Welcome to my sound. Right now I’m at the corner bar making a lot of noise. I can knock over beer bottles with my booming voice. I sweep a room, no question.
I see blood droplets and people screaming. I’m going to broadcast this mess.
Don’t talk to me about tinnitus! We’re not living in an abbey, folks. Wake up. Hang some string from your ears. Make some noise!
[Some of this was stolen from the Poetry Project Newsletter Feb/March ’14.]
Oh, to be in England
September 21, 2016 No Comments
I write a lot about women. My metier is feelings. I once did a piece on Erma La Douce, who I saw at the Roxy in 1965. My wife didn’t like the article, so I’m not linking to it here. I also wrote a good essay about Dorothy Stratten, the Playboy playmate who was killed. My wife didn’t like that one either. No link. Lately I’ve been writing a lot about real estate and klezmer.
My high school friend Dave just stopped in. Dave likes to talk about how he schtupped his next-door neighbor — this was 40 years ago — at the Pink Motel on Lake Shore Boulevard. The Pink Motel barmaid, Jan, had a tattoo on her left ankle — Greek letters from her Kent State sorority.
Enough. The Mazeltones, a now-defunct Seattle klezmer band, played a few Sephardic tunes because many early Seattle Jewish settlers were from Rhodes, Greece . . .
September 14, 2016 4 Comments
A Protestant church hired Yiddishe Cup. About time. Ninety-eight percent of America isn’t Jewish, so that’s a market. The church music director asked if I wanted the communion table moved. For one, I didn’t know Protestants do communion. But this church did — twice a month. The music director moved the communion table to the narthex. Interesting word. Also, there was a goodwill offering. The minister is called “pastor,” not “minister.”
Please check out my essay “Papa Won’t Preach” at City Journal today. It’s about how “a love of music unites a father and son,” and specifically about the Vulfpeck show in Central Park tonight (Wed. Sept 7). Alice Stratton will be at that concert, and will no doubt jump on stage and do the “Funky Duck” with the band, so if you’re in NYC, be at the show!
September 7, 2016 3 Comments
I grew up in New York and never liked it there. I went to college in Ohio. I’m never going back east. To do what? Live in Williamsburg and write a blog about beer?
My roommate at Kenyon College took me to his hometown, Shaker Heights, a couple times. Cleveland has lawns and you don’t pay $2000/month for a one-bedroom apartment. I moved there. I have a one-bedroom for $850. Tricked out too — marble counter tops and a dishwasher. My dad thinks I’m crazy. He said I should enroll in accounting school at NYU.
I work in property management in Cleveland. I’ve gone back to New York once. I can’t stand it. Going to the deli for a sandwich is a major deal — the crowds, the lines, the elevator. People say I’m going the wrong way. Wrong! I am Jay Gatz in reverse. For a million dollars I could buy almost all of Cleveland. And I will.
August 31, 2016 6 Comments
1. Eat your fist once a week.
2. Sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” every morning. It aligns you. It starts with a major triad, 5-3-1.
3. If you’re blood isn’t bright red, eat cheese immediately.
4. Eat sardines. Chicken of the Sea, lightly smoked in oil, is your best good bet.
5. Avoid fad diets.
6. Drink a shot glass of olive oil once a day.
7. Don’t knock Miller Lite.
8. Exercise at least two minutes an hour.
9. Catholics: carry smartphones. Sainthood is difficult to prove if you don’t have evidence.
10. Eat a lot of marshmallows. They aid your stomach in absorbing the flavonoids.
11. Arby’s Horsy Sauce is better for you than tomato sauce.
A slightly different version of this post appeared here 11/27/13.
Vulfpeck’s Kickstarter for its new album, The Beautiful Game, is up. Click on this link to contribute.
August 24, 2016 5 Comments
Nobody cares about jazz except me and a couple random Berklee freshmen. I’ve played with Frank Sinatra, Jr. That was the darkest year of my life. Vegas wasn’t meant for a 20 year old. I gigged with Chick Corea. His drummer quit and I got the call. I was only 22.
I’ve been a music professor for about 10 years. That’s the best gig for jazzers these days. I want to enroll in the creative writing class at the college here, but the English chairman says all the writing classes are full. Let me in! I want to write a book on how we reverse-engineer musicians. We teach kids technique but none of the spiritual aspects of music. Think about folk musicians. They don’t get nervous and take beta-blockers. They grew up with their music. It’s part of their culture, like food.
There are maybe two people who give a shit about jazz — me and a kid at Berklee. I hope he buys my book.
August 17, 2016 2 Comments
We played a 90th birthday party, where the celebrant’s daughter, age 65, sat about a foot from the band and requested tune after tune. She liked Mickey Katz parodies and knew a lot of other Jewish classics. For instance, she knew the “Russian Sher.” She said she had grown up on Hello Solly, an album by Mickey Katz.
And she had never heard of Yiddishe Cup! This daughter had lived in Cleveland her entire adult life. Yiddishe Cup has played everywhere on Cleveland’s East Side — every temple, park, club, every inch. Was she house-bound?
I Googled the daughter. Facebook said she “studied at The Ohio State University, lives in Cleveland, Ohio, and listens to Yiddishe Cup.” I told her to add that last part. I bet she’ll take it down.
August 10, 2016 2 Comments
Courtlin passed out in the apartment lobby, so a cop called me: “He [Courtlin] set up a picnic on your landing with some 24-ouncers,” the cop said.
“To his credit, Courtlin has his socks on,” the cop said.
A tenant discovered Courtlin an hour earlier in the lobby. I told the tenant the trespasser was fairly harmless — no felony convictions, just criminal trespassing and disorderly conducts. She was OK with that; she didn’t say “I’m moving,” which would have been in line.
The cop said, “He goes to the well — apartment lobbies — for a while until he’s arrested, then he goes someplace else.”
The criminal hearing is in a couple weeks.
. . . Done. He got three days in jail. He’ll be back.
Yiddishe Cup plays 7 p.m. tomorrow (Thurs., Aug. 4) on the lawn at John Carroll U., University Hts., Ohio. Free. Indoors if raining. Free ice cream, kids!
August 3, 2016 4 Comments
I throw wiener roasts at my cottage on Lake Erie. I invite Catholics from Rocky River, Jews from Beachwood, and generics from all over the city. I wonder if my guests come for the lake or me? I hold raffles, we play cards. There’s booze and gambling.
Funny: in Cleveland very few people live close to Lake Erie, so the lake is a big deal. My house — in Cleveland Heights — is six miles from the lake.
Bill Wallace, an old friend from Washington D.C., is coming to town for the wiener roast. Yiddishe Cup will play klezmer music until 10 p.m., then we’ll go into “Wild Thing”-type music. Yiddishe Cup’s former drummer, Don Friedman, will sing “Mustang Sally.” Is that an attraction? Not likely. The lake is the attraction.
July 27, 2016 4 Comments
The building manager called at 2:48 a.m. and said water was pouring from 202 into 102; the manager couldn’t get into 202 because our extra key was missing and the tenant wasn’t home. Take the door down?
The door came down at 5 a.m., right off the hinges. Sludge was backing into 202 and 102 from 302.
At 11 a.m. a tenant’s ceiling fell in. I said, “We just spent $8,500 on a new roof for your part of the building. It better not be water coming in through the roof. I bet it’s coming through the window well.” There were five inches of rain in the window well.
The above paragraphs describe two different incidents, in case you’re confused.
Water goes wherever it wants. It’s not carpet.
July 21, 2016 No Comments
Steve, the building manager said, “I got a call last night at 3:51 a.m. I was thinking it’s a tenant with a ceiling that fell on his head, but no, the guy wanted to rent an apartment. Man, did I light him up. That fool — 3:51 a.m!”
“Was he drunk?” I said.
“No, he wasn’t drunk! He said he had a dilemma. He said, ‘I’m in a dilemma.’ I said, ‘You think so? You also think this is standard business hours, too, or are you trying to get a jump on the market, you idiot!’”
Next subject: “Hey, did Billy give you the rent?” I said.
“Yes, I got the rent from your pal Billy,” Steve said. “Billy? That’s his legal name. What kind of person names his kid Billy.” Billy had flicked cigarette butts out his window onto parked cars below. One night he and his buddies flicked 30 butts. I wrote Billy a letter to straighten up and he did. Don’t knock Billy.
“That guy — calling at 3:51 am,” Steve said. “No, I don’t think so! Are there any boundaries to human stupidity?”
“Billy” is a pseudonym.
I wrote this piece, “How Much Money Can I Make Off Trump’s Convention?”, for yesterday’s New York Times online.
July 20, 2016 4 Comments
I post a new story here every Wednesday.
The Times didn’t activate the “comments” button on my Republican National Convention essay. If you want to comment on the piece, you can fire away here.
July 19, 2016 3 Comments
My husband is a studio photographer and makes zero money. Even worse: I just lost my job as a teacher. My husband hides in his darkroom. He should donate his darkroom to the Smithsonian and get a real job. We’ve been married 19 years ago and 16 years of those years have been a huge mistake. He shops on the Internet all day for metrosexual bullshit like cameras, clothes and wine. I’m screwed. What should I do?
July 13, 2016 2 Comments
I’ve been to Dean Supply, Webb Supply, Hough Supply and Woodhill Supply. The countermen usually sit beneath Rigid Tool calendars.
On my last trip to Woodhill Supply, I asked for 50 water-saving Niagara showerheads. Niagaras look like fat bullet microphones, so most tenants don’t realize they’re water-savers, and that’s a good thing. If the tenants knew the showerheads were water-savers, they would don’t rip them out and put in water-gushers. Woodhill also sells wrenches, cutters and snakes.
But Woodhill only had 37 Niagaras. I was going from 2.5 GPM to 1.75 GPM. I did the same thing 20 years ago, but back then water-saving showerheads were super thin and cheesy-looking, so tenants ripped them out. (I pay for the water.)
I will return to Woodhill when my back order comes in. MacArthur said that.
July 6, 2016 5 Comments
A musician broke a vase at a wedding. He walked right into the vase before the ceremony, before anybody arrived. Many vases lined the wedding aisle. The musician said to the florist, “I’ll pay,” and the florist went to her warehouse and got another vase.
Two days later, the florist called me and asked for $50. She said, “Your musician didn’t pay.”
I gave the florist the musician’s number and said, “I think the host — the bride’s family — should pay for it. That was one fancy wedding.”
“Really, who do you want to pay for it?” she said. “He walked into it. There were 300 people at that wedding and he was the one who walked into a vase. It’s $50 — my cost.”
The musician called me: “I said I’d pay for it, but what do you think I should do?”
“You said you’d pay for it, so I guess you should pay for it. Or better yet, call the mom of the bride. She loved us. She’ll probably pay.”
The next day I checked in with the musician. “Did you call the mom?”
She would have paid!
June 29, 2016 5 Comments
What was the worst Yiddishe Cup concert ever? Hard to say. There have been so many. (Joke.) What about when we showed up on stage and a PTA-type meeting was on stage too? The school principal, via the custodian, said no way were we getting on stage for our concert. The custodian said, “The PhDs and MBAs think they know so much.”
We went on 20 minutes late.
We’re never late. It wasn’t our fault.
I had a story, “Believeland in Cleveland,” in the New York Times online about the Cavaliers winning the NBA championship.
June 22, 2016 5 Comments
1. SO FILTHY
I have this band, Vulfpeck, which is so filthy. My lead singer is the shit — a Lebanese kid from Detroit who sings some Yiddish. And my drummer grew up next door to Aretha in Bloomfield Hills. He’s the shit plus one. My bass player has a following in Norway.
We’re on fire. We play at temples and Jewish arts festivals throughout the country, but we aren’t locked into the J bag. We’re in discussion with a major label, but I’m skeptical. The label says we’re “too Jewish.” We’re not too Jewish. We’re too filthy!
2. MUSIC DREAMS
I hear animal voices, particularly cats and fleas. Significant to my music? Yes. A coffee table book, Hope You Like My Music!, has more than 100 photos of professional musicians. Some tied up, some with instruments in odd places. I’m in a bathtub with clarinet reeds, like Moses.
3. OUR ESTHETIC
I admire musicians who, when you first hear their recordings, you know exactly who is playing. Like you say, “Hey, that’s Arnie!” because you hear the snorting hogs in the background, which is always Arnie’s thing.
Vulfpeck’s latest tune is “Gas.” It stresses colors and dynamics. One guy belches whole notes. Doesn’t feel forced either.
June 15, 2016 3 Comments
A.J. Jacobs read an encyclopedia for a year and wrote about it. Lee Kravitz apologized to his old enemies for a year and wrote about it. Another writer lived off dumpster food for a year. Ben Ryder Howe bought a Korean deli, ran it for two years, and wrote about it. (That was good: My Korean Deli.) I buy buildings, own them for decades, and write about that. That’s less contrived than the other guys, I think.
When a tenant with Alzheimer’s forgets to pay her rent, I put her checkbook right in front of her, and she writes. Then she moves out, because I can’t be her full-time nurse.
A tenant uses too many fresheners in the washing machine and clogs it up. Drama? Not quite. This paragraph doesn’t make the cut.
Philip Roth was jealous Primo Levi had a profession — chemist — to write about. It’s hard writing about nothing. I did that when I was young and failed.
June 8, 2016 3 Comments
I did a background-talking gig. I read blog posts at a real estate convention while guests ate salads and drank, and ignored me. I should have played music. I said to the crowd, “Hi, I’m going to tell you how to manage real estate.” The crowd listened for about five seconds, but nobody wanted to hear narrative comedy (a la David Sedaris) during cocktails. Also, I wasn’t properly introduced. I had to blurt out over the clanging of silverware, “Hi, everybody!”
That was my one-and-only background-talking gig. I have, however, done a lot of background-music gigs.
My essay “My Son the Sort-of Rock Star” was in the Washington Post, online, on Monday.
June 1, 2016 7 Comments
During the Torah processional at synagogue, Cohen said to me, “That zipper on your shirt makes a nice tie. Metallic!” He shook his head. Cohen — a snappy dresser — wears a Brooks Brother suit, legit tie and vest. At home, Cohen collects clothes catalogs, like his men’s overcoat catalog from pre-World War II. Cohen once tried to sell me a bomber jacket. I said no. I can’t stand old Jews in bomber jackets.
He eventually sold the bomber jacket on eBay. “Same price you would have paid, Bert.”
“But you paid shipping.”
“No, that was an extra $12.50 to the buyer.”
Cohen kept looking at my zipper. I said, “I spray it with WD-40 to keep it shiny.” It had no name, not even YKK.
I just want to be comfortable at shul. I usually walk to shul — a major hike. I’m not trying to make a countercultural statement. The zipper shirt is the least of it. The rabbi often wears tennis shoes (for health reasons, I’m told). I’m not a complete shlub.
Cohen is a pseudonym
May 18, 2016 2 Comments