KLEZMER GUY: West Side (Market) Story

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]

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 Klez Landlord. You may not care about the real estate biz. Hey, you may not care about the band biz. His blog Klezmer Guy (http://YiddisheCup.com/blog) has a gamy twist. It features tenants with snakes and skunks, and musicians with smoked fish in their pockets. Klezmer Guy was a reporter for Sun Newspapers. He has written for Rolling Stone, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the New York Times. He won two Hopwood Awards.

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