Different Slants

Seeing the World from a New Angle

Hard Cop/Soft Cop: A Moment in Time in Chicago

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bob at 9:45 am on Friday, February 17, 2023

by Robert M. Katzman © January 26, 2023

In Winter, 1987, after my once-famed 20-year-old Bob’s Newsstand closed in Chicago’s Hyde Park, I had been unemployed for two years. I was 37-years-old, married with three children 12, 9 and 7.

No one who knew me would hire me because they said it made no sense to spend the time and money to train me for some new career because the minute I had two nickels to rub together, I’d leave them and attempt to become self-employed again.

To any place I interviewed where they never heard of my prior life, the word “newsstand” conjured up images of freezing old men standing outside of ragged shacks in ragged clothes, working for pennies a day.

It was hopeless to attempt to explain that though that was my businesses’ name, it had been five stores across Chicago with 55 employees before my fortunes went south. With no college degree, I couldn’t prove to anyone I knew about anything in particular. No one would hire me.

Hard times.

A friend from my grammar school, Caldwell on the old South Side of Chicago, Ron Buzil, helped me get a job with a messenger company where his father was the general manager. I started work there in January 1987, driving my old extended Chevy van with its transmission on the edge, and knew that in reality, the company needed my van for delivering larger items which wouldn’t fit in a car or on a bicycle, and I came with the van. But it was a job and I needed one.

In the time I worked there, though I was told to wear the company uniform with the logo on my chest, I just couldn’t make myself do it. Transform that way. I wore clothes as close to the company’s brown uniform’s color as possible, with their small cloth logo pinned on my chest. I kept promising to wear the uniform, but it was simply a bridge too far for me to cross.

One cold slushy Chicago winter day, with my van filled with packages to deliver to a large Chicago company, I pulled my van over to a strict No Parking Zone to unload the boxes onto my wheeled hand-truck as fast as possible. I had the company’s name sign taped to my back window, because that was supposed to give me a brief window to do the work before a ticket was possible.

The boxes were stacked up and I was about to enter the building when a young cop bundled up in a dark leather CPD jacket with the collar up walked over, ticket book in hand, ready to start writing. He had a hard face for someone so young, and I felt I didn’t have a prayer in getting out of the situation. He looked to me to be about 25.

He said,

“Hey Bud, what’a ya think yer doing, parking that heap in a place like this? Gonna cost ya.”

He had this tough Chicago West Side of kind of voice, the impoverished area where the immigrants first moved to, the cheap tenements. Where my father once lived, too.


I quickly spoke to him, hope in my voice, saying,

“Officer, I’ve been out of work for two years. If you write me a ticket I could lose this job. Please don’t.”

His pen stopped moving, his hand with the ticket-pad dropped down to his side near his gun and he looked away for a moment.

It was odd. But I could feel something change.

Then he looked up at me. His face was different. His eyes were different.

A hesitation…

Then he spoke up, saying,

“Long time ago, when I was a kid, my dad lost his job in the old steel mill south of here. Out of work for years, he finally got a job like this, like yours, all labor, small dough.

He was trying to do what you’re doin’ — work fast and get out, but he was older and it was hard for him.

A cop came over to write him a ticket and my dad said to him what you just said to me.

The cop wrote him up anyway and my Dad lost the job, never got another one. Hard for all of us.” 

He paused, looked around for a moment and said,

“Look, make the delivery and get going, okay? No ticket.”

Surprised, grateful, I thanked him and offered to shake his hand, the way men do when one gives another a break.

He shook his head and turned away, saying,

“I can’t, sorry. It’ll look like a payoff, ya know?”

He began to walk away from my van, as I grabbed my heavy cart to make the delivery, when he stopped, turned his head toward me and softly said, over his shoulder,

“Best of luck. Hope you find something better, something easier, man.”

Then, I watched him leave.

Within three months the van’s transmission died and almost immediately after that, I was hired by a headhunter after I answered a blind ad in the Chicago Daily Tribune.  After the interview, I was hired to manage a limousine company for a year. There’s nothing I want to say about that time.

Within one year, I was managing an old bookstore.

Been near forty years since that time in Chicago’s Loop, cars and trucks rushing all around us, noise everywhere. Never saw that cop again. Maybe he’s retired, maybe even dead.

But the pain in his voice, the warmth that filled his eyes when he spoke of his own father’s bad times, and his kindness toward me that day has never become old, never really gone away.

I can write this story, about that unexpected moment with that young cop, but I can never tell it.

Know what I mean?

Oh, one more thing.

Always “one more thing”, I guess.

In the brief time I worked at the messenger company through constant bad weather and slick streets, one day a car came out from under a bridge too fast for me to avoid and he hit me. Not very hard, but there was an impact.

We both go out to survey the damage.

Then I saw his brown uniform.

We both worked for the same company.

We looked at each other, but he was much younger, like that cop, except this guy looked to be about twenty.

There was a pause because it was a no-win situation if either of us reported it to our insurance companies or the messenger company.

A moment of silence.

The younger guy looked mortified.

I was fascinated, within myself, by this complete reversal of circumstance so soon after my incident with the young cop.

I grabbed the guy by the shoulders and said to him,

“Look, kid, this is nothing. You gotta bent bumper, but no one will notice.

My ancient heap is so smashed up, your car’s impact is one more and no one will care.

Let’s shake hands, keep our mouths shut and pretend this never happened.

Whad’a’ya say, kid?”

The kid smiled, visibly relieved, not quite believing he was getting a break from his own hard times.

We shook hands, since no payoff was a factor here, and I wished him luck.

Then I told him I’d probably see him back at the messenger garage.

He smiled, got back in his car, slowly backed up, turned away and was gone, because all of us were under pressure to deliver.

I did the same, under the same gun, and thought to myself how strange Fate can be:

Sometimes ya getta break.

Sometimes ya have the chance to give one.

Give it.

Keeps a rough world in balance.


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.











Comment by charlioe newman

February 17, 2023 @ 10:51 am

Exceptional…two thumbs and two big toes up

Comment by Brad Dechter

February 17, 2023 @ 3:15 pm

Loved it. Well told and a good moral to the ending!
Liked the imagery!

Comment by Jim Payne

February 17, 2023 @ 7:25 pm

You illustrate your point perfectly.

Comment by David Griesemer

February 18, 2023 @ 9:42 pm

Steinbeckian (highest compliment I know how to give).

A young cop, a west-sider, now in a position of authority. How does he go from “Gonna cost ya” to “Best of luck…” in the space of one sentence?

Only honesty, the kind that is Bob’s stock and trade, could have made “something change.”
And it did. Two decent souls found each other in the cold.

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