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.


 
 

ROCKIN’ RABBI

Michael Hecht, the rabbi at long-gone Congregation Beth Am in Cleveland Heights, liked music and often talked to me about klezmer. He also liked opera and classical music. He hated rock. It was too loud. He told Yiddishe Cup to turn its volume down, for the second time, at a Chanukah party; our sound guy said, “I can’t turn it down. Our sound system is completely off.”

Hecht, born in Germany in 1936, started Johns Hopkins at age 16. He wrote articles for Good Housekeeping, Conservative Judaism, the Cleveland Jewish News and Women’s League Outlook. That Women’s League Outlook, I can live without. I was at Rabbi Hecht’s funeral in January. The service lasted more than an hour. Many eulogizers hammered on Rabbi Hecht’s love of music.

Rabbi Hecht used to go to the Cleveland Heights Library to take out classical CDs to duplicate. According to one eulogizer, Rabbi Hecht liked the Beatles. OK. “In his [Hecht’s] collection he also had some Led Zeppelin and even Metallica.”

This man into Metallica  . . .

michael hecht

Rabbi Michael Hecht, 1936-2017

Rabbi Hecht had three children. They must have brought the rock records home.

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June 21, 2017   2 Comments

STRATTON VS SOLTZBERG

My father, Toby, didn’t want an obituary. He thought that might tip off the IRS to his change in status. Nevertheless, when Toby died, an editor at the Cleveland Plain Dealer asked to write something. The editor was a friend of my dad’s.  My mother said no. The writer persisted, because years prior, Toby had gotten the editor a moonlighting job — editing the newsletter for the key company where my dad worked.

No again, my mother said.Toby wound up in the Cleveland Jewish News. That was OK.  Not too many IRS agents read that.

Theodore "Toby" Stratton (1917-1986) Photo 1984

Theodore “Toby” Stratton (1917-1986) Photo 1984

It wouldn’t have mattered; my dad lived his entire adult life under an alias: Stratton. He had gotten “Stratton” out of a phone book. His birth name was Soltzberg. How had he felt about all that? Fine, he often told me.

I had my doubts. (His two brothers stayed Soltzbergs, while Toby rode off to become Stratton of Judea.)

His only regret, which was momentary, he claimed, was when his then 21-year-old daughter dated a sheygets (gentile boy) from Parma who had no college degree. Back then Toby said, “If I hadn’t changed my name, this wouldn’t be going on!” He picked “Stratton” in a waiting room, waiting for a job interview.  He got the job and changed his name in 1941.

The story sounded like BS to me. I thought Toby might have been embarrassed and insecure about his Jewishness.  A lot of Jews back then jumped to the U.S.S. Wasp. I’ve read  half the Jews in the U.S. changed their names. [Commentary, August 1952,”Name-Changing — And What It Gets You,” by J. Alvin Kugelmass.]   Some of the impetus for the name-changing was anti-Semitism and a desire to “pass.”  (I’m not blaming anybody. Different times back then.)

When I was right out of college, I told my dad I was going to change my name to Soltzberg. He went nuts. He said, “You’re looking for trouble!  Don’t do it!”

Decades later I lectured on Mickey Katz at the International Association of Yiddish Clubs convention; I was wearing a “Stratton” nametag and an old man approached me, asking, “Are you related to Toby Stratton?”

“He was my father.”

“I left town in 1941,” the man said, his eyes on my nametag. “It was there, right there in my apartment, when he talked about changing his name. He had gotten turned down by three chemical companies.  He was one of  the smartest guys I ever met.  He changed his name and got a job right then.” Solid.

For years one of my Soltzberg uncles had told me Toby jumped ship because my mother had wanted to “pass.” I liked the right-in-my-apartment story better.

__

A version of this appeared here 9/16/09 and in the Jerusalem Post 1/16/12.

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June 14, 2017   6 Comments

THE O’JAYS UP CLOSE

I helped shut down the O’Jays, the Grammy-winning soul band, last summer. The O’Jays were playing at a neighbor’s. The homeowner, who pays $107,343 per year in taxes (true), apparently thought he could do whatever he wanted, party-wise. He hired the O’Jays for a backyard party.

Lying in bed, I didn’t know it was the O’Jays. I knew it was loud music at 11:30 p.m. I called the Shaker cops, who said the homeowner had a permit. I said, “I’m a musician! I’ve played in Shaker outdoors and been shut down at 10 p.m. I think it was on Rocklyn Road at a bar mitzvah, in fact.”

“The officer on the scene reports it’s not loud,” the police dispatcher said.

ojays

I walked over to the scene, a quarter-mile away. There were several off-duty Shaker cops working the party. On my cell phone I called the police station and asked, “They have a permit to play to when?”

“One-thirty a.m.”

“You’re kidding!”

“All neighbors are invited to go in,” the dispatcher said.

I stood outside the house (the Halle mansion, by the way) next to an old black woman who told me I was listening to the O’Jays. She was on her way home from the ER and felt lousy, but then heard the music, stopped, and felt better. I asked her if she wanted to go in – to the party in the backyard. She said yes. We got to checkpoint, where the off-duty cop said, “Is your name on the list?”

“No, but I called the station and complained, and they said all neighbors are invited.” The cop walked us over to the bandstand, and the woman got to meet a personal hero, Eddie Levert, the bandleader. Then the band shut down. The off-duty cop said, “Too many neighbors are complaining.”

Yiddishe Cup marches in Parade the Circle noon this Saturday (June 10), Wade Oval, University Circle, Cleveland.

Parade 2012

Parade 2012

 

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June 7, 2017   3 Comments

THE YIDDISHE CUP FIGHT SONG

Yiddishe Cup’s singer, Irwin Weinberger, wrote a song about attending baseball games with his father. Irwin even mentioned The Rock in the song — Rocky Colavito. Guys are supposed to talk about sports, and drink when they get together.  I know this isn’t always a fact.  One Yiddishe Cup musician calls sports a “cult.”

The town is going ape-wire over the Cleveland Cavaliers again. Some of the guys don’t care.

Some of the guys do.

In 1997, when the Indians were in the World Series, Yiddishe Cup was playing Simchat Torah gigs, and we hid in the temple cloak room and caught bits of the action on a small portable TV.

Yiddishe Cup is not sports adverse. We play fight songs. Here are the fight songs you need to know in our part of the Midwest:

1. Ohio State’s  “Hang On Sloopy” and “Fight The Team Across the Field.”  Sometimes we hold off on “Hang On Sloopy” until the Buckeyes score.  That’s the protocol. If you play “Hang on Sloopy” before the Bucks score, it’s bad luck.

2. Michigan’s “The Victors” is a biggie. Also, Michigan State, “On Wisconsin,” and the Pitt fight song, which is not the same as the Steelers’ song. Forget about Notre Dame –for a klez band.

Yiddishe Cup knows “Are You From Wooster?”:

If you’re from Oberlin or Denison or Wesleyan U.,

The Scots will take good care of you before they’re through.

Beisbol! 1957

Beisbol! 1957

A version of this first appeared 6/3/09.

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May 31, 2017   3 Comments

WORD PLAY

“Ali” is a favorite word in crossword puzzles. So are “Mel” and “Ott.” So is “Esai” — as in “Esai Morales,” an actor. Abba “Eban” is big too. A mountain in Italy . . . “Etna”  or “Etta”?  The first name of  Finnish architect Saarinen: Eero or Erno? “Una” Thurman or “Uma?” . . . Judge “Ito.”mr 1939 crossroad

New York klezmer trumpeter Jordan Hirsch posted on Facebook that he successfully completed the Friday New York Times puzzle. Mazel tov. My friend Brit Stenson gets the whole week. He’s been doing crosswords for decades.

If I get the Wednesday puzzle, I’m doing good. I started crosswords in 2006, after the documentary movie Word Play. When I started, I didn’t know you could use run-together words, such as “Leerat,” which is to “eye lustfully.” Leer at. Sometimes the crosswords clues are off-kilter and unfair. Clue: “Anonymous one, in court.” Answer “Jane Roe.” Doh.

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May 24, 2017   No Comments

“BAY MIR BISTU SHEYN,”
A CROSSOVER CLASSIC

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nsUsO1g0pJQ

Watch this video if you want to know too much about “Bay Mir Bistu Sheyn.”

—-

If you want to read, read this (from the Los Angeles Times). On Mother’s Day I wrote about buying my mother, Julia, a pre-need funeral package.

Julia Zalk Stratton (L) and sister Celeste Zalk Kent. Mississsippi, 1928.

Julia Zalk Stratton (L) and sister Celeste Zalk Kent. Mississipppi, 1928.

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May 17, 2017   1 Comment

DEATH AND FACEBOOK

 

Facebook goes like this: cat pic, dog pic, anti-Trump stuff, then a death notice.

For the death notice, I wrote in the comments section: “Rick was the first person to tell me to take a baby aspirin every day. He was always looking out for everybody. ” Rick was a doctor. I knew him from Camp Michigania, where we used to  vacation together.

From now on, every death will be on Facebook — or whatever Facebook becomes. Rick was always friendly. Who wouldn’t be on vacation? Rick was into sailing. I played tennis. For some reason, Rick’s baby-aspirin advice stuck with me, not the sailing tips. Nowadays a lot of doctors swear by the old 81 mg/day. Rick was on that case years ago.

Cat pic, dog pic, anti-Trump stuff, death notices on Facebook. Rest in peace, Rick.

facebook and death color

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May 10, 2017   4 Comments

THE WEIGHT OF PAPER

I have three file cabinets. That’s more than you. A 24-year-old man told me, “The whole history of twentieth century Cleveland real estate is in these file cabinets.” I cull the files periodically, like I recently threw out several 1974 W-2 forms and a 1980 old records filing cabinetsboiler manual. I have a particularly hard time throwing out stuff my dad scribbled on.

I have kept some of my father’s old financial statements. He used to inflate his car and furniture values  — and add some stocks he didn’t own — to look richer than he  actually was. He noted he had $17,000 in Emerson Electric, GTE, GM, and IBM, and a life insurance policy worth $78,000. He needed to look richer on paper to get more mortgages from banks. He leveraged a lot.

I use a computer, but I’m partial to paper. My dad died in 1986. He’s still going strong on paper. That says something. He’s not up to Shakespeare’s 400 years but my dad is making progress.

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May 3, 2017   3 Comments

SOMEWHAT DISREPUTABLE

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.”

unemployed father and 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.

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April 26, 2017   5 Comments

THE PROPER-SIZE MEAT PORTION

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.

caduciousGet 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.

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April 19, 2017   3 Comments

THE BIRDS

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.

bird in house color

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April 12, 2017   4 Comments

I’M AS GOOD AS DANNY KAYE

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.

doc

fiction. A version of this first appeared here 10/30/13.

 

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April 5, 2017   4 Comments

DIE IN THIS BUILDING

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.

50 years of stuff

Hauling stuff away

A version of this first appeared on this blog 6/25/09.

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March 29, 2017   1 Comment

SELTZER POPPIN’

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.

Alice’s brand:

Seltzer Boy's friend

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March 22, 2017   1 Comment

MONTEGO BAY

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.

montego bay


“Stewart” is a pseudonym.

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March 15, 2017   3 Comments

ALASKAN WONDER BREAD
The Harold Richards Mini-Story

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.”

alaska even better

[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.

Harold Richards, 2016

Harold Richards, 2016

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.

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March 8, 2017   4 Comments

THE YIDDISHE CUP TOUR

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.

phoenix sweatin'

Jogging on an off-day in Oklahoma City

fiction

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March 1, 2017   8 Comments

LEGALLY BLIND

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.

blindfold test

fiction

I had an essay, “Sue Me,” at City Journal last week. A tenant sued me. Not fiction.

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February 22, 2017   No Comments

FREE PIZZA

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 . . .

pizza steve kelly b 202 1_30_17.

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February 15, 2017   2 Comments

I NEED MONEY

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?

money


This is neither fiction nor non-fiction.

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February 8, 2017   4 Comments