Different Slants

Seeing the World from a New Angle

Incident in Nick’s Diner…by Robert M. Katzman

Incident At Nick’s Diner by Robert M. Katzman © June 2005

After my divorce in 1977, I would pick up my daughter at her mother’s house early everySaturday and bring her home Sunday morning. Sometimes, before I would return her to her mother’s house, she and I would stop off for a quick breakfast at Nick’s Diner, a popular local restaurant.

Nick was a very friendly Greek man from Athens. He would wave and smile at me whenever I would stop by his place.  The food was good, and cheap, and Kate, the waitress, was fast and sweet to my daughter. We liked Nick’s Diner.

One Sunday morning in 1979, when my daughter was four and I was twenty-nine, we were sitting in our usual spot in a booth near the door, when I heard a loud and obnoxious voice from across the diner.

A large fellow, about six feet tall, maybe two hundred pounds, was talking to his buddy while they were sitting on two stools at the counter. The counter was horse-shoe shaped, and they were sitting on the far side, away from us.

The loud guy was making nasty and offensive comments about Jews: How they looked, how they ate, prayed in Temples, mimicking exaggerated gestures—just any rotten thing he could think of.

Usually Nick’s Diner was kind of noisy with the buzz of twenty conversations, plates clattering and the register ringing.

But suddenly, the conversations stopped.  The plates were silent.  The only sound, now even louder it seemed, was this buffoon attacking the Jewish People.

He seemed to me to be a traveling salesman straight out of Central Casting in Hollywood: loud red-checked jacket, black glistening hair combed straight back, and an overstuffed body and face that seemed bloated—like someone had stuck an air hose up his ass and inflated him.

He was oblivious to the silence around him, and his apparently amused companion did nothing to shut him up.

As I watched the scene, my anger gradually increased, as I noticed no one was stopped   him. 

No one spoke up.

People seemed paralyzed.

 Frozen.

 I was not a Passover-Jewish New Year-Yom Kipper kind of a Jew.

I was Jewish all day.

 I didn’t put my religion on in the morning, like a vest.

It was my total being from my very dark brown eyes and hair to my heart and lungs.  It was how I  saw the world. 

I not only had the Kristallnacht anniversary on my calendar, but I also knew of another tragedy that befell my people two thousand years before that, on that same day, and another disaster six hundred years before that.

I didn’t need a Jewish Star tattooed on my forehead, or a yellow one sewed onto my clothing to know who I was. 

In my interior life, there was no separation of Temple and State. 

I was Jewish. Period.

Proud of my people and our history.  

Somehow, in the last two thousand years, people got it wrong.  

We are not sheep.

 But Central Casting would never have chosen…me…to silence this guy.

I was about five-foot nine, about one hundred sixty pounds.  

Slight and mild in appearance.   

People did not gasp in nervous apprehension when I walked into a room.

I was working sixteen hours a day, distributing thousands of heavy magazine bundles around Chicago.  My muscles were hard, my stomach was flat.  I was never in better shape than I was right then in 1979, on that Sunday morning.

I hadn’t had a fight since 1964, half a life ago, and I didn’t go looking for them.

As I watched this jerk, I thought to myself: “I can take this guy.”

But the real reason that Central Casting would not pick me as the hero for this scene was that I was missing part of my left jaw, lost to cancer eleven years before when I was eighteen.

Two transplant efforts had failed and now there was nothing on the lower left side of my face to support my jaw on the right side. My face was kind of flat on the left side, but not grotesque to look at. Though most people could tell something was not quite right, I was resigned to my appearance.

However, if someone really punched me in the jaw, the blow might sever my windpipe and possibly kill me.

So, as a result, reluctantly, I learned to be a peaceable and tolerant guy.  You might say that I held my tongue so that I wouldn’t lose my head.

Until today.

As I listened to his vicious words, I looked at my four-year-old daughter, who heard them also. With her dark brown page-boy haircut, her lovely olive skin and her cute pug nose, she was my little Jewish beauty.

Especially her eyes.  So large, so dark, so serious.  A universe all their own that a man  could fall into and be lost.

 Is this the lesson that I wanted to teach her?

That any fool could trash the Jews and that no one would stop him?  

That we were not worth defending?

 That it was better to hold one’s breath, remain silent and keep out of trouble?

That this obnoxious bastard across the room was right—that we were …nothing?

Just pathetic, defenseless clowns, good targets for any jerk’s cheap jokes?

No. That lesson would not be taught to my daughter, this day.

So…my choices were to shut up and let my child, and me, take whatever this guy dished out.  Or, to stand up to him and possibly get seriously injured.  

Or worse.

Sometimes, all the choices are lousy.

So. Resistance isn’t futile, as long as someone accepts the risks of it.

I made my choice.

I took a deep breath, let it out and quietly slid out of the booth.

I said to my daughter, as I caressed her soft cheek: “Wait here, Pumpkin.”

She nodded.

I stood up and walked quickly and quietly around the horse-shoe shaped counter toward the guy spewing poison about my people.

I was light on my feet—ready for ‘fight or flight’. Whatever would happen, I was resigned to it. It was either act now or regret my meek silence for a lifetime. 

In seconds I was next to his stool, but he was so engrossed with his own voice, talking to his friend, that he didn’t see me coming.

I moved very close to him.  

So close that he could feel my breath on his fat cheek.  

I spoke very quietly.

Just a whisper.

But a whisper with conviction.

I said to him, in short distinct words:

“Shut. Your. Mouth. Right Now!”

Only he could hear me.  

My words were just for him.

Startled, he quickly turned his bulky body toward me and seemed completely amazed.  

But he quickly regained his composure and said to me, in a louder voice than mine,

“Are…youJew?”

But I cut him off as I spat the words in his face:

“One-more-word and I will hit you sohard that I’ll knock you off that stool and right on your ass.”

He shut up and looked into my dark Jewish eyes.

I let him see the venom.

I didn’t let him see the fear.

I backed up a step.  

Still close enough to slug him, but far enough away to duck if he tried anything.

The Diner was totally silent.

I said to him, still in a whisper:

“Do you believe me?”

He stared at me for some long seconds.

I held my breath.

Waiting.

Ready.

Then he slowly lowered his eyes from mine, and turned away from me, again facing the counter, and wordlessly nodded his head.  I waited a few moments to be sure of it.  This fool could end this now, and I would accept it. He remained silent.

Satisfied, and to be honest, relieved, I turned away from him and began to walk away, when the jackass brayed loudly, and demanding, to my back:

“But, hey…ARE YOU…A JEW?

I froze, and spun around to face him, just two yards away.

Advancing toward him, I raged at him:

DOES IT MATTER?!!”

Loudly this time.  

Threatening.  

Closing the short space between us.

I would not give this to him.

His smug satisfaction that only a Jew would be roused to action by his horrid words. 

 That it would never be “anyman” to come smash someone like him, as I wanted him to believe, in my fury.

In my heart, my hopeless heart, I knew that so very rarely is it any man that will confront evil, be it for the Jews or any group that deserves a defender.

In this crowded room, at this time and place, it was just…me.  

And I was not swaggering with some sense of triumph.

I was filled with pain in realizing that not only was I the only person determined to stop his poison from filling the air, but that even for me to do this required an irrational suspension of awareness of my own very real fragility.

Was that why courage was so rare in the face of bestial men?

To be a passionate warrior, must one be crazy, first?

I stared at this contemptuous lump of a human, so wanting to smash him.

 But he shrank back from my angry response. 

 Last chance to end this, he knew I’d do it, and damn the consequences.  

The tense moment passed.  

He said nothing more.

 I knew, in my gut, it was over.

As I walked back to my booth, I passed Kate, the waitress, who silently mouthed the words 

“Thank you.”

 I nodded to her, but I kept moving.

I picked up my child, who had witnessed everything, and my check, and walked to the register to pay Nick. Nick then did something I never saw him do before.

 He said,

 “Not today, friend”, and tore the bill in half.

  I offered him my hand and he shook it, warmly.

 He smiled and I left Nick’s Diner, with my daughter in my arms.

  Once outside, in the cool morning air, I exhaled deeply.

A reprieve.

I took my daughter home to her mother.

But first, I hugged my little beauty a little longer, a little tighter, than usual.

I kissed her small face goodbye.

I told her that I loved her.

Then I left her to make that long drive home, alone.

We never went back to Nick’s Diner.

In the silence of my car, as the endless miles of the concrete interstate highway disappeared under my speeding black tires, I mused to myself, with no little amazement, 

“Man…it could have gone…either way.”

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

If the above true story interested you, so will this one: Inspired by my wife, Joyce, who was passionate about every kind of equality, and who asked me to write about how she felt as a brief essay. I know the title is long and awkward, but so what? I could never say no to Joyce. 

She died May 14, 2017. Her words remain. by Robert M. Katzman and Joyce E. Katzman, March 20, 2015

A brief essay about Jews in America, a small town synagogue, the LGBT population and their freedom to be whomever they chose to be, under the protection of the Constitution
Link :  https://www.differentslants.com//p=2644

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

847.274.1474     Attachments area  

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

10 Comments »

Comment by Lynda Rosemark

March 16, 2019 @ 7:51 am

Soooo glad he didn’t have a gun!

Comment by Rhonda Manthei

March 16, 2019 @ 8:23 am

It never stops, does it? The hatred is all around. Good for you! You handled it in a non-violent way but were prepared for violence.

Comment by Nikolaos

March 16, 2019 @ 11:05 am

Solid, captivating story. Enjoyed reading it.

Comment by Brad Dechter

March 16, 2019 @ 11:12 am

Exciting and well told. Being a “Passover Jew” I wonder how I would have reacted.
Good on you Bob!

Comment by Brian

March 16, 2019 @ 11:53 am

Well played my friend.

Comment by Pam Melvin

March 16, 2019 @ 12:40 pm

I wish you would talk to people. Lovely story

Comment by scott

March 16, 2019 @ 3:13 pm

Bob-
I held my breath as the lesson wore on. Fight or flight truly is an amazing thing which to me I feel is the shot of adrenaline racing to your brain. Always wind up light headed after this happens to me
Good Job
Scott

Comment by Bill Skeens

March 16, 2019 @ 5:04 pm

Thank you.

Comment by Susan Liedel

March 22, 2019 @ 9:07 am

Bob,
Hatred is as old as time and unfortunately will never go away. Most people are good but silent in the face of hatred. I applaud you my friend for being the feisty Jewish Man I met but two years ago.
Thank you for not being silent.
Susan

Comment by Bob

March 22, 2019 @ 11:12 am

If you were there then, Susan, I bet we’d have been feistier.
And thank you.
Resisitance isn’t futile, as long as a person accepts the risks of it.
B

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