I don’t purposely visit graves of famous people, but I do bump into those graves on occasion. Harvey Pekar is buried next to Eliot Ness at Lake View Cemetery. I happened to be at the cemetery and asked about Harvey’s grave. A docent said look in section 7, lot 9-0, but there was nothing there, just a stick. This was a few years ago. Now there’s a tombstone.
At John D. Rockefeller’s grave, there was a quarter on the base of the monument. A tour guide said visitors sometimes put money on John D’s grave. The money is in repayment for the dimes Rockefeller gave out to kids, the guide said.
I saw a tombstone with a Jewish star at Lake View. I think I could go long and deep at Lake View, or I could go next door to Mayfield Cemetery, which is Jewish, but for that I’d have to rejoin Temple-Tifereth Israel for the cemetery plot. Or I could use my cousin’s unused plot out at Hillcrest Cemetery, where my parents are buried. Also, I could go to Park Synagogue’s cemetery, but my wife prefers Lake View. So I’ll probably go there.
My main beef with Lake View is they don’t allow bikes. Cars are OK, but if a biker goes through Lake View, the management has a conniption. The cemetery has steep hills and the management is afraid of bike-car collisions.
Let me think about Lake View. Give me some time.
April 27, 2016 3 Comments
My last close relative left Cleveland in 2001. Now my Seders are with friends. My relatives went to warmer places or died.
I’m in about two traffic jams a year in Cleveland. I would prefer five. I don’t relish the traffic of Chicago or Washington, but a few more traffic jams in Cleveland would be nice. In the 1970s, Clevelanders first began imagining the whole town could go under. A musician in Milwaukee wrote a song called “Thank God This Isn’t Cleveland.” Some Clevelanders never got over the trauma of the 1970s. I know Clevelanders who vacation in Cape Cod; they’re instructed by the national press to vacation on the East Coast. They wait an hour for ice cream on Cape Cod.
Some of the best scenery in America is the bike path from Gambier to Coshocton, Ohio: rolling farm country, horses, sheep, cows, pigs and Amish buggies. However, some Midwesterners need to see the ocean. They drive all day to the Carolina shore. Why? Lake Erie has beaches, waves and miniature golf.
Every one of my relatives bailed. Now I look for distant relatives. I’ve found some. My older son found Mississippi relatives via a PBS documentary, “Delta Jews,” about the Jews of the Mississippi Delta. The mayor of Louise, Miss., had been my mother’s cousin. (My mother grew up in Yazoo City, Miss.) My son called down there. We eventually met the Mississippi clan. Most were lawyers. They have Southern accents. That’s what you want from Southerners — a Southern accent. (So often Southern Jews will disappoint you on that.)
Seder-with-friends is not the same as with Aunt Bernice, Uncle Al, Cousin Howard and the rest of the family at the old Seder table. I live three miles from where I was born. I often see things that don’t exist anymore.
A version of this appeared in the Cleveland Plain Dealer 4/6/12.
April 20, 2016 6 Comments
Irwin Weinberger and I sometimes drive home together from gigs. We’ve been doing this for so many years I know everything about him. He collected stamps. That came up on trip #401.
We talked stamps for an hour, coming back from Akron. Slightly boring? No, very boring. I had some first-day covers and canceled stamps my dad got from work. The stamps were in manila envelopes marked “For Ted.” (My dad was Ted, not Toby, at work.) My father worked for a key-manufacturing company.
Mr. Polatsek, an old guy in my neighborhood, gave me stamps. The first stamp was Wisconsin Worker’s Compensation (1961). He visited the local elementary school and passed out stamps to all the kids. He once took me to a stamp show at the Manger Hotel. It was old guys and me. I ran into Mr. Polatsek again years later — when he was actually old — and asked him about his collection. He said it had been stolen. He said, “Now I only collect pictures of my grandchildren.”
In college, I got stamps in the mail, forwarded by my mother. I told her to stop sending the stuff: W.C. Handy (1968), Leif Erikson (1968). It was embarrassing for a quasi-hippie to get stamps from his mom in the mail.
Irwin, I’ll look at your stamps when I get really, really old. Meanwhile, readers can read about Irwin’s stamp collection at his new blog.
Footnote . . . From one of my plate-block books: “We have heard from collectors who reside in the tropics, where provision of stamp gum is almost impossible, that they have had very good results by dusting a little corn starch or unscented talcum powder (free from oils and perfumes ) on the gummed side of their stamps. We do not recommend this procedure, but pass it on to collectors for this own experimentation, should they reside in unusually humid communities.”
Yiddishe Cup plays a concert in Metro Detroit, at Cong. Beth Shalom, Oak Park, Mich., 4 p.m. Sun. (April 17). $10. More info here. Motown and matzo.
April 13, 2016 6 Comments
Arvids Jansons. I got a desk from him when he moved out.
Argero Vassileros. Her nickname was Argie.
Michael Bielemuk, the professor. He had many floor-to-ceiling bookshelves.
Maria Trifiletti. She stole light bulbs from the halls, so we glued the bulbs into the sockets.
Saram Carmichael, a transvestite who solicited customers from her second-floor window. The johns waited at the bus stop.
Stan Hershfield, one of the few Jews on the West Side. He was raised in an orphanage and loved the word bupkes (beans). “Stratton, I have bupkes so don’t hondle me about the rent.” (Hondle means haggle.) When Hershfield painted the wood floor in his kitchen, he said, “Only the best, Stratton, Benjamin Moore!”
Malfalda Bedrossian. She was never late with her rent.
Chris Andrews slept in a coffin. (He had a regular name.)
Merjeme Haxhiraj, an Albanian who talked me down every year $10/month on her rent.
John “Chip” Stephens, a Chet Baker-like figure in looks, music and name. He played jazz piano and landed a tenure-track job at a university in Missouri.
This post originally appeared in slightly different form on 9/30/09.
April 6, 2016 3 Comments
During the dying days of burlesque, I was a stripper in Toledo, Ohio. I dressed like a hippie — bell-bottoms and long hair — and went by the name Tzippy the Hippie. I did New Burlesque, which we called “burlesque” back then.
I worked throughout the Midwest. The main burlesque guy in Detroit was Herman the Head. He liked to drink. I think he was a beer bottle in a previous life. I lived with Herman for six months. He also liked talk radio a lot. He listened to that shit so much he was a radio before he was a beer bottle. I didn’t get my name, Tzippy the Hippie, from Herman; I got it from a U. of Toledo professor. Yes, I have some college!
I dyed my hair blond, wore tie-dyed rags, and didn’t shave my underarms. One night, when I was supposed to be in Fort Wayne, I was in Toledo with my professor, and Herman found out about it. I said to him on the phone, “I’m not coming home. There’s this party here in Fort Wayne and I’m so drunk I’m going to crash here.” Herm knew I was lying. He went directly to the prof’s house, and I ate out of a straw for six weeks. (The prof suffered three broken ribs.)
Now I’m 70 and my health is real bad. It’s awful — diabetes, heart condition and arthritis. Every cent, to me, is precious now. A vintage strippers website says I’m dead. Not quite, kids! Next week I’m in Denver for a New Burlesque conference. I’m getting $200 plus expenses. I have cool 1969 photos for sale (only $10). Hope to see you there!
This post is based 0.1 percent on Pat Oleszko the Hippie Stripper — a 1960s performance artist from Ann Arbor. This post is fiction, I think.
March 30, 2016 7 Comments
Klezmer clarinetist Giora Feidman plays well and is a master of special effects. However, “L’Academie Klezmér” shuns him. Feidman’s nickname is Mr. Chalk-Chalk. (In Yiddish that’s Tshok-Tshok.) This onomatopoetic expression refers to Feidman’s guttural-sounding notes. Members of L’Academie (like some teachers at KlezKanada and the late KlezKamp) decry Feidman’s frequent clarinet hiccupping, yelping, slurping and grepsing.
Feidman helped start the klezmer revival. He played Carnegie Hall in 1981. I interviewed Feidman in the early 1990s for the Cleveland Jewish News and asked him to take potshots at other klezmer musicians, some of whom were bad-rapping him. Feidman declined. Feidman said klezmer music is “not a particular kind of music. It is a language of the inner soul — a truly universal means of communication.” I tried to get him beyond that feel-good stuff, to trash-talk, but no dice.
Feidman often plays with a string-bass player and an acoustic guitarist. He plays West Side Story tunes, American swing, Meron nigunim and klezmer. Not many clarinets are that versatile. He does 90-minute shows, playing lead the whole time.
Feidman turns 80 on Saturday. He will get into L’Academie Klezmér posthumously.
March 23, 2016 5 Comments
At his 90th birthday party, Mort Gross talked about real estate. (Yiddishe Cup played Mort’s party.) Mort sounded like my dad, except Mort was a lot richer, lived a lot longer than my dad, and was more outgoing and more philanthropic than my dad. Mort developed properties; my dad never did that. Mort had a yacht in Florida and a Rolls Royce. My dad never got beyond Buick.
Mort had three favorite expressions: 1) A deal is a deal 2) Wait a minute [to kill a deal], and 3) Don’t do paperwork twice. I learned this at the party.
I didn’t understand item #3, and I forgot to ask the person who did the roast for an explanation of item #3 — “Don’t do paperwork twice.” I said to one of Mort’s son, “Those were very good toasts, and I’ve heard hundreds.”
Maybe the toasts were sappy, and I was just thinking about my dad a lot. A second son toasted, “Our parents instilled in all of us a love of Judaism, and we all married Jewish girls. In fact I did it twice.”
I’m telling you, they were good toasts.
I had a piece in the New York Times 3/12/16. “I’m not Evil. I’m a Landlord.” Check out the comments in the post below, “For NYT Readers.” The comments are good!
March 16, 2016 1 Comment
I’m a musician-landlord from Cleveland — a curiosity to New York Times editors, no doubt. Definitely not a Harvard professor. You want more real estate stories? Here’s one. Heads-up: it’s long, but it’s my best and is the basis for my Dear Landlord memoir.
I post a new story to this blog every Wednesday.
The Times didn’t activate the “comments” button on “I’m Not Evil. I’m a Landlord.” If you want to comment on the piece, you can fire away here.
March 11, 2016 17 Comments
1. A slob tenant wanted a spiffed-up bathroom. My drywall man said to me, “The guy ain’t did his dishes in years, I mean holy shit, and he’s bitching about his bathroom falling apart?” We fixed up the tenant’s bathroom and hauled away a couch and chair too.
2. A tenant wanted free rent because we were digging a trench in his apartment. In order to install a condensate return line to the boiler, our plumber dug a four-foot trench through the tenant’s kitchen, dining room and living room. It looked like WWI. That was a bad scene and it lasted a month. The tenant got the free month’s rent.
Here’s a top-quality article I wrote for City Journal. “Gotta Serve Somebody.”
March 9, 2016 3 Comments
I’m a funeral strategist. I advise mourners, like my wife, who occasionally gets disoriented at funerals. I don’t.
The Jewish funeral parlor in Cleveland is BK Broiler (aka Berkowitz Kumin). Many funeral services are only 15 minutes. Others go way too long. It’s bad when too many relatives speak. Three relatives is plenty. On the other hand, I once attended a funeral where nobody spoke. That was 12 minutes. The sweet spot is 25 minutes, with two to three personal eulogies.
I arrive at the funeral parlor 20 minutes before, to work the family room, where only relatives sit. I want to reminisce, catch up with friends.
A tip to eulogists, don’t say, “She enjoyed traveling in her later years.” That’s so boring. Talk about the person’s youth, instead.
BK Broiler employees wear dark suits and act polite. They never say anything off script. They say, “This ends our service here. Please go to your cars and turn on your lights.” The satin black, throw-away yarmulkes are always new, never recycled.
Why does B-K have no windows, at least in the chapel? Are windows against Jewish law? (Shuls must have windows, my rabbi told me.) Maybe mourners don’t want to see bums walk by. Non-Jewish funeral parlors don’t have windows either, I’ve noticed. Think about it. Or don’t think about. It’s my job to think about it.
March 2, 2016 6 Comments
Nobody out-talks Cleveland Councilman Mike Polensek. He’s the quote machine. He once said, “I’m old-school Collinwood. You mess with me or my property, and I mess with you.” He called former councilman Jay Westbook a “weasel,” and former mayor Mike White a “son of a bitch, but our son of a bitch.”
Before Polensek was a councilman, he was a machinist at White Motors. I saw Polensek frequently in 1981 and 1982, when I was a reporter for the Sun Scoop Journal. Polensek ran for city council against Dave Trenton — a fellow incumbent Slovenian — in 1981. The city wards had been redrawn, and Polensek or Trenton was going to be out of a job. Trenton was “shanty Slovenian,” said my editor, another Slovenian. Trenton was slightly rougher-edged than Polensek. For instance, Trenton smoked a cigar in public.
The editor endorsed Trenton, maybe because he and Trenton played softball together. The editor told me to survey the 14,000 registered voters in the ward. I talked to 75 people. Trenton received 32 votes in my poll. He had a plurality. The paper ran this headline: “Trenton called favorite in Ward 11 race.” And the endorsement stated: “As council’s majority leader, Trenton can serve the community from a position of strength . . . [He has] invaluable connections downtown.”
But Polensek, the underdog, won! When I walked into Polensek’s victory party at the Italian Cooperative Association Hall on St. Clair Avenue, a Polensek supporter announced, “Your paper endorsed Trenton!” Another man said, “You’re in the wrong place. You’re going to eat crow when you write up your shit. You’re one of the worst writers ever! What are you doing here?” A woman, somewhat calmer than the men, said, “I don’t think you’re going to find what you’re looking for here.”
They didn’t like me. (I was a curly-haired hippie Jew from the Heights. That didn’t help.) But Polensek liked me — liked me enough. He liked media people, period. He said, “Oh well, you’re here. Like I told your boss, I knew we’d win.” I said I would have voted for Polensek if I lived in Ward 11. Polensek wasn’t impressed. He said, “You’re disrespecting your boss.”
Polensek is still a councilman 35 years later. I ran into him a couple years ago and said, “You remember the ICA Hall, when some of your supporters wanted to kill me?”
He was foggy on it. I wasn’t. He said, “No hard feelings.”
February 24, 2016 5 Comments
I don’t help with the shopping, cooking, or bill-paying. I never cut the grass or wash the dishes. Self-medication — mostly alcohol — works best.
I had a miserable childhood. That’s part of it. And I botch up my adulthood daily. For instance, I screamed at my wife today for moving the rinse glass in the bathroom. Where is it? I have to stop blaming her — and others — for everything.
Bottom line, I have wronged a lot of people. Maybe I should disappear. Where to? Hawaii? Canada? I’m thinking Canada. I’m cold.
This is a fake profile — the part about the booze.
February 17, 2016 8 Comments
I have a closet full of unsold Yiddishe Cup CDs. Maybe I should get Irwin Weinberger from Yiddishe Cup to hand-paint covers for the CDs. I’ll sell them as art. (Irwin is a painter and musico.)
I’ve already sent out some of Irwin’s art-laden CDs for review, and I’ve gotten back these blurbs:
1. Rabbi Albert Trattons: “You nailed it, Yiddishe Cup. This is better than my shalom plaque. However, the music is so-so.”
2. Treb Nottarts, Cleveland Plain Dealer art critic: “This is grand theft–art from the Jewish Museum. I’m talking New York Jewish Museum. Tremendous. Just one quibble, why so few rollicking tunes on this CD?”
3. Albie Sattront, A&R, Capitol Records: “Love the Chagall cover. Music is kind of fun too. Caught half of track 1 — a personal best for me and klez.”
4. Albert Ratnotts, real estate developer: “I’m buying your band! These CDs would make excellent tiles for the kitchen floors at my downtown apartments.”
To order your art-enhanced Yiddishe Cup CD, call 1-888-KLEZART. $49.50. Includes shipping.
February 10, 2016 2 Comments
Bill, the building manager, said a prospect for apartment 24 was a rapist.
“We don’t rent to rapists,” I said.
“Five grand? Wow.”
“He wants something cheap. I guess he has legal fees.”
”What’s his name?”
“That’s the name of a building inspector!”
“Different guy. He has a new car too. Makes his payments.”
“We’re not renting to a rapist. I did that once before. I didn’t know the guy was a rapist, and he got picked up on a parole violation, and I found out he was a murderer, too. We have our standards.”
“Bill” and “Kevin Barrett” are pseudonyms. By the way, I rented to the rapist/murderer back when it was hard to run criminal checks — pre-Internet.
Yiddishe Cup plays The Ark, Ann Arbor, Mich., 8 p.m. Sat. (Feb. 6). Schmotown Revue: klezmer and soul music. $20.
February 3, 2016 3 Comments
My son has a knack for writing, which he got from me. I’m a tech writer.
I have a friend my age who cries whenever his computer crashes. I’ve seen him roll on the floor crying. It’s usually a matter of rebooting the damn thing. If I’m not home, I send my son over.
My first cell phone was a Motorola.
I fix computers my dad can’t fix. My customers are old hippies like my dad. They don’t know a web browser from a server. I fix their gear, and then haul their shit to the tree lawn. I have hauled couches and other heavy stuff.
I got the writing bug from my dad. I need to raise $15,000 on Kickstarter to publish a book. Here are some chapter titles: ‘My Dog Browser,’ ‘I’m Updating Your Mother’ and ‘Router in the Hole.’
I like going into people’s houses and watching the customers shout with joy when I fix their stupid problems.
Consider my Kickstarter. I don’t want to live with my dad any longer. This photo from our kitchen says it all:
This is a fake profile.
Yiddishe Cup plays The Ark, Ann Arbor, Mich., 8 p.m. Sat., Feb. 6. $20. Our Schmotown Revue — mixing klezmer and Motown.
January 27, 2016 4 Comments
I make goodie bags for guys. Most goodie bags are made by women for women. (Goodie bags are handed out at hotel desks to out-of-towners checking into bar mitzvahs and weddings.)
I don’t put in mandarin oranges, Tic Tacs, or sparkling water. I shop at Walmart at Steelyard Commons — next to the steel mill. I load up on Reese’s Cups and Hershey bars in aisle 4 — bagged candy. I sometimes go with gummy bears. Snacks are in aisle 12: rod pretzels, chips.
Walmart has lime green and pink gift bags on display. I ask for dark bags, which aren’t on display.
I deliver the bags to the hotel. I have a following.
January 20, 2016 3 Comments
Tom, a friend, said he got food poisoning at an upscale Mexican restaurant. But maybe he didn’t. I got food poisoning about four times, and always blamed it on Taco Bell. I once called The Bell and asked if other people had gotten sick there. Of course not, the manager said.
What about Chipotle? Who you going blame? You can’t tell your friends, “I have a non-specific 24-hour flu.” That’s not newsworthy. Food poisoning is.
Somebody yanked a shrub from my yard. My wife wondered if I had hit it with the car. No, I hadn’t. Maybe one of our adult kids hit it, I said. But they weren’t even around.
Who you going to blame? Never yourself!
The snowplow guy. Blame him.
I’m thinking of Chipotle stock, but it’s still overpriced. Let’s eat there today, OK?
January 13, 2016 2 Comments
A 52-second video about when my dad, Toby, told me to take a business course at Cleveland State:
January 6, 2016 No Comments
I was allergic to everything from buckwheat pancakes to peaches. I went to the Asthma and Hay Fever Clinic for shots with my dad. He got shots too. The treatment for asthma and allergies back then was shots, which didn’t work too well — at least for me.
My mother said, “Sit up. I’ll get your pills.” The pills were red tabs I put under my tongue in the middle of the night. This was before albuterol and steroids. This was when there were leeches and cupping. I had a difficult time breathing. I’m not saying I was going to die, but I had some bad nights as a kid. My mother said, “Stick another pill under your tongue and press it down, and try to keep your mouth closed.” I couldn’t keep my mouth closed; I had to breathe. “Get on your bathrobe and stand up,” my mother said. So I walked around.
I was 13, and I was the wheezer.
The asthma attacks tapered off in my teenage years. Breakthrough: at 31 I participated in a drug trial at the VA hospital and got Cromolyn and started jogging. Everything worked out for the best, except I’m probably more morbid than the average person.
Yiddishe Cup plays First Night Akron tomorrow night, New Year’s Eve, 10-11:30 p.m, John S. Knight Convention Center, Goodyear Ballroom.
December 30, 2015 2 Comments
Stefan Kanfer, a biographer of Humphrey Bogart, wrote an article about the “misery called the Book Tour.” He wrote, “I had planned to have dinner at my hotel, but the plane was three hours late . . .” [City Journal, Summer 2011.] Also a limo driver talked too much.
Where’s my book? Where’s my book? (Friends, don’t bring up my coming-of-age lost manuscripts.)
I saw Jon Fine at a book reading recently. He wrote Your Band Sucks, a memoir about his bands that toured extensively in the 1990s. The book was about the quintessential non-famous band.
I could do that.
My limo is here!
December 23, 2015 3 Comments