by Mark Tarses

April, 2008


All of my rental units have free-operation washing machines and gas clothes dryers. Why gas? Although a gas dryer costs more than an electric dryer to purchase and install, a gas dryer costs much less to operate. According to the California Energy Commission, it currently costs 40 cents to dry an average load of clothes using electricity vs. 20 cents using gas. However, these figures assume that you empty the lint filter before every load, and many people don't. Drying clothes with a filter full of lint can take twice as long and cost twice as much as drying clothes with a clean filter.


I am asked that question by somebody at least once every month. It sounds like a good idea. High quality, handmade chocolate is very 'in' right now, people in Berkeley love specialty food stores, and there isn't a chocolate store anywhere in Berkeley or Oakland where you can watch the stuff being made. Well yes, I have considered it, but in order for a chocolate store to be successful, I would have to put in far more time than I have available. And even if I had the time, I doubt that such a store would be profitable. For one thing, commercial rent in Berkeley is very high. Consider the vacant photo kiosk at the corner of Ashby and Telegraph Avenues. The rent is $4,500 a month on a triple net lease. That means that in addition to the rent, the tenant has to pay the property tax, insurance, building maintenance costs, and utilities; making the total rent of this photo kiosk about $7,000 a month. The building contains 650 square feet and is in poor condition. It is much too small for a chocolate shop where the stuff is made on the premises. The vacant Mrs. Field's cookie store on Telegraph Avenue at Channing is a little bigger, but the rent here is also $4,500 a month on a triple net lease. I would have to make and sell a tremendous amount of chocolate every month just to cover that much rent.


April 20. Turner Classic Movie Channel. (No commercial interruptions.) Most Americans have never seen a movie made in Nazi Germany. You may have wondered what they were like. Well, you won't find a better movie from that period than Munchhausen. This movie was made in 1943. Even though the Nazi empire was beginning to collapse, and resources were becoming scarce, Hitler ordered the production of a series of lavish big-budget films. Hitler and propaganda minister Goebbels loved movies like this. Goebbels' favorite movie was "The Wizard of Oz," and Hitler's favorite movie was "Gone With the Wind." Beautiful fantasy films like Munchhausen helped take people's minds off the depressing war news and gave them the feeling that everything was under control. This movie was filmed in glorious Agfacolor, which was as good as Technicolor. Munchhausen is played by Hans Albers, who kept a Jewish girlfriend safely in London until the war was over. I have an uncensored copy of this movie. I don't know whether they are going to show it uncensored on TV. One scene takes place in a Turkish harem, filled with blond topless harem girls.

The one thing that I don't like about this movie is that it reflects Hitler's low opinion of women. As soon as Hitler came to power, he barred women from a long list of government jobs. He even barred women from serving on juries. Hitler believed that the job of women was to: provide sex, produce babies, and maintain the home - and nothing else. Even during the war, Hitler prohibited German women from working at industrial jobs. There was no German equivalent of 'Rosie the Riveter.' It was a good thing for us that Hitler felt this way, since Hitler's many prejudices contributed greatly to his defeat.

FLAP MEAT. An old restaurant secret.

Barbecue season has begun, and frankly, I am a unrepentant carnivore. I used to manage restaurants, and one of the first things you learn in restaurant management is how to use cheap cuts of meat. Its not hard to make a $20 a pound fillet mignon come out tender and tasty, but how do you get a $5 a pound steak to come out tender and tasty? Experienced professional cooks all have their favorite secret cuts of of beef, cuts you have never heard of, and that they don't talk about. Flap meat is one of those secret cuts. Flap meat is boneless; it has very little fat, good flavor and texture, and barbecues well. Flap meat benefits from marinating and should be cooked slowly. Most importantly, it has to be sliced thin and against the grain, like corned beef. The main reason flap meat isn't sold in most supermarkets is the name. "Flap meat" doesn't sound very appetizing. In fact, it sounds awful! I admit it. You can buy flap meat at Costco and Ranch 99. Costco calls it "flap meat steak" to make it sound a little more appealing. Flap meat is very popular in Latin America and France, but it never caught on in America. Niman Ranch markets flap meat using its French name: bavette steak. That seems to make a big difference. Bavette steak sells for $15 a pound at Berkeley butcher shops, while flap meat sells for under $5 a pound. They are identical, except for the name. That really isn't surprising. A lot of restaurants feel they have a right to double their prices when they change the name of something on the menu from English to French. A coffee shop on Solano Avenue that used to sell chocolate cake for $3 a slice now sells "g‰teau de chocolat" for $6 a slice. A number of upscale restaurants in Berkeley serve flap meat. At Eccolo on Fourth Street, they serve "Grilled Bavette Steak" for $22, a la carte. It is very good, but do you suppose they could get $22 if they called it "flap meat"?

This reminds me of rapeseed oil. Rapeseed oil is a light edible oil produced mainly in western Canada. It didn't sell very well until the mid-1970s due to the name. How do you get housewives to buy something called "rapeseed oil"? Things changed when some bright boys in the Canadian government renamed the product "canola oil." Then sales took off, and today, canola oil is one of the best selling vegetable oils in the world.


I have been renting apartments in Berkeley and Oakland for over 35 years. When people hear that, they sometimes ask me: "What was the worst application you ever received?" Frankly, there is no answer to that question. I have received so many bad applications that it is impossible to pick just one and declare it to be the worst ever. Here is one bad application that sticks in my memory.

The Kitchen Crier. In 1999, I rented a one bedroom apartment on McAuley Street in Oakland. Over 50 people came to my one and only showing, and 20 of them turned in applications. That wasn't unusual in 1999. It was the height of the dot-com boom. Besides, Lower Rockridge is a very desirable neighborhood, and this apartment has some nice amenities, including a washing machine and dryer in the kitchen. At the end of the showing, I sat down on the living room couch to review the applications I received. I thought I was alone until I heard the sound of someone crying. I got up to investigate. To my surprise, I found a young woman sitting at the kitchen table, stooped over, crying, and holding a handkerchief over her eyes. There was a partially filled out rental application form on the table in front of her. I said: "Are you OK?" She nodded her head and said "Yes," so I went back to the living room. After a while, she came out of the kitchen. She look around the living room, moaned, and burst into tears again. I said: "Is there anything I can do?" She shook her head and said: "No. Its just that my mother warned me that I'd wind up in a place like this, but I didn't believe her." Then she handed me her rental application, walked out, and drove away - still crying. She did not get the apartment.


Chocolate Chip Blondie Mix. This mix has received good reviews from everyone who has tried it. You bake it in an 8"x8" square pan. It is like a a Toll House cookie in bar form. Made with organic unbleached flour, semisweet chocolate, cane sugar, & molasses.


Due to the weakness of the U.S. dollar, many prestigious American chocolate companies are being bought by foreigners. The latest to go is Godiva, which was just bought by Ulker Group, a Turkish cookie and biscuit manufacturer for $850 million.


LAUNDRY DETERGENT. I have a friend who could not resist a sale on laundry detergent. She kept buying the stuff even after she had accumulated a lifetime supply. When her kitchen cabinets and closets were full of detergent, she put risers on the legs of her bed so she could store more detergent underneath. It seemed like OCD to me (obsessive compulsive disorder.) When she moved to a retirement home, she couldn't take all her detergent with her, so she gave most of it away to her friends. I took 18 containers, which was all that I could fit in the trunk of my car. I suspect this may be a common form of OCD because I know several other people with enormous quantities of laundry detergent in their homes. If you want some free laundry detergent, just come on over and pick it up.

Mark Tarses

Back to Information for Tenants