The Writings of
Robert M. Katzman
See video of Robert Katzman reading excerpts from Fighting Words Vol. 6 here!
Foreward by David Griesemer
Socrates: The unexamined life is not worth living.
Bob Katzman: True, but then the unlived life is not worth examining.
Katzman's life has been lived.
"I never dreamed I would have this much to say," Bob wonders. Indeed. At first, you'll doubt his memories, on account of their sheer volume. You'll doubt that any one person could encounter so much. Odysseus or Gulliver, maybe. Not a real person. There aren't enough hours in the day.
But keep reading and you'll know. You'll know from the images, from their detail and power, from the irony and farce, the rage and heartbreak, the twists and comebacks.
You'll know. No one could make up this stuff.
He enjoys food.
At points, Bob has done without all these things.
But never his self-respect. Never.
If you've heard Bob Katzman read, you know his voice is distinctive. If you haven't, imagine Winnie the Pooh in his fifties, having been through the wringer.
In a Katzman story, layers of meaning will dance with you. First, his descriptions of physical life, of both pleasure and agony, the textures and smells and tastes and sounds. You will feel the blood flow from his open wounds, or to his genitals. You will smell the fragrant hair of a beautiful girl as he takes her in his arms. Through tears, you'll see the charred remains of his business, years of toil and sacrifice, ripped from his future. You'll taste the salt of hot soup, and warm skin. You'll hear the throbbing of a rock-and-roll heart.
Then there's another level, the drama and comedy of human existence.
Having winced when a young Bob was beaten, you'll cry as he heals alone. You'll bear the stabbing in his back, and you'll well up when he refuses to pass along the knife to others.
You'll laugh out loud at the folly of arrogant institutions, and you'll cheer those whose conscience makes them into corporate traitors.
This Jew is the most Christian person I know.
Christians hold that God loves us so much, He would rather leave heaven and be with us than live without us. God is willing to suffer our rejection, in order to quell our fears and restore the trust.
Bob's stories are full of gospel, the onslaught of evil and the iron grip of good.
I read Katzman when I can't care anymore.
That's when I read Katzman.
Suddenly I'm surrounded by a world of people like me. And I remember how to care.
How then can one mortal have so many stories? How can he have experienced so much, so very much?
Could it be that for all his pain, Bob is more awake than the rest of us? Could it be that we would meet the same panorama of ecstasy and grief that he has, if we but chose to open our eyes? While we were self-anesthetizing, taking the path of least repercussion, Bob was roused by righteous indignation. While we were marking time, Bob was marking us.
I lack the stomach for a fight.
There's no question that Bob Katzman will be the voice of an emerging consciousness. As a generation learns the pang of toughening times, his words will ring true throughout the country. People will look to Bob as an example of mettle.
His writings will find a global audience.
The question is, will this recognition and material success come towards the end of his life, or sooner?
Bob reminds me of Mark Twain, who was torn by his feeling towards high society, condemning its injustice, yet longing for its acclamation, its security and creature comforts. Bob's greatest test is yet to come.
We had a saying in The Lutheran Seminary in Hyde Park.
"The real theologians live farthest from the seminary. Original work is always done in obscurity."
Prominence is coming.
When the accolades finally rain down, will Bob be seduced?
Having waited and waited, will he forget the millions for whom he speaks?
Or will he have the courage to risk it all again?
And again, and again?
I know he will.
A Note from Bob Katzman on David Greisemer:
David and I first met in 2004 at my back-issue magazine store in Morton Grove. He was a collector and evidently heard about my 100,000 periodicals from someone who'd been here.
After shopping for a while, he found some things he wanted and came to my cash register. He saw my book (only one was published at that point) and began asking questions. Lots of questions. Being from Hyde Park and noticing my book's title, he wanted to know more about the world I'd left behind after twenty tumultuous years there, but a world that preceded him.
Though David worked at The Lutheran Seminary on 55th Street for twelve years, as a maintenance man, janitor and night watchman, he was more than his job description and wanted to know more.
Hyde Park is in many ways the private fiefdom of the massive University of Chicago, with its world famous medical school, law school, library and Laboratory High School. The atom bomb was first developed there. They have an astounding number of Nobel Prizes and have a strong influence of the local community, its politics, Chicago city council alderman, which streets go where, what buildings get built and they employ thousands. They also control much land and buildings for student housing. They also have their own police force besides the many Chicago cops roaming the streets there, giving Hyde Park, on Lake Michigan and about six miles south of the Loop, the largest police presence in the entire city. They need it, too.
When someone lives in their world as a student, member of the faculty or in the administration, they get one sort of view of the world.
When someone runs a hand-built wooden newspaper stand a few miles from their campus, lit by a kerosene lantern and heated, barely, by a smoky kerosene stove, standing on a corner waiting for customers about fourteen hours a day, every day-well, that person has another view of the world.
There is a thin strata where the street people live and work. Very insecure and sometimes dangerous. No glamour or wine and cheese aspect to it. You freeze. You sweat. You tolerate the bullying of local politicos and pay off whomever you had to pay off. You got to know the cops and the crooks. You learned to not repeat what either said to you, once they decided to trust you. After all, they knew where you worked. Friendships develop and, over time, you become part of the little village that is the other Hyde Park.
That was the Hyde Park David Greisemer wanted to know about. The part seldom written about by its actual workers, but silently endured by its many low profile and un-glorified denizens.
Since I had a series of connections with that University: Born there in 1950, went to their high school from 1964 to 1968, had my rib transplanted to my jaw in their hospital to reconstruct my face after cancer surgery, in 1982, and came to know many of its employees, teachers and even its presidents when they came by my newsstand to buy a New York Times or a sex magazine (more often than you might think) over the decades I owned that newsstand, I essentially had a foot in both worlds. But I was not one of them and I remained suspicious and untrusting of pampered students who knew nothing of hard work. I resented privilege especially when it came so easily to some, and never to others.
So David bought my first book. Time went by.
A while later he called me and wanted to discuss the stories. We agreed to meet for dinner. He had pages of questions. As he expected, I gave him straight answers. In my strata, there were no dilatants and people wanted answers when they asked them. A wise ass could get a punch in the mouth or arrested, depending.
A friendship developed, something I don't take lightly. I trusted David enough to ask him to write a forward to this book, promising to print what he wrote, because his were the words I wanted. I did offer him a book that he hadn't purchased yet as a reward, but then I'm sure there are some who would not consider that sufficient motivation. David didn't ask for anything. What words you read, he wrote.
As of this writing in 2009, he is 49 and married for eighteen years to Susan, whom I haven't met. His mom is a Chicagoan, his dad from rural Wisconsin and he's from Nebraska. He told me he first saw an ad about me and my store on public access TV in the early 90's. He is now serving an apprenticeship to become a licensed electrician with Local 134 IBEW. I am thinking this will take a dozen years, or maybe it just feels like that to him.
Besides having the redeeming quality of admiring my books, David sings in his church choir and volunteers at an animal shelter on holidays. His own dog, Coaster, is a shelter dog who came with little information. David's wife, Susan, who must know a lot about these things, thinks Coaster is about five years old and has the (possibly) exotic combination of Lhasa Apso and Tibetan Terrier in him. If he could talk, Coaster would likely speak up for an independent Tibet. I would, too.
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