Eric Krasner came to Cleveland to make a movie about Mickey Katz, the Cleveland-born klezmer clarinetist and comedian.
Eric wanted to see where Mickey was born, and where Mickey’s wife grew up, and maybe where Mickey’s father’s tailor shop had been. I said to Eric, “I’m not a filmmaker — and I don’t want to tell you what to do — but if you want another opinion, I don’t think you should show every place Mickey took a shit.”
We went to the old Euclid Avenue Temple (now Liberty Hill Baptist Church), where Mickey was married in 1930. Eric — teasing me — filmed the men’s room and said, “This is where Mickey urinated after his wedding.”
For one thing, nobody has ever heard of Mickey Katz! Mickey is not LeBron, or Superman, or Pekar, or Bob Hope. (All local boys.) Katz was Joel Grey’s father and Jennifer Grey’s grandfather.
Eric and I went to Glenville, an inner-city neighborhood where Mickey spent his teenage years. We found the Glenville Hall of Fame. Mickey didn’t have a plaque.
One aspect of Eric’s movie — my guess here — is, why doesn’t Mickey have a plaque of some sort — a street, a “Mickey Katz Way” — in his hometown?
Eric found Mickey’s birthplace near E. 51 and Woodland by the Ohio Food terminal. Sawtell Court — the actual street where Mickey was born — doesn’t exist anymore. It’s a grassy field. Eric drew a sign, “Birthplace of Mickey Katz 1909,” and put it on a fence.
Eric drove all the way from Maryland to film that sign. I hope the movie, minus the urinal, happens.
Yiddishe Cup plays New Year’s Eve at Akron (Ohio) First Night. 9:30 p.m, John S. Knight Convention Center.
December 17, 2014 3 Comments
I’ve been managing bands for years, mostly as a hobby. I know something about marketing, booking and touring. I won’t discuss that stuff here, other than to say the most important thing nowadays is DIY: publicity stunts, cameo appearances at strip joints, stealth holographic projections of your band onto billboards at night.
I have this group, Vulfpeck, who I manage informally. They do the opposite of whatever I tell them. Like I say send a press release to the New York Times, and they don’t. They don’t know what a press release is. They’re all about social media. I’m about social too; hello, my name is _________.
Vulfpeck, they have no idea how well I manage them. I lead a second life through those guys, at no charge to them. Right now two of them are in L.A., one is in Ann Arbor, and the other is at a racino in Toledo. I follow them. (I know where you are too, and I’m not pleased.)
Check out this terrific Vulfpeck vid, “Christmas in L.A.” Came out yesterday. Get in on the ground floor. Has a dog in it:
I tell Vulfpeck to sell themselves. Get a publicist for starters. Naturally, they don’t. They generate fuzz through Facebook and Twitter. I’m old school; they’re New School. I need help from the Urban Dictionary. (“Fuzz” means “hipster buzz” — to me.)
I’m Vulfpeck’s manager. They don’t know it. If they did, they’d fire me.
This is a fake profile. Or at least 51 percent fake.
December 10, 2014 6 Comments
I envy you. That’s not good, but I can’t help myself. I envy a lot of people. For instance, I envy the patients at the Cleveland Clinic. They are among the 1,700 sickest people in the city.
The Clinic is the fourth-best hospital in the country, says US News & World Report. I envy that number-4 ranking. I’d like to be fourth best at something. Fourth shows mastery and modesty.
I want to walk through the Clinic in a white lab coat.
I just did . . .
Palliative Care, Desk C-20. People are dying and feeling OK about that. I envy that “feeling OK” part. I take drugs but don’t feel that good.
Pain Management, H-70. The patients there don’t know what pain is! My car has terrible static on 91.5 FM — the jazz station. That’s pain. What’s your BMI? I’m 23.33 kg/m2. My pulse is 53 — slightly higher than a dead man’s. If your pulse is lower than mine — and you’re not dead — I envy you.
Dermatology, G-50. The doctor took full-body naked pics of me. TMI.
Eye Clinic, I-20. Floaters to my left, floaters to my right. Nice. At the eye-clinic parking lot, I told the toll attendant, “You’ve got the most dangerous job in the world, because half the people coming out of here are blind.”
Envy Clinic, NV-50. I’m here for a while. Will report back in a month.
December 3, 2014 1 Comment
I was at a brunch where all the men wore Ohio State apparel. That in itself was not unusual; I know a lot of Ohio State fans who do brunch, but the host at this brunch was particularly Bucks-nuts; he would not let anybody into his house with Michigan gear on.
I’m not that big a football fan. I’m a Michigan graduate but I wish Ohio State all the best — most of the time. I like it when Michigan is winning, but this year the team is horrible, so let Ohio State go all the way.
Yiddishe Cup had a trumpet player — a sub — who played in the Ohio State marching band. He played a luncheon with Yiddishe Cup, and the OSU-Michigan game (originally scheduled for 3 pm) went on at noon, so I gave the musician leeway on the bandstand; I let him periodically watch the Bucks on a TV in a corner. The other guys in the band thought I was too accommodating. They didn’t
understand . . .
Take 1962: OSU versus Northwestern, homecoming. Before the game, my dad and I went to a reunion luncheon. My dad had on a Class of ’38 name tag. I don’t know what the name tag read; my father changed his name from Soltzberg to Stratton in 1941. The theme for the fraternity floats in 1962 may have been “Peanuts.” My dad knew the words to “Carmen Ohio,” the OSU alma mater. My dad never knew the words to any song!
My dad and I went to about a half dozen Ohio State homecomings. I liked Long’s Bookstore for sweatshirts. Charbert’s for hamburgers. We checked out the floats on fraternity row. My dad wanted to show me the medical school.
The Bucks: Tom Matte, Warfield, Matt Snell and Bob Ferguson.
If Michigan doesn’t win it all (and it ain’t going to this year), let Ohio State.
November 26, 2014 2 Comments
Mr. Shuck said the tenant above him was running a big fan on the floor and keeping him up all night. It was November. Why would anybody have a fan on?
I thought, “Shuck is out of work and has too much time on his hands. Forget about it.”
Shuck called: “I was pressing my arms over my ears so hard to block the noise, it took the muscle off the bone by my upper arm.”
“Have you tried earplugs?” I said.
“I had tubes in my ears as a child. I’m not sticking anything foreign in my ears.”
“I’ll look into this.”
“I’ve lost hundreds of hours of sleep over this. Look into this!”
I called the tenant upstairs. She did have a fan — a box fan on the floor. She said she would place it higher off the floor. I said, “You need physical space between the fan and the floor.” Matter settled.
Not settled. Shuck called again. “They’re literally stomping in the apartment above me. I’m having palpitations right fucking now! I’m calling the police. Your manager won’t do anything. I’m having a heart attack. If I die, it’s on your head.” (A Browns party was going on upstairs.)
Shuck lived. He called and said his bathtub was backed up, and he mentioned the manager had threatened to kill him.
I said, “I’ll get the plumber on the bathtub right away. I’ll call the plumber.”
“The plumber is in my apartment right now!” Shuck said. “He woke me up. I have contusions on my legs and have had to sponge bathe for four weeks because the tub didn’t work.”
“Four weeks?” I said.
“Also, your manager stole money from me.”
Five dollars? Why so little? “Your tub was down four weeks?” I said.
“Your manager tried to kill me.”
I know. OK. “When?”
“Three years ago. She tried to force me to drink a beer. I’m a recovering alcoholic.”
“We’ll have the bathtub fixed right away.”
“Somebody is tampering with my mailbox. That’s a federal offense.”
There was a noisy fan above Shuck.
“Shuck” is a pseudonym.
November 19, 2014 3 Comments
Seltzer is a major player in my house. My wife, Alice, bought stock in seltzer, SodaStream, and I drink a fair amount of La Croix and occasionally Klarbrunn from Costco. I stick to lime and lemon. I should try peach. I was at a party — on a gig — where the host had all the La Croix flavors, but I wasn’t thirsty so I didn’t open up the various cans and sip.
There used to be seltzer delivery guys. I never saw one. My friend Shelly had home delivery. My parents didn’t. My mother was big with Diet Rite Cola, though. My son Teddy favored Hank’s Root Beer. Alice used to be a diehard Diet Coke proponent. My son Jack loves SodaStream. My daughter, Lucy, doesn’t drink much. That’s the story of carbonation in my family.
Alice gives SodaStreams as gifts. She hopes her purchases will increase the stock’s value.
I know people who can distinguish club soda from seltzer water, and can expound on the level of fizz in SodaStream versus canned seltzers. My wife is one of those persons. She is Seltzer Girl.
Check out “Mississippi Albert” in Belt Magazine. It’s about my “roots” in Mississippi. When I taught blues harmonica, I told the students my mother was from Yazoo City, Mississippi. I wasn’t lying! Here is the story. I traveled to Mississippi. This photo, below, is from Cleveland Heights, 1977:
One more photo . . . from Mississipppi, about 1926. My mother, Julia Zalk Stratton, age 6, on R; her older sister, Bernice Zalk Golden, in back; and baby sister Celeste Zalk Kent (who is now 87) in the high chair; and a cousin on far L:
November 12, 2014 8 Comments
My friend Charlie came from Detroit to visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Charlie collects Grande Ballroom (Detroit) rock-concert posters and wanted to check out the Rock Hall’s collection.
Charlie gave me a day’s notice. Turns out, we didn’t see the Rock Hall. We walked to Fairmount Circle to Dave’s Cosmic Subs. Dave himself was there. Dave doesn’t own the Fairmount Circle sub shop and never did. (It’s a franchise of his.) School kids were excited that Dave was there. Dave is a former rock and roller of some sort. I’m not crazy about him because I once rode my bike to Dave’s Chagrin Falls store and ordered a sub, chips, and a cup for water, and he told me he had no cups; I had to buy a bottle of water. That stuck with me. Then the same thing happened last month at Fairmount Circle, and I ranted, “What about Taco Bell? McDonald’s? You can get a cup anywhere. It’s bad for business!”
Charlie and I met with Ralph Solonitz, Klezmer Guy’s illustrator, at Fairmount Circle Dave’s. Then Irwin Weinberger of Yiddishe Cup strolled by on his way to the dentist. Super power-lunching. We talked retirement. Charlie told me to “float,” which meant take it easy. That would be hard.
Charlie and I rode the Rapid and checked out downtown buildings. We also saw the play The Merry Wives of Windsor and biked. The next day at Corky & Lenny’s, we talked stock investments. Charlie is big on rock music, but not that big, apparently. We would need 36 hours in Cleveland to see the Rock Hall.
November 5, 2014 4 Comments
I charge a $20 late fee if I don’t get the rent by the seventh day of the month. Some tenants regularly pay the $20 late fee, because $20 is nothing compared to, say, a credit-card late fee.
I had a tenant who promised to pay on the 11th. He changed to the 15th. Then the 20th. Today — October 29 — I have just one late tenant. She said she’s not paying because she had a stroke and is broke. She sounded pretty good on the phone for a stroke. I asked my wife, a former RN, about that: “Can you talk right if you just had a stroke?”
My wife, Alice, said, “It depends what part of the brain it affected.”
I generally don’t allow late payers to slide into the next month. “Mom is sick . . . My grandmother died . . . I switched banks and they messed up my account.”
Why didn’t you call me? Why am I calling you?
Maybe I should charge more than $20. Some landlords charge by the day, like $10/day. But life is too short for that kind of intense bookkeeping.
I have a tenant who has been late every month for 30 years. I hope I outlive him to get his final month’s rent.
Sometimes I lean too hard on the tenants and get no late fee — no rent.
Yiddishe Cup is a soul band, Jewish and otherwise. Check out our version of Aretha’s “Respect.” We play a wide range of American pop music. Please don’t boot us out of your wedding after the hora. Hey, we’re better than those other wedding bands! We’re slicker than schmaltz laced with WD-40. Our newest singer is Tamar Gray. She works the crowd. Fun . . .
October 29, 2014 3 Comments
Yiddishe Cup played four Century Village retirement communities in Florida. Each Century Village had a theater the size of a basketball arena. Other acts on the boards were Debby Boone, Dr. Ruth, Jack Jones, “Jim Bailey as Judy Garland,” Joel Grey, and Larry Storch, “the lovable Corporal Agarn from F-Troop.” (This was in 2002.)
One cummerbund-popping emcee told us he had opened for the Righteous Brothers, and had done Las Vegas, the cruise ships, and been married nine times. He said, “Only Mickey Rooney has me beat.” His latest wife wouldn’t let him travel, so he sold Cadillacs during the day and emceed Century Village shows at night. He told us two “inside” Century Village jokes:
What’s 25-feet long and smells like urine?
The conga line at Century Village.
What’s an 80-year-old man smell like?
The band wasn’t allowed to mingle with the audience after performances. That was a rule. Another Century Village rule was do not walk off stage for an encore because the audience will leave and you won’t get an encore. Also, don’t take an intermission because the lines at the restroom will be so long the intermission will never end. Also, do not sell CDs. Why not?
We broke some rules.
We never got asked back — and the crowd liked our comedy stuff! I think they did. I remember talking to a New York couple after the gig (violation of rule #1). They liked us.
I would like to return to Florida, but it won’t happen unless I buy a condo at Century Village.
October 22, 2014 8 Comments
My mother, Julia, never saved anything. When she moved to assisted living, the only thing she kept was her dining room set and some clay pots my dad had made.
My dad was an amateur potter in his retirement. He didn’t use a wheel; he pinched the clay with his thumbs. His work wasn’t too good; I threw most of his stuff in the garbage. My mother watched and said, “How could you!”
“Mom,” I said, “I’m saving some of it– some representative pieces!”
Address Your Mess.
Address Your Mess is a woman in Cleveland who, for a fee, de-clutters your house. My mother didn’t need her.
Maybe I need AYM. I have report cards from elementary school in my attic. My mother said I could be president someday, so I’m holding on to the report cards.
Is my mess more important than your mess?
I read about an elderly woman in southeast Ohio who had 36 boxes of cereal, GAR medals and a wooden fife from the battle of Chickamauga.
I have UN stamps too, besides the report cards.
Here’s a vid, “Square Mile,” about real estate and board games:
Yiddishe Cup is at Fairmount Temple, Beachwood, Ohio, tonight (Wed.) and Park Synagogue, Cleveland Hts., tomorrow night.
October 15, 2014 6 Comments
I’m a German klezmer musician. Hold your questions. Here are the answers:
I live in Berlin. My aunt once told me — she was drunk — “Why do you play that crap? You’re German!”
I play every year Kristallnacht commemorations, where there is always at least one Jew who comes up to me and says, “Are you Jewish?” I say no, and he’s says, “You have to be!” Sometimes I tell the person my grandfather was Romanian, just to move on.
I also play jazz and funk (Vulfpeck). I have played even for Orthodox Jews in the States, but they don’t thrill too much to my jazz music.
I play reeds — saxophone and clarinet. I don’t try to be Jewish. I never wanted to be Jewish or not Jewish. Somebody said, “You’re not really a Jew unless at one point in your life you didn’t want to be a Jew.” I don’t know about such things.
In the Middle West, in Ohio, an old Jew called me a “poseur.” I had to look that up. He was a klezmer musician. Maybe he was a poseur. The middle of the United States is very red, I think. Only he could play klezmer, I think he means. If people think I’m a bad person for playing music from somewhere else, then they know damn little about music.
I’m a klezmer musician. Forget about the German part for a second.
Check out Magdalena Waligorska‘s nonfiction book Klezmer’s Afterlife, about the klezmer scene in Berlin and Cracow. Forty-three percent of this post is lifted from the book.
File this under KlezFiction and Fake Profiles.
October 8, 2014 2 Comments
I like to proclaim “golden ages” as they happen. My record is 2-1.
Win: The klez revival. In 1998 I told my band: “This is the golden age of Yiddishe Cup. We’re getting gigs in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.” We flew to the U.P. via Minneapolis, then on to Calumet, Michigan, a mining town with an opera house. Every town in America hired a klezmer band in the 1990s for its multicultural performing arts series.
Lose: I didn’t see the real estate crash of 2008-09. A couple young guys wanted to buy my Riverview building in Lakewood, Ohio, in 2004, and I asked too much. I wish they had bought it. I should have come down in price.
Win. The peak of Cleveland Jewry was 2000. The Jewish Federation would bring in entertainers like David “Dudu” Fisher and Mike Burstyn for galas. Burstyn and Fisher both charged at least $15,000. I took my mother to see Burstyn. She was in a wheelchair with Parkinson’s. I wheeled her to the front of the room, where the machers were. Some of the “healthy old” looked kind of scared of my mom. The Jewish Federation employees wore earpieces like FBI agents and worked crowd control; others Federation workers ran the wide-screen video and cued up speeches; and other workers told guests where to line up for dessert — the most important event. Fisher and Burstyn haven’t been back since.
We’re in the golden age of the Klezmer Guy blog now. What other golden ages? I don’t know. You tell me. The golden age of golden-agers? I’m playing a lot of nursing homes lately, specializing in 80th, 90th and 100th birthday parties, and the residents and nursing homes are looking very spiffy. I hope those facilities — and the residents — look that good when I’m there.
October 1, 2014 8 Comments
(This is a rerun, just for Rosh Hashanah. A previous version appeared here 9/23/09. No, I’m not running out of stuff. Side B, below, is new.)
Some Jews don’t like choirs in temple. Some can’t stand guitars. Some can’t stand temple.
I have a friend who is down on “temple Jews” — people who actively participate in synagogue life. They’re too conventional for her, which is saying a lot, because she’s very conventional (college decals on the car, Heinen’s fried chicken in the frig).
I’m a temple Jew, at least on occasion. My family belonged to Silver’s Temple, named for Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver. The temple’s official name was The Temple.
“Which temple do you belong to?”
“The Temple” morphed into The Temple-Tifereth Israel after the rabbi and his son (also a rabbi) died. My family didn’t really fit in there in the 1960s, because many of the members were a lot richer, many from Shaker Heights. One Shaker kid arrived in a station wagon driven by a chauffeur with a shiny-visor cap.
My younger son went through religious high school at The Temple. The place had mellowed by then. Nobody cared anymore if you were Deutsche Yehudim – one of Cleveland’s original German Jewish settlers. When my parents left Silver’s, they went to Temple Emanu El, a middle-class temple in the ‘burbs. My mom taught macramé there and volunteered in the sisterhood gift shop. She collected “donor points” for volunteering — points that reduced her admission costs to the annual temple dance.
Yiddishe Cup has played some of these temple dances. Not so many lately because few people want to dance at temples. They’d rather stay home and watch people dance on TV.
My parents joined the heymish synagogue after I was confirmed, so I didn’t much care what they did. (Heymish – the word — should be banned, by the way. Too heymish.)
On the High Holidays, I went with my parents to the heymish temple, or else with my friends to Hillel at Case Western Reserve. After Rosh Hashanah services, we’d eat at Tommy’s restaurant. Years ago an older woman told me, “I joined Fairmount Temple because I like the music there.” She had other reasons too: Brith Emeth didn’t have enough money to carpet, she said, and she liked Fairmount Temple’s classic Reform music. That stuck with me: joining a temple for the music.
I belong to Park Synagogue because, among other things, I like the music and the rabbi, who likes my band. Yiddishe Cup is scheduled to play Park Synagogue’s holiday celebrations until about 5800. I once played a holiday gig at another shul, where the rabbi left early to attend a rock concert. He said he was seeing a famous band. I wasn’t impressed. The rabbi was walking out on Yiddishe Cup!
It’s impossible to be a rabbi.
Park Synagogue uses a choir once in a while. Some Jews think a choir is super-goyish. Not true. In Europe there were synagogue choirs as far back as the 1500s.
Some temples have rock bands. (I have subbed in several rockin’ shabbat bands.) Rock on. Some congregants really enjoy that groove.
I can see picking a shul for the music. Why not. I enjoy hearing the Israeli cantor my shul imports for the Rosh Hashanah overflow. Either way I’m OK — main sanctuary (with the regular cantor) or overflow auditorium. SRO in both places. Who’s got extra tickets?
Happy New Year.
Gear shift . . .
MEET THE FRACKERS
When I was up in North Dakota, I filled my tank for under $3/gallon. I actually thought about moving there, but I don’t want to live in a trailer, and there is a serious lack of lox.
But I do love cheap gas. I own a pickup and two cars.
I love natural gas too. It’s all organic — all Cs and Os.
I want “in” on the Utica shale play here in Ohio. Drillers from Oklahoma and Texas are here. Why should they have all the fun?
Primer for me: OSU means Oklahoma State, not Ohio State; OU is the University of Oklahoma, not Ohio University. I need to learn this. Today I’m buying some Western wear and tomorrow I’m heading down to Marietta, Ohio, which is a lot closer than Williston, North Dakota.
Meet the frackers. I’m trying to!
File this under fake profiles.
September 24, 2014 8 Comments
(This is an update of a post that appeared at CoolCleveland on 7/30/13.)
Heinen’s crunchy wheatberry salad had too many onions. I told the deli-counter lady that. I said, “If I get 10 people to say it’s too oniony, will you bring back the old non-oniony salad?”
She said yes.
But I didn’t get 10 people. I got zero.
I emailed the owner of Heinen’s. He phoned me back. Not bad for a guy who owns more than 17 stores. He agreed the new oniony flavor isn’t very tasty but he said it’s more healthful. He said he would special order the old-style, packaged in Canada, just for me.
My new drill: call Louise, the deli clerk, every week to remind her to “put it [the old salad] on the truck.” My old salad was from Summer Fresh Salads, Woodbridge, Ontario. It was a mix of wheatberries, sunflower seeds, red peppers, raisins and parsley, tossed in a honey ginger vinaigrette.
But Louise — my deli connection — got transferred. She went to a different Heinen’s. Now I had to deal with an uninterested clerk. The death knell was when the new clerk said, “Wheatberry is not in our book anymore.” She couldn’t even order it.
I contacted Tom Heinen, the owner, again. He said Heinen’s had wheatberry salad, but “wheatberry” now meant the horrible oniony stuff, not the old recipe.
I gave up. Or I think I gave up. I could drive a refrigerated truck up to Summer Fresh Foods, Woodbridge, Ontario. Alice, my wife, made a knock-off, but her wheatberries were too chewy. I froze a pound of the original, good stuff. It was the gold standard. It must be duplicated, food chemists! Some mad scientist — my wife, a registered nurse — will eventually make an exact knock-off. Needs to be done.
Two years passed, and no successful knock-offs from the lab.
I walked into Zagara’s supermarket in Cleveland Heights two weeks ago — not for the first time, I go to Zag’s regularly — and saw wheatberry crunch salad in the prepared foods section. The deli clerk gave me a taste. Whoa, it was the original recipe; the old wheatberry salad had risen from the dead. I bought 1.60 pounds, went home, and got geographic tongue from eating the stuff. I ate too quickly, like a madman. The sides of my tongue swelled. My body had rejected the wheatberry.
I tried a smaller portion the next day and didn’t get geographic tongue. I talked to Sharon, the Zargara’s deli clerk, who said she would re-order the salad. “It’s a good summer salad,” she said.
“I’ll eat it in January,” I said.
The question is how. Very slowly.
Have you had geographic tongue? I’ve gotten it from eating too much baba ganoush, too. Geographic tongue is bad but I do like the name. I’m OK now with wheatberry in small doses, and hopefully Zagara’s will carry the salad through fall and winter. If not, they’ll hear from me. No, I’m not nuts. I’m wheatberry.
September 17, 2014 4 Comments
I wrote an essay, “The Rust Belt Rides Again,” about traditional Midwestern values — how Midwesterners have good manners, don’t raise their voices, and don’t care about college credentials. I also threw in LeBron’s return and the Republican National Convention coming to Cleveland in 2016.
Back story: the article was a complete con. Yes, I’m a Midwesterner, but I could become a fast-talking New Yorker in about ten minutes. I could get the New York accent too if I tried. In the Plain Dealer article I mentioned The Drive, The Fumble and The Shot. I played up my “Bert Stratton/Ohio boy” persona. There’s another Ohio Jewish writer who plays my game: Bob Greene. He grew up in suburban Columbus — Bexley, the Shaker Heights of Columbus. He’s small town like I’m small town.
I live and die with the Browns and Indians (on paper), and miss the steel mills, and I work with my hands. Clarinet counts!
Maybe I should act more like a real Midwesterner. I might live longer.
Can I help you?
This is a fake profile. Sorry about that. I didn’t write about Midwestern values for the Plain Dealer or anybody else.
September 10, 2014 9 Comments
It is odd to busk — play the streets — when you’re middle aged. (Or old.) I played Rome last month. I played the Jewish quarter — the ghetto. My musician son, Jack, skedaddled. He would have nothing to do with me. I didn’t know any Italian Jewish music, but who does? I played “Erev Shel Shoshanim,” some klezmer and standards like “All of Me” and “That’s Amore.”
My most appreciative fans were a group of college-age boys. They plied me with coins.
Afterward I said to them, “Here’s your money back. You were my best fans.”
They insisted I keep the money. One kid said, “Do you watch Curb Your Enthusiasm? It’s our favorite show.” Another kid said I looked like Larry David.
“I’ve seen Curb,” I said.
“What about Seinfeld?”
“You guys Jewish?” I said. I wasn’t sure; their English accents threw me off.
They said yes.
“Where you guys from?”
“I’ve never been to Australia,” I said.
“Come to Sydney. It’s beautiful!”
“I’d like to.” If I can clear at least $10 on the streets, I’m there.
Footnote:the photo is not from the Jewish quarter. But it’s Rome. I roamed.
Here’s a second busking story, from the archives: “Busking in Israel and Elsewhere,” Times of Israel, 7/12/12.
A new essay from City Journal: “Bubbles, Booms, and Cash Flow.” Not about busking.
September 3, 2014 5 Comments
Whenever I get a new T-shirt, I throw out an old one. That’s my T-shirt inventory control method — a system I stole from my friend Carl.
My 26-year-old son, Jack, takes my old T-shirts, which make excellent hipster wear. My old tees typically memorialize 10K runs from decades ago, with logos for University Heights, Domino’s, Fuddruckers, Leader Mortgage, “Freedom Run for Soviet Jewry,” Tower City Run and the Cleveland Press (which went out of business in 1982). Basically, the tees are walking billboards. Jack likes thin T-shirts. The shirts are thin, son — even threadbare. I hope the T-shirts outlast me. Always nice to be remembered.
I have very few clothing items from my dad. Like one shirt. No, I gave that to Jack too! You can see it in this video.
I don’t think I have any of my dad’s clothes. Fine. No point in being necrophiliac. (My dad died 28 year ago.)
My dad didn’t wear T-shirts. He wore guinea tees (wife-beaters), not the round-collar T-shirts. At social gatherings he favored the 1950s spread-collar shirts, like the one in the Vulfpeck vid.
I interviewed my dad on videotape in 1985 — 10 months before he died — and he wore a polo shirt. I showed the video recently to Jack, who didn’t want to watch it, but I made him. Jack became spellbound. Not that the video was so good, but some of my mannerisms are like my dad’s, Jack noticed, and that was worth the imposed viewing.
I only have a few super-thin tees left. Jack has basically cleaned me out. Here’s a vid of Jack in my 1987 “Freedom Run for Soviet Jewry” shirt.
For the record, I bought my first non-college logo T-shirt in 1968. It was for the Mexico Olympics. Before 1968, you could only get college shirts. Look it up. Does anybody have a pre-1968 non-college T-shirt? If so, go to Sotheby’s. Does anybody have any really thin 1980s T-shirts? If so, go to Jack.
Footnote: A Vulfpeck video came out yesterday, and my shirt isn’t in it! What’s with the new striped shirt, Jack? What’s with that? And the vid goes viral.
August 27, 2014 9 Comments
You’re interested in klezmer music, but tell me honestly, do I exhaust you with too much klezmer reporting?
I’m the only klezmer journalist in the world, so yes I’m prolific. No wait, there are a couple more writers . . . Rogovoy in Massachusetts, Kun of California, Robinson in New York, Davidow in Boston. And some academics too.
We meet up virtually, and collaboratively, right here. At least I think we do.
My life is filled with klezmer. Do other people have klezmer dreams? Do people have bluegrass dreams? Why would they? What about Chagall — didn’t he have klezmer dreams?
Existence is a wall to climb over.
I’m over it.
I have no big statement on klezmer. I started playing it because I didn’t know what else to do. Buddy Holly, I like him; B.B. King, excellent. I couldn’t be those guys. I tried.
In college I wrote about jazz. There is jazz writing. There are jazz journals. What about klezmer journals? I started one: Klezmer Guy. It’s online. Check it out.
I like quirky music with glitches — in short the wrong note in the right place. I like the staccato of Yiddish and the clarinet. My speech is a cluster of blobs and blurts. Some of it makes sense.
August 20, 2014 4 Comments
Fatima had a B.A. and a steady job, and was single — for about three days, until her boyfriend moved in with her. The boyfriend wouldn’t fill out a rental application. He drifted around the basement electric meters with a screwdriver.
The building manager told him to stay out of the meter area.
He said, “How do you know I’m not a registered electrician?”
The building manager said, “Because I didn’t call one.”
I got a call from an anonymous man: “Watch out. Fatima is no good. She owes me $40, and her boyfriend carries a gun.”
I told Fatima I’d give her all her money back if she left within two days. If she didn’t move out, I would evict her for “unauthorized roommate.”
I gave her $900 back, and she moved. Add another $100 to that — my extra cost because I owed a tenant in the building $100 for recommending Fatima. I couldn’t not pay the guy for his referral; I had approved Fatima, and then she had screwed up, bringing in her boyfriend with the screwdriver.
There were several screwups.
“Fatima” is a pseudonym.
Check out Jack Stratton’s latest Kickstarter. He’s hoping to raise $25. Click here for info. And watch this slightly incoherent vid:
August 13, 2014 No Comments
I saw Wilma Salisbury, the former Cleveland Plain Dealer dance and music critic, at a concert. She used to be feared — used to be. When she stopped writing for the Plain Dealer, she became just Wilma Salisbury.
I saw Eleanor Mallet. She was a columnist a couple decades ago. Now she’s simply Eleanor Mallet.
Winsor French — the late Cleveland Press columnist — arrived at work in a Rolls. This was in the 1930s. He was independently wealthy. He went all over the world during the Depression, reporting on glamorous parties, for working stiffs in Cleveland. He also wrote a lot about Cleveland nightlife.
Have you read any book-length compilations by newspaper columnists? I read one good one: Eric Broder’s funny The Great Indoors. What if you read 45 Dick Feagler columns in a row? Would you die? (Dick Feagler is an excellent writer but 45 columns in a row about the good old days, that’s rough.)
Here are a few other former Cleveland columnists: Don Robertson, Alfred Lubrano, Jim Parker, Jim Neff, Mary Strassmyer, Tom Green . . . I’m just getting started. (No Googling either.)
I was a columnist once. I wrote about candy, sheepshead and the library for Sun Newspapers. I picked easy, uncontroversial subjects. I was too ambivalent.
Terry Pluto, a Plain Dealer sportswriter, moonlights as a religion columnist. I sometimes clip his columns for inspiration. Pluto phones clergy and asks (my guess), “Can you tell us how to live — and preferably in three or fewer sentences.”
It’s tough to crank out columns weekly. Pluto quoted a rabbi who cited Pirke Avot (a section of Talmud): “The one who is wealthy is satisfied with what he has.”
Do I covet Pluto’s job?
I had an essay in Belt Mag last week about delis. (Boni: Some interesting comments at the end of the article.) Click on “Deli Men”
Clevelanders, Yiddishe Cup plays tomorrow (Thurs. Aug. 7) at 7 p.m. at John Carroll University. We’re on the lawn in front of the Grasselli Library. Park at the college lot across from Pizzazz restaurant and walk toward the campus. Bring a chair or blanket.
The concert is free. If raining, the show is indoors at the Dolan Science Center.
August 6, 2014 4 Comments