Real Music & Real Estate . . .

Yiddishe Cup’s bandleader, Bert Stratton, is Klezmer Guy.
 

He knows about the band biz and – check this out – the real estate biz, too.
 

You may not care about the real estate biz. Hey, you may not care about the band biz. (See you.)
 

This is a blog with a gamy twist. It features tenants with snakes and skunks, and musicians with smoked fish in their pockets.
 

Stratton has written op-eds for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post.


 
 

BLOOD AND MONEY

My dad, Toby, admired Linus Pauling, the Nobel Prize-winning Vitamin-C taker. Toby was very health-conscious; he did the Royal Canadian Air Force exercises in the early 1960s. He used to jog in his underwear in the kitchen. Didn’t anybody make running shorts back then? My dad could beat me in a foot race up through my college years. Toby, in retirement, told me his best years were the Boca years: financial security and grandchildren.

Even though Toby was an exercise nut, he had lousy health. His big problem was polycythemia vera, a blood disease. He got it in his fifties. The disease kept him focused on his muni bonds and real estate investments. He wasn’t sure he’d be around the next day. He donated blood every month or two. He had to lower his red-blood count. He died in 1986, just shy of 69, from leukemia, which evolved from polycythemia vera.

My mother kept the Florida condo another 11 years after my dad died. The condo association owes my sister and me $8,160.82. That’s the golf membership dinero. The condo association has had that money since 1997. Many elderly Jews decamped from the condos (their bodies went north) in the late 1990s, and the condo association was short on cash.

Who’s playing golf at the Boca Lago Country Club these days? Is it still Jews or is it some new genre, like Latin Americans? Any cash floating around?

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March 3, 2021   1 Comment

FUNERAL REPPING

When my parents spent winters in Florida, I represented them at their friends’ funerals in Cleveland. I didn’t like the work. My mother would call from Boca Raton and say, “Edith was such a good friend of ours. Please go, son.” Screw Edith.

But I went. The hardest part was the walk from my car to the shiva house. I always imagined the homeowner would open the door and say: “We don’t want any! Who are you? Have you no decency?”

It never happened that way. I was often the youngest non-relative at the shiva. I eavesdropped a lot because I didn’t know anybody. An old woman said, “When I feel sick, I want to die. Then I get better and want to live.” OK with me.

A rabbi talked about the Cleveland Browns a lot. Rabbis usually weren’t sports nuts back then, but this rav was young and a major Browns fan. A food broker said to me, “I sell Heinen’s.” What was I selling? Not sure.

My parents made me do it.


Footnote:
While shiva repping, I met a  California man who produced Joel Grey’s shows for 27 years. I said, “I’ll send you my band’s CD and you can show it to Joel. Wait, I won’t send it. Joel might sue me for ripping off Mickey Katz tunes.”

“Don’t worry,” the producer said. “Lebedeff’s people tried to hit Joel up for royalties on ‘Romania, Romania’ for years. No luck.”

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February 24, 2021   1 Comment

ASK ME ANYTHING

I’ve managed a lot of bands. So I know a lot about marketing, booking and touring. I won’t tell you everything I know here, but I will say this much: the key to success is publicity stunts, cameo appearances at strip joints, and surreptitious holographic projections of your band’s PR photo onto billboards at midnight.

The bands I manage make money — large money. And you’ve probably never heard of them. Most Klezmer Guy blog readers think music ended in 1975.

OK, you’ve heard of Vulfpeck. That’s because I bang on about that band so much here. I made Vulfpeck what they are today. The Vulf boys don’t know what a newspaper is, or a press release. I’m old school, they’re New School. They’re about social media. I’m about being social: Hello, my name is ____________.  I make many calls a day for Vulf. (Granted, half are to WE1-1212. More snow?)

Right now two Vulfpeck musicians are in Los Angeles, one is in Ann Arbor, and two are at a Bibibop in Carmel, Indiana. I monitor the boys’ moves and temperatures. I know how much water and booze they’ve drunk today, down to the cc.

Ask me anything. (AMA, as we say on Reddit.)

[fake profile]


Check out this op-ed I wrote last week, “Stayin’ Alive — the Covid-19-shot Hustle,” for the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Guitarist Irwin Weinberger at Discount Drug Mart

Guitarist Irwin Weinberger at Discount Drug Mart

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February 17, 2021   4 Comments

GO BUCKS

I’m out of the pre-med game. I lost my University of  Michigan Zoo-Bot 106 frog-dissection scissors. I used the scissors for the past five decades to cut my fingernails. I took the scissors to an athletic club and lost them. The scissors said “Made in Italy” on them, in case you find them.

I bought some German scissors on Amazon the other day. Not as good. (By the way, my professor at Michigan, poet Donald Hall, said scissors is the longest word in the English language.)

There were about 30 pre-meds on my dorm floor,  and I think one or two made it to doctorhood. I took inorganic and math my freshman year, and organic and physics my sophomore year. Organic did me in.

Those dissection scissors were my main connection to the U. of Michigan. For some people, it’s football. For me, it was the scissors. Now I’m a free man.

Go Bucks.

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February 10, 2021   4 Comments

THIS IS BERT STRATTON

This is Bert Stratton. Is there a market for a book with that title? There’s a book This is Larry Morrow . . . My Life On and Off the Air: Stories from Four Decades in Cleveland Radio. There’s a new book by Paul Orlousky: Punched, Kicked, Spat On, and Sometimes Thanked: Memoirs of a Cleveland TV News Reporter.

Is there a market for Bert? Yes, I know I’d have to expand the title. How about This is Bert Stratton . . . Stories About Strippers, Mobsters and Klezmorim.

Every Sunday my family gathered around the piano. Neighbors stood on the sidewalk and listened. We played klezmer music, which we simply called “Jewish music” in the 1960s. Neighbors didn’t listen for too long. By age 13 I was supporting my family, playing at the Roxy Burlesque, where I saw naked women. I knew Tarzana and Morganna, who were at my bar mitzvah party at the Shaker House Motel. Nobody could top that.

I knew mobsters. An acquaintance, gangster Shondor Birns, was blown up by a car bomb on the West Side. Then Danny Greene, a fellow mobster, was blown up by a car bomb in Lyndhurst. By default I became head of the Cleveland Mob. My gangster income, plus my music, was a living. My high school grades suffered, but so what.

I have a couple questions for you. Would people in, say, Peoria, Illinois, buy a book about Cleveland mobsters, strippers and klezmer musicians? Or should I cut the part about mobsters and strippers, and go pure klez?

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February 3, 2021   8 Comments

TOO MUCH NOSTALGIA

I joined the South Euclid Facebook page after I saw a recipe for the 3-cent toffee bars we used to get in the junior high cafeteria.

I recently listened to an interview with klez trumpeter Frank London, who grew up in Plainview, Long Island. Frank said Plainview in his day was all Jews and Italians. Just like my old neighborhood. My high school was 25-percent Italian, 25-percent Jewish, and the rest white-bread American, who didn’t count.

On the South Euclid Facebook group, Bruce Udelf, a classmate, remembered all. Bruce could tell you the recipe for the toffee bar, which he got from a retired cafeteria worker. I have one thing over Udelf: I still live in Cleveland, and he’s in California. I biked by Udelf’s house the other day. It looks the same.

Right now I’m snoozing a bit on the South Euclid FB group. I need a slightly slower nostalgia drip. I can’t deal with three South Euclid flashbacks a day — about Mr. Lane (our sixth grade teacher), Chuckles candy, or the Kiwanis Club Ox Roast. I could probably handle two.

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January 27, 2021   4 Comments

JAZZMAN IN TRAINING

Bill DeArango played guitar with Dizzy Gillespie on 52nd Street and was the music guy in Cleveland. I was at DeArango’s University Heights music store, playing charts from New Sounds in Modern Music (edited by Bugs Bower, 1949). DeArango had randomly picked the New Sounds in Modern Music book from his sheet-music rack. A kid with a horn (alto) in 1970. Back then it was all guitars and drums. I didn’t tell DeArango I had bought the New Sounds book a couple years before and knew it cold.

DeArango introduced me to Jimmy Emery, a guitar player who could pick out all the Charlie Parker solos. (Emery moved to New York three years later and went on to record with all the big names.) Emery and I had jazz to ourselves in 1970, at least among 20-year-old white kids in Cleveland.

I visited Berklee in Boston. It had no campus, just one building. The founder was Lawrence Berk. The lee in Berklee is for Lawrence’s son, Lee. Berklee — the name — reminded me of my dad’s failed foot-powder company, Lesbert Drug Co., named for my sister, Leslie, and me. Maybe not a real college — Berklee? I went home to Cleveland, then back to Ann Arbor to reactivate my authentic college life.

I was not near Jimmy Emery’s level. Emery could mimic any sound he heard, and do it quickly. I bought play-along records and got into the Michigan jazz band. Dave Brubeck’s son was in that band. I got the second alto seat by playing a blues in F, or something like that. Few kids knew how to improvise back then. Music students came from high school stage bands, not jazz bands.

I borrowed recordings of Hank Crawford, Lou Donaldson and Rufus Harley from a black Detroit kid I knew from the dorms. I went to Baker’s Keyboard Lounge in Detroit to see Gene Ammons, Sonny Stitt and Roland Kirk. I bought how-to-play-jazz books. I read Leroi Jones for cultural background. My how-to-play-jazz books were mostly by David Baker, Indiana University. These books were boring chord patterns and scales. Not as dry as Organic Chemistry, but not a pleasure.

I eventually quit playing and dropped out of college for a few months. These days I play some Dixieland clarinet, and not too well. Hurray for klezmer!

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January 20, 2021   5 Comments

YOU WANT SHINGLES WITH THAT?

I thought I had shingles again. My first shingles was when my dad died. My dad was stressed, and so was I. This time around I was stressed about a building, not even a human. I had sold an apartment building and was annoyed with the gas company. The temperature outside was zero, and a meter man was at the building with a huge wrench, threatening to turn the gas off. I didn’t even own the building. I had sold it the day before! “You have two choices,” the gas man said to me. “Turn the gas off or leave it on.” I don’t own the place!

The new owner hadn’t called in for an initial reading. The temperature was supposed to drop to – 7. “Keep it on,” I said.

I went swimming to relax. I would chase the new landlord the next day for the bill. When I finished my laps, I noticed a red streak across my stomach. Shingles again?

My wife, a registered nurse, checked out my stomach when I got home. She said I had scratched myself.

Paranoid? No. Shingles is bad.

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January 13, 2021   2 Comments

COLUMNY

I saw Wilma Salisbury, the former Cleveland Plain Dealer dance critic. She was a tough critic. Used to be a tough critic. She was retired, so she was simply Wilma Salisbury now. I saw PD columnist Eleanor Mallet — also retired. She was simply Eleanor now. Winsor French — a long-dead Cleveland Press columnist — used to arrive at work in a Rolls. He was independently wealthy. He went all over the world during the Depression, reporting on glamorous parties.

Have you made it through a book-length compilation of newspaper columns? I have. One book: Eric Broder’s very funny The Great Indoors. Would you read 45 Dick Feagler columns in a row? Good stuff but you might die from an overdose.

Here are some other former Cleveland columnists: Don Robertson, Alfred Lubrano, Jim Parker, Jim Neff, Mary Strassmyer, Tom Green . . . and I’m just getting started. I was once a columnist. I wrote about candy, sheepshead and the public library for Sun Newspapers. I could see both sides to everything, even sheepshead. Not a good thing for a columnist.

Terry Pluto, Plain Dealer columnist, writes about religion and sports. Pluto phones clergy and asks (my guess): “Can you tell me and my readers how to live — and preferably in three or fewer sentences. And how about them Browns!” I like Pluto on both religion and sports. It’s all coming together for Pluto, what with the Browns in the playoffs and the plague (Covid) hitting the head coach and several key players. In one religion column, Pluto quoted a rabbi who cited Pirke Avot: “The one who is wealthy is satisfied with what he has.”

I am satisfied with not writing a newspaper column.

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January 6, 2021   3 Comments

GOOD VIBRATIONS
FROM CALIFORNIA

How come documentaries about California musicians — Hal Blaine, the Sherman brothers — have poolside shots, but no outdoor ping-pong shots? The musicians are sunbathing poolside. Are they embarrassed to show their ping-pong moves? (The Kids Are All Right, a comedy-drama set in California, had an outdoor ping-pong table. No musicians, though.)

My father, Toby, had an old friend in Los Angeles, Irv Drooyan, who taught high school, wrote math textbooks and played outdoor ping-pong. Toby kept in touch with Irv and another Kinsman Road old-timer — Sol of San Diego. In the 1950 and 1960s, California was just an extension of Cleveland. My dad’s friends switched their first names to sound more American. Irv was Red. Sol was Al. Toby was Ted.

My introduction to outdoor ping-pong was on Red Drooyan’s patio in Woodland Hills, California, in 1962. Unforgettable because A) it was outdoors, and B) I didn’t know my dad had any friends. In Cleveland my father hung out exclusively with my mom’s friends and their husbands.

I’ve got to get back. To 1962? Cleveland? California?

To the ping-pong table. Your serve.

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December 30, 2020   5 Comments

CHOLENT SLIDERS

Cholent was the vehicle for my return to cooking. In the 1970s I took a Chinese cooking class at the Pearl of the Orient. But no cooking classes since. My rabbi’s son hosted a Zoom class on cholent last month.

There were about 50 people at the Zoom meeting. (It’s a big synagogue.) I tried to hide; I muted; I didn’t scream, “I’m a novice!” I dumped beans, barley, kishke, flankn, potatoes and onions into my slow cooker. The instructor, Jared, said the Crock Pot was invented by an Orthodox Jew to slow-cook cholent on shabbat. (Lookin’ that up . . . Yep, the Crock Pot was invented by one Irving Nachumsohn for cholent cooking.)

Most Jews — and everybody else —  don’t know what cholent is. It’s mostly an Ortho thing. Cholent is a stew you slowly cook for 12 hours or more, so as not to light a fire on shabbat.

My cholent cooked too long. My stuff came out like a big cow pie. No definition to it. The meat melded into the beans. Just one massive turd.

I had people coming over for dinner and was going to serve it! My wife, Alice, who’s a good cook, turned the cow pies into sliders. She served cholent sliders, without buns, as an appetizer. I didn’t apologize, or say to my guests: “This is my first time!” (Cooks should never apologize. Neither should musicians.)

My friends liked it. Alice added extra pepper and salt, and some soy sauce. And luckily I had picked out the plastic  kishke casing prior. I didn’t realize the kishke was wrapped in plastic when I sliced it and dumped it in the stew. The next day I ate huevos cholent — a fried egg on top of a cholent slider. That was good, too. Alice came up with that.

Need cholent?

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December 23, 2020   4 Comments

HEROES DIE FIRST

The guys who are eight to 10 years older than you, they’re your idols. You’re not in competition with them. They’re different: wiser, polished, cooler.

Dennis Ralston died last week at 78 from brain cancer. He was on the Davis Cup team in the 1960s. I wasn’t a huge fan of him, because he was tall and I was short. Ralston was 6-2. His teammate, Chuck McKinley, was my guy, 5-8. McKinley died of brain cancer, too, at 46 in 1986. I didn’t know that until a minute ago. I don’t follow tennis that closely.

Here’s a great 1:56-minute video of McKinley playing Roy Emerson at Roxboro Middle School. Technically, Harold T. Clark Courts, Cleveland Heights, 1964:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZJYmGGwwSd8

My mother bought me a ticket. She wouldn’t buy an extra one for herself or my father because tickets were expensive — $10 a day ($84 in today’s money). The setting: a 7,500-seat bleacher rig where the Roxboro running track is. The U.S. lost to Australia.

OK, you never heard of Ralston. Try Bob Dylan. I hope to outlive Dylan, born in 1941. I idolized him. I hope I don’t croak before he does. That wouldn’t be right. Heroes dies first.

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December 16, 2020   3 Comments

MAX

Max Burstyn lived in the Jewish highlands on the other side of the public park from me. No flooding in the highlands, and 99-percent yidlach. Max spoke English, Yiddish and German. Max was born in Munich and came to America as a baby in the 1950s. His dad was a Galitzianer from Krakow.

Max Burstyn, 1969

Max Burstyn, 1969

I played tennis with Max in the park. That’s where we met. Max still rants about my neighborhood — the lowlands, the other side of park. He says, “You lived with the goys — like Stropki. I played Pony League with him. There were about eight Stropkis. What about Bobrowski? He was a Catholic too. Went to St. Joe’s. He played third-string for the Browns. He was from your street. There was Mastrobuono. He had a funny walk.”

Max was a mischling ersten grades, self-described. (First-degree mixed race.) That’s a Nazi term, but Max used it — at least around me. Max’s mother was a German gentile. Max’s father and mother met in Germany after the war. Max was halachically converted as a baby.

Max knows some strange Yiddish words. He mentions kudraychik — a swindler. I can’t find that in the dictionary. It’s probably Slavic, not Yiddish. Max says, “There was a kudraychik, a Jewish barber, in the occupied zone after the war . . .”

You don’t hear that kind of language, except around Max.

A groysn dank, Max.

Check out my essay, “Some Acts of God Are Better Than Others,” in the Wall Street Journal (12/3/20). The link, here, takes you over the WSJ paywall.

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December 9, 2020   2 Comments

LOST MONEY

I lost 16 rent checks. I used the bank’s night drop, and the envelope wedged between the metal chute and the bank’s brick wall. Just got buried in there like a time capsule.

I wondered, Did I forget to make the deposit? Was the deposit in my car somewhere?

I spent hours looking through file cabinets and garbage cans for that deposit. The bank found the deposit three months later. I wrote the bank manager about my embarrassment — having to tell 16 tenants I lost their checks. I asked the bank to waive its service fees for a year. I wrote: “I heard my father — who died years ago — talking to me, saying ‘You did what? You lost the money?’”

The bank didn’t waive the fees. They did, however, give me $110 to cover tracer fees.

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December 2, 2020   2 Comments

YOU’RE LARRY DAVID

My dentist thinks he’s Larry David. My dentist insults me every visit, shouting, “You bastard, you don’t have any cavities!” My friend Mike, a retired businessman, thinks he’s Larry David. Mike is tough on waiters when we eat out.  “What? No Pellegrino?”

I’m Larry David. I used to listen to comedy records at Harvey Pekar’s apartment. Harvey had all of Bob and Ray, Lenny Bruce, and even Arnold Stang, the actor who did the Chunky commercials. I heard everything.

My band has gigged with a couple comedians. The comics did bits on dieting and Jewish cuisine. Frum comedians did riffs on kosher food, like “We had a power outage at our house and lost $100 worth of kosher meat — two chickens and a pound of hamburger.” I could do that — if I kept kosher and could tell a joke.

One of my relatives thought he was Phil Silvers. He ruined everything at Seders with stale constipation jokes. Yiddishe Cup once did a Catskill-themed event at a nursing home. Luckily, few people in Cleveland know about the Catskills, so our stuff went over, sort of.

I’ve watched Curb Your Enthusiasm a lot lately. Reminds me of me at my worst. That’s the point, right? I’m Larry David. You’re Larry David.

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November 25, 2020   2 Comments

GOOD BOY / BAD BOY

Whenever I came home for college vacation, my mother always suggested I go to the West Side with my father. (West Side meant the apartment biz.) My mother never went to the West Side. She didn’t go once! On the West Side I listened to my dad talk about boiler additives and sump pumps. My dad carried an Allen wrench to adjust boiler controls. I nearly died on the West Side. I was resentful. I had seen Roland Kirk at the Eastown Motor Hotel, East Cleveland; Sonny Stitt at Baker’s Keyboard Lounge, Detroit; Ben Webster at Ronnie Scott’s Club, London. And now I was on the West Side talking about radiator vents.

I watched the Dick Cavett Show and hung out with my high school buddies who were also home for college vacation. One guy was applying to medical school. Another was studying for the CPA exam. A friend was angling for a job as a reporter. The nightmare job: a high school acquaintance was studying nursing-home administration. How did he come up with that? He didn’t. His mother did. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, besides write novels. (Wrote them. Different story.)

I gave my parents tsuris. College was nonsense, I said, and I quit. I wound up in front of the draft board. The whole nine yards: bend over, touch your toes, spread your cheeks. I had a low number, 42, in the draft lottery. (You remember your lottery number if you’re of a certain age. It’s the closest our gang got to military service, except for G. Klein, who went to Annapolis.)

At the Selective Service office downtown, I took a mechanical aptitude exam. This test featured drawings of carburetors and brake shoes. The test stumped me. Many of the other test-takers loved it. A test about GTOs! These test-takers were mostly from my neighborhood. Draft boards went by neighborhoods, and my ‘hood had more than its share of greasers. At the end of the exams, I handed the draft-board doctor a list of my allergy medications and shots, and got out.

My parents didn’t go AWOL on me. They could have. My dad was bemused by my combat boots and jeans jacket, but he didn’t go Archie Bunker on me. My dad took his marching orders from Walter Lippmann, who called Vietnam a “quagmire.” My parents waited me out. My mother insisted I was still a good boy. She had been saying that since I was in kindergarten. I graduated college in due time, and I eventually went to the West Side — a lot. You’re a good boy. I can still hear my mother saying that.

I have a story in today’s Cleveland Plain Dealer about leaf blowers. Check it out here.

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November 18, 2020   2 Comments

SAINTHOOD?

I went to the Shaker Square farmers market on Saturday just because the weather was good. I didn’t buy anything. My wife likes to buy brussels sprouts. I asked the head cheese at the farmers market: “How about if I come back here with my clarinet and play? I’ll give you the money.” I was sick of playing just for myself in my basement. He said OK.

I made $21.50 in 45 minutes. All single bills, plus two quarters. The “little guys” supported me with their Washingtons ($1s). Power to the people. I played mostly standards and campfire songs. That’s where the money is. “When the Saints Go Marching In,” “This Land is Your Land,” and “Autumn Leaves.”

Very few people actually stopped and listened. That’s the ignominy of busking. Nevertheless, I got in some clarinet practice, and an elderly lady said to me, “‘Bye Bye Blackbird’ made my day!” and a middle-aged black man said, “Nothing like live music!’

My sole regret is I didn’t hand the head cheese my band’s business card when I gave him all my dough. How’s he going to know to call me post-Covid? 

Enough. Orwell wrote: “Autobiography is only to be trusted when it reveals something disgraceful. A man who gives a good account of himself is probably lying . . .”

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November 11, 2020   4 Comments

THE JEWISH MUSIC RANKINGS

The Irish rank musicians with fiddle contests. So do bluegrass associations. There is a $50,000 Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass. I rank Jewish musicians . . .

#1. Alan Douglass. Keyboards. Yiddishe Cup. His big hit is “Gentile on My Mind.”

#2. Ari Davidow, who operates the KlezmerShack website in the basement of the Brandeis student union by the foosball tables. Entrepreneur.

#3. Steven Greenman. Violinist. Born Steven Chemlawn.

#4. Gary Gould, the Cali King of Klez. He’s the bandleader to Hollywood stars, and sometimes he goes to Santa Monica.

#5. Hankus Netsky, a k a The Great One. The Klezmer Hall of Fame waived the waiting period for The Great One.

#6. Bert Stratton. The Ohio/Michigan/Indiana distributor of  Yiddishe Cup coffee mugs.

#7. Margot Leverett. An award-winning mixologist of klez and bluegrass.

#8. Lori Cahan-Simon. She produced the Yiddisher Soul Train, KYW-TV, Philadelphia, 1970.

#9. Marc Adler. He invented the clarinet suck vac, available only at Adler’s Hardware, Providence, R.I.

#10. Cookie Lavagetto. Third base.

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November 4, 2020   4 Comments

THE HEYMISH AND THE AMISH

I walked into an Orthodox shul and saw an Amish man putting bales of hay and live chickens in the lobby. I said to myself, “No way.” Then I turned the corner and saw 15 Amish women in blue dresses with white aprons, and white bonnets. “No way” again. Then an Amish horse and buggy clopped by the front door.

Orthodox Jews arrived. Most were Modern Orthodox — dentists and lawyers with kippahs. A couple rabbis donned the full-black The Frisco Kid. This was for a sheva brocha (a post-wedding reception). John, from Middlefield, told me he used to be a wheelwright and now worked for a Jew who made mattresses. This mattress manufacturer was sponsoring the sheva brocha in celebration of his son’s wedding.

Yiddishe Cup’s violinist played klezmer outside by the buggy. The Amish driver said to me, “It sounds like Mozart!” The driver said Amish in northeast Ohio sometimes play harmonica but no other instruments. Instruments like “flute and guitar” might lead to forming a band, which is not sanctioned.

The bartender doled out Jack Daniels-and-Coke to the young Jews and young Amish, but nothing crazy happened other than the optics. My band played “Amazing Grace” — maybe a first for Green Road Synagogue. John said he sings “Amazing Grace” at home but not in church. He said his fellowship sings only Pennsylvania Dutch tunes in church.

I think the Amish enjoyed Yiddishe Cup, but who knows. They weren’t big talkers, at least around me. We played “Di Grine Kusine.” I wanted to see how the Yiddish lyrics would go over. Nothing. I guess I wasn’t going to figure out the Amish in one day. I’ve been working on the Jews, too — also with limited success.

(Yes, this happened.)

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October 28, 2020   2 Comments

TRUMP, TRUMP, TRUMP

I used to write essays about what I had for breakfast, and get the articles in the Wall Street Journal and New York Times. This was pre-Trump. Now, to get in these papers, I need to write “Trump every paragraph to have a shot.

When I was in grade school, sixth graders attended a week-long camping retreat. My elementary school — Victory Park — shared our retreat with neighboring Sunview School. Our sixth-grade teacher, an ex-Marine, said we Victory Park boys should pay attention to Trump from Sunview. Our teacher said Trump’s dad owned Lyndhurst Lumber, and “she would be a good catch.”

Yes, Trump was a girl, and she had two p’s in her last name, Trumpp, but let’s ignore the second p here. Trump was pretty and friendly, and she played clarinet. In junior high, she and I sometimes shared the same music stand. I think she gave up clarinet to become a cheerleader, and she married a guy on the football team, and she was never heard from again — at least by me. No reunions, nothing. I recently Googled her and learned her husband took over Lyndhurst Lumber, so I suppose I could go in there and ask, “How’s Trump?” But let’s keep this virtual, not real.

A fellow classmate, Robby Stamps, hitchhiked to Trump’s house in Lyndhurst and dated her. Stamps was James Dean-esque. Hitchhiking at age 13! (Later Stamps was wounded at Kent State.) Stamps was fluid, culturally. His father was a gentile car salesman named Floyd, and his mom was Jewish. Stamps felt comfortable in both worlds. Remember, this was back when “ethnicity” could be a white thing.

Trump worked part-time at The Swedish Bakery at Mayfield and Green roads. I never went in there. I should have. But my shyness trumped all.

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October 21, 2020   3 Comments