Different Slants

Seeing the World from a New Angle

Wildflower Diary-2..by Robert M. Katzman

Wildflower Diary (2)

by Robert M. Katzman © June 23, 2018

 Short essays, reflections & captured moments about prairies, plants, food and people worth writing about, at various times:

 July 30, 2017

My original essay, posted separately:

Wildflower Diary: Caring For Joy’s Garden”


 March 6, 2018

 Ok, this is my grandfather, South Side Jacob the Carpenter’s quick recipe for tiny seasoned red potatoes with cheddar cheese. He was from Byelorussia, born in 1882, so ya gotta take that into consideration. He used unusual tools to achieve his aims.

Here it is:
So, you roast the red potatoes on a metal tray for about 4 minutes in an oven, broiling them at 450. Then take them out, go look in your closet for a steel hammer with good balance to it. Wash off the serious part of the hammer, then beat the hell out of them little potatoes (with the skin still on) until they are totally defeated. Kinda like what happened at the 1968 Democratic Convention. But, I digress.

Cut up maybe 5 pats of butter into smaller pieces and distribute them equally, this being America after all, over the crushed little guys. Add black pepper, too much garlic (no such concept actually exists), a splash of salt and them take a White Sox Catcher’s Mitt of cheddar cheese and spread ’em around like its snowing orange tinsel all around the patient victims.

Put all that under the broiler, read the editorial page of the Southtown Economist, and by then, the cheese will have swooned all over those little ‘tators like a lovesick sailor. When browned and crispy, quietly open the oven door with a towel, turn off everything that’s on, use the towel to slide out the yummy potatoes like Louie Apparicio sliding into home plate and pour them onto a big plate.

Be careful, now. if you make any noise, you’ll have a mob of people clammering into the kitchen and you’ll have to share the gold, ok?

But, buddy, if you’re REALLY from the South Side of Chicago, you’ll know enough to slip a sawbuck to a friendly neighborhood cop to guard the kitchen door and the fix’ll be in.

Oh, yeah, be sure to wash off that hammer because ya might need to nail down some new shingles after the next big storm blows in from Beverly to Canaryville to the Back ‘o the Yards, unnerstand???


Been a real pleasure, guys & gals.

 March 15, 2017

 Found a foot-high stack of old medical reports from three different hospitals Joy went to on her way to evaporating from me. Was gonna bag ’em and toss ’em, then remembered she loved the big roaring fires I made for her in our hand-made 132 paving brick (outside) fireplace. Good times.

So, my mood a little elevated, and wondering if she might be sitting next to me on the old cedar swing I also built for us to swing in while facing the fire, I set one page afire, which took a bit of time because of the wind and dampness.

I pulled a heavy log in front of the lower front part of the fireplace to trap any paper from escaping while burning–yeah, try doing that three months after damn shoulder surgery–and as the first piece kept burning, I fed the baby.

Page after page with details about a gone girl were added to the growing blaze, the light and heat increasing with the volume of paper, even though it was about noon.

No pages escaped, because I’m good, meaning responsible, with fire. The flames reached a crescendo of heat, of light, of sound, and finally of contentment for me by turning something sad and useless into letting it provide a last bit of pleasure for me, and maybe Joy’s spirit as I (we?) swung a little on the old cedar swing facing the fire.

Fantasy is ok if your feet are still on the ground, but I thought I’d share a brief moment of loving resolve with whomever reads my eccentric posts.

Slowly moving on…

 April 15, 2018

A snow day.
Woke up, went through the usual.
Took the array of pills that keep me tickin’
Saw it was bleak outside, so decided it was an inside day.

Made my specific eggs: First melt some shredded cheddar cheese over real Wisconsin butter, then when the cheese melts, crack two eggs over it, yolks intact. Cover it lightly with salt, pepper and caroway seeds. Wait for the cheese to harden to a crisp, and the bottom of the egg whites gets dark brown and all the flavor and aromas blend.

Add a cup of coffee the size of Rhode Island and it’s a great breakfast.

Crunchy and smooth together. An edible marriage.

Go through yet another old box of papers that reminds me I’m ancient now.

See old stories, my adult children’s childhood art, some of them very cool for little kids to draw in the 70’s to 80’s. Then, damn! Find my own art from the 50’s and I gotta show it to them, so they can get a sense of their dad as a child, but no question: they drew better than I did.

Found a poem written ten years ago inspired by a man who did an emotionally brave thing, except later, discovered there were two of him, and the other one was a bad surprise. But the poem was good, and needed work, so I spent a good hour re-writing it at 67, because things look different than when I was 57. I may read it in my poetry group. It’s very dark.

Discovered hundreds of New Yorker covers in the bottom of the heavy box, going back to the Sixties. Man, I loved the cover art, and I sold New Yorkers from 1966 until 2016. Went through them cover by cover, another hour rolls past. Then I decide, hey!

Attach them all together, the best ones, and make sophisticated wallpaper in my subterranean office. One-of-a-kind and it’ll make me happy every day. This is a cool ambition.

Charles Adams and Saul Steinberg will get their own section, of course.

Then, I found a 1964 carbon copy of my first letter to a major Hyde Park Alderman asking if I can be a coat-checker (for free) as a way of finding a mentor to get me into the legendary Mayor Richard J. Daley’s Chicago Machine. It worked, but at fourteen, I had no idea what that would do to my life over the next 21 years.

The Lab School didn’t have an elective course on the fine art of bribery and how to conduct yourself in the presence of a major figure in organized crime, but overall, I think I would’ve gotten an A. But man, now 33 years later, after those intense 21 years, I’m glad to be out of it.

Then I saw the late Harry Dean Stanton’s last movie: “Lucky” made when he was 89. See it. Dinner? Ok, take two frozen turkey legs, put them in a simmering chicken stock base, add a large can of Italian diced tomatoes, then salt, pepper, a necessary amount of garlic salt, basil, parsley, a mixture of five Asian spices, leave covered for two hours, stirring every so often, then take the fat turkey legs out, cut the turkey away from the big bones, add half a bag of skinny-type Jewish egg noodles, put the turkey back in for another half an hour, then serve. Enough for two big bowls, or two dinners. Kitchen smells like a very good restaurant.

Talked to my assorted children and arrange when to see them beginning tomorrow. Why have kids if you don’t make time to remind them how important they were and are in your life. Especially now that I’m representing their Mother. She deserves that.

Then, after that, trying to decide between a sci-fi flick, La Vie en Rose (Edith Piaf bio) or a western. This is difficult. Then Darleen made her colorful post and I got side-tracked into recording an alternate slice of a life. Not better. Different.

Would a day like this be different if a smart and pretty female decided to take a chance on me?
Been alone for eleven months.
Long time.
Yeah, you bet.

April 27, 2018

 I met Joyce Esther Bishop today at the Unitarian Church in Hyde Park at about 7 pm April 27, 1975. We were both 24. Years fall away like clouds floating by, like suns setting, like time eventually has no meaning because it keeps moving regardless of what happens.

I married Joy 33 months later in 1978 at the same Church and added she Katzman to her other names. Then what?

Saying a person is the “love of my life” has no meaning for those who’ve never had one. The certainty I had one is currently ricocheting inside my heart, with sharp edges, reminding me of who she was and what we had for 42 years.

We married again on March 26th last year in a Jewish ceremony, and it made her happy, very happy, and she was the queen of the moment. She and I both knew that many of those people would be coming to see her again, very soon.

She died on Mother’s Day exactly seven weeks later. I will not write about this woman again like this, so publicly open, but right now, as the seconds pass like leaden bullets, I see her, and I miss that girl. Better be a heaven, God, because she sure had one coming.

 May 23, 2018

 In the War Against the Squirrels, I decided to try and at least cause them stress, by creating a possibly rodent-proof extremely light weight bird-feeder seemingly suspended in space, hanging from a chain, sheltered by this odd wooden contraption I bought from a barn sale with Darleen Coleman, who only seeks blue bowling balls.

I drilled many holes thru the inside perimeter to allow rain to pass through, and used thin stiff wire to create the framework from which to hang it. It twists slightly in the breeze.

While all this was happening, a Bumble Bee began following me around, even tho’ I use no particular fragrances in my everyday life. It came very close to me when I stopped moving, maybe an inch. For half an hour!

While I am looking for a new (female) relationship,

I was envisioning something a little bigger.

Without wings.

Or a stinger.

Maybe this is reincarnation, but who can tell?

 May 23, 2018

 Chicago Wasp-Killer MBA

A beautifully detailed story about 1959 Chicago’s once lush surrounding broad prairies, a very focused nine-year-old anti-social child and his relentless war with wasps.

And sometimes, people.

No, you will not anticipate what happens.

That world no longer exists, except in my wrinkled memories:


 May 25, 2018

 Today, after successfully transplanting Ostrich Ferns from my backyard to my Memorial Garden to Joy in the front, and carefully surveying the terrain for evil Dandelions, I went inside to help General Mills continue to prosper.

Then, in an odd moment of seeing an assembly of creatures who were unafraid of each other, I saw a ground-squirrel munching away within my new contraption, a Sparrow about a foot away in an official birdfeeder, a bee buzzing in circles between my window and them, and behind this tableau, a newborn short-eared grey bunny whose parents live under my porch, freezing in motion as it looked around to see if it was safe.

I have learned to stop whatever I’m doing and to appreciate the moments when they happen up here in Lutheran-Land, because such moments are not for sale.

Shabbat Shalom (at sundown), to the birds, the bees, the rabbits, the ferns and the squirrels. And to whomever is reading this little note about nature, too.

 May 27, 2018

I swapped out my bad bird feeders for Joy’s original bird feeders and now all the birds are confused. The upgrade has evidently confounded them. Poor little dinosaurs.

I have to transplant a large wildflower this morning from one place in the front garden to another. I wonder if the plants around it will miss the one that’s leaving?

Once a person gets involved with plants, it’s a quiet universe always in motion. I see as the days, weeks and months progress since I began to design something alive and silently beautiful a year ago, that getting involved planting delicate flowers and other things with your hands digging in moist earth creates a real connection so that when the many little pieces of the design create a whole, it seems to breath as a single being.
The weeding, watering and arranging of the contrasting colors and shapes become a sort of fragrant “pet” that lives outside, won’t run away, but which can collectively die if I ignore it.

Sometimes I walk outside in the moonlight and watch all the plants. I stand in the middle of the empty street and wonder if passersby see what I see. I’m sharing beauty with strangers. There is something very pleasing about that.

June 12, 2018

So many birds zipping back and forth I’m gonna need to find nature’s air traffic controller.

Maybe a Hawk.

They fly over and land on the barked logs surrounding the blackened red brick fireplace, and just watch, cruel sharp beak unholstered.

When I tend to the growing mass of wildflowers everywhere, I throw the unwanted weeds into a box and they dry into kindling.

I imagine this in a dream state.

Just musing.

Just like I don’t know the Latin names of my many successfully growing wildflowers, but I talk to them anyway.

It is an inter-species romance.

I give them water, space to grow, mulch and conversation, and the flowers give me beauty.

Fair trade.

I have lumbering black and yellow bumble bees hunting for purple clover.

Hysterical grey squirrels endlessly playing tag leaping from branch to branch, while still trying to steal the birds’ food.

But it falls on the deck and the baby rabbits who live under the deck, get it.

So do the powder-brown doves who weigh too much to use the feeders, and the shy chipmunks.

I watch the sun rise, arc, then fall, while I cook and type.

Sometimes it is as quiet as the wind passing through tall grass in a prairie.

Night comes like black chocolate spreading over blue water.

There are ancient wooden swings sitting still in this paradise of a yard.

I leave them in peace.

The whole herd of us here are missing a pretty and thoughtful someone to sit on the swing with me, where we can slowly flow back and forth.

Then we can watch yellow flames in the fireplace consume the dried weeds and branches.

I remember softly kissing under a starry cloudless sky.
Even the shy chipmunks must be missing watching that.
I’ll keep looking.

Maybe the Hawk will keep an eye out for me if he sees a good one.

I need a good one.

She will know when she meets me.

Women know things.

I will wait.

June 19, 2018

I’m sitting in my warm kitchen, typing and watching the rain. Hearing the rain. It makes the staccato sound of thousands and thousands of little boots, as the Army from the Sky lands and covers the earth. The earth surrenders, like it always does, because the trees, grass and wildflowers have many votes in the Earth Assembly.

I see my twin wooden swings hanging silently in shadow, the ancient multi-pane glass barn windows surrounding them streaking with water in transit. My big red-brick fireplace grows darker in color, the logs above, behind and on either side of it glistening, seeming to huddle and shiver in the cold deluge, as if,

“Well, no fire today.”

The rain increases in volume, the sound becoming more roar than distinct, now more a blitzkrieg than a mere attack soaking all I’ve created back here, my small town wonderland for grandchildren and dogs to run around safely. The wooden fence I built serves well, to corral their ambitions.

The red-square concrete tiles, 42-pounds each, fitted together carefully by my strong creased hands with their wrinkling skin, skirt the steps of my deck, to reduce where I couldn’t walk during and after heavy rains.

But the long earthen dam behind the swings, half of the total yard, gradually fills as the rain falls and falls and the water is trapped there, protecting the house.

Then a sight I’ll hold onto: a rabbit, a dove, a baby rabbit and several birds all on the wet deck eating fallen birdseed ignoring the rain…and each other. Wish people were more like that. Not the eating-the-birdseed part.

I am ill lately with what happens to older men, but I smile to myself, because years ago I did what was necessary, when I was still able to do so, and protect my little castle.
I am weary today, and the gloomy grey sky hiding the sun doesn’t help me, but more wildflowers will spring up soon after the rain stops, and they each offer a smile within themselves.

Colonies of smiles.

Perhaps happiness, within pain, is to be able to appreciate consequential beauty, no matter how dark are the times that precede it. As I cease typing, so has the rain.
Now, maybe I’ll sleep.

June 21, 2018

I’m with my writing group, bunch a guys I like, where we meet by the lake and the night’s cool and the big windows looks out on a wavy Lake Michigan, which is two shades of blue, one of them slate blue…the color of my lost love’s eyes, and I howl inside.

Then a nice lady there I never saw before says she’s written a book and the book has two Jewish characters and she wondered if I might look at it and maybe tell her how Jews talk. I pause for a moment as we’re all gathering up our papers ‘n stuff to leave and then quickly recover and fail to have any sort of useful response. Then I say,

“Well, like most everybody else, divided by economics and geography. There’s no specific American-Jewish dialect, Miss.”

But to myself, I’m thinking, “Where the fuck am I?!”

And I go home, window open, cold air blowing on my face, to a silent house wishing I could be holding Joy’s hand in the dark as I raced north along Sheridan Road.

Then I’d know where I was, man.

Yeah, maybe then I’d know.



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