By Bert Stratton
I used to shop at the West Side Market to see humanity. I didn’t care about the food; I was looking for real, working people. I ran the gauntlet of Italian produce vendors, who said to me, “Hey, how about a couple peppers?” I wouldn’t answer. I didn’t like vegetables.
I liked meat — the greasier the better. I picked up a couple links of Farkas’ hot Hungarian kielbasa. That stuff could kill you — unless you were 25 and immortal. Which I was.
Now the produce vendors are mostly Arabs, and I no longer am looking for humanity. It comes to me.
I was at the market with time to spare, because I was waiting to meet a tenant at the Cleveland Mediation Center across the street. I’m a landlord. The tenant was a late payer who was also delinquent in showing up for the meeting. So I went to the market.
The market was, still, a good cheap exotic trip. A vendor carried an eviscerated goat over his shoulder. You don’t see that at Heinen’s. I bought bread and returned to the mediation center, which was in a 1920s office building across the street. There were stenciled signs on the office doors for abogados (lawyers), bail bondsmen and Middle Eastern doctor / Welfare Patients Accepted. My tenant, Mr. Rice, hobbled in to the mediation center on a cane.
The mediator — “I’m Bob” — told Mr. Rice he could address neglected building repairs. Bob had just set me up!
Mr. Rice shook his head no and said, “The man wants his rent and I don’t blame him.”
You had to like a tenant like that. A stand-up guy. But he didn’t have much money.
I tolerated Mr. Rice and his late rent payments because, among other reasons, I liked his accent. He was from Gallatin, Tennessee. I said, “My mother was from the South. I could listen to you all day. That’s why I’m here [at the mediation center].” Another reason was he owed me $890.
Mr. Rice skipped out several months later. He left behind some ratty furniture, Playboys, clothes and a stove that looked a piece of fried chicken.
[Illustration by Ralph Solonitz]