Different Slants

Seeing the World from a New Angle

Assaulted by a Stranger with a Hammer: I Fought Back with Words (1966)

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bob at 4:56 pm on Thursday, January 19, 2023

by Robert M. Katzman © November 19, 2021

One sunny day in 1966 when I was 16, I was walking down a dirt road across the street from where I lived in a small apartment with my Father. On the other side of that road was Lake Michigan, about ten miles south of Downtown Chicago. The dirt road was behind a row of apartment buildings and served as their alley.

Then, from absolutely nowhere, there appeared a large person hiding between two garbage cans.

He was tall, wide, blonde, angry and holding a big hammer in his right hand.

This total stranger, this hulking blonde Neanderthal, grabbed me with a hand too strong to escape from, then informed me that he hatedJews, that I was a Jew and that he was gonna bash my head in with his big hammer.

I realized that there was no one else present, that my escaping from him was impossible, that any physical response would end badly for me because he held the hammer and that there was no way to fight back.

So, I tried using my brains, a new experience for me.

I immediately told my enemy that he was completely wrong, that my name was Herman Melville (the author of Moby Dick, and the most Christian name I could come up with, on a moment’s notice), that I was a Baptist and that he had the wrong guy, and to please, please let me go.

No good.

He called me a big liar.

Yelled that he was gonna smash me as he forcibly dragged me farther into the dirt road’s shadows.

I kept protesting that I was the wrong guy, praying for some weapon to magically appear to defend myself.

Inspired, I decided to agree to possiblybeing guilty of being Jewish, but also, to introduce uncertainty to my desperate situation.

I spoke to my monster, trying to offer reason to a person whom I feared was unreasonable, I beseeched him:

“And…and…besides hurting me really badly by bashing my head in, and perhaps going to prison for it;  

if you were wrong, then you’d get all sweaty and bloody and have killed the wrong person…if in fact…I were Christian and you made a bad mistake.

Okay, maybe a little mistake.

But then you would’ve spent all that effort and work killing me.

And you’d be really hot and tired.

Would ya take a moment to think about whether you wanted to be all sweaty, bloody andwrong at the same time?”

We were in the middle of that dirt road. I had been talking continuously while he was dragging me someplace.

But then, after the last comment I made in as calm a voice as I could muster, while being dragged toward my death, about him being …“sweaty, bloody…and wrong”…he stopped walking.

He was silent and he looked down at me, staring at my olive-colored face, because he was tall, his light blue-eyes peering into my dark brown eyes, which I as trying to make look as Christian as possible.


Then, his voice taking on a different tone, the hulking man put his sweaty red face very close to mine, and he asked me with a tiny bit of wonder in his voice:

“Hey, you sure you ain’t a Jew?

Not even a tiny little bit Jew?

Cause I sure enough don’t wanna bash the wrong person, y’know, Herman,?

Cause then…I’d be wrong an’ people…people…would think me stupid, y’know?”

He paused, breathing hard from his labors.

 “So, now you tell me the truth, ‘kay?

You a Jew…or not?”

 I made a questioning face as if I was trying to remember, trying to be certain, as if I were going back in time.

Then, looking up at him again, I responded,

 “Um…sorry, but I don’t know your name, Mr…?”

“Bill”, he shot back.

“Yeah, thanks.

Well Bill, I thought and thought and thought, I can’t think of anyone who ever was a Jew in my past.

I know some people can make a mistake.

Only human, right, Bill?

“Uh huh, yeah”, interrupted Bill, “But you ain’t no Jewnot at all?”

 I looked intently at him, trying to reach him, saying,

“Oh,Jesus no, Bill — who’d ever wanna be a Jew — even a little bit…y’know?

He relaxed his iron grip.

Then, unexpectantly, he straightened my shirt where it was wrinkly from his grasp.

Bill slowly lowered his raised arm holding his large hammer, like he was trying to make up his mind.

In a strangely softer voice, he said to me,

“Well, ok then.

I s’pose anyone can make a mistake.

You can go on home now, Herman.”

Thinking about my odds of escaping with my back to him, I responded in a cheery way, saying,

“Well actually, Bill, I was trying to find a watch I dropped here…somewhere, yesterday…see?

So…I’ll stay here…and maybe you can go on home yourself.

I can understand if you’re still a little bit upset. 

Jews can upset anybody, I surely know that.”

Bill stood there, his face calm, the heavy hammer swaying slowly in his right hand, and I thought:

“Bob, smile damnit, be his best friend…”

The I said to him,

“Hey Bill!  

Wanna shake hands and forget all about this?


already forgot all about it, y’know?”

Bill stood in front of me, a very tiny smile on his wide flat face, but it was growing, I could see that.

“Yeah, Herman, sure.

Sorry for messin’ up your shirt, ok?

Let’s shake an’ go on our separate ways.


He offered me his huge hand, more like a paw, really more like a gorilla, and I gently grasped it, so he wouldn’t crush mine, and very gently, he shook my hand.

Then he turned away from me and walked north in the alley.

When he reached the end of the alley, I called out to him,

 “Bye, bye, Bill, take care a yourself.”


I never went back there, never saw Bill again.

When he reached the end of the dirt road and he turned out of sight, I shot out of that damned alley like a red-hot poker was stuck up my ass, immediately running home.

But I learned for the first time, that when it really mattered, that I hadn’t ever been unarmed.

That sometimes words alone could save the day.

That was a remarkable realization for me, at sixteen years old.

One more thing:

The story I’ve recalled here seems like some comedy outta Mayberry.

But — and dear God, I never lie — all of this is true.

Scared the hell out of me, 57 years ago

Oh, and right here I want to thank Herman Melville, too.

“Herman, you are a helluvaa guy, there when I really needed you.”


Ok, then.




Publishing News!

(Currently seeking representation as a speaker/poet for hire)

Bob Katzman’s two new true Chicago books are now for sale, from him!
Vol. One: A Savage Heart and Vol. Two: Fighting Words

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Please visit my new website: http://www.dontgoquietlypress.com
If a person doesn’t want to use PayPaI, I also have a PO Box & I ship anywhere in America.

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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

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My two latest books are available in the Racine Wis Public Library. Both books are labeled: 921 KAT. ROB on their spines, in autobiography Dept.

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Comment by Charlie Newman

January 19, 2023 @ 5:36 pm

Kick ass stuff, Herman.

Comment by Brad Dechter

January 19, 2023 @ 5:36 pm

Love it Bob!
Reminds me of my first antisemitic encounter with a kid who lived across from Caldwell but went to St Felicitus- Danny Belts. He called me a kike. I went home, Asked what it was, and went back the next day and started a fight with him. We became close friends and he never said a bad thing to me about Jews again. I didyhave the words at the time- I was in 4th or 5th grade. But then I was a fighter and bad boy.
You brought out a bad but good memory and your story touched my heart.
Thank you!!

Comment by Heather McCullough

January 19, 2023 @ 7:28 pm

I loved this story, Bob! I grew up in Beverly, married a Notre Dame Texan and have lived in the Seattle area for fifty years. When I read one of your stories I’m back home on the Southside and am hardly aware of my surroundings as it is so vivid for me. Growing up my step grandfather was Jewish…he married my paternal grandmother after my grandfather died before I was born. He was the best grandfather to all of us ten kids, so kind, loving and generous. My dad took Gramps’ last name…a very Jewish name when he went to Dartmouth College and then when my dad went into the business world after college, our Gramps told our dad it would be better for him to take back his birth dad’s name (Scottish). This all happened the nineteen thirties. I have the utmost respect for the Jewish people…they are God’s chosen people!

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