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.




I rented to a yoga lady. I went halves with her on a laminate floor for her storefront. She did the legwork, hired the installer, and sent me a bill. I expected a copy of the installer’s invoice, but I got the yoga woman’s note as to what I owed.

I did a Reagan trust-but-verify; I called the floor installers, whom I knew from way back. They had rented a store from me down the street. I hadn’t talked to them since they had moved out. The flooring woman said the numbers on the invoice were right, and she told me her husband had died of cancer at 54 in 2008. I said, “I can still picture you and Rick walking around the [flooring] store with sweaters on, freezing.” The store was on the end of the heating line and didn’t warm up too quickly.

The flooring woman mentioned my father, whom she remembered and had a good impression of. That always gets me –when people remember my dad. Not too many people do; he died in 1986. My dad had had a real affinity for young entrepreneurs: flower shop guys, flooring stores, beauty parlor owners, resale shops, bars, you name it.

I had an essay in the Cleveland Plain Dealer on Feb. 16. They story might have been paywalled. Here’s the whole thing:


Bert and Toby Stratton, 1957, Victory Park School, South Euclid, Ohio

CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio — My family used to be shy. Then, in the 1950s, my father enrolled in a Dale Carnegie course on public speaking and became less shy. When I was in my 20s, my father bought me Carnegie’s book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” and I became less shy, too. When my children grew up, I bought them the book. Carnegie’s book, written in 1936, holds up. Carnegie’s message is, essentially, it’s not about you. He wrote “arouse in the other person an eager want.” Let the other person talk her head off, and you listen. Warren Buffet displayed his Carnegie-course diploma on his office wall.

Harvard psychologist Jerome Kagan wrote that shyness is partially inherited. There is a brain marker for shyness. However, if you are willing to work on shyness, you can become less shy.

I’m an extrovert now in my old age. When I play clarinet at nursing homes, the audience members occasionally heckle me, and I welcome that. I actually relish it. One listener blurted out, “Shut up and play!” And I kept on talking – bantering about whatever seemed amusing. I typically poll the audience about their lives and tell anecdotes between songs. I like all kinds of interactions, short of violence.

I ask the nursing-home residents what high schools they attended, and which delis they like. Corky & Lenny’s and Jack’s Deli finished in a dead-heat for first. Then Corky’s went under. Now the residents and I try to create lists of defunct Jewish delis: Budin’s, Seiger’s, Solomon’s, Irv’s, Lefton’s, Sand’s and Diamond’s. Are there others? As for where everybody went to high school, Cleveland Heights High comes in first. (It used to be Glenville High. I play mostly Jewish nursing homes.)

My dad, toward the end of his life, became fearless and often sent back tepid soup at restaurants, and he once told floor sanders to re-sand floors that came out too wavy. (My dad owned Lakewood apartment buildings with wood-plank floors.) The sanders were off-duty policemen, and my dad wouldn’t pay until those floors were smooth. I was impressed my dad would go head-to-head with cops. The height of my dad’s boldness was when he was in the Cleveland Clinic dying of leukemia. He told the doctor, “I own this place.” My father owned a $10,000 Cleveland Clinic municipal bond.

A hardware-store owner in Lakewood once said to me, “Nobody is going to jew me down on that price.” This was in the 1970s, and I was in my 20s and very shy. I spent several minutes pacing the store’s aisles before reapproaching the owner. I said, “Bob, you know, I’m Jewish.” Bob didn’t know that. He didn’t know “jew” was derogatory. He apologized. No big deal, in hindsight.

Jack Stratton on his first gig, age 3 1/2, Beachwood Library, 1991

When my youngest child, a musician, finished college, he moved to California to try to make it in the music business. I told him to call Joe McDonald of Country Joe and the Fish. I had gotten Joe’s number from a friend. Joe lived in California. My son said, “Who’s Country Joe?” Huh? Had my son never heard of Woodstock? Or at least seen the movie. I said, “Don’t be shy. Call him.” I was talking to myself mostly – my younger self.

My son didn’t call Country Joe. It takes time to become less shy.

Bert Stratton, a frequent contributor, lives in Cleveland Heights and has also written for The Wall Street Journal and New York Times. He writes the blog “Klezmer Guy: Real Music & Real Estate.”

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February 21, 2024   No Comments


A Cleveland friend, Alan Sherwin, started an avant garde jazz band, which I followed around. Me and about two other people. This was in 1975. The band had zero commercial success; however, one musician ultimately wound up in Tin Huey — a big deal in northeastern Ohio — and another guy, a some-time drummer, wound up in Devo.

Alan Sherwin, circa 2020

Alan’s band was called Jazz Death. “Jazz Death?”– with a question mark — was the name of a jazz tune written by trumpeter Lester Bowie of the Art Ensemble of Chicago.  One couldn’t get more “outside” than Bowie and the Art Ensemble. (“Outside” means playing outside the traditional chord structure.)

Alan outlined Jazz Death’s M.O. to me: “Everybody plays at once but we don’t get in each other’s way.” Besides the Art Ensemble of Chicago and other avant garde groups, Alan also liked bebop: Parker, Monk, Bud Powell. We’re not talking smooth jazz here.

Alan was an electronics teacher at my alma mater, Brush High School. He was pretty much self-taught on sax. He majored in something non-music-y at Miami University of Ohio. He didn’t care what others thought of his musical tastes. He said to me, “I don’t need Downbeat to tell me who to listen to.” He didn’t care who was playing at Slug’s.

Alan was intrigued by my career path. He said I was on “an old Jew trip” because I was going into real estate. No selling out for Alan! He wouldn’t even listen to music while he drove. He needed to sit alone in his apartment and focus hard on the tunes. (He did install a cassette player in my car. He knew electronics.)

Alan eventually moved to Washington, D.C., for a girlfriend, and I didn’t see him for years after that. I looked him up in 2012. Alan told me to learn some jazz licks — “you only need to do it in four keys” — and I’d be decent. Four keys beat 12 keys, but still, I stuck to klezmer for the most part.

A few years ago I sent Alan a comic strip by Harvey Pekar that acknowledged the late, not-lauded Jazz Death. Alan wrote me back, “What is Pekar smoking?” (Pekar was dead but that’s beside the point. The point: Alan was being self-deprecating.) Alan had become more mainstream — less Art Ensemble of Chicago, more Duke Ellington. No more going “outside.”

This link here and this one are all I can find on Alan’s music on the internet.

Wait, I’ll check Spotify . . .

Nothing. Just “Allan Sherman.”

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February 14, 2024   2 Comments


“Struttin’ with Some Barbecue” by Lil Hardin Armstrong is probably the best song title. It has action, smell and humor. The worst song title is “Rise Up to New Jewish Music.” Some Jewish bands go for that sort of thing. (Anything “New” is old.)

The worst name of a klezmer band is the Klezmer Conservatory Band, They are a good band but a bad name. “Yiddishe Cup,” the name, gets the job done around town, but doesn’t land us any concerts at cool, mohel’s-edge music festivals. “Yiddishe Cup” is bubbe’s procus (stuffed cabbage). Very soggy.

I once changed the band’s name to Funk A Deli but that only confused people. Every Purim, a synagogue scheduler emailed and ask what the band’s name was going to be for that year.

Last month, when I was on vacation in Mexico, I was jamming on the street (which I often do on vacations to meet people), and  I was playing “Misty,” when an American couple asked me if I knew any klezmer. I said, “So happens I do!”  The couple was from Madison, Wisconsin, and had hired Yid Vicious for their wedding. I’ve always liked “Yid Vicious,” the name.

Speaking of which,  I was playing a gig recently at a nursing home, Menorah Park, where the fairly new activities director came up to me and said, “Do you know any Jewish songs?”

I said, “Do you know who you’re talking to!” She didn’t. She explained that the new owners of the nursing home requested all musicians play at least “4 to 6 Jewish songs.” I said, “We can play 999 Jewish tunes if you want.”

Yiddishe Cup’s last CD, Klezmer Guy, 2009, was almost called Jammin’ With Some Salmon. I test-drove that title, and nobody understood it. “Nobody,” meaning my wife, Alice. I didn’t run the title by anybody else. I didn’t want the aggravation of multiple artistic input. I wasn’t running a democracy. I settled on Klezmer Guy and started this blog, Klezmer Guy: Real Music & Real Estate, to promote the album.

–Bert Struttin

P.S. To purchase a Klezmer Guy CD, contact Alan Douglass. He has a few cartons in his basement.

Alan Douglass (above) has cornered the market on “Klezmer Guy” CDs


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February 7, 2024   4 Comments


I envy you. Don’t gloat over that. I envy a lot of people. For instance, I envy the patients at the Cleveland Clinic. They are among the 1,700 sickest people in the world. The Clinic is the 4th-best hospital in the country, according to US News & World Report. I envy that #4 ranking.

I wore a white lab coat to the Cleveland Clinic and walked the halls . . .

Desk H-70, Pain Management. The patients there don’t know about real pain. My car has static at 91.5 FM, the jazz station. That is pain.

G-50 Dermatology. The doc took full-body naked pics of me. She’s sick.

C-20, Palliative Care. People are dying but look pretty good. I take drugs and don’t look as good as these folks.

I-20, Eye Clinic. Floaters to my left, floaters to my right. I told the gate attendant at the eye-clinic parking lot, “You’ve got the most dangerous job in the world because half the people coming out of here are blind.”

He said, “Don’t you know it. This is the third time we’ve fixed the turnstile this month.”

I envy that man — the car crashes he must see.

NV-50, Envy Clinic. I’m here for a month.


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January 31, 2024   1 Comment


In the winter, Cleveland Jews retreated to gated landsmanshaft (hometown association) condo developments in Florida to kvetch about the New Yorkers who had cut them off in the deli line earlier that day

Toby Stratton, far left, 1983. (age 66)

Toby Stratton, far left, 1983, Boca. (age 66)

Boca Lago (where my parents lived) was reunion central for alums from John Adams High and Glenville High in Cleveland. My parents wouldn’t play golf with anybody they hadn’t gone to grade school with. Exception: Detroit people were OK. (Detroiters had their own deli, the Detroiter, featuring Motown hot dogs and Vernor’s.) Other acceptable landslayt (countrymen) were Jews from Columbus, Cincinnati, Dayton and Pittsburgh. Those people were OK. They wouldn’t say, “I’m on line. Get behind me!” (Although they might say, “I’m in line. Get behind me!”)

My dad owned a Florida deli. (Actually, he was the deli’s landlord.) Toby owned a shopping strip center in Sunrise, Florida, that had a tenant Tam Tov Deli. The parking lot was always jammed. Cars of old Jews smashed regularly. Above the deli, there was office space, mostly vacant. My dad lost a lot on that building.

My dad liked deli food. I’ve written enough on that subject, but for the record, halvah was a big thing with Toby and doesn’t get enough play in this blog.

Glades Road, Boca Raton, had a Bagel Nosh, which was not up to standards. I told my dad,”We have that in Cleveland and it’s crap.” He agreed.

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January 24, 2024   3 Comments


I employed a building manager who loved the Weather Channel and thought the end of the world was coming daily via tornados or snowstorms. I don’t think she ever went outside in the winter. She said winter was too gray for her.

Bad weather is no excuse for a bad attitude. If you don’t like gray, move or get a sun lamp. More gets accomplished in gray weather. The Scots and New Englanders didn’t invent stuff sitting at the beach.

Another employee was fixated on the weather, too. He did a lot of  interior apartment painting and wanted it to be 74 degrees, like Costa Rica, so he wouldn’t sweat.

My parents had a condo in Florida. So did my in-laws. In fact, my folks and Alice’s parents lived in the same development (Boca Lago, Boca Raton) and got along better than Alice and I.

I’m not a Florida fan. Too hot. I know a klezmer musician — a bushy-haired baby-boomer — who moved to Florida and took up golf. Maybe he played a freylekhs (hora) by the water fountain on the 16th hole at Boca Lago. (Mickey Katz did that, although not at Boca Lago. His band got paid to surprise a golfer on his birthday at a golf course somewhere.)

Arizona versus Florida – that’s the question here in Cleveland in the winter. Alice and I went to a wedding in Florida, where a guest asked us, “Are you still in Cleveland?” That meant: “Are you nuts? Do you like snow, gray skies, slush and potholes?” Don’t mind those things. I went walking yesterday in very cold weather. As they say, there’s no bad weather, just bad clothes. I think a Scandinavian said that.

Lake Erie

Another Cleveland woman at that Florida wedding said, “The day I hit 62, I had to leave Cleveland.” She now spends her winters in Scottsdale. A third Clevelander — originally from South Africa — said she preferred Florida over Arizona because of the water. “I like the ocean,” she said.

Lake Erie is the “ocean.” Look it up. Cleveland is doable.

One last word: layers.

Here’s my op-ed from the 1/11/24 Wall Street Journal. (No paywall)  “Wait a Minute, Mr. Postman.” 

a blue-ish mailbox

P.S. re: mailbox story . . . Yesterday I got a FedEx gift of a carton (12 cans) of USPS spray paint from a mole deep in a paint factory. The mole’s note read, “Always paint with the correct color.” (If you need a can of Postal Blue, let me know. But I don’t ship.)

Please read my WSJ article if this is all Greek to you.

The real stuff

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January 17, 2024   3 Comments


If you’re going to lose something, lose a ski cap. When I lost my ski cap, I retraced my steps along Taylor Road. I figured nobody would pick up a used ski cap. But some jerk did! The cap was gone. Coincidentally, my wife had lost a ski cap the day before.

I like a cap that isn’t too snug.

I always have a couple ski caps in storage. I need various weight caps. I reinspect my inventory every December for the impending winter. I like a ski cap with some color in it in case I drop it.

Discount Drug Mart has good ski caps for $2 each.

If this post is too Larry David, so be it. The guy is always ripping me off.

Stay warm.

(Illustration by Ralph Solonitz)

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January 10, 2024   3 Comments


Charlie Chaplin brings tears to my eyes. And I adore ’Trane and Beethoven. T.S. Eliot — yeah, I know he wasn’t thrilled about Jews, but who can deny him and his line “Humankind cannot bear too much reality.”

Yes, reality “blows” — as we used to say in junior high. For instance, I need to check with a welder right now. He’s supposed to pick up some ribbon sheets for a fire-escape repair job. That certainly blows. Fire escapes — they need to be painted almost every year in Cleveland, or they rust out. Don’t put salt on fire escapes. Calcium chloride is OK, but no salt.

I once was vainer, younger, shallower and more facetious. Now I’m all that, and older. I wake up, eat a bowl of prunes, brush my teeth and think about getting elevator shoes. A couple inches might change my life.

I’m all in on the slogan “Drive away loshn hora,” which is Jewish-talk for “Don’t repeat gossip.” I’ve got to work on that.

I don’t like ferrets. Who does? I know a ferret named Bubbles. I’m going to kill him. OK, indict me. And put me in jail for this, too: Anglophilia, Jewmania and prickliness. I loved The Crown, except the last part.

Are you Jewish? I spend a couple minutes a year discussing whether Brubeck was Jewish or not. And I spend a minute a decade on whether Chaplin was Jewish. (Chaplin and Brubeck weren’t.)

Yesterday I cut off a man at Dave’s supermarket, Shaker Square, and he went ballistic. It could have been a racial thing. I was the only white guy around. Or maybe I was simply a jerk. My cart was in front of his in line, and I went to another line (sans cart) to see if the second line was shorter. When I came back, the guy went nuts. “What you doing?”

”I’m ahead of you,” I said.

“No, you ain’t!”

I wouldn’t give in. Then I did. I’m mellow. I’m interested in love, but also rubble, swine, nudniks, landlords, klezmer musicians and Snickers.

The candy man, John Lokar (1981).

I don’t take criticism well. A klezmer violinist in California called my band “crappy,”  This was years ago, online. I need to to find out what part of California he lives in and do something.

A rabbi was disbarred (disrobed?) for soliciting a prostitute. I like gossip. Can’t help myself, Chabad.

I ruffle feathers. Ruffle, ruffle. People don’t like me. At least some people. I could name a couple but I don’t want to give them ink here.

I’m sensitive. Please don’t comment on any of this.


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January 3, 2024   1 Comment


I held a party last month in a dumpy part of New York, at a winery/bar in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn, right near a pedestrian foot bridge. The Scott Avenue pedestrian foot bridge — a steel-and-concrete structure — was built by Republic Steel, circa 1952, so that steelworkers could safely cross the Long Island Rail Road tracks to get to the then-extant mill.

The Scott Avenue foot bridge.(Photo by Mitch Waxman)

My party was a Vulfpeck pre-concert “tailgate” for friends and relatives. After the party we were going to walk en masse over the bridge from the winery/bar to the concert venue, which was in a nearby Flats-like former warehouse/factory.

I was concerned my guests wouldn’t take to the bridge. For one thing, the bridge had a lot of graffiti and there was garbage all over. I thought my sister would bail and take an Uber from the winery/bar to the concert. My sister has never been big on filth. But she and everybody else didn’t complain about the hike or the bridge! It helped that it was dark out. The litter on the bridge was less apparent. On the far side of the bridge, several Latinos were finishing up a volleyball game. Other than that, nothing.

I had read stories in the Brooklyn Paper about crime in the neighborhood of the bridge. But those stories mostly had to do with concertgoers leaving rave shows at 2 am, drunk or stoned, and getting robbed or just plain dying of overdoses.

That Scott Avenue pedestrian foot bridge held its weight. Nothing cracked.

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December 27, 2023   1 Comment


My kids liked Corky’s. The blintzes, the pickles, the halvah, the phosphates. But I’m not here to write food nostalgia. Too cheesy.

C&L’s closed, for good, Tuesday. The word in the local press — Cleveland Jewish News and the Plain Dealer — is C&L’s had a problem getting good help. That ain’t news. I’m skeptical.

My dad was a chocolate-phosphate addict. So is my daughter, Lucy, who called the phosphates “chocolate frost feets.” Cleveland musician Mickey Katz, in his autobiography, called chocolate phosphates “Jew beers.” (Katz’s son is Joel Grey.) Katz drank “Jew beers” at Solomon’s Deli on East 105th Street in Glenville.

My father, Toby, was a “deli Jew.” That’s typically a putdown in the Jewish community, meaning my father knew more about corned beef than Torah. Toby’s favorite food was a “good piece of rye bread.”

My father probably drank no more than 100 real beers his whole life. He should have! In his retirement — when he drank more — he smiled a lot more. A bit shiker at one party, Toby teed off on a watermelon fruit bowl with a golf club. The golf club was a driver, a wood. Solid.

I grew up on chocolate phosphates, just like my dad and my kids. I drank many of mine at Solomon’s in the Cedar Center shopping strip in South Euclid, where Solomon’s had moved — from East 105th Street — in the 1950s.

For some Semitic, semantic reason, goys occasionally called Cedar Center the Gaza Strip. This has nothing to do with the present war. It’s just the word strip, as in Gaza Strip and shopping strip, made for an interesting juxtaposition. The north side of Cedar Center looked pretty bad, actually. In the early 2010s it was concrete chunks and gravel heaps, until a real estate developer knocked down the 1950s-era plaza and put up a Bob Evans and other national chains.

Bob Evans is good. Not knocking it.

The C&L’s at Cedar Center lasted until 1994. A second Corky’s opened further east in 1973. That one — the “new” one — just closed. Confused? Simply put, there are no more C&L’s in Cleveland.

At Cedar Center Corky’s, a couple small tough Jews hung out in the rear booth. One was Bobby (pseudonym.) Bobby did collections for a major landlord. Major, to me, meant more than 500 units. I knew Bobby from junior high. Bobby sued my mother. Mom, for health reasons, had moved from her Beachwood apartment, where Bobby collected rents, to an assisted living facility. She had a couple months left on her lease. She had lived in the  apartment 27 years. Bobby went after her. Bobby’s boss, by the way, loved my band. So what, my mother was collectable.

Delis have been going downhill for decades. In 2010 journalist David Sax wrote a book, Save the Deli, about the decline of the deli. Here’s something for your next edition, Mr. Sax; Delis went downhill when they added TVs. Why are we forced to watch sports while we eat?

I’m deli-famous. Listen to me. I once wrote a thank-you note which was posted in the entrance of Jack’s Deli on Green Road in Beachwood. My letter was about the terrific tray Jack’s had prepared for the bris of my first child, Teddy. (Jack’s Deli is still standing.) Oh yeah, my first bris as a dad . . . fatherhood was about buying huge quantities of smoked fish. In my letter I complimented Jack’s on their white fish, which my Aunt Bernice the Maven approved of. I used the expression “Aunt Bernice the Maven gives her seal of approval” in my letter. Bernice worked for a food broker and knew food.

Do you prefer Jack’s Deli or Corky & Lenny’s? I asked that question just last week at a gig. I queried a nursing-home crowd about their favorite deli.  Jack’s and Corky’s ran a dead heat. After my quiz, my keyboardist and I played the song “16 Tons (of hard salami),” which is  the Mickey Katz parody of Tennessee Ernie Ford’s “16 Tons” (of coal).”

Yikhes (lineage): My dad grew up in a deli on Kinsman Road. His mother had a candy store /deli at East 118th Street and Kinsman. The deli was called Seiger’s — my grandmother’s maiden name. She sold it to her half-brother, Itchy, when he came over from the Old Country. Something fishy about that deal. My grandmother went from being a candy store/deli owner to simply a candy-store owner.

I once played the “deli card” to establish my bonafides. In an odd place. I was working as a police reporter in Collinwood, and the cops at the police station on East 152nd Street considered me a Jewish hippie spy from the Heights. But when I told the cops I was a Seiger, as in “I’m from Seiger’s Restaurant, you know, on East 118th and Kinsman” — the older cops suddenly took a liking to me. The older cops—mostly high-ranking guys — knew Seiger’s Restaurant well. Seiger’s had been like a Damon Runyon casting hall; all manner of hustlers, cops, businessmen, and schnorrers had hung out there. (Seiger’s closed in 1968.) The schnorrers were Orthodox Jewish tzedakah (charity) solicitors; they had their own booth in the back. My great-aunt, Lil Seiger, served the schnorrers kosher food from her apartment, which was in back of the store, because the schnorrerwouldn’t eat the non-kosher food. The deli was kosher-style, not kosher. Cops ate well at Seiger’s, and nobody ever got a ticket for an expired meter, and sometimes cars were parked two lanes deep on the street, an old cop once told me. Itchie Seiger, my great uncle, was the restaurant’s maitre d’, a k a kibitzer (glad-handler). He was a former cloak maker from Galicia, a province in Austria-Hungary. My grandmother Anna Seiger Soltzberg was a Galitizianer, as well.

I personally didn’t see Itchie very often. My parents didn’t consider a drive from our house in South Euclid to Kinsman the right direction for a Sunday cruise. We usually wound up going east, toward the Chagrin River metro park.

My great-aunt, Lil, supposedly gave her recipe for mish mosh soup to Corky’s. All the deli owners knew each other. So I’m connected to Corky & Lenny’s. Pass the Jew beer. Slurp.

A lot of  this post originally appeared in Belt Mag in 2014. The graphic is by Ralph Solonitz.

I had an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal last week. “Maimonides Goes Wrong.” It has the word schnorrer in it, too. Link here. No paywall.


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December 12, 2023   1 Comment


I called Cody’s mother because he hadn’t paid his rent. Cody’s mom said, “I expected you to tell me he was dead. He’s been impossible since he was 15. I have two children. One is stellar and the other is Cody.” Cody was 27.

I knocked on Cody’s door but he wouldn’t answer. I filed on him in court. He eventually texted me, “You’re going to have to go thru eviction process while I work things out.”

I went to his apartment again. I said through the door, “I hear you’re still here. Your mother thought I was calling her to tell her you’re dead. Get it together, man.” He had no furniture and slept on the floor, surrounded by a bong and cigarette butts. I told him to call community services, which was passing out free rent money. His rental application said he was a painter with his uncle’s firm.

I had rented to Cody because, for one reason, his mom had accompanied him when he had come by to see the apartment. She and Cody put down the final month in advance.

Finally, the court evicted Cody. He was supposed to vacate within 10 days after the eviction hearing. I showed up at his door at 9 am on day 11. The chain lock was on. If you have the chain lock on, and you’re inside, I got a problem.

Later that day the chain was off. There was stuff in the apartment. I called his mom. I wondered where he had gone. It was freezing out. She said, “He may look like a druggie but he isn’t. He’s mentally ill.”

Cody’s uncle — the painting contractor — said, “I’m not sure if he’s ill or just lazy. He’s smart. He got in a couple scuffles with my guys but he was OK. I was going to help him buy a truck. He got a few paychecks to get the apartment, and then he quit. He’s not staying at my house tonight. So he messed you up with the lock — the coming and going — at the apartment? That might be breaking and entering. Maybe he’ll get a warm bed in a jail tonight.”

We stored six bags of garbage from Cody’s place for a while. That’s the state law. I asked my maintenance guy, “What about kitchen table?”

He said, “I basically stomped that and put it on the tree lawn. It’s smashed.”


“Cody” is a pseudonym. Drawing by Ralph Solonitz.



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December 6, 2023   1 Comment


I wanted to be to Herbert Gold, who wrote for Playboy and other mags. He also wrote novels about growing up in Cleveland. They weren’t good novels. They were too wordy, going in circles. He couldn’t do plot. (Not too many people can.)

Gold was one of a handful of Jews who grew up in Lakewood in the 1920s and 1930s. He lived on Hathaway Avenue. He died on Nov. 19 at 99 in San Francisco. His father ran a small grocery store in Lakewood, and the father — unlike most Cleveland Jews — didn’t settle on the East Side. (Lakewood, on Cleveland’s West Side, was beyond the pale for Jews back then, and still is to some extent.)

Herbert Gold. circa 2010.

I passed Gold’s house on Hathaway Avenue in the 1970s on my way to managing apartments in Lakewood. I had unpublished novels; I had a lit agent in New York. I wanted to be the “next Herbert Gold,” though slightly better. Instead, I became the “first Bert Stratton.”

The Prospect Before Us was Gold’s novel about managing a rundown hotel on Prospect Avenue in Cleveland. You’d think a book with such a good title would be good, but it never went anywhere. It wasn’t funny or tragic. Don Robertson, another local novelist, was better. Robertson could be funny, for one thing.

Gold’s memoir My Last Two Thousand Years — about his father and Herb’s relationship to Jewishness — was moving. He wrote, “My father came to America from Russia and lived in a basement on the Lower East Side. I came to America from Lakewood to live in a basement on the Lower East Side. I washed dishes, cleaned rooms, waited on tables and tried to learn a little Yiddish [1942, NYC].”

Gold moved to San Francisco in 1960 and stayed there. He visited Haiti often. I occasionally saw his brother Sid on Coventry Road in Cleveland Heights. Sid was a Coventry cowboy — a regular in Harvey Pekar’s comic books. Sid didn’t have a job and played a lot of chess.

In a 2021 interview, Gold said, “I’m very preoccupied with the fact that I’m not going to live forever. Death is inevitable and I have to accept it. I’m comforted by the fact that a few people, my children, will remember me or will inherit something from me, and I will be immortal in that sense.”

Herb Gold: a Jewish writer from Lakewood, Ohio. I gotta drive by his childhood house at 1229 Hathaway Avenue again.

I had an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on Nov. 16. “My Gaza Friend is Dead.” [No paywall]

Baraa Abu Elaish (L) and Alice Stratton. Fairfax Elementary School, Cleveland Heights, Ohio. 2014.

On a lighter subject, here’s my essay in today’s Cleveland Plain Dealer. “Pondering signs, borders and license plates.”

Yiddishe Cup plays a free concert 2-3 pm this Sun. (Dec. 3) at the Beachwood Community Center, 25225 Fairmount Blvd, Beachwood, Ohio. Be there!

Plain Dealer ad, 6/24/36

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November 29, 2023   3 Comments


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