Some excellent free activities are sex, talking about the weather, and defecation.
A few more: dreaming, library books, jaywalking.
I sell toilets – not free.
You want a urinal? What kind? Stainless steel?
When I sleep, I see gold and brown dots, and movement. It’s entertaining and free. I have a friend who sees bright lights — red and black — when he falls asleep. I don’t.
People say, “Hey, look out your window and get some sensory stimulus.” That’s fine, but I prefer looking inside toilets. The blank looks I get.
How about a 0.8 gpf for $150 total? Would you buy one? Niagara Stealth. How about five Stealths at a discount?
I say, “I know you don’t want to talk about toilets, but think of the sudden shifts, the transitions, the swoosh.”
A good bowel movement is as good as sex; Harvey Pekar, the comic book writer, said that. I sold 10 toilets to Stratton — this blog’s author — with that literary crap. The froth, the bubbles, the shine.
I still have an intensity, to this day, that goes back to age 21. Yes, my life is scarier now that I’m 35, but I’m not at “flush” yet. I have a slick pack of possibilities, and I appreciate deep listening.
Lavatory means sink to a plumber. Commode, yourself! By the way, you look like an elongated toilet seat.
When a stranger takes off her pants and sits on one of my toilets, that’s a good feeling — a fragile catastrophe, a tinge of very heavy weight, a grand opening.
The key factors: the empathic rictus, the squeeze, the brilliant flash.
It’s all binary. One and two. Map it.
Fourteen percent of this post was stolen from the Poetry Project Newsletter.
The complete fake-profile collection is here.
April 23, 2014 2 Comments
The father of the bride wanted to meet me a week before the wedding, at the country club, to go over the plans. I wasn’t driving 35 minutes one way to a country club I’d been to a million times! I said, “Come over to my house.” My usual M.O.
I prevailed. The dad came over with his daughter and wife. The daughter asked if Yiddishe Cup could play “B’shem Hashem” for the processional.
We didn’t know it.
The mom said, “You don’t know it? Everybody knows it.”
Never heard of it! [Neshoma Carlebach recorded the tune.]
At the wedding, the dad yelled at the event planner because the cocktail bar opened late, supposedly. The wife came up to me five minutes before the band’s starting time and said play. “Start the music!” as if we were late.
During the cocktail hour, the band took a short break. The dad said, “Why aren’t you playing?” Yes, sir, right away, sir!
The dad said nobody could hear us. Maybe we should have been louder. I like quiet music but most people don’t. He said, “It’s like you’re not even here.” Our keyboard player fetched another speaker.
Gig over, at last. The dad said he’d mail the check. This happens.
But I didn’t get the check; I got an email. “I want to express my . . .” joy? No. “Disappointment” about your break, your starting time, etc.
I called the dad for the money.
He said, “In my business I like to know when my customers are unhappy. If they’re unhappy I give them a discount. I want you to know I’m unhappy. I’ll mail you the check. It’s not about the money.”
It’s always about the money.
“Mazel tov on the wedding,” I said.
I sent a statement a month later.
I called his business. His secretary paused about five seconds before she said, “He’s not in.”
I asked my son the lawyer to draft a document. My son said it wasn’t worth suing the dad. “OK, I’ll go small claims,” I said. “I have his bank account number. I’m ready.”
About a month later I got a check in the mail with a Post-it note: “Sorry this was so late.”
What? I’m still wondering. If the dad wanted to see me squirm for a couple months, he succeeded.
I had an op-ed in the New York Times on Sunday, 4/13/14. “Jazz and Real Estate.”
April 16, 2014 5 Comments
Forget the New York Times. You don’t need it. SUBSCRIBE to this blog. You need a weekly fix of real estate-and-music news. Enter your email in the column on the right, where it says SIGN UP HERE. You’ll get one email a week, every Wednesday morning. Just one email a week. And I won’t sell your email address to anybody.
I’ve had five op-eds in the Times lately. (My previous op-eds can be found in the columm on the right, where it says ARTICLES.)
My dad, Toby Stratton (1917-1986), age 50:
My son Jack — the Los Angeles musician in the op-ed — was on All Things Considered and written up in Rolling Stone, The Atlantic and Le Monde. All in the past three weeks. He’s the leader of Vulfpeck, which has more than 4,000,000 streams on Spotify. My favorite Vulfpeck tune is “Outro.” Catch the sax solo at 0:47 . . . .
See you back here on Wednesdays, I hope.
P.S. If you want to read 92 more stories about real estate, click CATEGORIES — Landlord Biz. (Or if you prefer to focus on music, or Cleveland, or my dad, go to the right-hand column and click the appropriate CATEGORIES link.)
April 12, 2014 1 Comment
My son Ted was interested in ice cream. One summer he worked the night shift at Pierre’s, loading ice cream onto trucks. One summer he worked at East Coast Custard on Mayfield Road, making shakes.
He owned a shake mixer and concocted date shakes at home, using date crystals from California. He had a following (his mother).
We rode the amphibious Ducks in The Dells, Wisconsin, and saw The House on the Rock, which Teddy described as an “affront to Frank Lloyd Wright.” Ted was good with words, even back in high school.
We visited the mustard museum in Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin. Then we hit the A&W, where Ted asked for a “mama burger, papa burger and a rooty tooty.” He knew that terminology from a junk-food guide.
That trip to the Upper Midwest was one of my favorites — l0oking for A&Ws and colleges with my son.
Root beer! (I’m still good for a Diet Hank’s or Diet IBC at Tommy’s in Cleveland.)
“Root beer,” to rhyme with “put beer.” That’s how we say it here.
April 9, 2014 8 Comments
Here are my greatest letters (my greatest hits) to tenants:
1. Dear Tenant, The building manager heard you yelling out your window, “I’m a porno star and a sex machine.” This isn’t the only time this has occurred.
2. Dear Tenant, You flicked 20-to-30 cigarette butts out your window. Some of these butts landed on cars and left burn marks. This must stop!
3. Dear Tenant, You got in a fight with a female in your apartment and tore the door jamb off. Also, you have slipped unsolicited notes under the door of other tenants. That can be construed as sexual harassment, depending on the content of the notes. You are a self-described drunk. That, too, won’t do here — at least not outside your apartment.
4. Dear Tenant, There was very loud recorded music coming from your suite between 3-5 a.m. That’s when people sleep. You aren’t living in a dormitory.
5. Dear Tenant, You were incessantly buzzing a neighbor’s entry buzzer, banging on a neighbor’s back door, and banging on your ceiling. You phoned me and said a neighbor’s cat was annoying you by running across your ceiling. Tenants are allowed to have cats. The tenants pay extra for cats.
6. Dear Tenant, The hallway smells outside your apartment. You need to clean up immediately.
7. Dear Tenant, you and a female visitor were drunk and screaming in the parking lot. She lay down on the ground. She could have gotten killed.
8. Dear Tenant, You disturbed other tenants’ sleep at 3 a.m. by loud talking, running through the halls, and kicking on the locked door. Three tenants complained. Three! That’s serious. Please understand, this building is not party central.
In case you missed Jack Stratton on NPR’s All Things Considered, click here.
April 2, 2014 2 Comments
I played tennis with a 70-something fatso with emphysema who smoked for 40 years.
I lost. He used junk shots, spin and pace, and didn’t move. He reminded me of all the old guys I had played when I was a kid — wily old guys I had lost to. I had entered city tournaments, and old guys beat me with placement and finesse, while I, with too much youthful enthusiasm, walloped balls against the back fence.
At my match with the 70-something guy, he informed me he was going to die of chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD).
“Well, at least you know what you’re going to die from,” I said.
“Or I might get hit by a bus,” he said.
He didn’t get hit by a bus. He beat me.
I rescheduled after the match. I told my wife, “I’m going to beat the fat guy.” (I called him something worse than “fat guy.”) My wife called me rude and said, “You don’t have to dehumanize your opponent.”
We played again and I won 6-3, 6-2. It took me only 50 years to beat a wily old guy. I had to become a wily old guy to beat a wily old guy.
March 26, 2014 1 Comment
Save the date: August 31, Cleveland.
We’re having a costume ball at The Challah Fame fundraiser. We’ll have styling stations with plenty of gear in case you forget to dress right; we’ll have Greek fishermen’s caps, Tevye vests, Russian cavalry boots and wash-off Yiddish tattoos.
We’re blocking off three blocks on Euclid Avenue for bowling, pierogis, borscht, schnitzel, herring, slivovits and brewskis. The theme is The Other, as in Jews, Slavs, Gypsies and Martians. IDs not necessary.
Live music, of course. We’ve already booked Beyond the Pale and Sharon, Lois, and Bram.
We’ll march up Euclid Avenue to East 17th Street, where the Alpine Village used to be, and play Austrian oom-pah music. [Mickey Katz played at the Alpine during the war. The club's owner, Herman Pirchner (an Austrian), wanted to show he wasn't pro-Nazi.]
Robert Gates, former secretary of defense, will lecture on “The Klezmer CDs We Found at Bin Laden’s Lair and What That Meant.” Other lecturers are the usual suspects: Wex, Sokolow, Horowitz, Netsky. Also, a Ladino lecture by Septimo Rodriguez: “Soluciones para pequena empresas Ladinas.”
Finally, a motorcycle ride out to the Popcorn Shop in Chagrin Falls, led by Mayor Merle Gorden of Beachwood. (We’ll have three-wheel motorcycles for rent.)
Save the date: August 31.
The post above is so stupid it deserves another . . .
Young musicians ask me, “I see you put a lot of heart into your music. Where’s that coming from? How do you do that?”
March 19, 2014 1 Comment
I’m related to very few Strattons. So I became pretty excited when I came across Jon Stratton, author of Coming Out Jewish. (I found him on the Internet.)
Another Stratton writing about Jewish matters? Maybe Jon was me, using a pseudonym.
Jon Stratton is a cultural studies professor in Perth, Australia. His mother was Jewish and his father Christian. He grew up in England, not knowing anything about Judaism orYiddishkayt (Jewishness).
I ordered Jon’s book on Amazon. In 2000 he “came out Jewish” in multicultural academic circles, making a mark for himself by writing about “ghetto-thinking” — Jewish anxiety, basically. He said he had been slightly different from his friends in England because his mother had made him “ring home” whenever he went out, while his chums never had to ring home. Jon’s mother was an angst-ridden Jew from the Continent, he said.
My mother, on the other hand, was from the Delta (the Mississippi Delta) and didn’t worry much. My mother left me off at freeway exits to hitchhike. One trip I made a left on I-80 and wound up in South America. She was even OK with that.
In 1990, at the Cleveland airport, I waited for my mom to arrive on the “snowbird” flight from Florida, and I let my then 9-year-old son run around the airport. I told him, “If you wander off too far, you’re going home on the Rapid.”
He wandered off and I left him.
A Cleveland policeman called me a half hour later, and I had to go back to the airport — 20 miles one-way. The airport cop gave me a “you’re a douche bag” smirk when I entered the airport police office. The cop didn’t realize my son had practically memorized the Rapid Transit timetable and had ridden the complete Lee Road route.
I learned a lot about laissez-faire child rearing from my mom. The only thing Continental about her was her airline.
If I ever get to Australia, I’ll buy Jon Stratton a beer, and we’ll talk about our mothers, I hope. We’re mishpocha.
Footnote: I’m related to few Strattons because my father changed the family name from Soltzberg to Stratton in 1941.
Jack Stratton’s latest project. Also, check out the interactive map at Vulfpeck, which shows you where Vulfpeck’s fan base is.
Yiddishe Cup is at Park Synagogue, Cleveland Heights, 7:30 p.m. Saturday (March 15) for Purim. Gonna have Tamar Gray, soul singer extraordinaire, with us. Free and open to the public.
March 12, 2014 5 Comments
Pamela Paul, editor of the New York Times Book Review, keeps a list of all the books she has read. She wrote about her list — that goes back to 1988 — in the book review.
I know somebody else who keeps a list.
My list goes back to 1973, Ms. Pam Paul! (Actually 1971, but I can’t find the 1971-72 portion right now.)
My four literary horsemen of the early 1970s were Kerouac, Saroyan, Thomas Wolfe and Henry Miller. Plus every beatnik writer. Every beatnik. That included Dutch motorcyclist/writer Jan Cremer and Turkish East Village beat Erje Ayden.
Here is my 1974 list, edited:
The First Circle Alexandr Solzhenitsyn
Geronimo Rex Barry Hannah
Kentucky Ham William Burroughs Jr.
Confessions of a Child of the Century Thomas Rogers
Strangers and Brothers C.P. Snow
The Manor Isaac Bashevis Singer
Pere Goriot Honore de Balzac
Tropic of Cancer Henry Miller
Blue Movie Terry Southern
Monday the Rabbi Took off Harry Kemelman
I’m Glad You didn’t Take it Personally Jim Bouton
Call It Sleep Henry Roth
My Friend Henry Miller Alfred Perles
The Wanderers Richard Price
Imaginary Speeches for a Brazen Head Philip Whalen
Franny and Zooey J.D. Salinger
The Boys on the Bus Timothy Crouse
Nine Stories J.D. Salinger
The Autograph Hound John Lahr
Raymond Chandler Speaking Raymond Chandler
Lolita Vladimir Nabokov
My Last Two Thousand Years Herbert Gold
The Slave Isaac Bashevis Singer
Did you skim or read that list? If you read it, here’s your reward — a continuation, with asterisks for really funny books. (At the end of the list, there is a prose wrap-up.) My fav books, generally . . .
Keep the Aspidistra Flying George Orwell
Burmese Days George Orwell
Fear of Flying Erica Jung
A Fan’s Notes Frederick Exley
The War Against the Jews Lucy Dawidowicz
Little Big Man Thomas Berger
Hot to Trot John Lahr *
The Fight Norman Mailer
Miss Lonelyhearts Nathanael West
The World of Our Fathers Irving Howe
Bloodbrothers Richard Price
The Rise of David Levinsky Abraham Cahan
Tales of Beatnik Glory Ed Sanders
The Idiot Fyodor Dostoyevsky
While Six Million Died Lucy Dawidowicz
Thirteenth Tribe Arthur Koestler
Chrysanthemum and the Sword Ruth Benedict
The Last Tycoon F. Scott Fitzgerald
Confessions of a Nearsighted Cannoneer Seymour Krim
Union Dues John Sayles
All My Friends are Going to Be Strangers Larry McMurtry
The Chosen Chaim Potok
A Feast of Snakes Harry Crews
The Basketball Diaries Jim Carroll
The Cool World Warren Miller
Rabbit Run John Updike
Airships Barry Hannah
The Rector of Justin Louis Auchincloss
Sophie’s Choice William Styron
King of the Jews Leslie Epstein
The Pope of Greenwich Village Vincent Patrick
Dubin’s Lives Bernard Malamud
The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz Mordecai Richler *
The Right Stuff Tom Wolfe
Tess of the d’Urbervilles Thomas Hardy
Jane Eyre Jane Austin
The House of Mirth Edith Wharton
Ethnic America Thomas Sowell
Zuckerman Unbound Philip Roth
Maiden Rites Sonia Pilcer *
The Friends of Eddie Coyle George V. Higgins
God’s Pocket Pete Dexter
Rabbis is Rich John Updike
This Way for the Gas Tadeusz Borowski
The Abandonment of the Jews David Wyman
Survival in Auschwitz Primo Levi
Man’s Search for Meaning Viktor Frankl
The Headmasters Papers Richard Hawley
Bright Lights Big City Jay McInerney
The Art of Fiction John Gardner
Fathers Playing Catch with Sons Donald Hall
La Brava Elmore Leonard
Babbitt Sinclair Lewis
Wiseguy Nicholas Pileggi
Providence Geoffrey Wolff
The Sportswriter Richard Ford
The Great Pretender James Atlas
Bonfire of the Vanities Tom Wolfe
Papa Play for Me Mickey Katz
Life is with People Mark Zborwski and Elizabeth Herzog
The Facts Philip Roth
A History of the Jews Paul Johnson
In Praise of Yiddish Maurice Samuel
Old New Land Theodor Herzl
Architects of Yiddishism Emanuel Goldsmith
From that Place and Time Lucy Dawidowicz
Paris Trout Pete Dexter
Patrimony Philip Roth
Mr. Bridge Evan Connell
Devil’s Night Zev Chafets
Rabbit at Rest John Updike
Rabbit Redux John Updike
Class Paul Fussell
Days of Grace Arthur Ashe
Lost in Translation Eva Hoffman
How We Die Sherman Nuland
Roommates Max Apple
Moo Jane Smiley
Independence Day Richard Ford
The Road from Coorain Jill Kerr Conway
Parts of My Body Phillip Lopate
American Pastoral Philip Roth
The Wishbones Tom Perrotta
Ex-Friends Norman Podhoretz
Hole in Our Soul Martha Bayles
The Trouble with Cinderella Artie Shaw
The Human Stain Philip Roth
Winning Ugly Brad Gilbert
Up in the Air Walter Kirn *
John Adams David McCullough
Selling Ben Cheever Ben Cheever *
The Corrections Jonathan Franzen
The New Rabbi Stephen Fried
Samaritan Richard Price
Funnymen Ted Heller *
My Losing Season Pat Conroy
Fabulous Small Jews Joseph Epstein
The Case for Israel Alan Dershowitz
The Da Vinci Code Dan Brown
Good Vibes Terry Gibbs
Made in Detroit Paul Clemens
On Beauty Zadie Smith
Prisoner of Trebekistan Bob Harris
High Fidelity Nick Hornby
Sweet and Low Rich Cohen
America’s Polka King Bob Dolgan
Prisoners Jeffrey Goldberg
Infidel Ayaan Hirsi Ali
A Random Walk Down Wall Street Burton Malkiel
Lush Life Richard Price
Dean’s List Jon Hassler
Irrational Exuberance Robert Shiller
Rabbit at Rest John Updike
How I became a Famous Novelist Steve Hely *
Facing Unpleasant Facts George Orwell
The Great Indoors Eric Broder *
Pops Terry Teachout
Olive Kitteridge Elizabeth Stout
I Feel Bad About My Neck Nora Ephron
Open Andre Agassi
How to Win Friends Dale Carnegie
The Whore of Akron Scott Raab *
I Married a Communist Philip Roth
Pocket Kings Ted Heller *
The Love Song of Jonny Valentine Teddy Wayne *
I bought the Richard Price books for pleasure and investment purposes. His books are probably worth nothing. I have followed Price’s career since he was 25. I knew a woman who dated him at Cornell. Price is a Lit god around my house.
I like short books. Most classics are long, so I’m bad at classics. Funny books are my favorite. Throw in a few jokes, or lose me. I don’t need a strong plot.
I’ve read The Great Gatsby five times because it’s great and short. I would read it more often if it was funny.
I can’t remember most of what I read.
A lot here — in this post — is a rip off of Nick Hornby and his Ten Years in a Tub, about books Hornby has read in the past 10 years.
I haven’t read much philosophy. Any? I’ve tried the Bible a few times. Proust — I’ve done 50 pages with him. I’m good with Shakespeare!
I haven’t read The Hobbit or War and Peace. (Check out Buzzfeed’s “22 Books You Pretend You’ve Read but Actually Haven’t.”)
I’ve read many books about Cleveland. Here are three random CLE books: A Fares of a Cleveland Cabby, Thomas Jasany; Confused City on a Seesaw, Philip W. Porter; and First and Last Seasons, Dan McGraw. I’ve read all of Harvey Pekar. Harvey didn’t write much. Maybe 90,000 words total. Thanks, Harvey.
I’ve read every klezmer book, I think. Did you know a Polish academic, Magdalena Waligorska, cited this blog in her book Klemzer’s Afterlife (Oxford University Press)?
My wife occasionally takes my literary recommendations to her book club. But not lately. She recommended How I Became a Famous Novelist by Hely. That ruined my wife’s credibility.
If you read a book on this list, pick one with an asterisk. And if you don’t think the book is funny, bail immediately.
I’m bailing. Gotta list something. What, I don’t know. Maybe I’ll tally the people who liked this post vs. those who thought it was too self-indulgent.
March 5, 2014 12 Comments
Every few days I get an email from my synagogue that reads something like this: “Subject — the passing of Melvin Weiner.”
About three people die per week at my shul. (I belong to a big shul.). My rabbi must live at funerals. True, he has an associate rabbi, but still, I think he — the senior rabbi — does most of the heavy lifting. The senior rabbi told me Costco has the best lox in town. He should know; he must see at least five dairy spreads a week. (I see my fair share, too. Love a dairy spread!)
The passing of Albert “Bert” Stratton . . .
I prefer “the passing of Albert Stratton.” A bit more consequential than “Bert.” I wonder if Melvin Weiner went by Mel. I didn’t know him.
I visited my mom’s grave recently and couldn’t find it because it had snow on it. (The headstone is flush with the ground.) I found the approximate location of the grave and drew a Jewish star and Mom. She’s been dead 10 years. She’s at Hillcrest Cemetery, as is my dad.
My grandparents are buried on the other side of town, as are two of my great-grandparents. [Stratton kids, see notes below.]
My wife doesn’t want to be buried in our shul’s cemetery (Park Synagogue / Beth Olam) because it’s too cramped. I’m fine with the Park cemetery. I would like to be up close next to a bunch of other people’s bones. My wife wants to be in Lake View Cemetery.
Actually, she doesn’t “want” anything. For instance, she doesn’t want to discuss this.
I wonder if my rabbi does burials at Lake View, or if his college-age son will someday. Maybe the kid will become a rabbi, and I’ll live another million years.
I think my rabbi will do Lake View — a nondenominational garden-style WASPy place. I see Jewish stars on some of the tombstones there now. Lake View is in Cleveland Heights. Nice touch. It’s not by the freeway.
Maybe I can talk her into Park. How much time do I have?
You won’t want to read this part unless you’re very closely
related . . .
Bert’s parents, Theodore “Toby” and Julia (Zalk) Stratton are at Hillcrest Cemetery, 26200 Aurora Road, Bedford Heights. Temple Emanu El section, by the tree.
Toby’s parents, Louis and Anna (Seiger) Soltzberg, are at Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery, aka Ridge Road #1, 3740 Ridge Rd. Cleveland. (“Front Left Section” — that’s what the cemetery sign says. The grave is about seven rows in from Ridge Road, before the Section 3 sign). Also, against the fence, Cecile Soltzberg, baby, Anna’s 3-year-old daughter, died about 1909.
Julia’s parents, Albert and Ida (Kassoff) Zalk, are at Lansing Road Cemetery, 3922 E. 57th Street, Cleveland. Here is a blog post about Bill Katz and me sneaking into that cemetery after-hours.
Ida’s parents, Morris and Sadie (Levine) Kassoff, are at Lansing Road Cemetery.
February 26, 2014 10 Comments
I check out websites of other klezmer bands to see what I can steal. For instance, clarinetist Joel Rubin’s website had this bit: “Rubin has long been considered by many to be the leading performer of Jewish instrumental klezmer music in the world today.”
I stole from Rubin.
Please disregard the bracketed material . . .
Yiddishe Cup has long been considered by many [Alice Stratton, Irwin Weinberger, Steve Ostrow] to be the leading performers of Jewish klezmer comedy in the world. Who else is doing klezmer comedy? Who? Name somebody!
Yiddishe Cup is an integral part of the music scene in Cleveland, which according to many [Lori Cahan-Simon, Steven Greenman,Walt Mahovlich] is quite vibrant. The Cleveland scene is a focal point of klezmer and Eastern European music [according to Gheorghe Trombitas, Zenon Chaikovsky and Alex Fedoriouk].
Mickey Katz is where it all started for klezmer comedy. [Somebody said that. Who?] Literary critic Leon Wieseltier called Katz the “mishugener.” In Pirket Avot, it is written “Man is born to take the plough against the unyielding earth.” That is man’s job. The counterweight to that heavy lifting is the supremely nutty Katz, said Wieseltier.
Stratton’s former rabbi, Michael Hecht, said, “Make Judaism fun.”
Somebody [Lea Grossman of Boston?] said Yiddishe Cup is the most entertaining band in the country. Yiddishe Cup is almost cool. [George Robinson wrote that, almost, in the New York Jewish Week.]
Yiddishe Cup is also a top notch simcha band [said Shawn Fink]. Let the wedding gigs roll forth! Funerals are more interesting than weddings, but Yiddishe Cup doesn’t play many funerals [zero, in fact]. Instead, the band plays parties and acts happy. You wouldn’t want musicians in mourning at your wedding.
How many bands have comedic and musical talent? Yiddishe Cup does [said Irwin Weinberger and Don Friedman].
Who else is out there? Weird Al Yankovic? Shlock Rock? They’re not as good as Yiddishe Cup [said Daniel Ducoff].
Yiddishe Cup strikes the classic Jewish outsider pose. Yiddishe Cup has long been considered a funny band. [Sanford Gordon thought so. So did Jack Saul.]
Yiddishe Cup is nostalgic and a bit corny, but in a good way. Childhood was a lot less hassle than adulthood.
Other klezmer bands aren’t that funny [said Don Friedman]. They aren’t funny at all! [Find a source for that.] There’s a pianist in Brooklyn, Pete Sokolow, who does Jewish spins on Fats Waller and Dixieland. Sokolow wrote, “We purposefully try to remain faithful to the original performances.” Does Sokolow do creative new adaptations? OK, maybe. Does Yiddishe Cup? Yes. [At least once: “Meshugeneh Mambo."]
Don Byron Plays the Music of Mickey Katz –- the album — had two avant-garde jazz pieces and the rest was verbatim remakes of Mickey Katz tunes. Make it new, Don Don!
Avi Hoffman’s Too Jewish Two album had a lot of humor, but was too schmaltzy. Sample song title: “I Love Being a Jew Blues.”
Yiddishe Cup is considered the best neo-Borscht Belt klezmer comedy band in the world [according to Alice Stratton, Jack Stratton, Daniel Ducoff, Steve Ostrow and Don Friedman].
Yiddishe Cup is the best band in the land.
[Who said that?]
February 19, 2014 7 Comments
“Cleveland is a hard town. I came near committing suicide when I lived there.” — Robert Crumb, American Splendor intro, 1986.
Crumb worked for American Greetings. My dad, Toby, worked there too.
Toby was at American Greetings before Crumb. My dad worked with Morry Stone, who eventually became a vice chairman. My dad didn’t like working for anybody, including Morry, so Toby left in 1954.
Everybody in Cleveland has worked at American Greetings, I think. Or tried to. I applied for a job at American Greetings in 1981.
American Greetings had a Creative Building at West 78th Street. I didn’t even get called in for an interview. Maybe I wasn’t sick enough to write sick cards.
Robert Crumb again, 1996, Bob & Harv‘s Comics: “Cleveland is a city that has been ravaged by financiers and industrialists . . . its population abandoned to their fate, left to freeze their ass off, standing in the dirty winter slush, waiting for a bus that is a long time coming. Somehow they go on living.”
I haven’t lived anywhere else, so I can’t complain like Crumb. I went to college in Ann Arbor (which doesn’t count) and spent a few months in Bogota, Colombia, in my twenties.
Bogota was tougher than Cleveland. That, I can testify to. Bogota was rainy, gray, and headache-inducing from the high altitude. Cleveland was simply rainy, gray and slushy.
A pilot stood in a grassy field by the Bogota airport and said, “Tell your friends to throw their packs in back and we’ll be off.”
They weren’t my friends. They weren’t even Americans.
We climbed into the cargo section of the plane. “It smells like shit in here,” a Swiss girl said.
“This is Fish Airlines,” the pilot said. (Aeropesca.)
We landed in the Amazon a few hours later.
I ran into a college friend in the Amazon! I knew him from my freshman dorm. He said, “I scamp.” That meant he sold gems, coke, pot or counterfeit bills. “I’m going to reunite with my creators soon,” he said.
“I’m going back to my parents.”
I tried to catch the ferry to Belem, Brazil. I waited several days in Leticia, Colombia, by the Amazon River dock, but the ferry didn’t arrive. I flew back to Bogota on the guppy/yuppie flight. (Guppies to Bogota, yuppies to the Amazon.)
In Bogota, I froze — even indoors. I wore two sweaters and socks-for-gloves, in a small house I shared with a widow and her maid. I taught English at a nearby private junior high. For fun at night I read Cancer Ward . I also looked at photos of beauty queens from El Espacio and El Bogotano — the tabloids. My bedroom had doggy pictures on the wall, a toy cannon on the windowsill, and a crucifix over the bed.
For mental exercise I tried to reconstruct my high school schedule: first and second periods, PSSC Physics. What was third? What was PSSC? [Physical Science Study Committee.] I didn’t know many people in Bogie.
I heard Charlie Byrd play “Bogota” in Bogota. He was on a government-sponsored tour. Byrd en guitarra, con bajo y batería. (Byrd on guitar, with bass and drums.)
I went back to Cleveland after three months.
American Greetings. I couldn’t take Bogie. The major bookstore in Bogota was run by a Nazi, I thought. The owner was German, and I fabricated a fake bio, in my head, about him. I went to the Peace Corps office to borrow more paperbacks. I got Papillon, about a prisoner in Latin America.
I played blues harp for my English class. The kids loved it but the administration didn’t.
I had to leave. Bogie was un frío horrible (a freezing cold).
Crumb should write about Bogota. I want to hear his take on a real tough town.
1. My Bogota ad venture was in 1974.
2. I didn’t meet my college friend in the Amazon. I met him in Bogota. I remembered the encounter incorrectly. My friend straightened me out in Cleveland in 2013.
February 12, 2014 5 Comments
This appeared on the Ann Arbor Observer blog last week. If you’ve already read it, please skip down to Side B.
Last year at The Ark, my klezmer show got bumped for Judy Collins. She took my slot.
Ann Arbor ukulele-master Gerald Ross, who was a sideman, emailed me then: “I saw The Ark schedule. I don’t think we’re playing Feb. 9 , because you’re not Judy Collins.”
I had a lock on that date! I emailed The Ark. The Ark said how about another date? I suggested a couple more Saturday nights. The Ark said how about a Friday night.
I don’t play Friday nights if I can help it. I like to stay home for Friday nights — shabbat. Sometimes my shabbats are just a couple hours, but they’re always on Friday night! I once heard a Reform rabbi say, “Say a prayer over your pizza if you’re out with your kids on Friday night.” I’m all for that. I “hold” by that. (“Hold” means “I follow that custom.”)
I reluctantly took the Friday night slot last year, but didn’t put Friday in my publicity.
I got up to Ann Arbor on Friday afternoon and met up with an old college friend, Charlie Burch. He had just donated his 1960-70s political buttons to an archive in the Graduate Library. I wondered who still used the library. The answer: Charlie. (His buttons were No Nein Nyet Non Lo; March on Washington; Go Michigan Beat Thailand.)
Charlie pointed out where various stores don’t exist anymore. Like Centicore Books, Borders Books, Orange Julius and Miller’s Ice Cream.
I like touring Ann Arbor. It’s the only place I’ve lived other than Cleveland. I graduated U-M in 1973.
I said a private shabbat prayer in a Mexican restaurant, Sabor Latino, before my gig. I opened the gig with “Shalom Aleykhem” (a well-known Friday night song) and wished the Jews at The Ark “shabbat shalom.”
I had a good one — a good shabbat. But playing publicly on Friday night is not optimal for me.
Yiddishe Cup plays Saturday night this year –- this Saturday, Feb. 8 . Praise the Lord!
180-degree turn . . .
MILK IS MY ILK
I shot a cow once. It was crippled and couldn’t walk. My dad sold the dead cow to the Amish for meat. We couldn’t sell it to anybody else because it wasn’t “choice” grade.
My dad loved everything having to do with cows: barns, ice cream, blintzes. He had me pitching balls against the side of our barn, like Bob Feller. My dad thought I could be the next Rapid Robert even though I was a near-midget.
I planned to go to Ohio State to major in dairy science after high school. But my high school friends — all non-dairy guys — talked me into Michigan, where I majored in diary science (creative writing). A big mistake.
I spent a year in Israel after college, at a kibbutz, milking cows in the refet (dairy barn). The kibbutzniks were impressed.
I still like unpasteurized milk, but it’s hard to find these days.
I order milk at bars. Women overhear me and say, “You’re like James Cagney!”
I hope so. I have zero tolerance for the lactose intolerant.
February 5, 2014 9 Comments
A bride asked Yiddishe Cup to play quietly at her wedding. I said, “Great! I’m in two Facebook groups: ‘I Hate Cilantro’ and ‘I Hate Loud Music.’”
I attended a wedding — as a guest — where the band blasted like they were at Noriega’s palace. Then a DJ — at an adjoining party, behind a folding wall — blasted like he was landing cargo planes.
There were about 225 guests at the wedding I was at, and I was the only one bugged?
My wife thought the band was terrific. She said, “They are like a magnet, pulling me to the dance floor.” (My wife, in turn, pulled me to the dance floor.)
The band had no keyboard player or bass player. The lead singer cued backing tracks on his laptop. The drummer faked it. And they were very loud!
I should have texted the president of the “I Hate Loud Music” Facebook group to report the band. (I think my former rabbi, Michael Hecht, is the honorary president of the group.)
Every time Yiddishe Cup played at Congregation Beth Am, Rabbi Hecht would ask us to turn it down. Yiddishe Cup’s keyboard player –- who was also our sound guy — would shake his head and mutter under his breath, “I can’t turn it down any more. The sound system is completely off!”
Somewhat scary old guy: Rabbi Hecht. Rabbi Hecht’s understudy: me.
THE JOYS OF CROSS-COUNTRY SKIING
In the 1970s, Newman-Adler Sporting Goods rented out cross-country skis from a shack in Forest Hill Park, Cleveland Heights.
It snowed like crazy in the 1970s.
Then it didn’t snow much in the 1980s. Everybody owned X-C skis by then — with several kinds of wax — but no snow. Newman-Adler stopped renting skis at Forest Hill. In fact the store went out of business.
With X-C, the snow has to be just right — not too slushy. If the snow isn’t perfect, you don’t glide right. If there is a dog or human footprint in the track, that mess things up too. Then there are ice patches.
That said, X-C skiing is a must-do at least once a winter.
Is it time?
Uh . . .
January 29, 2014 2 Comments
At a nursing home gig, a resident told me she knew my late Aunt Bernice.
Another resident remembered me from my junior high days. Her daughter had played first-chair clarinet, to my second chair, in junior high band.
A third resident said he was the former dentist of Yiddishe Cup’s drummer. “What’s your drummer’s name again?” the dentist asked. [Don Friedman! The great Donny Friedman!]
I said, “I’ll give you the drummer’s name, but first I’m going to be clairvoyant!” I guessed the dentist’s name, his approximate age (90), and what he had done that morning — three hours prior to the gig.
I got everything right, but the dentist wasn’t impressed. He wanted the drummer’s name.
I guessed everything right about the dentist because 1. I had seen the dentist playing tennis at a nearby racquet club that morning. A 90-year-old guy playing tennis is hard to forget. 2. I knew his approximate age because he used to play tennis with my dad. 3. I knew his name because I had dated his daughter in high school.
The daughter and I had gone to see Cool Hand Luke at the Vogue, then out for shakes at Manner’s Big Boy, Van Aken. It was a fix-up by our parents. It was my one-and- only date in high school.
I asked the dentist, “What’s Barbara doing?” The daughter.
“She’s a piano teacher in Boston,” he said.
I just Googled her. She teaches classical and jazz. She used to be a radio DJ.
Did I make a major mistake not asking her out for a second date?
January 22, 2014 4 Comments
I served an eviction notice on an artist — a tenant — who was late with her rent. When I handed her the eviction paper, she yelled at me, “I was going to pay the rent, but not now!”
My father had sent me. She was a painter — a real artist.
Aubrey, another tenant, wrote for an alternative weekly. Aubrey wrote my dad:
Allow me to pull your coat, Mr. Stratton, to something. Where do you get off raising my rent? I had to spend last winter in my kitchen because the bedroom ceiling caved in.
Would you like my bill for cleaning up the plaster? My services do not come cheaply, Mr. Stratton.
Aubrey was a meshugener — my dad’s take.
My dad told Aubrey to waive his privacy rights so we could get into his apartment to fix the problem.
Aubrey wrote back: “Quite bluntly, Mr. Stratton, keep out.”
But we got in and made the repairs, and Aubrey stayed another year.
I saw the painter at an artists’ party about a year later. I didn’t say hi. She didn’t recognize me. Good.
I never saw the writer again. Also good.
“Aubrey” is a pseudonym.
180-degree turn . . .
I’ve made millions in gambling. You probably know that because I’ve written about it a lot.
Nevertheless, some readers still believe I inherited my money.
I work hard for my money. I play video poker, and not at some tribal casino in Oregon. I play at Vegas casinos that offer the best margin. I demand a 99.5 JOB (jacks-or-better) edge.
I tip well and live well.
Do I play video poker all day?
Yes, and I love it.
My ex-wife didn’t love it. She tried to control my bankroll. Nobody controls my bankroll!
I’m a known quantity here in Vegas. For a while I had a radio show. I coughed so much on air, I got fired. What did the producer want? I’m in smoky casinos 12 hours a day;I’m lucky I can breathe, let alone cough.
I administer an online forum, Millionaire VP. No smoking on my site.
I’m filing w-2Gs totaling $400,000 for 2013. The ex-mayor of San Diego lost $13 million on video poker. Don’t be her. Be me.
Lots of royal flushes, everybody!
My website, VP Millionaire, is here.
(This post, Side B/The Gambler, is part of the fake-profile series.)
January 15, 2014 4 Comments
I use the name Mordecai Ham on the Internet. I post a lot of comments and don’t want cyber-nuts tracking me down.
Mordecai Ham — the actual person — was an evangelist. He influenced Billy Graham. Look Ham up. I know from Ham; I know fundamentalist Christianity. From an early age, I was taught in church to venerate Jews and Israel.
Yes, the Jews killed Jesus and cried out, “His blood be upon us and on our children.” But they did so out of ignorance. It was part of God’s plan laid out in the prophesies of Isaiah 9:6, Ezekiel and Esther. The Jews suffered mightily as God rained down Inquisitions and Holocausts to beat the band.
My daddy was about hellfire and brimstone, tongue-talking and Satan-stomping. He attended the same college I did: the Kentucky Mountain Bible College. On my graduation I ordered neon polyester suits from the same store my daddy did: Hart, Schaffner and Marx in Chicago.
I dress less showy nowadays. For one thing, I’m older. Secondly, neon is out.
Where my father pastored, he had a rack of John Birch literature next to the King James Bibles in the church foyer. Paul Harvey was our only news source. Now I get news from all over. I know what bobe mayse means, for example.
I don’t smoke a corncob pipe. I don’t have a ZZ Top beard. (Pentecostals don’t smoke, by the way.) I’m Mordecai Ham, I am. I read the Jew York Times. That’s what my father called it.
The Rev. Woody Allen said about the New York Times: “I want you to get an injunction against the Times. It’s a New York, Jewish, communist, left-wing, homosexual newspaper. And that’s just the sports section.”
My full name is Walter Terry Hamilton. Everybody calls me Sonny. I have a B.S. (Biblical Studies).
I invite you to stop by my shul, down here in the hills of beautiful Eastern Kentucky. I’ll save a piece of kichel for you.
Yes, my iPhone has a Yiddish/Hebrew-word-a-day app.
The complete fake-profiles series is here.
January 8, 2014 9 Comments
This was a witch store. Now it’s an insurance agency.
Before the witch, Fred Smith operated Smith’s Deli here, in the 1950s,1960s and 1970s. Students from St. Ed’s High, across the street, would come in and rip off Fred for candy and pops.
I ran into one St. Ed’s alum — a 55-year-old man — who thought I was God because I had known Fred on an adult level.
Fred got tired of the kids and retired. He needed more than Snickers sales to pay the rent. One Snickers sold, one Snickers lost to shrinkage/shoplifting. No gain.
After Fred left, 1977, the store went through many owners. The most famous post-Fred tenant was Angela Hicks, who founded Angie’s List.
There was also a flower shop, a tax service, sports cards shop and the witch store, Ancient Ways. The witch kept cats in the basement. She reimbursed me for the destroyed carpet when she left, but not for the five months remaining on her lease.
The insurance agency has been here five years. Five years is a decent run. That’s the proof the store was not hexed by the witch.
But the insurance guy is moving. He just called [12/31/13]. “I’m vacuuming and going to be out by 1 p.m.,” he said.
A list of tenants at 13431 Detroit Avenue, 1977-on:
Fred’s deli, moved out, 1977.
Streeter Sporting Goods, 1978-80.
Antique store, various owners for another 10 years or so.
Ka-La’s Flower Shop, 1983. (“KaLa” for Kathy and Laura.) Then various other flower shops.
Embossed stuff. Embroidery Ink, 1991.
Kayln Tax Service, 1993
For You Productions. More the embossed stuff, 1993.
Grand Slam Collectibles, 1994.
Resale shops, a couple years.
Angie’s List, 1999.
Ancient Ways, New Age, 2001-2004.
Vacant 3 ¾ years. 2004-2008.
Farmer’s Insurance. 2008-13.
2014 — ?
A version of this post is also a video (originally posted 1/21/11).
January 1, 2014 4 Comments
The former Brith Emeth temple in Pepper Pike, Ohio, looks like a clam shell or flying saucer.
My kids went to Hebrew school there. It was disorienting; I never knew which way to turn, right or left, to pick them up.
The acoustics in the social hall were bad. Everything was boomy.
Brith Emeth folded in 1986, and Park Synagogue East took over. Then Park Synagogue East sold the building to the Ratner School, a Montessori school. Now Kol HaLev — a Reconstructionist shul — rents from the Ratner School, the owner, for shabbes services.
When my band plays Kol HaLev, I tell my musicians, “We’re playing the clam shell.” I never say, “We’re playing Ratner Montessori School.” I also don’t say, “We’re playing the old Park East,” which would be confusing because there is a new Park East. I also don’t say, “27575 Shaker Boulevard,” because for a while, shrubs in front of the building obscured the address.
“We’re playing the clam shell, aka the flying saucer, guys.”
On October 17, 1969, Rabbi Philip Horowitz delivered the sermon “Is the Negro Equal?” at the clam shell.
The place still has a very sixties flare. I travel back in time every time I enter Brith Emeth. After-burners. The clam shell. The launch pad.
For the record . . .
If you get a 3 percent return, on top of the inflation rate, that’s solid, middle of the road. But right now you can only get 1 percent on a CD, with inflation around 1 percent. You can’t get 3 percent without significant risk. If you go for more than 3 percent real growth, you’re taking a risk.
Risk in business is integral, part of the equation. Can’t be avoided.
You’re a genius; the stock market is booming. You weren’t a genius in 2008.
I know a woman who lost with Madoff, and now she’s doing the 1 percent CDs. I talked to another Madoff investor who said she had found a short-term investment that paid 20 percent. But for only 90 days. Twenty percent is 20 percent, doesn’t matter how long a period. Twenty percent is crazy. “That’s a lot of risk!” I said.
I have a friend who went in for CDOs (Collaterized Debt Obligation) and lost. He said he was getting 15 percent on them. But it only lasted a month. Then the whole thing collapsed.
We are here today to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the Madoff debacle . . . Another Madoff investor I know — enough with the Madoff! — this Cleveland schoolteacher said she didn’t think she was greedy when she was pulling in 10-12 percent a year from Madoff. She just thought she had made a good investment. I would have thought likewise. Madoff returned the schoolteacher’s original investment minus the paper gains. A small-timer, she got national TV attention for being a salt-of-the-earth Madoff victim.
The stock market typically clocks 9 percent per year, but that’s meaningless because the figure doesn’t take into account human behavior, known in the biz as “investors returns.” Most people buy and sell at the wrong time.
My father went all in on real estate 1965, and that’s why I’m in real estate now. He went in at the right time, luckily, and leveraged himself to the hilt. Our house was leveraged; he had second mortgages. He was gutsy, smart and fortunate. (He flopped at some other businesses.)
I’ve bought two buildings. The first building, I put down 25 percent and got a 10 ¾-percent mortgage. That was the going rate in 1987.
The second building, I put down 15 percent. I bought it from an old guy who was dying. I was dying too! The old guy lived another 21 years. The seller financed the deal; I didn’t have to go to the bank for a mortgage. I paid him off 17 years later. It worked out.
The first building — the one with the 10 ¾-percent mortgage – I paid off as quickly as possible. Took 7 1/2 years.
Win more than lose, hopefully.
And don’t chase 20 percent returns!
Hey, did my kids read this far?
December 25, 2013 7 Comments
I have this new band, Funklikht, which is so filthy. My lead singer is the shit — a Lebanese kid from Detroit who does it all, including Yiddish hip-hop. He was a shabbes goy in Oak Park. My drummer — also from Detroit — grew up next-door to Aretha in Bloomfield Hills. He’s shit-plus.
My bass player kills it. (He has a following in Norway.)
I found all these players in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I go up there regularly for cheap young talent.
We’re on fire. We play temples and Jewish arts festivals throughout the country, but we aren’t stuck in the J bag.
We have a major presence on iTunes. Our best-selling tunes are “Shvantz Tantz,” “Di Gantse Velt is a Blintz” and “Dreck II.”
We’re in discussion with a major label, but I’m skeptical; the label thinks we’re “too Jewish.” We’re not too Jewish! We’re too filthy!
This one is real . . .
I knew two Larry Davises — both Jewish landlords in Cleveland. There was Larry Davis of Solon and Larry Davis of Cleveland Heights.
Larry Davis of Solon was a Romanian immigrant who developed industrial parks in the far eastern suburbs. He loved Yiddish music and hired Yiddishe Cup for his 75th birthday party. He died shortly after that. (No foul play.)
Larry Davis of the Heights is alive, and owns property in Cleveland Heights. You’ve probably seen him around (if you live in Cleveland). He has a beard, wear shorts a lot, and has a small tattoo on his leg. Larry Heights started with a lunch counter in Lakewood and worked his way up.
I ran into Larry Heights at the grocery store and we kvetched about the real estate biz. Our kids weren’t too crazy about running the properties. Larry said, “I wouldn’t wish it on my daughter.”
I thought to myself, “Here we are, two fairly healthy guys, standing in the vegetable aisle at 2 p.m. on a Wednesday. Objectively speaking, we’ve got it made.”
Maybe I’m the third Larry Davis. Larry Davis Heights II.
Larry Davis, Heights, left / Larry Davis, Solon, right:
(Click on the drawing to make it bigger)
Footnote: “Objectively speaking, you’ve got it made” is a line I regularly steal from writer Mark Schilling.
Yiddishe Cup plays First Night Akron (Ohio), 6 p.m. Dec. 31.
December 18, 2013 7 Comments