Wednesday, February 11, 2015



My Chicago landlord was very meticulous, a devout fundamentalist Jew who adhered to very strict interpretations of Scriptural strictures, particularly those applying to the Sabbath, that period of time between Friday's and Saturday's sunsets. He believed, for example, that the Fourth Commandment forbade the flipping of electrical switches on Saturday morning, so he installed a timing system that started his coffee maker and toaster automatically. He would like the new high-tech urinal that flushes automatically when you step away from it. He let me have a room on the top floor of his three-story eleven-bedroom house in exchange for minor janitorial and maintenance work. He also owned a hotel in the city's poorest white neighborhood, whose tenants, three or four in some rooms, were below-minimum-wage laborers who got paid on Friday night, when the rent was due. He believed it would be sinful for him to collect those rents at that time, so he asked me to be his "Sabbath goy," a "non-believer" who performs necessary, forbidden tasks for Jews. Being desperately poor at the time, I did, to my everlasting shame, agree. I lasted one day. I still cringe at the memory of the stench, filth, and misery of that building. Few of my readers can imagine the horror of it, most won't believe it: holes in ceilings in which rats could be heard and seen; holes in floors through which rooms below were visible; endless parades of cockroaches; yards of exposed uninsulated wiring; broken plumbing with faucets endlessly dripping, and rusty water running down walls; mildewed drapes and carpeting; etcetera ad nauseam. But, Max Vetch very carefully taught me the procedure for bribing building inspectors, to avoid condemnation. As I said, he was very meticulous.

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