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.


 
 

ALL BUT EAGLE

Be prepared . . .

The lead singer in Yiddishe Cup, Irwin Weinberger, is A.B.E. (All But Eagle). He tried to get an Eagle Scout badge as an adult, but the national office wouldn’t give him the badge. I’ve seen Irwin swim. He can do it now, HQ!

Irwing Weinberger, 11, and father, Herman (with cig), 1966.

Irwin Weinberger, 11, and his father, Herman (with cig), 1966.

If the Scouts would give Irwin the badge, he would donate money to the Scouts. (My guess.)

Did Irwin ever get the Ner Tamid religious service medal? (Yes.)

The Boy Scouts religious service medals — like the Ner Tamid thing — were attractive because they were real medals. For the Episcopalians and other Christians, the medals looked like British flags, with lots of crosses. Very cool. The Ner Tamid medal was an eternal light. Not as cool, but cool.

Boys’ Life. I miss that mag. Then again I miss a lot of things, and Boys’ Life is way down the list.

Just above Bosco.bosco

I’ll miss Irwin. He’s moving to North Carolina. Fly like an eagle, brother.

Steven Greenman (violin, vocals) and Mark Freiman (trumpet, vocals) are joining Yiddishe Cup in January.

Irwin’s first Yiddishe Cup gig was a bar mitzvah luncheon at Suburban Temple, Beachwood, in 1990. His final Yiddishe Cup gig was last week at Wiggins Place, an assisted-living facility in Beachwood. Join Yiddishe Cup and see Beachwood!

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

December 8, 2021   4 Comments

SHE SAVED ME SOME MONEY

Ms. Gibson skipped. I phoned her because she left her apartment purple, black and yellow. She didn’t want to talk about that. She wanted to talk about why I hadn’t changed the toilet seat when she moved in, and why hadn’t I fixed the ceiling in her hallway, and why did the building manager tell her she could paint the walls purple, black and yellow if she couldn’t.

Ms. Gibson was never late on her rent. She was there two years. But she skipped and used weird paint colors. “Didn’t you get my final month’s rent?” she said. “I sent it with a note saying I was moving.”

I didn’t receive the check. It was the twentieth of the month. I went dumpster-diving in my wastebasket for the check. Maybe I misplaced it. I had a 30-gallon wastebasket. I wondered how many more times I would go dumpster-diving for liars. Ms. Gibson had seven months left on her lease. I threatened to take her to court.

She said, “Go ahead, I’m broke.”

“It’ll be on your public record,” I said. “If you try to buy a car or a house, the public record will be on your credit report. At least pay this month’s rent. You said you mailed it. I didn’t get it. Mail it again. Do the right thing.”

She said she would send a half month’s rent. (Better than nothing.)

“Make sure you send it. You know, you painted the kitchen cabinets black.”

“And those cabinets look better than when I moved in!”

The half month’s rent didn’t show up. I left Ms. Gibson a voice mail: “Pay the half month’s rent. Give it to the Pony Express, or the mailman, or hand-deliver it to me. If you don’t, I’m going to sue you. I don’t care if you are broke.”

I never did get the half month’s rent. The new tenant — post-Gibson — liked the black cabinets. He also liked Ms. Gibson’s yellow paint job in the kitchen. Ms. Gibson knew her colors. She saved me some money on re-painting. Ms. Gibson had some pluses.

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

December 1, 2021   No Comments

ONE COTTON-PICKIN’ YID

I get emails — which I ignore — from Hadassah magazine and The Forward. I’m a cotton farmer in Rolling Fork, Mississippi. Fourth generation. I have 9,000 acres. You don’t know what an acre is, so why am I telling you this?

I have 30 employees. Right now two guys are from South Africa. Harvest season just ended. The Africans have to leave the country by tomorrow, Thanksgiving. Several Hispanics. Blacks. Whites. I treat everybody fair. I also grow soybeans and harvest pecan trees. I have a cotton gin. Everybody uses my gin.

I’m on the board of Anshe Chesed Temple in Vicksburg. My great-grandfather came over from Germany in 1886. No, I don’t live right on the farm. And no, my acreage is not one big square.

I should mention Rolling Fork isn’t too far from Yazoo City, where Stratton’s mother grew up. Stratton says he wants to take me on a tour of the Northeast. I’d lecture and he’d play clarinet. No thanks.

Stratton was just here for a family wedding. He brought his clarinet. He spent a lot of time hanging around with the wedding band, trying to convince them to let him play the hora. Didn’t happen.

Every town in the Mississippi Delta, back in the day, had at least 10 Jewish families.

I’ll stop here. I don’t do interviews. If you want to know more, visit the Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience in New Orleans. It’s new and I’m in it.

[This post is based on a conversation I had with a farmer at a wedding in Little Rock this month. Eighty-seven percent true. And by the way, I did play some clarinet at the rehearsal dinner.]

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

November 24, 2021   3 Comments

KLEZMER DINNER PARTIES

Go to Corky & Lenny’s in Cleveland and listen to a klezmer history lecture by Bert Stratton, while eating. While Bert eats. We will celebrate the Cleveland klezmer sound.

March 10 “The Klezmer Dinner & Lecture.”

Bert will eat Don Hermann’s Pickles, challah from the Park Synagogue preschool, precision matzo balls from Cleveland Punch & Die Co., smokin’ salmon by Pot Sauce Williams, and for dessert, vintage Star of David lollipops, salvaged from the defunct Chocolate Emporium. Make reservations now for this fictional event.

And here are some future Klezmer Dinner Project events:

April 16 “Klezmer Goy.” Alan Douglass, a founding member of the Kleveland Klezmorim and Yiddishe Cup, talks about life as a klezmer goy. He’ll recite the bruchas over the wine and bread to show he knows some Hebrew.

June 30 “The Kid from Klezveland.” Greg Selker, founder of the Kleveland Klezmorim, speaks about the early days of Kleve Klez. He’ll show video footage from Booksellers, Pavilion Mall, Beachwood, Ohio, 1985. Booksellers was probably the first suburban-mall bookstore in America with a café.

July 9 “Back Pocket.” Jack Stratton, a funk and klezmer drummer, demonstrates the Jewish rhythm method. He gets down with the knish (a k a the Jewish pie, a k a the pocket).

Aug. 30 “The Happy Bagel.” Daniel Ducoff, Yiddishe Cup’s former dance leader, talks about happy times and how to make money being happy at bar mitzvah parties and weddings. Ducoff demonstrates his latest dance, the Happy Bagel.

Sept. 16 “The Crazy Wedding Mom.”. The late Barbara Shlensky, party-planner extraordinaire, talks about Momzilla. What if Mom jumps on the bandstand and screams, “Stop right now! The tent floor is caving!” And what if Mom’s “45-minute” cocktail hour runs two hours, and the overly lubed wedding guests break wine glasses and drip blood all over the dance floor? Also, has there ever been a $100,000 bar mitzvah party in Cleveland? Stay tuned.

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

November 17, 2021   4 Comments

HOMEBOY

I spent my entire childhood in the same house. Nothing moved. I certainly didn’t. I knew where everything was. In 1951 I think my dad told a builder something like “build me a house.” That simple. A three-bedroom colonial in South Euclid.

I bounced a basketball in the driveway at all hours. That really annoyed the old man next door who was ill. I blared clarinet. That was also annoying. Everything was new and grand. The car wasn’t new, but it was grand. A used Ford.

My mother had a second phone line installed in the kitchen for my parents’ door-to-door cosmetics company, Ovation of California. The phone was a Princess. It was sleek and rarely rang. That business went under. In the basement, my dad had a lab where he made foot powder. I could go on (like I did in a recent Wall Street Journal article about my dad). Here’s a new one on Toby: my dad wanted to collaborate with Case profs/scientists to make a toaster that would take the calories out of bread. No takers from Case.

My friends and neighbors never moved. John, across the street, died of alcoholism and mental illness in 1992. He lived in the same house his whole life — 41 years.

I think of going back there, to my old house. I drive near there. I decide against it. Best to go by bike and get the full flavor.

My dad worked for a key company, which almost transferred him. Here are the three “almost transferred” cities: Edison, New Jersey; Richmond, California; and Toronto.

I often meet people who moved so frequently as children they don’t have a hometown. That’s not me.

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

November 10, 2021   7 Comments

I DO SECURITY WORK

I’m still at it — security work. My office is on Mercantile Road in Beachwood. No sign. I’m in back of Pella Windows.

I tore down a Royal Castle hamburger joint and used the tiny crown tiles (like on the Ontario license plate) for an in-lay on my company’s lunchroom floor. I also put in a sliding board for dogs at my office. My place rates in the “Top 10 Best Places to Work in Cleveland.”

I specialize in rent collections. My tenants scream at my boys: “You can’t put my shit out on the street!” And my boys scream back: “You break law. You no pay rent. Now we break law!” My collectors are Albanian and Ukrainian.

I’m involved, in a good way, in the community, too. I hire interns from the Beachwood High wrestling team, like Sam Gross 112, Alec Jacober 130, Ryan Harris 125. These guys can squeeze through small openings.

“You Want to be a Jewish Cop?” — that’s my annual lecture at Beachwood High career day. I tell the kids, “Be a cop but don’t be a wussy cop. Don’t be like that cop at Heinen’s parking lot with the Harpo Marx Jewfro.”

I like klezmer. That’s why I’m featured here. My friend Stratton is the leader of Klezmer Cup. I know every yidl in Cleveland.

If you need something, call me. I’m in back of Pella Windows.

[fake profile]

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

November 3, 2021   2 Comments

STRATTON VS STRATTON

Stratton asked me, “How was it?”

“How was what? I survived — whatever it was,” I said.

“Good. What’s your field, chap?”

Real estate, music and writing.”

“I bet you like the music and writing best.”

“You got that right. I’m Bert Stratton. What’s your name?”

“Tom Stratton-Crooke.”

“We’re relatives!” I said.

“I could tell by the cut of your jib.”

“What’s your field?” I asked.

 “Steamships,” he said. “Hey, where did you go to school?”

“Michigan.”

“Ann Arbor?”

“Yes. What about you?”

“King’s Point, the Merchant Marine Academy. Then NYU. I was in Japan and Korea, and Iran, and then throughout the Middle East. The colonel liked my loquacious manner.”

“Hah.”

“I just got my third jab. Moderna. I’m 88. You never know.”

“You’re gonna need a fourth shot. You’re big.”

“Hah. You watch Downton Abbey?”

“Not in, like, five years.”

“I missed season one. I’m watching it now. My father served in the Grenadiers. He had the same medals as Lord Grantham.”

“You’re from England?”

“My father was. I was in Mary Poppins in high school in New Rochelle. Does that count?”

“That counts.”

“Do you want me to sing ‘Burlington Bertie from Bow?'”

“I never heard of it.”

“I’ll pull it up on my phone. Julie Andrews sings it. She’s marvelous.”

“Have you ever seen that clip of Julie Andrews singing Yiddish?”

“Can’t say that I have.”

——

Julie Andrews singing in Yiddish at the 50-second mark.

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

October 26, 2021   4 Comments

GROSS

This has been building up for a long time. I can’t take it. My dad goes to the bathroom 20 times a night, and he never closes the door, and he doesn’t aim for the side of the bowl, so I hear it.

My dad makes the worst sounds when he chews. He chews his gums and slides his tongue around and makes weird noises.

His toots . . . I’m not talking about quick ones, I’m talking about toots that toot for 20 seconds.

I’m not done. My mother is always on the phone talking about The Sisterhood or some other garbage. I hear every bit of those calls, and I don’t want to!

Oh Christ, have you ever smelled the upstairs hallway after my old man’s gotten out of the bathroom? His craps are worse than Bubbie’s ever were.

My brother takes an odorless crap. Oh, that doesn’t matter.

I think I’m ready for the funny farm. I can’t stand soap operas, Mom. Let me watch The Match Game at 4 pm, OK?

My skill: I’m a good belcher. I can belch “Gordon Finkelstein the Third” in one take.

Listen, there’s one Stratton in The World Book encyclopedia — Charles Stratton, who was a midget in the Barnum & Bailey Circus. Jesus H. Christ! I’m 4-foot, 8-1/4 inches. I can’t think of too many kids shorter than me. My doctor says I don’t need hormone shots. He says I’ll grow to around 5-5. Albie Pearson is taller than that!

This stinks. I pray every night. I want somebody to pray for me.

[fake profile]

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

October 20, 2021   3 Comments

FREAKED OUT MANY TIMES

Natalie was freaked out about black mold. She was freaked out about a radiator spewing. We fixed the problems, but then my building manager entered Natalie’s suite without 24 hours’ notice. That freaked out Natalie.

Freaked me out too. I don’t like getting sued. When I got Natalie’s certified letter, I figured she worked at a law office. Turns out she worked at an insurance office. Nevertheless, she knew how to quote the Ohio Revised Code.

We fixed all her problems. But then she deducted a half month’s rent from her next payment. I told her, “That’s not how it’s done, but I’ll let it go this month.” I even said she could move out.

She was ecstatic. “I can be out this weekend!”

She was too happy. That didn’t sit well with me. I said, “I changed my mind. I’ve put a lot of money into this apartment. For business reasons, I need you to honor the lease. Just call if anything bad happens again. Any leaks. Whatever.”

“You can be sure I’ll call and you can be sure something will happen.”

Nothing happened. No more freak outs. She stayed a year and got her security deposit back (minus $40 for a dirty refrigerator and stove. TMI).

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

October 13, 2021   1 Comment

GANGSTER STUFF

Charlie Broeckel was the Silver Fox. Or sometimes he was The Creep. He went by both names. He was a burglar and hitman in Collinwood. I’m not sure where Broeckel is now. Maybe he’s dead. Or maybe he’s in a safe house in Ada, Oklahoma. For a while he was “John Bradford,” federally protected, in the Pacific Northwest.

Broeckel and Phil Christopher — another Collinwood burglar — did a bank heist at Laguna Niguel, California, in 1972. It was supposedly the biggest bank burglary of all time, up till then. Charlie and Phil flew to California from Cleveland for the job. California didn’t have quality bank burglars back then, I guess.

I saw Broeckel and Christopher at trials in Cleveland. They periodically came in from their federal prison cells or witness protection program locations. One trial was for murder: Christopher and accomplices took a pimp, Arnie Prunella, out on a boat, shot him and drown him.

Collinwood was still ethnic in the 1980s, when I was a reporter there. There were four distinct neighborhoods in Collinwood: Slovenian (St. Mary’s parish), Italian (Holy Redeemer), black (west of the E. 152nd Street, a k a the DMZ) and Lithuanian (Our Lady of Perpetual Help). Broeckel was of indeterminate ethnicity. Maybe German. Maybe Slovenian. Christopher was Italian.

Broeckel and his fellow burglars stored nitroglycerin, used for blowing up safes, on a Lake Erie beach. In 1983 a Cleveland policeman operated a backhoe at the local beach, searching for old, very unstable nitro. Charlie was supposedly in bad health and wanted brownie points for helping the cops find old explosives.

The chief cop in the neighborhood — Captain Ed Kovacic — had a warm spot for skilled crooks. These thieves would drill out safes and jump burglar alarms. They weren’t entirely stupid, Kovacic said.

In 2006, Lyndhurst police chief Rick Porrello wrote Superthief, a book about Christopher. Then Tommy Reid, a Hollywood entrepreneur, made a documentary movie. The movie was mostly talking heads: old cops and old thieves sitting in living rooms, reminiscing about old days.

The documentary ran exclusively in theaters in Euclid and Lake County — where many former Collinwood residents had moved to. There were three people in the Lakeshore Cinema when I attended. One elderly man, with a walker, said on his way out, “Phil is a thief!” His wife said, “I like Phil!”

Christopher is 78. He did some talking recently on a podcast produced by WKC-TV. I didn’t listen. The subject of gangsters is like cowboys and Indians. Done. The Wall Street Journal did a piece about Mob finances yesterday. I didn’t read it.

A good book about gangsters is The Pope of Greenwich Village by Vincent Patrick. Check it out. And skip this blog post.

Yiddishe Cup plays a concert at the Geauga Theater, Chardon, Ohio, 7:30 pm Sat. Oct. 16. Buy tickets here.

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

October 6, 2021   5 Comments

LIBRARY INTERROGATION

I interviewed for a position on the library board. I knew two people who had been on the board and liked it. I wondered if the board would ask me what books I was reading. In 1967, at a college interview at Johns Hopkins, I talked about my Holocaust reading. That was a big hit. The Holocaust wasn’t even the “Holocaust” yet. (I was pre-med but didn’t apply to Hopkins. My parents said. “Go to a state school and get all A’s.”)

I recently read David Byrne’s How Music Works and Shit my Dad Says by Justin Halpern. I have also read 100 pages in Bernard Malamud’s A New Life. I’m thinking, “I’m reading Malamud” might be the ticket for the library-board interview.

When I interviewed, the board sat on a dais. I took the “witness stand” in the center of the room. Only three board members — out of the five — were there. One missing board member was a playwright; the other, a guy from my synagogue. My A-team was not there.

Question 1: How would you make the library better for students?

A. You mean those brats who play computer games and horse around in the teen room? I’ve never been in that room.

Question 2. Mr. Stratton, what do you do at the library besides take out books?

Not much! I was at the dedication of the Harvey Pekar statue, though.

Question 3: What would you do to help the library’s finances?

I’d vote for the levies.

Question 4: Are you willing to commit to a seven-year position?

Yes, but actuarially speaking, who knows.

Nobody asked the Malamud question. I didn’t get the offer. A black chemist beat me out. Top that. In a follow-up email, the library director thanked me for applying and encouraged me to apply again.

Maybe. But first I have to walk through the teen room and get a feel for young adults’ needs.

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

September 29, 2021   3 Comments

MY DAD WAS A NUMBERS GUY

This post is for everybody who read my Wall Street Journal article about my dad and wants more info on him. (The article, which was in Monday’s WSJ, is linked here.)

My father, Toby, got a letter from a Piney Woods Arkansas man, extolling my dad’s homemade foot powder: “Mr. Lesbert: Do NOT stop making the powdor! Do NOT stop!!” Toby used to make the foot powder in the basement. The company was Lesbert Drug Co., named after my sister, Leslie, and me. My dad stopped making the powder. The Arkansas man was about his only customer.

Then Toby started selling cosmetics. Then he starting buying buildings . . . on and on. He was the Jewish Willy Loman. (Kind of like how Dave Tarras — the klezmer clarinetist — was the Jewish Benny Goodman.)

My dad schlepped me to banks. I remember a banker who called my dad “Teddy.” That was weird. My father’s given name was Theodore and his Jewish nickname was Toby. This banker liked to talk Tribe (baseball) and his wife’s spaghetti recipes. The banker was a “people’s person,” he said. (Maybe he was a dogs’ person too.)

My father was not a people’s person. He was the Lone Ranger. He got the mortgage and we got out of there.

My dad owned one LP record, of the Ohio State marching band. My dad owned stock records. Toby bought his first stock, Seaboard Air Line, when he was at Ohio State. Air line meant train line back then. Air line was the shortest distance between two points — the way the crow flies. My dad never made money on stocks. He was too busy buying and selling and not holding. Toby was a stockbroker —  a “customer’s man” — for about six months in 1955 at Bache & Co.

He liked numbers. He was totally a numbers guy.

Confidential report (1958): “On the basis of an analysis of the personal history and psychological test results, we believe that Mr. Stratton has the experience and ability to successfully handle his present position [at Curtis Industries, a car-key manufacturer]. He has shown personality characteristics, however, which may cause him to be difficult to get along with and, therefore, a supervisory problem.”

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

September 20, 2021   4 Comments

BRUSH HIGH
GRADUATES PERMITTED

On Yom Kippur, a congregant approached me in shul and said I was cool. Why? “Because you went to Brush High,” he said.

What? Brush High was cool? Brush, in Lyndhurst, Ohio, was the one place you graduated from and never thought of again. It isn’t to be confused with Bronx Science, Cass Tech, Heights or Shaker.

I knew a few more Brush people at services. Off subject: Brush had outstanding science teachers — Frank Smith, biology; Ron Yarian, chemistry; Alfred Eich, physics.

There’s no Brush section in the shul on Yom Kippur. Maybe there’s a Heights section.

Maybe there’s no shul. My shul is totally on Zoom tomorrow, because of Covid. I’m totally Zoomed out. I’ll probably go to Solon Chabad. They have a big tent and let everybody in, including Brush grads.

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

September 15, 2021   2 Comments

ONE OF THE BEST MUSICIANS

The bridal couple requested Yiddishe Cup play “La Vie en Rose” for the first dance. I figured they wanted the Edith Piaf French version, but no, they wanted the Louis Armstrong English version.

Yiddishe Cup’s keyboard player and singer, Alan Douglass, does a terrific gravelly voiced Louis impersonation, and I played the trumpet part on clarinet. We didn’t have a trumpet player on the gig. I added embellishments, but I didn’t overdo it.

After the dance, Alan said to me, “You exceeded my expectations.”

Wow. Alan rarely compliments me. Alan is one of the best musicians in town, and he doesn’t dole out compliments lightly. Alan writes music parts from memory. He hears the music in his head and writes out all the horn parts, or whatever. He doesn’t need to be near an instrument to do it, either.

Alan plays keys, bass, guitar and drums. Cello, too. Plus he sings. He attended music school at Cleveland State. He was an original member of the Kleveland Klezmorim. He’s an original member of Yiddishe Cup, too. We started out in 1988.

Jack, my son the musician, says Alan is at L.A.-pro level. Jack should know. Alan “hears everything,” according to Joe Hunter, Cleveland’s preeminent jazz pianist.

Yiddishe Cup / Funk A Deli now has “La Vie en Rose” on its playlist. We’ll play the song at nursing home gigs and for a slow dance at our next wedding gig. I hope Alan will compliment me again.

“That exceeded my expectations.” Don’t parse that too closely.

alan douglass 2011

Alan Douglass, 2011

 

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

September 8, 2021   2 Comments

ROT OR BURN?

Would you prefer to be buried or cremated? To put it another way, rot or burn? The “rot or burn” expression comes from a Saul Bellow novel. In Humboldt’s Gift, the main character, Charlie Citrine, is always rambling on about death, and how death might feel the same as before you were born.

Also, along the same lines, check out Nabokov’s memoir Speak, Memory, which opens with “. . . Our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness. Although the two are identical twins, man, as a rule, views the prenatal abyss with more calm than the one he is heading for.”

I try to imagine my prenatal abyss. For instance, September 1949. (I was conceived in October 1949.) How does it feel not to exist? Bellow believed something comes after death, but he just said “something.” Be more specific, Saul!

I’ve going to rot. My wife would prefer to burn, but I’ve bought burial plots at Hillcrest cemetery. The plots come with cement coffin sealers. The vault sealers are pretty much mandatory at every cemetery I’ve ever been to. I’m not wild about coffin sealers. They don’t prevent the rot, but they slow it down. They aren’t sealed airtight because bodily gases would explode them. The vaults are mandatory to keep the cemetery grounds level. I’m all about being level. (I like levels — those tools with the bubbles.)

One personal request: if you have something interesting to say about September 1949, let me know. For instance, my friend Mark Schilling, who was born in August 1949, can probably give me the lowdown.

Take me home, to the place I belong . . .

Change of topic: L’shana tova!

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

September 1, 2021   8 Comments

REPORTING FOR DUTY

I traveled a lot in my twenties. I hitchhiked across America four times. I also went from Tijuana to Colombia by bus. I went everywhere. I wrote novels too, which went nowhere.

You can’t take a bus all the way to Colombia. The road doesn’t go through the Panama jungle. I flew from Costa Rica to San Andres island to Barranquilla, Colombia.

I came home eventualmente and at age 25 started working part-time for my dad, painting apartments and pointing bricks. That was the end of the road pretty much, but I continued writing. I wrote mostly about Cleveland. I was trying to be Don Robertson / Herbert Gold. By the way, Gold is still alive (97). I got a job as a beat reporter and wrote about cops and robbers, and even wrote a police-procedural novel about a Slovenian-American cop in Collinwood. The writing was a diversion. Working for the old man was no picnic.

I got married and had kids. That was a good move. Raising kids . . . I was so busy I didn’t have time to think or get down on myself. I reported for duty.

These days I don’t report for duty as much as I used to. I hope Menorah Park reopens  to “essential volunteers” soon, so I can toot my clarinet in the hallways there. But now, with the delta variant, that reopening is getting pushed back again. If I disappear tomorrow, my clarinet-playing might be the one thing the locals miss. My property management game counts too — don’t knock the bricks-and-mortar game. And don’t forget the writing game.

Stop saying “game.”

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

August 25, 2021   No Comments

SKUNKS ARE BAD PEOPLE

Skunks are bad people. I hired Critter Control to deal with some skunks at my house. The Critter Control tech liked my collection of Jewish-star necklaces (Purim bling) in my basement. He said he was Jewish.  He said, “I don’t know much about the ritual and all that, but my mother was Jewish.”

“If you say you’re Jewish, that’s good enough for me,” I said. And get rid of the skunks! He set a trap under the front stoop and sold me a can of Odor Assassin for $15. Three squirts of the spray masked the skunk smell in the basement.

When my bandmates came over for rehearsal, the basement smelled pretty good — lemon-lime fresh. But the skunks then decided to do a raid during rehearsal. I thought Yiddishe Cup would disband right then and there. I said to my bandmates, “Let me get out my Odor Assassin. It’ll only take five years off our lives.”

The band played on. The skunks are gone. I endorse Odor Assassin.

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

August 19, 2021   No Comments

SHOES — MY DAD’S

My father, Toby, had about 15 pairs of shoes when he died. I didn’t take any of his shoes, even though he and I wore the same size. He had a foot fungus, and my mother told me to pass.

My dad had wingtips, golf shoes and tennis shoes. I never saw him in sandals, work boots or hiking boots. White shoes, definitely.

I’m more sensible about shoes — a habit I picked up from my mom. I like SAS shoes, which my mother told me about. She needed solid shoes when she got Parkinson’s disease. “SAS” stands for San Antonio Shoes. But I’m too lazy to go to the specialty shoestore to replenish. So lately I’m rocking Rockports.

When my then-20-year-old daughter studied abroad in Barcelona, she said I couldn’t visit her if I wore tennis shoes or a fanny pack. My SAS shoes were an excellent substitute for tennis shoes in Europe. I never did figure out a good way around the “no fanny pack” rule.

My dad wore Purcells abroad. He didn’t let his children tell him what to wear.

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

August 4, 2021   4 Comments

PIVOTING

Klezmer is a clichéd term. I don’t use it. I don’t even play klezmer. My new album is No Name — no label, no religion too. I like to eat. My religion is pastrami. My next album is going to be Thank You for Your Kindnesses,  I’m Out of Here. When I told my wife I’m leaving Judaism, she said, “Que maravilla!” She studies Spanish online and wants to move to Latin America.

She’s thinking about Guatemala. I like guacamole so I’m OK with that. As for the klezmer scene down there, it’s shvach (weak). I ran into a couple Israelis in Guat in April, but they didn’t like my klez. (I always travel with a student-model clarinet.) The Israelis liked my “Bashana Haba’ah,” though.

I won’t busk on the streets of Guat. Wouldn’t be a good look: a rich gringo tourist asking for pesos — or whatever they call their money — from the locals. Could wind up in jail.

Also, internet reception isn’t too reliable down there. You may never hear from me again.

[fake profile]

I wrote some real essays this week . . .

  1. an article in USA Today about throwing stuff out. How I’m tired of reading articles that begin with “Millennials don’t want Grandma’s china.”
  2. a diaTribe in the Wall Street Journal about the Cleveland Indians changing their name to the Guardians. 
shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

July 28, 2021   No Comments

IS IT ROLLING, BOB?

When I audiotaped my parents at dinner in 1973, I told my dad I was doing cinema verite. Don’t knock it. Louis Armstrong did a lot of audiotaping. Decades later, I played my 1973 audiotape for my adult children. My son Ted said, “You’re weird, recording everything.”

In the tape, my parents asked me questions about my college roommates.

For instance, my mother said, “What is Billy from the dorm doing?” I stonewalled my mom. Nevertheless, the tape is somewhat interesting, even the silences. As Ed Sanders once said: “This is the age of investigation and every citizen must investigate.”

“I don’t want any dessert” — that kind of thing. That’s what’s on the tape. I hope my kids throw it out. Or I will. I definitely will. There’s a bad sax solo by me on the flip side.

My dad: “What the hell you got the tape recorder on for? There’s nothing going on.”

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

July 21, 2021   4 Comments