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. So maybe he’s really Klezmer Landlord.
 

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.


 
 

OPRIMA EL UNO

I tried Spanish to reach a human at AT&T. Oprima el uno for Spanish. That didn’t work; I got no human, just a Spanish robot. I went through the whole Spanish programa, yelling for a human, and ultimately got an adios from the machine. I’m trying to get my landline to work. It’s been out a couple days. The AT&T online repair site says the phone will be working by Friday. That’s too long.

phone push button shelburne 2015

I used to be a phone-repair guy, back in the 1970s. I’d hook up extra phones in the house I rented. I didn’t own the phones. Ohio Bell owned the phones. Ohio Bell came in one day and took one of my phones. That hurt. The Ohio Bell tech was a young woman who sweet-talked my roommate into my bedroom, where my illegal phone was (but I wasn’t).

I’m OK waiting for my landline. I’m not ranting. You think I’m ranting? I’m cool. But hey, I have a “for lease” sign up with that landline number in a vacant storefront. This is costing me dinero.

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May 16, 2018   3 Comments

MY 15 MINUTES

My band was on MTV and charted #53 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1995. But we had a major problem — nobody wanted to be a sideman. Everyone wanted to be the star. I wrote every song, but everybody else thought they were the star.

kosher riffsI go to shul a lot now, and my rabbi’s sermon this week was “What I Learned at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.” My rabbi said you’ve got to balance your sideman role in life with your ego-tripping. The rabbi asked for comments from the congregation. I raised my hand and blabbed a bit about my days as a rocker. Most people at shul didn’t know I was a rocker. I mentioned my A-hole manager. I said “A-hole” in shul.

I’m a sideman now. I accept that. We’re all sideme. I mean, who’s running this band? Think about it.

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May 9, 2018   2 Comments

SHE KNEW SHE OWED ME

Gilbert, a tenant, said the plumber stole a roll of dimes from her apartment. Next, it was a jar of pennies. “I want to call the police,” she said. “I know he took it. Everything in my place has its place and it doesn’t deviate. Even the spices on top of my microwave have a place. I don’t have clutter.”

claw foot tubWhy would a plumber steal a jar of pennies?

Gilbert has to go. Or not. She’s been a tenant for seven years. Last year she caused a $800 leak and only partially covered the damages. She overflowed her tub. Cost me some bucks with the tenant below. Gilbert had said, “Take the rest of out of my security deposit when I move.” She owes about $400, still. I wonder when she’ll move.

Hey, she just moved! No forwarding address. She knew she owed.

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May 2, 2018   3 Comments

I NEED A BEER!

I yelled at my wife today. Nothing new.

I need a Bud. My neighbor — from Germany, no less — says Bud is the best beer in America.

I drink too much, I know. My kids won’t even talk to me. I should cut back. I’d like to get down to a case a week. I had a friend from childhood who ultimately drank himself to death at 42. He put away a case a day — 24 brewskis. That’s ridiculous, even by my standards. Four beers a day is what I’m shooting for.

I need a beer!


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April 25, 2018   6 Comments

RUST BELT CHIC ENOUGH?

I wasn’t in Rust Belt Chic –The Cleveland Anthology. An oversight. I’m Rust Belt chic. I’ve lived in Cleveland all my life and I use Rust-Oleum (a local brand) on fire escapes. A tenant fell on a fire escape because it was rainy and slippery, and he complained because we use good paint.

I’m not total lunch bucket like Pulitzer Prize columnist Connie Schultz, whose dad worked at the CEI plant in Ashtabula, or Rust Belt Chic co-editor Richey Piiparinen, whose dad was a Cleveland cop who got run over on the way home from an Indians game.

I told Richey I liked the anthology even though I wasn’t in it. I said, “I like it and I’m not even into the Browns-booze-and-broads thing.”

He said, “That’s good — ‘Browns, booze and broads.’”

1) The Browns. I’ve been to about five Browns games. One was the championship game in 1964. I’m good to go.

2) The Indians. I’ve been to about a game a year. Believe it or not, I’ve seen three no-hitters: Stieb, Bosman and Siebert. I’m good to go, again.

3) Booze. I’ve had very few Great Lakes Christmas Ales. No more than 10. But I’m 100 percent behind Great Lakes Brewing and heavy drinking.

4) Broads. I met a couple at the Last Moving Picture Company in 1976 who are probably dead by now from too much beer. (Pong, the video game, was big then.)

rust belt chic

David Giffels in his essay “The Lake Effect” wrote, “There was never any color in the 30 miles of sky between Akron and Cleveland. It was a masterpiece of monochrome.”

I see color in the sky all the time. I see blue right now, believe it or not. I’m too upbeat for Rust Belt Chic.

Go Tribe! And keep the Wahoo logo!

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April 18, 2018   4 Comments

WHAT DOES HATE MEAN?

I hired Sabina’s husband, not her. She was not into shoveling snow, cutting grass, or climbing ladders. She was a Russian Lit major from Russia. But then her husband deserted her, and I was stuck with just her.

When I asked a tenant how Sabina was doing, he said, “I hate her.”

mower crew“Do you hate me, too?” I said, trying to establish a baseline on what hate meant. He said I was OK, but “Sabina doesn’t clean, she has her young kids cutting the grass, and she doesn’t tell us anything — when anything is going to get fixed.”

I fired her. Then I rehired her because she said she couldn’t feed her kids. Eventually she found a boyfriend in Avon Lake and moved out. I owe that guy.

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April 11, 2018   1 Comment

TRUCKIN’

My cousin Marc had a GMC tractor-trailer, which he parked in the May Co. lot in University Heights. Marc was possibly the only Jewish long-distance trucker in the Heights in the 1970s. In 1975 Marc borrowed a few thousand dollars from my father for the truck. Marc had a contract with International Truck of Rock, Minnesota. Ultimately, Marc moved to Pennsylvania and never repaid my dad.

truckn

In high school Marc had been a J.D., stealing hubcaps. Hubcaps from Shaker Heights. Class. When Marc’s mother (my dad’s sister) heard Marc hadn’t repaid my dad, she made payments, but never fully repaid the loan. My father’s attitude was “win some, lose some” with family.

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April 4, 2018   3 Comments

LET BERT DO IT

My mother, 82, owns 25 rental units in Cleveland Heights. She wants me to collect rents. I’m reluctant. She hides apartment keys for me everywhere and says, “Now this key is to that room, which is next to this door. Turn right, and reach your hand around the corner and it’s on this ledge.” I write it all down. My sister lives in Florida. It’s all on me.

The other day I bumped into Bert Stratton, the klezmer guy. How long has his band been around? They should hang up the Havdalah candle. Bert asks me the same thing every time: “What are you going to do when your mother dies?”

I tell him I’ll sell the stupid houses the minute she dies. He says real estate is solid parnassah, which means livelihood in Yiddish. Bert likes to sling Yiddish. Sling this, Bert: Va fangool! Bert, you manage the houses after my mom dies.

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March 28, 2018   4 Comments

HALIBUT WAS CHEAP THEN

For Clevelanders only, don’t forget to click the City Journal link at the end of this post.

When my mother died, we stored her furniture in the basement of one of my apartment buildings on the West Side. The furniture sat there for five years until my older son, Teddy, took the stuff and went off to law school. The furniture was mildewed but usable.

When I visited Teddy at law school and saw my mom’s furniture again, I had full-color flashbacks. Seeing that yellow kitchen table in play again was mildly disturbing. I had eaten at that table for my first 18 years, and now it was in student-housing in Toledo. It was Formica. It was worth something.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In high school I was laconic at that table. I didn’t talk. My dad didn’t talk much either. My whole family didn’t talk much. We didn’t watch TV at dinner, either. We ate a lot of fish. Halibut was cheap then.

Here’s one I wrote for City Journal about snow. Just came out. “Gettin’ My Snow Belt On.”

super woman

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March 21, 2018   2 Comments

WHAT’S THE TEMPERATURE?

Cleveland is a great place to raise a family. It has wonderful cultural attractions, but I couldn’t take the place anymore. I couldn’t take the weather. When I wrecked my knee, I couldn’t even ski.

screw upI’m a member of Wandering Jews here, a group at my temple. We go up into the mountains and pray once a month. I never could stand the glitzy mega-temples in Cleveland.

My friends back home expected me to die in Cleveland. No thanks.

Please don’t be mad at me for leaving. Visit me, and we’ll sit on my patio and listen to the birds.

By the way, what’s the temperature in Cleve today?

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March 14, 2018   4 Comments

SUNTAN STU

suntan stu

I knew a Cleveland comedian who moved to Florida and did impressions of Joan Rivers and Carol Channing, and even affected a New York accent. She was on the condo circuit. Yiddishe Cup and she shared the same booker, Suntan Stu.

The first time Stu called me, he said, “Vos machst du, man?” (How’s it going, man?)

“Remind me, Stu, how do you know my band?”

“When a band is as good as Yiddishe Cup, the word gets around!”

I lost $900 to Stu. He booked us at a Florida showcase (a talent show for bands) that never happened. I had to pay $900 in airline cancellation fees. Stu’s website said he had worked with Dolly Parton, Johnny Mathis and the Bee Gees.

Why did I fall for Stu? Because I thought Stu would get us a lot of gigs. We got gornisht.

If you ever hear “Vos machst du, man,” run.

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March 7, 2018   1 Comment

MRS. MAISEL-STYLE

You know how Mrs. Maisel in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel bribes the Gaslight Cafe booker with brisket to get a good performance slot? This video (below) outlines how Yiddishe Cup operates, food-wise:

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


Funk a Deli (formerly Yiddishe Cup) is at the Bop Stop 8 pm this Sat. (March 3), Cleveland. We’ll play klezmer and soul music.


Want something to read?  Read my recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, “Need Emotional Support? Ruff.”


A git Purim, yidn! Hope to see some of you tonight (Feb. 28) at the Purim service at Park Synagogue East, Pepper Pipes, Ohio. Free and open to the public. 7:15 p.m. Funk a Deli gits down.

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February 28, 2018   3 Comments

THE HARSHEST REVIEW OF YIDDISHE CUP

Yiddishe Cup calls its act “neo-Borscht Belt klezmer comedy.” That’s been done before — the Borscht Belt schtick. For starters, about 60 years ago.

Yiddishe Cup can half-fill a golden age center in Miami. Then what? They’re not getting any younger. Has Yiddishe Cup ever toured for weeks, developing a solid groove, establishing decent ensemble chops? On weekends the band passes out inflatable guitars at bar mitzvahs, eats baked salmon, and watches “reflections” videos.

Does Yiddishe Cup research Yiddish tunes at YIVO? Does anybody in Yiddishe Cup even know what YIVO is?

One more thing: dynamics. Try it, Yiddishe Cup.

–I can’t remember who wrote this. I’m blocking.

Glowing reviews — so far — for Funk a Deli (formerly Yiddishe Cup), performing 8 p.m. Sat., March 3, at the Bop Stop, Cleveland.

funk a deli

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February 21, 2018   2 Comments

ON TOUR

Yiddishe Cup did a month-long tour. We had the bus, the lighting guy, the sound guy and a tour manager. We even had a masseuse. We had hot meals. We had screaming fans. But it wasn’t about us. We weren’t even billed as “Yiddishe Cup.” We were just “Cup”  — a somewhat amorphous, competent band of old Jews.

I jogged a lot during that tour to keep my sanity. The young fans drove me nuts. We sold just 10 Yiddishe Cup CDs, total. Not our crowd, I’ll admit.

We were the “support” band, and we supported the star well. The idea of a pop icon touring with a bunch of old Jews was novel, and it worked. But I wouldn’t do it again.

Funk a Deli (formerly Yiddishe Cup) is at the Bop Stop 8 p.m. Sat., March 3. $20.

funk a deli


And please check out my essay about Cleveland real estate at Belt Mag. The essay was posted the other day.

 

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February 14, 2018   1 Comment

BIG IN TENNIS

My mother drove me to tennis tournaments, like at Denison Park on the West Side and even to Youngstown. I would invariably lose my matches. I was good at my local park but not at USTA events. The first guy I  played in a USTA tournament was Kevin Senich, who was two years younger than me and about a foot taller. I was afraid he’d hit me in the face with his fast serve. He beat me 6-0, 6-0. Maybe 6-0, 6-1. Hard to remember. My mother took me to Isley’s ice cream afterwards. Senich won the state doubles in his sophomore year, and a lot of other stuff.

I was at the Cleveland Racquet Club last year and asked my present tennis partner, “Where’s Senich?” Because I knew Senich was a Racquet Club member. My partner said, “I think he died.”

I looked Senich up. He died at 62. I remember his mother was from Ireland. Senich never knew me, but I knew him.

After I wrote this, I realized Senich didn’t beat me. It was Jim Bright, a state singles runner-up from Lima High. Bright, too, was a big guy.

Senich beat me later.

Kevin Senich, Parma High

n 1968, Kevin was undefeated in singles play for the Redmen. Teaming with his brother Mike, they won both the district and OHSAA state championship in doubles play. In college, Kevin earned four varsity letters at the University of Michigan, earning All-Big Ten honors twice. He won 5 individual Big Ten championships as a member of the four-time Big Ten championship team. As a team captain of the 1974 Michigan team, he was ranked 3rd in the NCAA.

In 1968, Kevin Senich was undefeated in singles play for the Parma Redmen. Teaming with his brother Mike, they won both the district and OHSAA state championship in doubles play. In college, Kevin earned four varsity letters at the University of Michigan, earning All-Big Ten honors twice. He won 5 individual Big Ten championships as a member of the four-time Big Ten championship team. As a team captain of the 1974 Michigan team, he was ranked 3rd in the NCAA.

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February 7, 2018   2 Comments

NEEDLES WERE FAMILY

My father, Toby, handled pain better than most. For instance, bone marrow tests didn’t faze him, and he never used Novocain at the dentist’s office. But he wasn’t iron. He wanted to be buried with a bottle of Chlor-Trimeton, he said. He had allergies and often caught colds.

My dad and I went to the allergist together. The doc saw about 12  patients per hour.  He chatted with each patient for a few minutes, then poked. On family vacations, we took along syringes and bottled medicine, supplied by the doctor. My dad and I poked each other.

Needles were family to me.

Bert and Toby, 1957

My dad listened to his body before “listening to your body” was a thing. He drank Tiger shakes at the Old Arcade. He was a fitness buff. He had the Royal Canadian Air Force exercise booklet. He jogged in his underwear in the kitchen. Gross. Toby was a founding member of the Linus Pauling Church of Vitamin C.

Toby lay on the living room couch. This was during his final days. I said, “Your view would improve if you turned the other direction.”  He didn’t care what way he turned. He had a 104 temperature. We talked taxes.  That was our go-to subject when he was dying. I was in the 15 percent tax bracket, I said. Toby said I was in the 28 percent bracket. How was that possible? I didn’t understand marginal tax brackets  — the last-dollar-in concept. I had something to learn. Another question: How come, when interest rates go down, bond prices go up?

Toby went through chemo treatments and transfusions for leukemia. He got the shakes and was admitted to the Cleveland Clinic. When a nurse asked him how he was doing, he didn’t answer. She turned to me. “Maybe he turned off his hearing aid,” she said.

“He’s never done that before.” I said.

The nurse put ice under Toby’s legs to cool him down.  “I don’t want to hurt the old guy,” she said, putting ice between sheets.

That “old guy” was my father!  He was a jogger and exercise freak.

Theodore “Toby” Stratton, 66 (1983)

I got shingles. My uncle said, “What’s wrong with you, Bert?  Shingles are for old people!” I was feeling kind of old at that moment.  (I was 36. My dad was 68.)

The nurse called at 3 a.m. and said my dad was dead.  I went with my mother to the hospital.  The room was tidy — no bedpans, no chucks, no tubes. No more needles.

I have an op-ed in the New York Times about Chief Wahoo.

 

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January 31, 2018   4 Comments

I HAVEN’T THOUGHT ABOUT
HIGH SCHOOL IN SECONDS

Mike, a high school buddy, found me on the internet and emailed me. He added a postscript: “I haven’t thought about high school in decades!” He recollected a few old high school names.

I haven’t thought about high school in decades. Was he bragging? Like “I’ve moved on.”

I think about high school fairly often. I even think about grade school and pre-school — which is bad, because I didn’t even go to pre-school.

News: “Nostalgia has been shown to counteract loneliness, boredom and anxiety” — New York Times, 7/9/13, John Tierney. I sometimes go to reunions that aren’t mine (though I’m not going to my wife’s next reunion. Can’t take it.) I was at the 50th Cleveland Heights High reunion about ten years ago. I was playing a gig in the same building and went to the reunion to see what I had to look forward to.

I wish teachers were invited to reunions. My 12th-grade English teacher, Mr. Hill, used to walk his dog by my house in the 1990s. One day I got up the nerve to say hi. He didn’t remember me. “I had so many students!” he said.

Bert Stratton, 1967. (My wife's favorite photo of me.) Brush High.

Bert Stratton, 1967. Brush High tennis team

I should call my old friend Dennis. Just called.

He said he’s not coming in from Philly for the 50th reunion. I should call Howard, who is in New York. We occasionally vacation together and analyze our high school days . We talk about the Jewish “Tiger Mom” ethos of our youth, and how it no longer exists —  both our youth and the Jewish “Tiger Mom” ethos. Howard has concocted two classifications for the Jews of Cleveland, circa 1965: 1.) Racetrack Jews (gamblers /working class) 2.) Refined Jews (sheyne, college-educated Jews). My family was a bit of both. We read the Cleveland Press. Howard’s dad bought the Sunday Times.

I haven’t been back to my high school in decades. It’s off my flow chart, even though it’s only 5 1/2 miles from my house. If I went into Charles F. Brush High, I would probably feel very young or very old. I think “very old” would win. Not worth it.

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January 24, 2018   6 Comments

PURE JAZZ AND
MY COLLEGE ROOMMATE

Pure jazz was my thing. Blues, too. My roommate, John, was an inner-city kid who didn’t know a clarinet from an oboe, or anything about music. I visited John at his Chicago house decades later (1995); he lived in his childhood neighborhood, Wrigleyville. His teenage kid was jamming to Jamey Aebersold jazz play-along records.

John had started U. of Michigan as a pre-med, like me and everybody else, but he came out a railroad brakeman. Sophomore year he chalked “Take Drugs” and “Only Fools Stay in School” on the sidewalk in front of our co-op house, and he dropped out.

In 1995 he said he was sweating his monthly urine test with the railroad. His house, which he had bought in 1975 for $30,000, was worth more than a half million. “I’m a capitalist now,” he said. “And I have two renters.” But he still subscribed to The Militant, the Socialist Workers newspaper. His son played “Watermelon Man” on tenor sax. This was familiar to me, except for The Militant part. My parents had subscribed to Newsweek.

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January 17, 2018   2 Comments

AT THE PAWN SHOP

The pawn shop had a lot of flat-screen TVs, fishing poles, amps, guitars and power drills. The store was a man cave, basically, and it was in the inner city. I went there to pick up my band’s sound equipment. I gave the cashier $774.25 cash. No credit cards or checks accepted. The cashier was behind a bulletproof window. I wore a tie and jacket to impress the shop owner, who I ran into. I said, “I knew your brother. Sorry to hear he passed away.”

“My brother is alive,” the owner said. Oops.

I said, “Could you make it so I don’t have to pay interest on my band equipment? It was brought here without my permission.” The owner said no.

The owner disappeared into the backroom but then waved me back to the counter. Reconsidering? “I just read your blog,” he said. “I want that shit down in three hours or I’m fucking suing you.”

moneyHe had read my blog? In a pawn shop in inner-city Cleveland! Apparently he was doing due diligence on his fellow Jew — me. I had written about pawnshops and cops a couple years ago and said some pawn shops kept sloppy records. This pawn shop owner was thorough. Maybe he would sue me. I deleted the pawn-shop reference as soon as I got home.

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January 10, 2018   1 Comment

FOLLOW ME

I’ve been blogging for almost nine years. I sometimes get cranky letters: “You ain’t shit . . . Honestly, why don’t you take your blog and . . . Glorified Larry David.” [I made those up. I think I received two cranky letters, but I forgot what they said.]

Follow me @Klezmerguy. I tweet every five years. I try to be cool but I need help from the Urban Dictionary. I fire myself and rehire myself.

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January 3, 2018   1 Comment