Real Music & Real Estate . . .

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

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

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

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

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


 
 

INVESTMENT TIPS

In the early 2000s most everybody in the real estate biz was not hitting the long ball. But what was better? My late father, who was a stock broker for about six months in the 1950s, taught me the stock market was legalized gambling. John Bogle, former chairman of the Vanguard Group, said, “The investor in America sits at the bottom of the food chain.” You have to be lucky twice with stocks: when you buy and when you sell. In March 2009 the New York Times business-page headline was “Are We There Yet?” There meant the stock market’s bottom.

In March 2009 the price/earnings ratio was at its lowest in more than 20 years: 13. (Shiller trailing 10-year figure.) The worldwide P/E was even lower, down to 10. It was a good time to invest, but scary.

***

My Uncle Lou and Uncle Al drove a truck, delivering wholesale items to stores. They sold me a carton of baseball cards — 24 packs — at a deep discount. I immediately ripped open all the packs. I was 9. This investment was my first speculation. I got a lot of Humberto Robinsons (a nobody, an Indians relief pitcher) and no Mickey Mantles. Maybe my uncles were teaching me dollar-cost averaging: better to buy a pack a week (dollar-cost averaging) than go all in.

Am I ready to jump into the stock market again? No, I’m not scared enough yet.

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April 1, 2020   2 Comments

KVELLIN’ IN THE YEARS

Joseph Fagen — the father of Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen — used to approach strangers and say, “Would you, by chance, be a Steely Dan fan?” I do that, too, except I ask about Vulfpeck. I query Uber drivers and baristas if they’ve heard of Vulfpeck. Every time I do that, I have to spell out Vulfpeck. I wish Vulfpeck was Hello There. Every fifth barista has heard of Vulfpeck. Uber, longer odds.

At Vulfpeck’s recent Madison Square Garden concert, I spoke Spanish with a Puerto Rican guard at the artists’ entrance and got in through the back door of the Garden. The first performer I ran into back stage was Dave Koz, the smooth-jazz saxophonist. He gave me a “mazel tov.” He said “mazel tov.” Koz told me he remembered how meaningful it was when his parents came to his first mega gig and “they’re dead now.” Right. Show up.

I was backstage looking for backstage passes — about 50 passes. I had relatives coming from all over the country for the show. I was throwing a bar mitzvah party with a really good band.

Here’s the Fagen quote from the Cleveland Jewish News (Feb. 28, 2001). [“Bringing up Steely Dan” by Susan Rezpka]:

“Would you, by chance, be a Steely Dan fan?” Beachwood resident Joseph “Jerry” Fagen inquires wryly. It’s an unlikely question coming from an 80-year-old, but Fagen’s ‘favorite conversation starter’ affords the opening he needs to do what any parent would do in his shoes: kvell a little.

Vulfpeck. That’s V, U, L, F . . .

————

Madison Square Garden video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rv4wf7bzfFE

 

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March 25, 2020   2 Comments

YOU’RE DISGUSTING

There’s a lot I don’t like about you. For one thing, you are rude, like you fist-bump everybody — even before coronavirus — and way too hard. Also, you insist on driving a red car so everybody will notice you. You eat too fast. You’re done before anybody else starts. Disgusting. That word has your name on it. Nothing transformative is going to happen you. Another thing, you’re too macho. Try an ounce of femininity. Watch half a whole football game instead of a whole game. What are you doing for sports during this shut-down?

You know who you are. I probably shouldn’t post this.

A remedy for you, right here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hvQvkpD2idc&feature=youtu.be

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March 18, 2020   8 Comments

UNCLE BERT IN CONNECTICUT

I’ve been to two weddings in Middletown, Connecticut. How many have you been to? People told me to fly to Providence, Hartford, White Plains, Whatever. Middletown is hard to get to from Cleveland. Drive 10 hours? Not my thing.

One time I flew to LaGuardia and rented a car. Getting a rental from LaGuardia is a supreme hassle, with all the construction, and then driving up the interstate through Connecticut is no picnic either, because drivers on the East Coast either speed or crawl. And one time I took a train to New Haven from Manhattan, and then an Uber to Middletown. Also, rough, at least for a Midwestern guy.

The first wedding in Middletown was a cousin’s daughter. It was in a barn — a catering-hall barn with chandeliers and wooden decks. My second Middletown wedding was also in a barn — a different one. Simply, The Barns. Middletown must be wedding-barn central. (The second wedding was for the son of a childhood friend of mine.) I knew very few people at the second wedding. I met a guy who was a reporter, who hung out with me. He said, “Why didn’t you leave Cleveland?” Why did I stay in my hometown? Never leave? Good question. He followed with: “Why are you at this wedding?”

I said, “Because there are a lot of guys my age who aren’t here.” That’s why. I’m not dead. I wanted to show up.

After my friend’s kid’s wedding, a guest drove me back to the hotel, but the guest was so worried about driving at night, I offered to drive her car. She said her insurance wouldn’t cover me driving. On that 10-minute drive to the hotel, she slammed on her brakes several times and couldn’t read the road signs clearly. I saw the sign for “Portland” about 50 feet before she did. She then offered to drive me to LaGuardia the next day, but I opted for an Uber, which was expensive (about 1 1/2 hours).

My cousin doesn’t live in Middletown, and neither does my high school friend. I wonder if I have more Middletown barn weddings in me.

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March 11, 2020   4 Comments

BANK ON IT

The banker, Pete Shimrak, had my number. My dad and I were at Shimrak’s  office. He turned to my dad and said, “Does money turn the kid on? I want to know.” My dad didn’t answer. I tried to disappear. I wasn’t into money; I was into Lightnin’ Hopkins! (I was 26.)

Shimrak said to me, “Does it turn you on? Do you want to get rich? You don’t have to play games with me. If money doesn’t turn you on, say so. You’d rather be poor than rich, right?”

Shimrak was a self-described “Croatian dead-end boy.” He had come up the hard way and was friends with the bank’s principal owner, a Slovak. The bank — technically a savings and loan — was originally called Orol Savings. (Orol is Slovak for eagle.)

“I like money to be around,” I said.

“Stick with your father. He knows how to find it.” I did stick with my father, until he died in 1986. Then my dad came back to life.  I mean, I became my father. That took several decades, but I did it: marriage, kids, college tuitions, excessive worrying. When I was young I liked to aggravate my father, like so: “I think thirty-five grand is enough to get by on, Dad.”

My dad thought that was preposterous. “What about when you’re married and have a family?” Family? Married? What?

Shimrak the banker liked my dad and me because, for one thing, we weren’t Mayflower descendants. Shimrak’s wife was an Italian, who made a terrific spaghetti sauce. He said, “I’m not a bitch moaner, I’m not a negativist.” Shimrak turned to me: “Nobody gave me anything. Nobody gave your father anything either. Listen to him.”

I did listen to my dad. I’m still listening.

Funk A Deli / Yidd Cup is at Park Syn East, Pepper Pipes, Ohio, 7:15 pm Mon. (March 9). Purim. Free.

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March 4, 2020   2 Comments

TAXI DRIVER

The taxicab supervisor, smoking a stogie, asked me, “Where’s Charity Hospital?”

“I don’t know,” I said.

“Where’s the Federal Building?”

“Ninth Street.”

“The Pick-Carter Hotel?”

“I don’t know.”

“The Hollenden House?”

“Downtown — St. Clair.”

“People want to know where their hotel is,” he said. He hired me. He worked for Universal Cab, a division of Yellow Cab. I drove welfare recipients with vouchers to hospitals, and workers to Republic Steel Works #4. I didn’t drive rich people; I thought I was going to drive rich people but it was mostly poor people. I picked up one rich guy, downtown. He said, “Severance Hall.”

I asked, “Are you Claudio Abbado?”

“How do you know!” he said. I told him I’d seen his photo in the Plain Dealer that morning. Afterward, I told a friend John I had driven “a conductor from Italy.”

“So why did he come here?” my friend said. John’s favorite expression was “Cleveland is the armpit of the nation.” (This was in 1970.)

My taxi-driving job went downhill after Abbado. A cabbie told me to carry a bat. He said, “A bat isn’t a concealed weapon. It’s legal.” One time I thought I was being followed by robbers. I got boxed in around St. Luke’s Hospital and escaped by going in reverse. Maybe I was imagining it. I was skittish. To understand, you have to have been around in 1970.

My cab stalled at Fairmount Circle. The engine smoked. I left the cab and hitchhiked back to the Noble Road garage. The supervisor said, “You mean you left your cab, son?”

“I knew I could get back here.”

“You mean you left your cab unattended?”

“Yes.”

Dead end.

taxi driver 2

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February 26, 2020   3 Comments

I MOVED TO L.A.

I moved to L.A. 25 years ago today: February 19, 1995. I still don’t take the weather for granted. Everyday I wake up and say thank you, even if it’s only 50 degrees. I live near a gelato store, smoothie shop and three vegan restaurants. I can order a tofu bratwurst at 2 a.m.

Everyone here is in the industry. I live across the street from the “Shameless” guys. I’m not sure what that is. A TV show? A band? I started off by writing celebrity profiles for Us and People. I wrote for Wings. I wrote for Cheers. I wrote for Seinfeld. After Seinfeld shoots, we would hang at Jerry’s Famous Deli in Studio City. Jerry — Seinfeld, that is — once told me he liked working in L.A. because, since we had such long hours, he didn’t feel he was missing much, like he would have in New York.

I bought my house here in 2002. My sister from Cleveland is visiting me right now. She can’t believe my sitch — my weather, my cuisine, and my net worth. My bungalow, which would go for $100,000 in Cleveland, is worth a million.

My first couple years here I could barely make the rent nut, but I hustled. I never turned down a gig. Now I let the other guys hustle. Last week I invested $100,000 in a gangster love story. Rob, a friend — also from Cleveland — directed and wrote it. Hopefully, we’ll get it into Sundance. Then there’s Toronto. Even if the movie goes nowhere, so what. I didn’t refinance my house for this. The movie was shot in Cleveland. Rob gets great press back home: “hometown boy makes it in Hollywood.” Right now Rob needs about 30,000 Clevelanders to “like” his movie trailer. (Please search “Bloody Vista Boulevard” on Facebook and click “like.”)

Is it snowing in Cleve today?

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February 19, 2020   3 Comments

YOU ARE A COMPLETE FAILURE

What happened to Sylvia Rimm? She used to be on public radio, dispensing childrearing advice. Rimm told my wife and me to subsume our individual personalities and create a united front to raise our kids. We didn’t. My wife, Alice, quoted Sylvia Rimm endlessly. Alice also quoted Eleanor Weisberger, Spock, Braselton and every other childrearing guru.

Alice wanted our kids to acquire a “sense of mastery” — of everything. Like going to Disney World was garbage, according to Alice, because our kids wouldn’t learn anything there. Actually, the kids learned a lot there. Teddy single-handedly planned the whole Disney World itinerary.

Our kids had so many lessons. I mean, ping pong lessons, tumbling lessons, Hebrew lessons, accordion lessons . . . Capoeira. What’s that?

My wife now gives lessons in everything.

Our youngest kid, Jack, learned to juggle by age 10. Our daughter, Lucy, became a Division 3 college athlete in diving. We didn’t allow much TV, except Mr. Rogers and once in a while The Simpsons. When our kids grew up, they immediately got TVs and watched every show made in the past 40 years.

I liked Bettelheim’s A Good Enough Parent. I liked the title. I swore at my kids. Was that so horrible? Probably hit my kids. Blocking it. One of my teenage kids took my car to an SAT test, and I needed the car for a gig because my music gear was in the trunk. I went to the SAT site and swore at the kid. An adult said to me, “Hey, ease up.” My outburst cost my child at least 30 points.

I snitched on some delinquent neighborhood kids who were very loud and rowdy. I called the police. The cop said, “Hey buddy, you’ve got a pretty short fuse.”

Are you perfect? Are you “slightly imperfect,” like my underwear? Are you good enough? Or are you a complete failure?

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February 12, 2020   1 Comment

HONOLULU OR CLEVELAND?

This month started out with incredible weather. On Saturday (Feb. 1) I decided to bike out to shul — the eastern branch of my shul, about four miles away. I mean, it was about 49 degrees and sunny. Also, I was attracted by the “light lunch” come-on in the temple bulletin. Then, just as I was about to get on my bike, a friend texted me and asked if I wanted to go to the Chabad shteibel in Cleveland Heights for cholent. That was tempting, but not enough exercise. Too close. So I scheduled the cholent shabbes for later this month.

At my shul, the sermon was about how you can’t pick your family, like you do your friends, so it’s a good idea to hang with family to get different perspectives. Next, the rabbi announced the light lunch. He said — and this is tragic — “fish sticks and french fries.” I biked to Pepper Pike for this? I was expecting humus, tuna fish, egg salad. Fish sticks? What? Who?

Give it up, Bert.

My point here, I biked on Feb. 1. That was the first time I’ve biked in Cleveland in February. There was a trace of snow on the bike path — an inch or so in places  — so I took my time. I didn’t want to skid out and bruise another rib. The following day, Sunday Feb. 2, was even warmer, and less snow on the ground. So I biked out to shul again, except not to pray, just to bike. I didn’t go in the shul.

Monday was even better weather. One of my kids was in Hawaii that day, and that kid had nothing on me. Finally, yesterday stunk weather-wise. Irwin Weinberger and I played “You Are My Sunshine” at a nursing-home gig, but no sun came out. And today is nothing to write home about. But those first three days of February were unforgettable.

lei away bike 2020

 

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February 5, 2020   5 Comments

I’VE MADE MILLIONS

I’ve made millions in gambling. You know that because I’ve written about it. Even so, some blog readers still believe I inherited my money. Wrong! I work hard. I play video poker. I play the Vegas casinos that offer the best margin. I demand a 99.5 JOB (jacks-or-better) edge. I tip well and live well. Do I play video poker all day? Yes, and I love it! My ex-wife didn’t love it. She tried to control my bankroll. Nobody controls my bankroll!

I’m a quantity in Vegas. I even had a radio show there for a couple years. I coughed so much on the air, I got fired. I was in smoky casinos 12 hours a day; I was lucky I could breathe.

I play craps. If you play craps long enough, you lose everything, which I did once. Just once. I’ve filed W-2Gs over $300,000 for many years. The ex-mayor of San Diego lost $13 million on video poker. Don’t be her. Be me. Lots of royal flushes, everybody! My website, Video Poker Millionaire, is here.

gambling 2 2020

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January 29, 2020   2 Comments

MISADVENTURE TRAVELING

I blame my cousin Brian. He’s a 59-year-old mountain biker who posts Facebook clips of himself biking over streams and rocks. So I tried mountain biking in Mexico. There are no laws there. You can do whatever you want. I did off-road level-3 stuff, and I wound up on my side. I bruised my ribs. Not broken, not fractured. Just bruised. Or at least I think so. I’m not going to get an X-ray to find out. I can breathe. It’s a little hard to play clarinet, but I can do it. I think I’ll be OK in a month or so.

I’m through with misadventure traveling. I need to remember that. I shouted “I fell, Teddy!” but my son was far ahead of me, as was the guide. Mexico — do your own thing. Also, I couldn’t yell too loudly because I had the wind  knocked out of me. It could have been worse, yes, I know. I was wearing a puffy-down jacket, which made for good padding.

My cousin Brian is a daredevil. I’ve never been a daredevil. Also, Brian is 10 years younger than me. I should cool it. I will. No more white-water rafting, zip-lining, mountain biking, moped rental, scuba, or horseback riding. In fact I’m not getting out of bed again, on purpose.

Sneezing is the worst (for sore ribs). You know what I’m talking about.

P.S. No sympathy cards, please. I’m 90 percent better.

bike fall mexico

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January 22, 2020   5 Comments

I’VE BEEN DRINKING

My dad admired bankers. In my dad’s pantheon of great Cleveland families, the number one clan was the Bilskys, who started out making bagels, then went into medicine (#1 son), bowling alleys (#2 son, Mayflower Lanes, Cedar Center), and ultimately started a bank (#3 son, Metropolitan Savings). My grandmother used to say “The Bilskys make big bagels out of little bagels.”

Scott Bilsky — who is a young man — called my klezmer band to book us for a temple event. He said 12 Bilskys would be at the event. Dr. Harold Bilsky (#1 son)? Nope. He died in 2007. Harold had grown up with my dad on Kinsman. Leo (#2 son) wouldn’t be there either. He had died in 1998. I asked Scott. “What about the banker [#3 son]?”

“That’s my grandfather Marvin, He’ll be there.” Marvin was 90.  (This was in 2011.) At the temple gig, I cornered Marvin during the band’s break to schmooze. He told me, “Everything I ever did began with a B — baker, banker and builder.” I already knew that. “And brewer,” he said. That, I didn’t know.

Bilsky, a brewski?

Marvin said, “My father bought Cleveland-Sandusky Brewing in 1955. There were very few Jews involved in the brewing business. In the 1960s, Israel came to us for brewing tips and equipment.” Bilsky bottled Gold Bond beer and Olde Timers Ale. Marvin said there had only been five Cleveland breweries in the 1950s: Bilsky, Carlings from Canada (“very nice people”); Standard Brewing, Erin Brew (Irish); Leisy’s (German); and Pilsener’s P.O.C. (Czech). “We all used to meet on Mondays. I didn’t have any trouble with anybody,” Marvin said.

I didn’t know about breweries and still don’t. My father rarely drank; it would have interfered with his worrying. (A Jewish joke.) I knew something about Carlings from Cleveland Indians’ broadcasts; that was about it. I drink a Miller Lite once in a while now. I’m mostly a seltzer guy. Bilsky’s brewery was a blip in the Bilsky family history. Move on to the main subject, coconut bars . . .

The preeminent Bilsky business was Bilsky’s Bakery, which started on Kinsman Road and moved to Cedar Center in 1948. Who invented the Cleveland coconut bar? I should have asked Marvin Bilsky. I didn’t. I called Marvin the next day and said, “Marvin, this is Bert Stratton from Yiddishe Cup, the klezmer band. We played for your family.”

“Thanks for the concert last night. You did as well as you could,” he said. “No, seriously, we enjoyed it. And to answer your question, I’ve always said my father invented the coconut bar, but — and I have to tell you this — I went to Sydney, Australia, and I went down into the subway there. They have a small subway system. They had coconut bars down there. They didn’t call them coconut bars. Where did they get them? Maybe from England. Australia used to be part of England.” [Australians call coconut bars lamingtons.]

“Marvin, I have a friend, Seth, his grandfather was a Kritzer of Kritzer Bakery on Kinsman. Seth says his grandfather invented the coconut bar.”

“It was my father!” Marvin said, groaning. “Who knows.”

I dialed my cousin George, whose father had owned Heights Baking on Coventry. George said his father didn’t  invent the coconut bar, but hey, maybe. Scott Raab, a former Clevelander, wrote in Esquire (July 2002): “Ask for coconut bars in any Jewish bakery from New Jersey to Los Angeles and you’ll get some version of this: ‘So, you’re from Cleveland …We don’t have ’em.’”

Nowadays Seth buys his coconut bars at Davis Bakery. I get mine at Zagara’s grocery store. I once asked the Zagara’s clerk where the grocery store got their bars, but the clerk didn’t know. I even looked at the shipping box, which was unmarked.

I invented the coconut bar.

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January 15, 2020   1 Comment

CAN YOU TOP MY MUSICAL LINEAGE?

I look for my musical roots wherever I can. My grandmother played piano at a Baptist church in Yazoo City, Mississippi. Not bad. Not good, either: 1) it was a white church and 2) she was reading sheet music. My Mississippi bubbe, Ida Kassoff Zalk, had a brother, Earl Kassoff, in Cleveland. Earl was a drummer, xylophonist and house painter. He led bands in Cleveland under the name Earl Castle.

Because I’m a musician, people sometimes ask me, “Did your parents play? Is your family musical?” Not particularly. That’s why I looked so hard for lineage. I couldn’t find much info on Earl. I talked to a couple relatives. Earl didn’t leave behind sheet music or tune books. He died in 1969. At a gig, an elderly musician/guest and I schmoozed, and I asked him if he remembered Earl Kassoff. The schmoozer was Harold Finger, age 77. He, himself, had played clarinet and sax professionally during the 1930s and 1940s.

I went to Harold’s apartment in Lyndhurst and interviewed him in 1992. He said there had been “four or five bands that got the Jewish work back then.” I asked him what bands. He didn’t remember any names. “What were the most popular Jewish tunes?” I asked. He said, “The Kammen book. That was the big thing.” The Kammen book was the Kammen International Dance Folio, published in 1924, and it is still around. The book is for musicians who don’t know many Jewish songs and have been asked by clients, “Can’t you play something besides ‘Hava Nagila’?”

Uncle Earl’s band did mostly “dance work” — American music, Harold said. Earl had worked the downtown theaters, as well as the Golden Pheasant — a Chinese restaurant where Artie Shaw started out. Harold said he, himself, didn’t stick to the melody all the time. He did some “faking” (improvising). Now he played clarinet in a community orchestra. “I don’t do much jobbing anymore,” he said. Jobbing was gigging.

Harold died three years after the interview. Harold’s wife was on the interview tape, teasing Harold about how he loved his saxophone and clarinet more than her. Harold said, “I quit playing music for you!”

Recap: I come from a piano-playing grandma in Mississippi and a house-painting xylophonist great uncle in South Euclid, Ohio.


Here’s something I wrote for City Journal: Latke Blues.

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January 8, 2020   2 Comments

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO PUTT PUTT?

My son Teddy had his birthday party at Putt-Putt on Northfield Road in 1990. I think that’s the last time I played Putt-Putt — official Putt-Putt. There are only 23 Putt-Putt courses in the United States.

There was a Chinese miniature golf course on Libby Road at Broadway Avenue. It had a Buddha that went up and down. My high school friends and I couldn’t get enough of that course.

Arnold Palmer Miniature Golf  . . .  Just had to say that.

I would like to live long enough to play Putt-Putt with my grandchildren. First, I need grandchildren. I want to stay healthy enough to bend down and pick up the ball. That’s the hardest part of miniature golf.

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January 1, 2020   3 Comments

11 HEALTH TIPS FOR CHANUKAH

1. Eat your latkes and shut up.

2. Start every day by singing “The Star-Spangled Banner.”  The song begins with a major triad, 5-3-1, which will straighten your spine.

3. Prick yourself, and if your blood isn’t bright red, eat potato chips — any brand — for the salt.

4. Eat sardines, lightly smoked, in oil. Make sure the can says “Chanukah oil.”

5. You need a gum graft. Get it now.

6. Don’t knock Miller Lite. It does the job.

7. Visit a pawn shop and buy an amp.

8. [For Catholics only. Remember, sainthood is hard to prove, so document everything. Video on.]

9. Eat dark chocolate. It’ll help your stomach absorb the flavonoids. And make sure your gelt is Belgian.

10. Gamble more. Try craps. Craps is more fun than dreidl.

11. Try Arby’s Horsy Sauce on salads, fish, latkes and fries. It’s better for you than tomato sauce.

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December 25, 2019   4 Comments

TWO BERTS AT CORKY & LENNY’S

I had lunch at Corky & Lenny’s with Bert Dragin, the owner of a local furniture store chain. He was looking for a movie script. This was in 1980. He said, “I’ve got money. Everybody will talk to me in L.A. Right now I have something in the Best of the New York Erotic Film Festival.” He asked if I would consider writing a screenplay about a fire at a gay nightclub in Atlanta. Not my thing, I told him.

Bert Dragin eventually sold his business and moved to Hollywood. He produced Suburbia (1983) and directed Summer Camp Nightmare (1987) and Twice Dead (1988). Dragin said, “You heard of Erotic Salad? It’s got a soft-X rating.” I said no.

This was my Hollywood lunch. The meeting was Hollywood-style (like kosher-style) because it was not actually in Hollywood, but Dragin did run a tab at C&Ls. That was pure Hollywood.

—-

Footnotes: The lunch was at C&L’s Cedar Center, not the “new” C&L’s. “Run a tab” means Dragin didn’t have to pull out his credit card or cash every time he ate at the restaurant.

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December 18, 2019   2 Comments

QUARTER STEALERS

Some thieves specialize in quarters. They pry open coin boxes on washing machines and dryers in laundry rooms.  Quarter stealers did this a couple times at my apartment buildings. One time the building manager ran into them, took their picture, and asked them who they were. They said they were Sarah and Michael.

The building manager handed the photo to the police. Sarah and Michael were then videoed pouring quarters into a coin sorting machine at the nearby grocery store. Sarah and Michael hit 21 buildings on Cleveland’s West Side, the cops told me.

I received a letter from the county prosecutor about Paul and Erin — Sarah and Michael’s real names. The thieves were charged with burglary, possessing criminal tools, aggravated theft, theft, tampering with coin machines and vandalism. Paul and Erin wound up in prison. My damages were $884.50. For the record, that’s 3,538 quarters. I never saw any of it.

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December 11, 2019   2 Comments

NEAR MISSES

Here are some gigs Yiddishe Cup, back in the day, almost played:

The Shrine to American Music, Vermillion, North Dakota
New York Mills (Minn.) Regional Cultural Center
Southern Cross International Music Festival, Brisbane, Australia
Austin (Tex.) JCC Israel Independence Day celebration
Klezmer Festival, Fuerth, Germany
Jewish Music Festival, Jackson Hole, Wyoming

All of them were close calls. Maybe we came in second. Second is a bear. For example, 30 clarinetists audition for the Kansas City Symphony and 29 clarinetists add “finalist” to their resumes.

Yidd Cup played Texas three times, Florida four times, and Missouri nine times. We’ve played abroad twice: New York City and Windsor, Ontario. The NYC gig was at the Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts, and the Canada gig was the Windsor JCC.

Chanukah in Jackson Hole, WY. That was the subject line of an email I got. A Chabad rabbi in Wyoming asked Yiddishe Cup about doing a three-day Chanukah bash at three ski hotels. I immediately called the rabbi, gave him a price, and he seemed OK with it. I told the Yiddishe Cup musicians the Wyoming gig was 49 percent likely.

Yidd Cup’s singer said, “Forty-nine percent? That means you think it’s not going to happen.” (49% is where optimism meets realism.)

We didn’t get the gig. We didn’t get any of the gigs, but it was fun thinking about them. That Australia gig, in particular, was a cool gig.

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December 4, 2019   6 Comments

MY PLOT

Harvey Pekar is buried in the most expensive section of Lake View Cemetery — in $6895-a-plot turf. He’s near the Wade Lagoon, not far from Eliot Ness and Alan Freed. It’s crowded around that lagoon. It’s ongepatshket.

There are less-crowded  — and cheaper — sections of the cemetery. Lake View has 111,000 dead people. There is room for 5,500 more. My wife, Alice, and I rode around in a golf cart looking for a plot. Alice found a tombstone with a clarinet on it. No, it was an oboe, I told her. John Mack was buried there. He had been the principal oboist in the Cleveland Orchestra. His son once jumped on my front porch for no apparent reason. I didn’t know the kid, so I called Oboe to complain. Oboe was listed as “John Oboe Mack” in the Cleveland Heights phone book. Mr. Mack made sure to mention right off he played in the Orchestra. When you say “Orchestra” around here, it’s like “Harvard.”

I don’t need a clarinet on my headstone. I checked out Park Synagogue’s cemetery — about $2,100 a plop. And very crowded, plus right across from a BP station. My cousin said she had unused plots at Hillcrest Cemetery, where my parents are buried. Hillcrest is a grassy field with a couple trees. They mow that place. No vertical headstones. I once put a tennis ball on my dad’s marker. The ball got eaten up by a machine. My cousin’s plots are from  1977, when her parents bought the slots. But her parents are buried in Kansas City. I don’t think they’re moving back. The plots were bought for $270 total. Now they’re worth $1500 each.

The plots are now mine. Transferred. My cousin gave me the OK. I paid Temple Emanu El (Cleveland), the cemetery overseer. Hey, I’m getting 1970s plots! I’m going into the ground with Greatest Generation folk — yidn who died in the 1980s. I’ll get some sleep. And if not, I’ll dig the swinging sounds of Benny Goodman.

I had a piece in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal“I Should Never have Gotten Involved with the MOB.”

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November 26, 2019   4 Comments

MY HOUSE SHOOK

I told the plumber to check out a rusted-out waste stack in my basement. He cut the pipe in half and said, “Oops, it’s a support post.” My freaking house shook! This plumber was stupid, but I was, too, for telling him it was a waste stack when it was, in fact, a support post. The plumber said he’d take away the old support-post pipe, which he cut into two 30-pound cast-iron sections. Easier to move. But he left the stuff.

So I took the pipes to the tree lawn. No takers. Then I brought them back and called the city. I babysat the pipes for three week. The city guy said, “Put them out a day early this time, and they’ll be gone. Scrappers will take them.” I put the pipes out again.

Scrappers didn’t take them. I arranged with the city to take the pipes with a special pick-up. That happened. One less peeve.

And by the way, I got a new support post, so my house doesn’t shake now.

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November 20, 2019   1 Comment