The story of Robert M. Katzman’s life begins with intense violence in a private hell. His mentally ill mother secretly beat him for nine years. Finally at age 14, accepted as a student by the University of Chicago Laboratory High School in Chicago’s Hyde Park, he left home at midnight in the rain with only the clothes he wore.
To support himself and pay his tuition, he opened a handmade, wooden newsstand at the corner of 51st Street and Lake Park Avenue and worked seven days a week while taking a full load of classes. Katzman’s working class life and rough appearance made him a curiosity and an object of ridicule among his privileged classmates and an unlikely protégé of three remarkable writing teachers. A one-armed, one-legged former hobo mentored him in the business of newspaper sales. By seventeen, he had a dozen employees, a lawyer, an accountant, and a corporation.
Bob’s Newsstand eventually became nationally famous as a chain of five with 55 employees, introducing Bob to local gangsters, associates of the infamous Chicago Machine, and a severe beating by plainclothes Chicago police in a case of mistaken identity.
These 43 stories and poems from Bob’s life define grit, fearlessness, friendship, and passion. They include chapters of mysterious and profound romance, including teenage dances and a liaison with a older woman from France in his very newsstand. He vividly describes episodes of school bullying, the insects he studied at summer camp in Wisconsin, his experiences as a Jew in the American Midwest, and a rugged old woman with a fondness for John F. Kennedy half-dollars.
Whatever your own life has been like, if you ever needed a friend, a real friend, you’d want Katzman by your side, the guy who shows up when everyone else runs away. A man who knows what friendship really means.
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