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 Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Washington Post.


 
 

THE LONG AND SHORT
OF ASIAN-INDIAN NAMES

 
The architect didn’t show up, so I had some time to kill. I talked with Ram Lal, who was thinking of opening an Indian restaurant in the storefront. I said, “You have a pretty short name for an Indian.” I was making conversation. Give me a break. I said all sorts of dumb things. I said, “I’m Jewish. You ever met a Jew? Jewish, as in Hindu, Christian, Muslim.”

“Oh,” he said. “Jews are difficult.”

Yeah? Not me.

Ram said his uncle Chuck, a motel owner, was considering lending Ram money to start the restaurant. I said, “What’s Chuck’s legal name? I’ll need his name if he goes on the lease.””

“Chuck Patel,” Ram said.

“His legal name isn’t Chuck!” I said.

Ram pulled up a photo of Chuck’s driver’s license. Chuck’s legal name was Chnadrakantb Dhanji.

“How do you get Chuck Patel from that?” I said.

Ram never did tell me. Uncle Chuck died, and Ram rented the store. The restaurant is Vintage India on Detroit Avenue in Lakewood, Ohio. Ram is a terrific guy and his food is superb. My cousin George, who spent two years in India, says Vintage India is the best Indian restaurant in Cleveland. Tip: Don’t ask for higher than “2” [out of 10] on the hot scale unless you want to catch on fire.

 

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January 25, 2023   4 Comments

FLOWER (SHOP) POWER

 
Tim Stanton, the owner of Stanton’s Flower Shoppe, didn’t need retail any more. His walk-in trade wasn’t walking in. He was moving to a warehouse, to work the internet and crank out $400-$500 funeral home packages. I saw Tim one last time. I was with my son, and Tim was with his son. I said, “It’s been a good run.”

Tim agreed. He had entered the flower shop at 22, in 1976, and walked out 33 years later. Tim often paid his rent late but usually included a flower bouquet whenever he did. He knew my dad. Not too many tenants went that far back. Tim said, “Your dad gave me a start. I always appreciated that.” I was glad my son got to hear that.

In the 1970s, I used to take lunch breaks in back of the flower shop in the alley. Probably the coolest place — temperature-wise — on the West Side. Always shady and usually with a lake breeze. I was pointing up bricks in the building basement. That was a make-work project, suggested by my dad. I wanted to be a blue-collar guy, and my father had said, “Go ahead, be a blue-collar guy and see how much fun it is.”

A plumber, watching me pointing bricks, said, “These walls are going to be standing long after you and I are both dead. Why are you doing this?”

Because my father said so. I didn’t say anything.

Tim Stanton, in his heyday, employed his mother, sister, brother and several others. I re-rented the flower store to a 26-year-old woman who started a gelato shop. I hoped she would walk out 33 years later. She lasted nine years. Not bad. Now the place is a coffee shop.

The first time I met the gelato woman, I told her, “You don’t want to be on your death bed thinking you didn’t give it a chance. People regret not having done things much more than they regret things they did.” That was my standard spiel, lifted almost verbatim from Stumbling on Happiness by psychologist Daniel Gilbert. “If you don’t give it a try, you’ll never know,” I said.

Gilbert also wrote: “Because we do not realize that our psychological immune systems can rationalize an excess of courage more easily than an excess of cowardice, we hedge our bets when we should blunder forward.”

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January 18, 2023   1 Comment

TRANSITIONING

My sophomore year at college I took Organic Chemistry (got a D), Physics (A), Intro to Poetry (A), and Psychology (Pass). I was in the process of transitioning from pre-med to no-med. The poetry-class teacher was Ted Berrigan, visiting Ann Arbor from the East Village. Ted was a big man with a beard who giggled like a little girl. He liked everything I wrote. He said young poets didn’t need criticism, they needed encouragement.

I visited him later on in New York. He was a player in the contemporary art/poetry scene in NYC. That’s how I once wound up in Allen Ginsberg’s apartment. (Ginsberg wasn’t there.) Berrigan lived on the edge, financially. He traipsed around to hip bookstores in NYC and collected money for his poetry books that had sold. And he also made real money on the burgeoning college poetry-reading circuit. He sometimes made $1000, adjusted for inflation, for a reading. [Got this  money info from a new book of Berrigan’s collected prose, Get the Money.] Writer/professor Donald Hall brought Berrigan to Michigan for the visiting-prof job.

Berrigan called poetry “work ” — as in “show me your work, Bert.” His poet friend Anne Waldman did a reading at the UGLI (undergrad library), and I handed her my work — a couple poems — and she published one in the St. Mark’s Poetry Project mag, The World. This was around 1972. I have to look that up. I think the poem was “Yellow Pages.” It’s a found poem, lifted from the page headings of the Yellow Pages. For example: “appraiser attorneys / automobile barbecue / bicycles burial / chaplains cigar / clubs cranes / day dentists / drapery engineer / . . . topsoil transmission / truck vacuum / washing water / womens zippers.” Definitely the best poem I ever wrote.

. . . Just back from my attic, home of dead poems. The World poem was not about the Yellow Pages. It was about Herbie Hancock, kind of. “Yellow Pages” — the poem — was published in a different East Village mag, Telephone. The mag was called Telephone. The poem was “Yellow Pages.” You following? If so, you get an A.

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January 10, 2023   4 Comments

A MOODY GUY

 
I design vinyl records, mostly klezmer albums. I do everything, even the liner notes. Here are examples of bad liner notes — not by me. Just to show you what bad is:

A. “One [sic] the other side of the hall, a zedeh and bobe will spin in skeletal outlines the remembered steps of a tantz (dance) that their parents taught them . . .”

B. “This is what happens when Rumshinsky’s Theatre Bulgar is feed [sic] through Quincy Jones talking about Count Basie.”

C. “The drummer has appeared in duo and trip [sic] settings.”

Work with me. And when you do, adhere to the following guidelines:

1. Don’t name your tunes. I’ll name them. The first three tunes will be “Kick My Klezmer,” “Hymietown Races Here We Come” and “Romanian Shock #1.”

2. Don’t title your album. I will. The title will be either Intravenous Klezmer or 13 Jewish Hummingbirds, depending on my mood.

3. Use a pseudonym for one of the musicians in your band. This will make your recording more mysterious. Choose between M. Rogue Gemini, Danny Kay and Wayne “Der Nister” Carter.

4. To bulk up the bio note, you need to visit your sister — or somebody — in Brooklyn. We’ll make you a genuine New Yorker.

5. For the cover, we always use red. No silver, black or gray. We aren’t a car dealer.

Some of our clients have been somewhat satisfied with our results.

[fiction]

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January 3, 2023   No Comments

THE RAG TRADE

 
There are quite a few black Yiddishe Cup T-shirts out there. I made about 500 of them. I have a photo of Mount St. Helens, Wash., man in a Yiddishe Cup T-shirt. Maybe I played his wedding. I have a photo of a Missoula, Mont., man wearing a Yiddishe Cup T-shirt.

Newlyweds and bar mitzvah moms got the tees for free. Sometimes the bat mitzvah celebrant — the kid, herself — got the tee if I thought the girl was woman enough to handle the peer harassment.

I saw a hipster on Coventry Road, Cleveland Heights, in a Yiddishe Cup T-shirt. I asked him where he got the tee. He said at a thrift store for $1.

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December 28, 2022   3 Comments

SHUFFLE OFF TO BUFFALO

 
My wife, Alice, went on a road trip with Yiddishe Cup to Buffalo, New York. That was her first one. She had always refused road trips. Alice made two beginner’s mistakes. She talked too much. Talking wears you out. Also, she did not catnap.

We played the gig in Buffalo. The whole undertaking was 13 hours (7 hours driving there and back, and two hours of set up and tear down. Oh, and we played music. Alice did the dance-leading. Alice aged a year that day, she said. She said she had been “hit by a truck.”

Pace yourself, Alice. Take catnaps. Drink a lot of fluids.  Eat an apple.

Same subject, sort of:

I used to blame Taco Bell for post-gig illnesses. T-Bell was poisoning me. T-Bell was slipping me spoiled tacos.

My migraines were always on Tuesdays after out-of-town gig weekends. I’d return the rental van on Monday morning and dispute fender dings; then go to my real estate job to talk about burst water pipes and late rents.  When I’d come home on Monday evenings, my sleep cycle would be all off.

I haven’t done a run-out (one-day road trip, no overnight) in a few years. I don’t miss it.

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December 21, 2022   6 Comments

MEANINGFUL WORK

 
“Meaningful work” was a popular phrase when I graduated college in 1973. I first heard it from Lawrence Kasdan, the Big Chill director. (I didn’t know Kasdan. I read an interview with him.) I tried being a bricklayer. A “brickie.” I got a joiner, mortar and mason’s trowel. I knew another Jewish bricklayer, who talked up the profession. My father said, “You want to work with your hands?”

Just a thought, Dad. A passing thought.  I learned a bit about roofs, radiators and hot water tanks. Whenever my father had tools in his hand — which was rare — he was often loud and profane. I know a couple Jewish car mechanics and Jewish fix-it guys. It’s all about how you were raised. My dad gave me arithmetic workbooks in elementary school. For fun I plotted graphs. In high school I got fast on the abacus.

If you want a number, see me. Here are a couple: the rent on apt. 7 at 1407 Marlowe Avenue was $60 in 1965. In 2009 the rent was $470.  In 2022 it’s $670. [Rent is going up slightly faster than inflation in Cleveland (Lakewood). Sixty dollars in 1965 equals $568 in today’s dollars.]

I had an essay in City Journal last week. “Adventures in Tenant Vetting.” It’s amusing.

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December 14, 2022   1 Comment

CANADA IS BETTER THAN
THE UNITED STATES

 
My friend Jeff didn’t like Cleveland. He didn’t like tumult: the horns honking, boom boxes, loudmouths, leaf blowers, his parents pestering him. He just couldn’t take it.

I subscribed to Hockey Night in Canada on cable TV for Jeff, so he would babysit my kids for free. Every Saturday night. He liked Canada — really liked Canada. He filled out immigration papers, waited months for clearance, got a job, and moved to a small town in Ontario. He came home the next day. He said he didn’t like the job in Canada, but he liked the Canucks. “They don’t give you the finger,” he said.

Then he moved to Canada again.  This time to Nova Scotia. That worked. Change your place, change your luck.

I haven’t seen Jeff in 28 years. I miss his acerbic slant on life. For a social worker, he was a total misanthrope and blisteringly funny. “Life is With People” was not Jeff’s M.O. He liked to eat Mrs. Paul’s fish sticks alone. He criticized me for going to restaurants too often. He claimed I was on a fruitless existential search for exotic experiences – for foods my bubbe and mother never made. He claimed I would “eat flanken cooked directly off the seat cover of a crosstown bus.”

We listened to Bob and Ray records, played music, and made fun of other Jews. Jeff knew some Yiddish — more than me. His favorite expression was Gey mit dayn kup in drerd. (Go to hell. lit: go with your head in the ground).

I had to drive Jeff everywhere. Lazy guy, and he had a car. I would schlep him to the Near West Side to hillbilly bars so he could jam with bands. He would play “Two More Bottles of Wine “and “Jambalaya.” That was real; it wasn’t Jewish. His favorite records were Nashville Skyline and anything by Hank Williams. Jeff sang only once on the East Side, at a cancer fundraiser at Heinen’s supermarket. He played “Good Old Mountain Dew” by the soda pops and “Oh Canada” by Canada Dry.

Here’s an essay I had in the Cleveland Plain Dealer last week (Nov. 30). There’s a paywall at the Plain Dealer. Here’s the whole article . . .

WHO’S YOUR FAVORITE BAND?

by Bert Stratton

CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio — I occasionally run into young people who lament they didn’t live through the hippie era. They will even listen to my hitchhiking stories. Nobody else will. I tell these young people that the big question in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s was, “Who’s your favorite band?”

The more obscure the band, the better.

Some astute choices were The Stooges, the Flying Burrito Brothers, and Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen. More mainstream, but still acceptable, was Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention. Too mainstream: Bob Dylan, Jefferson Airplane and Joni Mitchell.

My favorite musician was Fred Neil, a Greenwich Village singer/songwriter. He wrote “Everybody’s Talkin’,” the theme song from the movie “Midnight Cowboy.” Harry Nilsson sang the movie track and made it popular.

Fred Neil was never popular. Good — for me. I sold my Fred Neil records a few years ago. Pete Gulyas, the owner of Blues Arrow Records in Collinwood, said my Neil recordings were worth more than all my Beatles and Dylan records combined. When Pete looked through my records, we found a receipt — $1.50 from Mole’s record store. Where was Mole’s? (It was on Coventry Road in Cleveland Heights.)

Comic-book writer Harvey Pekar used to rifle through my albums. Talk about a record snob – Pekar. The only album he ever wanted was my “Charlie Parker Memorial Album,” Vogue Records, England, 1956. I didn’t sell it to Harvey. I figured if Pekar wanted the record that badly, it must be worth something.

Pete the Record Guy looked through my albums three times, and I bid adieu to “Aretha Live at the Fillmore West,” Herbie Mann’s “Memphis Underground,” and The Paul Butterfield Blues Band” ….

Who’s your favorite band now — in 2022? Are you even allowed to have a favorite band? Yes, you are, and you are encouraged to.

Every year in early December, the music-streaming service Spotify spews out data to its 456 million users, itemizing each listener’s most-played tunes of the past year. This annual reckoning is called Spotify Wrapped. Many fans share their Spotify Wrapped profile online; it’s the equivalent of showing off one’s record collection, circa 1970. Your Spotify Wrapped is your cultural ID badge.

I expect my Spotify Wrapped 2022 will feature Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen and some newer acts, like Vulfpeck and the Fearless Flyers. (My son Jack is in Vulfpeck. He schools me on post-1975 music.) Songs older than 18 months represent 70% of the U.S. streaming music market, according to MRC Data, a music-analytics firm.

I rinse my dinner dishes to Joni Mitchell and often add Paul Butterfield for pot-scrubbing. Klezmer music is good for putting away leftovers. I’m not only Spotify Wrapped, I’m Saran wrapped.

I hitchhiked from Los Angeles to Chicago in 36 hours in 1973. That was a land-speed record for hitching, I think. The big hit on the radio then was, “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree.” I learned to drive a stick shift, jerkily. The car owner was a Marine from Camp Pendleton, California, on his way to visit his girlfriend in Chicago. At nearly every rest stop, the Marine threatened to trade me in for a more seasoned stick-shift driver. But we made it to Chicago. Tony Orlando and Dawn are not on my Spotify Wrapped.

Who’s on yours?

Bert Stratton lives in Cleveland Heights and is the leader of the band Yiddishe Cup. He writes the blog “Klezmer Guy: Real Music and Real Estate.”

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December 7, 2022   11 Comments

INSULT A BAND HERE

Several musicians in my band freaked out when a critic described Yiddishe Cup’s Klezmerized recording as “schizophrenic.” The reviewer said a ton of nice stuff about the recording and then noted we were schizophrenic because we attempted so many different styles.

“Schizophrenic” — the word — was all the band members could think about. Grow up. You need the skin of a rhino to be a performer. Everybody is a critic, and if you aren’t a critic, here are some tips to make you one:

The best way to knee-cap a jazz group: “They don’t swing.”

A blues band: “No soul.”

A klezmer band: “Dorks in vests.”

I have an essay in the Cleveland Plain Dealer today, “Who’s your favorite band?”

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November 30, 2022   1 Comment

BIKING IN DISCOUNT DRUG MART

I saw a bike inside Discount Drug Mart. It wasn’t for sale. It was blocking an aisle. A fully loaded bike – camping gear, front bag. I was trying to get blueberries but couldn’t easily navigate around the bike. A girl came up and said the bike was hers. I asked if Drug Mart let bikes in. She said yes. She was biking from Maine to California, she said.

She was Audra, 20, from Maine. She goes to Mount Holyoke and is studying film and environmental-something. She was biking out the southern route, Route 66.

She hadn’t heard of the song “Route 66.” I sent her a link to the Nat “King” Cole version. Also, I told her I had contributed to Adventure Cycling in Missoula, Mont., like forever. Like since it was Bikecentennial, 1976. I like maps — bike maps in particular.

Audra did the trip solo. (This all happened in August.) She said she’d send me a film of her trip. Cool. I haven’t gotten it yet, young lady!

All this went down next to the blueberries at Discount Drug Mart in Lakewood, Ohio.

I had an essay, “Rushing to the Gate is a Young Man’s Game,” in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, about airport travel. (No paywall.)

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November 23, 2022   4 Comments

DEATH WISH AT
THE NURSING HOME

I was sick of playing “Bay Mir Bistu Sheyn” and “Tumbalalaika” at the senior facility. Instead, I read neo-beatnik blog pieces. This was a death wish. A woman in the front row walked out. I suggested she stick around, but she wouldn’t. My keyboard player, Alan Douglass, told me to change the program. He said, “The Who went to their greatest hits whenever they faltered.”

Too late. Even my mother — long dead — would have disliked this show. My wife, Alice, was there; she  panned it, too.

I screwed up. I needed to get rid of the Ferlinghetti/Kerouac prosody shtick. Alice and I rehashed the gig at a Chinese restaurant afterward. I told her, “I feel like I just played Sowinski Playground.” (Sowinski is a Cleveland city park where rapes occurred regularly in the 1960s.)

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November 16, 2022   1 Comment

JEWISH MUSIC
AND JEWISH SPORTS

When I was growing up, “Jewish music” was like saying “Jewish cars.” It didn’t mean anything.

On second thought, “Jewish cars” did mean something. It meant “The Boat” — an Olds 98 owned by the father of a high school friend, Mark. The Boat had electric windows and was oceanic. Mark was richer than the rest of us, I think. His house had a doorbell that lit up.

“Jewish music” . . . I learned about that at the house of another high school friend, Shelly Gordon. His parents knew a lot about Israeli and Yiddish music. Shelly’s parents were Labor Zionists (Poale Zion). They seemed to know every classic Israeli tune and how to dance and sing it. The family attended a Yiddish camp, Farband, in Michigan. (Clarification, in high school I didn’t hang out much at Shelly’s house. When I was in my 30s, I went to his house a lot to learn about Jewish music.)

Shelly’s parents didn’t “know from sports.” That was strange because Shelly wound up a star athlete. He played tennis for Ohio State and eventually became a tennis pro in Israel. He never took a private tennis lesson but he gave a lot of  private lessons.

Shelly didn’t care about Jewish music. He cared about the Cleveland Browns, Ohio State Buckeyes and Cleveland Indians. In Israel he logged on at about 3 a.m. to catch Cleveland sports scores. He had a yarmulke that read “Cleveland Cavaliers.”

Shelly’s dad, Sanford, knew all the Israeli tunes and never played sports. In fact Mr. Gordon was so oblivious to sports he didn’t even sign Shelly up for Little League. Mr. Gordon was not an immigrant or DP either; he was a NASA scientist and full-blown Zionist. Baseball meant nothing to Israelis, so it meant nothing to Mr. Gordon. Shelly went to a Zionist camp, Habonim, in Michigan.

Shelly has been a tennis pro in Jerusalem for decades. He still doesn’t know much Jewish music. (Come on, he must!)

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November 9, 2022   1 Comment

BACK TALK

I tried to cancel the shot in my back. I’d already had a shot, and I wasn’t keen on getting a second poke. But I had this brutish pain in my right thigh. I couldn’t walk too far, or swim, or play tennis. I had a herniated disc. I used to categorize water joggers as wusses. No more.

At the PT place, I saw a young woman without the lower part of her leg. That shut me up for a few seconds.

Meanwhile, I biked to Chagrin Falls, and somebody posted that on Facebook and everybody thought everything was cool with me. (The only thing cool was the bike riding. That didn’t hurt my back.)

The pain felt like 100 red ants crawling on my thigh, or 1,000 cell phones vibrating. It wouldn’t go away.

I canceled the second shot. No, I postponed it. The doc, the first time around, had said there was a one in 10,000 chance I’d be paralyzed from a poke. I had to sign off on that. I dithered. I had a few tricks left: cognitive behavioral therapy, yoga, chiropractors, massage, acupuncture, four more PTs and another doc.

I’m not complaining, am I? Just reporting. I’m reminiscing. This all happened five years ago. I still think about back pain a lot. It gets your attention. I got the second shot and steadily improved.

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November 2, 2022   1 Comment

MORE ABOUT ME

 

I placed high in a couple math contests. Nationwide stuff. I’ve told you this before but it bears repeating. I got offers to attended workshops at U. of Chicago, MIT and other colleges. This was in high school. I went off to U. of Rochester one summer and got my gonads scraped by some smart kids there. After that, I became modest.

I saw the Stones, Beatles, Dylan. Everybody. Janis Joplin. James Cotton. For the record.

I went to Rochester for college. That was a long time ago. I’m not sure where Rochester is anymore.

My parents? My mom wanted a career in show biz. That wasn’t going to happen in Cleveland, but she did do some community theater. She wanted NYC. She got there on a couple vacations. My dad — you know about him from this blog. My brother? He doesn’t want any ink. Respect.

(fiction)

Here’s my essay in today’s Cleveland Plain Dealer. What will become of my wheat berry salad? Dave’s supermarket is taking over Zagara’s supermarket in Cleveland Heights.

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October 26, 2022   3 Comments

BUCKEYE BATTLE CRY

My father had one record album, an Ohio State marching band LP. No, that was my record. He bought it for me. My dad had no LPs. My dad had stock records. Toby bought his first stock, Seaboard Air Lines, when he was at Ohio State. Air lines meant train line back then. An air line was the shortest distance between two points – the way the crow flies.

My father didn’t mind I wound up at the U. of Michigan. He wasn’t a nutty Buckeye.

My band had a trumpet player who was a rabid Buckeyes fan. At one afternoon bar mitzvah party, I gave him time off during the gig to watch part of the OSU-Michigan game. The other musicians were nonplussed. They did not understand that the trumpeter had been in the OSU marching band and had attended every single Ohio State bowl game, including the Tostitos Bowl. My bandmates did not know my father had given me one album, The Ohio State University Marching Band featuring “Buckeye Battle Cry.”

My bandmates are still talking about the trumpeter’s “absence,” and it’s been years. Look, the football game was supposed to start at 3 p.m. but the TV honchos moved the start-time up to noon at the last minute. I doubt the trumpeter would have booked a gig if he had known it would conflict with the OSU-Michigan game.

One more thing . . . Simchat Torah (which just ended) sometimes gets hairy because of its occasional conflict with Indians/Guardians playoff games. I’ve got a nursing-home gig tonight and would have liked to play “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” but I don’t see the point now with the Guardians out of  it.

Go Bucks.

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October 19, 2022   4 Comments

RINGING HOME

I’m related to very few Strattons. So I got excited when I came across Jon Stratton, the author of Coming Out Jewish. I found him on the internet. Wow, another Stratton writing about Jewish matters.  Maybe I’m Jon, using a pseudonym.

Jon Stratton is a cultural studies professor in Perth, Australia. His mother was Jewish and his father Christian. Jon grew up in England, not knowing anything about Judaism or Yiddishkayt (Jewishness).

I ordered Jon’s book on Amazon. I found out Jon “came out Jewish” in multicultural academic circles, writing about, among other things, “ghetto-thinking” — Jewish anxiety. 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.

My mother, on the other hand, was from the Mississippi Delta and didn’t worry about anything. 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 OK with that.

In 1990, at the Cleveland airport, I waited for my mom to arrive on the “snowbird” flight from Florida. I was with my then 9-year-old son, Teddy, who I let run around the airport. But I warned him, “If you wander off too far, you’re going home on the Rapid.”

He wandered off and I left him. A half hour later a Cleveland policeman called me, and I had to go back to the airport — 20 miles one-way. The airport cop gave me a “sir, you are a douche bag” smirk when I entered the airport police office. The cop didn’t understand my son had practically memorized the Rapid Transit timetable and had ridden the complete Lee Road route.

I learned laissez-faire childrearing from my mother. There was nothing continental about her except her airlines. (Cleveland to West Palm Beach direct on Continental.)

If I ever go to Australia, I’ll look up Jon Stratton and maybe we can talk about our mothers.

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October 12, 2022   1 Comment

BIRTH PAINS

My daughter, Lucy, calls. She’s six months pregnant. This is January 2022. She says, “I don’t want to dump on you.” Then she does. She says the most recent ultrasound shows a spot on the baby’s heart. Lucy is on vacation in Mexico, and the midwife knew Lucy was on vacation, but the midwife nevertheless emailed Lucy, informing her to come in for her next ultrasound in six weeks instead of eight. That email dampened Lucy’s vacation mood. My mood (non-vacation) dampened, too. Lucy is in her late 30s. The docs are monitoring the heck out of her.

Me . . .  I had insane back pain in 2017 and got an MRI. The result: a herniated disc at L1-L2. OK, but then the doctor called me a day later and said I might have syringomyelia. What? That’s a cyst on your spinal cord that can mess with your nerves and brain. I scheduled a second MRI right away.

My insurance company called the morning of the second MRI and said the procedure would be $3900, and they weren’t sure they’d pay for it because I had just had an MRI. I said “full speed ahead.” If my brain was frying, I wanted to know now.

The second MRI came back “artifactual” — no sign of a brain problem. False positive. That’s my story, and I told Lucy. So many tests.

But I guess more tests are better than no tests.

[Cecil was born April 18. Doing well. He has a spot in my heart.]

I had a humorous op-ed in the Wall Street Journal yesterday about fasting on Yom Kippur. (No paywall.)

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October 6, 2022   3 Comments

MESSY CHICKEN

A friend, who had moved away, rented a room at a hotel by I-271, in suburban Cleveland, to sit shiva. He hung around that room for a couple days. Visitors knocked on the door, which was kept ajar. Ten Jews in a suite by I-271, chanting Hebrew prayers. Subversive. My friend left town after three days. It was no picnic, that hotel, except for a picnic I brought in: $204 worth of chicken Marsala and sides from a kosher caterer named Norman.

I knew Norman from klezmer gigs. Way back he had thrown dirty plates all over the kitchen floor at the Crawford Auto Museum. So many plates, my band couldn’t roll our musical gear and carts over the jumble. It was like a Greek party center at 4 a.m.

Then a wedding client asked me about Norman’s work, and I said, “I wouldn’t use him.” She told Norman. Thanks. Norman called me, bitching and moaning. He said his messy auto-museum gig had been his first off-premises catering job. I hadn’t known that. I told him I wouldn’t bad-rap him again. It wasn’t loshn hora (evil gossip), my trashing him. You’re obligated to tell the truth when asked for a business reference.

I spent $204 on Norman for hot food at an I-271 shiva. Everything is kosher now between Norman and me, I think.

(Norman is a pseudonym)

Next week’s post will go up on Thursday instead of Wednesday because of Yom Kippur.

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September 28, 2022   3 Comments

DON’T CALL ME “PISHER”

The phone number at AAA Window Shade Co. was something like 221-3700. The proprietor, Joe Villoni, started there at 13, and was 87 when he pulled down the last shade. Seventy-four years, same job, same location. He quit in 2003 because nobody was buying window shades anymore. Everybody was into $5 mini-blinds at Home Depot. My father kept Joe’s rent low because Joe never asked for anything. Joe had a large window shade-making machine, about the size of a car. That apparatus, and possibly the whole store, belonged in the Henry Ford Museum.

I always liked Joe and other old-guy tenants. I was just a baby, a pisher (pisser/youngster), to these guys. Another old tenant, Jim English, gave me a metal Phillies cigar box full of screws. I appreciated the cigar box more than the screws. I was in my 20s and collected anything older than myself.

Jeanne Saunders left me several novel manuscripts when she died. She had one lung, a great disposition, and a very tough life. She should have written more about her life and less about gladiators and cowboys.

Another old-timer, Mary Kubichar, produced a concert for Yiddishe Cup at the Beck Center for the Performing Arts in Lakewood, Ohio. That was the first — and last — major Yiddishe Cup concert on the West Side. (West Side means “not a lot of Jews.”) Mary was from western P.A. (Say P. A.) After retiring from Higbee’s department store, she volunteered at her church and the Beck Center. The Yiddishe Cup concert at the Beck Center was a neighborhood appreciation party for Mary. (She died the next year, 1996.) Even the publisher of the Cleveland Plain Dealer showed up. We played a couple Slovak pieces for Mary.

These days I’m older than most of my tenants. At least nobody can call me pisher.

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September 21, 2022   2 Comments

FIGHTING WORDS

I had these editors at Sun Newspapers, Stan and John. This was in the early 1980s. My beat was the city — Collinwood.

I just saw John — the head editor — at a wedding. He told my wife I got in a fistfight with Stan at the paper. Alice, on the way home from the wedding, said to me, “Why didn’t you tell me about that fight? You were hotheaded.”

I never got in a fistfight. Prove it! Maybe a little yelling but I never hit Stan.

Here’s how it went down in ’83:

Stan, marking up my copy, said, “How can you write like this?”

“Listen, schmuck,” I said. “I’m not writing like this. I’m leaving.”

“Don’t get so worked up.”

“You have no tact, Stan. No ability with human relations. My copy is easy to edit. You’re dictatorial. We don’t get paid enough to listen to this.”

“Your copy is the most difficult here,” Stan said. “No, I take that back. Bob’s copy is.”

I never hit Stan. By the way, I’m friends with Stan. The recent wedding — the one mentioned above — was Stan’s younger daughter’s. I talked copy editing at the wedding. I told John how a summer intern at a national publication had recently tried to change a line of mine from “I said” to “I replied.” (For example: “I like ketchup,” he replied. instead of “I like ketchup,” he said.)

“I let it stand, John,” I said. “I had other battles to fight. But then when the story came out, the ‘I replied’ practically ruined it for me.”

“Who says ‘I replied’?” John said.

“Nobody. Exactly. It’s ‘I said.’”

John and I agree on that, at least. Nice. But John still claims I got in a fight with Stan. Lately he has hinted he might downgrade the fight to “maybe it was some pushing.” I’d like a full retraction, John.

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September 14, 2022   2 Comments