted on my blog, DifferentSlants.com, about my three difficult days in Wales where I kept running into the police there over and over and over. It is a love letter to Wales and both funny and touching. at the same time.  The story is partially written in Welsh, too.  I thought that would give it a more ethnic flavor.

The man, Arturo Roberts, was the publisher of America’s only Welsh newspaper, Ninnau &Y Drych, and he expressed a desire to reprint my story in his newspaper.  I was really surprised and elated, because all writers want to be read.  I told him I would send it off to him all assembled and not in four separates parts as it had appeared on my blog.  We both hoped it wasn’t too long (16,000 words!) to publish in his newspaper, and I suggested he could publish it in parts, over a few weeks.

While this conversation was happening, I looked out the window of my store just north of Chicago and noticed that what had earlier been a few flurries of snow, was now blanketing my car, the streets and everything else in glistening swirling white, everywhere.

During this conversation, I couldn’t help noticing that Arturo’s voice had a heavy German accent, which struck me as odd since he was publishing a Welsh newspaper.  So, I asked him about it, because story-tellers want to know interesting details like that.  Arturo chuckled and then he said to me,

“Well, it goes like this.  My birth tongue is Welsh.  Then, my family moved to Argentina and I learned to speak English from a Norwegian person there, so the result of all that is the voice you hear now.”

I thought that was a cool little story, and I was happy that he was considering publishing my new Wales story, too.  I find the crashing together of different cultures to be fascinating, especially is there is no blood being shed.

Then the phone rang, and my wife said that the snow miles north of my store, where we lived, was much worse and that it was too dangerous for her to drive down to hear me that night.  I thought it was my wife, but really, her call was a harbinger of what was to come.

Then my beloved, but aged Aunt Adele called and expressed regret that she too felt it would be a bad idea for her to try to navigate slippery streets that night, but she hoped it went well for me.  I told her I understood and there would be another time.  This didn’t seem like a good trend for my debut at The Cafe.

Then another couple called and they couldn’t come either, and so on.  How nice.

A couple of hours later, I closed my store at seven o’ clock, took my script with me, a couple of long extension cords for Alan’s camera if he could make it, and for my CD player to play that little bridge between the two stories, a black metal music stand to hold up the eight pages I was carrying and I bundled up in five layers to confront the cold snowy forbidding night.  No matter what, I still hadda be there.  At least according to me, that was the way it was.  I said I’d be there, so I’d be there.

Not everyone feels compelled to follow that particular line of thinking, but its better not to expect too much from people, in general, and then you won’t be disappointed too often.

I slowly drove toward The Cafe, some miles south and east of my store, listening to a combination of bad weather reports and even worse economic reports as my nation’s fortunes went south, as well.

About a half an hour later or so, at 7:30, I pulled up across from The Cafe, noticing how many empty parking metered spaces there were, unlike a regular Tuesday night, when there were none.  I carried my assorted things awkwardly into the Cafe, and I saw how silent it was inside.  Dark and silent.  Perfect.

Then, at the far end of the narrow place, I saw the serious bespeckled eyes of Charlie Newman blinking at me, like I was an apparition.  Like I was the Snow Poet.  I was glad to see him.  Not surprised, but happy.  After all, considering all the things a person has to get past to grow up in Jersey, what’s a little snow, between friends.  Besides, he said he’d be there, and I knew he would.

So, now I had an audience of one.

We decided to wait a while, since things usually got going at 8:30, and I bought a glass of boiling hot herbal tea from Valentina, the lovely and shy daughter of Baki who ran the bar in The Cafe.  Baki was silently lurking around the dark room.  I saw a couple of his tall hookahs parked near where he sat and watched TV while we read our poetry at the other end of his place.  With the Eastern European atmosphere all around me, I felt like James Bond waiting for an assassin from Bulgaria with a dagger clenched in his teeth to lunge at me out of the darkness.  At least, that would mean there was another guy there.

An hour later, with one eye watching the steady snow fall out of the sky, I went to the bathroom before I was going to entertain Charlie, and just Charlie, with my exciting stories.  This was great.  One hundred per-cent of the usual gang of people hadn’t shown up that nasty night.  I wished I was one of them.

But a minute later when I walked out of the bathroom, the little bell on the inside of Baki’s front door started ringing.  And ringing.  And ringing.  I looked to see who had chosen to brave the elements.

It was David Putrus from FirstBank, with his pretty wife Judy, whom I’d met before. Behind them was Robert Underwood, a teller at the bank and a guy I talked to every couple of days, or so.  Then behind Robert, came the exotic-looking and petite Lana Shamoon, a customer service person at the branch, and her boyfriend (I would later learn) Sargon Yonan, a substantial looking young man.  This went beyond the usual good customer-service of their bank.  Why had they, of all possible people who would normally be there, but weren’t, come to hear me on such a lousy night?

I asked David, and he said, simply, because he said he would be there, so…he was.  Maybe he was from New Jersey?  I didn’t ask.

Then the bell rang one more, and for the last time.  It was my cameraman, Alan Lewis, who apologized for being late, but shook off the snow, threw off his winter coat and was ready to go.  Now, there were seven.  Just like that famous movie, The Magnificent Seven.  Well, they were to me, anyway.

Since no other poets showed, I was not only the feature, but the only entertainment that cold night, so I took a little longer and gave it the best I got.   I mean, these guys deserved something for giving me something to look at, besides a room full of empty chairs, right?

A half an hour later, it was over, everybody clapped and I thanked everyone for coming.

“You’re all standup guys.  You said you’d be here, and you meant it.  Thanks.  Thanks alot.” 

Later, slowly driving home, I thought about something that didn’t occur to me, right away.

Baki and his sweet daughter are Moslems from Bosnians, perhaps refugees, from Bosnia-Herzegovina, which was a savaged area in the heart of the former Yugoslavia.  David Putrus, Lana, and Sargon are Assyrians (NOT Syrians, as they always say) an ancient people from an area around the Tigris and Euphrates near the Iran/Iraq border, who happen to be Eastern Orthodox Christians.  Assyrians who remain in that part of the world have suffered much discrimination from the host countries where the lived, even though they’ve lived there for five thousand years.

David’s pretty young wife’s maiden name was Bara, and she is Hungarian Catholic.  Robert Underwood is German/English and he is Protestant.  Just Protestant, he told me, and nothing fancy about it.

Charlie Newman, Alan Lewis and me?  Why, we’re Jews, all descended from the Pale, an area including Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine, Latvia and Byelorussia, where the Jews were forced to live by the Russian Czar and surrounding governments.

Why were all of us few but so totally different kinds of people gathered in that one small place on a cold miserable night?  To hear me tell them a short story, and none of that other stuff meant a damn thing.

How very American of us.  America has tons wrong with it, but the bottom line is that a whole mixed up cluster of us can gather in a room and say whatever we want, and nobody will shoot anyone else for doing that. I guess freedom of speech and freedom of assembly matter more than most of us think about, every day.  So, really, the evening was not about my two violent or romantic childhood stories.  It was about shared values and enjoying the pleasure of each other’s company.  That’s how I see it, even if it didn’t occur to anyone one else but me.  And if it didn’t, well, that’s even better isn’t it?

After that noble thought, I eventually made my silent way home.  Once there, I spent the next hour with my snow blower and a shovel, trying to clear a space in my driveway so I could pull my car in for the night.  I finally fell into bed at 1:30 AM.

So much for the glamour of show business…


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


Comment by Brad

December 23, 2012 @ 12:19 pm

You misheard me- I was looking for a sex story- not about a SNow job!
Happy Holiday Season to you and your loved ones!

Comment by Holly

December 23, 2012 @ 12:31 pm

What a wonderful thing to bring together folks from so many different cultures to hear you read from your works. David is a standup kind of guy, I know!The story is also about friendship–the kind that is given and taken and the loyalty that comes along with it too. So nice to have that from people that care.

Hopefully, sometime you will invite me to one of your readings and I too can show you that same friendship!

Comment by Herb Berman

December 23, 2012 @ 7:32 pm

Great story, Bob, and yes, it depicts what’s good about the good old USA, though some would say just the opposite. Thankfully, the latter are in the minority, and fading away. They won’t go down peacefully, alas.

Comment by Bob

December 23, 2012 @ 8:01 pm

Thanks for responding, Herb.

Out of such numbing bleakness came such a surprising sensation of hope. It fascinates me that stories give birth to more stories in a never-ending cycle. All a guy has to do is pay attention.

Be well and stay warm.


Comment by Bob

December 23, 2012 @ 8:05 pm

This note to Holly, above, and others who read these comments:

I posted this true story in 2008 and a total of 76 people saw it in four years. Seems the message of friendship and support that make up the tale, even under the most horrible circumstances, could inspire many, especially if they–like me–are not famous writers and yet people showed up anyway.

In the heart of my story is a brief mention of the two stories I read that cold, bleak, snowy night, one of which involves my near fatal revenge taken against an older bully who had hurt me badly in the SouthSide Chicago grammar school earlier in the day in 1962. I was 12 and the other guy, a beast, was 14. Many people witnessed this after school battle and the son-of-a-bitch never touched me again.

The moment was important to more than just me. The bigger guy, humiliated, ceased to be a threat to younger, smaller kids in the playground. In my case, I was not seen as any hero. People thought I was crazy.

Comment by Don Larson

December 24, 2012 @ 12:01 pm

Thank you, Bob, for a great story!


Comment by John

December 24, 2012 @ 7:35 pm

A nice read. Your museum is a wonder. Glad to have you here in Skokie.

Happy Chanukah, Merry Christmas & Happy New Year to you.

From the guy who dug through the Star Wars posters for just the right one for his son. (He gets it come morning)


Comment by Paul Eisenbacher

December 26, 2012 @ 10:53 pm

It has ben some time since we have talked. Please forgive me. We all get caught in our own patterns of life. I hope you are doing well, especially regarding your health. I just read your adventures on a snowy evening(sorry Robert Frost). Sometimes the most rewarding moments in one’s life are the one’s least expected. This was one of those moments. I have had similar times in my travels, so I can relate to your story. I have observed throughout your story telling a central theme of humanity. It by-passes religion, culture, nationality. It is human at its core. This,my friend, is you. You possess a genuine feeling for life and truth. Have a wonderful holiday season and a healthy and happy New Year. Paul

Comment by robert m katzman

December 27, 2012 @ 7:15 am

Thanks, Paul, for one of the nicest comments anyone has ever said about or to me. I hope to see you soon before some unexpected blizzard buries one of us.

Happy New Year to you, too, of course, whether it be
Greek Orthodox, Catholic, Jewish, Mayan, Chinese
or any other group on the planet who believes time for everyone starts with them.

Your friend,

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