San Francisco recently passed a law banning cashless stores. From now on, Amazon To Go stores will have to accept cash. The argument for this law is that poor people don’t have credit cards or cell phones and so cannot shop in these stores. The argument for these stores is that cashless stores can charge lower prices because they have no cashiers and that they safer places to work for the employees, especially at night, because these places all have surveillance cameras and there is no cash to rob. Oakland is in the process of passing a similar law. I have been wondering if Berkeley is going to pass a law like this next. There are no cashless stores in Berkeley, but that probably won’t figure into the debate at the city council on this. Berkeley has lots of laws regulating businesses that don’t exist in Berkeley, like gun stores and slaughterhouses.
Cashless Society. Personally, I think banning cashless stores is just fighting the inevitable. Industrialized nations everywhere are moving to cashless economies, and that has been going on for generations. 100 years ago, there were no credit cards, and most people didn’t have checkbooks. When I first became a landlord, a lot of tenants paid their rent in cash. Now, every landlord I know has a clause in his leases requiring tenants to pay their rent by check, money order, or electronic transfer. There are lots of things that used to require cash but don’t anymore, like taxicabs and parking meters. I know several people who keep no cash in their wallets and not because they are poor. Although the San Francisco bay area is the world center of high technology business, we seem to elect a lot of Luddites here, politicians who are hostile to and fight new technology, the very businesses that have made them and their cities rich.
‘The Finland Hoax’ I recently met a young man at a barbecue who said he wanted to talk to me privately. He said that he heard that I am a Berkeley landlord and told me that he is looking for an apartment for the Fall. After we talked for a while, I asked him about his t-shirt which said: ‘Finland Is A Hoax.’ I said: “What does that mean?” He said: “Finland doesn’t exist. It’s a hoax.” I was confused. I have heard a lot of conspiracy theories before, I had not heard this one. I told this guy that I know people who have been to Finland. He said that those people were probably ‘part of the Finland hoax.’ After the barbecue, I checked out his story on Google. It seems that a lot of people believe that Finland doesn’t exist. There are even maps on Google and Wikipedia of the Baltic without Finland. These maps show the area between Sweden and Russia as just open sea. I never argue with people who are into conspiracy theories. If you tell them that they are wrong, they assume that means that you are part of the conspiracy, and then they become suspicious, hostile, and sometimes even violent. The conspiracy theory that I have heard most often in my life is that the Holocaust is a hoax concocted by Jews in order to get sympathy and support for the state of Israel. I told this guy that I don’t have any vacancies coming up, which is true.
Berkeley and Finland. Did you know that at one time, Berkeley had a large Finnish population? Beginning around 1900, hundreds of Finns settled in the Ocean View section of west Berkeley, which in the 1920s was known as ‘Finntown.’ The Finnish stores, saloons, and restaurants that used to dot west Berkeley are now all gone, but there are several Lutheran churches in Ocean View that were built by Finnish immigrants and that are still in use. In addition, there are 2 Finn halls in west Berkeley. One hall was built by Finnish communists. The other was built by Finnish anti-communists. Both halls are also still in use. Some businesses in west Berkeley that were started by Finnish immigrants are still operating, like Walter Mork Sheet Metal. When I first came to Berkeley, the Berkeley Adult School was still giving Finnish language courses, but that’s gone now too.
Volodymyr Zelensky was just elected president of Ukraine. He is not a politician and has never held political office before. He is a Jewish comedian. He is famous in Ukraine for playing the role of a fictional president of Ukraine in a TV series. When I heard that Zelensky was elected president of Ukraine, and in a landslide, I wondered what my grandparents, Bores and Pauline Tarses would have thought of this. My grandparents left Odessa in 1905 heading for the United States. Odessa is a major city in Ukraine on the Black Sea. My grandparents had thought about moving to the United States for a long time, but 2 things happened in 1905 that pushed them into doing it. First, my grandfather was drafted into the czar’s army – again – and was ordered to go to Siberia to fight the Japanese. Russia was at war with Japan. Second, there was the pogrom. In 1905, there was a pogrom in Odessa that resulted in thousands of Jews being beaten, stabbed, and shot in the streets. The police participated in these attacks and gave weapons to the mob. Below is a photo from the 1905 Odessa pogrom. It is a photo of Jews looking over the bodies of murdered Jews, trying to find their relatives so they could bury them. You can find other photos of the 1905 Odessa pogrom on Google Images. You will notice that in this photo all of the dead Jews are barefoot. During pogroms, it was normal for the czar’s police to allow the murderers of Jews to strip their victim’s corpses of all their valuables. Odessa was not the only city in Ukraine where pogroms took place. They took place all over Ukraine, and they went on for centuries. So – I wonder – what would my grandparents have thought of a Jewish comedian being elected president of Ukraine and getting 75% of the votes? I don’t think they would have believed it possible.
March, I wrote about a tenant of mine who complained about a bad smell
in her dishwasher, and when I went over to her apartment to investigate,
I discovered that she had been cooking fish in her dishwasher. I later
found out that she was also making grilled cheese sandwiches with a
clothes iron. I asked her if her stove was working OK, and she said it
was, but she said she didn’t like to cook food on the stove. She
preferred to cook food with household appliances, but I never found out
why. So – maybe it is time that I listed some of the things that people
put in their dishwashers but shouldn’t.
Food. Don’t cook
food in your dishwasher. There are a lot of recipes online for food you
can cook in a dishwasher, but you can get sick eating food that you
cooked in a dishwasher. The temperature inside a dishwasher may not get
hot enough to kill microorganisms like salmonella. Use your stove to
cook food. Sharp knives. Always hand wash sharp knives, cheese
graters, slicers, and anything else that has an edge to it. They can
become dull or nicked in your dishwasher. Wooden items. Wood
salad bowls, cutting boards, and utensils with wooden handles should be
hand washed. The wood can crack and warp in a dishwasher. Cast-iron cookware. Washing
cast-iron cookware in a dishwasher strips off the baked-on oil and
seasoning that gives cast-iron cookware a slick surface and prevents
rusting and food from sticking. Computer keyboards. Yes, it is
hard to clean a computer keyboard, but if you put in your dishwasher,
water will get inside the keyboard and probably ruin it. Footwear.
It may seem like the easiest way to clean waterproof footwear like
Crocs and flip-flops is by putting them in the dishwasher, but the heat
in your dishwasher can warp and shrink footwear and make it brittle. Delicate clothing. Some
clothing items, like wool sweaters, silk scarves, and bras say on them
that you shouldn’t put them in a washing machine or clothes dryer. That
doesn’t mean that is safe to put them in a dishwasher instead. Insulated
mugs. Water and heat can damage the vacuum seal between the inside and
outside layers of the mug. Once the vacuum seal is broken and water gets
inside, the mug will permanently lose its ability to retain heat or
cold. Dishwashing liquid. Never put dishwashing liquid in a
dishwasher! Only use dishwasher detergent. Dishwashing liquid is
designed to make lots of bubbles. Dishwasher detergent is not. If you
put dishwashing liquid in your dishwasher, your kitchen could be flooded
with bubbles. Even if that doesn’t happen, your dishes will likely be
left covered with a sticky soapy film. Non-stick pans. Washing non-stick cookware in your dishwasher will shorten the life of the non-stick coating. Electric appliances. (This is the most dangerous!)
A lot of people put small electric appliances in their dishwashers,
things like coffee makers, blenders, hair dryers, and popcorn makers.
You should never use an electric appliance that has been in a
dishwasher. Toss it out! Put it in your garbage can before you get
What was the strangest thing that a tenant of mine
put in his dishwasher? Well, I once had a tenant who put an expensive
North Face tent in his dishwasher. The heat from the dishwasher shrank
the fabric so much that it would no longer fit on the tent poles. He
also put his hiking boots in the dishwasher. They were also ruined. He
expected me to buy him a new tent and hiking boots. Predictably, he
blamed the dishwasher. I refused to pay him, which surprised him, but
not his roommates.
Once a year, I conduct a safety inspection of my Berkeley rentals and fill out a form, Schedule A, as required by the city of Berkeley. Below is an article that I recently wrote for the Berkeley landlord association newsletter regarding this form:
I fill out the Berkeley Rental Housing Safety Inspection Program
Schedule A, I would like to answer several questions with: “I don’t
know. In order to answer this question, I would need the ability to see through walls, and I can’t do that.” There are a number of questions on Schedule A like that. For example, one question asks landlords if the wiring inside the walls of an apartment is greater (thicker) than 14 gauge. Well, undersized wiring is dangerous, but without the ability to see through walls, I have no way of knowing if there are undersized wires inside the walls of my rentals. I have good vision, but I can’t through walls. There are several other questions on this form like that.
There is a question in the plumbing section that asks landlords if
there are any vent pipes that terminate inside the walls of an
apartment. Well, vent pipes that terminate inside walls is quite common in older buildings, and it can be dangerous, but without the ability to see through walls, I have no way of knowing for sure where the vent pipes go. I could guess, but the city isn’t asking me for my best guess. This
form gives landlords only 2 ways of answering questions. A landlord can
answer the questions with either ‘verified’ or ‘not applicable.’ There
is no place on this form for landlords to answer questions with ‘don’t
know’ or ‘unable to determine.’ Now before you laugh at this, remember –
we landlords have to answer these questions and sign this form under penalty of perjury!
I attended the meetings at which this form was originally put together,
and I raised this issue then, but I was ignored. I keep hoping that
someday the city of Berkeley will revise this form and eliminate
questions that require landlords to have x-ray vision in order to answer
them, but that never happens. It never seems to occur to the people who
run this program that landlords cannot see through walls like Superman.
It is dangerous to put a regular light bulb in a refrigerator, freezer, kitchen oven, microwave oven, or stove exhaust hood. All of these appliances need appliance light bulbs. Putting a regular light bulb in an oven is especially dangerous. It can start a fire in your kitchen or can give you an electric shock by touching the stove. As I said, putting regular light bulbs in appliances that get hot or cold is dangerous. Appliance light bulbs are designed to withstand both high and low temperatures and have rugged filaments designed to resist vibration, like the vibration created by opening or closing a refrigerator door. If you have a burned out appliance light bulb or if the bulb is just missing, come over to my chocolate room and get a replacement. I always have appliance light bulbs in stock, and they are free. Please, do not bring me burned out or broken light bulbs. There is nothing I can do with them. Ace Hardware and Home Depot stores will accept used light bulbs for recycling.
DON’T TAKE IN STREET FURNITURE! At the end of the school year in Berkeley and other college towns, a lot of furniture is dumped on streets, sidewalks, and lawns around the city. Never, never take street furniture into your home. That is the principle way that people get bedbugs, fleas, ticks, lice, and mold in their homes. For the same reason, never take in furniture from basements, outdoor sheds, unknown sources, or garages. Free furniture that you find on the street is not a bargain!
Hebrew tattoos have become quite popular. I have seen several of them here in Berkeley. The problem is that very, very few tattoo artists can actually read Hebrew. As a result, a high percentage of Hebrew tattoos have serious spelling mistakes in them. See the photo below. A Jew named Shmueli Newman was shopping at a Walmart store in Bentonville, Arkansas. He saw a Hebrew tattoo on a customer’s arm and asked him what it said. The man said that it said ‘strength’ in Hebrew. He said that he got the tattoo when he was in the army and that several other men in his unit got the same tattoo as well. Mr. Newman says that he didn’t have the heart to tell the man that the tattoo artist misspelled the Hebrew word for strength. The tattoo actually says ‘matzo.’
German’s chocolate was not invented in Germany or by Germans. In 1852, a man named Samuel German invented the first practical sweetened chocolate bar. Samuel German was employed by Baker’s Chocolate Company, America’s oldest chocolate company. Very little else is known about Samuel German. According to some accounts, he was an American baker, and according to other accounts, he was an Englishman who emigrated to the U.S. If you look at the package carefully (pictured below), you will see that the label doesn’t say ‘German Chocolate.’ It says ‘German’s Chocolate.’ Note the apostrophe and ‘s’ after the word ‘German.’ Before Samuel German’s invention, chocolate bars were unsweetened. Unsweetened chocolate bars are made for baking and beverages, not for eating. GERMAN CHOCOLATE CAKE ISN’T GERMAN EITHER. The recipe for this popular cake was invented by a woman in Texas named Mrs. George Clay. She worked for the Baker Chocolate Company, which makes German’s chocolate. Her recipe first appeared in print in a Dallas newspaper in 1957. She called her dessert ‘German’s chocolate cake’ because German’s chocolate is the principle ingredient. The cake was an immediate hit. The recipe was reprinted in newspapers all over the United States. Within 1 year, sales of German’s chocolate shot up by over 70%. Over time, most magazines and cookbooks dropped the apostrophe and ‘s’ after ‘German’ when reprinting the recipe. Today, most cookbooks and bakeries just call it German chocolate cake. It is now widely believed all over the world that German chocolate cake is a traditional German dessert, which it is not. Ironically, many restaurants in Germany now sell German chocolate cake because American tourists expect and demand it. Many German restaurants in the U.S. also serve German chocolate cake for the same reason. Several U.S. presidents have served German chocolate cake at state dinners for German politicians in the mistaken belief that German chocolate cake is a German dessert. The first U.S. president to do this was Lyndon Johnson, who served German chocolate cake at a state dinner to honor German chancellor Ludwig Erhard in 1963. Erhard had never seen German chocolate cake before and asked what it was. The most recent U.S. president to serve German chocolate cake to honor a German statesman was Barrack Obama. I don’t know if Donald Trump has ever served German chocolate cake at the White House. It is widely known that he has a sweet tooth. Trump’s favorite candies are Starburst and See’s chocolates. Incidentally, See’s gets their chocolate from the same place I do – the Guittard Chocolate Company. And remember, ‘National German Chocolate Cake Day’ is June 11.
My favorite real German dessert is apple walnut strudel. My Aunt Johanna used to make it for me when I was a boy. First, she selected the apples. She was fussy about that. She would point out to me at the produce store which apples were good for strudel and which were no good. Some types of apples turn to mush when you bake them. Then she made the puff pastry by rolling out dough until it was as thin as a sheet of paper. The dough covered a sheet of plywood that she kept in her kitchen. Then she folded the dough over and over with butter between the layers. It was a big job. A few minutes after Aunt Johanna put her strudel in the oven, the odor of the apples, cinnamon, sugar, and butter all caramelizing together filled her apartment. It could make a dead man salivate. I have never had strudel anywhere as good as Aunt Johanna’s. Most commercial bakeries in the U.S. make apple strudel with canned apple pie filling, which is just awful. Aunt Johanna was one of my elderly relatives who staunchly denied being German, even though she spoke with a German accent that was thicker than molasses in January. She also spoke in the imperative. They say that Italian is the language of love, but German is the language for giving commands. Aunt Johanna would say things like: “Mark, come into the kitchen. You eat a piece of strudel, and you will like the strudel.”
Today, it is easy to make great apple strudel at home!
The time-consuming part of the job is making the puff pastry, but now,
really good frozen puff pastry dough is available nationally. It wasn’t
available in my Aunt Johanna’s time. I recommend
Trader Joe’s all butter puff pastry or Dufour puff pastry. I
don’t recommend Pepperidge Farms puff pastry, which unfortunately is
the only brand that most
supermarkets carry. It contains no butter and is made with palm oil and
corn syrup. Yuck. Pepperidge Farms puff pastry looks buttery, but that
is because there’s yellow food coloring in it. Selecting the right kind
of apples is still very important. My first choice is Granny Smith. They
retain some firmness when baked, and they are tart, which offsets the
sugar in the strudel. If you want a somewhat sweeter apple that bakes
well, try Golden Delicious. Strudel doesn’t have to be made with apples.
It can be made with other kinds of fruit as well, including pears,
cherries, and blueberries. Whatever kind of fruit you use, always make
sure that the fruit is fresh and top quality.
If you have a lease with me that expires on May 31, you need to take action soon. Your lease requires you to give me written notice by April 1 whether you are leaving or staying for another year. (An email is not a written notice.) If some of you are leaving but some of you are staying, you need to find new roommates right away. The tenants who be replacing the ones who are leaving need to fill out application forms, meet with everyone in your group who is staying, be interviewed by me, I need to run credit checks, prepare a new lease and get it signed by everyone, and get checks – all by April 1. That is why I said that whether you are staying or leaving, you need to take some action soon. If you are leaving, but some of your roommates are staying, this concerns you too. You are co-tenants. You need to make sure that the people who are staying have new co-tenants and a new lease with me by April 1. Otherwise, you could be on the hook for the rent after you have moved out.