Only in Jerusalem: He lived for the Dead

Stu's presence made the Mr. T store in downtown Jerusalem the Grateful Dead mecca of the Middle East.

stu 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
stu 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
I was one of those late bloomers in finding my love for the famous San Francisco rock band, the Grateful Dead. It was 1980 and I was 38 and I had opened my store, Mr. T, a couple of years earlier in Jerusalem. I suppose I liked mainstream rock and roll, but I loved classical music more. Mozart, Schubert and Handel filled my days. Zeppelin and Springsteen were there too, but a Verdi opera was always on the tape machine in the store... and then along came Stu. It was just before Pessah. On our tape machine, we were playing, by chance, the Dead. Stu heard it as he walked along the Ben-Yehuda pedestrian mall and came into the store. When I told him I knew nothing about the Sixties group, he spent the next 27 years filling me in. He adored and worshiped the Grateful Dead. He was a classic "Deadhead" and had traveled with them during their early years. He married his wife on the road, had a few kids along the way and followed the band's famous guitarist, Jerry Garcia, everywhere. Stu was a homeless alcoholic living on the fringes of society. After divorcing his wife and leaving his kids behind, he had made his way to Israel along with hundreds of bootleg Grateful Dead concerts on tape. In the many years I was his friend, he lived in doorways on Jaffa Road, shacks in Rehavia, rooftops near the Western Wall, bus benches on King George Avenue, abandoned buildings near the old central bus station, Independence Park and a few psychiatric hospitals. He drank whatever kind of booze was around, from cheap wine to revolting vodka. Over the years, I tried to help him numerous times, but it was useless. He never listened to my advice, but did accept the sleeping bags, blankets, jackets, money, radios and the like that I gave him. But everything was stolen from him, including his most precious possession, the bootleg tapes he had brought from America. With Stu's influence, we wound up listening to the Dead every 45 minutes at Mr. T. Stu became the store's greeter. He was there when the celebrities visited and he was there when the down-and-out wandered in. Even though Stu was 10 years younger then me, he looked 30 years older. As the years passed, he lost most of his teeth. He was always dirty and smelled of booze and urine. His hair was a tangled, matted disaster. I'd give him a new shirt and he'd wear it for three weeks straight, never taking it off until I gave him a new one. Most of my employees couldn't stand being near the guy. Tourists would walk in, take one look at him and walk out. But many others came in just to talk to him and be entertained - definitely a novel marketing concept. Stu's presence made the Mr. T store in downtown Jerusalem the Grateful Dead mecca of the Middle East. For close to 30 years, Deadheads from all over the world would gather there and Stu would greet them. Two weeks before I closed the store, Stu died in his sleep. He was 55 and his liver was like a sieve. As I write this I'm listening to the Dead, and yes, it has been a "long strange trip," and yes, I will miss Stu. He certainly made going to work and opening the store every day a fun adventure. Thank you Stu, for giving me a "real good time." The writer has worked as a producer and writer for the Israel Broadcasting Authority. For over 30 years he was the owner of Mr. T.