About Mark

I am a landlord in Berkeley, California. I rent houses to college students. I make chocolate and have a free chocolate store for my tenants.

NEW IN MY CHOCOLATE ROOM. Chocolate Covered HYDROX COKIES.

What is a Hydrox? Hydrox was the original sandwich cookie. In 1908, the Sunshine Biscuit Company began selling Hydrox cookies, and they were an immediate success. Hydrox was so successful that in 1912 the much larger National Biscuit Company (Nabisco) starting making Oreos, a copycat of Hydrox. Oreos quickly began outselling Hydrox. In 1999, Sunshine stopped making Hydrox cookies after the company was purchased by Keebler. Hydrox cookies looked like Oreos, but they didn’t taste the same. Hydrox cookies were not as sweet as Oreos. I think that is because Hydrox cookies were made with sugar, and Oreos were and are made with corn syrup.  Hydrox cookies are back on the market, but they can be very hard to find in stores or online. Hydrox cookies are still made with real sugar and contain no corn syrup.

Jews & Hydrox. When I was a kid, Jews who kept kosher ate Hydrox cookies, never Oreos. Oreos were made with lard, and therefore, were not kosher. Hydrox cookies were always made with vegetable oil and were always kosher.  In the 1990s, American consumers began shifting away from products made with lard as part of a general interest in eating healthier food. As a result, many products, like Bisquick, replaced the lard in their products with vegetable oil. In 1997, Nabisco stopped putting lard in Oreos and replaced it with vegetable oil as well. As a result, Oreos are now kosher.

Kosher Hot Dogs. Surprisingly, the great majority of American buyers of kosher foods are Christians. A lot of people will pay extra for kosher certified processed foods because they know that if there is a kosher seal on a product, that means that it doesn’t contain pig snouts, mechanically separated cow butts, or a long list of other unappetizing animal parts and also that a rabbi is regularly inspecting the factory looking for unsanitary conditions, and inspecting it more frequently than government food inspectors. I sometimes see 1 pound packages of hot dogs at dollar stores and wonder: ‘What are all-meat hot dogs that sell for $1.00 a pound made out of?’ Perhaps it is best not to think too much about such questions. You sure can’t buy kosher hot dogs for $1.00 a pound!

Donald Trump vs. Oreos. President Trump has urged Americans to boycott products that used to be made in the U.S. but that are now made in Mexico. In 2015, Nabisco moved the production of Oreos from Chicago to Mexico. Then-candidate Trump said: “I’m never eating another Oreo again!” and told his supporters to boycott Oreos as well. Donald Trump talked about Oreos frequently during the presidential campaign. Hydrox cookies were always made in the U.S., and they still are. So what do you think?  Will eating Hydrox cookies ‘make America great again’?

DEFECTIVE SMOKE ALARMS.

If you have a defective smoke alarm, contact me, and I will replace it. Do not try to open it up the smoke alarm and replace the batteries yourself. Smoke detectors with replaceable batteries are now illegal in California. The batteries inside the smoke alarms in your apartment are in a sealed chamber and cannot be replaced or removed without damaging or destroying the smoke alarm. About nuisance false alarms…..If you have a smoke alarm in or near your kitchen that goes off when you are cooking, let me know about it. I may be able to change the alarm with a different type of smoke alarm, a photoelectric smoke alarm. This type of smoke alarm is less likely to go off when you are frying onions or broiling a steak.

MARYLAND, MY MARYLAND. The worst state song in the U.S.

‘Maryland, My Maryland’ is the official state song of Maryland. The tune is that of ‘O Tannenbaum’ (O Christmas Tree). The lyrics are just nasty Confederate propaganda. The song was written in 1861 by a Maryland native serving in the Confederate navy. Maryland was a border state, that is, a slave state that stayed in the Union. Maryland never joined the Confederacy. The majority of people in Maryland were Unionists. About 75% of Marylanders who fought in the Civil War fought for the North. The other 25% fought for the South. When I was a kid growing up in Baltimore, I was sometimes required to sing “Maryland, My Maryland”, but I never liked it. I was never sympathetic to the Confederacy. Most people in Maryland have never actually read or thought about the words to this song, but they should! ‘Maryland, My Maryland’ refers to Abraham Lincoln as a despot, a tyrant, and ‘the vandal’, which seemed odd to me since Maryland was a Union state.  However, the nastiest line in this song refers to the United States Army as ‘Northern scum.’ Northern scum. Really? Northern scum? The United States Army is just Northern scum? I don’t think a line like that belongs in any state’s official state song. It’s an insult to everyone who has ever served in the United States Army. There have been many efforts to revise or replace this song, but all efforts have failed. In 2016, some Maryland state legislators tried to get just the words ‘Northern scum’ removed from the official version of ‘Maryland, My Maryland’, but that too was voted down. In 2017, the University of Maryland marching band announced that they will no longer play ‘Maryland, My Maryland’, something that I think was long, long overdue.

The official state song of California is ‘I Love You, California.’  I don’t think that even 1 in a 1,000 Californians has ever heard it sung, including me. Every state has an official state song except New Jersey. Many state songs have nothing to do specifically with that state and do not mention the state in their state song. For example, the official state song of Connecticut is ‘Yankee Doodle’ and in Kansas, it is ‘Home On The Range.’ My personal favorite official state song is ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’, the state song of West Virginia, written and sung by John Denver.

PRESIDENTIAL TRIVIA.

What U.S. President Ate Cottage Cheese Covered With Ketchup For Breakfast?
That was Richard Nixon. Richard Nixon did not have a sophisticated palette. Nixon usually started his day with a big plate of cottage cheese covered with Heinz ketchup. If for some reason he ate something else for breakfast, he would have cottage cheese over canned fruit for lunch. Here is a photo of Nixon’s last meal in the White House – a scoop of cottage cheese over canned pineapple slices with a glass of milk. It looks like a very sad meal to me. The White House has a well-paid celebrity chef, but many presidents preferred junk food to the high class stuff the White House chef is paid to prepare. Bill Clinton was famous for jogging to McDonalds in the early morning with Secret Service agents jogging behind him and then loading up on Sausage McMuffins. George H.W. Bush was famous for his love of fried pork rinds. Sales of fried pork rinds skyrocketed during his presidency. Pig skinners ran out of inventory and had to import the stuff. Franklin Roosevelt’s favorite meal was a grilled cheese sandwich on white bread. Warren Harding served knockwurst, sauerkraut, and bootleg beer at White House dinners. He was president during Prohibition. Donald Trump’s favorite restaurants include McDonalds, KFC, and Wendy’s; although he doesn’t serve that kind of food to guests at the White House.

FREE LED LIGHT BULBS.

2 years ago, I replaced all the incandescent and CFL light bulbs in my rentals with LED bulbs. However, I may have missed a few. If you find an incandescent light bulb or a CFL light bulb in your unit, bring to me, and I will exchange it for an LED light bulb. LED light bulbs use 80% less electricity than incandescent bulbs. They use less electricity than  CFL light bulbs as well, and unlike CFL light bulbs, LED light bulbs contain no mercury. Burned out CFL bulbs are considered toxic waster; LED bulbs are not. If you have an LED light bulb that has burned out, I have replacement LED light bulbs in the chocolate room.

APPLIANCE LIGHT BULBS.

I also have appliance light bulbs in stock in the chocolate room. Never put a regular light bulb in a refrigerator, freezer, kitchen oven, or microwave oven. These appliances need appliance light bulbs, which are made to withstand both heat and cold.

SOLANO STROLL IS SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 10.

If you only go to one street festival this year, this is the one to go to! Solano Stroll is the largest street festival in the East Bay. Solano Stroll runs for 2 miles down Solano Avenue through Berkeley and Albany. Over 250,000 people come to Solano Stroll every year. There will be over 500 booths, including 100 individual craft makers, 50 food vendors, and entertainers at nearly every street corner. Solano Stroll opens with a parade that starts at 10AM. Admission is free. The Stroll runs from 10AM to 5PM. Finding parking near the Solano Stroll is virtually impossible unless you arrive early, but there is a free shuttle bus from the North Berkeley BART station to the Stroll.  Plus, AC Transit runs special buses down Marin Avenue, one block over from Solano Avenue to downtown Berkeley. There is also free monitored valet bicycle parking at the Stroll. For more information, go to: Solano Stroll.

THE TOUGHEST LANDLORD IN MARYLAND

Many states have strange landlord-tenant laws. For example, in Maine it is a crime to bite your landlord. This law just criminalizes biting your landlord, not kicking, stabbing, or punching him. (I wonder what incident led to the passage of this law.) In every state in the U.S., a landlord can evict a tenant for non-payment of rent. A landlord can also sue a former tenant for unpaid rent after the tenant has moved out. However, in my home state of Maryland and a few other states, landlords and real estate investors can also have former tenants arrested and sent to prison for non-payment of rent. (Sounds medieval, doesn’t it?)

As Robert Reich recently wrote: “Jared Kushner’s real estate company uses arrest warrants to collect debts owed by low-income tenants. In recent years, the firm has sought 105 warrants for former tenants in Maryland, more than any other landlord in the state, according to the Baltimore Sun. The debts average less than $5,000, but Kushner tacks on thousands of dollars in legal fees. In some cases, people aren’t even aware they owe Kushner money because his company purchased the debt from a previous owner. When a tenant fails to pay, the company seeks an arrest warrant in a process known as ‘body attachment.’ This predatory practice can result in jail time. Kushner owns 9,000 properties in Maryland, which turn a $30 million annual profit. Since 2015, the company also received $6.1 million in rental subsidies from the federal government.”

Baltimore Sun Article on Kushner.  Donald Trump also uses this same practice in his business, having people arrested and sent to jail for non-payment of rent.

The penalties for non-payment of rent have been much harsher at various times in history. For example, in ancient Rome, a landlord could have a tenant sold into slavery to recover unpaid rent. Incredibly, there are some places in Asia where this practice is still going on. In medieval England, if a serf’s house burned down, he was still obligated to pay his landlord the same amount of rent, and if he refused to pay the rent or ran away, he could be hanged. Now just in case you were wondering….In California, you cannot be arrested, sent to jail, hanged, or sold into slavery for non-payment of rent. However, you can go to jail in California for biting your landlord. That’s assault.

 

WATERGATE.

Most Americans are too young to remember Watergate, but I remember it well. Watergate dominated the news for 2 years. As Richard Nixon became more and more entangled in legal troubles, he fell back on 3 defense arguments, which he repeated constantly. These arguments were:

1. I am the victim of a witch hunt. (Nixon actually did use the term ‘witch hunt’ to describe the Watergate investigation.)
2. The liberal press is trying to destroy me, led by the Washington Post and the New York Times.
3. I am not a crook. The real criminals are the leakers. I have ordered my attorney general to find and prosecute the leakers.

Does this sound vaguely familiar?

MARTHA MITCHELL. About the leakers…..President Nixon ordered his attorney-general, John Mitchell to find and silence the leakers, which he was never able to do. The problem was that there were just too many leakers. It wasn’t just ‘Deep Throat’ who was leaking White House secrets. An even bigger leaker was Martha Mitchell, the wife of the attorney-general. Martha Mitchell was an alcoholic, and when she got drunk, she would call reporters in the middle of the night and tell them embarrassing White House secrets. She did this quite frequently. Reporters looked forward to getting phone calls from Martha Mitchell because she always gave them headline stories. White House reporters called Martha Mitchell ‘the mouth of the South.’ She was from Georgia. John Mitchell knew his wife was making these phone calls, but he was unable to stop her. Martha Mitchell’s midnight phone calls had a huge impact on the Watergate investigation. After he resigned as president, Richard Nixon told David Frost in a TV interview that “without Martha Mitchell, there would have been no Watergate.”

The Martha Mitchell Effect. There is now a widely-used psychiatric term based on Martha Mitchell. The Martha Mitchell Effect refers to a situation in which a psychiatrist mistakenly concludes that an alcoholic patient is delusional because the patient is making bizarre or extraordinary claims, claims that turn out to be true. John Mitchell had psychiatrists examine his wife, hoping to discredit and silence her. The psychiatrists he hired concluded that Martha Mitchell was delusional because her Watergate conspiracy stories sounded unbelievable; however, it turned out that she was telling the truth! John Mitchell was ultimately disbarred and went to prison for his involvement in the Watergate scandal. Much of the evidence against him came from his wife’s drunken midnight phone calls to reporters. (Yes, that really happened!)

​NEW IN THE CHOCOLATE ROOM.

BLUEBERRY MUFFIN MIX. A jar of my blueberry muffin mix makes 12 – 2″ blueberry muffins or 6 – 4″ muffins. Everything is in the jar, including the blueberries! You just add water. Have you ever read the ingredients on supermarket blueberry products? Most contain no blueberries at all! Pillsbury’s Blueberry Muffin Mix says on the front of the package ‘imitation blueberries, artificially flavored.’ I don’t know what their imitation blueberries are made out of. The ingredients list on the back of the package contains a long list of chemicals. I don’t know what these chemicals are or what they do, but there are no blueberries on the list. Smucker’s Blueberry Waffles contain ‘flavored blueberry bits’, but blueberries are definitely not one of the ingredients in Smucker’s ‘flavored blueberry bits.’ Other products I found at Safeway that contain no blueberries: Krusteaz Blueberry Pancake Mix, Kellogg’s Blueberry Cereal Bars, and Jiffy Blueberry Muffin Mix. Some packages of Betty Crocker’s Blueberry Muffin Mix did contain blueberries, but other did not. You have to read the ingredients label with that brand. Safeway also had blueberry pies, blueberry tarts, and blueberry yogurt with no blueberries in them. All of these products had pictures of the product on the front of the package, and you can clearly see what appear to be real blueberries. Look at the picture below of Krusteaz Blueberry Pancake Mix. They certainly look like real blueberries, don’t they? I understand why food processors use imitation blueberries. Real blueberries are expensive. Fake blueberries are cheap. Duh. My blueberry muffin mix contains real blueberries from Quebec. No fake blueberries. No imitation blueberry flavor. No blue food color. The blueberries from Quebec tasted the best of all the ones I sampled. Why not give it a try?

 

‘YOUR CALL IS VERY IMPORTANT TO US.’

I find it enormously frustrating, as you probably do too, when I call a company and want to speak to a real person abut instead get a robotic voice that cannot solve my problem or answer my question, but will not allow me to speak to a real person. There are some things you can do about this. First, try the 2 easy things first. First, say the words ‘customer service’ or ‘operator’, perhaps repeatedly. That sometimes works. Second, punch ‘0’ on your keypad. That sometimes works too. If those things don’t work, go to Plan B. There are several web sites that tell you the phone numbers at companies that go directly to a live person, bypassing the robot. The 2 biggies in this field are Get A Human and Dial A Human. Neither web site charges a fee or requires you to set up an account with them. Both also have free apps for Android and iPhone users.

I am not sure what is the most annoying thing that robotic voices tell me when I call a business. Here are my top contenders.

‘Your call is very important to us.’ If my call was really very important to you, then you would have a real live person would answer my call instead of a robot, and your robot would allow me to speak to a real person upon my request.

‘Please listen carefully as our menu options have changed.’ Nobody remembers or writes down what your menu options were the last time they called, so why are you telling me this?

‘We are now experiencing unusually heavy call volume.’ There are companies that always say this whenever I call them. How can they be having unusually heavy call volume all the time?

‘Would you care to answer a brief survey after you finish your call?’ The only people who answer ‘Yes’ to this question are people who want to complain – and they are complaining to a robot.

‘We are open from 9AM to 5PM. For your convenience, we are now closed.’ For my convenience you are now closed? For MY convenience you are closed? Obviously, it would be more convenient for me if you were open and answering my phone call!