Different Slants

Seeing the World from a New Angle

Joy’s Diamond Ring: Romance and Racketeers …by Robert M. Katzman

Joy’s Diamond Ring: Romance and Racketeers

By Robert M. Katzman © Sunday, July 11, 2010 (updated 2/8/2021)

First published by Bob Katzman at 10:47 pm on Sunday, July 11, 2010 

Not your usual love story. 

A fifty-year saga about a Chicago West Side tribal immigrant’s tale, encompassing: Friendship, Jewelry, Gangsters and the real meaning of lifetime friendship, no matter what.

A puzzle with so many pieces, all steadily adding up to Joy’s diamond ring. 

On December 31, 1977, New Year’s Eve, I invited my long-time love, Joyce Esther Bishop, then 27, to dinner at a famous old Chicago steakhouse.  Specifically, The Kinzie Steakhouse, but which is now far better known today as Harry Caray’s Steakhouse, after the now deceased and legendary Chicago radio announcer for the Chicago White Sox baseball team, famously remembered for yelling: “HOLY COW!!” after every home run hit by the home team.

Aside from Joy’s full-time day job working in the city, she also worked at my original Hyde Park store, Bob’s Newsstand, every weekend. She was either selling newspapers, stuffing the Sunday newspaper’s weekend components inside each paper or keeping an eye on all the numerous part-time employees and/or the endless stream of customers. 

This was back in the days when Chicago still had four separate daily newspapers and was the last remaining American city to be so blessed. Now there are only two Chicago newspapers left, both post-bankruptcy, and in their present (2010) shrunken and sensationalized formats, they would have seemed other worldly to either of us in 1977. 

The then fiercely competitive conservative Chicago Daily Tribune and the more liberal Democratic Chicago Sun-Times, were rich and mighty Midwestern icons of journalism, seemingly able to last forever, just thirty-two years ago. What happened?

Joy was certain that I loved her, since I told her so every single day (and still do). I was also convinced that she loved me too, in the unmistakable ways women get that idea across to the objects of their affection. 

But crowding twenty-eight years of age, Joy seemed to want a further level of commitment from me. With unmarried women, the status quo is an unacceptable status. I was conscious of how she felt and I resolved to make her happy. She wanted to put a collar on me, and a leash, too, I guessed, so that night I decided to ask her if I could be her pet for life. I already had my shots, and she was well aware that I hadn’t been neutered, either. 

Back then, though a quite distinct Downtown Chicago architectural landmark, The Kinzie Steakhouse, with its Gay-Nineties theme was pretty well past its prime as a restaurant and a little worn around its edges.  Maybe more than just a little. 

Our waitress had on some fishnet stockings with some frayed links. Maybe she was hot once, perhaps in 1942, in her tight and somewhat revealing red satin corset costume, but that cold December night in 1977, she reminded me of a Playboy Bunny’s grandmother still in there pitching, leaning over and selling wrinkled cleavage and expensive alcohol. It was more than a little disturbing.

The hour was gradually approaching Midnight in that formerly glamorous steakhouse. But it was still a fine night out for the two lovers who sold thousands of newspapers, together, to mobs of people impatiently pulling up to the curb of our newsstand demanding fast service. And having someone waiting on us, for a change, was a lovely experience. 

So, holding both of her soft Norwegian hands, I told Joy that I loved her (again) and since we were already living together, I gently asked her,

“Joy, will you marry me?” 

Joy smiled her mega-watt smile which always lit up my heart, and immediately answered: 


But then, to her visible astonishment, I wordlessly produced a small black-velvet jeweler’s box with a diamond ring in it and gave it to her. Almost as an afterthought, like, 

“Oh, yeah, and please take this little thing, too.” 

Joy seemed stunned that I would even think to remember jewelry was part of this ancient rite of proposal and lifetime commitment. 

I lived a gritty unglamorous life with nothing sparkling in it, except Joy’s eyes. My watch was a drugstore Timex. I wore no jewelry myself except a simple interwoven silver Jewish Star around my neck. But that wasn’t jewelry, it was identity. Jewelry simply wasn’t a part of my personality. 

Words, handshakes, kisses, hugs?


Friendship? Yes. 



Part 2: 

About a year prior to that evening at The Kinzie Steakhouse, I once read an item in a movie magazine about actor Richard Burton, giving his wife, Elizabeth Taylor, a ridiculously enormous diamond ring. I remember dismissively saying to Joy that for a diamond that large, a person could go to Europe twenty times. I said that would be a far better use of money, in my opinion. 

I am certain that Joy silently filed this unwelcome comment from me in her mental file cabinet under, 

Bob: Clueless!! 

However, like numerous other people have in my life, she underestimated me. Her shock at receiving the diamond ring that night was also a subtle jolt from me to her that I was far more aware about what was important to her than she had previously assumed. It certainly redefined our relationship on that wintery December night in 1977 when I asked Joy to marry me. 

So, okay, a nice romantic moment, yes? 

Well of course!

But not nearly as fascinating a story as where Joy’s ring came from.  Because on the morning of December 31, 1977, that diamond ring did not exist.  Yet. 

What follows now, is the truly convoluted story of the long, long journey leading to the creation of Joy’s diamond ring.  I suppose I’m writing this story for my granddaughter Natalia, and her soon-to-be sibling and cousin whom are both presently on the way. The next generation should know about these intricate old family stories. 

In 1939, when my talented and artistic mother, Anne, then only 18 years old, was already designing detailed, imaginative jewelry. Although her parents, who were from the Jewish Pale in Eastern Europe, were not in that business and her father was essentially a peddler to other immigrants near the steel mills located at the southwestern shore of Lake Michigan, the Chicago-area Jewish community was still small enough so that she was able to befriend, through friends of friends, some of the veteran jewelers working Downtown on Wabash Street. For a curvaceous pretty girl, which she certainly was, doors frequently opened more easily for her than they might have opened for any man.

Though, at least today in Chicago the jewelry business seems to be 100% East Asian, when I was a child, it was 100% Jewish. The world keeps turning.

These old Jewish men whom she gradually came to know, turned her designs into reality, and as those finished designs sold, my mother began to make a name for herself in the tight little world of men who handled diamonds, rubies and pearls every day. 

One of those unusual people I can still remember from over fifty years ago was a very old, very short man named Sander Goldstein. He appeared to me to be a formally-dressed and always laughing…elf. 

He always wore a white dress shirt, a black vest, had thick-lensed glasses with gold wire frames plus a jeweler’s loop–a kind of high-powered miniature magnifying glass inside of a small black plastic tube–with him at all times. He had a wispy angelic-looking fringe of fine white hair, was round-shouldered from endlessly sitting hunched over his cluttered work table for so many decades, skillfully placing precious stones in gold, silver and platinum settings. He also repaired broken watches and necklaces. 

In 1955, when I was five years old, I thought he must have been at least one hundred years old.  I still do. 

My parents first met in 1945 after my Dad returned from the War in the Pacific at the age of 33, older than most returning vets. He felt his life was slipping by and he had no home, no wife and no kids. Then he met Anne Warman in Chicago. He was quite swept away by her glamorous beauty and aggressive style. He had never met anyone like her before, coming from a bland working-class background and Jacob, his silent and steady carpenter father.

She dazzled him. 

When Anne learned he was looking for work, she offered to tutor him in the retail jewelry business. He still had a little money left from his mustering out pay when he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army. Anne’s parents, Nathan from Byelorussia and Celia from Poland also had a little money put aside to get him set up, if it appeared that a marriage was going to happen. And finally, she would be his partner, making connections for both of them within the trade and also waiting on customers. 

So, they were married on June 30, 1946, sixty-four years ago as of this writing, and they opened up a small jewelry store at 5 North Wabash in Downtown Chicago, under the elevated tracks everyone called then and now, “The Loop”. 

They were moderately successful for a while, but after Anne gave birth to my sister Bonnie Sue on October 22, 1947, and then me on April 30, 1950, she was much too busy to help him sell jewelry in the store anymore. 

Though my father was an excellent salesman, even before the war, he became increasingly disenchanted working their business day after day by himself. He felt trapped. 

Other problems arose between the two of them when my mother discovered that she was increasingly disenchanted with having and raising children. It was far less glamorous caring for two crying, peeing demanding babies than selling diamonds, opals and rubies to her sophisticated clientele. 

A rift opened between my parents with these two critical discoveries in the early Fifties and it never closed. Though their jewelry store kept making money, my father eventually decided that it wasn’t for him. His background was completely without frills or too much education, working-class friends and jewelry was such an unessential part of his life. Money never was a sufficient motivation to keep him doing something he didn’t want to do. 

After serving 42 months overseas in the Signal Corp. working for General Douglas MacArthur, the tough, still baseball-playing World War II vet simply couldn’t shrink his world down to a dozen rotating trays each in a cluster of electric jewelry display cases inside of a small shop on the fifth floor of an anonymous old building on North Wabash Street. It was too quiet. He felt like he was being buried in silence. He told me was more of an “outside man” type of salesman. 

My Mother and Father were fundamentally opposite sorts of people in their cultures, values, perspectives on what friendship meant and even in their involvement in their “Jewishness”. Jewish culture was in fact not monolithic and very dependent on where ones family came from. Their marriage was a disaster and never could have worked.

After experiencing gang fights during the Twenties on the dangerous immigrant-filled West Side of Chicago, then serving with his younger brother and three sisters through the Great Depression of the Thirties, crossing the Pacific westward with massed troops in transport ships to battle the Japanese Army, “island hopping” for years while getting ever closer to Japan, being bombed and wounded in the Philippines and finally walking through the deadly silence of Nagasaki after it was flattened by an atomic bomb–my Dad later told me that his being reduced from being an essential US Army sergeant teaching Morse Code to many men in vital situations, to selling watches and rings post war–had no meaning for him. 

Even though he closed and left that store in 1956, after selling off all the inventory and display cases to the many contacts he had developed over the years he spent in that business, he still kept up all those relationships in his complex web of many friends. To me, even as a small child, my father seemed to know everybody, especially whom to call for a very specific reason. 

His view of what having a friend meant became imprinted on me. He didn’t view friendship as a means to an end. He viewed friendship as holding another person in high esteem, someone to confront life with. 

After a while of exploring some possibilities, buoyed by the cash raised from closing the jewelry store, my Dad ended up selling low quality furniture, which was called “Borax furniture” in his level of the trade.

The name was derived from when cheaply manufactured furniture was given away as contest premiums by giant soap companies when they were major advertisers on popular radio shows in the late Thirties, and then beyond that, through the war. Even after that situation stopped post WWII, the distinctive name of that category of furniture still stuck.

But my Dad was an “outside man” and the new job let him drive all over Northern Illinois and Indiana visiting with and selling to his many customers. He was an ace salesman, made a fair buck on a regular basis and most importantly, he was content. 

The job kept him away from our house on the South Side of Chicago for long stretches, which kept the marriage going a lot longer than it probably should have, although my sister and I wished he could have been home more. A perfect example of a situation seemingly starting out so well, and then becoming doomed by unforeseen circumstances, in this case independently affecting both of my parents. 

My mother’s days of designing beautiful jewelry by then long over, she somehow morphed into an interior decorator and lived in the basement of our brick home, surrounded by color swatches, scheming and smoking pack after pack of her Pall Mall cigarettes. A smoke-filled subterranean mystery, our basement to us became “The Dungeon” and was off-limits to both of us.

My sister and I rarely saw what slowly became a very embittered woman. An increasingly dangerous, frustrated, angry woman trapped between anonymity and invoices. 

All these events that gradually led to my parents becoming who they were as their lives evolved, also affected the personalities of Bonnie and myself, over time. Children cannot protect themselves from their parent’s unhappiness. It falls on them like endless rain. 

Part 3 

In my Father’s Chicago 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. Always cheerful, she was very popular with all the salesmen.who all their ups and downs. 

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 cardinal rule had been broken. Though Lorene’s Black family was American for centuries, this was irrelevant to my father. Regardless of color or wahatever else divided Lorene and my father: 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 present day “Paladin”. 

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-American 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 Irish-Catholic Irish gangs, numerically smaller Jewish-American gangs, Polish-Catholic gangs, Italian-Catholic gangs and one misplaced German Lutheran-American: 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 (then, mostly) didn’t speak English offered to provide to the Irish the business skills they possessed to financially back their political quests, if the Irish would protect them from the endlessly-hostile-to-the-Jews 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 who were unwilling to open their world to them during the mass immigration period prior to World War One.  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. My father never elaborated about that. 

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.  Perhaps Chicago’s very large German community’s relatively outsized desire for beer during Prohibition was a motivation.

I don’t know how Buddy became part of the Italian gang, but that’s how he met my Father. 

I do know that generally speaking, at least initially, none of the Catholic groups I 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 of them wore crucifixes around their necks and had Christ on the cross 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, would I? 

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 a thousand-year-old communially created 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. In Word War Two, nearly all of the six million Jews killed spoke Yiddish and it was then thought the language would die out. But that never happened.

Back to the gangs story, Buddy spoke German like his parents did. 

So whatever intersection brought this vulnerable German into contact with an equally vulnerable Jew, they both ( more or less) 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 Father 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, French, Belgians, Norwegians, Americans and the Russians, all at the same time.  That reminded some prominent 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” and Nathan Detroit (from the Guys and Dolls Broadway musical), “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 eventual time in a Federal Penitentiary, what I was able to pry from my father was the following, aside from being told it wasn’t politeâ–or safe–to ask such things: 

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’s leadership, 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, and their families on the outside.

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. 

Part 4 

After Buddy was released from “The Slammer”, as my Father always phrased it, his relationship with my Dad resumed like nothing had ever interrupted it, like World War II, for example. 

Buddy the Hun was unavailable to serve his country in that War because he was already serving his sentence in that same government’s Federal Penitentiary. 

When they had their first post-prison reunion in 1948, Buddy was trying to decide how to make a living.  My Dad suggested Buddy try becoming a jeweler like he himself had learned to be, after the war.

My Dad laid it out for him: No heavy lifting, the merchandise would never break down, like say, a washing machine, for instance, and (not a small part of my Dad’s reasoning in this situation of career repair) it was distinctly possible to run a store selling valuable jewelry as a cash business.

Buddy the Hun thought it over, especially the “cash business” aspect of it. Because to Buddy’s way of thinking, he wanted nothing further to do with the Federal Government of the United States, including paying any taxes. He figured he’d already paid them enough in years of his life. 

Buddy knew he had lines-of-credit quietly waiting for him, and he was also fairly certain he could obtain an ample supply of easy-to-move merchandise like diamonds and watches. What he didn’t know, like how to convincingly portray himself as an experienced jeweler, he would learn. And his old pal Izzy would be there to help him, as long as it took. 

So, with old chits to collect for time served, Buddy the Hun became Buddy the Jeweler, by appointment only. 

Time passed. 


Buddy the Hun did very well, in his quiet virtually invisible way. 

Now we’re back in December 1977. 

A week before I made the decision to propose marriage to Joyce, I called my Dad, the former jeweler, and asked him where I should go to buy her a ring, since I knew nothing about jewelry, carats or what something like that should cost. Being a jeweler wasn’t genetic. For me, seeing expensive watches, rings and necklaces here and there around our South Side of Chicago house was as interesting as a bowl of popcorn. As a child, I grew up indifferent to their value and charm.

My Dad told me he knew a guy “who would take good care of me”, and to let him make a phone call to arrange a meeting, first.

I said ok. 

A couple of days later, on December 27th, my Dad called me and told me to meet him Downtown at 5 North Wabash, under the elevated tracks, or in other words,at the location of his own former jewelry store from long ago.  He must have thought I had no recollection of his place, but I did. 

He told me he had an old friend there, a guy named Buddy the Hun, who would sell me a ring on December 31st, the same day I planned to propose.  

I first thought, 

“Buddy the Hun? Is he serious?” 

My second thought was, which I said aloud to my Dad, 

“Isn’t that cutting it a little close? I need the ring that same night.” 

My Dad, with his trademarked confidence, assured me that his friend was very reliable and that I would have my ring that same day. I had no way of knowing that normal people, couples, who go shopping for rings take weeks or months to do that, and that a personally created ring was something that took a long time to get done.

As a person who built newsstands out of piles of wood, and had the attitude that if I wanted to build a bookshelf or hang a door, it was no big deal and I could do it in an hour or so, depending. So, I assumed making a ring was like that, too. I mean, plumbers can fix broken toilets in a few hours, right? 

After all, people who aren’t carpenters might think hanging a door was a daunting achievement and only someone with mystical talents could do that. Everything is relative to what you know.  Or don’t know. 

So, if my Dad said this ring would happen at a certain time and place, why would I question that?

I agreed to meet my Dad at his old address Downtown at noon, twelve hours before the ring was to be presented to Joyce. We met at precisely at noon, both of us being punctual men, which actually means having respect for another person’s time.

Without much chit chat, we rode up the same old brass elevator that resembled a jail to me, with its same old clanking sounds from the Fifties that I still remembered, and we stopped at Buddy the Hun’s floor. 

With my Dad leading the way, we found a small office tucked away around the corner from the elevator that said, enigmatically: “Fine Jewelry for Sale, by Appointment Only” The place was dark. And quiet, too. 

I thought to myself that this tiny shop, hidden away in an old building on the 7th floor was only open by appointment? I guess Buddy the Hun must know a lot of people who need jewelry. People with money.  I also thought to myself it must be nice to have a private clientele like he did, and not to have to wait around all day for customers to buy something, like I did. 

My Dad rang the bell and I heard some footsteps moving toward the door.  Then I saw some fluorescent lights blink on in the dark store, and then the door opened. 

Buddy the Hun stood before us. He and my Dad greeted each other warmly, embracing and saying: 

“Hey, Izzy!” 

“Hey, Buddy!” 

Like two guys who knew each other forever, which they did.

Then Buddy turned to me, more formally, as my Dad then introduced me to his old pal and Buddy’s newest customer. We shook hands, firmly, like men do when they first meet, a firm handshake being an indication of character. One of my Dad’s many lessons. A limp handshake communicated many things, none of them good. 

Buddy was of medium height, about five foot eight, stocky build, clean shaven, and was sixty-five years old, same as my Dad. His black and silver hair was receding and there were deep indentations on both sides of his mouth, beginning just below his eyes. They were not smile lines. Buddy the Hun was a very serious man. 

We all walked into his cramped office and he told us to wait a minute while he did something. Then he came back and asked me how much I wanted to spend on Joy’s ring. I told him. He nodded, and he went to his safe, which was this enormous tall, deep, wide, black steel monolith sitting in a small dimly lit area behind him like something transported from Stone Henge.

He returned with a single black tray with many vertical glassine envelopes in it, evidently all filled with diamonds and apparently arranged by size.  The black tray was about ten inches by about twelve inches in size.  I was mesmerized by this whole situation. I was imagining other things, um, happening here, as well. 

Buddy pulled out one envelope which he said was in my price range, and asked me to hold out my hand. I did that. He then opened the top of the glassine envelope and very carefully poured a shimmering pyramid of diamonds into my ink-stained from newsprint calloused cupped palm. A unique experience for me.

I stared at them for a while, the glittering and uncountable mass of diamonds making little rainbows on my hand, as the light filtered through them. 

I was transfixed by this sight. 

Then Buddy, evidently busy, and perhaps a bit impatient, spoke to me in a matter-of-fact voice: 

“Pick one.” 

I woke up from my trance, arbitrarily picked one stone out the mass of them and handed it to Buddy. 

Buddy the Hun. 

He smiled. 

Part 5 

Then very carefully guiding my hand, he tilted it so that all the valuable little critters fell neatly back into their glassine home, where all the inhabitants were equal. He folded the top of the envelope over, returned the envelope to its appropriate slot on the black tray, surrounded by dozens of other such envelopes, and returned the tray to the yawning black safe behind him. Buddy placed his large hand flat against the safe’s thick steel door and pushed it until I heard a distinct “click” sound as it locked itself.

Buddy then showed me a nice-looking platinum ring with all its little prongs standing straight up, as if reaching for a stone to grasp. They looked like tiny baby birds to me, stretching their necks, waiting to be fed. I said it would be fine, in my vast experience as a connoisseur of jewelry. Buddy nodded, and told me to wait there in his office and he would assemble the ring on the spot. 

He placed the diamond I’d selected into the ring, right there in front of me, as I stood next to him at his workbench. He carefully, skillfully pressed down all of the prongs, as he slowly turned the ring attending to each one in turn, to firmly hold the diamond in place. Then he washed the assembled ring in some solution to make it sparkle. He dried the ring, placed it inside of a little black velvet jeweler’s box and handed it to me.  That, was it. 

He also handed me a certificate of authenticity stating the exact number of carats, or fraction thereof, the diamond’s color and other information my insurance company would need. Buddy then signed and dated it as I watched him. All his mostly done in complete silence.

Then, I paid him. 

In cash, of course. 

My Dad’s relationship with Buddy and his presence in Buddy’s office with me that day assured me that everything was kosher, as we Jews say, even about a Lutheran. But Buddy the Hun was no ordinary Lutheran. 

My Dads world was neatly divided into either “them” or “us”, Friend or Foe.  It was a crucial difference and all that mattered. To him, and now to me, too, Buddy was “us”. in other words, Buddy was cool. 

And also, my Dad told me that I received much more diamond than I could ever have afforded to pay for otherwise, at that time.

Where did all those diamonds in the huge black safe come from? 

Only God knows and I sure as hell didn’t feel the burning need to know. 

Some things, you just don’t ask. 

How much did I pay for the diamond ring? 

Well, my Dad died ten years ago. Among his few remaining possessions, I found a black jeweler’s loop. 

Buddy, Buddy the Hun is dead, too, and hopefully from natural causes. 

Thirty-three years later, I’m the only one left who still knows, and friends, things will remain that way. 

Some things, you just don’t tell. 

So, finally, what does that now decades old diamond ring represent? 

Well, no one has ever gasped in amazement as my lovely wife walked into a party with all the light in the room brilliantly filtering through the enormous rock on her hand, blinding everyone.  No, Joy’s ring is much more modest than that. Besides, i’m not the type of guy who would do such a thing. 

Subtle love. 

Joy’s diamond ring somehow tied together:

(1) My once happy Mom’s teenaged talent for designing beautiful jewelry, seventy-one years ago. 

(2) Her elf-like mentor, the Master Jeweler, Sander Goldstein, who opened other doors to the trade for her. 

(3) My Dad’s unlikely, yet enduring friendship with a man who was very different than his own people, Jews, overcoming his own ethnic prejudices in a dangerous part of Chicago, eighty-two years ago. 

(4) The Irish-Jewish alliance stemming from the grim tenements on the old West Side of Chicago, which in many ways, to me especially, continues on ’til today. 

(5) World War II, my Dad’s 42 months overseas in the Pacific, and the impact on his life afterwards. 

(6) The very strange and now completely forgotten fact that once upon a time–for years–my Depression-era parents were both jewelers with their own jewelry store, when Eisenhower was America’s President, and they were both filled with high hopes for their futures, together. 

(7) How that store disappeared after Bonnie and I were born, and the gradual disintegration of my parent’s marriage after that. 

(8) My Dad’s postwar reunion with ex-con Buddy the Hun and Izzy’s offer to rehabilitate his old friend’s career. 

(9) My Dad’s old world protective impulse toward women, including one particular black woman, Lorene, and his calling on his (connected) friend Buddy to rescue her from the source of her misery. 

(10) My previously unknown (to her) appreciation of just one woman’s expectations of me: A Ring. 

(11) An architecturally significant Chicago Steakhouse that used to employ sensuous senior citizen waitresses in tight red satin corsets and worn fishnet stockings, slinging booze and serving savory sirloin. 

(12) And, of course, not to slight them by forgetting, the silent but always nearby Chicago Syndicate, ready to help out, whenever you need them. An equal opportunity supplier of services and one which, amazingly, no one ever complains about, well, anything. 

I hope it is quite clear to my readers why it took me so long to sort out all these many parts, so I could accurately write this story.  Truth takes longer than fiction. Some of those doors in my memory were locked up tight. Hard to open. Some, I didn’t want to open. It may be that the recent (June 11, 2010) death of my older sister, Bonnie Sue, compelled me to finish a story in which she played a small part of it.

I don’t know. 

But this I do know: 

To me, when I gave it to Joy, the diamond ring meant, 

Here, take this and wear it.  Have my babies.  I will love you forever. 

To Joy, when she received it from me, I believe the diamond ring meant, 

Love me now, when I’m beautiful. Give me babies.  Love me later, when I’m old. Stay with me always. 

Thirty-three years later, a deal, is still a deal. 

We have four children, three married, have one grandchild, and two more on the way. 

We’ve shared prosperity and ruin. Too much surgery and even incurable illnesses. 

As Joy and I both continue to thread our way together through the dependably treacherous thicket of life, we still pause in the occasional sunlight-dappled meadow, to kiss. 

We still hold hands. 

We still keep each other going. 

Never mind all that. 

By now, I hope she knows: I will love her forever. 

Ring, or no ring.

 (My love of 42 years died on Sunday, Mother’s Day, May 14th, 2017.

We were married in a Jewish ceremony–for the first time–on Sunday, March 26th and she was wearing her diamond ring for the last time before her hands swelled too much from cancer to allow that. It gave her much satisfaction to have the chance to make one last public declaration of our undying love for each other. But the woman herself died exactly seven weeks later, surrounded by her family.)

That more emotionally precious than any other sort of value diamond ring awaits when our youngest daughter’s marriage happens, as a gift from her Mother who wouldn’t be there with her on that most important day.

Yes, it was in her Will, but much more than that, I promised to carry out her wishes, and to Joyce, that promise meant more to her than, well, diamonds.


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 scott

August 25, 2018 @ 5:59 am

Hi Bob-
I really enjoyed reading this story as my parents went through a lot of the crisis and Joy that those times brought. People used to ask my dad for “favors” and he usually came through.Anyway I just wanted you to know that another south=side Jew knows where you are coming from. I hope you get to me when you get home so we can reminisce about the good old days.TTYL(I hate using it but it’s short as is the painless time that I have to type. Your friend-Scott

Comment by brad dechter

August 25, 2018 @ 7:16 am

You always tell a good story Bob! Thanks for sharing!

Comment by Charlie Newman

August 25, 2018 @ 2:24 pm

Well told, Bob!

Comment by James Myles Payne

August 25, 2018 @ 3:02 pm

At first I thought your story wander too far afield from Joy’s wedding ring, but your excellent story telling carried me along and I enjoyed the story as you told it.

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