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.



Do everything right —  and if you’re lucky — you could make it to 94. (I’m not talking 100. That’s freak show.) Take Bob Gries, a prominent Clevelander who died last month at 94. He exercised two hours a day, according to his obit. I suppose one could subtract two-hours-per-day from his lifespan and conclude Gries “lived” a lot fewer than 94 years. Depends what you think of exercise. Bob Gries enjoyed exercise — a lot.

Here’s a funny bit from his obit:“[Bob] wrote a book called Aging with Attitude, which highlighted some of his 100+ adventures and the importance of a daily workout regimen. After reading this book, people told him they were inspired while others said they had to take a nap!” Gries was an endurance runner (100-mile races). He climbed mountains in Antarctica and the Arctic.

Gries was “Our Crowd,” old Jewish money (Cleveland chapter). He was a descendant of the first Jewish settler in Cleveland, a merchant who arrived from Germany in 1837. Gries’ grandfather was the rabbi at The Temple in the early 20th century. The Gries family — through Bob’s mother — owned the May Co. chain in Ohio. The Grieses also owned a minority share of the Cleveland Browns. I could go on.

Bob Gries

I will. Bob Gries’ father went to Yale in the 1920s. Bob went in the 1940s. In the Cleveland Jewish News obit, one of Gries’ sons said Bob served on so many some boards in Cleveland because Bob’s pop had not been welcomed on many boards because he was Jewish. Sound about right for back then.

In the early 1990s, I saw Gries — all farpitzed in a white linen suit — welcome approximately 2,000 proste yidn at a Yiddish concert at Cain Park, Cleveland Heights. Bob was repping the Jewish Federation of Cleveland. He was suave bolo and fit.

The last time I saw Gries was about three years ago on Public Square. He, along with a health aide, were checking out a fringe festival. The man got around.

Dead at 94. That’s good mileage, right? Lessons? He exercised a lot, had health aides, a lot of money and a big family, and he was very involved in the community. Genetics was probably a factor too.I haven’t considered that.

. . . Just did. I considered it — genetics. I just googled Gries’ parents. They died at 65. Dad in 1966 and Mom in 1968. Climb a mountain in Antarctica. You’ll outlive your parents.

Yiddishe Cup plays a free concert 2-3 pm Sunday, Dec. 3, at the Beachwood Community Center, 25225 Fairmount Blvd., Beachwood, Ohio.


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November 21, 2023   3 Comments


Myers, an independent-living facility in Beachwood, Ohio, had a front awning that read Myers Apartments. Why the word Apartments? Myers was eight stories and was an apartment building. It didn’t look like a swimming pool. I had a bad attitude going into Myers. I was determined not to play my usual Yiddish music standards, like “Bay Mir Bistu Sheyn” and “Tumbalaika.” Instead, I would read blog entries about real estate. My pianist, Alan Douglass, would follow up by singing “Dear Landlord” by Bob Dylan.

One Myers resident, seated in the front row, got up to leave halfway through the show. I suggested she stick around for “Gentile on My Mind” — a Yiddishe Cup tune — but she left. Alan and I went into “Because of You,” a Tony Bennett classic. That placated some people, but not her. And then I read more bloggie stuff. My wife, Alice, followed with some “oy-robics” — Jewish chair exercises. (“Turn your neck to the right. Kvetch to your neighbor.” That sort of thing.)

Afterward, Alice and I went to a Chinese restaurant to recap the show. We went to Ho Wah, where my mother and I had often dined. If my mother were still alive, she would not have liked the Myers show. Alice said,  “Easy on the prose and Bob Dylan next time.”

I didn’t listen to Alice. I followed up with a similar program at the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage, where I melded real estate prose and klezmer. After the Schmaltz gig, I ran into poet Barry Zucker at Whole Foods. He was passing out ban-pesticides literature. Barry told me he often recited poetry to music at open readings. I thought the poetry-and-jazz combination had died out sixty years ago. (By the way, Barry looked like Allen Ginsberg.)

Dig this . . . Readings on the Beat Generation by Jack Kerouac, with Steve Allen on piano, produced by Bill Randle. That record hit me hard in college. Bill Randle — the Kerouac producer — had been a Cleveland DJ who moved to New York. [No, he traveled to NYC on weekends.] Randle used to play Yiddish Cup’s version of “Bay Mir Bistu Sheyn” on his Cleveland radio show in the 1990s. I was a fan of Randle mostly because of the Kerouac record. I even knew Randle’s favorite pants were Levi’s corduroys. (He mentioned that in a newspaper column he wrote.) Randle helped discover Elvis. Randle knew everybody. On his radio show, he would name-drop like crazy. Very big on Johnny Ray.

I borrowed the Readings on The Beat Generation record from the South Quad dorm library at Michigan. I didn’t live at South Quad and wasn’t allowed to borrow records; I snuck the LP out under my jacket, dubbed it onto a cassette, and returned the record. Kerouac read a story called “The History of Bop.” To repeat, Steve Allen on piano. Memorable.

“Spoken word” — I liked it. I did it again. I read prose with the Klezmer Guy Trio, which was pianist Alan Douglass, singer Tamar Gray, and me on prose (and clarinet). We performed at Nighttown, the premier  jazz club in Cleveland, a couple times in the 2010s. Jim Wadsworth, the Nighttown booker, said to me at our final performance, “You know why this place is full tonight? Because of Tamar, your singer.” Thanks, Jimbo.

Here’s a spoken-word clip from 2010, live from the Maltz Museum:

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November 15, 2023   3 Comments


Ted Budzowski had two Stratoloungers in his living room. One for him and one for his wife. Also, Ted had a stuffed mongoose-and-cobra souvenir from Okinawa, and a tree-stump occasional table, which his son had made. The son lost $8,000 on tree stump tables, which never caught on big in Cleveland. The good news was the son also was a retired career soldier. (Note, I’m not knocking Stratoloungers. I have a La-Z-Boy.) My daughter says I shouldn’t discuss recliners, but I’m a fan of recliners.

Ted Budzowski, 1978, age 63.

Ted grew up in Youngstown, Ohio, near Cow Shit Hill (a real place). Ted and his kids made it out. Ted’s second son worked for the phone company.

Ted worked at Republic Steel. Ted and his wife, Sophie, managed a building for my family. When Ted retired to Texas in 1984 — to live near his soldier son — I hired a tougher hombre — a guy named Buck — who had grown up in a Tennessee orphanage. Buck didn’t like me and people like me (sons of bosses). Buck didn’t cotton to cleaning up after tradesmen and watering outdoor plants. Not part of his job. Buck often got “porky” with me. (That meant “argumentative.”)

Ted, on the other hand, had always treated me kindly. I had counted on Ted to tell me when my tire pressure was low, for instance. He had an eye for low tire pressure. (This was before cars had low- tire-pressure warning lights on the dash.) Ted knew cars; he said, “I might be a dumb Polack but I know when a nut on a steering column has been messed with.”

For his last 15 years, Ted’s Stratoloungers were in San Antonio, where he lived. He didn’t check back with me except for an annual holiday card. Meanwhile, Buck — who was working for me — raised prices on me unilaterally for odd jobs. He never asked what I thought a job was worth; he just charged me. Who was bossing whom?

I was young and had a hard time bossing old people. That eventually changed. One, I got old. I should  take a picture of me in my La-Z-Boy. Nah, Lucy, my daughter, wouldn’t approve. Just picture it. I look something like Ted in his photo.

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November 7, 2023   1 Comment


My 2019 Subaru Legacy is the safest car in the world. I know you don’t care, but bear with me. The car has many blinkers and warning signals, and that’s why I bought it. Five years ago I fell asleep at the wheel of my Ford Fusion and drifted across a two-lane road into an oncoming car. I was tired. It was 2:30. Two-thirty pm, not 2:30 am! I was going about 25 mph and hit a Greek immigrant’s car head on. The accident happened on Larchmere Boulevard, right on the Cleveland-Shaker Heights line. Efficient Shaker cops showed up. Nobody got hurt! The accident was in front of Shaker Auto Body. I just wheeled my wrecked car right into the shop. Beautiful.

My red Ford Fusion and a Greek man on his phone

I bought the 2019 Subaru with all the bells and whistles shortly after the accident. The car is good, but the battery not so good. The battery recently went dead for the second time in four months. There’s a class-action suit against Subaru for bad batteries. I’m taking the car to the dealer, or maybe I’ll pay my son Ted to take it. I can’t stand going to car dealerships.

More car talk (and some sax talk) . . .  Last month I was at a family wedding in a town halfway between San Diego and Los Angeles. (The wedding was at a winery. Nobody gets married at synagogue anymore, have you noticed? It’s always at a winery or a barn.) Uber — which my son Jack reserved ahead of time — didn’t show up at the hotel the morning after the wedding to take Alice and me to the airport. Instead, Uber sent us a message at 6 am: “Sorry.” Uber couldn’t find a driver. I should have hired a car service but I didn’t think of that. My daughter, Lucy, did, but too late, I guess. My son Ted booked Alice and me a flight out of Palm Springs because we couldn’t get to LAX on time. Ted drove us to Palm Springs and got a flat tire.  Can you believe we got a flat on the way to the airport? I lent Ted my AAA card; he hung around the  car; and Alice and I got an Uber.

Our flight out of Palm Springs was delayed, so I baggage-checked my saxophones. (My band had played the wedding. Terrific celebration, by the way.) The airlines could mangle my axes, but I didn’t care; I didn’t want to lug the heavy instruments around Palm Springs airport all afternoon.

My alto sax is student-level, so no big loss if it got destroyed. My tenor, however, is a classic, The Martin Tenor. I bought it around 1964 from a music teacher. When I first got that axe, it reeked of ciggy smoke, and its pads were brown from phlegm. That’s why I never took up smoking. At the Palm Springs airport, I plastered the tenor case with “Fragile” stickers. My clarinet, I kept in my backpack. It’s not heavy.

The saxes arrived in Cleveland about 11 hours later in fine shape. Better shape than me, actually. I’ve kept a couple “Fragile” stickers on the tenor case to remind me of my adventure.

By the way, the Subaru guys didn’t fix the “parasitic drainage” on my car battery. I might get a trickle charger. whatever that is.

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November 1, 2023   4 Comments


Woody, a friend from high school, is coming in from California tonight and staying at my house, and he’s bringing his Spanish girlfriend. He’s staying for a week. A week. Give me a break. Woody wants to see the leaves change. He’s a sensitive guy and a bit strange.

Even in high school, Woody didn’t care what others thought of him. He was often blisteringly inappropriate. He still is. For instance, last week in our phone conversation, he said, “I don’t give a shit about Hamas or Israelis.” I didn’t appreciate that.

In 1997, Woody showed up at my house, muttering, “My old man just told me I’d better run while I can. My father just threatened to kill me!” I think his old man had a gun. Woody grew up in easternmost Lyndhurst (goy-land), on Ridgebury Road, where you could keep a horse. Woody had a horse. His father had worked for an American construction company in Venezuela. Woody knew a lot of Spanish because he spent some time down there in his youth.

Woody was the only kid at my high school who went off to California for college. Nobody considered California except Woody. You were going to fly five hours to college? Nope. Woody wanted to get as far away from his family as possible, he said. Ultimately he became a Spanish teacher at a high school in Santa Rosa, California, and has lived there for the duration, although he spends a lot of time in Spain, and he pops into Cleve for leaves.

Here’s the problem: Woody’s obliviousness toward Israel. Maybe he’s even anti-Israel. There are only 16 million Jews in the world, and almost half are in the line of fire right now. I will tell Woody — the minute he walks in tonight — if he says anything anti-Israel, or even semi-anti-Israel, and even in jest, he’s done for. I will tell him. I can’t have a guy making jokes about Israel in my house now.

Alice took this photo of Woody in 1980, when we were all 30 years old. Smiling, charming Woody. And he’s got a mouth. Heads up, Bert.


Postscript: Woody left. He wasn’t anti-Israel. I super-overreacted. (Probably been reading too many news reports.) We even attended a concert for Israel; members of the Cleveland Orchestra performed. The orchestra was supposed to be in Israel.

Woody knows a lot about language and said he might do a “codpiece” on language. (“Codpiece” as opposed to “podcast.” He’s funny.) He told me deber, the Spanish verb, comes from the same Latin root as debit, or owe. Good to know.

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November 1, 2023   No Comments


Here’s my essay in today’s Cleveland Plain Dealer.

If that link doesn’t work for you, here’s the text, pasted in:


Cleveland Heights, Ohio — You don’t see the letter B for “basement” in elevators much anymore. It’s mostly LL for “lower level.” Classier, I guess. But I recently stumbled upon a B-level basement in Washington, D.C., that was truly top shelf. The basement was at the University Club, a 1920s mansion not too far from the White House. Several Brush High School buddies and I met up at the club. My childhood friends wouldn’t come to Cleveland, so I had to go to Washington. My Brush High friends are all members of the coastal elite now. I brought a sports jacket.

I spent a lot of time in the basement at the University Club because I wasn’t allowed in the club dining room on the main floor. I was wearing tennis shoes, which weren’t permitted in the dining room, but were OK in the basement. I’m all for dress standards, but those University Club regs were extreme. I jabbered in Spanish with the dining room hostess. She didn’t let me in. In hindsight, I don’t think she was Hispanic. She didn’t seem to know what I was talking about.

I was wearing tennis shoes because I planned to do a lot of sightseeing in Washington. In the lobby, outside the dining room, I noticed a visitor in a blue blazer and a blue oxford-cloth shirt. I asked him if he was going to eat breakfast in the restaurant. He said “yes,” and I pointed at him and said to the hostess, “This man has on tennis shoes!”

“These are Cole Haan,” the man said coolly. His Cole Haan shoes had white rubber trim around the soles, just like my New Balance tennis shoes. But his Cole Haans were not tennis shoes, apparently. I was perplexed. I had on a sports jacket and black tennis shoes. I wasn’t wearing Sen. John Fetterman cargo pants.

There was a snack bar in the basement, plus a Jacuzzi, two saunas (steam and dry), and a four-lane swimming pool. While I ate breakfast in the basement snack bar, I had a good view of the empty pool. John Kennedy, when he was a senator, swam laps at the pool. I had a swimsuit in my suitcase. I got the suit and swam where Kennedy swam. (By the way, there used to be a University Club in Cleveland on Euclid Avenue. It had tennis courts, but I don’t think a pool. The building morphed into the Children’s Museum of Cleveland in 2017.)

My friends and I reminisced about bygone Cleveland hangouts, like La Cave, the music club at East 105th Street and Euclid Avenue, Balaton Restaurant on Buckeye Road, and Publix Book Mart on Prospect Avenue. We covered a lot of intersections. Next time we should go deeper: Jean’s Funny House and the Roxy Burlesque.

I visited the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and considered checking out the National Portrait Gallery, but that was too far off my Mall-focused walking route. Besides, I needed to get back to my man cave — the basement at the University Club. I wanted to swim more laps in the Kennedy pool. That B-level basement in Washington was absolutely grade-A.

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October 18, 2023   4 Comments


Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver, pictured below, was the biggest Zionist to come out of Cleveland. If you know anything about American Jewish history, you know this guy. He and Rabbi Stephen Wise were the big Jews in the pre-WWII American rabbinate. Silver was the rabbi at The Temple –Tifereth Israel, a k a Silver’s Temple. He lobbied for the state of Israel back when many American Jews were not too sure that was a good idea.

My family belonged to Silver’s Temple. The temple’s official name was The Temple.
“Which temple do you belong to?”
“The what?”
“The Temple. It’s The Temple.”

“The Temple” morphed into The Temple-Tifereth Israel after the rabbi and his son (also a rabbi) died. My family didn’t really fit in there in the 1960s, because many of the members were a lot richer, many from Shaker Heights. One Shaker kid arrived in a station wagon driven by a chauffeur with a shiny-visor cap.

Rabbi Silver was a chochem (wise man). He knew his stuff. And he hung with the guys from Telshe Yeshiva, too. The black-hat Orthos. He covered all the bases. What do I know? I was 13 when Rabbi Silver died.

My younger son went through religious high school at The Temple. The place had mellowed by then. It wasn’t as snobbish. Nobody cared anymore if you were Deutsche Yehudim — one of Cleveland’s original German Jewish settlers. When my parents left Silver’s, they went to Temple Emanu El, a middle-class temple in the ‘burbs. My mom taught macramé there and volunteered in the sisterhood gift shop. She collected “donor points” for volunteering — points that reduced her admission costs to the annual temple dance.

Yiddishe Cup has played some of these temple dances. Not so many lately because few people want to dance at temples. They’d rather stay home and watch people dance on TV. We played a “dance,” sort of, last Saturday night. Simchat Torah. That was very low key because of the war. The rabbi and I decided the band would play a few Israeli tunes and dances. Nothing too wild.

My parents joined the heymish synagogue, Emanu El, after I was confirmed. (Heymish — the word — should be banned, by the way. Too heymish.)

On the High Holidays, I went with my parents to Emanu El, or else with my friends to Hillel at Case Western Reserve. After Rosh Hashanah services, we’d eat at Tommy’s restaurant. I tried that again this year – the Tommy’s part. You couldn’t get into Tommy’s this year after Rosh; it was jammed with yidn.

Years ago an older woman told me, “I joined Fairmount Temple because I like the music there.” She had other reasons too: Brith Emeth didn’t have enough money to spend on carpet, she said, and she liked Fairmount Temple’s classic Reform music. That stuck with me: joining a temple for the music.

Nowadays Fairmount is contemporary guitar-centric Jewish music, and I like the cantor, Vlad Lapin. My band played there last Friday night. That was lively. That was pre-war. (And don’t worry, we’re going to kick out the jams the next time we play.)

I belong to Park Synagogue because, among other things, I like the music and the rabbi, who likes my band, which is scheduled to play Park Synagogue’s holiday celebrations until 5800. I once played a holiday gig at another shul, where the rabbi left early to attend a rock concert. He said he was seeing a famous band downtown. I wasn’t impressed. Hey, the rabbi was walking out on Yiddishe Cup! It’s impossible to be a rabbi.

Park Synagogue uses a choir once in a while. Some Jews think a choir is super-goyish. Not true. In Europe there were synagogue choirs as far back as the 1500s.

Some temples have rock bands. (I have subbed in several rockin’ shabbat bands.) Some congregants really enjoy that groove. My son the drummer got his start playing in a rockin’ shabbat band at The Temple. Rock on.

By the way, read Matti Friedman’s book about Leonard Cohen playing for the troops in the Sinai in 1973. Who By Fire.

I can see picking a shul for the music. Why not. I enjoy hearing my cantor, Misha Pisman, and I like the cantors my shul imports for the Rosh Hashanah overflow. Either way I’m OK — main sanctuary (with the regular cantor) or overflow with the sub.

I feel like playing music right now for the troops and the people of Israel. Am Yisrael Chai, for starters.

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October 10, 2023   2 Comments


I told Alice, “I have a certain medical condition, and you haven’t asked how it’s going?” We were at breakfast. She didn’t seem to understand what I was talking about. “My ear,” I said. “Remember?” My ear had water in it. My ear was clogged from swimming.

“Your ear is not a medical situation,” Alice said.

What was it then? A hardware store? My ear  had been clogged for more than a day. (Have you ever had a clogged ear for more than a day? I doubt it. A couple minutes, sure, but not a day-plus.) I called my niece, an E.N.T. in Atlanta. Naturally, she said I should visit an E.N.T.

“Can I just go to a doc in the box?” I asked.

No, I should go to an E.N.T., my niece said. “They have special tools,” she said. “Even a P.A. there in the office could do it.”

“How about if I wait a couple days?”

“If it was me, a blocked ear would drive me crazy.”

True. Everything sounded like an echo chamber. I couldn’t hear a lot of stuff, and my clarinet playing was off. But no pain. So maybe this wasn’t a medical situation?

The fixer. Alice Shustick, 1977

Alice is a registered nurse and fixes people. She doesn’t appreciate whiners, but she deals with them. She assigns stretches and remedies for a lot of things. (She’s also a retired gym teacher who teaches Pilates, yoga, after-school gym, spinning and senior fitness.) My ear, though  . . .

On Alice’s advice I jumped up and down on one foot, and I tugged on my earlobe. I bought alcohol ear drops at CVS, and even a homeopathic “natural active ingredients” remedy at Discount Drug Mart. No luck.

After the second night, I woke up unclogged. I think the alcohol drops helped. My niece said the water in my ear had probably been trapped behind earwax.

I’m hearing things better now. I should ask Alice about her pinched nerve this morning. I will. Everything is a “medical situation,” am I right?

Yiddishe Cup is celebrating Simchat Torah 6:15 pm Friday at Fairmount Temple, Beachwood, Ohio, and 7:15 pm Saturday at Park Synagogue, Pepper Pipes, Ohio. Free and open to the public.

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October 4, 2023   2 Comments


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