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. So maybe he’s really Klezmer Landlord.

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 is an occasional contributor to the New York Times, the Times of Israel, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and City Journal. He won two Hopwood Awards.



Mr. Cleveland, a tenant, said he had bedbugs and couldn’t sleep at night. The exterminator sprayed Mr. Cleveland’s apartment and set up insect monitors – sticky paper. In a few days, the exterminator had found one spider, a flea, a nymph, and no bedbugs.

I told Mr.Cleveland, but he was not placated. I said, “You want out of the lease? Because if you do, you can move.” (I didn’t want a complainer.) He said he wanted to stay. He said he had a used mattress and bed spring.

“What! “I said. “Don’t you read the papers or watch TV.”

He bought a new mattress and bed spring. And then saw a new bug on his insect monitor.

“Get over it,” I said. “You have a bug. So do I. So does everybody else, except maybe the ER at the Cleveland Clinic, which they scrub every hour.”

Get over it sounds condescending,” he said.

“Get over it! Do you want me to send the exterminator again — a third time — for a bug? You have a bug in your apartment. I have a bug in my house.”

“You are very condescending.”

“You don’t have bedbugs. You don’t have cockroaches. We’re crazy to be talking about this – a bug.”

“Can I move out?” he said.

“No, that deal is off. That was before I spent $205 on exterminators, with another $100 coming up.”


September 30, 2015   3 Comments


rust belt chic

I wasn’t in Rust Belt Chic –The Cleveland Anthology. Must have been an oversight. I’m Rust Belt chic. I’ve lived in Cleveland all my life. I use Rust-Oleum — a local brand — on my fire escapes. Granted, my Rust Belt pedigree is not total lunch bucket, like Pulitzer Prize columnist Connie Schultz, whose dad worked at the CEI plant in Ashtabula. And I’m not like the co-editor of Rust Belt Chic, Richey Piiparinen, whose dad was a “Cleveland cop who got run over on the way home from an Indians game.”

I once bumped into Richie and told him I liked the anthology. “But personally, I’m not into the Browns, booze, and broads thing,” I said.

He said, “That’s good — ‘Browns, booze and broads.’”


1) The Browns. I’ve been to about five Browns games. One was the championship game in 1964. So I’m good to go (to my grave).

1a) The Indians. I’ve been to, on average, a game a year. Believe it or not, I’ve seen three no-hitters: Stieb, Bosman and Siebert. I’m good to go, again.

2) Booze. I’ve had a couple Great Lakes Christmas Ales. No more than 10. But I’m 100 percent behind Great Lakes Brewing and heavy drinking.

3) Broads. I met a few at the Last Moving Picture Company in 1976 and they’re probably dead now — or near-dead — from too much beer.

David Giffels in his essay “The Lake Effect” wrote, “There was never any color in the 30 miles of sky between Akron and Cleveland. It was a masterpiece of monochrome.”

I see color in the sky here. I see blue right now. I’m too upbeat for Rust Belt Chic.

This post is a day early because of Yom Kippur (manana).

September 20, 2015   5 Comments


I’ve seen deluxe port-a-potties. One was at a wedding on Fairmount Boulevard, Hunting Valley, and the second was at a wedding on South Park Boulevard, Shaker Heights. At the Fairmount Boulevard wedding, the hired help outnumbered the guests 3-to-1. There were only 30 guests. The port-a-potty had a flush toilet, vanity sink, flowers in a bowl, a roll of paper towels, and extra toilet paper. And this was just for the help. The guests used the bathrooms in the house.

port a pottiesAt the South Park Boulevard wedding, the band shared the port-a-potties with the guests. We played the ceremony, cocktail hour, and a hora. Then a second band took over. We frequently get kicked out for another band, which is usually from New York, Nashville, New Orleans or Detroit. The further away the better, prestige-wise.

Dual flush: 1) Yiddishe Cup. 2) Yiddishe Cup + solid waste (of money) for second band.

September 16, 2015   4 Comments


lolly gagExploring Jewish Cleveland
1850 – 1950

Tuesday, September 20 • 9:30 – 3:30
$30 JCC Members; $40 Non-members
Registration deadline: September 15
Code: 6316
Meet by the Mandel JCC front entrance

lolly gag

I bailed from the tour halfway through (at Liberty Hill Baptist Church, formerly Euclid Avenue Temple). I was on the bus for four hours, and the tour had three more hours to go, according to the guide. I can do local Jewish history but not seven hours. I missed Kinsman and Glenville. I caught the Central neighborhood portion. James A. Garfield (not Jewish) and Mickey Katz graduated from Central High.

I’d like two half-day tours of Jewish Cleveland.

Here’s “Homeboy,” about growing up in Cleveland and never leaving. From City Journal. L’shana tova.

kid from cleveland

September 9, 2015   1 Comment


Speedy, a building manager, was always falling off ladders. It wasn’t that he was uncoordinated, it was he worked too fast. He could “turn” a vacant apartment in a day. I regularly got claims from workers comp, and I paid.

Eventually I had to fire Speedy because his relatives and friends were ripping me off: stealing hoses, lawnmowers and snow blowers. Speedy’s relatives were crooks. Also, he started hanging around with a prostitute who ripped me off. (She eventually got arrested. Story is here.) Speedy was loyal and worked like a fiend. He was 5-3 and often limped. He didn’t complain and never turned down a job.

Three years after I fired him, I still received letters from workers comp: “open wound of hand, right; OxyContin, $349.00; knee, right, active, 2000; right knee disallowed, 2003; eye allowed, 2005; right arm,2005, allowed; neck sprain allowed, 2003.”  Speedy’s forwarding address was a porn shop. He wrote me, “There is one thing you can never deny, I was the best manager you had. I don’t want a job as a manager. I just want to paint or do tile work. I had a major heart attack.”

I didn’t call him. Anything not nailed down: gone.


Speedy & two rooftops

September 2, 2015   2 Comments


Friedman from the bakers’ union didn’t look too good. Neither did Presser from the Teamsters. Shondor Birns, the numbers guy, was dead — blown up. My father — my thieving father — faced a 10-year sentence, which meant at least five years, which meant he would die in prison because he was so sickly. He had dreck stains on his pants, a severe shuffling gait, and a 250-pound man’s clogged heart.

Could I erase all this? I tried. I put Hello Kitty stickers on everything, but it didn’t work.

I was at my dad’s apartment, looking at a spider on the ceiling. My dad said, “Too many times I’ve let you down.” True, Dad.

He tried to kiss me on the forehead but missed because my head was looking at the spider.

The deputies escorted my father to the parking lot to ship him off. Next to the car, he bear-hugged me. With each squeeze, my ribs cracked slightly.

My dad died in prison. I can’t say that I missed him. My dad tried to learn Hebrew in jail. He never got past transliteration. He was good with numbers but not letters.

dad died in prison

Five percent of the above is stolen from the Poetry Project Newsletter (Dec 2014./Jan 2015).  The post is fiction.

Here’s Yiddishe Cup’s mash-up of Fiddler on the Roof and The Temptations:

Here’s Vulfpeck‘s newest song.–To

August 26, 2015   3 Comments


Bob Berkman lectured on the roll of the player piano roll in Jewish music. Berkman used to work at a player piano company in Buffalo, New York. The company made piano rolls until 2009. The last Jewish piano roll rolled out in 1980. It was “The Theme from Exodus” by Ferrante and Teicher. Berkman said there are about 800 Jewish piano-roll titles out there. He has 256.

Berkman’s mother was at the lecture, in Cleveland at a temple sisterhood. His mother lives in Cleveland. Bob had a power point and had rented a grand piano. He hooked up his Pianola player piano to the grand piano. I bet Bob took a financial bath on that presentation. (I know about sisterhood budgets.) I think he did the presentation just for his mom. Bob played everything from “The Shtiler Bulgar” to “Bay Mir Bistu Sheyn.” He asked where might do a presentation next. I wasn’t sure.

Niche of niches. Maybe branch out. No rolls . . .

piano roll  muffins


Bob Berkman

(Bob’s website is here. Book him!)


Yiddishe Cup plays the Medina (Ohio) International Fest 2:30 p.m. Saturday (Aug. 22). Free.

best band yiddishe cup

August 19, 2015   6 Comments


I know a fair amount about flower arranging, photo booths, video production, and music. I’m a party planner. I once built a 24-foot Barbie doll house from flowers, candy and Elmer’s glue.

Food-wise, I  stop by Rally’s and buy fries and burgers for my parties. The music — not the food — makes the event. My clients always leave saying: “The food sucked but the band was terrific.”

Yiddishe Cup. Try them. They’re the best.

party planner bert as

Burgers and Yiddishe Cup

Yiddishe Cup plays 7 p.m. tomorrow (Thurs. Aug. 13) on the John Carroll U. quad, University Heights, Ohio. Free. Indoors if raining. Free ice cream, too. No burgers.

jews with horns 2

This is relevant. How Yiddishe Cup started. (fiction)

August 12, 2015   1 Comment


I remember PSSC Physics. (Physical Science Study Committee.)

I remember Tarzana at the Roxy.

I remember “Java” by Al Hirt.

I remember Norm Cash. (I don’t know many names shorter than “Norm Cash.” There’s Joe Dart, the bassist in Vulfpeck, and Al Gray, the Cleveland philanthropist. How about Hy Fox? Who’s he?)

Joe Dart

Joe Dart

I remember the U.N. Flag Game.

I remember Special Hebrew.

I remember my Confirmation party at the Hospitality Inn in Willoughby. Why did my parents pick that place? Because it was close to where my dad worked and my parents got a deal on it.

I remember Hitler on German stamps.

I remember God — Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver.

Rabbi Abba Hillel SIlver

Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver

I remember William E. Miller.

william e miller

William E. Miller

I remember an Olds 98 with electric windows. (Belonged to a friend’s father.)

I remember the “collegiate” look: V-neck sweater — preferably cranberry — with Levi’s and penny loafers.

I remember Larry Zeidel, a Jew who played for the Cleveland Barons (hockey). Also, forward Art Stratton — not a Jew.

Larry Zeidel

Larry Zeidel

I remember my SAT scores, which I’m not going to tell. However, I will mention Steinman’s scores: 487 Verbal, 789 Math. He became a successful CPA who never read a book.

I remember my dorm floor was the “dope floor.”  (The other guys were the dopers.)

I remember “Rap-in Tonight, Lounge, SDS.” Also had rap-ins with Peanuts’ Charles Schulz (via telephone), Madalyn Murray the atheist (phone), Gen. Curtis LeMay (phone), and the Campus Crusade for Christ (in person).

I remember “Let’s split.” I’m splitting.

Click here for more “I Remember” (a rerun).


Steinman is a pseudonym.

Yiddishe Cup plays on the lawn at John Carroll University, University Heights, Ohio, 7 p.m. Thurs., Aug. 13. Free. And don’t forget, free ice cream. Indoors if raining.

Big Ten cone

Big Ten cone

August 5, 2015   7 Comments


I got a certified letter saying Yiddishe Cup’s checking account was terminated.

Shutting me down after 19 years? For what?

“Due to continuing regulatory requirements associated with the corresponding bank account, Huntington Bank is closing all checking and saving accounts in the name of YIDDISHE CUP KLEZMER BANK.”

How would my bandmates get paid? Should I move my checking account to PNC? I can’t go to a place that is initials. CVS is bad enough (for aspirin).

I went to the Huntington branch and talked to a senior banker, Dave. I thought he was the head cheese. Dave read my certified letter and sent me over to Sam, the real senior banker, who had a secluded office in the rear of the bank.

Sam was black. I said to him, “I got to tell you, I remember it like yesterday, I started this account and the banker was Ervin Mason, a black guy in his twenties, and he knew what klezmer was. He had heard of Don Byron. Do you know what klezmer is?”

“No,” Sam said.

“Erv knew! Let’s call him right now and see if he remembers me. Is he still at Huntington?” (Sam checked. Erv was gone.) “Back then,” I said, “Huntington misprinted my checks as Yiddishe Cup Klezmer Bank. I kept the Bank as a joke. So maybe that has something to do with this mix up. ”

check BEST2

Sam then called Jared, a commercial portfolio manager in Columbus. Jared said Yiddishe Cup was listed as a “financial institution.”  “That’s the problem,” Sam said. “We thought you were a bank. You’d have more money in your account if you were a real bank!”


“We got that squared,” Sam said.

I hope so.

July 29, 2015   4 Comments


I am not a slave to my possessions. I don’t collect. You can have anything I have. (Exception: my Sharpie retractable markers.) A Yiddishe Cup musician once told he looks forward to his next purchase. He’s so off-base!

Take my stemware, please.  Crystalware means nothing to me. (I’m hostile toward glass because my mother made me “dry” too often.) I accidentally broke a glass at a dinner party while cleaning up. My wife said I should pay the host $30 for the glass. No way!

stemware  broken glass

This card also is important to me (and you can’t have it):

maris baseball card 2

Maris 1958.

Anything else is yours.

One more thing, you can’t have my musical instruments. (And I reserve the right to revise this list.)

July 22, 2015   5 Comments


1964 . . .
Maybe I  should buy Canoe for Stone’s bar mitzvah. No, I think I’ll go with a proof set.

The guys outside the Coin Shop at Cedar Center are sharp dressers. Schwartz has a built-in watch in his ID bracelet. Levin is twitching — a nervous thing. Stern has a heart murmur. The Twitch says, “I wish Cotton was a monkey.” That’s from the Little Rascals. Schwartz asks if I’m going to Stone’s bar mitzvah.

Yes, I’m going, but I’m not dancing at the bar mitzvah!

bar mitzvah


Proof set? I don’t know. BU set? (Brilliant uncirculated.)

Mint set?

I don’t want to go.

 This is half-true fiction.

I wrote “At Harvey Pekar’s Pad” for the Cleveland Plain Dealer (7/12/15).

10 items or less

July 15, 2015   4 Comments


My dad had a cosmetics franchise similar to Mary Kay. It was Ovation of California. My mother went to Los Angeles to learn more about it, and when she returned, she dumped a box of cosmetics onto the dining room table. My sister got the cosmetics, and I got a shoehorn from the Beverly Hills Hilton Hotel.

My sister held up her diary. “Look what your darling son did to my diary while you were gone,” she said. I had cut the lock off her diary. Big deal.

diary kay

“I apologized,” I said.   (I was researching petting — as Ann Landers called making out. I was 13, my sister was 16. I thought she had some info.)

My mother said, “So you tore open your sister’s diary?”

“I’m sorry.” I bought my sister a new diary.

One more crime: my father put a bottle of Ovation cleansing cream in the bathroom and made me use it. I was supposed to rub the cleanser on my forehead with a cotton ball. “This is no gimmick,” he said. “Men use it.”  My dad tried to turn me into a metrosexual! The franchise went under in a year.

Yiddishe Cup plays 6:30 pm Sun. (July 12) in Granville, Ohio (near Columbus).  More info here.

band of 7

July 8, 2015   6 Comments


These are my Greatest Hits (letters) to tenants:

1. Dear Tenant, The building manager heard you yelling, “I’m a porno star and a sex machine,” out your window. 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 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.

July 1, 2015   5 Comments


My father wore a hearing aid from age 50-on. He went to a hearing expert, William Lippy in Warren, Ohio, for stapedectomy surgery, but the surgery didn’t help.

My dad missed nuances because of his poor hearing.  For instance, I would say, “Haney [a custodian] is burning some shit in the incinerator. The firemen told him not to.”

My dad would answer, “A lady is learning what?”

I repeated it slower. My dad would say, “Now you’re starting to tell me something!”

My father liked to give advice, maybe because he didn’t hear advice. He spoke very deliberately. He was like Sevareid. My dad’s main advice was “Look out for yourself, no one else will.” Bill, a tenant, ran a beauty parlor; my dad said to him, “I’m only looking out for myself, Bill.  You’re just giving me a two-percent CPI increase.”  (Bill was trying to low-ball a renewal figure on his beauty parlor lease.)

Bill said, “You don’t have to tell me about looking out for myself. I own a rental condo.” Store tenants frequently owned residential rental property on the side, like double houses or condos by the lake.

“There is nothing short of outright speculation that will equal real estate,” my dad  said.  “There are unmerciful and countless forces arrayed against us.”

Listen up.


The quote “There is nothing short of outright speculation that will equal real estate . . .” is out of context here; my dad didn’t say it to Bill. My dad wrote it in an unpublished manuscript.  More on that some other time.

I wrote a good article about my father for the latest Belt Mag.

Theodore "Toby" Stratton, age 50, 1967

Theodore “Toby” Stratton, age 50, 1967

Come to  Cain Park (Cleveland Heights) Sunday (June 28) at  7 p.m. for a free klezmer concert. Evans Amphitheater. No tix necessary. Yiddishe Cup plays the second half of the show. The first half is Steven Greenman and Lori Cahan-Simon. The 37th Annual Workmen’s Circle Yiddish Concert.

band of 7

June 24, 2015   1 Comment


Howard the laundry-machine guy said I had a yiddishe kup. Thanks.  Howard rented me coin-op washers and dryers.

Howard had never heard of Yiddishe Cup. What, a Cleveland Jew who has never heard of Yiddishe Cup?   “But I’ll see you guys soon!” Laundry guys will say anything.

laundry machine guyI once got a check from a coin-op company in Plainview, New York; their Cleveland rep told me, “We’re a local company.”  The Plainview company was owned by the Royal Bank of Scotland. Somebody in Scotland was pocketing quarters from my buildings’ laundry rooms.

Howard the laundry guy had bona fides: 1) He had gone to my high school. 2) “I got in a lot of fights with the Italians there.” 3) His father had been in Auschwitz. 4) “Jewish geography is my favorite subject.” All pluses.

I said, “I don’t trust you.”

“I don’t blame you,” he said.

I hope to trust him.


Continue if you’re interested in laundry contracts  . . . There was a classic screw-the-landlord lease (yes, there is such a thing) written by a Chicago law firm. (Always referred to as the “Chicago lease” by Cleveland landlords.)  In clause #5 of the lease, the coin-op company had the “right of first refusal,” which meant the company could match any new bid or supplier the landlord came up with. In other words, the old laundry company could remain the landlord’s supplier for life. It was like indentured servitude. The headline for the infamous clause #5 was not “right of first refusal,” which would have been OK, but the very misleading header “exclusive laundry equipment,” which made no sense.  And in very small type too.

Come to Cain Park (Cleveland Heights) 7 p.m. Sun., June 28, for a free klezmer concert in the Evans Amphitheater. No tix necessary.  It’s Yiddishe Cup plus Steven Greenman, Lori Cahan-Simon and Shawn Fink. And don’t forget Yiddishe Cup’s newest singer: Tamar Gray. Klez from Kleveland: The 37th Annual Workmen’s Circle Yiddish Concert in the Park.

never hoid em

I had an op-ed, “Don’t Go to Music School,” in the New York Times on Saturday (June 13). Check out the comments section.

June 17, 2015   3 Comments


Here’s a popular Vulfpeck video. Jack is the guitarist in the red-and-white striped shirt.

Here’s the Vulfpeck Website.

Here’s Vulf’s Facebook page (with concert dates).

The new Apple iPhone 6 commercial, with Vulfpeck’s tune “The Birdwatcher,” is here:

Nobody — and that includes the New York Times — covers the klezmer/landlord scene like this blog. Please subscribe.  (See right-hand column.)

Lastly, a father-son moment . . .

June 12, 2015   6 Comments


I sell nautical flags, banners, buntings and American flags. My busy season is Memorial Day through July 4. By the way, Flag Day is Sunday.

flagI fly the American flag every day. I have to trim the hem on the bunting edge every couple months because of the wind around here.

My dream is that Puerto Rico becomes the 51st state. Another state would be good for the flag business.

I have a quiz question for you: What are the five most-recent states? A lot of people, I bet, can name the four newest states, but few people know the fifth most-recent state.

For the answer, please see the comments section.

[btw, I don’t sell flags. This post is a fake profile.]

Yiddishe Cup plays the annual Workmen’s Circle Yiddish concert at Cain Park, Cleveland Hts, 7 p.m. Sunday, June 28. No tix necessary. Just show up. Evans Amphitheater. We’re doing a mash up of  The Temptations and Fiddler on the Roof.  Other acts that night are Steven Greenman and Lori Cahan-Simon.
YCKB logo from web page

June 10, 2015   3 Comments


I knew a Cleveland comedian who moved to Florida and did impressions of Joan Rivers and Carol Channing, and even affected a New York accent.  She did OK on the condo circuit.  She and Yiddishe Cup shared the same booker, Suntan Stu, in Florida. The first time Stu phoned me, he said, “Vos machst du, man?” (How’s it going, man?)

“Remind me, Stu, how did you hear about my band?”

“When a band is as good as Yiddishe Cup, the word gets around!”

I lost $900 because of Stu.  He “booked” us at a Florida showcase (a talent show for bands) that never happened. I paid airplane cancellation fees. Stu’s website said he had worked with America’s biggest stars: Dolly Parton, Johnny Mathis and the Bee Gees.

Why did I fall for Stu’s line?  (Probably because I thought Stu would get Yiddishe Cup a lot of gigs.) We got gornisht. “Vos machst du, man?”  Next time somebody says that to you, run.

suntan stu

Check out the Schmotown Revue tonight  (7-9 p.m Wed., June 3) at Gigi’s on Fairmount, Cleveland Heights. Outdoors if the weather is good; indoors if raining. Soul music and klezmer.

Alan Douglass (L), Bert Stratton and Tamar Gray

Alan Douglass (L), Bert Stratton and Tamar Gray

June 3, 2015   5 Comments


The book Dave Tarras: The King of Klezmer is 37 pages. Big pages: 8 ½” X 14″. Tarras played clarinet in the Catskills and brought his wife to the “mountains.” He owned a house in Brooklyn. He wore a suit a lot. He was very talented. Here are two representative sentences from the book: 1) “’I admired my grandfather and loved to spend some time in the mountains [with him],’ said Marc Tarras, grandson and doctor.”  2) “Dave was a very funny guy and had a great sense of humor.”

tarras bio book

Naftule Brandwein — another great klezmer clarinetist — drank heavily, hung around mobsters, and supposedly almost electrocuted himself with a lightbulb-festooned suit. I think a bio of Brandwein would be longer than 37 pages.

Check out the Schmotown Revue next Wednesday (7-9 p.m, June 3) at Gigi’s on Fairmount, Cleveland Heights. Outdoors if the weather is good; indoors if raining. Soul music and klezmer.

Alan Douglass (L), Bert Stratton and Tamar Gray

Alan Douglass (L), Bert Stratton and Tamar Gray

May 27, 2015   6 Comments