Nobody cares about jazz except me and a couple random Berklee freshmen. I’ve played with Frank Sinatra, Jr. That was the darkest year of my life. Vegas wasn’t meant for a 20 year old. I gigged with Chick Corea. His drummer quit and I got the call. I was only 22.
I’ve been a music professor for about 10 years. That’s the best gig for jazzers these days. I want to enroll in the creative writing class at the college here, but the English chairman says all the writing classes are full. Let me in! I want to write a book on how we reverse-engineer musicians. We teach kids technique but none of the spiritual aspects of music. Think about folk musicians. They don’t get nervous and take beta-blockers. They grew up with their music. It’s part of their culture, like food.
There are maybe two people who give a shit about jazz — me and a kid at Berklee. I hope he buys my book.
August 17, 2016 2 Comments
We played a 90th birthday party, where the celebrant’s daughter, age 65, sat about a foot from the band and requested tune after tune. She liked Mickey Katz parodies and knew a lot of other Jewish classics. For instance, she knew the “Russian Sher.” She said she had grown up on Hello Solly, an album by Mickey Katz.
And she had never heard of Yiddishe Cup! This daughter had lived in Cleveland her entire adult life. Yiddishe Cup has played everywhere on Cleveland’s East Side — every temple, park, club, every inch. Was she house-bound?
I Googled the daughter. Facebook said she “studied at The Ohio State University, lives in Cleveland, Ohio, and listens to Yiddishe Cup.” I told her to add that last part. I bet she’ll take it down.
August 10, 2016 2 Comments
Courtlin passed out in the apartment lobby, so a cop called me: “He [Courtlin] set up a picnic on your landing with some 24-ouncers,” the cop said.
“To his credit, Courtlin has his socks on,” the cop said.
A tenant discovered Courtlin an hour earlier in the lobby. I told the tenant the trespasser was fairly harmless — no felony convictions, just criminal trespassing and disorderly conducts. She was OK with that; she didn’t say “I’m moving,” which would have been in line.
The cop said, “He goes to the well — apartment lobbies — for a while until he’s arrested, then he goes someplace else.”
The criminal hearing is in a couple weeks.
. . . Done. He got three days in jail. He’ll be back.
Yiddishe Cup plays 7 p.m. tomorrow (Thurs., Aug. 4) on the lawn at John Carroll U., University Hts., Ohio. Free. Indoors if raining. Free ice cream, kids!
August 3, 2016 4 Comments
I throw wiener roasts at my cottage on Lake Erie. I invite Catholics from Rocky River, Jews from Beachwood, and generics from all over the city. I wonder if my guests come for the lake or me? I hold raffles, we play cards. There’s booze and gambling.
Funny: in Cleveland very few people live close to Lake Erie, so the lake is a big deal. My house — in Cleveland Heights — is six miles from the lake.
Bill Wallace, an old friend from Washington D.C., is coming to town for the wiener roast. Yiddishe Cup will play klezmer music until 10 p.m., then we’ll go into “Wild Thing”-type music. Yiddishe Cup’s former drummer, Don Friedman, will sing “Mustang Sally.” Is that an attraction? Not likely. The lake is the attraction.
July 27, 2016 4 Comments
Steve, the building manager said, “I got a call last night at 3:51 a.m. I was thinking it’s a tenant with a ceiling that fell on his head, but no, the guy wanted to rent an apartment. Man, did I light him up. That fool — 3:51 a.m!”
“Was he drunk?” I said.
“No, he wasn’t drunk! He said he had a dilemma. He said, ‘I’m in a dilemma.’ I said, ‘You think so? You also think this is standard business hours, too, or are you trying to get a jump on the market, you idiot!’”
Next subject: “Hey, did Billy give you the rent?” I said.
“Yes, I got the rent from your pal Billy,” Steve said. “Billy? That’s his legal name. What kind of person names his kid Billy.” Billy had flicked cigarette butts out his window onto parked cars below. One night he and his buddies flicked 30 butts. I wrote Billy a letter to straighten up and he did. Don’t knock Billy.
“That guy — calling at 3:51 am,” Steve said. “No, I don’t think so! Are there any boundaries to human stupidity?”
“Billy” is a pseudonym.
I wrote this piece, “How Much Money Can I Make Off Trump’s Convention?”, for yesterday’s New York Times online.
July 20, 2016 4 Comments
I post a new story here every Wednesday.
The Times didn’t activate the “comments” button on my Republican National Convention essay. If you want to comment on the piece, you can fire away here.
July 19, 2016 3 Comments
My husband is a studio photographer and makes zero money. Even worse: I just lost my job as a teacher. My husband hides in his darkroom. He should donate his darkroom to the Smithsonian and get a real job. We’ve been married 19 years ago and 16 years of those years have been a huge mistake. He shops on the Internet all day for metrosexual bullshit like cameras, clothes and wine. I’m screwed. What should I do?
July 13, 2016 2 Comments
I’ve been to Dean Supply, Webb Supply, Hough Supply and Woodhill Supply. The countermen usually sit beneath Rigid Tool calendars.
On my last trip to Woodhill Supply, I asked for 50 water-saving Niagara showerheads. Niagaras look like fat bullet microphones, so most tenants don’t realize they’re water-savers, and that’s a good thing. If the tenants knew the showerheads were water-savers, they would don’t rip them out and put in water-gushers. Woodhill also sells wrenches, cutters and snakes.
But Woodhill only had 37 Niagaras. I was going from 2.5 GPM to 1.75 GPM. I did the same thing 20 years ago, but back then water-saving showerheads were super thin and cheesy-looking, so tenants ripped them out. (I pay for the water.)
I will return to Woodhill when my back order comes in. MacArthur said that.
July 6, 2016 5 Comments
A musician broke a vase at a wedding. He walked right into the vase before the ceremony, before anybody arrived. Many vases lined the wedding aisle. The musician said to the florist, “I’ll pay,” and the florist went to her warehouse and got another vase.
Two days later, the florist called me and asked for $50. She said, “Your musician didn’t pay.”
I gave the florist the musician’s number and said, “I think the host — the bride’s family — should pay for it. That was one fancy wedding.”
“Really, who do you want to pay for it?” she said. “He walked into it. There were 300 people at that wedding and he was the one who walked into a vase. It’s $50 — my cost.”
The musician called me: “I said I’d pay for it, but what do you think I should do?”
“You said you’d pay for it, so I guess you should pay for it. Or better yet, call the mom of the bride. She loved us. She’ll probably pay.”
The next day I checked in with the musician. “Did you call the mom?”
She would have paid!
June 29, 2016 5 Comments
What was the worst Yiddishe Cup concert ever? Hard to say. There have been so many. (Joke.) What about when we showed up on stage and a PTA-type meeting was on stage too? The school principal, via the custodian, said no way were we getting on stage for our concert. The custodian said, “The PhDs and MBAs think they know so much.”
We went on 20 minutes late.
We’re never late. It wasn’t our fault.
I had a story, “Believeland in Cleveland,” in the New York Times online about the Cavaliers winning the NBA championship.
June 22, 2016 5 Comments
1. SO FILTHY
I have this band, Vulfpeck, which is so filthy. My lead singer is the shit — a Lebanese kid from Detroit who sings some Yiddish. And my drummer grew up next door to Aretha in Bloomfield Hills. He’s the shit plus one. My bass player has a following in Norway.
We’re on fire. We play at temples and Jewish arts festivals throughout the country, but we aren’t locked into the J bag. We’re in discussion with a major label, but I’m skeptical. The label says we’re “too Jewish.” We’re not too Jewish. We’re too filthy!
2. MUSIC DREAMS
I hear animal voices, particularly cats and fleas. Significant to my music? Yes. A coffee table book, Hope You Like My Music!, has more than 100 photos of professional musicians. Some tied up, some with instruments in odd places. I’m in a bathtub with clarinet reeds, like Moses.
3. OUR ESTHETIC
I admire musicians who, when you first hear their recordings, you know exactly who is playing. Like you say, “Hey, that’s Arnie!” because you hear the snorting hogs in the background, which is always Arnie’s thing.
Vulfpeck’s latest tune is “Gas.” It stresses colors and dynamics. One guy belches whole notes. Doesn’t feel forced either.
June 15, 2016 3 Comments
A.J. Jacobs read an encyclopedia for a year and wrote about it. Lee Kravitz apologized to his old enemies for a year and wrote about it. Another writer lived off dumpster food for a year. Ben Ryder Howe bought a Korean deli, ran it for two years, and wrote about it. (That was good: My Korean Deli.) I buy buildings, own them for decades, and write about that. That’s less contrived than the other guys, I think.
When a tenant with Alzheimer’s forgets to pay her rent, I put her checkbook right in front of her, and she writes. Then she moves out, because I can’t be her full-time nurse.
A tenant uses too many fresheners in the washing machine and clogs it up. Drama? Not quite. This paragraph doesn’t make the cut.
Philip Roth was jealous Primo Levi had a profession — chemist — to write about. It’s hard writing about nothing. I did that when I was young and failed.
June 8, 2016 3 Comments
I did a background-talking gig. I read blog posts at a real estate convention while guests ate salads and drank, and ignored me. I should have played music. I said to the crowd, “Hi, I’m going to tell you how to manage real estate.” The crowd listened for about five seconds, but nobody wanted to hear narrative comedy (a la David Sedaris) during cocktails. Also, I wasn’t properly introduced. I had to blurt out over the clanging of silverware, “Hi, everybody!”
That was my one-and-only background-talking gig. I have, however, done a lot of background-music gigs.
My essay “My Son the Sort-of Rock Star” was in the Washington Post, online, on Monday.
June 1, 2016 7 Comments
During the Torah processional at synagogue, Cohen said to me, “That zipper on your shirt makes a nice tie. Metallic!” He shook his head. Cohen — a snappy dresser — wears a Brooks Brother suit, legit tie and vest. At home, Cohen collects clothes catalogs, like his men’s overcoat catalog from pre-World War II. Cohen once tried to sell me a bomber jacket. I said no. I can’t stand old Jews in bomber jackets.
He eventually sold the bomber jacket on eBay. “Same price you would have paid, Bert.”
“But you paid shipping.”
“No, that was an extra $12.50 to the buyer.”
Cohen kept looking at my zipper. I said, “I spray it with WD-40 to keep it shiny.” It had no name, not even YKK.
I just want to be comfortable at shul. I usually walk to shul — a major hike. I’m not trying to make a countercultural statement. The zipper shirt is the least of it. The rabbi often wears tennis shoes (for health reasons, I’m told). I’m not a complete shlub.
Cohen is a pseudonym
May 18, 2016 2 Comments
Nancy Hoffman changed her middle name from Arlene to “3.” Nancy runs the Umbrella Cover Museum in Peaks Island, Maine, and does “eccentric artistry” (to quote her website). Nancy also plays accordion in the Casco Bay Tummlers klezmer band and is a friend of Avner the Eccentric.
I was at Nancy’s book-signing in Cleveland for Uncovered and Exposed: A Guide to the World’s Only Umbrella Cover Museum. Nancy kept a ledger of her book sales. That didn’t seem eccentric.
Yiddishe Cup plays for the community-wide Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel Independence Day) celebration tomorrow evening (Thurs., May 12) at Landerhaven, Cleveland. Free.
May 11, 2016 4 Comments
Italians have great names, grant them that. The best name from my old neighborhood was Bocky Boo DiPasquale. Bocky led a band, Bocky and the Visions, a local version of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Bocky Boo was a pre-Beatles greaser with a strong regional following; he got significant air play on Cleveland radio and on Detroit’s CKLW.
The Bock became a Cleveland legend. I, however, was too young to grasp Bocky’s vision. I didn’t listen to his music. I just knew his name and wondered, Can Bocky Boo be real?
I knew an Alfred Mastrobuono. Real.
I knew Carmen Yafanaro. Real.
Ralph Dodero. Real.
Bocky Boo’s real name was Robert DiPasquale.
Robby Stamps — another musician from my high school — knew The Bock and all other local bands, past or present. Stamps was a rocker, riding the first wave of psychedelia. (Robby’s sister incidentally was Penny Stamps.)
Stamps never showed up at high school reunions. He said the Italian greasers would harass him for being a radical. Stamps was a misher — a meddler — more than a radical. He was always around the action, like Zelig. Stamps was shot in the buttock at Kent State on May 4, 1970.
After graduating Kent, Stamps worked jobs as an adjunct faculty member in Hawaii, California and Florida. He majored in sociology and Spanish. Stamps was half Jewish — an oddity in the 1960s. Back then you were generally all Jewish, or you weren’t. Robby’s father was Floyd. (Not a Jew.)
Stamps hung around with just about everybody in high school: racks (aka greasers, dagos), white-bread American kids (aka squids, collegiates) and Jews (aka Jews). Stamps was an emissary between the various groups; he had a pisk (big mouth), played music and was fearless — except at reunions.
Stamps wasn’t part of the “in” crowd or the “out” crowd. Stamps was his own man. He scribbled “pseudo-freak” on the photo of a hippie poseur in my yearbook.
In middle age, Stamps developed every kind of illness: Crohn’s, Lyme Disease and pneumonia, plus he had the May 4 bullet wound. He died in 2008 at 58.
If Stamps had come to the reunions, he probably would have shed light — some sociology — on the cliques. Stamps’ perspective was sarcastic, bitter and funny. He would have said something like: “See those Jews at the bar, those guys wore penny loafers in seventh grade without pennies in them, and yelled at me because I put pennies in mine. They threw pennies on the floor. If you picked up the pennies, you were a ‘cheap Jew.’ I threw pennies. I worked both sides of the street.”
In 1988 Bocky Boo was shot and killed in a bar. The cops — some who had grown up with The Bock — tried hard to find Bocky’s killer. There was even a website, whokilledbocky, for a few years ago. (Now down. ) No Luck. The Bock and Stamps didn’t stick around.
Well, that’s one thing I can say about that boy, he gotta go.
–Paul Butterfield Blues Band, “Born in Chicago,” lyrics by Nick Gravenites
This post originally appeared 5/2/12.
May 4, 2016 7 Comments
I don’t purposely visit graves of famous people, but I do bump into those graves on occasion. Harvey Pekar is buried next to Eliot Ness at Lake View Cemetery. I happened to be at the cemetery and asked about Harvey’s grave. A docent said look in section 7, lot 9-0, but there was nothing there, just a stick. This was a few years ago. Now there’s a tombstone.
At John D. Rockefeller’s grave, there was a quarter on the base of the monument. A tour guide said visitors sometimes put money on John D’s grave. The money is in repayment for the dimes Rockefeller gave out to kids, the guide said.
I saw a tombstone with a Jewish star at Lake View. I think I could go long and deep at Lake View, or I could go next door to Mayfield Cemetery, which is Jewish, but for that I’d have to rejoin Temple-Tifereth Israel for the cemetery plot. Or I could use my cousin’s unused plot out at Hillcrest Cemetery, where my parents are buried. Also, I could go to Park Synagogue’s cemetery, but my wife prefers Lake View. So I’ll probably go there.
My main beef with Lake View is they don’t allow bikes. Cars are OK, but if a biker goes through Lake View, the management has a conniption. The cemetery has steep hills and the management is afraid of bike-car collisions.
Let me think about Lake View. Give me some time.
April 27, 2016 3 Comments
My last close relative left Cleveland in 2001. Now my Seders are with friends. My relatives went to warmer places or died.
I’m in about two traffic jams a year in Cleveland. I would prefer five. I don’t relish the traffic of Chicago or Washington, but a few more traffic jams in Cleveland would be nice. In the 1970s, Clevelanders first began imagining the whole town could go under. A musician in Milwaukee wrote a song called “Thank God This Isn’t Cleveland.” Some Clevelanders never got over the trauma of the 1970s. I know Clevelanders who vacation in Cape Cod; they’re instructed by the national press to vacation on the East Coast. They wait an hour for ice cream on Cape Cod.
Some of the best scenery in America is the bike path from Gambier to Coshocton, Ohio: rolling farm country, horses, sheep, cows, pigs and Amish buggies. However, some Midwesterners need to see the ocean. They drive all day to the Carolina shore. Why? Lake Erie has beaches, waves and miniature golf.
Every one of my relatives bailed. Now I look for distant relatives. I’ve found some. My older son found Mississippi relatives via a PBS documentary, “Delta Jews,” about the Jews of the Mississippi Delta. The mayor of Louise, Miss., had been my mother’s cousin. (My mother grew up in Yazoo City, Miss.) My son called down there. We eventually met the Mississippi clan. Most were lawyers. They have Southern accents. That’s what you want from Southerners — a Southern accent. (So often Southern Jews will disappoint you on that.)
Seder-with-friends is not the same as with Aunt Bernice, Uncle Al, Cousin Howard and the rest of the family at the old Seder table. I live three miles from where I was born. I often see things that don’t exist anymore.
A version of this appeared in the Cleveland Plain Dealer 4/6/12.
April 20, 2016 6 Comments
Irwin Weinberger and I sometimes drive home together from gigs. We’ve been doing this for so many years I know everything about him. He collected stamps. That came up on trip #401.
We talked stamps for an hour, coming back from Akron. Slightly boring? No, very boring. I had some first-day covers and canceled stamps my dad got from work. The stamps were in manila envelopes marked “For Ted.” (My dad was Ted, not Toby, at work.) My father worked for a key-manufacturing company.
Mr. Polatsek, an old guy in my neighborhood, gave me stamps. The first stamp was Wisconsin Worker’s Compensation (1961). He visited the local elementary school and passed out stamps to all the kids. He once took me to a stamp show at the Manger Hotel. It was old guys and me. I ran into Mr. Polatsek again years later — when he was actually old — and asked him about his collection. He said it had been stolen. He said, “Now I only collect pictures of my grandchildren.”
In college, I got stamps in the mail, forwarded by my mother. I told her to stop sending the stuff: W.C. Handy (1968), Leif Erikson (1968). It was embarrassing for a quasi-hippie to get stamps from his mom in the mail.
Irwin, I’ll look at your stamps when I get really, really old. Meanwhile, readers can read about Irwin’s stamp collection at his new blog.
Footnote . . . From one of my plate-block books: “We have heard from collectors who reside in the tropics, where provision of stamp gum is almost impossible, that they have had very good results by dusting a little corn starch or unscented talcum powder (free from oils and perfumes ) on the gummed side of their stamps. We do not recommend this procedure, but pass it on to collectors for this own experimentation, should they reside in unusually humid communities.”
Yiddishe Cup plays a concert in Metro Detroit, at Cong. Beth Shalom, Oak Park, Mich., 4 p.m. Sun. (April 17). $10. More info here. Motown and matzo.
April 13, 2016 6 Comments
Arvids Jansons. I got a desk from him when he moved out.
Argero Vassileros. Her nickname was Argie.
Michael Bielemuk, the professor. He had many floor-to-ceiling bookshelves.
Maria Trifiletti. She stole light bulbs from the halls, so we glued the bulbs into the sockets.
Saram Carmichael, a transvestite who solicited customers from her second-floor window. The johns waited at the bus stop.
Stan Hershfield, one of the few Jews on the West Side. He was raised in an orphanage and loved the word bupkes (beans). “Stratton, I have bupkes so don’t hondle me about the rent.” (Hondle means haggle.) When Hershfield painted the wood floor in his kitchen, he said, “Only the best, Stratton, Benjamin Moore!”
Malfalda Bedrossian. She was never late with her rent.
Chris Andrews slept in a coffin. (He had a regular name.)
Merjeme Haxhiraj, an Albanian who talked me down every year $10/month on her rent.
John “Chip” Stephens, a Chet Baker-like figure in looks, music and name. He played jazz piano and landed a tenure-track job at a university in Missouri.
This post originally appeared in slightly different form on 9/30/09.
April 6, 2016 3 Comments