Real Music & Real Estate . . .

Yiddishe Cup’s bandleader, Bert Stratton, is Klezmer Guy.
 

He knows about the band biz and – check this out – the real estate biz too. So maybe he’s really Klezmer Landlord.
 

You may not care about the real estate biz. Hey, you may not care about the band biz. (See you.)
 

This is a blog with a gamy twist. It features tenants with snakes and skunks, and musicians with smoked fish in their pockets.
 

Stratton has written op-eds for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post.


 
 

Category — Landlord Biz

BAD GIG

I didn’t feel like playing the old Jewish standards, such as “Bay Mir Bistu Sheyn” and “Tumbalalaika.”   Instead I read neo-beatnik prose from my blog.

Bad move.

I was performing at a nursing home. A resident in the front row said, “Play something we know!” and walked out.

My accompanist — keyboardist Alan Douglass — told me to change my act.  He said, “The Who went to their greatest hits whenever they faltered.”

I stuck with the blog stuff.  I wanted to be like Dylan at Newport — my own man.

Again, bad move.

Afterward, I  told my wife,  ‘I feel like I just played Sowinski Playground.”  (Sowinski was a city playground where vicious rapes occurred in the 1960s.)

I’ve learned my lesson: My Ferlinghetti schtick  isn’t going to cut it at Myers Apartments independent living.  Next time I’ll play “Bay Mir Bistu Sheyn” and “Tumbalalaika.”

SIDE B

ROBERT WOODWARD

Robert Woodward, who died in June, was a newspaperman, but not the Bob Woodward of Watergate fame.

Robert Woodward worked as a clerk at the Cleveland Plain Dealer. He was a tenant of mine.

Bob Woodward

He signed his lease renewals in green ink. I always made it a point to countersign in green. Sometimes I had to go out of my way to find a green pen. This went on for decades!

I’m not sure what Bob did at the PD. I occasionally saw him at the movies. He was a film buff. Once we coincidentally flew on the same flight to New York. He was going to see movies.

Woodward was a tenant for 37 years. He died at 65. He had been dead in his suite for about four days. A sister called. The cops went in.

Bob never bugged me, except for appliances. He never wanted people fixing stuff in his apartment.


This is not Bob’s life story!  For instance, not covered here:  Bob wrote op-eds about gay rights for the Plain Dealer and Wall Street Journal .

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August 14, 2013   1 Comment

ZACK THE WRECKER

Zack put down a security deposit for the apartment, then changed his mind.

He was going back with his wife.  Try some counseling. Not moving in.

The apartment was off the market for a week!  I kept the deposit.  Zack said I was a thief.  I re-read him the application: “If the applicant is approved and makes a deposit –- and then decides not to move into the apartment –- the deposit will be forfeited.  THE DEPOSIT WILL NOT BE RETURNED TO THE APPLICANT.”

Zack said, “See you in small claims court!”  Then he added, “Wait. I’m taking the apartment! We’re going to have a real good relationship.  Tell your building manager, I’ll see him on Sunday with coffee and donuts!”

Zack worked demo and was a hauler. He might rent the apartment just to trash it — to demo it.

Zack didn’t show up Sunday. He called a week later.  He still wanted in.  He said he would be there in two days. I figured there was a 10 percent chance he would show.

What if  he did?

I called Zack back: “I want to part ways.  You go yours, I go mine. I’ll give you your security deposit back.”

“Man, I already have my truck packed!”

“I think there’s a lot of ill-will, and we should part ways.  I’ll mail you the deposit.”

He said he wanted the deposit right now. “Things are all awkward between my girlfriend and me.  I need the money,” he said.

“You can pick up the check from Rachel.  She has bangs and is in her twenties,” I said. Rachel worked at the corner bakery. I didn’t want to tangle with Zack.

A basic rule of landlording: Once you get ’em [troublemakers] in, it’s hard to get ’em out.

Maybe I played it too safe. I’ll never know.

The latest from Jack Stratton and his band Vulfpeck:

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August 7, 2013   4 Comments

ATTEN-HUT!


I wish I had been in the military. I could have been in but I didn’t go in when I could have.  I was against Vietnam.  I learned quagmire — the word — from Walter Lippmann in Newsweek.   ‘Nam was a quagmire, Lippmann wrote.

I think I can take orders, and I don’t generally sass people, and I’ve never argued with cops or umpires.

Some of my high school classmates went into the service.  Some  are on the war memorial on Green Road.  By and large, these guys weren’t in the college-prep classes.

One high school friend went to Annapolis, though. He eventually became acting head of the FBI in Cleveland.  I visited him in his office overlooking Lake Erie, and we brainstormed on ways to thwart terrorists.  I didn’t have much to contribute.

When I was about 10, I sent away to the Air Force Academy for photos, and the academy mailed me an application.  That was exciting.

I was mistaken for a military man just once, when I represented the Armed Forces at a sign-review meeting at city hall. The Armed Forces rented stores from my family.  A sign-review board member said, “You walk like a military man.”

Aten-hut! Thank you.

The Armed Forces recruiting center contained the four major branches: Army, Navy, Marine and Air Force.  The Army turned its basement area into a gym with punching bags and a Nautilus.

In 2008 the recruiters moved out; they went across the street to a newer building, and left us with three ratty sofas, a rusty Nautilus, barbells, a mini-trampoline, and a punching bag.  And that wasn’t the half of it.

I wrote to the Army Corps of Engineers, Louisville, Kentucky,  re U.S. lease W912QRM504000025:

There is 40 years’ worth of  junk in the basement: 27 chairs, a punching bag, American flag, scrap shelving, metal framing, boxes of Army of One promotional material, two bikes, six pieces of Nautilus-like weight equipment, barbells, a mini-trampoline . . .

A 1970s stereo system, file cabinet, and a lot of assorted paperwork, of which I’ve enclosed an invoice from 1991, just to give you a flavor for what’s down there.

The government paid for the hauling. That was my last dealing with the military. “Sgt. Stratton” never happened. Nor did “Private  Stratton.”  I feel a little guilty about that.   (I know, typical ex-hippie revisionist thinking.)

Yiddishe Cup and ice cream drip on the lawn at Wiley Middle School, 2181 Miramar Blvd., University Hts., Ohio, 7:30 p.m. Thurs., July 25.  Free concert and free ice cream.  Indoors if raining.

—-

Clevelanders, go to “Hava Nagila (The Movie)”  7:30 p.m. tonight (July 17) at the art museum, Gartner Aud.  You won’t regret it.  Terrific archival footage. You don’t need to be  Jewish or a klezmer nut to enjoy it.   Helps, but not essential.  Features Harry Belafonte.

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July 17, 2013   1 Comment

RAT-AND-MOUSE GAME

Brittany, a tenant, said she saw five rats in her kitchen.  She hightailed it to her parents’ house in Sandusky, Ohio, and called me. “I’m tired,” she said.  “I have to drive in from Sandusky now every day for work.”

“You saw five rats at once?” I said.

“Yes. Your custodian said they were rats,” she said.

“They were probably mice,” I said.  I also told her to take $200 off her rent, and we would bring in a professional exterminator.

She said the rats crawled in her bed.

I paid the exterminator $102.  He sealed the apartment with caulk and put in mouse traps that looked like miniature tinted-glass limos.  Mice crawled into the limos and died. The mice were ready for the mouse funeral parlor.

Brittany showed me a cell phone pic, taken in her kitchen, of a dead rat.

I said, “Mouse.”

“That’s a rat,” she said.

I’ve seen maybe 50 trapped  mice and two trapped rats.  Rats are much bigger than mice.  Rats rip things up.  They’re like raccoons in your kitchen.  Rats rip bags to shreds.  Rats eat through concrete.

“You had a mouse,” I said.

“Rats.”

“Please don’t say rats,” I said.

“OK, rodents.”

Yes! Success.

She moved out.

Rats.

***

Drug Mart has a new mouse trap with an extra-wide feeding plate.  I’m not sure it’s a better mouse trap; I haven’t bought one.

My favorite traps are traditional spring-loaded Victors, from Lititz, Pennsylvania.

Drug Mart was out of Victors. I got the Chinese knock-offs. The instructions on the Chinese traps read: Ne pas mettre les doigts dans la trappe. Drug Mart must have gotten the traps from a Canadian buyout. Recommended bait: fromage, saucisson, jambon, beurre de cachuetes.  I figured all that out, except saucisson.

I looked up saucisson: French hard salami.

Mice live well in Canada.

I don’t blame my tenant, Brittany,  for moving out.  A rodent — a mouse or rat –- crawling in your bed is serious.  Rodents should stay in the kitchen, where they belong.

SIDE B

This will take your mind off rats.

MURKY

A Yiddishe Cup musician sent this pic from a gig to his friends. (My sidemen are always taking pictures.)

The pic was murky and scary. The musician captioned the photo: “Wildest gig ever. Upside-down acrobat pouring champagne for the guests.”

Another musician – not at the gig – wrote back: “Wild Gig? What did I miss!”

The absent musician missed the upside-down acrobat. Compared to a bar mitzvah, it was a wild gig.

The event was a fundraiser for a community college.

Not salacious enough for you. Right.

—-

Yiddishe Cup plays 6:15-7:45 p.m Mon., April 15, at Landerhaven for Cleveland’s community-wide Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration.  Free.  David Broza is on at 8 p.m.

The Klezmer Guy trio plays 7 p.m. Tues., April 23, at Nighttown, Cleveland Hts.  $10.  More info here.

Alan Douglass (L), Bert Stratton, Tamar Gray. (Photo by Ralph Solonitz)

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April 10, 2013   1 Comment

TENSION HEADACHE

A tenant called my father, Toby, and said, “It’s 54 degrees in this apartment. I’m cold.  I can’t even take a bath.”

“We’ll get you some heat,” my dad said.  Old buildings are hard to heat; some suites boil while others freeze.  Hopefully, the sun would come out tomorrow and raise all apts.

A second tenant called. She said her rent would be late.  I answered that call. I said OK, basically.

Toby said to me, “You’ve got to get on them sometimes.”

“I quit,” I said.

“Go ahead and quit.  If you want to get temperamental on me, quit.” Toby didn’t raise his voice. I wasn’t worth histrionics.

“I’m out of here,” I said.

“Where to?”

Good question.

I went to the Cleveland Clinic to a headache specialist. He said I should drink more alcohol, and if that didn’t work, try biofeedback.

Benny — a building manager — said I should put a cold potato on my head. He said, “Put the potato in a refrigerator, cut the potato into pieces, and put them in a cloth around your head. It sucks the swelling right out.”

I went to the JCC for a massage and tried the whirlpool.

My dad died from leukemia.  My then-5-year-old son said, “You won’t see Grandpa Toby again.  Never!  He’s dead.”

My headache suddenly went away.

Now I had a real headache — running the business.

—-

SIDE B

This happened last month . . .

CLEVELAND’S FUNNIEST RABBI CONTEST

I was a judge at Cleveland’s Funniest Rabbi contest at the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage. I knew three of the five rabbis. One rabbi had hired Yiddishe Cup for various temple functions. Another recently hired Yiddishe Cup for a simcha. A third rabbi religiously books Yiddishe Cup for Chanukah.

Was I biased? Was I on the take?

Yes.

The rabbis told jokes in front of 250 paying customers. The judges — three of us — made public comments and rated the rabbis. Afterward, an audience member said to me, “You were very nice.”

Why not be nice? It’s petrifying to tell jokes in front of 250 people. Besides, the rabbis were raising money — for the Maltz Museum?  (For me?)

I stocked-piled interesting adjectives in advance. My arsenal: droll, gut-busting (didn’t use that one), cheery, sharp, zany, wacky, witty and perturbing.

Nobody was perturbing, unfortunately.

I gave the highest rating — a 10 — to the rabbi who eventually won. Turns out he wasn’t even a rabbi. And I didn’t know him. (He owes me a gig.)  The winner was Kiva Shtull, a retired ER doctor, a mohel and the spiritual leader of Congregation Shir Shalom, Bainbridge Township. He got wry, droll and zany.

He’s a mohel with a sharp sense of humor.  Worth watching:

—-

More funny. Benyamin Bresky cornered Yiddishe Cup for an interview on Israel National Radio. The interview begins with Yiddishe Cup’s version of “Essen,” which Ben declares “the funniest thing I’ve ever heard.” Click here.

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March 6, 2013   2 Comments

SCHOOLBOARDING (TORTURE)

 

I interviewed for a position on the library board.

I like to read, and I know two people who have been on the board and liked it.

I wondered, “Will the school board ask me what books I’m reading?” (The school board oversees the library board.)

In 1967 at Johns Hopkins’ admissions office, I talked about my Holocaust reading. The Holocaust wasn’t yet the “Holocaust.”  I made a good impression in Baltimore, I think. (I was pre-med.)

Re: the library board interview. I recently read How Music Works by David Byrne and Shit my Dad Says by Justin Halpern. I have also read to page 100 in Malamud’s A New Life, a novel about a college instructor. For the first fifty pages, I was interested in the goings-on of a 1950s college English department. Then less so.

Nevertheless, “I’m reading Malamud” might be the ticket.

The members of the school board sat on a dais at the board of education building, and I took the “witness stand” in the center of the room. Only three school board members — out of five — showed up. One MIA board member was a playwright; the other, a guy from my synagogue. My A-team was absent!

Question 1: How would you make the library better for students?

Students?  They are the species who play computer games and horse around in the teen room? I’ve been in that room, like, never. “I would maintain the library as a first-class multicultural, multimedia center,” I said.

Question 2: What do you do at the library besides take out books?

Not much! “I was at the dedication of the Harvey Pekar statue,” I said.

Question 3: What would you do to help the library’s finances?

“I vote for the levies.” What about Malamud?

Question 4: Are you willing to commit to a seven-year position?

“Yes, but actuarially speaking, who knows.”

A chemist beat me out for the job. In an email, the library director thanked me for applying and encouraged me to apply again.

First I need to walk through the teen room and get a better feel for the young adults’ needs. I’ll do that right after I finish Malamud’s A New Life.

Side B

MR. OO

I got a call from Oo (rhymes with “boo”), looking to open an Asian food market.

I said, “How do you spell that?”

“O, O.”

“O, O, 7?”

“Yes.  Hah-hah.”

“Is Oo your first name.”

“No, that’s Kyawswar.”

“You Chinese?”

“No, I’m from Burma.”

“Close enough,” I said.

“Yes, very close.”

“Is this going to be an American mini-market or an Asian market?” I said. “I don’t want 40-ounce malt liquor and cigarettes.”

“Asian market, sir.  Our people like rice, the vegetables, avocados.  Maybe cigarettes. The high school boys from the school [across the street] buy the fruit juices.”

Oo rented the store. He’s  industrious.  He owns two sushi stands at Giant Eagles.  That’s not all . . .

I told my wife, “Oo had a nail salon.”

“Who?” she said.

“Oo.”


Footnote: Consider “U Thant,” the former UN secretary general from Burma. Thanks to Ted Stratton for this  U/Oo connection.


Byliner chose my essay “The Landlord’s Tale” (City Journal) as one of the top 102 nonfiction journalism pieces  of 2012.  Read the essay here.

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January 30, 2013   3 Comments

I CRY A LOT

Charlie Chaplin brings me to tears.  Louis Armstrong and Beethoven do too.  T.S. Eliot — yes, I know he didn’t like Jews — but you can’t deny his greatness For instance, “Humankind can not bear too much reality.”

Yes, reality blows — as we used to say in junior high. (We said the “blows” part.)

Art?

I escape to the arts.  I escape to this:

Fire escapes have to be painted every year in Cleveland, or they rust.

I used to be shallower, vainer, younger and facetious.  Now I’m all that, and older.

I’m thinking of getting elevator shoes. A couple inches might change my life.

I don’t like ferrets.

Go ahead, indict me.

Indict me on this too: Anglomania, Jewmania and prickliness.

Downton Abbey — the TV show — is terrific.  Everybody is so taciturn and proper.  Nobody runs his or her mouth.

Who’s a Jew?  That’s my second obsession.  I annually debate whether Brubeck was a Jew.  He wasn’t.   Or was Chaplin Jewish?  No,  he wasn’t.

Prickliness, that’s a universal trait.  I cut off a man’s position in the check-out line at Dave’s supermarket. The man said,  “What you doin’?”

“I’m ahead of you.”

“No, you ain’t. You moved!”

I had moved for a second!  I had left my cart in one line and walked to another line to see which was shorter.

I said “you win” to the man, and let him in front. He got out of the store before me!

I’m looking for elevator shoes.

I cry a lot.


SIDE B

This one is real.  The above post is half real.

FIRING SABINA

It’s easy to fire a drunken building manager, or a thieving one, but it’s hard to fire a manager who is only lousy.

For instance, he doesn’t answer the phone quickly enough, or he doesn’t clean enough.

I thought about firing Sabina; I had hired her husband, not her, and her husband had skipped out on her. She was shoveling snow, cutting grass, and climbing ladders. It wasn’t her strong suit; she had majored in Russian lit at a Russian university.

My tenants reported negative things about her.

That helped — me.

I asked a tenant how the manager was performing, and he said, “I hate her.”

“Do you hate me too?” I said, trying to establish a baseline on his “hate.”

He didn’t hate me. “She doesn’t clean, she has her kids cutting the grass, and she doesn’t tell us anything — when anything is going to get fixed.”

I fired her.

Then I rehired her. She couldn’t get welfare because she had no green card. I let her stay.

Avon calling

She found a boyfriend – a guy in Avon Lake – and moved out.

I owe that guy in Avon Lake.


“Sabina” is a pseudonym.

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January 2, 2013   3 Comments

ALBANIA, ALBANIA

Merjeme Haxhiraj, a tenant, tried to get her rent reduced. She wrote, “Mr. Albert, I wish you will only rise the rent to $470/month.  I think you will fulfill my wish.”

She wrote this letter annually (changing only the dollar figure).  I knocked her rent down to $490 from $500 the last time.

Ms. Haxhiraj was Albanian, worked in a nursing home, and had cancer.

After 10 years, she said she was moving.  I couldn’t figure out where to.  New York? Albania?   Some place where I couldn’t find her, I bet.

She didn’t want to pay the final month’s rent.  She wrote, “I am leaving country and will not have forwarding address. Please keep the security deposit.”

Wait a minute, Ms. Haxhiraj, the tenant has to pay the final month’s rent! I knocked on her door and said, “We need the final month’s rent, Ms. Haxhiraj. That’s the rule.”  (I said Hacks-er-aj.  Totally wrong no doubt. Loved the x.)

“I am old woman.  I no work for three years.”  And don’t forget the cancer.

I walked through her apartment.  “OK, but don’t leave anything,” I said. “Take everything.” I pointed to the hangers in the closet. “Even the hangers.”

“Everything go,” she said.

“Not that it matters, but are you Christian or Muslim?” I asked.

“Muslim.”

I was curious.  That’s all.  I try to make my job as interesting as possible.

When Ms. Haxhiraj moved, she left a bed, five chairs, a sofa, handbags, four bags of garbage, many oranges, several chocolate bars and a lot of hangers.  No gym bag.  I needed a gym bag.

The little old lady from Albania, Albania . . .

I didn’t  get the chocolates.  The building manager beat me to them.

I got the hauler’s bill.

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November 28, 2012   No Comments

THE BUG MAN AND THE SCRAPPER

1. THE BUG MAN

Drain flies aren’t bad.  Roaches aren’t bad. Mice are nothing.

Two-hundred dead flies in an apartment — that’s bad. I saw 20 in the bathtub alone.  The building manager said, “I killed them with spray.”

I said, “Where are you hiding the body?”  I meant the dead body.

Swarma

Another 50 dead flies were by the window in the living room. The apartment was vacant.

I called
the pro exterminator. The bug man’s secretary said, “Are they metallic – the flies?”

“What do you mean by metallic?”

“Blue or green?”

“They’re big flies,” I said “You see them all the time, like on horses.”

“Oh, excuse the expression — they’re shit flies.”

“Yes. My manager says he has 500 dead ones in his vacuum cleaner. I need you over here.”

The flies were officially called blow flies, and are attracted to carrion and excrement.  The bug man found a nook above the drop ceiling in the bathroom that we had missed.  He hit it.

The flies are gone now.  I wonder what was up there.  I didn’t look.

2. THE SCRAPPER

I was looking for a scrapper to take a dilapidated, nonfunctioning boiler out of an apartment-building basement. The boiler was sitting in the basement, minding its own business, but the city inspector said it had to go.

I called a heating company, which suggested I hire them and an asbestos-removal company to remove the old unit.

Instead, I contacted Charles the scrapper and said,  “What are the chances of you doing this job and just taking the good stuff — the metal — and leaving behind a mess?”

“I don’t do it that way.  I’ve been doing this all day — all my life – and I do it right,” he said.

The boiler consisted of eight cast-iron sections, each about 200 pounds.  And it was down a flight of steps.  The boiler was the size of a VW bus.

“That’s what I do,” Charles said.  “Get rid of it.”

But I didn’t use Charles.  I used Daryl, another freelance scrapper. Daryl got to the job site long before Charles and gave me a good price: free. “I’m here and I’m ready,” Daryl said.  That counted for something.


I wrote this one,  “The Nostalgia Vortex,” for today’s CoolCleveland.com.  I was raised by a village — Norge Village.

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October 10, 2012   2 Comments

KILLER FLOORING

1.

My dad, Toby, and I hired Charles Tuncle for kitchen-floor lino jobs.  Tunkl means dark in Yiddish, which my dad never failed to point out.  Tuncle — the man — was black. Also, he was a killer. He shot a man in a bar.

Armstrong no-wax. Tuncle, 1984. (2010 photo)

When Tuncle was sent to prison, my dad wrote the parole board about Tuncle’s quality vinyl-floor work, and Tuncle got out early.  My father never told the tenants — or our building managers — about Tuncle’s record.  My dad never said:  “You see that guy over there with the utility knife?  He’s a killer.”

***

My dad called our business Reliable Management Co.

We should have hauled garbage with a name like that.

When I started an offshoot company, Acorn Management Co., my dad said, “What the hell does ‘Acorn’ have to do with anything?”

“Dad, I live on Oak Road.  That’s why.”  It was 1976.  Environmentalism was the next big thing.

“Nobody is going to understand ‘Acorn,’” he said.

I sometimes call my company “Reliable + Acorn Management companies” now.  That makes me feel like a Danish architecture firm.

***

I hired Standard Roofing for a roof tear-off.  Standard Roofing went under.  Too standard?

My electrician is Jack Kuhl, pronounced “Jack Cool.”

I knew Emin Lyutfalibekov, a handyman.  I told him to shorten his name, and he said no way; he was offended.  He said he was royalty back in Azerbaijan.

Napoli Construction is a bricklaying firm. Art Gallo, chief mason.

I use Donnelly Heating once in a while.  Dan Donnelly.  There are four Donnelly heating companies on the West Side: Dan, Tom, William and Original.  They must have large Seders.

Lawrence Christopher Construction — that was Larry Vesely.   He filled a hole for me for $9,000 — a coal bin that had collapsed beneath a parking lot.  The city wouldn’t allow me to fill the hole with plain gravel. The city wanted a reconstructed coal bin that could practically double as a bomb shelter, complete with beams and concrete.  Larry said the job would cost $3,000 and take several weeks.

The final bill was $9,000 and the job took nine months.  One delay and complication after another.

I could not charge higher rents just because I had a nice coal bin.  No tenant cared I had a bomb shelter.

I paid Larry back in nine monthly installments, just to get slightly back at him.

***

Tuncle the floor guy — I miss him.  He died at 84 in 2008.  A nice guy, except for that night in the bar.  He didn’t have any other criminal record.

 

2.

I was at a gathering of Jewish landed gentry — a landlords’ shabbat — in Pepper Pike.

Landlord A — to my right — owned a 17-suiter which her late father had bought in 1955.

Landlord B owned a building his father bought in 1936.

Buy and hold, chaverim.  Shabbat shalom.

I owned (with my sister) a building my dad bought in 1965.

In real estate — as in many fields — it’s good to pick the right father.

In college Donald Trump bought his first building, using his father’s money: a 1,200-unit apartment complex in Cincinnati.   Trump’s dad owned property in  New York’s outer boroughs.  Trump’s net worth upon graduating college in 1965 was $1.4 million, in today’s dollars.  [Trump, The Art of the Deal.]

Suites, a local real estate mag, did a profile on Marty Cohen, a Cleveland  landlord.  The article said Marty “couldn’t shake his interest in property management.”  Marty worked at a bank for a while, but that wasn’t a good fit.  His family owned a 150-unit Parma apartment complex.  Maybe that had something to do with Marty finding a good fit in real estate.

Buy and hold, brothers and sisters. Pass the strudel.

 

3.

Griffith, the state boiler inspector,  called.

I said to him, “You’ve been around as long as me!”

“Yes, sir,” he said.  “I was around even when your dad was still around!   You know, your father was a kinda guy.  A good dude.  I miss your dad.  He was hoping you’d take over the business.  And you did!”  (My father died in 1986.)

“How long you been around, Griffith?”

“Since 1972.  You were just a kid.  You were in high school.” (I was in college, Griffith!)    “Your dad was a little worried about you, I’ll be honest with you. I hope you don’t take this personally, he thought you didn’t have the fire.  You know, he had went through some things that weren’t easy, and he wanted to leave the buildings to somebody who would appreciate them.”

“I gave my father some things to think about, I guess.”

“I’m proud of you.  You come around.  If he was around, I’d tell him how good you’re doing.”

I didn’t run the family biz totally into the ground.

My epitaph — if I’m lucky: I’m in the Ground But My Business Ain’t.

Next week’s post will be on Thursday, not Wednesday, due to Yom Kippur.

Here’s an op-ed I wrote for the Sunday Cleveland Plain Dealer  (9/16/12). “High Holidays beckon twice-a-year worshipers.”

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September 19, 2012   6 Comments

THE GUY IN THE RED CAR

“58% of commuters have experienced road rage while driving to work, and 9% have gotten into a fight with another driver.”
Wall Street Journal, 8/15/12

Fifty-eight percent seems kind of low.

I was doing the speed limit, 35 mph, on North Park Boulevard at North Woodland in Cleveland Heights.  A guy in a red sports car tailgated me.

Not only did I give the guy the finger, I jumped out of my car at the light and yelled, “Thirty-five!  The speed limit is thirty-five!”

I’m not sure the guy in the car was a guy; it was somebody with tinted windows and vanity plates 1KAP, and the driver was aggressively tailgating me.

Whoever it was, was nice, aside from being a bad driver.  The person didn’t jump out of the red car and come after me.

Maybe I looked threatening.  I had on shades!

I hesitated telling my wife about the incident.  I knew she would get mad.  She would call me hostile.  Correct.

I had never jumped out of my car before and yelled at a driver.  Do I have any explanation for my behavior?

My best explanation is I was on my way to visit Michelle, my number-one employee, who was dying of cancer at 40. She couldn’t talk, and she was on all kinds of tubes.

I’m not sure who I was mad at.

SIDE B

MICHELLE

My top building manager was Michelle Orozco.  I’d visit her first. She was always upbeat and set the mood for the day. She had problems — a lot of physical ailments, but she didn’t complain much.  She was my assistant.  That was an official title.  She got paid a little extra. She had grown up in Los Angeles and dropped out of high school.

Michelle Orozco

She was a School of Hard Knocks honor student. When the city said I needed to cough up the names of all my tenants and their move-in dates for my annual housing license, I thought, “What’s that about? Big Brother?” That’s what I thought.  Michelle said, “They want the names for RITA.”  The Regional Income Tax Agency.

I paid Michelle to supervise my newer custodians.  She showed them how to do evictions notices, how Tarnite was better than Brasso.

Michelle moved back to California and left me. She wanted to try her hometown again, the Golden State and all that.

She came back, because California was too expensive. She moved into one of my buildings as a tenant.  I said, “I’m not promising you a job.  And whatever you do, don’t undermine the custodians in here now.” (I’ve had ex-custodians who stuck around and pestered the new custodians.  The ex-custodian would call me and say, “The new guy isn’t cleaning.  He’s drunk.  He’s swearing at the tenants.”)

Michelle — and her husband, Manuel — kept to themselves.  They waited and eventually got their job back.

She was my spy. I wondered if  other custodians checked their boilers regularly in the winter.  Did they “blow down” the valves?  I asked Michelle, “How do we know they’re doing it regularly.”

She said, “They’ll do it because it’s more of a hassle to have the boiler go out than blow it down.”

I hired Michelle when she was 25.  Her mother worked for me. I hired Michelle’s niece, also from California.  I hired Michelle’s sister.

Michelle didn’t steal or lie.  She was a good cleaner.  She could rent apartments.  Sounds basic, but it’s not.

She called just-looking apartment seekers “looky-loos.” I never did understand that.   I heard it as “Lucky Lous.” She called air fresheners “smellies.”

Michelle knew the ways of Home Depot rental trucks, and how to access the junk yard with proper ID.  More basics, but again, somewhat tricky. And which apartment buildings I allowed satellite dishes, and which I didn’t.

She was an optimist. She had a bright personality. She kept things on the sunny side — no small feat in the real estate biz.

Michelle Orozco, 1971-2012.

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August 22, 2012   6 Comments

ALICE’S RESTAURANTS

Pre-kids, my wife, Alice, and I ate out a lot.  We mostly went to dives. That was our hobbyDives as low as Krisplee on East 82nd Street and Euclid Avenue, and Albino’s at West 44th Street and Lorain Avenue.

At home, Alice cooked a lot of tofu.  That’s why we ate out a lot.

We don’t go out much now.  I can’t stand the long waits, the so-s0 food, the noise.  I’m my dad.

Alice published a restaurant guidebook, Alice’s Restaurants, in 1981.  The book sold particularly well at the airport bookstore.  Alice’s oddest recommendation was the cafeteria at Metro General Hospital.  She liked the beef stroganoff and Viennese tort there.  (Alice was a nursing student.)

I liked Draeger’s, an ice cream place at Van Aken.  I wasn’t into balanced meals.

Here are a couple recommendations from the book:

Alice, 1977

(Still around)  Balaton, Corky & Lenny’s, Flat Iron Cafe, Mad Greek, Mamma Santa’s, Hot Dog Inn.

(Dead)  Zosia’s, Gerome’s, Art’s Seafood, It’s It Deli, Vegetaria, Radu’s, Aurora, Draeger’s, El Charro.

When we had our first child,  our eating out petered out.  Alice wrote a baby book, but never published it.  I can’t remember what the book was about, other than babies.  Oh, it was The Bye, Bye Book — how to  prepare your kid psychologically if you left town for a day or two.

Our kids — now grown — became foodies.  Maybe we left them home too much.  A lot of 20-somethings became foodies.  A baby-boom friend described his grown kids’ religion as Foodism.

Alice in stains

Alice — the original Foodist — sold street food.  She never made a dime, but she made a name for herself.  In the mid-1980s, Alice was the first to sell sushi rolls in Cleveland.  This was at the Coventry Street Fair.  Few locals knew what sushi was.  Alice made vegetable rolls.  She grossed well, but her expenses were high.  She paid a Korean-American friend, Mike, to help.  Mike lent an air of authenticity — not that he knew anything about sushi.

Alice did tabouli at the East 115th Street Fair.  Tabouli was a loser.  Why?  It wasn’t that good.   And a Cadillac with musicians playing in the trunk  —  next to Alice’s booth — was a lot more entertaining.

Alice sold falafel at the Coventry fair.  She called that operation Queen Alice’s Falafel.  We ate a lot of falafel because she was always tweaking the recipe.  She did falafels for a couple years.

Alice is talking tacos lately.  Our son Teddy is talking pad Thai.

Foodists.

—-

SIDE B

THE JEW OF HOME DEPOT

Carl Goldstein, a landlord friend of mine, wants to be a docent at Home Depot when he retires. He goes to Home Depot at least twice a day, six days a week. That’s more than 600 Home Depots visits per year. Carl owns and manages double houses on the East Side of Cleveland.

Carl Goldstein, 2011

He said, “Home Depot saved my life. Before they came to town, I used to go out to Builders Square on Wilson Mills. That was the ruination of my life. After Builders Square, I would take the freeway to DIY on Chagrin, and then to Seitz-Agin [hardware] on Lee. And I still wouldn’t have everything I needed!”

Carl worked at a plumbing supply store for seven years; he sold hot water tanks, boilers, Flushmates and plumbers dope. Carl’s father was a plumber in Flint, Michigan. Carl has a collection of Corky toilet flappers and other odds and ends in his truck. He gave me a Niagara water-saving shower head. ($5.13 from Woodhill Supply. Too specialized for Home Depot.)

I bought more Niagaras. I have about fifty now. I switch shower heads when tenants move out. (Bad business to switch shower heads on current tenants.)

Carl wants Home Depot to hold a storewide scavenger hunt. The first contestant through the Home Depot check-out line with all the correct items wins. “I’m a shoo-in,” Carl said. “Second place would be Marc Apple.”

“Marc Apple?”

“He’s a Cleveland Heights contractor,” Carl said.

There are two Jews of Home Depot in Cleveland.

—-
Read Max Apple’s The Jew of Home Depot and Other Stories. (Max Apple is not related to Marc Apple.)

Next: The Jews of Home Depot (Atlanta): Bernie Marcus and Arthur Blank.


I wrote about Alice, hot weather and money at today’s CoolCleveland website.

 


Alice and dance leader Daniel Ducoff on the front page of the Cleveland Heights Sun Press, 7/12/12.  (Well-written article about Yiddishe Cup by Ed Wittenberg. Photo by Jim Olexa.)

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July 18, 2012   11 Comments

TOBY AND MEL

The minute I landed at Palm Beach airport, my dad, Toby, hocked me about investments.

On the drive from the airport to his condo, Toby would expound on real estate growth in Florida.  “This was a two-lane dirt road when we got here. Now it’s six lane.”

Glades Road, Boca Raton, 1980s.  With a bagel store on every other block.

We have a Bagel Nosh in Cleveland too, Dad.  And it’s crap.

My parents watched the kids for a week, while my wife and I zoned out and watched for golf cart X-ings.

Toby Stratton, 1984

Toby said, “Whatever you do, don’t kock the money away.”   Also, did I need a new car?  How about a bigger house?  “You never ask for anything,” he said.

My kids asked for something:  noodles  — swimming noodles.   No problem.  Every grandparent had a storage closet full of flotation devices.

One grandpa — my dad’s friend — didn’t sleep very well, so he went midnight bowling.  The man owned a furniture store in Cleveland and was into municipal bonds big-time, particularly since his son was destroying the store, the man claimed.

Another old-timer was Jackie Presser, who had a villa — a stand-alone house.  Presser had been the national president of the Teamsters and tied in with the Mob.  In his later years, he moonlighted as a snitch for the FBI.  His wife drove an antique car around the condo development.

Toby met Mel, a low-level city employee who needed a “few presents” — as Mel put it — for his inspectors.  Mel inspected commercial properties for the city of Sunrise, Florida, where my dad owned a small shopping-strip center.  The shopping strip was a hobby of Toby’s — a little something to keep him occupied in retirement in Florida.  Toby was always in let’s-make-a-deal mode.

Mel met Toby at Sambo’s, where Mel explained presents meant $100 for each of his inspectors. [$220 in today’s dollars.] Toby paid off Mel — in a car, not in the restaurant.  Mel said, “This is not for me. This is strictly for my inspectors.”

Mel drove Toby to see vacant land.  The city wanted a developer to put up a motel, and the city would take a cut.

Toby sold his Sunrise strip center shortly after that.  He didn’t cotton to the Florida heat, so to speak.  He returned to the simpler pleasures of golf and electric orange juice squeezers.

Toby told me his best years were his most recent, in Florida.  He had financial security, grandchildren and decent health.

My dad died of leukemia three years later, in 1986, just shy of 69.  My mother kept the Florida condo another 11 years, until she came down with Parkinson’s disease.

The condo association owes my sister and me $8,160.82.  The association is slow in repaying the golf membership fee.  Fifteen years slow.

I would like that 8K to glide in today from Glades Road.  I’d  knock 5K off the tab if the association included a round of golf with my dad.  And I don’t even play golf.


A version of this post — called  “A Bagel Store on Every Other Block” — ran on the Times of Israel website 7/5/12.

This video is about my dad’s shoes, among other things.

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July 11, 2012   3 Comments

SHE COULDN’T CHANGE
A LIGHT BULB

I had a custodian who couldn’t change a light bulb.  She didn’t know how far to screw the bulb in. She was from Russia and liked to “dress” — put on sharp clothes and wear heavy makeup.

I hadn’t hired her. I had hired her husband, but her husband skipped (went to Philadelphia) and I didn’t want to fire her, because she had two young boys.

She improved just slightly.  She learned how to apply porcelain touch-up paint to chipped bathtubs.  Like doing her nails.

I’ve had worse employees.  I had a custodian who showed too much butt cleft when he waxed floors, alienating some of the tenants. I had a custodian who drove too often to Detroit.  This was before cell phones.  I couldn’t reach him.

I had a custodian from the Hough neighborhood who was snooty.  Her family had boarded Nap Lajoie, the Hall of Fame baseball player, when Hough was a fancy neighborhood.  The custodian said to me, “We had the elite in my neighborhood.  No mongrels, like from P.A.”  Her husband was from P.A.

I had a building manager who rarely cleaned. A tenant taped a note in the hallway: “This building is a mess.” Other tenants added to the note: “Vacuum the halls” . . . “Take the tree down, Christmas is over!” . . . “Trim the shrubs.”

I had a custodian whose vacuum sweeper was always outside her door but she never vacuumed.

Hoover don't move her

I had a custodian who threatened to kill me.  He was dating a black transvestite prostitute from apartment 200. I didn’t like him fraternizing with tenants.   He said he would hunt me down.  Luckily, he didn’t know his way around the East Side, where I live. The East Side has curved streets.

I had a custodian who asked for loans regularly because her husband took all her money, she said.  I liked the husband.  He went to the racetrack a lot, but he was a hard worker and had a good day job.

I had a building manager whose kids were thieves. I once asked where her son was, and the manager said, “He stepped out to shop.”

“Where?”

“Marion,” she said.   The Marion (Ohio) Correctional Institution.

He came back from Marion and broke into an apartment.

Bad.

Footnote:
For the record, I’ve had plenty good managers.

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June 13, 2012   No Comments

MEDIA RELATIONS

Lakewood International News, a magazine store, carried the Paris Review, Partisan Review, Kenyon Review and porn.  About half the store was porn.

The proprietor, Gil, was a part-time railroader.  He and several railroad buddies manned the elevated counter, which was a lookout tower for nailing shoplifters and pervs.

I went to Lakewood News.

Where else could I read an interview of William Styron in the Partisan Review, and Bustin’ Out in the same visit?

Gil lost his lease.  (I wasn’t Gil’s landlord.)  I had a vacant store.  Maybe Gil and I could do business together.  A bank tenant had bailed on me down the street.  I thought I was good for 30 years with the bank, but then all banks in the world started merging in the late 1980s.

The bank owed me rent until the bank was re-leased.  The bank, through back channels, quickly found a new tenant — the city.  The city planned to open a health-department annex.  Fine.  Cockroach inspectors would be my new tenants.

Except the city didn’t move very fast.  There were various “readings” at various city council meetings.  Meanwhile, Gil, the magazine store owner, told a couple people he was getting the bank store.  A Plain Dealer reporter called me.

Possible PD headline: “Stratton New Porn Czar.”

The old porn czar was Reuben Sturman, a local-boy-made-good and the nation’s largest porn distributor.

I got scared.  I hand-delivered a media package to the Plain Dealer reporter.  I did a Q&A with myself.  I answered: “I believe in the First Amendment and the bookstore would be an asset.  It isn’t just porn.  Ever heard of the Paris Review? I’ll rent to the magazine store.”  I wanted the city to hurry up, so I had created a little tension, via the press.

Plain Dealer, June 21, 1989. See text below.

The Plain Dealer story came out.  (Nothing too horrible.)  But suddenly the city fast-tracked the legislation and rented the space.

That was the only time I ever spun the press.

Don’t believe half what you read in the papers.  For the real story, go to the memoirs 20 years later.

But by then, you probably won’t care.  But maybe you care in this instance; you read this.


Here’s the beginning of “Adult store’s Detroit Ave. move thwarted” by Paul Shepard, Plain Dealer, 6/21/89:

At first glance, Albert Stratton, landlord of a prime piece of downtown Lakewood real estate, appears to be a person to be envied.

Over the past month, city officials as well as the Lakewood International News magazine shop have courted Stratton, seeking to rent his vacant storefront at Detroit and Victoria Aves.

But with the City Council’s refusal Monday to allow Stratton’s lease of the store and a proposed ordinance to limit the location of so-called adult-oriented businesses, it appears Stratton will have to sue the city to get the magazine shop as a tenant.

“I’m not happy,” Stratton said yesterday.  “I feel like I’m caught in the middle of this dispute between the city and the Lakewood International News store.

“My only goal is to rent the store.  Whoever signs a lease first gets it, but I think both would be fine tenants for me.”


I wrote an op-ed, “The Old Seder Table,” for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, online, Friday (4/6/12).  The op-ed is the only Passover story ever to mention Yazoo City, Mississippi.

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April 11, 2012   3 Comments

RED TAG

 

When a rent check bounces, the bank charges me $23.  I didn’t bounce the check.  Am I supposed to ask my tenants, “Is your check good or is it tissue paper?”

Eve, a tenant, ran a beauty parlor and was a chronic check-bouncer.  She once screamed at me: “My freaking check is good! Why don’t you put it in! I hand-delivered it to the manager yesterday.”

“The bank charges me!” I said. “I just called the bank.  The teller said it was no good.”

Eve was at the bank. The check was now good, she claimed.

Damn, I had just gone to city hall and filed an eviction on her for $100.

Now Eve owed me $100, plus the rent.   I said, “OK, I’ll put the check in if it’s good.”  (I would eat the $100 filing fee.)

“The check is good!” she said. “I pay my rent and I intend to pay it until the end of my lease, at which point I’m out of here! And you haven’t fixed the back screen door.”

Unfair fighting, Eve.  I said, “I’m evil, I know that.  You don’t like me, and I don’t like you.” I hung up and called the bank.  The check was good.

Peace and prosperity.

Next month Eve was back in Bounce City.  At the eviction hearing, she cried and walked out, wailing, “I’m crying just like a girl!”  The bailiff red-tagged her; he taped a red writ of restitution to the door of her store.  She had 10 days to move.

She didn’t.

She paid her rent.  She was legally “evicted,” but not in real life.

The following month Eve didn’t pay her rent or show up at court.  She called and told me her “baby daddy” wasn’t giving her kid enough money.  Also, the store’s electric was off.   She hadn’t paid the bill.   She couldn’t cut hair without electricity.

That was her problem.  The bailiff gave her a second red tag.

My locksmith picked the beauty salon’s front door lock, re-keyed the cylinder ($142 for the pick job), and I walked in.  Everything was gone — the barber chairs, wash stations and wall cabinets.  Ripped out.  The red tag was still there.

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February 29, 2012   1 Comment

OLD THIEVES

 

Retirees usually make good tenants.  Unfortunately, I don’t get many retiree tenants, because most old folks don’t want to live in pre-war hardwood-floor apartments with no dishwasher or A/C.   Been there, done that.

I had an application from Joe, 71, a retired factory worker.
He made $1600/month.

Welcome, Joe.

I ran a criminal search on him as a formality. Aggravated arson, forgery and sexual battery.

Pre-Internet, I would have rented to him.  Pre-Internet,  it was hard to run background checks.  I once rented to a rapist/murderer because I wasn’t schlepping to county records, and the rapist wasn’t volunteering he was a rapist/ murderer.  (The man got picked up on a parole violation and moved out of my apartment without killing or raping.)

I rented to a retired nurse whose previous landlord followed her to my place.  He told me the old lady was a forger and felon.

But she already had the keys to my place!  My building manager had given her the keys in exchange for a dime store ring.

My custodian, Buck, always subverted me.  For example, he thought junk mail should stay in perpetuity; watering outdoor plants was ridiculous; and accepting fake rings was part of the job.

I helped Buck move the retired nurse’s belongings into the basement.  I locked the basement door.

“Give me my meds!” she said.

She had a point.

I gave her meds, plus her toothbrush.

This cost me.

I was young.  I learned two things: a) Don’t ever do a “self-help” eviction.  Lawyers love self-help evictions.  b) Screen all tenants like crazy on the way in.

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February 15, 2012   4 Comments

POSTAGE DUE

Louise Stevenson, an elderly tenant, plastered 3- and 4-cent stamps on her rent envelope.  This was in the 1980s.

Miss Stevenson was an old maid and very old school.  She patrolled the building  in a nightgown — a house coat — whatever women wore in the 1950s.  My mom wore one too.  Yes, a house coat.

Miss Stevenson didn’t like the custodians.  These workers never met her standards.  One custodian showed off too much butt crack when he scrubbed the floors.  Another manager supposedly broke into Miss Stevenson’s apartment and stole a book.  A third custodian went barefoot “like a hillbilly” in the hallway.

Miss Stevenson could guess whenever I was coming by; she stood guard by the building’s front door.  I listened to a lot of her diatribes about the decline of the West (Side).

I had a stamp collection too.  I should have talked stamps with her.  But I didn’t.  Miss Stevenson was a bit frightening, and my dad had always taught me: Don’t get personal with the tenants.

Miss Stevenson claimed she was related to Robert Louis Stevenson.  (The stolen book was an autographed Stevenson, she said.)

She carried a shopping bag and took the bus downtown every day, wearing her house coat.

Miss Stevenson died in 1992.   That year a first-class letter was 29 cents.

I hope I get a letter today with eleven 4-cent Lincolns on it.  I won’t, unless Miss Stevenson sends this . . .

Postage goes to 45 cents Sunday (January 22).  Add:


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January 18, 2012   7 Comments

PATEL MOTEL

An Asian Indian asked me if he should buy a motel.

Why ask me?  Why not ask Patel? I thought.  Forty percent of American hotels are owned by Indians, and many are Patels.

The Asian Indian was a tennis pro who had invested in Cleveland real estate and lost money.  He thought maybe I knew some tricks about investing.

I knew this: Most everybody in the real estate biz in the 2000s was not hitting the long ball.

He asked me about stocks.

This is what I knew:  My late father, who was a stock broker for about six months in the 1950s, taught me the market is legalized gambling.  John Bogle, former chairman of the Vanguard Group, said, “The investor in America sits at the bottom of the food chain.”  You have to be lucky twice with stocks: when you buy and when you sell.

In March 2009 the New York Times business-page headline was “Are We There Yet?”  There meant the stock market’s bottom.

In March 2009 the price/earnings ratio was at its lowest in more than 20 years: 13.  (Trailing 10-years figure.)  The worldwide P/E was even lower, down to 10.  It was a good time to invest, but scary.

***

My Uncle Lou and Uncle Al drove a truck, delivering wholesale items to stores.  They offered me a carton of baseball cards — 24 packs — at deep discount.  I was in.  I immediately ripped open all the packs.  I was 9.  This was my first speculative investment.  I got a lot of Humberto Robinsons (an Indians relief pitcher) and no Mickey Mantles.  Maybe my uncles were teaching me dollar-cost averaging: better to buy a pack a week (i.e., dollar-cost averaging) than go all in.

The Asian tennis pro moved to Florida.  His wife and kids couldn’t stand Cleveland winters, for one thing.  He didn’t have a job down there.  He didn’t have a house.  I hope he knew Patel.

—-
Here’s “Beer and Coconut Bars,” which I wrote for the CoolCleveland website.  Went up a week ago.  The story is definitely full Cleveland, if not cool Cleveland.

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December 14, 2011   3 Comments

TWO CREEPS BUSTED

I went easy on a tenant, rent-wise, because he called the police on a leaded-glass thief, who had stolen windows from the apartment building’s entrance.  (The windows were sidelights.)

Ex. Two sidelights flanking main entrance

The cops asked my tenant, “Would you be a witness?”  My guy — Bill Livingstone — said yes.   I appreciated his civic involvement.

Livingstone was nosy.  That was a good thing.  Livingstone, a poodle groomer, stayed at the building 23 years.

 

***

A vandal scrawled graffiti on a front door.  Livingstone wasn’t around. (Different building.)

The building manager knew the graffiti “artist.”  She even knew his phone number.  My custodian personally knows this derelict?  The graffiti “artist” was a friend of a friend of the custodian.  The “artist” hung out at a skaters coffeehouse and had a recognizable tag.  My custodian,  a lesbian brakeman with multiple piercings, knew the scene.

I phoned the graffiti kid.  What if he was nuts?  I hung up.  Let the cops handle it.

The kid called me.  “You just called my cell.”

I hate that.

The cops found him and made him clean up the doors.   His mom even helped.  The kid was in high school.  I didn’t press charges because he cleaned the door.

***

Re: the leaded-glass sidelights thief.  That guy was caught due to Bill Livingstone’s accurate ID of the man.  (The thief sold the windows to an antiques store.)  The man was charged with aggravated burglary and grand theft.

He didn’t do any jail time.  He made restitution to me over a couple years.

I’ve been fortunate. Thanks to Bill Livingstone, tuned-in building managers and persistent police detectives.

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October 26, 2011   3 Comments