Martin Amis said being in his father’s business (writing) was somewhat disreputable. Martin Amis said, “Being a hereditary novelist is a freaky thing, and people do find it a bit creepy.”
Here are some other hereditary artists and/or public figures: Ravi Coltrane, Ben Cheever, Katie Roiphe, Ben Stiller, Dweezil Zappa, George W. Bush, A.G. Sulzberger. All schmucks! Yes, that’s an extreme reaction, but I’m a bit envious.
A friend said to me about my family business: “I wish I had a business to pass on to my son.”
A family business which is real world (like carpet sales, real estate, or law) is nothing to get envious about, so don’t get envious. But show biz and politics, that’s a different mammal.
One exception to the above rules: If a father is a regional musician, and his son becomes a nationally known musician, that’s called roots and is very acceptable. Joe Lovano’s father was a sax player in Cleveland. Joel Grey’s father (Mickey Katz) was a clarinetist in Cleveland. Ken Peplowski’s father played in a polka band in Cleveland. That’s all very admirable.
April 26, 2017 4 Comments
Dr. Michael Roizen, the longevity guru, spoke at my temple men’s club. He said take 6-to-8 supplements a day. He said he hadn’t eaten ice cream since 1993. A good-natured heckler said, “And that’s when you stopped growing!” Roizen is about 5-5. Roizen gave the heckler a fist-bump, acknowledging the man’s comment was the best moment of the lecture.
Roizen says eat more turmeric, fish oil and vitamin D. And here are few more tips:
Meat portion . . . the size of two fists and a ping-pong ball.
Get a flu shot unless you’re allergic to “wool.”
Waffles for breakfast every day. But no maple syrup.
Avoid fad diets.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid apples from Washington State. Bad chemicals up there.
People over 70: exercise more. Run or walk 25,000 steps a day. You can break that up.
Fight for the little guy — anybody under 5-7.
Play the lottery. Bet daily — and a lot. You’ll feel better.
Say “yes” to wine and beer, but no more than four drinks a day, ladies, and no more than eight drinks a day, gents. And don’t knock Miller Lite and other “piss waters,” to quote Roizen.
Chocolate is good for you. We know that, but here’s the latest: eat a marshmallow before and after your chocolate intake. The mallow triggers many good enzymes.
The first two paragraphs are true. The rest isn’t.
April 19, 2017 3 Comments
Two nights, two swallows. They were coming in through the chimney. I hate that – birds in the house. My wife hates it worse.
Some people are good with birds in their house, but I run around with a towel and swing at the birds, and they dive-bomb at me.
Everything in the house started to go bad that night. The kitchen sink trap leaked, and there was a rug in Jack’s old bedroom that got stinky mildewy. Rain came in the window onto the rug. We had to put a big fan in there for days. And the washing machine broke; I overstuffed it and broke the motor.
But the worst was the birds.
April 12, 2017 4 Comments
Danny Kaye liked to hang around doctors and operating rooms. My parents admired Danny Kaye because he could dance, sing, and do impersonations — plus the medical stuff. My parents wanted me to be Danny Kaye — the medical part.
But I didn’t go to med school. I became a journalist. I once researched and wrote an article on open-heart surgery. I watched surgery for that article, and I tried surgery. The docs let me. It took two years for the patient to regain her health. Plus, I suffered significant financial losses. A lawyer called me a “kidnapper” as if I took the patient – call her Karen – into the operating room and held her against her wishes for eight hours. (The surgery was nine hours, actually.)
Afterward, I told Karen, “The good news is you’re alive, and I have your aortas – two of them – 90-percent clearer. The bad news is your other aortas are controversial. Also, any sudden outburst by you, and you might die.”
Karen screamed but she didn’t die. She sued me.
Danny Kaye featured Herman’s Hermits on the Danny Kaye Show in 1965 to get more baby-boomer viewers. The regular viewers preferred Imogene Coca and Jim Nabors. Danny Kaye was a terrific dancer, comedian, mimic, singer and medical enthusiast. My parents liked him more than me. I operated on Karen so I wouldn’t have to endure any more of my folks’ diatribes about my suspect career path. They said, “Son, you write for a suburban weekly. That’s not a living to support a family.” So I took up the knife. The cold rejection of my parents. Walk in my bloody booties for a second. I’m decent at surgery — maybe not Cleveland Clinic level — but I’m OK. I’m as good as Danny Kaye.
fiction. A version of this first appeared here 10/30/13.
April 5, 2017 4 Comments
When you have a dead body in the real estate biz, go in with the cops. The tip-off is the smell. One time a tenant died without heirs, and the tenant’s estate lawyer practically begged me to take a few months’ extra rent. It was free money. But that’s the exception. Usually there is no money involved. In fact there’s often a loss — hauling stuff away.
I once put an ad on Craigslist captioned “50-year lease available. Die here.” Craigslist spiked that one pronto. My point was the building had three residents who liked living there so much they had each clocked more than 50 years on site.
Reality: a third of tenants move out in a year, a third stay 2 years, and a third stay 3-to-8 years — and a minuscule fraction stay longer than that. Doesn’t matter what you do.
A version of this first appeared on this blog 6/25/09.
March 29, 2017 1 Comment
My wife says I like to pop cans. She says, “Guys like to pop cans.” I’ve been popping soda pop cans a lifetime, but I now mostly pop seltzer water. We have SodaStream, but I’ve also discovered L’Croix, and then Klarbrunn (at Costco). Alice says popping cans is not sustainable.
SodaStream is better-tasting — more carbonated — than canned seltzer.
I told my kids not to drink real pop. I said, “If you need to drink pop, drink diet pop.” But some of my kids refuse to drink diet pop. They think it has bad chemicals. We’re all chemicals. For years my wife preferred Diet Coke to Diet Pepsi and made stinks at restaurants about cola choices.
With canned seltzer, I drift toward lemon- and lime-flavored choices. At a gig I saw every L’Croix flavor, but I was too shy to pop eight, or so, cans to sample everything.
My parents didn’t have seltzer home-delivery.
Do kids like seltzer? I’d guess no.
March 22, 2017 1 Comment
Stewart, a tenant, skipped and went to Jamaica. I saw a picture of him on Facebook with a long beard, drinking Red Stripe, and sitting on the Jamaican beach. Was I going to file — spend $36 in small-claims costs — on a guy who was on a beach?
Before skipping, Stewart had written: “I’ll have my legal team on standby if you oppose my actions. I’ve already sent the contract to them, and it has been looked over and deemed inappropriate and audacious in demands. Have a great day. The keys have been left inside the premises.”
I wrote back: “Is your legal team going to move the furniture and clean the refrigerator too?”
No, his legal team wasn’t going to do that. Stewart left the apartment a mess. He worked (or had worked) for the Veterans Administration and was 36. Might be collectable. I called his parents but they didn’t answer.
Maybe I’ll sue him when he gets back. Maybe I won’t. Have a great day.
“Stewart” is a pseudonym.
March 15, 2017 3 Comments
The first time I ate Wonder Bread I was 14. I didn’t see TV until I was 14. I didn’t drink pop until I was 14. My mother had a bottle of 7-Up in our freezer, which was not a freezer, just a hole — a slat — below the floor in our “living room.”
[This space is snow.]
I grew up in Holy Cross, Alaska. The Jesuits had a mission there, and they sent me to Glenallen, Alaska, for high school — 460 miles away. I was out there nine months a year.
I joined the Navy at 17, went to Nam, and launched jets from aircraft carriers for three years. I liked the Navy; I had grown up on two things: moose and salmon. The Navy’s macaroni and cheese was something different.
My dad was a beaver trapper. There were 12 of us in one room. I’m not telling you this to impress you, I’m telling you because you seem interested (seeing as you’ve read this far).
I worked the pipeline as a surveyor and was really good at 40-degrees-below zero. I’m retired now and live in Anchorage. I miss some of the “attaboys” — compliments — from management and fellow tradesmen. My team could put up 100 vertical posts in a day and do it right.
I go fishing every morning during the season, particularly when the kings are running. I have plenty salmon and halibut in my freezer. You need any?
And I should mention my favorite klezmer band is Yiddishe Cup.
Yiddishe Cup plays for Purim 7:30 Sat. (March 11) at Park Synagogue, Pepper Pike, Ohio.
March 8, 2017 4 Comments
Yiddishe Cup did a month tour in June ’13. We had a touring bus, and a ton of guys, like a lighting guy, sound guy and tour manager. You know, the usual. We never had to set up anything. We had a masseuse. We had hot meals.
We had screaming fans. It wasn’t about Yiddishe Cup. We weren’t even “Yiddishe Cup.” We were “Cup,” which happened to be a very competent band of predominantly old Jews.
I jogged a lot to keep my sanity. The screaming teenage fans could drive you nuts. We sold 10 Yiddishe Cup CDs, total. Not our crowd, I’ll admit. But we were the “support” band, and we ably supported the star, who sold $30,000 in merch a night. (The star wants to remain anonymous.) The idea of a pop icon touring with a bunch of old Jews was novel, and it worked. But I wouldn’t do it again.
March 1, 2017 8 Comments
I’ve been blind for about three years. Put wax paper in front of your eyes and that’s me. I see shapes but not details. I see the clock face but not the hands.
A med-tech rubbed gel on my eyeballs, and sound waves bounced off my eyes. It was all vibrations.
I miss reading. I miss the lowercase g — so sexy.
I don’t look blind — no cane or shades — so I thought I’d tell you.
I had an essay, “Sue Me,” at City Journal last week. A tenant sued me. Not fiction.
February 22, 2017 No Comments
I used to give Kelly, a tenant, an eviction notice every month and file on him in court. Then he would always pay the day before the court hearing. He’d pay an extra $120 — to cover my filing costs.
I got tired of it. When his lease was up, I gave him a non-renewal.
I wasn’t sure he would move, so to protect myself I filed an eviction. He moved. But he left some pizza . . .
February 15, 2017 2 Comments
I think a lot about money. I never used to. Today I sketched a $100 bill. If I had a bag of real $100s, I’d be happy, but not completely happy. I need $1,000,000. I have expenses.
My rabbi talked about fire and ash — the fire was the animal sacrifice at the Temple, and the ash was the charred sacrificial remains. Conclusion: the fire is the fun part of life — such as music, art, and dining at Tommy’s. And the ash is the workaday stuff. For instance, you’re a doctor and you’re filling out forms instead of healing people, or you’re a teacher doing student assessments instead of teaching. There is a lot of ash-hauling in life, and I’m sick of it. I want to have fun. Have any extra $100s?
This is neither fiction nor non-fiction.
February 8, 2017 4 Comments
Oliver Sacks practically lived on sardines until he found a partner who liked to cook. Sacks said he ate sardines on the run. (For sardine eating, seating is optional. So is a plate.)
My wife, Alice, invented an odd sardine recipe, because she doesn’t like sardines. She pan-fries the sardines, then mixes in pickle relish, mayonnaise and a dab of soy sauce. She spreads this concoction on bread.
I buy sardines at Discount Drug Mart. A can of Chicken of the Sea, lightly smoked with bones, is 68 cents. Texture, size and nationality (of the sardine) vary.
Some sardine advice: don’t buy sardines in water. They’re tasteless. Also, don’t go with “skinless and boneless.” That is not a true sardine experience. You need the calcium, the crunch from the bones.
Here is some sardine lingo: “Good source of calcium . . . Source of omega-3 fatty acids . . . All natural wild caught . . . Sustainably harvested . . . MLHB Parasite Free — Rabbi Shneur Z. Revach.”
I don’t bulk-shop for sardines (like six-packs at Costco). Sardine shopping should be more spontaneous, like buying a Snickers or Hershey bar. (Confession: Alice went to Costco on Sunday and I asked her to get me a six-pack.)
Some respected brands: Ocean Prince, Prince Oscar, Roland, Season, Trader Joe’s.
The Season box reads: “After opening, refrigerate and store in a covered glass or plastic container and consume within 3 days.” No problem — for me. How about you? (Maybe you don’t like sardines. Get out of here!)
February 1, 2017 8 Comments
Don Friedman is Yiddishe Cup’s former drummer.
What’s the best part of retirement, Don?
Not schlepping my drums to gigs.
You were with Yiddishe Cup about 20 years. What was the worst part of being in a klezmer band?
What were some of your highlights with the band?
Playing outdoor gigs – you know, festivals. But I didn’t like the druggie stuff at the outdoor festivals. I think the kids call it mollys – ecstasy. And bearded mountain-men dudes — I don’t like them. They got ugly with us a couple times and called us anti-Semitic names, but we just ignored them.
The band clashed internally. A little or a lot?
Not that I’m aware of you. But I do want to say I was totally gutted every time Bert belittled my hometown, Erie, Pennsylvania, on the bandstand. I finally told him to shut up about it.
What kind of music moves you the most?
Klezmer, jazz. You know, I grew up with jazz. Saw Philly Jo Jones and Trane in the 1950s. I went off to Berklee for a while. It was just one building.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Drink more at gigs. I only had a beer per gig. It was all free. I should have had two per gig.
Who are your heroes?
Buddy Rich, Stan Levey, Teddy Charles — any Jewish jazz drummer.
This interview is fiction.
January 25, 2017 4 Comments
Blindfold test. I received no prior information. Ratings are on a 1-to-5 scale.
1. “Oy Avram” Yiddish Princess
This one reminds me of Daniel Kahn, the young Jew in Berlin. Maybe he’s not that young. Let’s call him late-30s. Middle age is a long slog. When does it start? What about 66 — is that still middle age? What’s old?
Sarah Mina Gordon, vocals; Michael Winograd, synths; Avi Fox-Rosen, guitar; Yoshie Fruchter, guitar; Ari Folman-Cohen, bass; Chris Berry drums.
2. “Blooz” Michael Winograd’s Infection
My philosophy: do something new every day. If I have Kashi Island Vanilla for breakfast today, I go with Kashi Autumn Wheat tomorrow. Joe’s O’s or Cheerios? Depends.
This is Wino, Michael Winograd, on clarinet. He constructs his tunes with great care. Give him a 5.
Michael Winograd, clarinet; Frank London, trumpet; Daniel Blackberg, trombone; Brandon Seabrook guitar; Michael McLaughlin, accordion; Jason Nazary, drums.
3. “Sher 199” Bessarabian Hop. Michael Winograd
Again with Winograd? He’s big-time. His clarinet is Canadian, that much I know.
Winograd plays with time and stretches out the composition. It’s a 5.
Winograd, clarinet; Joey Weisenberg, mandolin; Patrick Farrell, accordion; Pete Rushefsky, tsimbl; Daniel Blacksberg, trombone; Nick Cudahy, bass; Richie Barshay, drums.
4. “Epstein” Poykler’s Shloft Lied. Matt Temkin’s Yiddishe Jam Band
That’s Temkin. He wears his hat backwards and hangs out in Brooklyn. I know a backward hat-wearing drummer in Cleveland. My guy is Greek and does apartment cleanups after fires. Married to a Jewish girl. Plays some Jewish.
Frank London is on trumpet here. He’s on every klezmer record. Give it a 5.
Temkin, drums; Mike Cohen, reeds; Binyomin Ginzberg, keys; Brian Glassman, bass; Rachel Lemisch, trombone; Allen Watsky guitar: Frank London. trumpet.
5. “Baladi” Balada. Bulgarian Wedding Music. Yuri Yunakov
Heavy brass and breakneck tempos. These guys drink slivovitz by the gallon. I have one word for them: slow down. Give it a 5.
Yunakov, alto sax; Neshko Neshev, accordion; Lauren Brody, synth; Seido Salifoski, dumbek; Catherine Foster, clarinet; Carol Silverman, vocals.
6. “Shake Hands with your Uncle Max” The Jewish Songbook. Jason Alexander
Who is this? I’m seeing ghosts. I’m fainting. Give it a 3.
Alexander, vocals; Mike Garson, piano; Chuck Berghofer, bass; Don Heffington, drums; Marc Ellis, guitar.
7. “Mazl Tov Dances” You Should Be So Lucky! Maxwell Street Klezmer Band
The music is harmonically deep and soulful. Give it a 5. Thank you, KCB!
Ralph Wilder, clarinet; Alex Koffman, violin; Ivo Braun, trumpet; Sam Margolis, trombone; Gail Mangurten, piano; David Rothstein, bass; Steve Hawk, percussion.
8. “Meshugge ’bout my Myed’l” Klezmerfats! Peter Sokolow
Sokolow is a rhythmically complex animal. Not only can he play, he can he talk; he’ll drey you a kup for three straight hours at KlezKamp, and all good stuff. Read his interview with professor Phil Brown. That’s the best musician interview ever.
Pete combines earthiness, gravity and buoyancy. A 5.
Sokolow, piano, vocals.
9. “Ko Riboyn Olam” Stempenyu’s Dream. Steven Greenman.
This is Greenman, the LeBron of klezmer violin. Greenie sinks a 5-pointer.
Greenman, violin, vocals; Michael Alpert, violin, vocals; Pete Rushefsky, tsimbl; Mark Rubin, bass.
10. “Rumenye” Homesick Songs. Golem
It’s Ezekiel’s Wheels. This is so meaty. What’s for lunch? Give it a 6.
Annette Ezekiel, vocals, accordion; Aaron Diskin, vocals; Alicia Jo Rabins, violin; Curtis Hasselbring, trombone; Taylor Bergren-Chrisman, bass; Laura Cromwell, drums.
A version of this post first appeared here 6/26/13.
January 18, 2017 2 Comments
I walked on water, across Horseshoe Lake in Shaker Heights, the other day. You’re not supposed to walk on the lake, but around it. I walk on it every 25 years or so. Why not walk on water? What’s the worst that could happen? Drown? (The lake is only 4-feet deep. I know this because I saw it dredged about 20 years ago.) A former county engineer described the Shaker Lakes system as a “two-bit duck pond.”
I like a new outlook — like standing in the middle of a lake. On Sunday evening it was dark and 15 degrees; nearly everybody was inside. I saw about four cars while I was at the lake. I wish I had done a “Script Ohio” in the snow with my name “Bert.” Nick Mileti, the former owner of the Cavs, said he built the Coliseum in Richfield, Ohio, to “have some fun, make some dough, leave some footprints in the sand.”
Here are my footprints:
I’m not onboard for cremation and scattering my ashes, but if I were, I would have my ashes strewn over Horseshoe Lake, which I walk around every couple days. One big drawback: the dredging every 20 years, that’s kind of gross, ashes-wise.
Years ago – about 100 – there was boating on the lake. This now happens about every ten years, when Shaker Heights throws a family day. Horseshoe Lake is three-fourths in Shaker Heights and one-fourth in Cleveland Heights. I started on the Shaker side, in case you’re wondering.
January 11, 2017 5 Comments
Alice, my wife, told me to see a skin doctor. She said, “The sore on your nose isn’t healing.” So I went to the dermatologist.
The doc said, “I’m pretty sure this is cancer. Basel cell carcinoma. If it’s benign, we won’t call you back.”
Three weeks later and no call back. Good. It was benign. I said to Alice, “Maybe I should call the doctor. He said he was pretty sure it was cancerous.”
I called. The skin doctor’s receptionist put me on hold for five minutes. A nurse said, “We’re waiting for a fax.” What’s with a fax? The doctor got on the line: “I have to apologize. We are using a new lab, and they failed to send a report to us. I take the blame. I should have followed up. It’s basil cell carcinoma, just like I expected.” Skin cancer.
I hate that, when you dig hard for a bad diagnosis and get it. Suddenly your world revolves around medical appointments and follow-ups. I went to the specialist, a doctor who did Mohs surgery — deep-dish nose drilling.
What if I hadn’t called the dermatologist back? Maybe I wouldn’t have a nose. I don’t know.
The surgery featured recorded klezmer music. (Some other time for that story.)
January 4, 2017 5 Comments
There’s no money in the arts. My old clarinet teacher told me that. He used to eat salami sandwiches while I took lessons. That stunk. Mr. Golub. He bought a building across from his music store; named the building after his daughter, The Joyce Manor; and sold it years later. He said he regretted he didn’t move with his brother to D.C. and make an even bigger killing there in a real boom town.
Golub’s Music Center. He had a neon saxophone on the sign. That, alone, drew the customers. Inside, there were bongos and guitars.
Mr. Golub couldn’t play by ear. That mystified him. Mystifies me — playing by ear. But I can do it — somewhat.
I’m the klezmer guy. I go to shivas and tell the mourners that, and, yeah, they recognize me. They say, “Oh, you’re the klezmer guy.”
Everybody needs to be some kind of “guy” (or “gal”). I became the klezmer guy because I put together the longest-lasting Jewish band between Chicago and D.C. Yiddishe Cup.
No mega money in this but it keeps me from going nuts.
A version of this post first appeared 5/12/09. Klezmer Guy post numero-uno.
Yiddishe Cup is at Akron First Night 10-11:30 p.m. Sat. (Dec 31.)
December 28, 2016 2 Comments
Most everybody was into Steppenwolf. My freshman roommate liked the MC5 too. I convinced him to move out. I got a roommate who was into Jefferson Airplane. That was better, but not much. (By the way, fans said “Jefferson Airplane” or “The Airplane,” but never “The Jefferson Airplane.”)
Pure jazz — that was my thing. The blues, too, was OK. My last freshman roommate, Dave (not his real name), was an inner-city Chicago kid into nothing musically. Dave didn’t know a clarinet from an oboe. We got along fine. (I went through three roommates. Was it me?)
I visited Dave at his Chicago house decades later (1995); he lived in his childhood neighborhood, Wrigleyville. His teenage kid was jamming to jazz play-along records. Dave was a brakeman. He had begun the U. of Michigan as a pre-med, like everybody else, but had come out a railroad brakeman, like Neal Cassady. Sophomore year he had chalked “Take Drugs” and “Only Fools Stay in School” on the sidewalk outside the co-op house. Dave did drop out.
Dave, rolling a cigarette on his Chicago front stoop, said he was sweating his monthly urine test. His house, which he had bought in 1975 for $30,000, was worth more than a half mill. “I’m a capitalist,” he said. “I have two renters.” And he still subscribed to the Socialist Workers newspaper. His kid played “Watermelon Man” on tenor sax. Every high schooler starts on that, thanks to Jamey Aebersold’s jazz play-along series.
This scene was familiar, except for The Militant newspaper. (I had played along to Aebersold, too; my parents had subscribed to Newsweek.)
A version of this appeared post here 4/28/2010
December 21, 2016 13 Comments
1. Wear shorts to a wedding. You’ll draw attention away from the bride, to you, where it belongs.
3. Start a doo-wop band.
4. Invent a new colonoscopy flavor. (Pineapple, cherry, lemon-lime and orange are already taken.)
6. Trade diarrhea stories with a friend over a campfire.
7. Convert to Christianity (or Judaism). Why spend your life in only one religion? See what’s out there.
7. Spend at least $1,000 on watches.
8. Re-watch Napoleon Dynamite.
9. Spy on your neighbor to learn what kind of beer and Smucker’s, he or she consumes. If you see Sugar Free Apricot, call the police.
9. Buy insurance for fun one afternoon.
10. Hold a pen horizontally in your mouth and bite down until the ink cartridge explodes. This activates the same muscles that create a smile.
December 14, 2016 4 Comments