Different Slants

Seeing the World from a New Angle

Setting Back Chicago Clocks, Selling Newspapers at 4 am, Unromantically Once-Upon-A-Time…by Robert M. Katzman

Filed under: Life & Death,Love and Romance,My Own Personal Hell,Retail Purgatory — Bob at 6:55 am on Sunday, March 11, 2018

Setting back Clocks, Selling Newspapers at 4 am, Unromantically Once-Upon-A-Time

by Robert M. Katzman © March 11, 2018

Eyes fluttering open in a silent room half-lit by sunlight squeezing past opaque shades, I remember what day it is, and though no one else can hear it, I sigh. Once upon a time, now like some white-haired Revolutionary War veteran fifty years later, I am thinking that maybe there’s no one left anymore to remember the complications of this twice-a-year Chicago South Side moment.

I woke up with all of my conflicted emotions mechanically assembled as I remembered the day, and I stopped moving, because I didn’t have to get up if I didn’t feel like it, my momentary protest against my past. My ancient past…

Running a wooden newsstand on a Sunday morning with thousands of newspapers to assemble and sell, slightly warmed by capricious kerosene heaters belching black wispy smoke along with their heat, a small army of children and adults arrive in the dark in Hyde Park, wordlessly take up their tasks. Little conversation, multiple cups of black and tan coffee steaming in a range of hand held ceramic cups from home, long before coffee was something bought on every third corner in America.

Once, people made their own coffee. Really.

Mountains of bundles of Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribunes to sort into the newspaper itself and the fat inserts which were shoved into them, backwards, to visually insure the stuffing was actually in there. Not every newsstand did this then, in the Seventies, each of us free to be slaves after our own fashion, but I long ago wanted to be certain that the TV Guides wouldn’t fall out on the sidewalks as the customer walked away.

It was a skill to be acquired, shoving the rough open-paged edge of the assorted advertisement and the Sunday comics into the also open edge of the center of the receiving once thick Sunday newspaper, before computers in a far off unimaginable future rendered paper obsolete as way of transmitting “news”.

Add the Sunday New York Times to this mix of small and large hands, wrinkled eyes and smooth young faces, a burden that came in five parts to assemble, because, well, it was the most important newspaper in America, it felt, and worthy of almost three times the labor for the peons of the press

Those of us who sold newspapers to cars in the rain, in the snow, in the sleet, cold water melting on our eyelashes, dripping past our scarves, soaking our skin, running down our necks and chilling us. Making change and shivering, blindly looking into the headlights of the next car to be serviced.

But on Daylight Savings Times, whenever one of those twice a year “Spring Forward/Fall Back” days happened, always on 2 am Sunday mornings, in theory, newsstand people, like everyone else but just a little better, had to awake and arrive at the old time, because an unknown number of people would still arrive at the earlier time if it was in spring, because once awake, many of us are on sleepy automatic behavior.

So if we were to all assemble at the newsstand at 5 am normally, like the week before, while everyone else in the Central Time Zone would snuggle up for another hour of sleep, we had to arrive at godforsaken 4 am to accommodate those unknown numbers of customers who forgot about clocks and left their houses too early, expecting Bob’s Newsstand to be awaiting their arrival. Especially in Hyde Park, where it was claimed by the University of Chicago that literacy was 100%!


Come sit next to me on an average Saturday night, maybe Midnight, watching a conveyor belt of drunken surly humans flow past, some stopping to look at me under my smoky kerosene lantern swaying in the wind, flame wavering, casting noirish shadows, and with hot alcoholic fumes belching from their sagging mouths, ask me what time it was. Better that than wanting a newspaper, because if that, then all the loose change they were clutching would fall through their fingers, clatter on the cement and they’d want me to pick it up for them, sometimes a dangerous decision to make.

On less windy nights, sometimes I could smell the unique fragrance wafting through the night air of what used to Irish Mist Whiskey, as some slob was pissing a river on the back of my newsstand, and taking forever to do that, too.

The Daylight Savings Days were an hour longer, multiplied by paying everyone for an hour extra, and after every worker eventually went home, I remained in the darkness in front of the newsstand waiting for whomever might come by, confused by the time change, wanting a newspaper, expecting Bob to be there, and since I wasn’t paid by the hour, I waited for them. On Sunday, normally I worked from 5 am to 6 pm.

Twice a year, I worked from 4 am to 7 pm, hoping to sell at least the same number of newspapers.

Lying in my room, decades later, looking up at my ceiling and remembering how much I dreaded this day each year, I wished my friend, my wife of forty years, who worked with me at that newsstand, were still here so I could nudge her warm body, whisper to her what day it was, watch her sweet smile, and hear her snort a laugh.

Long ago and faraway, but to both of us, only yesterday.

I don’t miss that day, but I sure miss her.


Readers, leave comments below. I always read them. Thanks


My new two-volume autobiography coming soon:

A Savage Heart (vol 1) and Fighting Words (vol 2)

A thousand pages of ground-level history about a life of resistance.

You don’t know what you don’t know.

Happy Daylight Saving’s Day!

Bob Katzman


Comment by Herb Berman

March 11, 2018 @ 11:17 am

One more hard day in a lifetime of hard days. Sweet, sad story, Bob.

Comment by Charlie Newman

March 11, 2018 @ 2:29 pm

Nicely done…as usual…my fave line is “Once, people made their own coffee. Really.”

Some still do.

Comment by Jim Payne

March 11, 2018 @ 3:51 pm

You are such a vivid writer creating scenes with new unexpected descriptions. I reread the first three paragraphs for the sheer pleasure of your words exciting me. As in all your stories you are fighting some force, here daylight saving time, and you orchestrate it into a concert with a crescendo, missing Joy.
You remind me of what it is to be alone.

Comment by Ess

March 12, 2018 @ 3:28 pm

“a burden that came in five parts”

Only you, Bob, can add BURDEN to a burden…as in this descriptive line above– my favorite in this heavy urban-life story; such lines shall be henceforth dubbed, “Bobisms”!

You fall somewhere between Dante and Dickens in your
detailed descriptions of ‘Tales the Darkside’ of Life, the underbelly of urban living, the gravity of THE GRIND (e.g. Woik w. a capital W)! So much so that I often want to run out of your stories, screaming! How you bore much of those realities is beyond me but,just as like that past story of yours(about finding a chest of coins in that old dead woman’s apt.), it seems you have– been collecting– and carrying ALL of your life secretly –in a burgeoning sack upon your back.

And, from there– like some Johnny Appleseed–(or the stripe-wearing Kokopelli if you prefer), you amble along, casting your wordseeds along the way and cultivate all sorts of incredibly fruit-bearing stories for others to taste or gobble up, enjoy and be nourished.

So, get up from your bed, Bob (more woik to do!)… and, thank you, for the all these lush ‘storied trees’ that many will remember… as life goes on!

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