The Writings of
Robert M. Katzman
A Note from Bob sharing a poignant moment in his store....

Saturday, May 21, 2005 4:51 PM

A guy was in my store today, a self-described  "geek" who was searching for 'Byte' and electronics mags, and we were talking about various things for the hour he was here.   He got around to the misery he experienced in school because he didn't like sports, just science and the space program, and how bullies tormented him.   He was fat, balding, smart and humourous. About 40 or so.
There was a pause in our conversation.
I told him, gently,that a person didn't have to be a geek to suffer assholes in school.  That bullies weren't picky.  Anyone who was smaller and apparently defenseless, was a mark to them.   Then I told him that kids didn't have to take it...that you could fight back...that even if you got hurt some, the other guys would know that messing with you would cost them, and they'd think twice before trying anything with you again.  And that you'd like yourself more, black eye notwithstanding.
He was quiet, remembering, it seemed to me.
 After a bit, I told him that I'd written a book about standing up for yourself and fighting back.  A book about resistance and defiance.
The guy looked at me, and in a strange moment of solidarity, of shared bad experiences, asked me, "Does it tell a person how to defend themselves?"
I found the moment heartbreaking.  I imagined what it must have been like for him.  I told him, "There's a lot of that in my book.  Not all resistance is physical".
He stood in front of the cash register with his 1967 car magazine, staring at the cover of the book.  I kept quiet.
Then he picked it up and slapped it down on the counter, saying, " I think it might do me good to read this."
I replied, "Well. it can't hurt."
Then he paid me, we shook hands and he left the store.  It was about a half an hour before closing time, but I found the moment so moving that I locked the door, shut off the lights and thought about how many people there were, like him.  That my book might be more than just a collection of my memories.
That maybe it could actually mean something to people like him.  It was sobering.  He didn't know it, but when I signed his book, I wrote:
"Remember, if you gather a hundred 'geeks'  together, you can have an army.  Don't be afraid."


Volume One
Hi Bob,
This is great hearing from you. I thoroughly enjoyed your 1st book and it was special surprise to have an inscription on the inside cover, although I did miss your signature. You tell a wonderful life story and I think you're a truly gifted writer. I congratulate you on your perseverance in overcoming so many issues by using your immense brilliance, intellect, and wit.
I lived on the South Side of Chicago for 30 years until 1977. I attended Caldwell elementary school for 8 years and then went to Bowen High School graduating in 1965, so your book brought back many memories. My wife Saulena, and daughter Kristen, also devoured your first book and we will look forward to the 2nd. I will probably purchase a couple of them.
Please tell me how to purchase your new book and what payment method you prefer.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Best wishes,
D. F. W.

Hi, Bob!

I just finished reading Fighting Words.   I read most of it on the plane on the way back on Sunday.  It is a wonderful read.  

I very much enjoy your writing style.  Each chapter was, for me, a “grabber.”  The presentation comes across as honest, very real   I am sure I enjoyed the stories much more since we had met and talked a bit.  I look forward to buying the next volumes as soon as they are available.

I have shared only one story with Adrienne, when I read it aloud before bedtime (my first time reading that part).  She is enthusiastic about reading more.

Though you have been through so much difficulty, I never had any hint that you were feeling sorry for yourself.  This reader feels sorry for that boy that was you long ago.  One cannot help admiring your fortitude, honesty, work ethic,  respect for--and appreciation of-- people and opportunities, your “it won’t (ever!) keep me down” spirit, and your willingness to reach out to your mother.  You have made the perspective, “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” true in your life.  

I don’t know when our paths may cross.  I believe you said you sometimes come out here.  Please let us know.  Almost any time a guest room would be available.

Bob, thanks very much for the phone message.  I did enjoy talking with you very much.


Dear Bob,

First of all I'd like to apologize for the LONG delay in getting this letter out to you. I know you were looking forward to it. I have been in Montreal with my man and his family for the past few weeks and now I'm back to the daily grind of substitute teaching. Well, actually it's not too bad. At least I have time during the day to write letters!

Now, onto the first things: the first installment of you memoirs. I read it pretty much non-stop and I was interested and intrigued by your blunt, candid writing. I love when people who have lived real lives such as yourself, decide to write about them. Some of the highlights of the book and things that stood out to me include:

Your friend Bill's wedding. It sounded like such an amazing time, and it's such a beautiful thing when two people who care so much about each other finally have the chance to be together and to make it permanent and forever. Needless to say, I can really relate to that part.

I liked the story of Roxy, too. I have to say, your stories have a very "Chicago" feel to them. I'm not sure what I mean by that. I guess the people in them are just the type of people I can imagine meeting in my life, or seeing on the street. That story was beautiful and also heartbreaking. You're lucky to have so many people who care about you.

Your experience at Lab School. I've always been intrigued by that place. I haven't visited the Hyde Park area since I dated a grad student at U. of C. when I was still in high school. It must have been such a culture shock, but I'm sure you learned a lot from it. When I was young, I was offered the chance to go to a magnet school, Whitney Young, but my mother didn't want me going that far from home (we lived at Harlem and Irving Park) every day. Even though I turned out fine socially and academically, I sometimes wish I could have had that extra edge.

I loved the story of Geneva. That would make an excellent stand-alone piece, I think. The raw passion of it and the fact that it went unsatisfied is so intriguing. It's odd because your description of her almost exactly matches that of a friend of mine, and her name is Gina. Black glasses, long black hair, just a girl but with something more, something imperceptible, but definitely there. Very interesting. Would-have-beens and lost opportunities always turn over in my mind, but I think they happen to teach a lesson. I try to always live my life to the fullest and experience everything I can (as you may have guessed from reading my zine) and I try not to regret the things I haven't done, though It's hard at times. I bet she thinks of that day just as often as you do.

I loved the pictures! Those are essential, and I'm glad you put so many in the book. I loved seeing my city before I was a part of it. I also liked reading about old-school Chicago and the corruption, the mob and all of that. Is it better now, or just more well-hidden, I wonder?

The story of your mother was the most shocking of all. I don't really think I have the right words to describe just how it affected me. I have never heard of that kind of abuse from a mother to a child, and I can't imagine how someone who loves their child could do that, but I guess that's not for me to understand. I just admire you for living through it and for having the strength to tell the tale and I know that there is something very comforting and even cathartic about getting it all written down. I'm sure it was quite painful to write about, but I'm sure that it helps to distance yourself from it somewhat. At least that is the case for me when I write about traumatic experiences.

Sorry for the stream-of-consciousness format, but I had so many comments and ideas floating around in my head (Also, it didn't help what my first letter was deleted. Grrr.) but I think I got most of it down. Again, I want to thank you sincerely for the book and for coming to my event. I said that I would facilitate a reading for you (and me and my associates) sometime in the future, and I will. Billy (the bunny guy) is usually good for helping to organize those things. He also knows a lot of writers and other arty people. I read your blog from time to time, too, and I'm glad you're out there doing what you do. It's beautiful.



Volume Two
I think the way you write is fantastic.It is such compelling reading. I like the jumping around from story to story in and out of various time periods. You really know how to communicate your "fear" to the readers.  I felt like I was there with you.  You are a writer!!!!!

As I write this I have just finished reading about the snowstorm in Fargo in 1988.  I got your book several days ago.  I love your book even more than the first.

J. G.  Florida

more from J. G.

I just finished your book and I repeat, I loved it even more than the first.  The way you describe situations. The way you've survived situations. You are really something.  I did like the last "adventure" in your book.  It has never happened to me. You've created a masterpiece of a first person narrative.  Can't wait for volume 3.  If by any chance I find myself in a position where I can do anything to help you promote your work, you'll be the first to know.  Be well and keep fighting!!!!!
J. G

Dear Bob, Yes, I did visit your book site. My thoughts:
I find it very rare for written words to reach out and have such an impact on me - but I found that yours began to. I sat quietly at my computer and poured over some of your website...good governor the tales that you have to tell. And not things such as Rome burning, or a POW escape in Vietnam, or a tragic 911 tale - but stories about your meetings with different humans over the years - people who weren't politicians, or movie stars, or soldiers, or gangsters, or adventurers - but more anonymous souls who experienced life in their own ways and not necessarily by anyone's standards of good, bad or indifferent.

And the pockets you open from your own life, some of your experiences. It's hard for me to call it wonderful, or brilliant, or tragic - would I be doing a disservice, be insulting, be too complimentary? But I guess that's not the point - just the fact that I could sit down in my own private space and have some of your stories touch me in ways that I haven't experienced, that's all that matters. Not necessarily what I call it. Without sounding corny - if I was in Chicago, I'd buy one of your tickets for July 26. Keep writing Bob.


That is GREAT that you will at the end of the month do your first reading for people who are purchasing tickets to see and hear you read your words. I feel that is a wonderful accomplishment, and must say CONGRATULATIONS. I also feel - as I'm certain you do - that writing down your memories before they fade away is a great thing. I think it's a fascinating thing about humans that somehow we learn more about ourselves as we read more about others.

To do what you're doing...writing, publishing, selling books - and soon to publicly speak your words - is very brave, and gratifying, and thrilling - it's really like coming full circle. You're doing a great thing. YES, absolutely you may put my comments on your website. They were from the heart, so there's no better place for them than on your website with you.

Ryan Johannesen
San Francisco, California

July 10, 2007

Review of: Fighting Words: Don't Live On Your Knees
By Robert M. Katzman
Volume 1, Paperback, 220 pages
Copyright © 2004
Fighting Words Publishing Company
ISBN: 0-9755279-0-8
I knew Robert M. Katzman during the years 1958 - 1964 when we attended Caldwell Elementary School in Chicago, IL. We were school friends, but not close friends. Only recently have we been back in touch with each other via email and one telephone conversation.
End Disclaimer:

Bob, as he prefers to be addressed nowadays writes in a naked, "tell-it-like-it-is" and past tense form of that style throughout the book. He is an entrepreneur for the past thirty-nine years in the newspaper, book, and magazine distribution business in Chicago neighborhoods. He learned "the ropes" as he traveled through his rites of passage, his way, by standing up for his faith and the belief of his father's words and insights.
The South Side of Chicago is a tough place; tough to live and grow up in, tougher to start and run a business. Many people would have quit after even one of Bob's experiences. How many of us could endure years of physical and psychological abuse as a child by the mother and not become a mean, despondent person? If you want to know what horrific experiences a person goes through and struggles to overcome and understand, read Bob's book.
>From an early age, perhaps too early an age, Bob knew enough not to live on his knees. Through his stories he walks the reader boldly through his personal history, a unique perspective from his own eyes, told in ways that will touch your heart.
Bob reveals short segments of his life, sometimes as short as a few moments that are punctuated with as much intensity as he can express with words. Longer periods of time are written with climaxes, revelations, and surprises along the way.
The surprises come in terms of realizations he had as he moved from childhood to young adult, to becoming a man with the help of people integral to his development. Bob writes about fights with people at elementary school. He tried to avoid conflict as any child of abuse does, but he didn't shy away from defending himself when confronted. Not everyone who is smaller than average at any age is defenseless.
As was typical of the Chicago public school system when we were in school together, Bob was often misunderstood and punished for being an individualist and expressing his own thoughts. For unmentioned reasons, I can fit into his shoes real easy—too easily.
The book covers events in Bob's life where climaxes of every interpretation of that word occurred. Coming to terms with elderly employees, thieves, bullies, business contacts, and more shows he understood the Chicago System very well. His late father was a tremendous help during the three decades they worked together. During those thirty years, the father bestowing the son with strategies and wisdom that can only be imparted in connection with the genetic chain of life.
Women that intersected Bob's path are spoken of in respective tones. Broken hearts, broken promises, broken dreams, the tears of many feelings make their way into the text. He searches his soul for explanations of why he acted one way in reality instead of another, somehow expecting that different outcome to be more beneficial of the way things turned out to be. He knows what it's like to be close to magic moments in life only to see them disappear forever before his eyes and now wonders, "what if?"
Revelations of the human spirit are sprinkled about the book, interwoven with the other parts of the stories. I felt as if I was standing at his newsstand, in that cold winter Chicago wind, listening in on the advice being transferred between those in the inner-sanctum. The lives of his first employees as he reveals them tells a lot about the philosophy and life values Bob discovered along the way as a teenager became the man.
Bob says he had to relive many of the experiences to write about them accurately. I know firsthand all about that kind of analysis of the past. I could feel his pain of internal exposure as he struggled to put them down in any form, let alone in print. Bob does not write fiction, his life is revealed in the various chapters. Yet more remains to be told.
I want Bob to continue writing and living the life he has as long as he can. There are lessons in his words for those that have lived even a small similar part of what he lived. You may think of him as a victim. I don't. I think of him as a person who takes the experiences of life and makes positives out of the bad times. He's still standing and no matter what hits him in the future, I say he'll get right back up. That is the guy I remember from my youth and I'm happy to say that personality trait evolved into the writer, the storyteller, the person he is now.
Written in memory of Ira Rubin (1950-1964), President, Caldwell Class 1964
Don Larson <>
September 3, 2004

Review from
book Reviews and Author interviews
Click here to see review as originally posted
The following review was contributed by: SHELDON (SHELLY) WAXMAN & click to view Shelly's reviews

Although Bob Katzman calls his book an autobiography, it really is a memoir. What’s the difference? An autobiography takes a person’s life from the beginning to the time of the writing. A memoir is a series of vignettes about a person’s life. Bob’s story encompasses sixteen separate memories.
What drives a person to write a memoir? Having written one myself—“In the Teeth of The Wind—A Study of Power and How To Fight It”—I think I know the answer. It comes from a driving force within the mind for a release of the devils that cohabit there. They are stories that have to be told in order to rid them from the mind. Once on “paper”, the devils disappear.
Unfortunately, when it comes to publishing a memoir (or whether to publish at all) one is soon confronted with the fact that most people don’t want to read the memoir of a “nobody”. It is unfortunate because even nobodies have good stories.
Bob’s book is a series of disconnected human-interest stories that reveal the kind of person Bob is. He is left handed, as am I. Left handed people are different than right handers. We are stubborn, independent, see the world differently, and are always a little meshugah (crazy).
Bob has had a difficult life. His mother physically abused him. What makes mothers do that I have always wondered? Father abuse is more understandable. Bob gives no explanation. Perhaps, there is no answer. He has gone through several businesses and has had many surgical procedures, starting at age eighteen for bone cancer of the jaw. He shows us that with chutzpah we can overcome the obstacles thrown in our way.
Bob started early on as a Jewish teenage owner of a newsstand in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood. As such, he daily had to confront the corruption that is Chicago. He does so and in this Volume I he is successful. On one occasion he is forced to enlist the aid from “one of the boys”—a member of Chicago’s Italian mob.
Memoirs are always a little self-indulgent and Bob’s book has its moments too. But all in all, it is worth reading. It is always interesting to read the stories of real people to see how they act under stress. Bob is someone who has handled the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” with surprising resolve. Volume II is to be released in the spring of 2005.


Review of: Fighting Words: Escaping and Embracing the Cops of Chicago
By Robert M. Katzman
Volume 2, Paperback, 241 pages
Copyright © 2004
Fighting Words Publishing Company
ISBN: 0-9755279-7-5
I knew Robert M. Katzman during the years 1958 - 1964 when we attended Caldwell Elementary School in Chicago, IL. We were school friends, but not close friends—then.
I met with Bob in Chicago at his business. We hadn’t seen each other in the 41 years since we graduated elementary school in 1964. Bob and I are much closer in Spirit—now.
He autographed a copy of his second book for me. Here are my thoughts about what he wrote…
End Disclaimer:
In this second book, Bob continues to write directly about his life experiences. His stories are a raw exposure of the conflicts and pleasures in his life.
His various struggles with the Chicago police are contrasted by the compassion some of the Chicago police offered him when he needed them. He writes in one story of being beaten up by undercover detectives who mistakenly thought he was another boy wanted by the police. Later he writes of the police giving him advice and assistance in times of need.
He writes about his situation during the 1968 riots during the Chicago Democratic Convention. I also lived in Chicago at that time. I can easily understand his view of how Mayor Richard J. Dailey mishandled the situation. Some of Bob’s conclusions about that time are not the same as my own. He writes about the same things I saw, except from his interpretation at street level, where he worked.
1968 was a difficult time for many of we young draft-age men. Bob writes of his decisions about the draft, military service, and the responsibilities of a young American. Were it not for his cancer surgery at age 18, he would have served in wartime. We learn more about Bob’s health throughout the book. He almost seems like the real-life version of the “Bionic Man”, except he is without the bionics and has only scar tissue instead. A few of those scars are emotional, as I will cover next.
At the time I knew Bob at Caldwell, I was unaware that his mother was regularly beating him severely. I didn’t know he had been thrown out of his house a couple weeks before we graduated. Even though he clearly writes about those horrors, it is hard for me to grasp what his home life must have been like. Our society tolerated child abuse in the 1950’s and 1960’s. What happened to Bob by the hands of his own mother should not have ever happened to any person. I’m afraid Bob was one of the millions that did.
A few of his chapters in the book cover his many friendships and a family trip to North Dakota with a weather nightmare that became all too real for the Katzman family during the return trip.
I admire the straight way Bob writes his life stories. However, there is one story I think he should have replaced with a better one. It is the story of how an older woman he knew asks him to have sex with a young female relative of hers. While I do not usually comment about what consenting adults do behind closed doors, in this case I make an exception. I’ll explain next.
If the young woman involved was so insecure in her sexual satisfactions that she needed a fix by another male before her wedding day, I think Bob should have passed on being the solution to her problem. In my mind, his story sets the wrong tone in portraying his personal convictions. I think that story might harm his reputation as a man of principles. I’m not judging Bob or the woman in question. I’m just reacting to the way I think the people who will read it perceive that particular story. Perhaps he will reconsider its inclusion in subsequent printings.
At the end of this book, there is a series of poems. Those poems offer another side of the complex man, Bob Katzman. I hope he writes more poetry in the coming volumes.
Bob Katzman is an evolving author. His style of writing is improving because of the feedback he receives by the people that read his books. I wish him much success and hope his dreams of becoming a traveling author come true.
I remain his friend.
Don Larson <>
September 26, 2005

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