by Don Kazak

Page 4: A whack on the head

Publication Date: Wednesday May 31, 1995

Page 4: A whack on the head

I got a call a few weeks ago from an East Palo Alto woman who said she was having trouble with a meddlesome tenant who rented a studio apartment in her University Avenue house. The woman, Rita Bauer, had had difficulties with the tenant for some time, she said, everything from leaving a gate open to creating disturbances.

Bauer said she called the city's rent stabilization program to ask for advice and called the police "four or five times" because of disturbances and difficulties.

I gave her the telephone number of a mediation service in East Palo Alto and then went away for a week on a spring vacation.

When I got back, I gave Bauer a call.

She told me that she finally had to evict her troublesome tenant. She got some help from a lawyer and a judge, she said.

"I finally got him out," Bauer said. "I think he was storing drugs in the wall." She was a referring to a hole in one wall of the apartment she believed her tenant had made. People had been coming over at all hours, Bauer said, leading her to believe that her tenant was dealing drugs.

"He damaged the apartment," Bauer said. "He's gone, but he left stuff here."

But the story of Bauer and her troublesome tenant did not end quietly. The police had to be called in.

By the tenant.

The tenant, a 47-year-old man, visited the police station May 7 to file a complaint against Bauer.

He claims she knocked on his door at 8 a.m. May 5 and accused him of leaving a gate open.

The tenant said that Bauer then whacked him on his head. With her cane.

Rita Bauer is 83 years old.

"I can't walk and I can't stand," she said. "I walk with a walker most of the time."

Bauer said she had broken both her hips and her shoulder in earlier falls. "When I fall I'm like a turtle on its back," she said. "I can't get up."

She said her tenant had grabbed her arm and tried to spin her around. "He tried to push me down," she said. "So I whapped him with my cane. I hit him as hard as I could."

It should be noted that Bauer stands 5-2, while her former tenant is about 6-1. "I had to reach up to do it," she said.

Bauer, who is feisty and quick-thinking if not quick-footed, then paused. "I probably shouldn't have hit him," she admitted. "But at my age and in my condition, what was I to do?"

Still, she felt justified in hitting her tenant on his head with her cane.

"He had no business to spin me around to make me fall," she said. "You shouldn't manhandle an old lady. You don't know what she's going to do."

When the police came to investigate the scuffle, Bauer said they were laughing. The police report said the tenant did not exhibit any injuries, but complained of a headache and refused medical treatment.

Bauer will not be arrested, at least not for whacking her tenant with her cane. Sgt. Rod Norris and Police Chief Wesley Bowling both smiled and laughed when talking about Bauer and her dangerous cane.

East Palo Alto is a city that just a few years ago received national notoriety for having 42 murders in one year. Its police officers have gone from an overworked scramble to something more reasonable.

Violent crimes are down, children are playing in the streets again, and an act of violence is regarded there these days just like it is regarded anywhere else: Why did that happen?

So when an 83-year-old woman reacts to a larger and much stronger tenant who tries to push her around, and whacks him in the head, it's the kind of story that invariably makes people smile.

"Good for her," Bowling said.

The good news is that Bauer's tenant is gone and won't trouble her anymore. His name is listed in the police report, but we're not printing it here because we don't want to give him any reason to go back and give Bauer any more trouble.

On the other hand, she is pretty handy with that cane.

Don Kazak is a Weekly senior staff writer.

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