Real Music & Real Estate . . .

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

He knows about the band biz and – check this out – the real estate biz too. So maybe he’s really Klezmer Landlord.
 

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

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

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


 
 

DEATH TRAINING

My younger son recommended I try a flotation tank in California. You climb into a flotation capsule that feels like an MRI tube, but it’s filled with several inches of salt water. There’s music, and then the lights go out, and the music goes off, too. You float on your back in the dark.

I couldn’t find the exit handle and panicked. But when I finally found the handle, I settled in and kept my hand on the exit lever. I counted down from 100. That flotation tank in Pasadena was an acquired taste. Not much going on in there. It was death training.

bert tombstone

Funk a Deli / Yidd Cup on the lawn tomorrow (7 pm Thurs., Aug. 16) at John Carroll U., University Hts., Ohio. Free. Free ice cream, too. If raining, we’re indoors at the Dolan Science Center. (Some PR says “indoors at the O’Malley Center,” but that’s incorrect.)

funk a deli

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August 15, 2018   2 Comments

WRONG JOB?

The building manager became shell-shocked when a tenant called from the hospital, crying about losing his toe to diabetes. Worse: the building manager had to chase the sick man for his rent. Meanwhile, the manager also had to collect rent from apartment 102. She knocked on that door. 102 was passed out on the floor. Drunk.

huebner b101 2_21_11

Messiest apt. ever. 2011

“I’ve never seen a place that messy,” the manager said to me later. The place wasn’t that messy. Some people live like pigs. Some tenants are messy because they have health issues and can’t clean.

A tenant had Alzheimer’s. He couldn’t remember if he had written his rent check. The manager thought the tenant might accidentally light the place up, too, so we turned off the tenant’s stove gas.

There were about 40 cigarette butts on the front stoop. A tenant used the stoop as his personal ashtray. I picked up some of the butts and said to the manager, “If this grosses you out, you’ve got the wrong job.”


Funk a Deli/ Yidd Cup is on the lawn at John Carroll U. next Thurs. (7 p.m. Aug. 16). Free. University Hts., Ohio.

Alan Douglass. Middletown, Ohio 2008

Alan Douglass.

Middletown, Ohio 2008

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August 8, 2018   1 Comment

I’M THE BARD

I used to be a drummer. Now I’m a bard. I break it down by letters, not beats. My favorite letters are k and l, like in glock.

A blue jay smoking a cigar — that’s an abstraction. A blue jay on a cigar — that’s for real. I did wordplay on the drums, but it didn’t work well. I used to play jazz clubs, weddings, bar mitzvahs. I was embattled — with myself. I once did a gig where the club owner strew pillows on the floor so the audience could nod out. They did. One guy woke up halfway through my set and yelled, “I hate this!”

hypno klezI switched to words. Words are tougher than music. The English language is pretty limited with end-rhymes. I hate that tune/spoon, moon/June shit. At least music keeps you anchored with real-life reminders like “when’s the call? . . . what’s the pay? . . . food? . . . dress? . . . parking situation?”

The bard thing is a challenge. What rhymes with challenge?

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August 1, 2018   2 Comments

THE HUMAN JAZZ ENCYCLOPEDIA

Michael “Moon” Stevens has an almost photographic memory for jazz facts. Moon gets most of his information from reading jazz bios and LP liner notes. Moon grew up in Flint, Michigan, and knew John Sinclair, a well-known jazz aficionado. I’m not sure why Moon is “Moon.” I see him about once a year, when he visits family in Cleveland. Moon is a painter at the Los Angeles airport. Moon was talking to his brother-in-law, Louis, and me about Albert Ayler, Pharaoh Sanders, Joe Maneri, Charlie Parker, Roland Kirk and Bill Evans. Louis mentioned Bill Evans was Jewish.

“How do you know Evans is Jewish, Louis?” I said. “Do you wake up in the morning and wonder who’s Jewish, and who isn’t?” I do. But why would Louis, who isn’t Jewish. Neither is Moon.

“I grew up in Greenwich Village,” Louis said. “New York was a very Jewish town when I grew up.”

“If somebody shoots somebody, or if somebody wins the Nobel Prize, I wonder if the guy is Jewish,” I said. “That’s my M.O.”

Moon said, “Bill Evans wasn’t Jewish. His father was Welsh and his mother was Russian Orthodox.”

Louis corroborated this on Google.

Impressive, Moon.

—-

Was Dave Brubeck Jewish? Here’s that one . . .

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iaWvixN_a9Q

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July 25, 2018   5 Comments

GETTING LOUD
IN THE RESTAURANT

My friend Brian eats out often and is finicky. If his fries aren’t crispy, he sends them back. Brian gets annoyed by cheese. He doesn’t like sharp cheese. If there’s a short pour on the wine, he gets upset.

Brian works the room [the restaurant] like a celeb when he eats out — mostly at places where his buddies are. When we ate at Club Isabella, Brian pointed out the doctors and dentists in the room. Brian said, “That’s the guy who does the dental implants. He runs the full-page ad in the Plain Dealer.”

I said, “When I visit you in California [where Brian lives half the year], you’ve got to do better than docs who do dental implants.” Brian said he would take me to L.A. restaurants where I’ll have a greater than 50-50 chance of spotting celebrities.

Brian likes to say goyim loudly to elicit a reaction from nearby diners. (Nobody reacts. It’s too loud. Nobody hears him.)slomak diining Brad

At Club Isabella, I suggested we out on the patio because it was quieter there, but Brian opted for the echo-chamber dining room. That night every happenin’ Jew in Cleveland was at Isabella’s. Brian worked the room: “How was Aspen, Sandy? . . . “How’s your tennis elbow, Jeff?”

I prefer Indian and Chinese restaurants, because they are usually quiet. I don’t like to suck cough drops and sip tea for weeks after nights out with Brian.


Brian is a pseudonym.

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July 18, 2018   3 Comments

SOME THINGS I HAVE LEARNED

  1. Wear a bike helmet (even though nobody in Holland does).
  2.  Put air in your car tires regularly.

In my thirties, I kvetched about not living in New York, or someplace else equally glamorous. Now, who cares where you live. When I was young, I judged people by their tastes in music and their bumper stickers. I don’t care about that now.

In my twenties, I sometimes wore a tool belt, thinking I was blue-collar. I did some brick pointing, painting, whatever. I didn’t like it.

I annoyed old people for fun. For instance, when my mother-in-law said, “They’re wearing their hair high in the 1940s look,” I would answer, “Who’s they?”

She would say, “I don’t have any shoes to wear tonight to the party.” I would say, “You going barefoot?”

Harvey Pekar

Harvey Pekar

I hung around with the comic-book writer Harvey Pekar — a bitter guy. He said, “I’m hateful. I’d like to have a cool way to slip my George Ade article [published in a local magazine] to my ex-wife [an academic]. She’s small-minded.” Pekar was more cynical than me. I liked that.

Getting married and staying married was one of my better moves. Starting the klezmer band was another good play. Having kids was a good move. Basic stuff.

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July 11, 2018   4 Comments

SIGNS OF THE TIMES

I had a commercial tenant who sold gravestones and pistachios. His main window sign read Porter Monuments and a smaller sign was Pistachios. Not a good sign. He went under.

I had a tenant, the India Food Emporium, which sold Indian spices, Indian bread, Indian music. Then came the Marlboros and malt liquor. Went under.

You want a samosa with that 40?

You want a samosa with that 40?

I got a call from a prospective tenant for a headlight removal business. Not a bad concept; headlights are tricky to remove. The caller corrected me: “Head lice.” I was still OK with it.

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July 4, 2018   2 Comments

WRONGFUL DEATH

Two of my friends’ parents died the same week. The first funeral was a massive Catholic Mass, and the second was a small Jewish affair. At both funerals, mourners chit-chatted about wrongful death. The Catholic man had gone into a local satellite hospital for a fairly routine matter, then went to “code blue,” and died. The Jewish woman had a procedure on her trachea and died. They were both in their 80s.

bad gigWhen my father died, he was treated first by a Mt. Sinai Hospital doc, then a Cleveland Clinic doctor. My dad thought he might get better care at the Clinic. Nope.

Marc Jaffe, a comedian, once told me that he wants to interview people regarding the best way to die. Like he will go up to a guy impaled on a picket fence and say, “Hey, is that a good death?” You don’t know till you try it. (The interview and the death.)

People I know — and know of, in a fanboy way — who have died recently:

From my gen . . . Lillian Goldberg, a friend; David Ariel, former head of the Cleveland College of Jewish Studies.

Older gen . . . Philip Roth, Tom Wolfe, Donald Hall.

[I should convert “my gen” to “older gen” right after I post this. The older crowd — the Silent Gen and WWII folk — is tapped out.]

I wrote a tribute to Donald Hall, who died Saturday. He was a mentor to me. “The Freelancer” in City Journal.

Donald Hall (L) and Bert Stratton, New Hampshire, 2000

Donald Hall (L) and Bert Stratton, New Hampshire, 2000

—-

I wrote “Me and my Lawnmower” for Belt Mag. This one is not about anybody dying, but it does touch on the subject.

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June 27, 2018   4 Comments

I’M A SENSUOUS OLD CROOK

I’m sensuous. Everybody knows that, like I like opera and tennis. I was born above a deli in 1949. I remember the pickles. The cukes were right in the goddamn basement. My parents got the hell out of there in 1955 and moved to the suburbs, South Euclid.

I never really wanted to kill nobody. I was just an accomplice. At Chillicothe, I did kitchen work. I don’t mind getting dirty. I was numero uno with all the inmates, especially the Cleveland Italians and, of course, the Jews.

comedy judgeFor me, personally, the whole thing went kaplooey in ’79 — the year I was busted. The Crash of ’79, for me, was not a book. It was real. I made some scores after, when I got out, and blew everything on a racehorse –- owning one. I couldn’t deal with the thick-headed Italians at the track no more, to tell you the truth.

I’ve learned a few things. If your mama mixes her monthly blood with hamburger and serve it to you, you won’t hit her. What else?

I never got married. Not my thing.

One last thing, I haven’t ate ice cream in at least thirty years. It’s kids’ food and I’m no kid.

Last call: Funk a Deli / Yiddishe Cup at Cain Park, Cleveland Hts., this Sun. (June 24), 7 p.m. Evans Amphitheater. No tix necessary. Guests: Michael Wex, Steve Greenman, Kathy Sebo, Shawn Fink and Greg Selker.

yc 98 2

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June 20, 2018   3 Comments

NEW YORK CUTTING SESSION

I always wanted to cut another musician in a jam session. I wanted to draw blood! Problem: I’m a mediocre musician. I attended a wedding in New York, and the mother of the bride asked me to play some clarinet. I said, “You already have a good band.” But she insisted I play. The orchestra was a 10-piece wedding unit of NYC pros. I agreed to sit in only if my  son Jack backed me up on drums. (This was before Jack got known with Vulfpeck, so “I want my son on drums” was simply a crutch for me, not leverage to sit in.)

The bandleader and I exchanged emails prior. This was serious biz. In Cleveland, at my band’s gigs, I always let any  wedding guest sit in. Any . . . body!  It’s a wedding, not a concert. This NYC bandleader was choosy. He said the groom’s mom didn’t want anybody to ruin the “flow” of the party.

At the New York party, I stashed my axe in the synagogue front office near the social hall, and had a good time as a guest. The band had three singers, a saxophonist, trumpeter, guitarist, etc. No clarinet. They played Black Eyed Peas, Beatles,”YMCA,” Chuck Berry.

jack and bert stratton 10_22_11

Jack (L) and Bert Stratton, 2011

Toward the end of the party, the bandleader hadn’t yet called me up, so I went into the synagogue office, got my axe, and played along — from the office. I got into a solid groove. The band was back to Jewish music, playing a tune I knew really well. I strolled into the reception and took the melody from the saxophonist. My son hopped on drums. We played old-school klezmer, which hadn’t been heard all night. Success.

Next stop, Minton’s Playhouse, Harlem!

Funk A Deli, aka Yidd Cup, is at Cain Park, Cleveland, 7 pm Sun. June 24. Free. No tix necessary. Special guests are Michael Wex, Kathy Sebo, Steve Greenman, Greg Selker and Shawn Fink.

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June 13, 2018   4 Comments

THE ODDS ARE . . .

The odds are actuaries have interesting jobs. What could be better than figuring out the odds on everything? For instance, what are the odds I’ll rent a store a month sooner if I reduce rent $50? What are the odds I’ll get a gig if I reduce the size of the band?

I’ve had stores empty for years. I had a barber who wanted to put photos of “fades” in her window. I let her. It was a tough store to rent. She was a Puerto Rican Lesbian cage fighter. She had a couple tattoos on her face, like Mike Tyson. She said she was part Jewish. The odds are you’re not Jewish if you say, “I have some Jew in me.”

Me the Landlord? (No, late coroner Lester Adelson)

Me the Landlord? (No, late coroner Lester Adelson)

I rented to a tattoo parlor the other day. I used to not rent to tat shops. We call the new business a “tattoo shop and art gallery” in the lease. I think it’ll work. Tats are mainstream now. Times change. What are the odds an old Jewish landlord would be OK with tats? 55-45.


Funk a Deli, aka Yidd Cup, is at Cain Park, Cleveland 7 p.m. Sun. June 24. Free. No tix necessary. Michael Wex is the emcee. Guests artists are Steve Greenman, Kathy Sebo, Shawn Fink and Greg Selker. We’re gonna burn down Cain Park with klez and soul.

Gonna burn down Cain Park with klez and soul.

Gonna burn down Cain Park with klez and soul.

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June 6, 2018   2 Comments

THE REVOLUTION

I told my dad I couldn’t do pre-med because of The Revolution. How could I do eight years, minimum, of science during a revolution? My dad, surprisingly, did not think I was nuts. This was 1969, and he believed a revolution was coming too.

In Ann Arbor, the Jesse James Gang splintered from the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). The gedolim of the gang – Diana Oughton, Bill Ayers and Jim Mellen — wore hiking boots, wire rims, and were Hollywood handsome. They were several years older than me. The Jesse James Gang met in a U. building and encouraged us to take it to the streets.

Some protestors threw rocks through store windows and carried NLF flags. An acquaintance, John Gettel, threw a rock through the Ann Arbor Bank. A couple years later I saw him on a street corner in Cleveland, passing out leaflets for Lyndon LeRouche. John had moved to Cleveland to mingle with the working class. I honked, said hi, and drove off. I was on my way to my job managing apartments.

Dux Wirtanen, a Finnish-American student from the UP, got his jaw broken in a fight outside Hill Auditorium. I don’t remember why. Afterward, he drank through a straw for weeks.

I went to Cobo Hall to protest George Wallace. The funny thing was George Wallace was a good speaker. In 1968 the Michigan Daily endorsed Humphrey. Some of my friends thought the Daily should endorse Eldridge Cleaver (Peace and Freedom Party).

george c wallace

George Wallace

The Revolution petered out in late 1970, after Kent State. Youth-craziness and youth fashion shifted toward ecology — back to the land, communes, and brown rice.

I blame my flame-out in organic chemistry on The Revolution.

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May 30, 2018   4 Comments

A GOOD RISK, OR NOT?

I predict Garcia will leave a pile of junk in his apartment tomorrow. He was evicted and has to move out pronto. Today I saw him get on a bus carrying a TV and a lamp. He conned me  — and the court — because he told the court his mother had had an operation and he had to help her recover. He got a continuance and an extra week. Nice play, Garcia.

In court he showed me pictures of his daughter. He didn’t know he had a daughter until last week, he said. He said the girl’s mother had put her in the trash. I said, “Didn’t you know you had a daughter? You had an affair?”

“It was in high school,” he said. “I was pretty popular back then.” He said his daughter, later adopted, has a PhD and is a weightlifter. Maybe she can help him lift his bed, box spring and couch tomorrow.

I bet the furniture stays. Garcia has until 8 p.m. tomorrow to get the stuff out. I told him, “Everything after 8 pm is ours, even if it’s your grandma’s diamond watch.” He laughed.

I could call the bailiff on him. But what’s the hurry? If I wait another day — and he moves the stuff out — I won’t have to hire a hauler. Garcia has already gotten $500 in free rent. What’s another day? His apartment has a lot of pizza crusts and cigarette butts. No roaches.

I shouldn’t have rented to him, but he looked good on paper. He’s 51 and had a job. Now I’m thinking “51, male, and single” isn’t such a good risk.

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May 23, 2018   3 Comments

OPRIMA EL UNO

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

phone push button shelburne 2015

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

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

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May 16, 2018   4 Comments

MY 15 MINUTES

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

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

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

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May 9, 2018   2 Comments

SHE KNEW SHE OWED ME

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

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

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

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

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May 2, 2018   3 Comments

I NEED A BEER!

I yelled at my wife today. Nothing new.

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

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

I need a beer!


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April 25, 2018   6 Comments

RUST BELT CHIC ENOUGH?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

rust belt chic

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

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

Go Tribe! And keep the Wahoo logo!

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April 18, 2018   4 Comments

WHAT DOES HATE MEAN?

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

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

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

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

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April 11, 2018   1 Comment

TRUCKIN’

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

truckn

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

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April 4, 2018   3 Comments