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 is an occasional contributor to the New York Times, the Times of Israel, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and City Journal. He won two Hopwood Awards.


 
 

MY MIDWESTERN VALUES

I wrote an essay, “The Rust Belt Rides Again,” about traditional Midwestern values — how Midwesterners have good manners, don’t raise their voices, and don’t care about college credentials.  I also threw in LeBron’s return and the Republican National Convention coming to Cleveland in 2016.

liner notesThe Plain Dealer ran the story, as did a lot of other papers.  It even appeared in Malta.  Apparently a lot of people can relate to being an underdog and/or provincial.

Back story: the article was a complete con.  Yes, I’m a Midwesterner, but I could become a fast-talking New Yorker in about ten minutes. I could get the New York accent too if I tried. In the Plain Dealer article I mentioned The Drive, The Fumble and The Shot.  I played up my “Bert Stratton/Ohio boy” persona.  There’s another Ohio Jewish writer who plays my game: Bob Greene. He grew up in suburban Columbus  — Bexley, the Shaker Heights of Columbus.  He’s small town like I’m small town.

rust belt chic

I live and die with the Browns and Indians (on paper), and miss the steel mills, and I work with my hands. Clarinet counts!

Maybe I should act more like a real Midwesterner.  I might live longer.

Can I help you?

This is a fake profile.  Sorry about that.  I didn’t write about Midwestern values for the Plain Dealer or anybody else.

September 10, 2014   9 Comments

PLAYING ROME

It is odd to busk — play the streets — when you’re middle aged. (Or  old.)  I played Rome last month. I played the Jewish quarter — the ghetto.  My musician son, Jack, skedaddled.  He would have nothing to do with me.  I didn’t know any Italian Jewish music, but who does?   I played “Erev Shel Shoshanim,” some klezmer and standards like “All of Me” and “That’s Amore.”

My most appreciative fans were a group of college-age boys. They plied me with coins.

Afterward I said to them, “Here’s your money back. You were my best fans.”

bert on the streets of rome.  aug 2014.  lucy in foreground.

Lucy (Stratton) Kaegi with gelato.  “Larry David” with clarinet, background.  August 2014

They insisted I keep the money. One kid said, “Do you watch Curb Your Enthusiasm? It’s our favorite show.” Another kid said I looked like Larry David.

“I’ve seen Curb,” I said.

“What about Seinfeld?”

“Also, good.”

“You guys Jewish?” I said.  I wasn’t sure; their English accents threw me off.

They said yes.

“Where you guys from?”

“Australia.”

“I’ve never been to Australia,” I said.

“Come to Sydney. It’s beautiful!”

“I’d like to.”  If I can clear at least $10 on the streets, I’m there.


Footnote:the photo is not from the Jewish quarter.  But it’s Rome.  I roamed.

Here’s a second busking story, from the archives: “Busking in Israel and Elsewhere,” Times of Israel,  7/12/12.

adding machineA new essay from City Journal: “Bubbles, Booms, and Cash Flow.”  Not about busking.

September 3, 2014   5 Comments

T-SHIRT EXCHANGE

Whenever I get a new T-shirt, I throw out an old one.  That’s my T-shirt inventory control method — a system I stole from my friend Carl.

My 26-year-old son, Jack, takes my old T-shirts, which make excellent hipster wear. My old tees typically memorialize 10K runs from decades ago, with logos for University Heights, Domino’s, Fuddruckers, Leader Mortgage, “Freedom Run for Soviet Jewry,” Tower City Run and the Cleveland Press (which went out of business in 1982).  Basically, the tees are walking billboards.  Jack likes thin T-shirts. The shirts are thin, son — even threadbare. I hope the T-shirts outlast me.  Always nice to be remembered.

I have very few clothing items from my dad. Like one shirt. No, I gave that to Jack too!   You can see it in this video.

I don’t think I have any of my dad’s clothes. Fine.  No point in being necrophiliac. (My dad died 28 year ago.)

My dad didn’t wear T-shirts. He wore guinea tees (wife-beaters), not the round-collar T-shirts.  At social gatherings he favored the 1950s spread-collar shirts, like the one in the Vulfpeck vid.

I interviewed my dad on videotape in 1985 — 10 months before he died — and he wore a polo shirt.  I showed the video recently to Jack, who didn’t want to watch it, but I made him. Jack became spellbound. Not that the video was so good, but some of my mannerisms are like my dad’s, Jack noticed, and that was worth the imposed viewing.

I only have a few super-thin tees left.  Jack has basically cleaned me out. Here’s a vid of Jack in my 1987 “Freedom Run for Soviet Jewry” shirt.

For the record, I bought my first non-college logo T-shirt in 1968. It was for the Mexico Olympics.  Before 1968, you could only get college shirts.  Look it up.  Does anybody have a pre-1968 non-college T-shirt?  If so, go to Sotheby’s.  Does anybody have any really thin 1980s T-shirts?  If so, go to Jack.

Footnote:  A Vulfpeck video came out yesterday, and my shirt isn’t in it! What’s with the new striped shirt, Jack? What’s with that? And the vid goes viral.

August 27, 2014   9 Comments

KLEZMER WRITERS GUILD

You’re interested in klezmer music, but tell me honestly, do I exhaust you with too much klezmer reporting?

I’m the only klezmer journalist in the world, so yes I’m prolific. No wait, there are a couple more writers . . . Rogovoy in Massachusetts, Kun of California, Robinson in New York, Davidow in Boston.  And some academics too.

We meet up virtually, and collaboratively, right here. At least I think we do.

My life is filled with klezmer.  Do other people have klezmer dreams? Do people have bluegrass dreams? Why would they?  What about Chagall — didn’t he have klezmer dreams?

Existence is a wall to climb over.

I’m over it.

klez wall klezmer writer

I have no big statement on klezmer. I started playing it because I didn’t know what else to do.  Buddy Holly, I like him; B.B. King, excellent. I couldn’t be those guys. I tried.

In college I wrote about jazz.  There is jazz writing. There are jazz journals. What about klezmer journals?  I started one: Klezmer Guy. It’s online. Check it out.

I like quirky music with glitches — in short the wrong note in the right place.  I like the staccato of Yiddish and the clarinet.  My speech is a cluster of blobs and blurts. Some of it makes sense.

August 20, 2014   4 Comments

SEVERAL SCREWUPS

Fatima had a B.A. and a steady job, and was single — for about three days, until her boyfriend moved in with her. The boyfriend wouldn’t fill out a rental application. He drifted around the basement electric meters with a screwdriver.

The building manager told him to stay out of the meter area.

He said, “How do you know I’m not a registered electrician?”

The building manager said, “Because I didn’t call one.”

I got a call from an anonymous man: “Watch out. Fatima is no good. She owes me $40, and her boyfriend carries a gun.”

I told Fatima I’d give her all her money back if she left within two days. If she didn’t move out, I would evict her for “unauthorized roommate.”

screw upI gave her $900 back, and she moved. Add another $100 to that — my extra cost  because I owed a tenant in the building $100 for recommending Fatima. I couldn’t not pay the guy for his referral; I had approved Fatima, and then she had screwed up, bringing in her boyfriend with the screwdriver

There were several screwups.


“Fatima” is a pseudonym.

Check out Jack Stratton’s latest Kickstarter. He’s hoping to raise $25.  Click here for info.  And watch this slightly incoherent vid:

August 13, 2014   No Comments

COLUMNISTS

I saw Wilma Salisbury, the former Cleveland Plain Dealer dance and music critic, at a concert. She used to be feared  — used to be.  When she stopped writing for the Plain Dealer, she became just Wilma Salisbury.

I saw Eleanor Mallet. She was a columnist a couple decades ago. Now she’s simply Eleanor Mallet.

Winsor French — the late Cleveland Press columnist — arrived at work in a Rolls. This was in the 1930s. He was independently wealthy. He went all over the world during the Depression, reporting on glamorous parties, for working stiffs in Cleveland. He also wrote a lot about Cleveland nightlife.

Have you read any book-length compilations by newspaper columnists? I read one good one: Eric Broder’s funny The Great Indoors. What if you read 45 Dick Feagler columns in a row? Would you die?  (Dick Feagler is an excellent writer but 45 columns in a row about the good old days, that’s rough.)

Here are a few other former Cleveland columnists: Don Robertson, Alfred Lubrano, Jim Parker, Jim Neff, Mary Strassmyer, Tom Green . . . I’m just getting started. (No Googling either.)

I was a columnist once.  I wrote about candy, sheepshead and the library for Sun Newspapers.  I picked easy, uncontroversial subjects.  I was too ambivalent.

Sun Press 7/29/82

Sun Press 7/29/82

Terry Pluto, a Plain Dealer sportswriter, moonlights as a religion columnist. I sometimes clip his columns for inspiration. Pluto phones clergy and asks (my guess), “Can you tell us how to live — and preferably in three or fewer sentences.”

It’s tough to crank out columns weekly.  Pluto quoted a rabbi who cited Pirke Avot (a section of Talmud): “The one who is wealthy is satisfied with what he has.”

Do I covet Pluto’s job?

Nope.

I had an essay in Belt Mag last week about delis. (Boni: Some interesting comments at the end of the article.)  Click on “Deli Men”

corky lenny

YCKB logo from web page croppedClevelanders, Yiddishe Cup plays tomorrow (Thurs. Aug. 7) at 7 p.m. at John Carroll University.  We’re on the lawn in front of the Grasselli Library.  Park at the college lot across from Pizzazz restaurant and walk toward the campus.  Bring a chair or blanket.

The concert is free.  If raining, the show is indoors at the Dolan Science Center.

August 6, 2014   4 Comments

DON’T PLAY ANY KLEZMER MUSIC!

The mayor’s assistant told us not to play any klezmer music — “nothing ethnic,” she said.  Just American.

No klezmer?  Why did the mayor hire Yiddishe Cup for the city’s summer concert series?

Our contract rider stipulated a fruit platter, bottled water and diet colas. A good gig, food-wise. But what were we going to play?

I said, “You don’t want to alienate anybody with ethnic music?”

“Exactly,” she said. “That’s the mayor’s thought.”

“How much non-ethnic music do you want?”

“All or mostly.”

“Can you give me a percentage?”

“Ninety percent American music,” she said.

Yiddishe Cup played “Dock of the Bay,” some Motown, Beatles, “Hang on Sloopy” and “Old Time Rock And Roll.” A Chinese woman liked “My Girl” so much we played it twice.

no yid stuff

I told the crowd Yiddishe Cup started out as a deli on Kinsman Road, then moved to Cedar Center, and ultimately wound up on the far East Side. I  kept up that quirky patter throughout because “My Girl,” the second time through, wasn’t doing it for me.  A city councilman asked where Yiddishe Cup had been at Cedar Center. I didn’t answer because I didn’t know. I should have said, “Between Abbey’s and Solomon’s.”  Or maybe “We were in back of Harvey’s Backroom.”

We snuck in “Miserlou” — a Greek tune.  We did a Macedonian tune.  We did an Israeli tune (!)  And for some reason, “Hawaii Five-0.”

SIDE B

1 IN 25

When I went to the solidarity-with-Israel rally in Cleveland last week, I figured I would know 1-in-10 people. I knew 1-in-30, at most.

There were 2,800 people. That was a letdown — not the 2,800, but I didn’t know more of them. I knew many of the cantors, rabbis and Federation speakers but I didn’t know many of the rank-and-file yehudim.

I know one person in this photo and recoognize a couple faces. Israel rally, Cleveland, 7/22/14

I knew one person in this photo.
  (Cleveland, 7/22/14)

Shouldn’t I — after 25 years with Yiddishe Cup — be more plugged in than 1-in-30?

There were Christian groups from far off places (Aurora, Westlake), so maybe I’m more like 1-in-25 (with lantsmen).

Give me 1-in-25.


Yiddishe Cup plays 7 p.m. Thurs., Aug. 7, at John Carroll University as part of the City of University Heights (Ohio) Summer Concert Series.

Alice Stratton and Daniel Ducoff at 2012 Univ. Hts. summer concert.  (Photo by Jim Olexa).

Alice Stratton and Daniel Ducoff at the 2012 Univ. Hts. summer concert. (Photo by Jim Olexa)

The concert is on the lawn in front of the Grasselli Library on the quad. Park in the college lot across from Pizzazz restaurant and bring a blanket or chair. If raining, the concert is in the Dolan Science Center. Free. (We always deliver a top-notch kosher-for-Pesach klezmer  show for University Heights.)

Guest vocalist Shawn Fink will sing “Joe and Paul’s,” a 1940s comedy classic, and the band will do its original “Warrensville and Cedar Road,” about TJ Maxx, Bob Evans and Target.

July 30, 2014   8 Comments

LOVE AND RENT

I lived in a Cleveland Heights duplex  — a side-by-side.  Joe, the landlord, lived in the other half.  He wore a sleeveless T-shirt, smoked cigars and nagged his wife.

A note taped to the thermostat — on my side of the house — read: “Whoever is turning the thermostat up and not turning it down, is throwing money out the window!”  I lived with a social worker, a Case Western Reserve nursing student from a strawberry farm in Lake County, and a telemarketer. I met these guys off a bulletin board at Case.

I practiced guitar in the basement, trying to be Bob Dylan.

When the social worker moved out, a woman came by to look for a room to rent.  I met her at the house’s front door and said, “We’re looking for somebody clean, quiet, and . . .”

“Cute?” she said. She was wearing taped glasses. Nevertheless, she was not bad looking.

The strawberry farmer said to me, “You think she’s Jewish?”  (He was always looking out for me.)

“She’s a nurse from West 45th Street,” I said.  “Not likely.”

The woman rented the room. Then the landlord’s wife, Gertie, kicked her out.  Gertie said, “Girls spell trouble. I’d rather deal with men.  You should take that as a compliment, fellas.  Why would a girl who makes a good living want to live here anyway?”

Joe, the landlord, chimed in, “We have to be indiscreet about this.  What if you all start bringing in girls?  It’ll look like a whorehouse.  You’ve always been gentlemen till now.”

I went down the basement to practice.  I was making $9/hour teaching blues harmonica at the adult-ed program. Not bad for 1977.

The nurse moved out, to her own place, a nearby double, and I called her and we went out. We hit it off.  I told my parents, “She’s from West 45th Street.”

My father said, “Are her parents devout Catholics?”

“She’s Jewish.”  (She was. I wasn’t pulling my dad’s leg, for a change.)

My mother said, “I’m getting a new dress now.  Get married. You can get divorced later. You promised you’d get married when you’re 27 and you’re 27.  A Jewish girl in nursing?”

“Because she wants to marry a doctor,” my father said. “Anything wrong with her?  She’s a 26-year-old unmarried Jewish girl.”

“Girls are more independent nowadays,” my mother said.

The girl and I got married the next year. 

The girl: Alice Shustick, 1977

The girl, Alice Shustick, 1977


Footnote: Alice lived on West 45th Street because it was somewhat near Tri-C West nursing school, and the rent was cheap.

July 23, 2014   6 Comments

THE YIDDISHE CUP EXPERIENCE
IS HORRIBLE

Tacky tourist attractions are popping up near the stellar Challah Fame. The latest shtick dreck is the Yiddishe Cup Experience, in the old Beef Corral at Cedar Center, South Euclid, Ohio.

shtick Dreck tour yiddishe cup experience

Sombuddy pleaz open ah vindah!

Don’t go.  Repeat, don’t go. Here’s what you’ll “miss”:

1. The first Jewish traffic light (a semaphore actually), from Kinsman Road, 1925. The semaphore has matzo, knish, and seltzer symbols instead of red, yellow and green.  The semaphore was taken down in 1926 because the Italians couldn’t tell matzo from knishes.

2. Theodore Bikel and Mickey Katz hand puppets. Who made these?  [Josh Dolgin of Canada.]

3. The “Jewish Underground Railroad Experience.”  A sandbox. Supposed to be the Sinai.

5. A “Chagall” mural by Anonymous, scraped off the wall from Mira’s Cafe, Mandel JCC, Beachwood, Ohio.

6. A video clip from Harley Son of David, a movie about Jewish motorcyclists.  Music by Yiddishe Cup.

7. Klezmer-themed postage stamps from Lichtenstein and Malaysia. Musicians on the stamps include Marcel Salomon, Adrianne Greenbaum and Moshe Berlin.

8. A matchbook from Solomon’s restaurant, Cedar Center, 1966.

9. Itchy the Squirrel, an animatron who sings “Oyfn Pripetchik.”  (Poor fidelity, but surprisingly good Yiddish.)

10. Shtetl Avenue — a recreation of 1920s East 105th Street, complete with midwives, klezmer bands, appetizing shops and candy stores.   Staffed by teen volunteers from Agnon School.

challah fameThe place is horrible. Don’t go.  Go to The Challah Fame.

(Yiddishe Cup, the band, is not affiliated with the Yiddishe Cup Experience.  Again: Yiddishe Cup, the band, is not affiliated with the Yiddishe Cup Experience)

July 16, 2014   5 Comments

BAD COMPANY

I’m not good around movies. I frequently go negative right afterward. I can’t stand being in a dark room for two hours watching mostly junk. What percentage of movies are good? Not that many. I get dragged along to movies because I’m a social animal.

I went to Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon. I had read an interview with the “legend” in the Forward; I liked the word “Supermensch” in the title; and a friend said the movie was good.  Lastly, and most importantly, my wife wanted to go.

Shep Gordon is a booking agent/manager, who managed Alice Cooper, among others. Shep did a lot of drugs and messed around with a lot of women. He was loyal to his clients — for sure the ones interviewed in the movie. Gordon comes off as a very loyal sybarite.  In Hollywood that apparently qualifies as a “supermensch.”

Why not more about Shep’s mother, who liked the family dog more than Shep? What about Shep’s brother? He isn’t in the movie. Shep had a few marriages; I lost count.  Gordon hung out with just famous people. (Not entirely true; there were three or four non-famous people in the movie.)  He liked round tables, as compared to square tables, for his dinner parties. Round tables are more conducive to  good conversation. That was interesting.

thumbs down to movies

I walked out when Gordon had a heart attack.  Maybe it wasn’t a heart attack. He was in a hospital bed with tubes in him.  I didn’t hang around for the diagnosis. Heartless.  Me or him?

In the Cedar-Lee Theatre lobby afterward, I was called a curmudgeon and cynic.  I went on Rotten Tomatoes the next day: one-in-four reviews said the movie was crap. So I was redeemed.  Right?  One in four.  I was redeemed.

I wonder what Searching for Sugar Man got on Rotten Tomatoes. I didn’t like that movie either. [Ouch. Almost all positive reviews.]  I thought Sugar Man was too much about the music business and not enough about the guy . . . “We were big in South Africa but not Detroit” stuff. I had a friend who was fairly big in Japan in the 1960s, but not in America. So was Joan Jett. I remember this stuff but don’t want to.

I need a 98-percent-or-better on Rotten Tomatoes to go to the movies. Ninety-eight is my sweet spot.  Sugar Man was 95; Supermensch, 75.

I’m going to check out Anvil! The Story of Anvil on Rotten Tomatoes . . .

98.  Yes.  Anvil! was inspirational; a bunch of Canadian guys with lousy day jobs got their old band back together and toured.  Check it out. And don’t kvetch to me if you don’t like it.

Ann Wightman, salutatorian, Brush HIgh '68

Ann Wightman, salutatorian,
Brush High ’68

I wrote this one for Cleveland.com last week: Class Reunions Shouldn’t Have to Be Every 10 Years.

July 9, 2014   4 Comments

MY NEIGHBOR’S DIRTY BOOKS

books 2 colored

My neighbor got rid of a lot of her books because she’s moving. Twenty-five years of books.  Many of them dirty.  I took these:

Cobbler, Mend my Shoe!
by Thom McAn

Stupid Bastard: The Life of Harry Purim
by Meier Meier

Amusing Car Sales
by Del Spitzer

Good Riddance, Chancres
by Rodney Benson MD

Fungo Batting
by Woody Held

Tie Your Own Tubes
by V.A. Szechtomijh

My Selfies
by Elaine “The Body” Sugarman

Put It Right There
by Vera Panting

The Cry of the Serbo-Croats
by Boris Crzwcwzw

10 Days to a Hairless Body
by Alice Greune

The Wiener in Bavarian Folk Arts
by Nathan Famoso

photo by Eric Broder

So You Want to Be Jewish?
by Saul Bernard Roth

The Story of the Harlem Cooperative Bakery
by Rose Towne Krug

100 Years in an RV
by Gabe Marquez

The Cheater
by Bernie Madoff

Algebraical Puzzles, Nuts, Wrinkles and Twisters
by Albert Einstein

Sexism at the Battle of Waterloo
by “Jilly”

Chillicothe: Ohio’s First Capital
by Les Peterson

Jesus in My Glove
by Mac “Octopus” Vouty

Cuckoos and Grosbeaks
by Nancy Debeak

Golf Your Way to Sexual Fulfillment
by Franz Godemiche

How to Identify a Child Molester
by Frederick McFeely Rogers

Bloods and Bills: My Life as a Successful Surgeon
by Kirk Benway MD

I Broke My Knee and Ran 10 Miles
by Mark Schilling

What It Means to Be a Coprophile
by “Raymond”

The History of the Electric Toothbrush
by Ralph Solonitz DDS

The Streets of San Francisco (and Richmond, California)
by Cindy L. Barbour

Covering Your Lawn with Sheet Metal
by Leo Kaufman

Throw Away Your Truss
by Charles Atlas

Jackoff in the Old Red Barn
by Ricky Dickey

An Appreciation of Aluminum Siding
by Kenneth Goldberg

Regular Guy: The Life of Nelson Rockefeller
by Barry Grovel

So You Want to Dance, Act, and Play the Clarinet!
by Priscilla Peck

Lieder and its Influence on Mick Jagger
by Aaron Alwitz

The Birdwatcher
by J. Philip Stratton

My .38 Special is So Special
by Stan Urankar

Masturbate Those Pounds Away!
by Weary Reilly

The Hipster Jogger Handbook
by Meghan Corriendo

Lesbianism in Western Ireland (1886 – 1891)
by Olive D’Olyly and Winnie Carr

Speling Maid Ez
by Kent Read

A Priest Looks at Group Sex
by Pedro Nanismo

Kreplach in the Congo
by Reb Yellen

All My Laundromats
by Johnny Park

Pet Insurance for Dummies
by Fido Buster

klez dogs

More Selfies
by Elaine “The Body” Sugarman

Bowl Game Jitters
by Glenn E. “Bo” Schembechler Jr.

Sitz-Bathing Around the World
by Lee Huang

How to Get into Princeton
by Muncy Rowfant and Michael Yu

Fracking Jews
by T. Boone Soltzberg

Guess Your Neighbor’s Net Worth
by Alton Whitehouse IV

Thank you and Goodbye, and Hello
by Hillary Clinton

Peeing is the New Smoking
by Amy Streem

Social Media for Seniors
by Betty Dumchick

Life on the Outskirts of Beer
by Isaac Miller

A major hat tip to Gilbert Sorrentino. Forty-nine percent of the above book titles are from Sorrentino’s novel Mulligan Stew (1979).

The German wiener photo is by Eric Broder

File this under Fake Profiles.

July 2, 2014   6 Comments

WHATEVER HAPPENED
TO PUTT-PUTT?

My son Teddy had a birthday party at Putt-Putt on Northfield Road. This was in 1990.  I think that’s the last time I played Putt-Putt — official Putt-Putt. There are only 49 Putt-Putt courses left in the United States.

There was a Chinese miniature golf course on Libby Road at Broadway Avenue in Cleveland. (I think that’s where it was.)  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 the grandchildren.)  I want to stay healthy enough to bend down and pick up the ball.  That’s the hardest part of mini golf.

Adventure golf, such as Pirate’s Cove, sounds good.

Putt Putz

Putt Putz

There’s a  vid version of this post — slightly more in-depth.  (Originally posted in 2011).

Come to Cain Park, Cleveland Heights, 7 p.m. Sun. (June 29) for a free klezmer concert by the Josh “Socalled” Dolgin Sextet, featuring super clarinetist Michael Winograd.  (Jack Stratton on drums.)

Josh Dolgin

Josh Dolgin


Here’s a new vid, Don Bryon Salutes Mickey Katz.

June 25, 2014   8 Comments

A FUNERAL WITH ALL
THE TRIMMINGS

The letter is from Milt — a friend of my parents — to his kids. 

May 15, 1990

Dear Children,

In 15 days I’ll be 71.

As you know, I’m not religious, but I do like a good party.

About my funeral: Use the gentile funeral home, Fioritto in Lyndhurst, to deliver my body to the Workmen’s Circle Cemetery.  Just bury me.  Invite some family and friends.  No rabbi!  I’ve never gone to synagogue, so don’t start with that now.

Pick a convenient Sunday afternoon to throw a memorial service at the Workmen’s Circle hall on Green Road.  There is plenty room, a loudspeaker, and a kitchen. Anybody who wants to speak, can speak. Except Bernstein.

I want a nice sendoff: trays, Scotch, music, dancing, food, coffee, pastry, wine and cold beer.  Whiskey too.  Hire a klezmer band — Bert Stratton’s band.  (Bert is Julia and Toby’s son.)  But remember, one hour of klezmer is enough.

Get the trays at Bernie Shulman’s at Cedar Center.  They’re good and cheap, but you have to pick up the goods yourself.  Get pastries from Acme supermarket at Mayfield near Green.  Their pastries are excellent and much cheaper than the Jewish bakeries.

I want coffee, lots of coffee; the Workmen’s Circle can make it by the gallon.  And plenty of soft drinks and wine — good wine. No Champagne.  And hire kitchen help.

Mom will say I’m nuts.  She can stay home if she wants!  This is what I want.

Love,

Dad

Footnote: Milt died 16 years after he wrote the letter.  He ate a lot and never exercised and lived to 87.  He had a graveside service with no band and no food.  No hard feelings, Milt.  All mourners received a copy of Milt’s brisket recipe at the funeral.

I slightly “enhanced” the letter.   I added Except Bernstein to “Anybody can speak. Except Bernstein.”  And I added “One hour of klezmer is enough.” Couldn’t help it.

“Milt” is a pseudonym.  If Milt’s children want his real name here, they’ll let me know.

June 18, 2014   9 Comments

BICYCLING WITH
AND WITHOUT JEWS

Ask me about my bike

Ask me about my bike trip

On the Great Ohio Bicycle Adventure (GOBA), I’m around far fewer Jews than I’m used to. I’m most comfortable with a 20 percent-or-more Jewish crowd in life. If the Jewish count is less than that, I get a bit uneasy, mostly because less people understand my sense of humor.

My high school was about 25 percent Jewish; my college was about 20 percent Jewish; my social scene in Cleveland is 58.7 percent Jewish; and my place of worship is 100 percent.

On GOBA, there are at most 20 Jews out of 2,500 riders.  It’s like a motorcycle rally in Sturgis, South Dakota.

Oddly, one year (2009) I pedaled GOBA with an Orthodox woman. She brought more tuna fish than Nixon took to China. She wore a skirt. There was an Amish woman with a skirt too. The Frisco Kid: Gene Wilder and the Amish thing. Maybe both women will be at GOBA this year.

In 2010 I met a Jewish doctor from Dayton, Ohio; a Jewish guitar player from University Heights; and my buddy — and fellow cyclist — Irwin Weinberger (Yidddishe Cup’s singer) played “Ose Shalom” on Friday night.  This was after a fried fish shabbes dinner at the Fraternal Order of Eagles hall in McArthur, Ohio. We made kiddush over Miller Lite, which technically isn’t brucha (blessing) material. (Tain’t a grape.)

GOBA kicks off in Mansfield, Ohio, this Sunday.

Gear shift . . .

Is there a market for a Jewish-tinged “Chosen to Ride” bike tour of the Midwest?

Day 1

We meet at Chicago Midway airport and bike to Pepe’s, a Mexican restaurant on Cicero Avenue. Traffic is crazy but fun in Chicago. Bring a helmet and a sword.

Lodging at the Beloit, Wisconsin, Holiday Inn.

Day 2

Lunch stop at the Park View Motel, Richland Center, Wisconsin, next to AgriDairy. See the Frank Lloyd Wright silo.

Dinner at the Ground Round, Dubuque, Iowa.

Day 3

Pitch tents on the lawn of the Omaha JCC and check out the exhibit in the hallway about The Bagel, the name for the old Jewish ‘hood in Omaha.

chosen to ride  bicycling

Chosen to Ride

Day 4

Dinner in Nevada, Missouri.  We’ll eat in the cafeteria at Cottey College, an all-women’s school.

Days 5 and 6

Shabbes in St. Louis. We spend time off the bikes and at riverboat casinos, where we suck cig smoke and lose a few fun bucks. Each night we’re at Ted Drewes custard stand.

Day 7

Dinner at Wabash College, an all-men’s college in Crawfordsville, Indiana. Equal rights for men.

Day 8

At the Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation, we attend a concert by Gabe Kaplan and Yiddishe Cup. Kaplan doesn’t look like Gabe Kaplan anymore. He’s a million years old. (As is Yiddishe Cup.)  Kaplan’s best joke is “A widower in Miami Beach asks his date, an elderly woman, if she likes sex, and she says, ‘Infrequently.’ The widower says, ‘Is that one word or two?’”

Day 9

Our farewell banquet is at Ken’s Diner in Skokie, Illinois, a glatt kosher hamburger joint. Music by the clarinet/harp duo of Kurt and Annette Bjorling.

Think about it.

—-

Yiddishe Cup is in Parade the Circle noon Saturday (June 14), Wade Oval, Cleveland.

June 11, 2014   4 Comments

STREET WEAR

A young man opened up a street-wear store in my building.  Street-wear is hip-hop clothes, like low-slung pants.

I was nuts to rent to the guy.  He just sat on a beat-up couch in the store and never really opened. I hired workers to do dry wall and electrical work, and block off doorways.  The tenant said he would do the rest.

He complained about the awning out front.  It spelled “Main Street” — stodgy — to him.  He wanted a funkier look. I wanted the classic green canvas awning to stay.  He knew that up front.  I had it in writing.

He complained about the basement.  He said, “It’s old.  There are rats maybe.  The walls are crumbling.”  I hadn’t even promised him a basement.  It was an add-on.

He said he was going to paint the interior of the store black.  OK, paint it black. Fine.  Just do it.  Get off the couch.

Some hip-hop buddies from New York stopped by to give him design pointers.  They sat on the couch too. The tenant said to me, “People are going to come from LA and New York to shop at this store.”

He didn’t get off the couch. “My dad thinks you’re ripping us off,” he said.  “He’s an extremist.  But still, the basement is a wreck.”

I thought, “Spend some money.”  I said, “The basement is the least of your worries.  You don’t know what hit you.  Wait till you get the city’s code violations letter. Forget about the basement.  You’ll have bigger problems.”  For instance, he had no electrical service.  He had low rent and was supposed to do the “build out” — the electrical, the improvements.

I gave him one month’s free rent.  I couldn’t do more.  No, I gave him $2000 off on the new electric service panel.

Nothing much happened.  Finally I said, “I’ll give you all your money back plus $500 if you move out.”

He took that.

I rented to a tax-prep guy. He wears shorts, but not low-hanging.


Yiddishe Cup is in Parade The Circle, Wade Oval, Cleveland, noon June 14.

June 4, 2014   6 Comments

I DON’T WANT ANY DESSERT
A DOCUMENTARY

I audiotaped a family dinner in April 1973.  I told my dad I was doing “cinema verite.”  (Don’t knock it. Louis Armstrong did a lot of audiotaping.)

In 2010 I played the audiotape for my adult children. They thought I sounded like my then college-age son Jack.  My parents had asked me questions about my college roommates.

My mother said What’s So-and-So from your dorm doing?

Doing what?  I stonewalled my mom, like a good college kid.

My son Ted, listening to the tape in 2010, said, “You’re weird, recording everything.”

Weird?  No.  Wired?  Yes.  You can never have too much documentation. (“This is the age of investigation and every citizen must investigate” — Ed Sanders.) For instance, I wish my mother had saved my dad’s letters from Fort Benning, 1941.  My mother threw nearly everything out.  When she moved to assisted living, I cleaned out her apartment in about two hours.  Two hours, not days.

My audiotape is boring.  “I don’t want any dessert” — that kind of thing. I hope somebody throws it out.  Maybe I will.  For one thing, there’s a horrible sax solo after the dinner recording, and I sound like a jerk — on sax and at dinner:

Dad:  “What the hell you got it [tape recorder] on for?  There’s nothing going on.”

Mom: “He likes to do it.”

Bert:  “I don’t listen to them anyway, so what do I care.”

—-

I had an essay in Belt Magazine last week.  Belt is online dispatches from the Rust Belt.  “On Lee Road.”

May 28, 2014   5 Comments

MY DAD WAS MY LITERARY SECRETARY

A New York editor wrote, “You should write a book.  After reading your wonderful essay in the New York Times this morning, I’ve spent the last couple of hours reading everything you’ve written that I could find online. You root your essays in your personal experience, but they have a universal appeal.”

The editor concluded, “A humorous book about real estate would have tremendous commercial appeal.”

Yes!  But what if I worked a year on the book, got a paltry advance, and only four people read the book?  Besides, I’ve already published a book. I published a novel in the 1970s about sex and college.  It was small press (my press). I gave a copy to Allen Ginsberg. You can find it on Google.  A Cold Night in Ann Arbor.

I’m fried from writing books that go nowhere.  I wrote unpublished books before that New York editor was born.  I wrote Check My Balance (about my mental health and the family business), and Riding on Mayfield (about my youth) and Kicked in the Groin (about my hernia operation).  None of them got published, and I had great agents too.

One time — when  I was in Latin America — my dad acted as my literary secretary.  He wrote to my literary agent, “We’re very proud of Bert and are very pleased you are representing him.”

I’m glad my dad was “very proud” of me.  I still think about that.

But I’m done.  I just wrote the New York editor back: “I’m not going to write the real estate book.”  If anybody wants to read about real estate, they can always click here for 92 Klezmer Guy posts about real estate.

The above is Philip Roth–style fiction.  Yes, my dad was my “literary secretary,” and the bit about the unpublished novels is based on fact, but I never received any email from a New York editor.  If I had, I would have written back, “Yes, I’ll do it.  Can I pay you?”

File this under fake profiles.

SIDE B

WE INTERRUPT THIS BLOG

Every year I pause to thank the major commenters to this blog. I could do Klezmer Guy without comments, but it wouldn’t be as interesting.

In no particular order, thanks to kibitzers Marc, Ken G, Jessica Schreiber, Gerald Ross, Ted, Bill Jones, Mark Schilling, Ellen, Seth . . .

David Korn, Dave R, Irwin Weinberger, Alice, Don Friedman, Lea Grossman Hapner, Ari Davidow, Pierce G, Charlie B, Jeff Moss, Nancy Kane, Jack, Gerry Kanter, Michael Wex, Faruk Ahmed and Steven Greenman.

See your name here next year by writing in.

An extra gracias to
Ken G and Mark Schilling. They crank out comments in bulk — always insightful, inciting and/or stupid.

Lastly, thanks to bloggie illustrator Ralph Solonitz, the best and cleverest drawer around. Here’s an old post about Ralph and his motorcycle.

May 21, 2014   6 Comments

THE LAST DAYS OF
THE SHAH OF IRAN

During the last days of the shah of Iran, I taught Iranian teenagers at a fly-by-night ESL school in Cleveland.

I punched a kid from Hamadan.  The school director called me into his office and said, “What’s with the discipline problem all of a sudden? These kids are under 18.  We’re liable.”

I apologized to the principal and promised I wouldn’t punch anybody . . . else that day.

Javad –- another Iranian — flicked a pen into the air during class and said, “Excuse me, is this toss?” I was in the middle of teaching the song “Tom Dooley.”

Solheil –- Iranian #3 — said:   “Dooley means dick in Farsi.”

I punched Soheil.

Javad interrupted, “Anus is asshole?”

I didn’t touch Javad.  I just punched Solheil!

The principal wasn’t happy with me.  My students were smaller than me, and the principal was very solicitous of them; he washed the kids’ clothes in Woolite and presented each new student with a can of Right Guard.  He also took the kids bowling, to the art museum, and threw parties. He took the boys to the dentist, the visa office, the optometrist, and the jeans store.

The principal was also the school owner, and he was burning out.  He said to me, “I don’t know what stinks more — an Iranian or nine cats. These sons of millionaires have two undershirts and two underpants, and I still don’t know color they are.”

The ESL school didn’t last.  I wonder where the principal is. [Google: Washington state.]  I bet the Iranians are in California.  I never see Iranians here. But if I ever do see an Iranian, I’ll punch him just for old time’s sake (assuming he is under 5-5 and 110 pounds.)

I-ran a school

I have an essay up at City Journal,  “Tales From Landlordia.”

May 14, 2014   2 Comments

A MUSICIAN IS IN YOUR BED

I play house concerts; I perform in people’s living rooms and sleep in their bedrooms. I play guitar, sing and tell stories.  I’ve taught a class or two at old-timey music camps in West Virginia.

The house-concert scene is my Airbnb, except I get paid; I don’t pay.  And I usually sell a handful of CDs.

I wish the  house-concert scene was bigger.  Fifty people in a living room is my best draw.

I saw the movie Inside Llewyn Davis recently and thought to myself “that’s me!” except I’m happier than that guy.  Right now I’m doing a Bix Beiderbecke transcription in a bedroom in Columbus, Ohio, and enjoying myself.  I’ll  be in Pittsburgh tomorrow. I live cheaply and save money, so when I’m 65 — three years from now — I’ll stop this train and settle down.  I’m thinking about Austin.  I’m tired of sleeping in other people’s beds.


SIDE B

The  post above is a fake profile. This one is true.

I WAS A HERRING ADDICT

In my refrigerator, I had Golden Herring (Brampton, Ontario), Ma Cohen’s (Detroit) and Ducktrap River (Belfast, Maine). In wine sauce, not in cream sauce. Must say “tidbits.”

Ma Cohen’s was the best. It was lower in sodium and sugar than the others. They all had omega-3s.

I bought my Ma’s at Corky & Lenny’s, my Ducktrap at Whole Foods, and Golden at Heinen’s. For a while I thought “Golden” might be the owner’s name, like in Al Golden, my late uncle. I Googled the company; Golden is owned by Lorne Krongold of Brampton, Ontario.

I stopped by a Polish deli in Slavic Village, Cleveland. The place had a ton of herring, even matjes herring, which I had only seen previously at KlezKamp.

Here’s an interesting tidbit:  1) Herring was a major source of protein for impoverished Jews in Eastern Europe.  2) Don’t take herring to a hunger center.  They’ll refuse your donation.  They’ll say, “We can’t even give this stuff away.”

If you don’t get it — herring — you probably think this subject is idiotic. But listen,  you can acquire herring love. Start out on sardines and move up. A third way: anchovies.

My sister and I used to eat anchovies right from the can, straight. My sister isn’t that crazy about herring. I don’t get that.

I’m down to a jar of herring a month.  Something bad about salt, my doc says.

An earlier version of this post is a video.

May 7, 2014   8 Comments

MY RELIGION IS EX-JEWISH

I was a Jewish greaser in high school.  It was me, Neil Zuckerman and Tom Steiner — three Jewish greasers from a class of 650.  There were plenty greasers, just not many Jewish greasers.

Go Charles F. Brush Arcs!

During the winter we hung out at the pool hall.  In summer we went to the swimming pool three times a day.  We hung with the Catholic girls.

I live in Mentor now, with my motorcycle and dog, and don’t run into many Jews.  Fine.

Those Jewish kids were rude.  I wanted to be Italian. I got my first kiss from a dago, Elaine Monachino, by the pavilion in the park.   I worked hard for that kiss.

I wasn’t invited to any bar mitzvahs, and  I didn’t go to any Jewish spin-the-bottle parties.  I didn’t even go to temple, because  my parents didn’t belong.  Maybe if they had, I’d be more Jewish.

My religion now is basically Swedish cars.  I like Saabs and Volvos.  My first car was a ’64 Saab 96.  I was no fool!  But in my neighborhood I got no brownie points for working on cars.  If you weren’t pre-med, you were nobody.

I wish my high school had a hall of fame for Jewish greasers. I think there’s one for the Jewish A-holes — the kids who teased me and became lawyers and doctors.

I started fires in high school.  That’s worthy of note, isn’t it? Wastebasket fires. Ron Levine — a major asshole — teased me because I wore off-brand penny loafers in eighth grade.  Not Pedwins.   So I switched to pointy black “rack” shoes — Regals –  and kicked Levine’s ass, or tried to.  I kicked his hand and fractured his wrist.

Ricky Miller — #2 major asshole — teased me for wearing white socks.  How was I to know white socks went out of fashion the night before?  I didn’t have a personal stylist!

I like it here in Mentor.  Shalom and out.

If I ever see another Jew . . . Wait, no hate.

I’m in the ex-Jewish column.  I’m comfortable here, next to Aleutian.

File under fake profiles.  Fortify yourself; I think May will be fake profiles month.

April 30, 2014   6 Comments