The Writings of
Robert M. Katzman
See video of Robert Katzman reading excerpts from Fighting Words Vol. 4 here!
Foreward by Michael S. Rosen
While grappling with thoughts on how to introduce my friend Bob Katzman and his latest tome, the term that habitually floats to the front of my consciousness is: Courage!
To validate these thoughts, I felt the necessity to turn to other sources to make sure I was on the right track.
Courage, also known as bravery, will and fortitude, is the ability to confront fear, pain, risk/danger, uncertainty, or intimidation. 'Physical courage' is courage in the face of physical pain, hardship, or threat of death, while 'moral courage' is the courage to act rightly in the face of popular opposition, shame, scandal, or discouragement. (www.wikipedia.org)
Mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty. (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)
All of the above reflects well on Bob's personae: an ordinary person doing extraordinary things to survive. And he is a survivor!
I can't imagine, after reading (and knowing a bit about) the nonfiction stories about his life, how a young teenager in the South Side of Chicago paid his way through the expensive and prestigious University of Chicago Lab School by selling newspapers. I grew up at about the same time in a privileged community outside of New York, and also worked to sell newspapers: I was a paper boy with my own route for a brief period. But this was a cushy job compared to Katzman's early morning and after school labors, seven days a week, in which he not only created his own business that later multiplied into five newsstands with multiple teenagers and seniors working for him, but also provided a very good (and toughly fought for) livelihood for him, his father, and a new growing family.
More than that, he learned street-sense at an early age and actually read what he sold, gaining an education far beyond his academic schooling at the Lab School. He also gained a sense and feel for paper, print, words, images, and what works and what doesn't work - a real street literary practicality that has become a theme throughout his print-related career.
Make no mistake; Bob is still heavily immersed in print and words, even now as he transitions from magazine collector supreme to nouveau writer. He still loves words and the feel of print.
But let's get back to courage and heroes. Growing up in the 50's and 60's, we Americans were often exposed to the concept of courage: in fairy and folk tales, in comic books (superheroes), in black & white television (from Superman to Lassie).
A young senator in 1956 brought the topic forefront into American consciousness with his publication "Profiles in Courage" which outlined key acts of courage by a number of U.S. senators dating back to the time of John Quincy Adams and Daniel Webster. The author later became our president in 1960 and further inspired us with his own brand of courage.
But Bob Katzman is no senator; he is a Jewish Chicago Everyman, an ordinary individual that has demonstrated again and again a courage in his actions since his childhood, forged in the South Side of Chicago. Unlike the superheroes of our childhoods, this individual has no superpowers other than his own guiding moral compass and strength, and persistence.
I guess what attracted me to Bob Katzman, besides his distinguishing quirkiness, wit, humor and warmth, was this amazing courage in the face of personal dire economic straits and physical suffering. It inspired me (and still does)!
Not only to spill out your guts and share with strangers intimate events of your life, but to self-publish not one but four books (with several more in the hopper). All of this at a time when he recently lost a home, and while his long-standing collectible-magazine business (and that tiny industry) is slowly dying on the vine. What persistence! What Chutzpah!
I hope you will enjoy these Katzman tales as much as I do - they are not Marvel Comic's Tales of the Unknown, but they are real stories of a Jewish Chicago Everyman that impart his pains, his joy (and his Joy), his life-learnings, his ability to stand-up to (and rectify) injustices, and his perseverance in a way that we can all relate to.
In one of his earlier books, Bob confesses to us who his own heroes are: Other Everymen (and Everywomen). But his own humility fails to recognize that he, himself, has become a hero to many of us who need to grasp and see what an ordinary person can do.
In this, his fourth book, I salute my hero, Bob Katzman, an inspiration to all of us trying just to find our own path through the day-to-day challenges of life, let alone the crises he has had to live through and master!
Michael S. Rosen
My Friend, Mike Rosen
I met Mike Rosen when he and I were both new members of a pretty cool synagogue overlooking a bluff in northern Illinois.
Whatever chemistry makes one person tune into another, we must have been on the same frequency, because in a very short time we were getting to know each other. Mike, as it turns out, is part of a microscopically minute group of people who see more in my true stories of resistance, violence, adventure, self-respect and inevitably...sex, than just about everyone else on the planet and he evidently decided that he better teach me a thing or two, before I and my books disappear completely into dust and obscurity.
Shortly after he learned something of my eclectic past life and also that I self-published a first book, he told me my cover to the book was all wrong. I owned a very popular newsstand in Hyde Park for twenty years, until my fortunes reversed themselves and the newsstand closed. I always felt bad about that, like it was a huge failure and I was reluctant to talk about it, like losing a business after two decades was a war crime or something. I was embarrassed about it.
Mike read the stories, learned more from me about my past and other situations and then told me I was nuts to hide my newsstand and I should be proud of that whole period. That most businesses close in their first year, many more by their second through fifth year, and that managing to make a long term success of a business I opened at fifteen with a friend from another high school, was something to celebrate and write about. He introduced the concept to me that I had a marketable "brand" and insisted I rename my first book "Bob's Newsstand." He told me it was a valuable name and that nothing lasts forever and there still had to be thousands of people around who remembered my very unique newsstand and who also might be more likely to buy it if they saw its name on the cover of a book. Well, this advice was all pretty radical for me, but then Mike actually finished a university, or two, has lived around the world in diverse places like Japan, Costa Rica, Colombia, Brazil and so on and now worked for an international company that designs, builds and rents out business parks to companies that develop medicines and other drugs, so...there was a distinct possibility that he might know a thing or two. My job was to decide whether to believe in his confidence in me or not. So, I did. He had no agenda. He wanted to see me succeed in spite of my uncertainties-no more, no less.
I junked the original (and paid for) printed covers. Then I printed new covers that reminded the world that once upon a time, besides mythical Camelot, there really was a wonderful international newsstand, Bob's Newsstand, in Chicago, and people could experience what they liked about it all over again. Since then, I've sold over one thousand copies of that first book, and have written and published three more, all in four years. So...perhaps Mike was correct. Okay, okay, he was right. So, there.
And he has been correct about a lot of other ways of seeing things that I didn't, including sizing up professionals I might need to hire at some point, or persuading me to embrace some new technology more advanced than a hammer or a pencil. He reads my stories and encourages me. Few others have.
But, what makes a friendship between two such different people sustain itself?
Well, thinking about it, I decided that in Mike's varied career in different corporate worlds, it was probably more common than not, that people who claim to be your friend on Monday are just as likely to stab you in the back on Friday, if it means possibly improving their status in the company. Or claiming credit for your ideas, or making sure you are invisible to upper management when some exciting opportunities become available, if it creates a new career path for them, at Mike's expense.
But, as it turned out, in my antiquated world of dusty old-fashioned ideas about respect and loyalty, and standing steadfastly by the people who look out for you, Mike found a person who, over dinners and going to live music events, as well as regularly attending Friday night services in our Temple, that if we discussed something, or shared a confidence, or commiserated over this or that rotten turn of events, that even if he traveled to Asia and back between our many conversations, I was still the same guy he knew when he came back. That the confidences were kept, the agreements, if there were any, still held, that I didn't metamorphosis into some unrecognizable opportunistic troll the minute he left either the room, or the continent. That promises mean something. That new friendship survives busy, busy schedules, like Mike's. That I wasn't too busy to listen if there was something important on his mind. That I was interested in his career and was willing to offer combat advice on how to deal with impossible people, whether it was practical advice for him or not, at least I bothered to try and help him. That he could trust me, as I do him. And that out-of-sight was never, nor ever will be...out-of-mind.
So, is that an equitable foundation on which to form a sustainable long-term friendship?
How should I know?
Better ask Mike.
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