The Sheeny Man

Sheeny man

In the 1950s, one could still see horse-drawn carts on the city streets. Some were the bread men, some were the ice men, some were the milk men, and some were the sheeny men. My sheeny man was Mr. Mintz, and his old horse was Annie.

I say he was my sheeny man because he was the only one I ever met or spoke with. Not too much speaking, of course, because I speak English and he spoke Yiddish. I worked on the weigh scale at a large scrap yard. Mr. Mintz came with Annie and the cart full of scrap about once a week.

It was not good scrap, in fact we’d really rather not have it. It usually consisted of old rusty bedsprings and tin oil cans. It cost more to have two men take it off the cart and throw it onto the scrap heap than it was worth. However, Mr. Mintz was a quiet, poor, religious man, so we accepted his scrap, doubled the weight and paid double the value.

One Friday afternoon, Mr. Mintz clopped through the scrap yard gate and positioned Annie so the wagon was on the scale. I weighed the wagon with the load and Mr. Mintz guided Annie to where two of the yard workers could drag the bedsprings, tin cans and rusty pieces of metal off of the cart and onto the scrap heap.

It was the end of my day at the yard. I weighed Mr. Mintz’s empty cart and subtracted the light weight from the loaded weight and paid for the difference. As usual, we cheated in Mr. Mintz’s favour and gave him double the value of his load. I realized that Mr. Mintz would be eager to get home before sundown, in time for the evening Sabbath prayers.

I left the office in time to see Annie and Mr. Mintz clopping along Carmody Street. I had always wondered what Mr. Mintz’s life might be like. Where does he keep his cart? Where does he keep Annie? On impulse, I decided to track Mr. Mintz to his lair. It was a mild evening, I was only 18, and Annie was slow. I could follow him on foot for as far as he was going.

I was surprised that it was barely six blocks to Mr. Mintz’s destination. At first, I was surprised that he went to Bellaire Boulevard, a wide residential street with large, elegant mansions on both sides. These mansions had long since ceased to be single family dwellings with servants. They are rooming houses, divided into small flats, but still, the boulevard is elegant, with old, large maple trees overhanging the street, casting cool shadows.

Annie crossed Bellaire and clopped past the street of mansions until she turned right into a back lane that ran behind the walled, mansion properties. Most of them had old sheds, garages, or parking areas accessible through the lane.

The horse stopped at a row of sheds, taller than the others around it. Mr. Mintz climbed down from the wagon and led Annie a bit farther on before he went to an overhead door in one of the sheds and had the horse back the wagon into the shed. With the wagon in the shed, and the horse outside, Mr. Mintz took the tack off of Annie and opened a swinging garage door to lead the horse into a spacious stall.

Mr. Mintz had seen me following him all along. He looked down the lane at me and waved me over. I stood near him as he saw to Annie’s bedding, grain and hay. She had an open window that looked out on the yard of the mansion beyond it. Mr. Mintz asked if I would like to see inside. Obviously, he perceived my fascination, and I jumped at the chance. He closed Annie’s shed and led me to a pedestrian doorway in the third shed.

One large room was neatly laid out and maintained. A small bathroom contained a toilet and old-fashioned bath tub on claw legs. A small kitchen area with a 4 element stove and small refrigerator covered a wall. A Formica counter carried a sink and dish drying rack, with a large window that looks out at the garden behind the mansion.

There was a full bookcase, but there was no television. An easy chair beside a reading lamp completed the room’s furnishings. I asked where he slept. He opened a door in the wall that faced Annie’s shed. There was a bed between Mr. Mintz’s shed and Annie’s shed. He said he liked to sleep close to her. Her body heat gave him comfort, and his presence gave Annie peace.

I walked back to my car, contemplating the life of Mr. Mintz, the Sheeny man. He was as happy and satisfied as anyone I ever met.

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