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 Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Washington Post.



1. The book Ten Authors and Their Novels by Somerset Maugham, from Libreria Buchholz in Bogota. I rationalized the theft because it was hard to find quality lit in English in Bogie in 1974. The bookstore carried quality English-language paperbacks, mostly Penguins from England. I justified my theft because I fantasied that Buchholz was an escaped Nazi on the lam in Latin America. I dealt with Buchholz’s son, who often showed me around. Nice guy. (I found out the other day, on the web, the father had been an art dealer for Hitler, specializing in unloading “degenerate” Jewish art for a profit. So there.)

2.In the late 1980s I bought a backyard jungle gym for my kids from Heights Furniture & Toy. The store failed to charge me for the tent portion — the multicolored fabric “treehouse” part. I never told Heights Furniture about the error. The treehouse tent was approximately $150. I disliked the owners at Heights Furniture because they sold bikes but didn’t know much about bikes. I bought a bike there –- and I still use it 45 years later. So Heights Furniture was probably OK people, and I was a schmuck.

3.Last week I was in Lucky’s (like a Whole Foods) at West 117 Street, and I walked out with $24 in free Faroe Island salmon. The fish was free to me because I went through the self-serve checkout and screwed up on the machine. When I asked for help, the store clerk double-voided my salmon purchase.

The salmon was in my bag. I was in the parking lot. Free fish. I felt guilty but not super guilty. Funny, I had been in Rosh Hashanah services just two days prior, where the rabbi had talked about regrets. The rabbi had regretted, for instance, not continuing to visit an elderly man in a nursing home. The rabbi had told the old man he would continue to visit but didn’t. (The rav was in college at the time.)

I went about my job in Lakewood. The fish was in my car trunk. I talked to a building manager about lease renewals, and then I talked about pecados (sins). She’s from Latin America. I said the High Holidays are kind of like what Catholics do every week – confess sins. I mentioned, in part, my situation at Lucky’s. She said, “You probably returned the fish.”

OK. I went back to Lucky’s. Three clerks thanked me for my “honesty.” I said, “Tell Saltzman.” (The Saltzman family owns the Lucky’s stores in Cleveland.)

. . . I stole the book. I stole the jungle-gym tent. I didn’t steal the fish. So I’m bragging here. Now I gotta cut back on the bragging. (Proverbs 11:2)

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September 27, 2023   3 Comments


I shopped at all the right stores and was somewhat stylish. But then, around ninth grade, I slipped up. I couldn’t keep up with the fads. A friend of my father was a rep for Farah pants. I liked Farah, but Farah wasn’t Lee and Lee wasn’t Levi’s. Farah was mostly the iridescent sharkskin look — the greaser look. I was not a greaser.

Greasers — at least at my school — clung to the Farah “Continental” greaser look for many years. “Collegiates” was  my crowd. Collegiates wore Lee jeans. Blue jeans weren’t permitted, but colored Lee jeans were. (Aside: greaser wasn’t a word when I was dealing with greasers. Greasers were “racks,” short for racketeers.)

I shopped at Cedar Center, at both Mister Jr. and Skall’s Men’s Wear. Ben Skall was dapper and ultimately became a state senator. I gave up white socks just so I could enter Skall’s. I bought black socks with gray rings around the top (Adler brand) at Skall’s. Cleveland Indians players Sam McDowell and Hawk Harrelson shopped at Skall’s.

I failed in fashion. I occasionally got “mocked out” at school for dressing wrong. I once wore a spread-collar shirt. That was strictly verboten. It had to be button down.

Wrong (L) / Right (R). Bert Stratton, early 1960s. junior high.

I also wore homemade clothes, such as a sweater my mom knitted. Homemade was also verboten, but a girl complimented me, so I kept wearing the sweater. The peak of my fashion phase was when I wore a shirt jac and light-blue denim pants. The shirt jac didn’t tuck in.

Sweaters, generally, weren’t my thing. Note: the alpaca sweater was the true Continental statement. Not for me. Alpaca was very itchy. A cashmere V-neck collegiate sweater suited me. I had a comfy one, the color was “summer wheat.”

I exited the fashion world about the time I started hanging out almost exclusively with grade-grubbing nerds. Tenth grade. (Nerds wasn’t a word yet. We were “dips,” probably short for dipshits.)

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September 20, 2023   2 Comments


Violet Spevack, the retired gossip columnist for the Cleveland Jewish News, died last week. She was 107! Born in 1916.

Violet mentioned my band, Yiddishe Cup, a lot. I had an “in” with her. Vi knew my parents from Temple Emanu El (Cleveland), which was originally an offshoot shul that Violet was a founding member of, and my parents had joined. Temple Emanu El was known for being heymish — not snooty. No old German Jewish money. The big money at Emanu El was Maurice Saltzman, the Bobbie Brooks founder. Saltzman grew up in an orphanage.

Violet would call my band “freyleky,” “toe-tapping,” “joyous,” “finger-snapping,” “multitalented,” and “may their cups runneth over.” I had my picture in that column almost as often as the presidents of the Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland.

Vi never said a bad word about anybody — in print. Off the record, she warned me not to tangle with certain heavy-hitters in the Jewish community. For instance, one heavy-hitter, who was bossy, dissed my band by saying “Your band is sounding better.”  That meant we weren’t up to her level. I was a bit sensitive back then! This disser ran a Jewish organization that wouldn’t hire us. Vi said, “That woman is very powerful. Steer clear.” I did — for decades. Funny, I eventually became friends with the disser, and she started to like my band. Violet loved all kinds of music. Her husband, David, played harmonica. He was a big fan, too, of Yiddishe Cup.

The only problem with Vi was she was from Glenville (a Cleveland neighborhood). The sheyne yidn (higher class Jews) lived in Glenville. Everything in her columns was Glenville this, Glenville that. You’d think Glenville was the center of the world. (She had been an editor of the Glenville High school paper in the 1930s.) Hey, my parents were from the more proste (working-class) part of  Jewish Cleveland, Kinsman. John Adams High. Vi tolerated John Adams rivals and their descendants!

Vi Spevack

Reunions in Florida for Glenville snowbirds — those were always newsworthy in Vi’s column. The Glenville diaspora ruled. If you had gone to Glenville High and moved to California, you could get ink in Vi’s column for having, say, a good round of golf in Palm Springs.

Violet was all about the phone. Never email. She would write out quotes (from me and other interviewees) longhand and then type them up. She usually called me before publication. Together, we fine-tuned copy. For instance, she would say, “How do you like ‘The heymishe Yiddishe Cup performed with spirit and ta’am (taste)?’” Violet, how about fewer Yiddish words? I couldn’t say that. Violet had her go-to Yiddish stable of well-known Yiddish words, and she worked it hard. She really liked freylach (happy).

Here’s another Yiddish word for you, Vi. Mentsh. As in, “Violet was a mentsh.”

[The photo of Vi is from when I was at her Sherri Park apartment in Lyndhurst in 2012. She was 96. We were talking about Mickey Katz, who she knew from . . . . drumroll,  Glenville.]

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September 13, 2023   2 Comments


The tenant in 304 was a slob, but still, he liked a spiffy-looking bathroom. My maintenance man said, “He ain’t did the dishes in years. I mean holy shit. And he’s bitching about his bathroom falling apart?” The maintenance man — Jim — repainted the entire bathroom. Jim also moved out a ratty couch and chair. The Salvation Army wouldn’t even take the stuff. It was all stained. I had to pay Jim extra for moving the furniture.

Generic messy suit and former tenant

A store tenant called and said Jim got dust on some of her stuff when he did a job there. “There was dust all over the place, and they didn’t cover my things.” I told the tenant to give me a price. Jim said he did cover her stuff. That was a bad day.

My plumber met me in the parking lot across from St. Ed’s High and showed me his monthly bills. He said, “This is the second highest amount I’ve ever given you.”


I got an email from a tenant saying he wanted a month’s free month because I was digging trenches through his apartment. We were putting in an underground condensate return line. Eighty-gauge black steel pipe. We were doing this because the entire building was sprouting leaks from the 90-year-old underground pipes. So we were digging a five-foot “grave” in the guy’s kitchen, dining room and living room. I told him he’d get the free rent.

The person in apartment 30 called and said he’s getting back with his girlfriend. Oh yeah? He’s out his deposit.

The worst was the letter taped to the storefront door at the Webb Road building: “Burt, it’s landlords like you that give all of us landlords a bad name. You should be ashamed of yourself. Signed, Tom Corrigan.”

Corrigan rented a store from me. He ran his rental property organization from my building. He had had a leak in his roof. We tried to fix it. I spent a few grand on it. Leaks are a tricky business.

It was a bad day.

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September 6, 2023   2 Comments


Poet Robert Bly’s worst nightmare was visiting his family in Minnesota and attending hockey games.  Maybe not as bad as Vietnam, but up there pain-wise, he said. Bly’s anti-Midwest rap was a big hit in Ann Arbor in the 1970s. Bly’s main message: your parents are middle-class stiffs; your real family is elsewhere.

Robert Bly, 1970

Bly was a 44-year-old Harvard man in a serape. He had a lot of chutzpah dispensing life advice in that shmate.

I was a mama’s boy. Whenever I went home for vacation, I received the treatment due a future Dr. Stratton. I did the occasional minor chore, like emptying the dishwasher and dusting. Some of my college buddies didn’t go home. They were scared of becoming middle-class, even for a weekend.

At home I hung around with old pals from my street. My friend John was installing tanning booths. My friend Frank (not his real name) owned shares in a racehorse. Frank worked as a mutuel clerk at the day-time Thoroughbred track and at the trotters’ track at night. When Frank wasn’t working, he was  firing his .357 magnum at beer cans in the woods.

Bly knew about guns, too, and Midwestern culture.  But it wasn’t his thing.

For my American English class at the U. of Michigan, I traveled with a friend — and classmate — Mark Schilling to southwest Ohio to research dialects. We asked the southwest Buckeyes to choose between

belly whopper/belly slam
lightning bug/firefly 


Mark Schilling, 1977

Mark’s parents said “warsh” instead of “wash.” They lived in Troy, Ohio, just north of Dayton. (This was North Midland dialect country.) Mark didn’t return to Troy after college. He wasn’t interested in becoming a J.C. Penney store manager like his dad. Mark went to L.A., then on to Japan. He’s still in Japan, 48 years later. Beat the drum for Mark Schilling, Bly.

Bly, you only spent a year — maybe two — in Norway! And then you wound up back in Minnesota and died there.

Check out the trailer for Mark’s movie  Convenience Story, recently released.

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August 30, 2023   3 Comments


Before I hire a building manager, I interview the candidate at his or her home. One man had four dogs in his living room. There was very little non-dog space. We wound up discussing the job requirements in a third-floor bedroom. There was a big bird up there.

When a doormat reads “Got beer?”, that’s a bad thing. Nevertheless, I hired a woman with that doormat, and she worked out well. Also, her email was “Imadrunkmonkey@.” Still, I hired her. She had a strong work ethic.

Benny, a man I hired, worked the day shift at Eaton Axle. His wife, Betty, was the world’s best cleaner. She wanted to be buried with a can of Comet. I gave her an unlimited cleaning budget. She liked to vacuum the halls every day. I didn’t try to stop her.

One of my worst employes was a cocaine addict. She ran up my Home Depot account with unauthorized charges, like for an air compressor and a tool box. What really caught my attention was “gift certificate $50.” She fenced items. I fired her and then went to Taco Bell to reconsider. My father had once given a custodian a second chance after she had ripped him off, and she had repaid my dad and stayed on the job.

But my gal — the coke head — left me feeling blue. I mulled this at T-Bell. She had said, “I have a few shopliftings but I never stole from people.”

Was I not people?

I stuck with firing her. I didn’t say, “You’re fired.” I said, “If you turn in the keys this weekend, I’ll pay your moving expenses and give you an extra $400, and I won’t call the cops.” Sometimes it pays to move people out quickly.

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August 23, 2023   No Comments


Yiddishe Cup played on the Rio Grande for 2,500 cheering Mexican-Americans at the Chamizal National Monument, El Paso, Texas.

And yo– minus the band — played south of the border for 30 stone-faced Mexican ranchers. I heard a banda group in El Fuerte, Sinaloa, northern Mexico, They were on a side street. I heard a lot of horns, including a tuba. The Mexican musicians were playing for a horse auction. One of the musicians lent me his clarinet. I have seen better clarinets and reeds. I played horribly because of that reed. My son the drummer and I played a Meron-style nign. The Mexicans clapped. My family was on a hiking trip in northern Mexico in 2008; that’s how this banda thing happened.

I would like to play more Latin gigs. Kapelye, the klezmer band, once did a wedding in Mexico City. And Golem has played in Mexico a few times. To Yiddishe Cup’s crédito, we have played not once, but twice, on the Rio Grande in El Paso.


Aside: in Cleveland I knew a dancer, Susana Weingarten de Evert, who grew up in Mexico City. Do all Jews in Mexico City have names like that?

I hope so.

Yo recuerdo when a Cleveland mom arranged a Jewish wedding for her daughter in El Salvador. I told the mom to fly down Yiddishe Cup. I said, “I’m sure the Jewish groom’s family can afford it, or they wouldn’t still be there.” She agreed to the “they could afford it,” but not the Yiddishe Cup part.

Yiddishe Cup has cornered the Latin-American Jewish doctor market in Cleveland — a market that fits into the backseat of a Toyota Camry. We did a gig for a Mexican Jewish doctor who headed the Cleveland Clinic evil eye center (Cole Eye Institute). Latin Jews party second only to Russian Jews.

Yiddishe Cup’s Latin repertoire goes from “Oye Como Va” to “El Rey.” We played an Ecuadorian Jewish wedding in Cleveland where I explained the chair-lifting to the groom’s gentile parents. I said in Spanish: “You will see people seated in chairs in the wind.”

Yiddishe Cup’s maximum hip-spanic gig was when we played “La Bamba” for an encore at our second outdoor concert in El Paso.

I miss those Latin gigs. We haven’t done any lately. For the record, I hope to sing “Bésame Mucho” tomorrow night at Yiddishe Cup’s gig in University Heights, Ohio. There is a clamor (somewhere) for the Yiddishe Cup/Latin thing.

Yidd Cup plays 7 pm tomorrow (Thurs., Aug. 17) at Walter Stinson Park, 2301 Fenwick Rd., University Heights, Ohio. Free. Bring a lawn chair or blanket.


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August 16, 2023   1 Comment


Eugene “The Eggman” Brudno sold eggs to bakeries and came to a lot of my gigs. Eugene’s brother, Walter, also sold eggs. Eugene was involved in the Workmen’s Circle. I knew Walter’s son, Marshall, who sold eggs too.

Marshall, now 76, dropped out of Michigan, sold eggs, opened a hippie food store called Marshall’s Grain and Bean; opened an organic bakery (this was in the 1970s) called Stone Oven (different than today’s Stone Oven); closed the bakery; became a plumber; got religious, then got not-so religious; and moved to a farm in southern Ohio.

I was in southern Ohio on a bike trip in 2010 and bumped into Marshall at the Grange Hall in Amesville, Ohio. He offered Alice and me a lift in his pick-up truck. I turned him down but Alice took him up on it. We were on a group ride, the Great Ohio Bicycle Adventure (GOBA).

Marshall is a smart guy who works with his hands. He’s good at snaking drains. He’s good at eggs/ farming/ bread/ plumbing. All hands-on. I think he still does plumbing. I haven’t seen him in 13 years. Marshall knows a lot of Yiddish. He used to daven at an Orthodox shul in Cleveland Heights.

I think about Brudno, the name, a lot because I regularly see Brudno etched in stone on a West Side building. The Brudno building is on Detroit Avenue in Lakewood.

A 19th century Brudno went off to Yale and became a lawyer and novelist. This was in the 1890s! Ezra Brudno. He built the Brudno building in the 1920s. Ezra’s dad ran a cigar-rolling sweat shop. I’ve read about Ezra and his family in the archives at the Western Reserve Historical Society.

The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History states: “He [Brudno] wrote that there was little, if anything, of value in Judaism and Jewish culture worth preserving.” Harsh.

Cigar-rolling shops were common at the turn of the 20th century. The shops were often in houses. In Cleveland, the cigar-rolling houses were called “buckeyes.” I read an account of a worker who worked for Ezra’s father. The worker was a communist. She wrote about what a hole the place was. She also wrote about Ezra: “He had all the luck.”

Marshall — my  generation — was the ultimate hippie. He probably still is. According to Facebook, he has a small finca in Costa Rica, where he goes in the winter, and the rest of the year he lives on a farm in the hills outside Athens, Ohio.

Brudno: the building. The Brudno men, the legends, right here.

Yiddishe Cup plays a free outdoor concert 7 pm. Thurs., Aug. 17, at Walter Stinson Park, 2301 Fenwick Rd., University Heights. Bring a blanket or chair. We’ll play klezmer and Motown. The concert is dedicated to the memory of Walter Stinson, a University Heights community coordinator.

Yiddishe Cup. 1993. (Half the guys in this photo are still in the band — 30 years later. The left half.)

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August 8, 2023   4 Comments


When my dad was dying, I asked him if ever thought about his mother. I said, “You don’t think of your mother much, do you?” He rarely talked about his mother, or the past in general.

“I think of  my mother every day!” She had been dead for 22 years. (My dad’s dad was out of the equation; he had been hit by a May Co. truck in 1924 and had played a lot of pool after that.)

I haven’t seen my father in 37 years. About half a lifetime ago.

Bert and Toby at father-son night at Victory Park School, South Euclid, Ohio. 1957.

“Anything within 10 feet of the cup, Toby sank,” said Hy Birnbaum, a golfer, druggist and friend of my father. Hy, in his later years, worked part-time as a pharmacist at the neighborhood drugstore. Hy told me all his friends were dead. My dad was, for sure. Hy was about 85. (This was in 2010.)

I ran into John Kelly, who had worked with my dad at the key company. I met John at a folk music festival in Lake County. He recognized my band. John said one of the “big bosses” at the key company had slept in the office overnight because he had marital problems. The “big boss” had had a slew of problems. His kids were “real hippies,” John said. I remembered the boss.  He had been a loud-mouth, know-it-all country-club Jew from Shaker Heights. I remember my dad bitching about him almost nightly at the dinner table.

My dad disliked most “big bosses.” The one “big boss” my dad liked was the company president, Manny Schor, who was a World Federalist. He was modest and smart. He came to my gigs occasionally in his later years. Manny said to me, “I can still picture your father sitting at his desk.”

So can I.

One question: why were these guys alive (in 2010) and my dad dead?

My dad’s long game wasn’t too good.

[Toby Stratton died Aug. 2, 1986, eight days short of age 69. Manny Schor died in 2009 at 91. Hy Birnbaum died in 2016 at 91. John Kelly died in 2011 at 80.]

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August 2, 2023   1 Comment


My father, Toby, was interested in family, money and Ohio State football, in that order. He wanted financial security, and he got it, but not before losing a lot of money on a cosmetics firm, postage-stamp machines, race horses, and a New Mexico real estate gamble. The cosmetics firm was in the basement. Like Mary Kay but not pink. Red.

Toby’s “day job” was at a key company. Car keys. The plant was right next to the King Musical Instruments factory. I got a student-model alto sax, at a steep discount, out of the proximity. The sax model was “Cleveland.” (Cool. Like my ping pong table, which is a “Detroiter.”)

Toby Stratton 1984, age 67.

When my dad escaped the key company — after 17 years — he became self-employed (in real estate). The only way to go, he claimed, even with all the aggravation. Aggravation was one of my dad’s favorite themes. Like he’d say to me, “You’re aggravating me. You ever shave anymore? If you dress like a bum, your tenants will treat your building like trash.”

It took me a while to find the rhythm of property management.

Property management is not for the fainthearted. It’s city building inspectors trying to nail you with violations; put a lens cover on that fluorescent light in the basement. What’s a lens cover? It’s the plastic thing that shields the fluorescent tube, which is screwed into a metal holder called a troffer.

Tear down that 11-car garage. Why? Because the wall is 20 degrees out of plumb (and will last another hundred years). The inspector says tear it down. And get a structural engineer to do some drawings. My father used to give the city building commissioner a fifth of whiskey at Christmas. Those were the days. We thought they’d never end. And they haven’t.

Here’s the link to my essay, “Turn off the AC and soak up Cleveland’s summer,” in last Sunday’s Cleveland Plain Dealer. Luckily for me, Sunday was a cool day, weather-wise.

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July 26, 2023   1 Comment


I put up signs on the bulletin board at the downtown Y, offering tours of Cleveland. I was expecting some Danish girls. Maybe Dutch. (I got neither.) I checked out some other Cleveland tour companies. I went on a Grey Line bus tour. “Best water in America — Cleveland’s tap water!” the guide said. Good to know. I rode Lolly the Trolley.

My itinerary of Cleveland was better than these guys. Roll a few bowling balls at that four-laner in Fleet-Broadway, followed by duck at John’s Café on E. 52nd Street. Visit the abandoned power plant in the Flats. (This was approximately 1975, amigos.) Explore the subway route under the Detroit-Superior bridge. Sniff unfiltered steel-mill air atop the scenic Clark Avenue bridge.

No tourists came by. Not even one. Cleveland is not the greatest tourist town. Don’t blame me.

Thirty-six hours in Cleveland . . . The Rock Hall, Severance Hall, the art museum. And if you want to see the Roxy Burlesque and Jean’s Funny House, contact me.

The Roxy on E. 9th Street, Cleveland. (It closed in 1977.)

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July 19, 2023   2 Comments


I remember PSSC Physics. (Physical Science Study Committee.) Twelfth grade.

I remember Tarzana at the Roxy. I remember the trumpet player, too. He could play.

I remember “Java” by Al Hirt.

I remember Norm Cash. (I don’t know many names shorter than “Norm Cash.” There’s Joe Dart, the bass player in Vulfpeck, and the late Al Gray, a Cleveland philanthropist. How about Hy Fox? Who’s he?)

I remember the U.N. Flag Game. I remember the real estate board game Square Mile

I remember Special Hebrew —  the boys-only weekday Hebrew class at Silver’s Temple.

I remember my Confirmation party at the Hospitality Inn in Willoughby. Why did my parents pick that place? Because it was close to where my dad worked and my parents got a deal on it.

I remember Hitler on German stamps.

I remember God — Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver.

Rabbi Abba Hillel SIlver

Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver

I remember William E. Miller, Goldwater’s running mate.

I remember an Olds 98 with electric windows. (Belonged to a friend’s father.)

I remember the “collegiate” look: V-neck sweater — preferably cranberry — with Levi’s and penny loafers.

I remember Larry Zeidel, a Jew who played for the Cleveland Barons — an AHL hockey team.

Larry Zeidel

Larry Zeidel

I remember my dorm floor was called the “dope floor.” There were some heavy dopers on that floor. Most of them didn’t finish college. I remember a sign by the dorm elevator that read “Rap-in Tonight, Lounge, SDS.” The SDS recruiters wore wire-rims and work boots. The SDS-ers were excited about their fresh adventures at the Chicago Democratic Convention (1968).

I remember “Let’s split.”

I’m splitting.

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July 11, 2023   2 Comments


My family came across two ticks in Connecticut. The ticks got on my wife and daughter. We were in CT for a friend’s wedding, and after the wedding we spent some time at a resort on the CT/New York State border. My wife asked the concierge at the resort for a hiking trail. He sent us to a nearby nature reserve; he didn’t warn us about ticks.

The only tick I’d ever seen — before that  — was Tik Krieger, the late aunt of my friend Shelly Gordon. (Theresa “Tikvah” Krieger.)

My family ran in a meadow in CT, like in a Wyeth painting. We lay in a field. It was idyllic. We were dumb about ticks. When we got back to the resort, Alice noticed a tick on her hip. She pulled the tick out with tweezers. (Let’s hear it for tweezers — the word.) Then Alice found a tick in our daughter’s hair. Alice got it out and accidentally dropped it back into Lucy’s hair. Lucy wasn’t happy about that. Lucy’s husband got out his iPhone flashlight, and he and Alice re-found the tick.

We googled ticks. Everybody in CT knows a lot about ticks. CT is Tick World. On our way home — on the drive to LaGuardia — I read a front-page story about ticks in the Wall Street Journal. Ticks are very numerous this summer.

I have a problem with CT. I don’t like its size (too small), its spelling (too complicated), or its wildlife.

btw, we’re OK.

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July 5, 2023   3 Comments


I bought a white linen sports coat in Colombia that has a very 1950s Cuban look to it. I needed it for my daughter’s destination wedding in Colombia. I got a Panama hat, too. Made in Colombia, not China. I have the Meyer Lansky-in-Cuba look down.

I’m not a shopper. So buying the white jacket at a fancy shop in Cartagena, Colombia, was memorable. There were a lot of pastels. Photo, please . . .

I didn’t think I’d get much use out of the jacket after the wedding, but I’ve worn it a couple times since. I wore it to a friend’s wedding this month. I was the only person in a white jacket, which was cool. At least I thought so. The coat is not a polyester Cleveland Pops rag. It’s a nice-looking piece of cloth. Then I wore it to a gig. As bandleader I can wear whatever I want.

Tonight [June 24] I’m going to the summer solstice bash at the Cleveland Museum of Art. I just bought the ticket. I’m going solo. And if I don’t go, the money goes to the art museum. All good. Three Latin bands will play outside the museum. I’m thinking of wearing the white linen jacket. Why not?

. . . I went. Two friends came along, as it turned out. My outfit was a hit. I am officially a fashionista. A random partygoer complimented me on my “linen.” Another said I looked like I was in Jurassic Park. A Colombian musician dug my hat.

I’m looking for more opportunities for my white linen sports coat.

Yo, at the summer solstice party, Cleveland Museo de Arte, June 24, 2023

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June 27, 2023   8 Comments


When Sweeney moved out, he left a huge pile of empty beer cartons. The apartment was a mess. I was surprised, because Sweeney was always so polite, so I figured he’d be clean, too. He called me whenever he was late with the rent. His final call was “I tried like hell to come up with the rent but couldn’t.” Sweeney said he was moving to Cedar Point to work.

Sweeney’s kitchen

He was very polite. I already said that, but it bears repeating. Most tenants, when they’re late with their rent, they don’t call you. Sweeney said, “Don’t bother with an eviction. I turned in the keys. I didn’t have time to clean. I’d be happy to stay in touch. If you have any concerns, please feel free to reach me.” He said his security deposit would probably cover the cleanup.

No way. Should I call Sweeney and spell out “P-I-G” on his voicemail? He was such a polite guy. If you have any concerns? Yes, I do.

I had an essay in Belt Magazine on Father’s Day about the one and only Toby Stratton. Check the article out here.

Toby Stratton at American Greetings, 1954. Age 37

I wrote an essay on how I got scammed.  The article was in the Cleveland Plain Dealer last week and was paywalled. So here’s the article, pasted in:

June 16, 2023


CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio — I used to scoff at “AARP Bulletin” articles about scams targeting the elderly. How could my fellow AARP members be so gullible? Do they walk around with credit-card numbers taped to their foreheads? Do they give out personal information to random callers from India?

I used to scoff. I got scammed last month. Here was the setup. Say, your grandchild had a sporting event, school play, or concert in North Carolina and you live in Cleveland, and the scammer informed you there was a free livestream of the event. You could watch the event from your La-Z-Boy in Cleveland Heights. Nice.

Not so nice. For instance, my son, who lives in Los Angeles, has a band which played a show in Illinois last month. Every Memorial Day weekend, approximately 20,000 people attend the Summer Camp Music Festival outside of Peoria, Illinois. I was not in summer-camp mode last month. For one thing, I didn’t relish standing in a field with several thousand young people, some of whom are colloquially known as wooks. According to the Urban Dictionary, a wook is “a dirty, vagrant variety of hippie. Almost always unemployed, following around jam bands or festivals, and ripping people off.” The Urban Dictionary definition is probably extreme, but still, I didn’t feel like doing the field research to find out.

I would gladly live-stream my son’s show from home. I clicked the live-stream link on the festival’s Facebook page and gave them my credit card info. Slightly Stoopid. That’s the name of a well-known jam band on the festival circuit. And it’s me. The phony live-stream link was posted by a commenter on the festival’s Facebook page. My son had told me the festival wouldn’t be live-streamed, but who was I going to believe — my son or the internet?

Apparently other parents, grandparents and friends give credit-card information to fake live-streamers for bogus concerts and sporting events. The Better Business Bureau and various state athletic associations have issued warnings. The North Carolina High School Athletic Association cautioned: “There are hundreds of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube events being promoted, sometimes within prominent online groups, that appear to be real live streams, but are phishing for your personal information, and sometimes trying to install malware on your device.”

Was I just slightly stupid or 100-percent? My son’s band, Vulfpeck, is legit. They’re playing the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in Manchester, Tennessee, tonight, and that festival is being live-streamed — for real — on Hulu. Vulfpeck’s slot on the bill is after midnight – Saturday, at 1:45 am Eastern time — following Kendrick Lamar.

Shortly after I disclosed my credit-card information, I noticed a char​​ge on my card for $1.08 from Toned Glutes. Toned glutes? I asked my wife if it was her charge, and she said no. And I knew — from reading AARP articles– that phishers often start with small charges, hope you don’t notice, and then hit you with a major credit-card charge.

Allison, at Chase Bank, confirmed I had been scammed. “Toned Glutes” aligned, she said, with spurious foreign phone numbers and links on her computer. So I jettisoned my Chase card. Now comes my punishment: changing all my autopays. AARP knows best. Lesson learned.

Jack Stratton on a Yiddishe Cup gig, 2017.

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June 20, 2023   2 Comments


I wrote four novels in my 20s and 30s and had a topnotch agent. The agent handled Merle Miller, John Knowles, Garrison Keillor and me. I got rejected by high-quality publishing houses, like E.P. Dutton, Doubleday, Viking, Random House and Simon & Schuster. (How many of these publishing houses still exist?) I knew I’d get rejected a lot, but every three months for about 14 years? I developed the skin of a rhino.

My friend Harvey Pekar could kvetch. Then bingo, Dec. 31, 1979, The Village Voice ran a rave about Harvey’s comic books, and everybody suddenly liked Harvey’s stuff. Pekar walked to the post office almost daily to check his P.O. box for fan mail. He said, “Two or three of these [fan letters] a month keeps me going.”

Back to me . . . (Check out what I’ve written about Pekar here.) My final novel was about a Slovenian cop in Collinwood. I think Pekar would have appreciated. Not sure, because by then Pekar was married to his third wife, who didn’t let him hang around with his old friends. My novel had  a weak plot. I wish I could do plots but I can’t. Whenever I hear “let me tell you a story,” I want to scram. Some rabbis like to tell stories. That’s their shtick: “Hey, here’s a parable.” Storytelling, that’s a buzzword. (Buzzword is a buzzword.)

A Viking editor wrote me: “You have a nice way with words, your dialogues are good, and your characters emerge as individuals.” That was probably my best rejection. My worst one was from my dad, who told me I was on “one big ego trip.” But my dad never abandoned me. He even wrote my literary agent to try to boost my stock. In 1973, when I was “on the road” in Latin America, my dad opened my mail in Cleveland and corresponded with my agent. He wrote her: “I have no quick way to contact Bert as he is traveling in Mexico.” My dad became my literary secretary.

Thirteen years later. 1986. My dad died fairly suddenly of leukemia and as soon as he was in the ground, I started searching for the letter he had written my agent. I looked through all my father’s paperwork, but his writings were mostly about toilets, radiators and insurance. He owned apartment buildings in Lakewood. He wrote, “Light incinerators from the top so they burn down . . . Thermocouples are our biggest problem. Kick in manually if necessary.”

I tried reaching the literary agent in New York; I wanted her to dig up the letter. But she was retired. A younger agent wrote back, “We were touched and wish we could produce your father’s letter but, alas, it is among the missing. The back files of the agency are at the Columbia University library. We thin our files from time and time, and I have to assume that your father’s letter fell victim to the thinning process.”

John Knowles visited my agent’s office twice a month to chat. My agent submitted A Separate Peace to 27 publishers before Macmillan picked it up in 1960. Why didn’t the agent get me  27 rejections-per-book? (Aside: My friend and op-ed writer Jimmy Sollisch says he’s going to write a piece about near misses. He says everybody has a good near-miss story. True.)

Toby Stratton, 1967. Age 50.

Toby Straton, 1967. Age 50

My dad urged me to get more involved in the family business, like point up some bricks, paint some walls, and get my hands dirty. He thought I should back off the typing and deal with real characters — plumbers, painters, bankers, insurance men.

I went into the real estate business, oh yeah. I stopped writing books and worked on a new long-term project —  becoming worthy of the tombstone epitaph: “This guy didn’t screw up the family business.”

I found my dad’s correspondence with my agent a couple years ago. The letter was in the attic among some rejections. Here’s the letter . . .

“As Bert’s father, I’m sure you will understand my taking this opportunity, though I know Bert will shoot me the first chance he gets, to add that coupled with his talent he is a very dedicated, hard-working and disciplined writer. His heart, soul and efforts are all wrapped up in his work. And he started another book before he went off to Mexico to travel. On Bert’s behalf, I want to thank you for your encouraging letter, your interest in his book and everything you will do to try to get it published. Please do not hesitate to write me if I can be of further help during Bert’s absence. Thanks you so much and good luck.”

Is that an acceptance letter?

[This essay appeared, in slightly different form, in Belt Magazine in 2015. “My Acceptance Letter.”]

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June 14, 2023   2 Comments


I got a poem published in The World. The problem was my then-girlfriend, Nora, didn’t know what the The World was. Probably four people in all of Ann Arbor knew what The World was. It was a poetry magazine from the St. Mark’s Poetry Project, New York City. My poem was alongside  poems by Peter Orlovsky, Ed Sanders, Frank O’Hara, Ted Berrigan.

Nora knew Ed Sanders from The Fugs, and I reminded her Orlovsky was Ginsberg’s boyfriend. Also, she knew about Berrigan because I talked about him so much. He had taught at Michigan three years earlier, and I’d taken his course.

Now, 1972, Berrigan passed through Ann Arbor again, and he gave me the news I was in The World. Berrigan was at the U. for a poetry reading (better, “to read poems”) in the Multipurpose Room at the UGLI (Undergraduate Library). After his reading, I asked Ted if he remembered me from 1969, and he said yes, and he said, “I see you’re in the latest World. Me and you both!” He pulled out a copy. I flipped.

Later I celebrated with Nora at Gino’s, a fast-food hamburger joint on North State Street. (Gino’s was founded by Gino Marchetti of the Baltimore Colts). At Gino’s, in walked Steve Rosen. He had been in Donald Hall’s creative writing class with me. “Hey, Rosen, I got in The World!”

Steve flipped. Steve knew the names of almost all the small lit mags in the country, and he’d sent out poems to some crazy places, like to Stevens College in Columbia, Missouri. Steve pointed out to Nora that I was now in the majors. Thank you, Steve.

Still, I didn’t have a copy of the mag. Berrigan had possibly the only copy of The World in the Midwest. Berrigan said he’d meet me after the poetry reading to go drinking. He would meet up with me and a handful of other Berrigan acolytes. The meet-up didn’t happen. Berrigan went off to Detroit, I think. I spent the evening calling a somewhat-random number and asking, “Is Ted Berrigan there?”

The World was on sale at New Morning Books, St. Mark’s Bookshop and Gotham Book Mart in New York City. The World wasn’t in the real world, but it was my world.

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June 7, 2023   5 Comments


I’m experiencing flashbacks. Not unusual. I get these South Euclid flashbacks frequently. I remember when my uncle Bob got old and started dreaming about the Kinsman Road streetcar of his youth. At least that’s what he told me. He was decades out of Cleveland, too, living in Georgia.

The first two periods (classes) of high school, we practiced marching-band routines in the church parking next to the school. The parking lot had first-down markers and was the size of a football field. I stayed only one period. I could get away with that because I wasn’t a regular. I was an alternate. Every game, I marched in a different position. I spent more time remembering where to turn than actually playing music.

The band was fronted by the Golden Girl and the Silver Twins — baton-twirlers modeled after the Purdue University system. There were also flag-waving majorettes and a drum major. I joined marching band because I couldn’t be in concert band if I wasn’t in marching band. Was I a highbrow music snob? No. Mozart — never heard of the guy.

Concert band, for me, was a social thing. It was like gym because it was a mix of the entire student body. In concert band we annoyed the band director by chatting instead of listening. A couple times he got so mad he threw pencils at us. He never connected because the pencils hit the music stands.

The concert-band room had four white fiberglass sousaphones. Each sousaphone had a letter in the bell.  One sousaphone had A,  one R, one C, and one S. ARCS was the school nickname. Charles F Brush High in Lyndhurst, Ohio. Charles Brush — a contemporary of Edison — invented the arc light. That was a quality name — Arcs. Much better than Wildcats or Tigers. The school colors were brown and gold. Also quality.

We played Shaker Heights High. It was an afternoon game. Shaker didn’t have lights. Didn’t want to attract rowdies with Friday-night lights, I think. There were no fire-twirling baton-twirlers at the afternoon game. One of our band members walked across the entire football field on his hands. That was part of a Mary Poppins halftime show. We formed a kite and played “Let’s Go Fly a Kite.”

After the game I jumped on the band bus and watched the majorettes put away their flags and batons. We drove back to Lyndhurst, singing “Brush High Varsity” and “We’re From Brush High, Couldn’t Be Prouder.” We lost all our games.

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May 31, 2023   3 Comments


“You really want to stay here?” my friend Mark Schilling said. “Back to the womb? The Cuyahoga River as the umbilical cord. There are so many others ways to go, and why stay in a place that stinks in so many ways.”

“Yeah, well.”

“This place is a nuthouse, right? Admit it. Even if you do have all the comforts of home. Why kid yourself. You know the signs. You should fuck James A. Rhodes and all the assholes who voted for him. Christ, you wait any longer, you’ll be left with just Hal Lebovitz’s sports columns and Mom’s pastrami sandwiches.”

“Yeah, well.”

“Kerouac, Buk and all the other guys aren’t great because they sat on their asses and made a lot of neat excuses. They’ve done it; begged for pennies in the street, licked spit off the floor. All that good shit. They’ve done it. The whole fucking tour. What have you done? You can’t sit on your ass in the library and expect salvation. I’m just saying.”

[circa 1972.]

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May 23, 2023   1 Comment


I get a kick looking at buildings for sale. Any kind of building: office, commercial, multi-family. I feel like I’m going out on a date. My heart races. Not everybody is a deal junkie, I know. Deals are stressful and there’s a lot of posturing. Most people don’t go for it. There’s risk — enormous risk.

I know brokers. They all work on commission. Nobody is on salary. They eat what they kill. There’s a lot of BS, as you can imagine.

When I  see a property that throws a nice bottom line, I skip around my living room like a kid. I do a deal or two a year. My dad owned a shoe store in Willowick. His landlord was Albert Ratner. When I first started, I called Ratner. I cold-called him. He agreed to meet me at his Terminal Tower office. I said, “My dad used to have the shoe store in Willowick. Remember him?” Of course Ratner remembered my dad. We talked about Arnold’s Shoes. Ratner said, “I take it you don’t want to sell shoes. You want to learn about real estate. Then do it. Buy a building and learn it.”

I did. I like it. I like almost every facet of real estate. I even like bankers.

Granted, there are always holes to patch. Asphalt, concrete. Nothing lasts forever. Office buildings — the worst. Medical-office space – the absolute worst. Medical is very painful. Doctor as tenants, they think they’re God.

Multi-family . . . I’ve made a fortune there. I’ve got a crew that’s on top of everything. Still, I handle some of the mishigas myself. A tenant calls and says, “Hey, my bathroom ceiling is falling in.” Ever heard of humidity, buddy? Open a window. “Hey, my stove smells like carbon monoxide.” Bullshit. Carbon monoxide is odorless. “Hey, my cat is dying from the black mold in the bathroom.” Black mold is not Black Plague, deary. Get some Clorox and a scrub brush.

I like foreclosures; I like straight-cash deals; I like leverage. I’m a deal animal. For me, there’s nothing better than hanging around old people at Jewish Federation events and asking if they own property. Some sell, some don’t. No broker. Sweet.

I have holdings in Ohio, Utah, Florida and Texas. I’m not only Rust Belt. I learned that from Ratner.

Please call my assistant if you’ve got something for me to look at. Thank you.


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May 16, 2023   1 Comment