Stop the complete presses…
Who said bad news comes in threes? Try four. To that lineup in the sky of recently departed local icons – DiPardo, Grigsby and Murphy – add the name, Jerry Mazer.
According to sources, Mazer, Kansas City’s most mercenary medicant, is no more.
Loved, hated, arrested, bullied, spat on, feared, banned – but most of all – recognized and well known. Who among the habitues of downtown KC, Westport or the Plaza wouldn’t recognize Mazer’s signature line, "Can I get a downpayment on a cheeseburger?"
The irascible Mazer, 56, was a fixture in Kansas City pop culture for the better part of the past five decades. In the mid 1990s Kansas City was forced to make a cash settlement with Mazer and agreed to repeal its anti-begging ordinance.
"Really, I hadn’t heard anything, I’m sad," says Tivoli Theater owner Jerry Harrington when told of Mazer’s passing. "I mean, he wasn’t a friend of mine but he was a Kansas City character – there was nobody like Jerry. No matter how irritated he made me, I always laughed. And when Jerry mellowed out a little it was better. In his belligerent days he was hard to take. He would cuss you out if you didn’t give him any money."
Midtown freelance paralegal Shawn Smith says: "I heard from a couple of people that he had died. And I talked with one of the African-American panhandlers who used to trade off with Jerry on the Plaza and he said, Yeah, Jerry had died in November. Then when I Googled him I couldn’t find anything. So it could have been something blown out of proportion – an urban legend – but when you hear something three times…"
Barnes & Noble on the Plaza’s Wolfe says, "As far as I know, he’s dead. We don’t know for sure but nobody’s seen him all year. Not since around last Thanksgiving."
Three years ago in the Star, I reported Mazer had contracted cancer.
""The doctor says I’ve got two years to 20 to live, so I figure Iíve got 10 years," Mazer told me then. "That’s a helluva estimate, isn’t it?
"I’m doing fine," he continued. "It’s almost been a year since I was diagnosed, but I’m doing fine. I’m trying to stay out of trouble — the cops pretty much have been leaving me alone …."
The end game for Mazer, I asked.
"For me? D-E-A-T-H. That ís between seven and 10 years now if I’m lucky. You never know because it’s up to God."
Had his philosophy on life changed? I asked.
"I’m trying to be nicer and crack jokes," Mazer said. "I don’t even think about the death sentence. But it’s changed my philosophy about how I want to be right with God and right with people, where I’m not a bad guy, so maybe I can go to heaven.
"Like yesterday I asked somebody for a down payment on a cheeseburger, and I got no results. So then I asked somebody for a down payment on a hippie-burger, and he called the cops and said I called him a hippie mother-(something). It didn’t sit too well with the cops, but they let me get out of here."
It’s funny, I could have sworn I saw Mazer sitting on a bucket outside the west end of Barnes & Noble Monday. From behind. If I’d had more time, I would have stopped and asked him how he was doing. Maybe entered the Twilight Zone or something with him.
So Jerry – if you’re out there somewhere reading, listening, looking down (or up) – come home; all is forgiven…