Real Music & Real Estate . . .

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

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

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

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

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


 
 

MY CRIMINAL RECORD

I was out of my skull when I broke into boxcars, unloading Cutty Sark, golf balls and tires. I used tin snips that cut right through corrugated steel. This was a while ago. Now I’m retired and just watch TV. I have an intense appetite for the Indians — or whatever they’re called — and sausage and hash browns.

I’m lonely now with Corona-time. I never got married. A mistake. There was this chick in the 1970s who loved me, but I wasn’t ready. Schmuck — me. I joined the Marines and was in for six months. Semper Fidelis was plain bullshit to me. Latin bullshit. I quit.

You ever notice how Italians swear so much? It’s very big with them. If you’re Italian, you’re better than everybody else. You can be the biggest, dumbest fuck on two feet, but if you’re Italian, you’re it. I have enough spaghetti and wine in my veins to be Italian. The goddamn hot peppers, I can eat a mason jar full. But I’m not Italian, not by a long shot.

My family disowned me after Marion. A Jewish boy in the joint — me. Not kosher. I did three years there, then two in Chillicothe. I haven’t talked to my relatives in, I bet, 30 years. When I got out the last time, I made a clean slate of things. I sold stained glass to restaurants. Completely legit. But I didn’t like it, so I went back to stealing. The hardest part was carrying the loot. I was that good.

My biggest mistake? Quitting high school. I thought I knew more than the teachers. Schmuck — me, again. I hung out with the delinquents who stole cars. An old fat Jew — we called him the Eggman — ran the show.

I don’t have a dime to my name. I blew it all on cards, broads and racehorses. After a while, I couldn’t deal with the thickheaded Italians at the racetrack, so I got out. But not before I was broke. I love wieners and Coke. Love that combo. My best heist was when I pinched three cases of sausage from Red Barn. I didn’t fence it. I ate it all! I’m in menopause now — male menopause. The docs talk about it on TV. I love my flat-screen. Almost perfect. Just me and my TV.

Here’s my record:

NAME: JOSEPH A. MOSKOWITZ
ALIAS/NICKNAME: JOEY MOSCOW
DOB: 12-11-1953
FACIAL ODDITIES: UNK
FACIAL HAIR: GOATEE
SPEECH: POLITE
COMPLEXION: MED
MISSING BODY PARTS: UNK
GENERAL APPEARANCE: UNKEMPT
TEETH: UNK
SCAR/BIRTHMARK/MOLE: UNK
TATTOO: UNK
WT: 325
HGT: 5-8
ADDRESS: UNK
CONVIC: AGGRAV BURGLARY, LARCENY, KIDNAPPING, CRIMINAL TOOLS, GRAND LARCENY

[fake profile]

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July 8, 2020   5 Comments

THOSE ANTI-SEMITS!

My clarinet teacher, Harry Golub, was nicknamed the Bald Eagle. Harry was hairless. Howard Zuckerman, a student, gave Mr. Golub the nickname. Mr. Golub taught out of a South Euclid storefront. His dad ran a kosher butcher shop next door. Harry Golub owned the building. One of his better moves.

Zuckerman, like many junior high clarinetists, dropped out of private lessons around bar mitzvah time. I hung in through eleventh grade. During my high school years, Mr. Golub asked me how the clarinet dropouts were doing. I gave him some updates — so-and-so got straight A’s, so-and-so was on the tennis team.

Mr. Golub was often cranky because, for one thing, he didn’t get along with the music department at the high school. They wouldn’t buy instruments and sheet music from him, he claimed. Mr. Golub said the high school was in cahoots with another music store, the one out in goy land — Lyndhurst.

I occasionally ran into Mr. Golub years later at Yiddishe Cup gigs, and he was still railing against the school system. He said, “Those mumzers! Those anti-semits!” He had a point. It was a city (yidn) versus country (gentile) thing. Those gentiles in Lyndhurst were probably taken aback by the several thousand post-War Jews who moved into their farmland, built bungalows, studied hard (my friends did), and ate smelly salami. Mr. Golub, himself, ate Hebrew National sandwiches (from his dad’s kosher meat market) while giving lessons.


Here’s a story I wrote for today’s Cleveland Plain Dealer: “Peaceful enjoyment of the premises.”

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July 1, 2020   6 Comments

I LIKE BIRDING, FRACKING
AND KLEZMER

I grew up with a pair of binos around my neck. I lived near a park and saw vireos, cardinals and hawks. I got good at ID-ing birds by songs and calls. These days I tell my bandmates to check out birds on our road trips. Funk a Deli’s guitarist is always spotting hawks.

Confession:

I’ve never been on a birding vacation. Nobody wants to go with me. My wife doesn’t like the idea of walking slowly and craning her neck.

Another confession:

I like fracking. I’ve spent a lot of time in southeast Ohio, mostly around Marietta. There’s good birding and fracking there. The Ohio Valley is a micro-tropical climate. I rent a Hefner-style bachelor condo in Marietta. The condo has a big-screen TV, huge white couch and a ton of wine. The place comes furnished. I’m not too far from the marsh in back of Kroger, where I go for all my birding and grocery needs. Here’s a photo of me at rig 383 in northern Washington County, Ohio:

gas rig bert 5_25_14 rig 383 washington county ohio

[fake profile / real photo]

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June 24, 2020   2 Comments

COME THE REVOLUTION

I told my dad I couldn’t do pre-med because of the Revolution. How could I do eight years, minimum, of science and medicine during a revolution? My dad did not think I was nuts. (This was 1969.) He believed a revolution was coming, too. He read the papers and Newsweek, and followed Cronkite.

In Ann Arbor, the extremely radical Jesse James Gang splintered from the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). The Jesse James Gang leaders were Diana Oughton, Bill Ayers and Jim Mellon. These gedolim wore work boots (J.C. Penney), wire rims, and were Hollywood handsome. These leaders were several years older than undergrads like me. These radical kids’ “maturity” made them seem a lot more worldly. Seven years older is a big deal when you’re 19. Wire rims, plus long hair, and you got some looks, at least outside of Ann Arbor. You could get “hassled.”

The leader of the U. of Michigan student government was Marty McLaughlin, who wore Oxford-cloth shirts and was handsome too, but high school-y.  (I should have been a fashion writer.) Meanwhile, the Jesse James Gang met in U. buildings and encouraged us to take it to the streets. Protestors threw rocks through store windows and carried NLF flags. An acquaintance, John Gettel, threw a rock through the Ann Arbor Bank. I was next to him. I was always “next to” somebody. I was Zelig, curious about revolution.  I was at Kent State the night before. I didn’t want a revolution — and still don’t — and I knew it wasn’t going to be televised, so I tried to be there.

A couple years after college I saw Gettel on a street corner in Cleveland, passing out leaflets for Lyndon LaRouche. Gettel and his girlfriend were in Cleveland on assignment, mingling with the working class. I was on my way to my job managing apartments. I honked, said hi, and got out of there, and went to my job with the working class, who by the way hated the hippies.

Donald “Ducks” Wirtanen, a Finn from the U.P. and a college acquaintance of mine, got his jaw broken in a fight outside Hill Auditorium. I don’t remember why. I went to Cobo Hall to protest George Wallace. The funny thing, George Wallace was a good speaker, other than he was a racist.

In 1968 the Michigan Daily endorsed Hubert Humphrey and was criticized by Morris R., another acquaintance, for not endorsing Eldridge Cleaver of the Peace and Freedom Party.

The revolution was over by the end of 1970. Diana Oughton got blown up in her bomb factory in Greenwich Village. All politics were personal . . . “But the Man Can’t Bust our Music!” (Columbia Records). Marketing schemes and inner peace. Co-opt me, baby. Ecology was the next big thing. Back to the land. I didn’t do very well in Organic Chemistry. I blame it on the Revolution.

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June 17, 2020   6 Comments

SMALL TOUGH JEWS

The small tough Jews at my high school were wrestlers, except for Reed Klein the gymnast. The school had no gymnastics team. Reed was a one-man team. He went on to the Ohio State gymnastics team. The other small tough Jews were Harry Kramer and Steve Gold. They wrestled in low weight classes, like 93 pounds and 103 pounds.

My wife dated a wrestler in high school. My younger son wrestled in middle school. Jack was small and, at most, semi-tough. The matches were primal — two or three minutes of animal behavior in a stinky windowless wrestling room. The matches were scary and scarring. And I was just watching.

I never wrestled, except in gym. I didn’t like singlets or other guys’ armpits. I didn’t like headlocks either, unless Bobo Brazil was giving one to Lord Layton and it was 1960.

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June 10, 2020   6 Comments

I’M SOCIALLY AWKWARD

I have a cottage by Lake Erie. Before coronavirus, I’d invite everybody over — friends from high school, musicians, my wife’s schoolteacher friends. People liked the lake.

Funny thing, in Cleveland few people live by the lake. For instance, Cleveland Heights is six miles from the lake. One guy came to my parties from Indiana. Jeff left Cleveland twenty years ago and returned just to see the lake. He liked to toke down on pot. Am I saying that right — “toke down on pot”? It’s been a while for me.

The water on the lake is rarely blue. It’s usually green. We drink beer until the lake turns blue. Then we play klezmer, “Louie Louie” and “Mustang Sally.” One guy, Dave, always wants to sing “Mustang Sally.” He’s in Thailand most of the time, thankfully. He goes over there for the girls, I think.

I wonder if anybody would show up at my parties if not for the beer and lake. I’m not a big draw. I’m taciturn to the extreme. I talk in a monotone like a depressive. Maybe they like my hot dogs. I get the best: Vienna. Also, I serve some veggie stuff. I wonder: What if I threw my next party in the Heights? Would anybody show up? I’m afraid to think about it.

[fake profile]

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June 3, 2020   3 Comments

A WHITER SHADE OF WHITE

Steve, an apartment painter, had more words for white than Jews have for fool. Steve talked about antique white, Navajo white, pearl white, bone white and white. [Fool in Yiddish: nar, shlemiel, shmendrik, shmegege, yold.]

“Oil or latex?” — that was the first question at Lakewood Paint and Wallpaper back in the day. Also: “Is Dutch Standard the same as Dutch Boy?” No, Dutch Standard was from Canton, Ohio. Dutch Boy is the nationally known subsidiary from Sherwin-Williams, Cleveland.

Bill, a paint salesman, made regular stops at Lakewood Paint. He told me to use an “alkyd” (oil). He cornered me and asked, “Are you a Yehudi?”

“Yes.”

“What are you doing over here?

“I’m working for my old man.”

“Four years of fun and games at college. Now look!” Bill said. “There are only two Yehudis at Dutch Standard. Me and another guy.”

Bill wandered the aisles of Cleveland paint stores in the 1970s. I traveled a similar circuit. Still do. The other day I paid a man for painting a stairway camel white, which is a Behr color from Home Depot. Lakewood Paint and Wallpaper is long gone.

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May 27, 2020   1 Comment

DON’T KOCK THE MONEY AWAY

The minute I landed at Palm Beach airport, my dad, Toby, hocked me about investments. On the drive from the airport to his condo, Toby would expound on the tremendous real estate growth in Florida. “This was a two-lane dirt road when we got here. Now it’s six lane.” Glades Road, Boca Raton, 1980s. With a bagel store on every other block.

We have Bagel Nosh in Cleveland too, Dad, and it’s crap! My parents watched the kids while my wife and I biked around the condo development, watching for golf cart X-ings. Toby said, “Whatever you do, don’t kock the money away.” Also, did I need a new car? And how about a bigger house? “You never ask for anything,” he said. My kids asked for stuff — swimming noodles. No problem. Every grandparent had a storage closet of noodles.

One grandpa — a friend of my dad — didn’t sleep well, so he did midnight bowling. The man owned a furniture store in Cleveland and worried a lot because his son was destroying the store, the man claimed. Another old-timer was Jackie Presser, who had a villa — a stand-alone house — unlike my folks’ pad which was an attached unit. Presser was the national president of the Teamsters and knew mobsters. In his later years, Presser moonlighted as a snitch for the FBI. His wife drove an antique car around the condo development.

My dad met Mel, a low-level municipal employee from the city of Sunrise, Florida. Mel needed a “few presents” for his inspectors. Mel inspected commercial properties for Sunrise, where my dad owned a small shopping-strip center. The shopping center was a just hobby for my dad’s — something to keep his brain cells firing between rounds of golf. Toby was always in let’s-make-a-deal mode.

Toby met Mel at Sambo’s, where Mel explained that presents meant $100 for each of his inspectors. Toby paid Mel — in a car, not in the restaurant. Mel said, “This is not for me. This is strictly for my inspectors.” Then Mel drove Toby to see vacant land. The city wanted a developer to put up a motel. The city would take a cut.

Toby sold his Sunrise strip center shortly after that. He didn’t cotton to the Florida heat, so to speak. He returned to golf with his high school buddies, and marveling at electric orange juice squeezers.

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May 20, 2020   2 Comments

THE BOXER

I used to box. I listened to Johansson-Patterson fights on the radio. I boxed at the Ukrainian Club, AAU and Junior Golden Gloves. My parents were all for it. Weird: everybody was into tennis and golf and bowling, and I boxed. My father encouraged boxing. In my dad’s day, Jewish fighters sometimes hit the top: Jackie Davis, Benny Leonard. Locally, Harry Levine was a good light heavyweight. Levine fought with his face out front. If he got hit, his head would shake like a bobblehead. He kept hitting though.

My last fight was in 1972. Very old school: the Italian versus the Jew. Johnny Montello had been a cook in ‘Nam. He was punchy and foggy-headed. Maybe he boxed too much in the Pacific. Johnny got into my face verbally, Ali-style, saying: “You’re always talking about Jewish shit.” Johnny pointed at the Star of David on my trunks.

I said, “You should know one thing about me, Montello. Being Jewish is who I am. Everything I do is a part of that.” I had just graduated college. I used to box in Waterman Gym at Michigan — with myself mostly. Existential stuff.

Everybody came to the Montello fight. My friends looked like Hair extras. Montello’s friends were like from Grease. Montello broke my nose and gave me a concussion, and I was done. I got a real job right after that.

I miss the ring. I play tennis now, and contrary to what Agassi says, tennis is not boxing. I still dream about boxing: Babe Triscaro, Jimmy Bivins, Tony Mulia, Herbie Becker. Unfortunately the Senior Olympics is not happening this year.

[fake profile]

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May 13, 2020   6 Comments

PORN AND LIT

Lakewood International News carried the Paris Review, Partisan Review, Kenyon Review and Bustin’ Out. About half the store was porn. The proprietor, Gil, was a part-time railroader. He manned the elevated counter, which was a lookout tower for nailing shoplifters and pervs. I went there.

When Gil lost his lease, I told him about a store I had for rent. A Plain Dealer reporter called me about all this. How’d he hear about it? Who knows. Possible PD headline: “Stratton, New Porn Czar.” The old Cleveland porn czar was Reuben Sturman. I got scared. I hand-delivered a media package to the Plain Dealer reporter. I did a Q&A with myself. I wrote: “I believe in the First Amendment and the bookstore would be an asset. It isn’t just porn. Ever heard of the Paris Review? I’ll rent to the magazine store.”

The deal didn’t happen. Lakewood News moved to a different location, about a mile south, then folded. I rented my vacant store to a bank, and I figured the bank would stay for 20 years. That’s what their lease said. But the bank bailed in a couple years. Banks were merging and consolidating like crazy in the 1980s.

I miss the bank. I miss the porn-and-lit store, too.


On Monday I had an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. “The Rent Collector’s Dilemma.”

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May 6, 2020   5 Comments

THIS IS HOLY GRAIL LEVEL

Holy grail level? Yes. You are about to see vintage footage of Mickey Katz playing klezmer clarinet on TV in 1973. (Details below.)

For newbies: Katz — besides playing terrific clarinet — wrote and sang comedic songs like “Duvid Crockett,” “How Much is that Herring in the Window?” and “16 Tons (of Hard Salami).” He was a huge success. OK, make that “a moderate success,” but big with yids in the 1950s and 1960s. Katz played on the Goodtime boat in Cleveland. He played at the gambling casinos in suburban Cleveland in the 1930s and at the Alpine Village — Herman Pirchner’s downtown club — during the World War II. Katz moved from Cleveland to Los Angeles after the war. Joel Grey is Mickey Katz’s son.

Katz melded klezmer music with Jewish comedy. He almost single-handedly popularized that shlub-genre. My band, Yiddishe Cup, is, in a way, a Mickey Katz tribute band. Mickey Katz is my Mickey Mantle.

The 3:27-minute video, below, is the totality of all Katz klezmer footage on the internet. There ain’t none else. It’s as if somebody suddenly came up with film of Naftule Brandwein. (Ah, forget it — unless you’re a klezmer musician.) Ladies and gentlemen, this is the missing link. This clip is a musical and cultural lodestone. It’s the visual link between pre-war klez and the klez revival of the late 20th century.

This vid was sequestered in my closet for 17 years. It escaped today!

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

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April 29, 2020   10 Comments

MEDICAL STORY — GOOD NEWS

I used to go to Haber the Dermatologist. He didn’t like small talk. He carried a mole-zapping heat gun. He sizzled me a couple times and collected his check. Then I switched docs because Haber wasn’t taking my insurance anymore.

I wound up with a doctor who was very, very cautious. She saw a cyst on my head, which she wanted to get rid of — my cyst, not my head. She scheduled me for a seven-stitch deep dig. Not a quicky zap job. This was a “procedure,” in hospital jargon, but “surgery” to me.

The surgeon  — a specialist — didn’t look too seasoned. I said, “How old are you?” She answered, “Old enough to be your doctor.” I liked that. She offered a discount package: three stitches, and she’d go back in for more only if warranted down the road. A deal.

It was a benign cyst. I didn’t need any more work.

How’s that for an upbeat medical story?

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April 22, 2020   5 Comments

NO VISITORS

My last band gig was a month ago, March 15 — four days after the NBA and Tom Hanks canceled the world. The wedding was a gathering of 68 guests (I counted ’em) at the William Penn Hotel in Pittsburgh. Government guidelines back then were “no more than 100 people, por favor.” That changed the next day to “no more than 10, please.” The groom’s father had late-stage pancreatic cancer, so there was a certain urgency to the event. The rabbi showed up on a video screen. He wasn’t there. He was sick. A lot of people weren’t there. I, as the emcee, made four PSAs to wash hands.

My next-to-last gig was Purim, March 12, at a nursing home. As I left the gig, the administrators were posting signs: No Visitors. The other day a social worker from a nursing home called and told me about two recent deaths. I said, “From coronavirus?”

“No, from loneliness,” she said.

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April 15, 2020   1 Comment

THIS UPCOMING REPRESSION

I’ll tell you one thing. I had this old car, couldn’t get it to do nothing. I pushed and pulled and beat on it. Then I throwed it over a cliff. I said, “Let’s throw over a car.” Me and my boys done it. My old lady was against it. She thought she was better than me.

She was something else. The biggest woman for churchgoing you ever seen, and full of crap. She wouldn’t eat things like, hey, meat. She was skinnier than a stick. Totally emancipated. And ornery. And when that heifer got a few bucks from her rich daddy, watch out. I didn’t dig her. She came at me with a mouth full of beer. Got all over me, the floor, and walls. She got claws. They all do.

There’s a lot of good-looking heads out there just waiting to nail you to the cross, I’ll tell you. She made me sick, just thinking of her. I got ferocious of the liver, and that’s a bad situation. Nobody comes between me and my beer. That broad tried.

It’s all in the numbers. I ain’t asking for much, just a little. This upcoming repression is going to be so bad it’ll shake your teeth loose. I want to be reborn the poodle of a rich lady.

[fake profile]

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April 8, 2020   6 Comments

INVESTMENT TIPS

In the early 2000s most everybody in the real estate biz was not hitting the long ball. But what was better? My late father, who was a stock broker for about six months in the 1950s, taught me the stock market was legalized gambling. John Bogle, former chairman of the Vanguard Group, said, “The investor in America sits at the bottom of the food chain.” You have to be lucky twice with stocks: when you buy and when you sell. In March 2009 the New York Times business-page headline was “Are We There Yet?” There meant the stock market’s bottom.

In March 2009 the price/earnings ratio was at its lowest in more than 20 years: 13. (Shiller trailing 10-year figure.) The worldwide P/E was even lower, down to 10. It was a good time to invest, but scary.

***

My Uncle Lou and Uncle Al drove a truck, delivering wholesale items to stores. They sold me a carton of baseball cards — 24 packs — at a deep discount. I immediately ripped open all the packs. I was 9. This investment was my first speculation. I got a lot of Humberto Robinsons (a nobody, an Indians relief pitcher) and no Mickey Mantles. Maybe my uncles were teaching me dollar-cost averaging: better to buy a pack a week (dollar-cost averaging) than go all in.

Am I ready to jump into the stock market again? No, I’m not scared enough yet.

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April 1, 2020   2 Comments

KVELLIN’ IN THE YEARS

Joseph Fagen — the father of Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen — used to approach strangers and say, “Would you, by chance, be a Steely Dan fan?” I do that, too, except I ask about Vulfpeck. I query Uber drivers and baristas if they’ve heard of Vulfpeck. Every time I do that, I have to spell out Vulfpeck. I wish Vulfpeck was Hello There. Every fifth barista has heard of Vulfpeck. Uber, longer odds.

At Vulfpeck’s recent Madison Square Garden concert, I spoke Spanish with a Puerto Rican guard at the artists’ entrance and got in through the back door of the Garden. The first performer I ran into back stage was Dave Koz, the smooth-jazz saxophonist. He gave me a “mazel tov.” He said “mazel tov.” Koz told me he remembered how meaningful it was when his parents came to his first mega gig and “they’re dead now.” Right. Show up.

I was backstage looking for backstage passes — about 50 passes. I had relatives coming from all over the country for the show. I was throwing a bar mitzvah party with a really good band.

Here’s the Fagen quote from the Cleveland Jewish News (Feb. 28, 2001). [“Bringing up Steely Dan” by Susan Rezpka]:

“Would you, by chance, be a Steely Dan fan?” Beachwood resident Joseph “Jerry” Fagen inquires wryly. It’s an unlikely question coming from an 80-year-old, but Fagen’s ‘favorite conversation starter’ affords the opening he needs to do what any parent would do in his shoes: kvell a little.

Vulfpeck. That’s V, U, L, F . . .

————

Madison Square Garden video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rv4wf7bzfFE

 

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March 25, 2020   2 Comments

YOU’RE DISGUSTING

There’s a lot I don’t like about you. For one thing, you are rude, like you fist-bump everybody — even before coronavirus — and way too hard. Also, you insist on driving a red car so everybody will notice you. You eat too fast. You’re done before anybody else starts. Disgusting. That word has your name on it. Nothing transformative is going to happen you. Another thing, you’re too macho. Try an ounce of femininity. Watch half a whole football game instead of a whole game. What are you doing for sports during this shut-down?

You know who you are. I probably shouldn’t post this.

A remedy for you, right here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hvQvkpD2idc&feature=youtu.be

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March 18, 2020   8 Comments

UNCLE BERT IN CONNECTICUT

I’ve been to two weddings in Middletown, Connecticut. How many have you been to? People told me to fly to Providence, Hartford, White Plains, Whatever. Middletown is hard to get to from Cleveland. Drive 10 hours? Not my thing.

One time I flew to LaGuardia and rented a car. Getting a rental from LaGuardia is a supreme hassle, with all the construction, and then driving up the interstate through Connecticut is no picnic either, because drivers on the East Coast either speed or crawl. And one time I took a train to New Haven from Manhattan, and then an Uber to Middletown. Also, rough, at least for a Midwestern guy.

The first wedding in Middletown was a cousin’s daughter. It was in a barn — a catering-hall barn with chandeliers and wooden decks. My second Middletown wedding was also in a barn — a different one. Simply, The Barns. Middletown must be wedding-barn central. (The second wedding was for the son of a childhood friend of mine.) I knew very few people at the second wedding. I met a guy who was a reporter, who hung out with me. He said, “Why didn’t you leave Cleveland?” Why did I stay in my hometown? Never leave? Good question. He followed with: “Why are you at this wedding?”

I said, “Because there are a lot of guys my age who aren’t here.” That’s why. I’m not dead. I wanted to show up.

After my friend’s kid’s wedding, a guest drove me back to the hotel, but the guest was so worried about driving at night, I offered to drive her car. She said her insurance wouldn’t cover me driving. On that 10-minute drive to the hotel, she slammed on her brakes several times and couldn’t read the road signs clearly. I saw the sign for “Portland” about 50 feet before she did. She then offered to drive me to LaGuardia the next day, but I opted for an Uber, which was expensive (about 1 1/2 hours).

My cousin doesn’t live in Middletown, and neither does my high school friend. I wonder if I have more Middletown barn weddings in me.

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March 11, 2020   4 Comments

TAXI DRIVER

The taxicab supervisor, smoking a stogie, asked me, “Where’s Charity Hospital?”

“I don’t know,” I said.

“Where’s the Federal Building?”

“Ninth Street.”

“The Pick-Carter Hotel?”

“I don’t know.”

“The Hollenden House?”

“Downtown — St. Clair.”

“People want to know where their hotel is,” he said. He hired me. He worked for Universal Cab, a division of Yellow Cab. I drove welfare recipients with vouchers to hospitals, and workers to Republic Steel Works #4. I didn’t drive rich people; I thought I was going to drive rich people but it was mostly poor people. I picked up one rich guy, downtown. He said, “Severance Hall.”

I asked, “Are you Claudio Abbado?”

“How do you know!” he said. I told him I’d seen his photo in the Plain Dealer that morning. Afterward, I told a friend John I had driven “a conductor from Italy.”

“So why did he come here?” my friend said. John’s favorite expression was “Cleveland is the armpit of the nation.” (This was in 1970.)

My taxi-driving job went downhill after Abbado. A cabbie told me to carry a bat. He said, “A bat isn’t a concealed weapon. It’s legal.” One time I thought I was being followed by robbers. I got boxed in around St. Luke’s Hospital and escaped by going in reverse. Maybe I was imagining it. I was skittish. To understand, you have to have been around in 1970.

My cab stalled at Fairmount Circle. The engine smoked. I left the cab and hitchhiked back to the Noble Road garage. The supervisor said, “You mean you left your cab, son?”

“I knew I could get back here.”

“You mean you left your cab unattended?”

“Yes.”

Dead end.

taxi driver 2

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February 26, 2020   4 Comments

I MOVED TO L.A.

I moved to L.A. 25 years ago today: February 19, 1995. I still don’t take the weather for granted. Everyday I wake up and say thank you, even if it’s only 50 degrees. I live near a gelato store, smoothie shop and three vegan restaurants. I can order a tofu bratwurst at 2 a.m.

Everyone here is in the industry. I live across the street from the “Shameless” guys. I’m not sure what that is. A TV show? A band? I started off by writing celebrity profiles for Us and People. I wrote for Wings. I wrote for Cheers. I wrote for Seinfeld. After Seinfeld shoots, we would hang at Jerry’s Famous Deli in Studio City. Jerry — Seinfeld, that is — once told me he liked working in L.A. because, since we had such long hours, he didn’t feel he was missing much, like he would have in New York.

I bought my house here in 2002. My sister from Cleveland is visiting me right now. She can’t believe my sitch — my weather, my cuisine, and my net worth. My bungalow, which would go for $100,000 in Cleveland, is worth a million.

My first couple years here I could barely make the rent nut, but I hustled. I never turned down a gig. Now I let the other guys hustle. Last week I invested $100,000 in a gangster love story. Rob, a friend — also from Cleveland — directed and wrote it. Hopefully, we’ll get it into Sundance. Then there’s Toronto. Even if the movie goes nowhere, so what. I didn’t refinance my house for this. The movie was shot in Cleveland. Rob gets great press back home: “hometown boy makes it in Hollywood.” Right now Rob needs about 30,000 Clevelanders to “like” his movie trailer. (Please search “Bloody Vista Boulevard” on Facebook and click “like.”)

Is it snowing in Cleve today?

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February 19, 2020   3 Comments