The face on the bench

  • Article by: JAMES LILEKS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 28, 2013 - 5:11 PM

An e-mail hit the inbox: Pumpkin giveaway, brought to you by Zeb Haney.

I’d seen the name on bus bench ads for his Realtor business and thought it was time to ask about it. We caught up with him before he left town.

“We’re practicing pheasant hunting,” he said. “In two weeks we’re going to South Dakota with some mortgage bankers. Armed and dangerous Realtors and lenders.

“Hot cider, s’mores, a good fall event to get together. But you have to watch out for the people who show up uninvited and snatch pumpkins.”

Really?

“We can tell who they are. They show up early and try to sneak out with pumpkins. There’s a whole subculture of pumpkin thieves.”

He’s jesting. Maybe. But the name’s no joke.

“My dad was of the Age of Aquarius, let’s say. He was looking through the big book of names for something that wasn’t common, and at the end it was Zebulon. He was also an amateur historian and liked Zeb Pike. My middle name comes from Charles Darwin.”

If he’d stopped at Xerxes, that would be a great Minneapolis Realtor name. As for the latter name, surely you’re reminded of Mr. Haney, the insufferable salesman of “Green Acres.”

“About one in 20 [remember it], but it’s a dying breed. There’s some astute individuals who put Z and Haney together to make Zany. Some call me Zeke or Zen until it all clicks. I’ll roll with it.”

He got into real estate after a stint with Fuji film; he wanted to spend less time on the road. Then came the crash.

“Before you could throw a rock in a parking lot and hit a Realtor. We’ve had a 30 percent fallout. People were cutting back on their marketing, and that’s when I started with the bus benches.”

You might be surprised to learn that bus bench opportunities to do not fall from sky. Which is good, because they’re concrete and might hurt someone.

“When I tried to get one at 44th and Upton, there was a waiting list of 20 agents.” The crash thinned the ranks, he snagged the ad, “and that was the start of my kingdom of bus benches.”

Just as Realtor Cotty Lowry’s Burch drugstore ad was subject to frequent artistic vandalism, so have the images of Zeb been compromised. Thought balloons with ribald insinuations. Rank profanity, which he says the bench company scrubs at once. But sometimes the mischief is complimentary.

“One night someone put Chuck Norris’ head over my picture.” He pauses, perhaps to savor the reflected awesomeness that comes from being connected with Chuck Norris. “The same night they put Pee-wee Herman on Cotty.”

The cutthroat underworld of bus-stop mockery and pumpkin protection. And here you thought realty was just about selling houses.

James Lileks

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