Different Slants

Seeing the World from a New Angle

My Old Dog Max and The Interstate Incident…by Robert M. Katzman

(A Doggy Christmas Story)

December 24th 2018, by Robert M. Katzman

Readers, believe what you want to believe. But this happened on Sunday December 16, 2018, in Chicago, at about noon.                                                      

Max is not an attractive dog.

A year and a half after the death of my wife Joyce, and the three old dogs who progressively had to leave our home as her cancer spread, I decided that it was long enough for me to live in a silent house in Wisconsin. A dog out there might agree with me, but which dog?

After visiting many shelters in Kenosha and beyond, and not connecting with any dog I saw, I went searching further afield in the Lonely Dog Metropolis of The Chicago Anti-Cruelty Society, at 510 South LaSalle Street.

Years ago, after being fired from a horrible job by a beastial boss who screamed obscenities into a phone when leaving messages for his quivering employees into their voicemail, and he soon discovered I was no good at all at quivering, I decided I may not be able to change my own luck, but perhaps I could change the fate of a soulful dog waiting for me there at the CACS, a couple of blocks away. 

I hunted around for a while in my silent misery; saw a smallish black dog with a white chest about Beagle size, but a mutt. 

I bent down to look into the mutt’s eyes and see what I could see there. The dog was calm, quiet and she looked into my eyes, too, and in seconds I felt the spark of connection. Always been this way in my relationships with dogs: “Are we good for each other?”

Penny went home with me and was part of my family for years.

Three decades later, I was there again, looking for furry salvation and toured the many dogs in cages, snorting and barking, most too large to be a companion of mine when I drove around running errands.  So many dogs.  Then I looked into a small cage where I saw a quiet dog sitting back in the shadows, head down, big black shining eyes almost covered in it’s lush fur. I asked the attendant working there if I could see it. She was busy, many people shopping for pets on that Sunday before Christmas, about a week away.

Onyx was eleven years old, I read on the paperwork the attendant handed me, he was abandoned by his long-time family because they said they just didn’t have enough time anymore to care for him. He had all of his shots, was neutered and had a hernia fixed at the same time. I was imagining that the sad creature was numb with despair at all that was churning in his life.

She opened the cage, put a thin blue leash around the black dog’s neck, placed the dog on the floor and handed the leash to me. Told me to walk around.  The tiny dog was a Shih Tzu, about ten inches high, named Onyx.  A mass of black hair, with a dog somewhere inside of it, he looked like no one had cared for him in a while. 

We wandered around the busy place, too many big shoes shuffling around for Onyx’s comfort. I picked him up, found a place in another room where there was no one and sat down on a bench, with Onyx on my lap.  He looked up at me. He wasn’t trembling like small dogs often do when sitting on a stranger’s lap.  I didn’t say anything, lightly stroked Onyx’s white furry neck. Onyx stretched his short neck up so I could keep doing it.  

Then I scratched between his floppy ears, both at the same time because he was so petite, and Onyx lowered his head so I could more easily do that.  I gently lifted him up to look at his recent surgery. Looked ok to me. Then Onyx looked into my eyes, taking the initiative. We stared at each other for some moments. I could feel his age and sense of disorientation, a distinct feeling of:

“What could I possibly have done wrong to have my family choose leave me here?”

I have long felt that dogs are excellent judges of character, and could sense who an evil person was. Onyx was quietly looking up at me, patiently sending me a message that I was ok, he wasn’t afraid of me, that perhaps we’d get along, that my lap was a nice place to curl up upon and what was I going to do now?

Onyx at eleven was about sixty years old in human years, compared to my being sixty-eight in human years. If he was treated well, and if he was lucky, he might live for five more years, possibly dying at the equivalent of seventy-seven. I would be seventy-three, if I was also lucky.  Our energy levels seemed well matched.


I asked Onyx if he would be willing to be renamed Max, because calling him Onyx would make me feel like I was a honking goose in flight. I felt that this would be a small concession on Onyx’s part.  I took his silent acquiescence as his agreeing. The dog probably felt I was something he could grow to tolerate, possibly thinking my calling a furry creature so small “Max” was an indication of generosity. Or perhaps Max just waiting for his future to unfold.

After completing a surprisingly intense interview as to my acceptability to be a pet owner, Clare, about twenty, was eventually amused by my evident relaxed experienced with animals. She read the questions faster and faster. I finished with her blessing, was given the paperwork, assorted dog tags, some treats-to-go, and told that (the now renamed) Max had been fed, walked and he had pooped and peed. They handed me the leash and we walked out the front door, Max trotting like, hey…this was HIS town.  He then immediately peed and pooped.

I would eventually learn that the little fur ball was 98% pee and 2% big black eyes. 

We walked up to my parked car, I opened the door and Max immediately jumped in. Taking a couple of blankets, I fashioned a cushy nest on the passenger seat for Max, and showed him the small bowl full of water on the floor in front of him, after which he jumped down, lapped up some, then jumped back up on the car seat. Now his seat. 

His attitude was one of a relaxed equal who was used to comfort and consideration. He looked out of the window, waiting to go on the road, wherever that road was going to take him. I was liking Max a lot.

We were ninety minutes from my home, our home, and the weather was dry and clear, hazy clouds drifting by in the blue sky. We began driving toward the Ontario Street entrance to Interstate 94 towards Wisconsin. After a tire blowout in Racine a month earlier, I decided to replace all four tires, playing it safe with winter coming. My long time and trusted mechanic informed me that my evidently original brake lines were rusted and leaking, and could fail at any time. The price of repair wasn’t wonderful news, but I intended to keep my 2001 Toyota because the old body was still pretty good, like mine, the motor quick and responsive and importantly, the car was paid for. The mechanic did the work.

We entered the busy speeding highway going north, cars everywhere, going about 65 miles per hour. I played a CD Joy had made for me years ago, maybe fifteen years ago, a couple of dozen of my favorite old rock n’ Roll songs. One of them was “He’s A Rebel” by the Crystals and written by Gene Pitney, in 1962. I love the song, the attitude of it, identify with it and hope my kids play it at my funeral service in maybe one hundred years.

 The old song began to play, filling the air with wonderful voices and that beat, dum dum dum, dum dum:

See the way he walks down the street
Watch the way he shuffles his feet
My, he holds his head up high
When he goes walking by, he’s my guy

Then suddenly, the white car in front of me slammed on his brakes!          There were so many cars everywhere, in front of me, next to me, behind me. 

I was in the left lane, the fast lane; my only choice was to instantly turn left to the shoulder to avoid a crash.

The song played on,

When he holds my hand, I’m so proud
Cause he’s not just one of the crowd
My baby’s always the one to try
the things they’ve never done

The swerve was so sudden, I was about to careen into the Interstate’s concrete dividing wall, and the car seemed almost out of control, but I was able to swerve back to the right, which seemed a worse option, all those cars everywhere, I was so terrified,

And just because of that, they say                                                                       He’s a rebel and he’ll never ever be any good
He’s a rebel ’cause he never ever does what he should
But just because he doesn’t do what everybody else does
That’s no reason why I can’t give him all my love

But to my shock, there were no cars, and as I seemed to be involuntarily about to slide into the lane,

I again turned the wheel sharply to the left, tires screeching, to see if I could slow and steady the small car and get over to the shoulder and safety, and there were no cars in front of me, nor behind me, and the music eerily playing on,

He’s always good to me, always treats me tenderly
Cause he’s not a rebel, oh, no, no, no
He’s not a rebel, oh, no, no, no, to me                                                                    If they don’t like him that way
They won’t like me after today

The car turned left, straightened out with my rapidly turning the wheel like I was piloting a steamboat, and it slid to a stop. I steadied myself, and saw Max buried in the blankets, out of sight. I unfolded them, praying he was alive. He was, though dazed, and I picked him up and set him on my lap, both of us trembling. The song played on:

I’ll be standing right by his side when they say                                              He’s a rebel and he’ll never ever be any good
He’s a rebel ’cause he never ever ever does what he should
Just because he doesn’t do what everybody else does
That’s no reason why we can’t share a love

Now, here is where I tell you–as briefly as possible–something that happened eighteen years before. I was in Israel with my friend in 2000 to plant trees in honor of my Father, also named Israel, who had died days earlier at 87.

We rented a car and drove everywhere, but coming north from Eilat, the southern tip of Israel on the Red Sea, our rented car broke down in the outskirts of Hebron, which is inside of Palestine, near an isolated diner with a dozen people sitting there drinking coffee and talking. All of them ignored us.

We were stuck by the side of the road for many hours in the burning sunlight, and no one would speak to us. We weren’t afraid, just frustrated and confused. Then, as the sun began to set, the apparent owner of the diner, a tall handsome Palestinian dressed all in black with a silver belt buckle, just like a cowboy, walked over to our car, asked for my keys in perfect English, dialed the rental company phone number and handed us his phone.

Someone there screamed when we told them where we were. This was mystifying. The woman on the phone told us they’d be there in thirty minutes—we were in the middle of a desert, the Negev—and she hung up. I handed the phone back to the tall man, thanking him. He said nothing.

Very soon, a jeep screeched up to us, the two guys in it grabbing us and our bags, left the dead car where it was and the Jeep’s motor roared. I watched the man in black watching us as we sped away, until he grew smaller, eventually disappearing in the desert sands.

Later, when I told the strange story to my Rabbi, a well known and respected scholar, at my synagogue north of Chicago, he was patiently listening to what he assumed, I guess, was a regular Israel tourist story, until I got to the Hebron part and his eyes grew large and he backed away from me, telling me that on that particular day in Palestine, and especially in the town of Hebron, there had been an Intifada,a Palestinian uprising against the surrounding State of Israel, and there was rioting, violence and killing, including tourists. He told me my situation was stunning, that God had an envelope around me protecting me, and he backed further away, saying something in Hebrew. I couldn’t figure it out. A mystery.

But as I was holding my small dog in my arms on that Sunday, terrified myself and so frightened for my new companion, I recalled the Hebron story from so many years before and tears began to stream down my cheeks, spilling onto Max’s black fur, and I held him closer, thinking, that if God actually did have some sort of mysterious “envelope” protecting me for whatever reason from death, I was sure happy that on day,  He made a little extra room in that envelope for tiny Max. 

I sat there for a while longer, pulled myself together, put Max’s blankets back in order and then put Max atop them, gently stroked his head, and then pulled into traffic and went home. Not everything makes sense, or needs too, but the mystery remains, as does that old Rebel song which will have new meaning for me now:

He’s always good to me, good to him, I try to be
Cause he’s not a rebel, oh, no, no, no
He’s not a rebel, oh, no, no, no, to me                                                                 Oh, he’s not a rebel, oh, no, no, no
He’s not a rebel, oh, no, no, no…

He’s A Rebel lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.

 (They own this song, not me. Used for storytelling purposes only. Thank you Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.)Publishing News! 

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

Shipping by air to most of Europe, due to the weight of my books is $99.00

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.  My hour-long story reading at WGTD 91.1 NPR Kenosha, Wis is now a podcast. The interview and story can be heard here:

Speaking of Our Words – June 30th, 2017 With special guest star and featured writer Bob Katzman. Bob reads his memoir, “Audrey, Pink Bunny Slippers, Her Cat and the God’s Eye” and talks about his w…   Your comments are welcome, below, and please tell others I can be found here as a writer. I can also be hired as a speaker for organizations, etc, both here and in Europe. Seeking an agent. robertmkatzman@gmail.com Poet & Storyteller for hire for organizations, schools or private events   www.DifferentSlants.com to view recent and older examples of my work

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Preview YouTube video Speaking of Our Words – June 30th, 2017

Speaking of Our Words – June 30th, 2017  


Comment by brad Dechter

December 18, 2018 @ 1:37 pm

Great story- thanks for sharing!
As someone who has adopted many dogs, and always wondered what the names they use to respond to were, the fact that you had a name anc =]d chose to ignore it, amazes me. You’re blessed to have the dogs real name and should use it. I say that because Onyx, ag=fter 11 years, knows his name- and you know- wait for it- you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
BTW, small dogs live longer. Our dog Friskie- who you knew (followed the mailman) lived to be 22. I have 2 small dogs- 1 five pounds and 1 eight pounds- that I’m hoping will live to see 20.
Congratulations on having a brand new dog and knowing it’s real name- we never got that luxury!

Comment by Charlie Newman

December 18, 2018 @ 1:57 pm

Nicely said, Bob.
As usual.
btw: Dogs are better than people.
By tons.

Comment by scott

December 18, 2018 @ 2:38 pm

Hi Bob-
Liked the story and reading one of the comments-changing the name was a gutsy thing to do. I have put 3 dogs to sleep and it was so hard on my heart that to this day I cannot face another dog. Took care of my mom’s dog with a lot of help from the “village” but when he time came I believe thre only person with me was my daughter.this was really hard to do as it was the final tie to my mom. I admire you for adopting another at our age and wish you both the best of luck and I hope he snuggles into that envelope

Comment by Donald Larson

December 18, 2018 @ 3:20 pm

Hi Bob,

Great story and I believe it!

You did the right and human way to take-in a dog with compassion.

I always liked “He’s A Rebel” too!

Warmest regards,


Comment by bruce matteson

December 18, 2018 @ 6:30 pm

that dog and I have a lot in common…we both know how you drive and love you anyway…

Comment by Dave Gourdoux

December 18, 2018 @ 8:08 pm

Well done, sir … Just the right amount of detail – I could see everything very clearly, not only the things you showed, but the things you didn’t show, too …

Comment by sue ellen burckhart

January 20, 2019 @ 2:55 pm

When I read your posts for your blog it seems as if you are in the room telling me a story. So enjoy reading your blog. I have also felt that I have been in a mysterious envelope too. I just hope that the envelope stays with me for a while longer.

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