Different Slants

Seeing the World from a New Angle

How a Lithuanian Jewish Kid, at 14 , joined “Da Chicagah Machine”…by Robert M. Katzman

Filed under: Beloved Teachers,Cops,Friendship & Compassion,Gangsters,Uncategorized — Bob at 2:46 pm on Tuesday, January 22, 2019

How a Lithuanian Jewish Kid, at 14, Joined “Da Chicagah Machine”

by Robert M. Katzman © January 13, 2019

Chicago is a museum of unassimilated words, accents and physical expressions. North Side Jewish accent, rich kids, was very different from the West Side, the immigrants and the South Side, home of the white collar, the working-class Jews. The Chosen People had different voices, even in the American Promised Land. 

Dees guys, dis stuff, dem bricks and dos cops came from the Germans who came here earlier. 

The Italians added a whole new galaxy to the way words were said, and the silent way a body’s shoulders and hands were a distinct language of their own. But generally, the Irish set a standard common accent to outsiders right after the major immigrant period.

Now there’s a million Poles adding their voices to the rest. Black English is not connected to any of these and was its own world of speech from the South and before that West Africa. 

Chicago has the largest East-Indian Downtown area (North Devon Avenue, then Western Avenue to California Avenue) in America.  Their English ain’t British, either. They live peacefully there with mobs of Orthodox Jews in black everything, Indians with Saris, Nepalese, Pakistanis and Assyrians. A stew of Middle-Asian accents more concerned about making a buck than killing each other. A wonderland of many voices, people seeking to communicate in a foreign language motivated by seeking peace and money.

Then the wave of a million Mexicans and other South Americans who live here now, well, who knows what influence they will have on what a Chicago accent is in 50 years? Or the thousands of Koreans stretching west on Lawrence Avenue? Or the 250,000 each Lithuanians and Puerto Ricans? 

I ran a wooden newsstand and heard working-class voices for two decades, from the tough guys who ran the newspaper trucks, garbage trucks, firemen, cops who spoke two different ways, softer to a friend and much harder to a bad guy, anxious ladies with a lot of make-up on who worked, um, in the evening, smooth local politicians, priests and rabbis–all of them spoke to me as they really were, unconcerned about making any kind of impression because nobody cared about impressing the skinny Jewish kid who was selling them a Chicago Daily News Red Streak Final Markets.

I was always a writer, even then and mentally recorded all of it. I dressed defensively for the horrible Chicago weather, not to “impress” anyone.  I was self-employed for 56 years, since I was 12 on the South Side of Chicago growing up with the strong East European-Yiddish accents of my four grandparents in my ears, ending up now at 69 in south Wisconsin and sometimes hearing that strange Northern Central American accent mixed with the Southern Canadian accent: “Yah, doncha know?”

I saw a galaxy of people from all economic layers, bricklayers to several presidents of the University of Chicago, Black civil rights activists, to local dope peddlers offering me free joints, dangerous thieves trying to sell me hot Playboys from the trunks of their cars, to lonely priviliged middle-aged housewives aggressively seeking my attention, young gay priests quietly asking me to meet them after I closed the newsstand, all those voices stripped of any pretense. I saw a slice of mashed up personalities, nationalities and genders all giving me a moment of their time without bothering to disguise their real selves in exchange for a quarter and a newspaper.

All of this stunning experience sent me to the (invisible):

“University a da Real Chicagah” 

No degrees granted, but I did learn what I needed to learn to become understood by everybody and especially, where I needed to go to when I needed help. A certain kind of help. Pressure from small time local politicians seeking bribes. Pressure from University stiffs who objected to my selling Penthouse and sought to put my busy newsstand out of business and twenty people out of work. They ran into a brick wall of my disgust with people who condescended to distain me. A lifetime trigger. Because I had a voice, too.

A South Side of Chicago, Jewish-American accented voice that warned bullies: “Don’t fuck with me.”

Always polite, but with a steel spine, I fought back, gathered allies as threats arose, one time even calling on a state senator to hold off the U of C prudes, who then responded immediately after years of my contributing to his political career.  He was an elegant black man with poise, character and a strong clear voice who spoke passionately in my defense at an open Hyde Park community meeting about Bob’s Newsstand’s future.

We blew them out of the water. Bob’s Newsstand endured there for two decades.

But day to day, dealing with low level corruption, a smile, a firm handshake with folded cash kind of help, the Universal Language of Chicago. I was a tiny screw in the Chicago Machine. But knowing where I was in the scheme of things always kept me from getting screwed. I wasn’t corrupted, but learned how the real world worked with no fairy tales. A-Man-Needs-Friends.

Period.

Alderman Claude Holman inducted me into Chicago politics when I was 14 and gave me a little job. He was 60 at the time. My only pay was tips. I made out ok, checking coats for a lot of local political powers. They dropped a pile of silver quarters and an occasional folded buck in a handy glass ashtray I brought with me. I put in the first three quarters to suggest tipping was a nice idea.

They noticed me, I was extraordinarily polite, and they tipped pretty well for a new kid with no real connections. And my Dad Israel, a tough West Side Jew and World War II veteran, had long ago taught me how to shake hands with a man. We practiced. He said it mattered. It did. A brief firm handshake while looking straight into the eyes of the other person communicated character and commitment, he instructed me. He told me that a big man who uses a too hard handshake to intimidate a smaller man, woman or a kid, was a jerk.

A brief firm handshake while looking straight into the eyes of the other person communicated character and commitment, he instructed me. He told me that a big man who uses a too hard handshake to intimidate a smaller man, woman or a kid, was a jerk.

I was unaware that Ald. Holman was president pro tem of the Chicago City Council, one of only six black Alderman out of fifty wards and joined at the hip with then legendary Chicago Kingmaker, Mayor Richard J. Daley. We lived in the same building at 4800 S. Marine Drive, two massive rectangular buildings that were their own free-standing precinct.

I bet Ald. Holman got 110% of the votes cast there. Or not cast there. But, well, what do I know? I was the new punk in the Machine.

He died June 1, 1973, at 69. A very young woman in his apartment called the 21stDistrict cops in a frenzy not knowing what to do. I am assuming nothing, of course. The Machine preferred people who knew when to keep their mouths shut. Mind my own business and pay my dues, when asked.

A week later, the local newspapers gently said he died of natural causes. Yeah, and most likely smiling too.  

I was 23 by then and well established with my large wooden Hyde Park’s Bob’s Newsstand. I will be 69 in a few months, too. Strange to be almost his age then as I write this story now, like I’m in a loop of time. I also bet his name is long buried in the tonnage of Chicago politics. Alderman Holman?

I’m a widower today after a forty-two year relationship with a wonderful woman who was three weeks younger than I was when we met, two years after Alderman Holman died.

Depending on the urgency of the situation, two-bits, four-bits, a fin,sawbuck, a double-sawbuck, half a century, a C-note, or if necessary, a Grand. The right word, the right amount of long green matched with the right center of power, close as possible to Da Boss and in Chicago, the fix was in.

I don’t plan on having any very young women in my home to help me celebrate my next birthday.

A nice woman, maybe 65, would be young enough for me. We’d both be driving at the same speed, so to speak, at that point. Being careful how we treated each other and avoid crashing into any trees.

Rest in peace, my first Chicago Machine friend. All I need to remember is you helped a 14-year-old kid navigate the jungle of politics in Hyde Park, and showed me where the path was, and where the swamps were and to keep my word once given. If I lied to someone asking me to do something inside of the Machine, I would quickly discover exactly where the swamps were.

One thing I learned from The Machine: Don’t Make Any Stupid Mistakes…Twice.

**********************************************************************

If this frank story, above, interested you, the link below, written in 2017, may also interest you. Thank you for reading my stories.

Chicago Municipal Tyranny Explained: My Newsstand in 1965  

https://www.DifferentSlants.com/?p=3574

(you might have to copy and paste this link)

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   

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

Speaking of Our Words – June 30th, 2017  

3 Comments »

Comment by Herb Berman

January 22, 2019 @ 5:42 pm

Wonderful story, Bob. I arrived here, a 30-year old lawyer originally from Louisville, with a pit stop in Cincy. I found this “tough old town” much more welcoming than either L or C. All anyone cared about were results. Just do your job, pal, you’ll be okay. I did and I was.

Comment by brad dechter

January 23, 2019 @ 9:30 am

This is one of your best in my eyes. That being said, I protest! You are not too old to have that nice young lady in your bed on your 69th birthday (of all birthdays!).
Get your head back on straight- you’re growing wiser, not older!
Good story Bob!
Brad

Comment by Don Larson

January 23, 2019 @ 5:29 pm

Even being here in San Diego on a warm day, I can feel the cold down my back from those cold windy Chicago days of my youth.

Your life story is All Seasonal. However, the Winter versions of the old newsstand encounters tell the Chicago life you had in the most impressive way.

I should be sitting across from you in that old “Four Brothers(?)” restaurant as you tell your tales. I can picture you eating the Matzah Ball Soup special as I devour a Corned Beef Sandwich with fries in the booth together with you. Outside the cold wind was howling, the snow swirling, and the mirage of your old Newsstand becoming more visible as you speak.

Keep writing, Bob!

Warmest regards,

Don

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