Real Music & Real Estate . . .

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

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

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

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

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


 
 

GROSS

This has been building up for a long time. I can’t take it. My dad goes to the bathroom 20 times a night, and he never closes the door, and he doesn’t aim for the side of the bowl, so I hear it.

My dad makes the worst sounds when he chews. He chews his gums and slides his tongue around and makes weird noises.

His toots . . . I’m not talking about quick ones, I’m talking about toots that toot for 20 seconds.

I’m not done. My mother is always on the phone talking about The Sisterhood or some other garbage. I hear every bit of those calls, and I don’t want to!

Oh Christ, have you ever smelled the upstairs hallway after my old man’s gotten out of the bathroom? His craps are worse than Bubbie’s ever were.

My brother takes an odorless crap. Oh, that doesn’t matter.

I think I’m ready for the funny farm. I can’t stand soap operas, Mom. Let me watch The Match Game at 4 pm, OK?

My skill: I’m a good belcher. I can belch “Gordon Finkelstein the Third” in one take.

Listen, there’s one Stratton in The World Book encyclopedia — Charles Stratton, who was a midget in the Barnum & Bailey Circus. Jesus H. Christ! I’m 4-foot, 8-1/4 inches. I can’t think of too many kids shorter than me. My doctor says I don’t need hormone shots. He says I’ll grow to around 5-5. Albie Pearson is taller than that!

This stinks. I pray every night. I want somebody to pray for me.

[fake profile]

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October 20, 2021   3 Comments

FREAKED OUT MANY TIMES

Natalie was freaked out about black mold. She was freaked out about a radiator spewing. We fixed the problems, but then my building manager entered Natalie’s suite without 24 hours’ notice. That freaked out Natalie.

Freaked me out too. I don’t like getting sued. When I got Natalie’s certified letter, I figured she worked at a law office. Turns out she worked at an insurance office. Nevertheless, she knew how to quote the Ohio Revised Code.

We fixed all her problems. But then she deducted a half month’s rent from her next payment. I told her, “That’s not how it’s done, but I’ll let it go this month.” I even said she could move out.

She was ecstatic. “I can be out this weekend!”

She was too happy. That didn’t sit well with me. I said, “I changed my mind. I’ve put a lot of money into this apartment. For business reasons, I need you to honor the lease. Just call if anything bad happens again. Any leaks. Whatever.”

“You can be sure I’ll call and you can be sure something will happen.”

Nothing happened. No more freak outs. She stayed a year and got her security deposit back (minus $40 for a dirty refrigerator and stove. TMI).

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October 13, 2021   1 Comment

GANGSTER STUFF

Charlie Broeckel was the Silver Fox. Or sometimes he was The Creep. He went by both names. He was a burglar and hitman in Collinwood. I’m not sure where Broeckel is now. Maybe he’s dead. Or maybe he’s in a safe house in Ada, Oklahoma. For a while he was “John Bradford,” federally protected, in the Pacific Northwest.

Broeckel and Phil Christopher — another Collinwood burglar — did a bank heist at Laguna Niguel, California, in 1972. It was supposedly the biggest bank burglary of all time, up till then. Charlie and Phil flew to California from Cleveland for the job. California didn’t have quality bank burglars back then, I guess.

I saw Broeckel and Christopher at trials in Cleveland. They periodically came in from their federal prison cells or witness protection program locations. One trial was for murder: Christopher and accomplices took a pimp, Arnie Prunella, out on a boat, shot him and drown him.

Collinwood was still ethnic in the 1980s, when I was a reporter there. There were four distinct neighborhoods in Collinwood: Slovenian (St. Mary’s parish), Italian (Holy Redeemer), black (west of the E. 152nd Street, a k a the DMZ) and Lithuanian (Our Lady of Perpetual Help). Broeckel was of indeterminate ethnicity. Maybe German. Maybe Slovenian. Christopher was Italian.

Broeckel and his fellow burglars stored nitroglycerin, used for blowing up safes, on a Lake Erie beach. In 1983 a Cleveland policeman operated a backhoe at the local beach, searching for old, very unstable nitro. Charlie was supposedly in bad health and wanted brownie points for helping the cops find old explosives.

The chief cop in the neighborhood — Captain Ed Kovacic — had a warm spot for skilled crooks. These thieves would drill out safes and jump burglar alarms. They weren’t entirely stupid, Kovacic said.

In 2006, Lyndhurst police chief Rick Porrello wrote Superthief, a book about Christopher. Then Tommy Reid, a Hollywood entrepreneur, made a documentary movie. The movie was mostly talking heads: old cops and old thieves sitting in living rooms, reminiscing about old days.

The documentary ran exclusively in theaters in Euclid and Lake County — where many former Collinwood residents had moved to. There were three people in the Lakeshore Cinema when I attended. One elderly man, with a walker, said on his way out, “Phil is a thief!” His wife said, “I like Phil!”

Christopher is 78. He did some talking recently on a podcast produced by WKC-TV. I didn’t listen to podcast. The subject of gangsters is like cowboys and Indians. Done. The Wall Street Journal did a piece about Mob finances yesterday. I didn’t read that.

A good book about gangsters is The Pope of Greenwich Village by Vincent Patrick. Check it out. And skip this blog post.

Yiddishe Cup plays a concert at the Geauga Theater, Chardon, Ohio, 7:30 pm Sat. Oct. 16. Buy tickets here.

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October 6, 2021   5 Comments

LIBRARY INTERROGATION

I interviewed for a position on the library board. I knew two people who had been on the board and liked it. I wondered if the board would ask me what books I was reading. In 1967, at a college interview at Johns Hopkins, I talked about my Holocaust reading. That was a big hit. The Holocaust wasn’t even the “Holocaust” yet. (I was pre-med but didn’t apply to Hopkins. My parents said. “Go to a state school and get all A’s.”)

I recently read David Byrne’s How Music Works and Shit my Dad Says by Justin Halpern. I have also read 100 pages in Bernard Malamud’s A New Life. I’m thinking, “I’m reading Malamud” might be the ticket for the library-board interview.

When I interviewed, the board sat on a dais. I took the “witness stand” in the center of the room. Only three board members — out of the five — were there. One missing board member was a playwright; the other, a guy from my synagogue. My A-team was not there.

Question 1: How would you make the library better for students?

A. You mean those brats who play computer games and horse around in the teen room? I’ve never been in that room.

Question 2. Mr. Stratton, what do you do at the library besides take out books?

Not much! I was at the dedication of the Harvey Pekar statue, though.

Question 3: What would you do to help the library’s finances?

I’d vote for the levies.

Question 4: Are you willing to commit to a seven-year position?

Yes, but actuarially speaking, who knows.

Nobody asked the Malamud question. I didn’t get the offer. A black chemist beat me out. Top that. In a follow-up email, the library director thanked me for applying and encouraged me to apply again.

Maybe. But first I have to walk through the teen room and get a feel for young adults’ needs.

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September 29, 2021   3 Comments

MY DAD WAS A NUMBERS GUY

This post is for everybody who read my Wall Street Journal article about my dad and wants more info on him. (The article, which was in Monday’s WSJ, is linked here.)

My father, Toby, got a letter from a Piney Woods Arkansas man, extolling my dad’s homemade foot powder: “Mr. Lesbert: Do NOT stop making the powdor! Do NOT stop!!” Toby used to make the foot powder in the basement. The company was Lesbert Drug Co., named after my sister, Leslie, and me. My dad stopped making the powder. The Arkansas man was about his only customer.

Then Toby started selling cosmetics. Then he starting buying buildings . . . on and on. He was the Jewish Willy Loman. (Kind of like how Dave Tarras — the klezmer clarinetist — was the Jewish Benny Goodman.)

My dad schlepped me to banks. I remember a banker who called my dad “Teddy.” That was weird. My father’s given name was Theodore and his Jewish nickname was Toby. This banker liked to talk Tribe (baseball) and his wife’s spaghetti recipes. The banker was a “people’s person,” he said. (Maybe he was a dogs’ person too.)

My father was not a people’s person. He was the Lone Ranger. He got the mortgage and we got out of there.

My dad owned one LP record, of the Ohio State marching band. My dad owned stock records. Toby bought his first stock, Seaboard Air Line, when he was at Ohio State. Air line meant train line back then. Air line was the shortest distance between two points — the way the crow flies. My dad never made money on stocks. He was too busy buying and selling and not holding. Toby was a stockbroker —  a “customer’s man” — for about six months in 1955 at Bache & Co.

He liked numbers. He was totally a numbers guy.

Confidential report (1958): “On the basis of an analysis of the personal history and psychological test results, we believe that Mr. Stratton has the experience and ability to successfully handle his present position [at Curtis Industries, a car-key manufacturer]. He has shown personality characteristics, however, which may cause him to be difficult to get along with and, therefore, a supervisory problem.”

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September 20, 2021   4 Comments

BRUSH HIGH
GRADUATES PERMITTED

On Yom Kippur, a congregant approached me in shul and said I was cool. Why? “Because you went to Brush High,” he said.

What? Brush High was cool? Brush, in Lyndhurst, Ohio, was the one place you graduated from and never thought of again. It isn’t to be confused with Bronx Science, Cass Tech, Heights or Shaker.

I knew a few more Brush people at services. Off subject: Brush had outstanding science teachers — Frank Smith, biology; Ron Yarian, chemistry; Alfred Eich, physics.

There’s no Brush section in the shul on Yom Kippur. Maybe there’s a Heights section.

Maybe there’s no shul. My shul is totally on Zoom tomorrow, because of Covid. I’m totally Zoomed out. I’ll probably go to Solon Chabad. They have a big tent and let everybody in, including Brush grads.

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September 15, 2021   2 Comments

ONE OF THE BEST MUSICIANS

The bridal couple requested Yiddishe Cup play “La Vie en Rose” for the first dance. I figured they wanted the Edith Piaf French version, but no, they wanted the Louis Armstrong English version.

Yiddishe Cup’s keyboard player and singer, Alan Douglass, does a terrific gravelly voiced Louis impersonation, and I played the trumpet part on clarinet. We didn’t have a trumpet player on the gig. I added embellishments, but I didn’t overdo it.

After the dance, Alan said to me, “You exceeded my expectations.”

Wow. Alan rarely compliments me. Alan is one of the best musicians in town, and he doesn’t dole out compliments lightly. Alan writes music parts from memory. He hears the music in his head and writes out all the horn parts, or whatever. He doesn’t need to be near an instrument to do it, either.

Alan plays keys, bass, guitar and drums. Cello, too. Plus he sings. He attended music school at Cleveland State. He was an original member of the Kleveland Klezmorim. He’s an original member of Yiddishe Cup, too. We started out in 1988.

Jack, my son the musician, says Alan is at L.A.-pro level. Jack should know. Alan “hears everything,” according to Joe Hunter, Cleveland’s preeminent jazz pianist.

Yiddishe Cup / Funk A Deli now has “La Vie en Rose” on its playlist. We’ll play the song at nursing home gigs and for a slow dance at our next wedding gig. I hope Alan will compliment me again.

“That exceeded my expectations.” Don’t parse that too closely.

alan douglass 2011

Alan Douglass, 2011

 

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September 8, 2021   2 Comments

ROT OR BURN?

Would you prefer to be buried or cremated? To put it another way, rot or burn? The “rot or burn” expression comes from a Saul Bellow novel. In Humboldt’s Gift, the main character, Charlie Citrine, is always rambling on about death, and how death might feel the same as before you were born.

Also, along the same lines, check out Nabokov’s memoir Speak, Memory, which opens with “. . . Our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness. Although the two are identical twins, man, as a rule, views the prenatal abyss with more calm than the one he is heading for.”

I try to imagine my prenatal abyss. For instance, September 1949. (I was conceived in October 1949.) How does it feel not to exist? Bellow believed something comes after death, but he just said “something.” Be more specific, Saul!

I’ve going to rot. My wife would prefer to burn, but I’ve bought burial plots at Hillcrest cemetery. The plots come with cement coffin sealers. The vault sealers are pretty much mandatory at every cemetery I’ve ever been to. I’m not wild about coffin sealers. They don’t prevent the rot, but they slow it down. They aren’t sealed airtight because bodily gases would explode them. The vaults are mandatory to keep the cemetery grounds level. I’m all about being level. (I like levels — those tools with the bubbles.)

One personal request: if you have something interesting to say about September 1949, let me know. For instance, my friend Mark Schilling, who was born in August 1949, can probably give me the lowdown.

Take me home, to the place I belong . . .

Change of topic: L’shana tova!

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September 1, 2021   8 Comments

REPORTING FOR DUTY

I traveled a lot in my twenties. I hitchhiked across America four times. I also went from Tijuana to Colombia by bus. I went everywhere. I wrote novels too, which went nowhere.

You can’t take a bus all the way to Colombia. The road doesn’t go through the Panama jungle. I flew from Costa Rica to San Andres island to Barranquilla, Colombia.

I came home eventualmente and at age 25 started working part-time for my dad, painting apartments and pointing bricks. That was the end of the road pretty much, but I continued writing. I wrote mostly about Cleveland. I was trying to be Don Robertson / Herbert Gold. By the way, Gold is still alive (97). I got a job as a beat reporter and wrote about cops and robbers, and even wrote a police-procedural novel about a Slovenian-American cop in Collinwood. The writing was a diversion. Working for the old man was no picnic.

I got married and had kids. That was a good move. Raising kids . . . I was so busy I didn’t have time to think or get down on myself. I reported for duty.

These days I don’t report for duty as much as I used to. I hope Menorah Park reopens  to “essential volunteers” soon, so I can toot my clarinet in the hallways there. But now, with the delta variant, that reopening is getting pushed back again. If I disappear tomorrow, my clarinet-playing might be the one thing the locals miss. My property management game counts too — don’t knock the bricks-and-mortar game. And don’t forget the writing game.

Stop saying “game.”

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August 25, 2021   No Comments

SKUNKS ARE BAD PEOPLE

Skunks are bad people. I hired Critter Control to deal with some skunks at my house. The Critter Control tech liked my collection of Jewish-star necklaces (Purim bling) in my basement. He said he was Jewish.  He said, “I don’t know much about the ritual and all that, but my mother was Jewish.”

“If you say you’re Jewish, that’s good enough for me,” I said. And get rid of the skunks! He set a trap under the front stoop and sold me a can of Odor Assassin for $15. Three squirts of the spray masked the skunk smell in the basement.

When my bandmates came over for rehearsal, the basement smelled pretty good — lemon-lime fresh. But the skunks then decided to do a raid during rehearsal. I thought Yiddishe Cup would disband right then and there. I said to my bandmates, “Let me get out my Odor Assassin. It’ll only take five years off our lives.”

The band played on. The skunks are gone. I endorse Odor Assassin.

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August 19, 2021   No Comments

SHOES — MY DAD’S

My father, Toby, had about 15 pairs of shoes when he died. I didn’t take any of his shoes, even though he and I wore the same size. He had a foot fungus, and my mother told me to pass.

My dad had wingtips, golf shoes and tennis shoes. I never saw him in sandals, work boots or hiking boots. White shoes, definitely.

I’m more sensible about shoes — a habit I picked up from my mom. I like SAS shoes, which my mother told me about. She needed solid shoes when she got Parkinson’s disease. “SAS” stands for San Antonio Shoes. But I’m too lazy to go to the specialty shoestore to replenish. So lately I’m rocking Rockports.

When my then-20-year-old daughter studied abroad in Barcelona, she said I couldn’t visit her if I wore tennis shoes or a fanny pack. My SAS shoes were an excellent substitute for tennis shoes in Europe. I never did figure out a good way around the “no fanny pack” rule.

My dad wore Purcells abroad. He didn’t let his children tell him what to wear.

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August 4, 2021   4 Comments

PIVOTING

Klezmer is a clichéd term. I don’t use it. I don’t even play klezmer. My new album is No Name — no label, no religion too. I like to eat. My religion is pastrami. My next album is going to be Thank You for Your Kindnesses,  I’m Out of Here. When I told my wife I’m leaving Judaism, she said, “Que maravilla!” She studies Spanish online and wants to move to Latin America.

She’s thinking about Guatemala. I like guacamole so I’m OK with that. As for the klezmer scene down there, it’s shvach (weak). I ran into a couple Israelis in Guat in April, but they didn’t like my klez. (I always travel with a student-model clarinet.) The Israelis liked my “Bashana Haba’ah,” though.

I won’t busk on the streets of Guat. Wouldn’t be a good look: a rich gringo tourist asking for pesos — or whatever they call their money — from the locals. Could wind up in jail.

Also, internet reception isn’t too reliable down there. You may never hear from me again.

[fake profile]

I wrote some real essays this week . . .

  1. an article in USA Today about throwing stuff out. How I’m tired of reading articles that begin with “Millennials don’t want Grandma’s china.”
  2. a diaTribe in the Wall Street Journal about the Cleveland Indians changing their name to the Guardians. 
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July 28, 2021   No Comments

IS IT ROLLING, BOB?

When I audiotaped my parents at dinner in 1973, I told my dad I was doing cinema verite. Don’t knock it. Louis Armstrong did a lot of audiotaping. Decades later, I played my 1973 audiotape for my adult children. My son Ted said, “You’re weird, recording everything.”

In the tape, my parents asked me questions about my college roommates.

For instance, my mother said, “What is Billy from the dorm doing?” I stonewalled my mom. Nevertheless, the tape is somewhat interesting, even the silences. As Ed Sanders once said: “This is the age of investigation and every citizen must investigate.”

“I don’t want any dessert” — that kind of thing. That’s what’s on the tape. I hope my kids throw it out. Or I will. I definitely will. There’s a bad sax solo by me on the flip side.

My dad: “What the hell you got the tape recorder on for? There’s nothing going on.”

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July 21, 2021   4 Comments

THE HEYMISH AND THE AMISH

I live near two large Amish settlements — Middlefield, Ohio, and Holmes County, Ohio. I know some of  the differences between the various Amish, like some use battery-powered lights on their buggies and some don’t. Some use the triangular orange “slow vehicle” sign.

Speaking of men-in-black, I also know some Orthodox Jews. I know the crocheted yarmulke means Modern Orthodox and the black hat is more old school. I’ve been around Amish and Jews — at the same time — only once. I walked into Green Road  Synagogue (an Orthodox shul) in Cleveland, and there was an Amish man  in the lobby. Maybe not. Maybe he was a Modern Orthodox hipster trying to look Amish. He had a wide-brim straw hat, beard, no mustache a la Solzhenitsyn.

Then I saw about 15 Amish women, carrying parfaits on trays, wearing blue dresses and white bonnets, coming out of the kitchen. Next I saw a horse and buggy at the side door of the synagogue. Orthodox Jews started arriving. Most were Modern Orthodox (like dentists and lawyers in knit yarmulkes), but a couple old-school rabbis looked Amish.

“Solzhenitsyn” stacked bales of hay in the temple lobby and brought in chickens. He was John, an Amish from Middlefield. He said he used to be a wheelwright and now worked for an Orthodox Jew in a mattress factory.  The mattress-factory owner was hosting this sheva brochas (post-wedding dinner). My band, Yiddishe Cup, was playing. The Orthodox host — the mattress man – was a musician, himself, who had some show-biz flair. He was doing a Blazing Saddles party theme. I asked the Amish buggy driver what he thought of our music. He said, “It sounds like Mozart.” Maybe because of the violin?

“Solzhenitsyn” said some Amish in Ohio play harmonica. “That’s all, for instruments,” he said. “Other instruments [like flute, guitar] might lead to forming a band.” A Jewish joke?

The rabbi, as a joke, asked if we knew any Amish songs. We played “Amazing Grace.” That’s borderline Amish. It was probably a first for Green Road Synagogue. The Amish liked the song, and the Jews ignored us.  Then we tried a Yiddish vocal, “Di Grine Kusine,” which didn’t go over. I thought the Amish would like it because Pennsylvania Dutch is Germanic, just like Yiddish. The Amish didn’t react to the  song. Now I know: no “Di Grine Kusine” at Amish-Jewish affairs.

I had a funny article in the Wall Street Journal last week about old guys playing tennis. Here’s the link. No paywall. And check out the comments, particularly if you’re an old guy.

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July 14, 2021   5 Comments

LEGAL TENDER

I never subjected my future-wife to a Diner-style quiz. I never said, “Who is Unitas or I won’t marry you.” But if I had asked important dating questions, I would have asked about money. Who is on the dime? I have a negative opinion of people who don’t know who is on the dime.

Who is on the $10,000 bill? That, I won’t hold against you. The government hasn’t printed a 10K bill since 1946. [Answer: Salmon P. Chase. Sir, your first name is a fish!]

My favorite coin is the Kennedy half-dollar because it has heft and has a good feel to it (serrated edges), and it’s half a rock — a quality nickname. I haven’t seen one in years. The government stopped making Kennedy half-dollars in 2003. You can go to a bank and request a half a rock, but who’s going to do that? I sold most of my half-dollars for their silver content decades ago, during the Hunt brothers silver boom.

I did give my wife a low-stakes money quiz. Way too late — we were already married many years. Alice knew Lincoln is on the penny and Washington is on the dollar bill. She said an Indian is on the nickel. That’s a very old nickel, Alice. I didn’t say anything. I didn’t want her to have a negative opinion of me.

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July 7, 2021   1 Comment

THINK TANK

I run a bar mitzvah party think tank. I supply clients — mostly DJs — with explosives, lyrics and games. Some of my games are free, just to build web traffic. For instance, take my humiliation game; the bar mitzvah boy stands on the dance floor surrounded by searing sterno cans. We throw napkins at him.

My top-selling games are Twine Fun, Narcissism Express, Beach Sand Saturation, Toxic Candy, Enjambment and Trunk-like Bodies. I have Jewish-themed stuff, too. The kids wear bottle caps on their heads, and the last kid to lose his “yarmulke,” wins. Lots of body contact.

My best-selling game is Trash Floating in the Punch. We throw chicken bones, children’s books from the centerpieces, and lipstick-smeared plastic cups into the punch bowl. Kids reach in and fish for prizes. It’s ecological.

I strained my back at a gig. Bingo, a new game — the Grandpa Shuffle. Kids walk around like oldsters and mutter creative Yiddish curses. It’s shameful and stunning to see teenagers limp and spew “Zol er krenken un gedenken.” (Let him suffer and remember.)

I carry the classics, too: laughing gas, toilet slime kits, photo booths, giant inflatables and partisans.

Call me or my guy Irwin:

Irwin Weinberger

Super-salesman Irwin Weinberger with Toilet Slime

[fake profile]

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June 30, 2021   2 Comments

MY CUBAN COMEDY HOUR

I was in a comedy show in Cuba. I passed by a beach and saw a company picnic — a group of off-duty cops. There was a comedian entertaining the troops. There were about 75 people. It was Christmas day, 2017. The picnic shelter was just like a Metroparks’ shelter. The comedian was cracking the folks up. I said to him in Spanish, “You can make fun of me. I speak some Spanish and I’m a gringo.” He brought me on mic and asked where I was from. I said. “From the north, near Canada.” I didn’t think “Ohio” would mean anything. I said, “I’m not like the Cuban-Americans in the first row here.” There were several well-dressed Cuban-Americans, on vacation, up front. The comedian said to me, “You’re puro gringo.” Yep, that’s me.

When he asked if I liked Cuba, I said I was enchanted with it. (It’s a hellhole to live  in but great to visit.) He said I should stay in Cuba and teach him English, and he would teach me how to use Cuban currency, which is complicated; there’s one currency for locals and another for tourists  The currency joke got him some laughs. You had to be there. “Tu me ensenas ingles y yo te enseno la moneda nacional.”

He talked about the bathroom. He said, “What time is it? 3:15 pm? We have a record! There’s still soap in the bathroom!” Laughs. “Hola, todo el mundo. Me pueden decirme que hora es? 3:15. Senores, tenemos un record! Son las 3:15 de la tarde y todavia nadie se ha robado el jabon del bano.”

There’s a shortage of everything in Cuba, including soap. In Cleveland, I have a shortage of Spanish áccent marks.

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June 23, 2021   1 Comment

THE GOOD, THE BAD
AND THE NUANCED

Stan Herschfield paced his apartment at 3 a.m., waking up the tenants below. I asked Herschfield to ease up, and he said, “What do you want from me? I can’t fly.” He moved out shortly after that. About 10 years later, he called me: “Stratton, you remember me — Herschfield. I want to move back in.”

“Herschfield!” I said, emoting like I was in a bad JCC play. “You painted the floor! You complained about the deaf guy across the hall blasting organ music! You complained about the people below you fornicating! You skipped out on your final month’s rent! It cost me fifty dollars to clean the place. But you did teach me some Yiddish words.”

“I didn’t skip! Those yentzers below, they drove me out!”

“You painted the kitchen floor.”

“But I used Benjamin Moore. Only the best!”

I didn’t let him back. Maybe I should have. I’ve allowed old tenants back in. Usually not into the same suite, but often in the same building. I save records on previous tenants. F. Scott Fitzgerald said bookkeeping is not a sexy subject, but it is somewhat interesting. I wish I hadn’t thrown out my dad’s tax returns, which would make interesting reading now that I’m older and into nuanced returns. I have mini-dossiers on ex-tenants. Nothing personal, no nude posture photos like those Ivy League colleges used to do, just notes on whether the tenant paid his final month’s rent, turned in his keys and didn’t trash the place. If all’s well, I’ll let them back. Could be a decade later. The good tenants, you don’t remember. You have to look them up. Herschfield, I remember.

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June 16, 2021   2 Comments

SHOUSE. HE RAISED MONEY

Ben Shouse was a volunteer fundraiser for the Workmen’s Circle. He had a booming voice and a shock of gray hair like H.L. Mencken, and he wore suits like Mencken, and he smoked a cigar like Mencken. Politically speaking, Shouse was un-Menckenable. He was a retired labor union boss and an autodidact (he liked words like inculcate), and he was an advocate for the arts, especially Shakespeare-for-workers stuff.

Shouse phoned me, suggesting Yiddishe Cup pony up for the Workmen’s Circle annual banquet. Yiddishe Cup would be the honoree. He said, “Stratton, you know how these things work.”

I didn’t know how these things worked. Not in 1994. I thought Yiddishe Cup would be honored because we were good. Sort of an arts prize.

Two Yiddishe Cup musicians told me they couldn’t afford the price of the dinner, let alone bring friends. Crazier still, Shouse said, “Buy a table.” I corralled three people, including my wife, into coming. I didn’t want to hock friends for a chicken dinner at a cheesy Alpha Drive party center. Also, my friends wouldn’t want to listen to speeches about Workmen’s Circle, an organization most of my friends had never heard of.

Shouse phoned Yiddishe Cup’s singer and said: “Stratton gave $55. Greenman gave $25. How about you, and who are you bringing?” The singer was speechless.

One Yiddishe Cup musician didn’t even show up for the tribute.

Another Yiddishe Cup musician replayed a phone message from Shouse: “This dinner is in your fucking honor! You’re sophisticated. You know the rules. Do your part!”

Shouse raised a lot of money for the arts.

Ben Shouse

Ben Shouse (Photo by Herb Ascherman) [Shouse died in 2003.]

FREE CONCERT THIS SUNDAY.
Funk A Deli, a k a Yiddishe Cup, is playing on a front lawn near you this Sunday (June 13, 5-7 pm.).

23500 Laureldale Road, Shaker Heights, Ohio. Near Laurel School.

Bring a lawn chair or blanket. Bring dinner. Plop yourself and your possessions on the grassy median strip on Laureldale Road.

The band will play a mix of klezmer and soul music. 

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June 9, 2021   4 Comments

I’M SENSUOUS

I’m sensuous. For example, I like opera and tennis. I was born above a deli in 1950. I remember the pickles. The smell. The cukes were right in the goddamn basement. My parents got out of there in 1953 and moved to South Euclid.

At Chillicothe, I did kitchen work. Yeah, I went to prison. Had something to do with drugs. I got high on my own supply and did some bad things. Nobody died.

The whole thing went kaplooey in ’79 — the year I got busted. The Crash of ’79, for me, wasn’t a book. I  blew all my money on a racehorse –- owning one — and owed important people some money, and then one thing led to another. Like I said, nobody died.

I play tennis almost every day with some other old guys at the courts here in Hollywood, Florida. Pick up game. Half the guys speak Spanish and are bigshots from Latin America. In the afternoon I tread water in the condo swimming pool. While treading, I listen to Mozart and Verdi on my headphones,

One last thing, I haven’t eaten ice cream in at least thirty years. It’s kids’ food.

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June 2, 2021   1 Comment