Different Slants

Seeing the World from a New Angle

Quoting Death of a Salesman: Attention MUST be Paid! My Eulogy for Someone Important Who Just Died, Milt Buzil

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bob at 8:35 pm on Monday, August 2, 2021

Milt Buzil died on Saturday, July 31, 2021 at age 94. Not a relative of mine. A friend.

No, more important than that, he’s the guy who steps up when he sees someone in need.

His son, Ron Buzil, is my lifelong friend who must have inherited some of that moxie because in 1962, he did exactly that. Showed up at the worst possible time to come to my aid in the playground when the odds were impossible — and in doing so, completely upended my vulnerability in a fight against very bad odds of ten to one, to five to one. With the two of us standing together, back-to-back, we were more than formidable in beating back the bad guys.

Milt I met a little bit when I was perhaps twelve or so, when I became friends with Ron. Just hello in passing, I thought he reminded me of my own Father, a tough Jew from the West Side of Chicago. Milt was born in 1927, my Dad 15 years earlier in 1912, but still, both fought in the same war because Milt lied about his age to get into the Navy in 1944. Wish they could have met, because both were the kind of guys a country needs, guys who show up when the odds are bad. 

Much later, when my twenty-year-old business, Bob’s Newsstand, collapsed in an increasingly dangerous Hyde Park, and I soon learned that no one hires a self-employed guy because they don’t want to waste time and money training a new guy who will leave the minute he has enough dough to start over again: the curse of the men and women who refuse to accept failure.

Consequently, I was unemployed for two years, an eternity for a guy working since he was twelve. No college degree, no special technical skills, just the guts to build a business where others didn’t see the same opportunity.

Depressed, desperate, and frankly, embarrassed, in 1986 I turned to Ron who knew something about tough times and asked him if he had any ideas how a guy like me might get back into the world of work, however difficult. I was 36, in pretty good shape and ready for anything, which happens when a guy is willing to shed his pride.

Ron told me his Dad might have a spot for me where he was in management at the Chicago Messenger Company. This was a job of muscle and speed with no points for character or wit. Just grit. Just work.

I called Milt, who told me to come down and see him, knowing very well who I was in his son’s life and vice-versa. I showed up in my battered Chevy van, and asked for work. He looked the van over and then he looked me over.

He decided he needed the van, except I hadda come with it. He told me who to report to, what was required; like a 100% knowledge of every street in Chicago, which since I owned my own distribution company a decade before running three trucks, I assumed was no problem. But it was, because this was an “every nook and cranny” sort of business before the age of GPS. 

The guy who ran the cars and who welcomed a van for bigger boxes and longer objects gave me a battered atlas of the city’s streets, had a radio receiver installed in my van with a mic, and told me when to show up and to wear a uniform identifying me as a Chicago Messenger. I did that — show up, not wear the brown uniform. That was a bridge too far for a guy like me.

I ended up working sixteen-hour days, doing pushups every morning trying to reach one hundred as my wife lay in bed, smiling at my grunting, trying desperately to be younger. I pinned a small Chicago Messenger logo to my various brown shirts and pants.

I delivered hundreds of buns to McDonalds, medical supplies to Swedish Covenant Hospital, and once, at the absolute bottom of my career, attempted to move a Coke machine out of a guy’s garage where the overhead door was stuck and the two of us old farts had to lower the damn thing enough to clear the broken door and then wheel it around and shove it into the back of my van.

I was no longer the owner of five stores across Chicago with fifty-five employees, and a 1882 Victorian home on the lake in Evanston, Illinois. I was someone too old to do what I was doing. If I ever had any pride still left in me, it lay in the muddy, oily puddles of water in the alley behind the garage. 

When my boss got after me to wear the damn uniform, I told him I would as soon as I could afford to buy it. He complained to Milt, who repeated the man’s complaint. He just smiled at me, understanding all of it, all of me. He was 60, I was 36, and somehow, he really got how my being this guy, doing this work was a daily hell, where I was a drone with a van and that’s all. 

There was a rule that when drivers delivered a shipment of whatever to any restaurants, they were forbidden to accept food if offered or outright ask for food. I ignored this rule with abandon because I was broke, I was starving and who was gonna turn me in? 

Once I accidentally missed dropping off a tiny box lost in the blankets on the floor of my van during a multi-box delivery in Downtown Chicago traffic, which led to a furious call from the customer to Chicago Messenger management, which embarrassed the company and which was a firing offense. But Milt intervened, told them I worked harder than anyone else there, and to just fine me and let it go. Besides, he told them, they needed my van more than me. I had one hundred dollars deducted from my pay—a lot of money—but I kept the job. Or Milt kept my job.

There was a constant war between me and the dispatcher who openly ridiculed my ignorance of one of a million streets in Chicago so all the other drivers could make sport of me; because it delayed me in my delivery by an extra five or ten minutes, and I wanted to crawl right through the mic’s wire and strangle the mocking son-of-a-bitch.

The dispatcher thought I was too ignorant to work for Chicago Messenger. Milt backed him off telling him I’d learn. I was working six days a week, sixteen hours a day. There was no way I could earn any more money than I was, and it wasn’t a lot, but it was something to keep me going.

Milt then told me about something called a “personal run” where an employee of his company hired the van, and me to deliver a huge blackboard to a special religious school in Morocco, Indiana — wherever the hell that was — at a price to be negotiated between the two of us. Milt had recommended me. I got my hundred dollar fine back. 

Again, Milt remembered. I loved the guy.

One time, Milt expressed some concerned that it took me longer to deliver something somewhere than a car might take. I didn’t want to jeopardize my position by telling him my ancient van’s motor could not exceed 48 miles per hour. I was constantly concerned the van would stop someplace with a full load of something behind me. But that never happened.

Then, after two months, a head-hunter called me after I responded to a blind ad looking for a company manager and he asked to meet me for an interview. I couldn’t tell him I was currently working as a messenger, which I had significant doubts would help make him see me as “manager” material, so we agreed to meet in the evening at a restaurant over an Interstate close to where I’d be when I was done for the day. I carried a suit covered with a plastic bag over it all day and that night, I arrived early at the restaurant carrying my suit and went into the men’s room to change. 

It was hard to wash of all the sweat and grit from the long day, but I did what I could, splashed water on my hair, combed it, put on the suit, changed shoes, put the dirty clothes inside of the plastic bag, went to the restaurant, asked the manager to please hold the bag for me until I was finished with my interview, added twenty bucks to my request and the guy winked at me, pocketed the cash and wished me luck. I knew he knew the score. 

I aced the interview, gave notice to Milt, who laughed when I revealed the subterfuge to him. I was hired to run a Limousine Company, of all things, for a year, then I bought a once famous Chicago foreign-language bookstore in real trouble and got the hell away from limousines; forgoing the year-end bonus for an early vacation to give me time to make the transition. 

And that should be the end of my tribute to a kind man who looked out for his son’s friend, but there’s one more thing. Milt wasn’t done with me yet. 

When he heard, somehow, about my latest jump from one thing to another to turn my life around; if anyone appreciated spunk, it was him. Then, besides coming by to shake my hand at my new chance and congratulate me, he placed an order for one hundred Rand McNally Deluxe Chicago Road Atlases, big spiral-bound heavy things — which was a very good thing for me to sell in my efforts to turn the bookstore around, and he got that.

I offered Milt a discount which he refused because he told me, “Everybody’s gotta eat, you too, kid.” and to just place the order. I did that. And he kept coming back year after year for every year I owned that bookstore. He could have gone anywhere and placed an order like that, but he didn’t go “anywhere”. He came to me.

So, Ron, Corry, Beth, Steve, Danny, Amy — that’s the kind of eulogy all his friends and all you guys deserved to hear about a wonderful man from the old school who gave a break to a proud man, because I needed a break.

I loved your Father and respected him. I could never read a story like this from a podium because I’d choke up, like I am now at home typing this, and nobody would know about this example of the kind of man your father was. Wherever the hell guys go when they die, I sure hope your Dad and my Dad find each other in eternity and talk about one’s war in the Atlantic Theater and the other one’s war in the Pacific Theater. Might take them, oh…forever.

Ron, you are my brother, but your Father was my Guardian Angel, because if ever there was a square peg…

PS: I never wore the damn brown uniform. I guess I just ain’t a uniform kinda guy.



Comment by Don Larson

August 2, 2021 @ 8:52 pm

Great story and eulogy, Bob.

Comment by Bernar

August 2, 2021 @ 9:02 pm

Oh Dear Cousin Brother Bob, this is so beautiful. I wish I would’ve met Milt. well, I guess I just did meet him. Thank you for this love. Thank you for never wearing the brown uniform. G-d Rest Your Beautiful Soul, Milt. Joyce is joined by a good one… and you, Bob, too, are a real good one.

Comment by Brad Dechter

August 3, 2021 @ 5:00 am

What a great Eulogy. We can only hope that as human beings, we’ve done enough to be remembered in a similar light. Thanks for reminding us all of what is important!

Comment by Corry Buzil

August 3, 2021 @ 8:37 pm

Great story.
You may be interested to know that, in 1978 (several months before I moved to Israel) my dad also gave me a job working for him by making deliveries in my car for the same company for which you worked eight years later.

I, also, had a radio receiver installed in my car, with a mic, and I, also, found the work to be intolerably difficult. Furthermore, the dispatcher and the guys who worked with him seemed to take satisfaction from the fact that I had difficulty hustling in an efficient manner, and they seemed reluctant to give me assistance in any way. I was sure that they would have ridiculed me if my dad was not their boss. I quit after only working about two or three days.

Comment by Jim Payne

August 4, 2021 @ 5:50 am

Thank you for taking me for a ride with you. Your determination to be uniform free shows me who you are. This is a story that tells a big feature in your life. Deliver on my friend, deliver more stories. You have an audience.

Comment by Beth Anne Walsh

August 8, 2021 @ 4:25 pm

This is you, Bob, through and through. I loved your “can do” spirit as an employee at Bob’s and today enjoy reading the history of your life. Milt was a part of a special generation. Tough, impossible at times, caring in ways we younger folk could only appreciate when the dust settled …sometimes years later.

Thanks for immortalizing a good man.


Comment by Dennis Mae

August 9, 2021 @ 8:25 pm

Oh Bob!!!

This was difficult to read – not because of the one or two grammatical things I’d want to adjust, but because you wrote so directly from your heart that all of us will be forever branded. You have the soul of Homer my dear one, and I hope you never drop your pen!

Comment by Dennis Mae

August 9, 2021 @ 8:26 pm

And, remind me to tell you how I was also once, a delivery messenger!

Comment by Adam Libman

December 20, 2021 @ 12:41 pm


What a wonderful eulogy. My father worked with Milt for years, and they were good friends (I fear that my father Jack may have been the dispatcher who it sounds like gave you quite a hard time!). I was very sad to hear of Milt’s death, but your story reminded me of the man I knew only in passing in my youth, and then as a boss in my early 20’s. Thanks for sharing!

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