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Chapter Sixteen


There is an old saying that is a hybrid of English and Polish, one that most Poles learned during the communist era, even if they knew no other English:

Life is brutal and full of zasadzkas…and sometimes kopas w dupas.

This popularized phrase sums up the country’s deeply ingrained, destructively pessimistic philosophy that confronted me at every turn. Such a dark outlook on life is what Olga Tokarczuk had condemned in her New York Times op-ed.

Zasadzka (pronounced: Zah-sahd-skuh) means “trap” or “ambush.” The letter “s” is the usual plural suffix in English. However, normally the letter “i” depicts the plural form in Polish: zasadzki. Kopas w dupas means: “a kick in the ass.”

The ultimate zasadzka, among a plethora of others that conspired against me, was the court case over unpaid rent that dragged on from January of 2010 until December of 2011. Not once did my ghost Landlord make an appearance. Her eerie invisibility took another maddening turn, when I received a second frivolous eviction notice, once again long before the court case had been decided. This time, my Landlord had a doozy of a justification. She claimed that she urgently needed to begin restoration and that my restaurant inside of the tower just happened to be the small, inconvenient obstacle holding up the work. Never mind that her legal obligation was to restore the tower’s exterior and that mine was to restore the interior, under highly deceptive conditions. Apparently, it had been somehow irrelevant that both her sales contract and my lease stipulated that the building could only be utilized for commercial purposes as a food and beverage business.

As one lawyer said to me, “people were free to go anywhere during Communist times. Now they are free to construct and surround themselves with fences.”

The ghost's new apartment

The writing was on the wall, when her vision for the future became crystal clear in December of 2009. One month before I was served with the lawsuit, an architect showed up without notice, to take some measurements, for what, I had no idea. It was another secret kept from me: the building’s zoning had been changed to allow for residential quarters, which previously had been forbidden. One would think that someone would’ve at the very least sent the tenant a notice in the mail? The new architect must not have known my Landlord’s true intentions, because she voluntarily e-mailed me copies of her project revealing both the city’s and my Landlord’s covert ambitions, including the installation of what was obviously an apartment inside of the attic. All was becoming clear, for not only had I been repeatedly treated as a nuisance but the restaurant itself had become one, for in order to get to the attic, one had to pass by the kitchen and through the two dining rooms. Likewise, thanks to the Landlord’s gross negligence, there had been no halfway-visible access to the tower’s single entrance, other than by passing through the neighbor’s parking lot. That is, until he blocked it.

In other words, public barriers were replaced by private ones in the new era of private ownership.

Stunned, by the latest twist, I e-mailed my Landlord and requested a meeting. As usual, she was traveling. Once again, she played the extortion card by insisting that she would not meet with me unless I deposited all overdue rent payments into her bank account. I replied that this was an impossibility since her complete failure to maintain her real estate had, in effect, broken our new written agreement, ignored the demands made on her by the city, drove away both my customers and an invaluable new business investor after I had made major new investments in her property and left my business on the edge of declaring bankruptcy. Despite all of this, with a last gasp of hope I informed her that once again I had attracted an interested investor and that perhaps we could work things out.

Days later the court papers arrived in the mail.

A review in The New York Times of the 2013 Academy Award winning film “Ida,” which takes place in Poland during the early 1960’s, speaks of “when Poland’s communist government used judicial terror (among other methods) to consolidate its power and eliminate its enemies.” I learned that nothing had changed and that “enemies” could still be conveniently invented as needed.

Click here for Chapter Seventeen: Kangaroo Kombinować (Red Headed Justice)