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 has written op-eds for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post.


 
 

COLLEGE ADMISSION

I knew a college counselor who if he put in a good word for you, you were in. Harvard, Yale, Harvey Mudd, Deep Springs. That’s what we parents all thought, but the counselor didn’t produce every single time. He said go to a college that was a “good fit.” He, himself, went to Harvard, always a good fit for a college counselor.

Here’s my approach — and  a tip for high schoolers. Describe a setback you have faced. “My parents don’t like klezmer music. They are so wrong. I’ve been playing klezmer my whole life. It has made me think for myself and be my own person.”

I attended a college-rejection shiva in 1968. A high school friend was rejected by every college he applied to. He got in nowhere! And he was in the top 10 in our class. (We’re pretty sure, in hindsight, the guidance counselor blackballed him.) We sat in a corner booth at Corky & Lenny’s and drank chocolate phosphates. My friend eventually got in to Ohio State on a late application. OSU had rolling, open admissions. In Columbus, my friend lived in a high-rise dorm with 16 guys per suite. It was not exactly the house system at Harvard.

Tower Club OSU 1937 Toby Stratton

My dad with his dormmates at Ohio Stadium, about 1935. The men lived in the stadium. All in one room, on cots.


Yidd Cup / FAD (Funk a Deli) is at Park Syn, Pepper Pipes, Ohio, tonight (March 20) at 7:15 pm. Free. Happy Purim!

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March 20, 2019   1 Comment

STANDING IN LINE AT THE BMV

Do I get new plates or keep my 2003 Ohio bicentennial plates?

Whichever is easiest.

Entering the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, I had Harvey Pekar-level anxiety. But I lucked out; I was a plate transfer, not a new driver’s license, so I got to skip to the head of the line.

I had bought a Subaru Legacy and sold my Ford Fusion. Both cars are red, so nobody knows I have a new car. A disappointment. I wanted a blue car, but the Subaru Legacy doesn’t come in blue. I refuse to drive gray, silver, black or white. I miss the purple on the Plymouth Duster.

I was in and out of the BMV in 15 minutes. Can you beat that? I accidentally left one of my plates on the counter and a clerk ran out, yelled “sir” at me, and handed me the plate. I said to her, “At least I got you outside! Thanks.” It was 20 degrees and snowing. She said, “I don’t want to be outside.” The BMV. I miss Harvey Pekar.

klezmer plate

Not my plate, btw.

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March 13, 2019   3 Comments

BIG NAMES

Howard Metzenbaum was a big name in my father’s generation. Metzenbaum made millions in parking lots, and eventually became a U.S. senator. My father and Metzenbaum were born the same year, 1917, in Cleveland. My dad didn’t know Metzenbaum but enjoyed following his career.

Metzenbaum, in his later years, owned a condo at Three Village, the holy of holies for upscale living on East Side Cleveland. The building went up in 1978 near Cedar Road at I-271. The Three Village condo development was wooded and secluded. My parents lived nearby, at the Mark IV apartments (now called the Hamptons). My parents liked brand-new housing; they weren’t keen on used. Everything had to be shiny and new, maybe because they grew up in poverty.

Across from the Mark IV was Acacia on the Green — a step up, rent- and prestige-wise, from the Mark IV. Next to Acacia was Sherri Park, a step down. Across from Sherri Park was Point East, a step up from Acacia but down from Three Village. These buildings all went up in the 1970s and were popular with my parents’ generation.

three village

My parents never went inside Metzenbaum’s building. I did. I visited a rich friend who bought a condo in Three Village. Metzenbaum was long gone — dead as of 2008. The building’s buzzer directory read Maltz, Mandel, Ratner, Risman, Weinberger and Wuliger.

Maybe you have to be an old Cleveland Jew to appreciate that. If you’re not an old Cleveland Jew and have read this far, please explain why.

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March 6, 2019   10 Comments

SHUT UP AND PLAY

Jim Guttmann, the bassist in the Klezmer Conservatory Band, said his biggest thrill is playing nursing homes. Guttmann, who has toured the world, said nursing home residents appreciate him the most.

I don’t know about playing Europe, but I do know about nursing homes. I’ve played a lot of them. If you don’t play “Tumbalalaika” and “Bay Mir Bistu Sheyn,” don’t bother showing up. Humor — at least my brand — doesn’t go over at nursing homes. I once did a comedy number at a nursing home, and an old man in a wheelchair interrupted, “Play music! Sit down!” I was flustered. I blurted out, “I’ll sit down when you stand up!” That quieted him.

When I go to a concert, I often feel like yelling “talk!” at performers. I don’t go for the Bob Dylan no-talk model. Say something between songs, and make it interesting. Don’t just say, “My next tune is . . .” Tell the audience about your favorite candy bar — anything.

I had a Snickers bar recently in Peru. There was this snack shop on a remote mountain trail. I was walking toward a water fall and this Snickers appeared. (Shut up and play.)

candy man john lokar 1981

This is a Snickers from 1981, in Cleveland. Vendor is John Lokar.

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February 27, 2019   3 Comments

PENAL BURNING

I wrote “penal burning” on a canister of Cleveland Clinic pills. I should have written “penile burning” but my spelling skills — which are usually pretty good — were down. I was in the recovery room at the Clinic.

caduciousI like medical stories. Here’s mine: I went into the hospital for bladder stones and to “open a channel in your prostate,” to quote the urologist. The surgeon used a laser up my urethra for about 2 ½ hours in the OR and then sent me to the recovery room, which in my case was a bed with a curtain around it. It wasn’t a bad room. It was like business class on an airplane, I suspect — a fully reclining bed, nurse/attendant on-call, decent food, and chatter from neighbors all night.

The “penile burning” Rx came the next day, when I was discharged. The doctor — a resident — told a nurse about it. I overheard them discussing “penile burning” outside my cordoned area. “Penile burning” caught my attention. The resident should have told me directly about “penile burning.”

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February 20, 2019   1 Comment

My Life in Fiddler on the Roof

I’ve played Perchik and Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof. Mostly in small-town gigs. The regional theater directors often ask me to discuss Jewish stuff with the cast, like about yarmulkes and the breaking of the glass, and chair lifting. I make up stuff. I’ve heard rabbis make up stuff, too — particularly about the glass breaking. There are many reasons why the glass is broken. All bobe mayses.

When I’m not acting, I do a one-man show. I play guitar, hand drum, even harmonica, and I sing. And I use backing tracks. I know some Yiddish, too.

Here’s a promo pic. I use it sparingly now that I’m 65  . . .

irwin 1990s

I should advertise in the back of Hadassah magazine like Ruth Kaye and Caryn Bark. Who are they? Who am I? I live in Cleveland and play the nursing home circuit. I went to Brush High. I’m married with adult children. I spend about six weeks every winter in Florida. I’m in Sarasota today. I’ve played Tevye a dozen times. I’ve also played the lead in Jesus Christ Superstar.

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February 13, 2019   3 Comments

SHREDDING IT

Cleveland is in the middle of the cereal belt. Shredded Wheat of Niagara Falls, New York, is to the east, and to the west is Kellogg’s of Battle Creek, Michigan. Shredded Wheat moved from Niagara Falls years ago, but the cereal belt remains. Cleveland is the buckle.

cerealI eat cereal just about every day. Nothing too sweet. Cheerios, Shredded Wheat, Weetabix. Blueberries added, maybe. You don’t care.

I had a prospective tenant who wanted to open a cereal store. He opened down the street and went under almost immediately. He was Cereal Central or Cerealicious. I don’t remember. Nobody in Cleveland wanted to eat cereal in a store. (He also had a store in Columbus near Ohio State. Apparently, OSU students in pajamas were willing to eat cereal in a restaurant.)

Most people like to eat cereal alone and not talk about it.

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February 6, 2019   4 Comments

THE TENNIS COURT SHOVELER

When Rich Greenberg and I were in high school, tennis was a tree of life to them that lay hold fast of it. Rich shoveled the snow off the courts at Cain Park in Cleveland Heights. Nuts. He played so well he wound up on the UC-Santa Barbara team. I waited six months every winter for spring tennis. I wasn’t going to shovel courts.Think about it: no snow blowers in the 1960s, and the courts had to be perfectly dry.

Contemplating tennis — and not playing — was like practicing music without an instrument. It was doable, but not much fun. I owned Bill Tilden’s book on singles and Gardnar Mulloy’s doubles book. There was no tennis on TV. We didn’t have access to indoor courts.

Tim Gallwey’s The Inner Game of Tennis (1974) recommends watching the spin on the ball. Focus on the rotation of the ball’s seams. The author of The Inner Game of Music said something similar. Focus. I can’t remember on what. (Not as good a book as Inner Tennis.)

When I play a concert, I sometimes focus on an imaginary green cot as a mental image. The cot is an emergency-shelter Red Cross cot. Keeps me calm.

green cot

When I was a sub on a gig, the bandleader shouted at me: “Listen!” Meaning “Listen to the music!” Maybe I was distracted by the hors d’oeuvre.

In my twenties — after college — I thought tennis was dumb. Two adults hitting a ball over a net. That was not solving any problem. I hung out with Rich at his tennis pro job in Rocky River, Ohio. Rich said he couldn’t teach the middle-aged women — the 35 year olds — anything new. He said, “I wish tennis hadn’t boomed. It would force me to do something else.” He spent time arranging inter-clubs between “our girls” and Lorain. He eventually moved to Seattle and did something else. Insurance, for one thing. And he plays harmonica in a blues band.

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January 30, 2019   4 Comments

OH, TO BE IN ENGLAND

My 1:44-minute video about England is essential viewing, what with the Brexit stuff going on.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=abaOB__6Jhk

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January 23, 2019   2 Comments

LOST MONEY

My main job is getting the rent money in the bank. A tenant put $640 cash in the drop box at the apartment building. Thirty-two $20-dollar bills. The money never made it into my hands. I was in Peru. That didn’t help.

screw upI should get rid of that drop box. It’s a thin metal box with a cheesy diary-like lock. The lock wasn’t broken. From now on, each tenant mails the rent, just like back in the Stone Age. Or maybe I should simply put a sign on the box “no cash” and still permit checks.

I believe the tenant – that she put the money in the drop box. She always pays with cash. And I don’t think it was an inside theft job by my employees. (Take my word on that, or not.)

My dad used to say, “Job one is getting the money in the bank.” He didn’t even trust drive-thru tellers. He always waited in line in the bank.

Another tenant put a money order in the same drop box, and that check is missing, as well. What’s happening here? I told the tenant to get a replacement money order. He said, “This sucks.” True. I apologized three times and told him to take $50 off his rent. So now I’m out $690 (= $640 + $50) for January.

I really wanted to write about bumping my head on a door jamb in Peru, but I’m too upset about this money thing to write about door jambs. I’m 5-8½. Bumping my head on a door jamb is new to me. A lot of people in Peru are short. I have a scab. In junior high I was the fourth-shortest boy in my class. Of about 165 boys, three were shorter: Krill, Kramer and Gold. (Kramer and Gold  became wrestling champs — 93 pound and 103-pound, or something like that.) At the start of high school (10th grade), I was five feet.

Back to money . . . My dad wouldn’t be happy with me today. This is the first time I’ve lost a rent payment in 43 years, to my knowledge. I’m thinking about video surveillance cameras.

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January 16, 2019   5 Comments

ONE THING LEADS TO ANOTHER

Landscaping was my thing for years. I had all the gear. I loved the hum, the buzz, and the hanging out at lunch with the other guys.

Winters were bad; snowplowing sucked. I hit parked cars and had to get up early. Real early.

So I went into medicine. This was back when Case Western was taking older, nontraditional students. It didn’t hurt I’m a woman. I transferred my skills. Nothing much different about cutting grass and cutting prostates.

caducious

Did I tell you I never got married, but nevertheless raised the three kids single-handedly. I lived cheaply for years prior to med school and kids. Like I used to sleep in my car a lot. One day I got a really numb arm from sleeping in my car. I thought I had a stroke, so I went to the ER and they gave me a CAT scan and tested everything. That’s what got me interested in medicine.

Interesting how one thing leads to another.

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January 9, 2019   2 Comments

THE TAXMAN COMETH

Every January I spend a day filling out employer tax forms. My favorite is the Federal Unemployment Tax Act (FUTA) form. I did my first FUTA Form 940 in 1978, when my dad started going to Florida for the winter. He and his high school buddies golfed in Boca Raton, and I filled out FUTAs in Cleveland.

Toby Stratton (far L) w/ friends at Boca Lago CC, 1983

The treasurer of Ohio likes his W-2 reconciliations promptly. The state unemployment bureau also likes its money quickly. And don’t forget workers comp.

I used an IBM Selectric-style typewriter for tax forms until the machine died around 2011. The A key wouldn’t work. That was its main drawback. “ lbert Str tton” didn’t cut it with the government. I threw out the typewriter and several boxes of Ko-Rec-Type.  I spent a few hours behind this typer:

2011 RIP.( I wrote some unpublished novels on this baby.) It's an IBM knock-off, actually.

 It’s an IBM knock-off, actually.

Now I use IRS computer forms, except for my Yiddishe Cup 1099s, which I do by hand. I used black ink on Yiddishe Cup’s 1099s. One year I used blue, which is ill-advised. The gobierno prefers black ink. I got with the program.

What are you in jail for?

Blue ink.

No thanks.

 

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January 2, 2019   1 Comment

WHAT ARE YOU EATING FOR NEW YEAR’S?

Not all musicians have gigs on New Year’s Eve. A lot of would-be partygoers stay home for a quiet evening, or go to the movies. There aren’t that many gigs. The era of the New Year’s Eve fraternal organization dinner dance is long gone.

Sometimes people eat special foods on New Year’s Eve. I know a family that eats lobster. My family often ate oatmeal on New Year’s Eve. We picked up that habit in Akron, Ohio. Yiddishe Cup had a gig at First Night Akron for 22 years, and in the early years my family stayed overnight at the Quaker Square hotel, which was in a remodeled Quaker Oats grain silo.  The hotel served oatmeal at midnight.

Yiddishe Cup missed 2009 in Akron. The event coordinator called and said, “We’re reducing our footprint.”

We aren’t playing this year either. The event reduced its footprint again — to zero. First Night Akron is history. I might go to Peru for New Year’s.

Klezmer musicians lamented the downsizing of First Nights and various other venues. This kvetching started about 2008. First Nights had been the rage in the 1990s but were no big deal in the 2000s. In the 1990s, the director of First Night Akron told me she had just been to a national First Night conference in Boston and the word was out: “Get a klezmer band.”

Yiddishe Cup worked the boonies before playing First Night Akron. First, we played Warren, Ohio, First Night a couple times.

First Night Akron usually consisted of a Beatles tribute band, a blues band, fireworks, a couple generic American acts, and us. It was a good time and good run. Thanks, Akron.

YCKB 1998

YCKB 1998

 

 


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December 26, 2018   4 Comments

BACK WHEN ROOSEVELT WAS GOD

 

Jean Elsner, who died last week at 99, lived in her house on Stilmore Road in South Euclid for 61 years — until 2013, when she moved to a seniors building in Chicago to be near her oldest son. Jean’s father built the Stilmore house in 1951. In 2009, she was the oldest student at Cleveland State. She took courses for the fun of it.

Jean's house, 2011

Jean’s house, 2011

Jean was very nice to my mother. When my mom became a widow, Jean didn’t bail on her like some friends of my mom did. And when my mother got Parkinson’s, Jean didn’t bail either. Jean called the building manager at my mother’s apartment because my mom was on the floor and couldn’t get up.

Jean and my mom went way back — to Kinsman Road. They shared a locker in seventh grade. When my mom moved to Cleveland from Mississippi in 1930, Jean welcomed her.

Jean knew me from day one. Jean said I was a fat baby.

I think I have a picture of Jean’s house with the Franklin Roosevelt picture in the den. In the 1940s she bought the picture for her parents, who “worshipped” Roosevelt, she said. “They thought Roosevelt was God. They had always been Socialist before then — voted for Debs — but they took a chance on Roosevelt in 1932.”

Jean and Roosevelt, 2011

Jean and FDR, 2011

Jean wrote a letter to Eleanor Roosevelt in 1937, asking for help with the Homeowners Loan Corporation, which gave Jean’s dad a loan for a house. Jean had a permanent campaign sign in her front picture window: “Vote Democrat.”

Jean never drove. She took the bus. That was odd, at least for Cleveland. She allowed neighbors to park in her driveway.

Her breakfast was orange juice, hot chocolate and toast. She ate peanut butter and jelly and tea for lunch every day.

That’s some of what you need to know about Jean.

 

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December 19, 2018   5 Comments

SOMEWHAT DISREPUTABLE?

Martin Amis said being in his father’s business (writing) was somewhat disreputable. Martin Amis wrote, “Being a hereditary novelist is a freaky thing, and people do find it a bit creepy.”

Here are some other hereditary artists, and personalities, who are a bit creepy: Ravi Coltrane, Ben Cheever, Katie Roiphe, Ben Stiller, Dweezil Zappa, George W. Bush, A.G. Sulzberger. All schmucks! Yes, that’s an extreme reaction. I’m envious.

A college friend said to me — about my family’s real estate business — “I wish I had a business to pass on to my son.”

unemployed father and son

But a family business is so unglamorous (think carpet sales, plumbing supplies) that there is nothing to get envious about, so don’t get envious. I just read the Ratner family real estate biz, Forest City, finally imploded after four generations. Everybody wants to be a novelist. Well, at least one Ratner — Austin Ratner — is a novelist.

One exception to all the above: If your father is a regional musician, and your 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. Clarinetist Ken Peplowski’s father played in a polka band in Cleveland. That’s all very admirable.

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December 12, 2018   1 Comment

JEOPARDY!

At a Detroit wedding, the bride came down the aisle to a Barbra Streisand record. She paused several times to read from her childhood diaries. She had 109 journals. Luckily she only paused five times. Eight years later, she emailed me and asked if I remembered her. Yes, I did, and I remembered her bridal dance, too. Also, Billy Wisse was a groomsman at that wedding. I pronounced it Billy Weiss. I explained to him, “There’s a Ruth Wisse, a Yiddishist and professor at Harvard, and I’ve heard her name pronounced that way.”

“That’s my mother,” Billy said.

So I asked Billy if he was a professor as well. He said he wrote questions for Jeopardy. I said, “That’s a job?” And I jotted down his email address, because my son Teddy — a college student then — would love a job at Jeopardy on graduation. Teddy was on Brandeis’ Quiz Bowl team.

Two years later, Brandeis’ Quiz Bowl team played a national championship game in Los Angeles, and Ted and his Brandeis teammates met Billy Wisse for breakfast at Canter’s Deli.

Two more years ago by. We’re at 2004: Ted gets a call from Sony, which owns Jeopardy, offering Ted a slot on Jeopardy. A paragraph in the contract reads something like “Do you know anybody from Sony or Jeopardy? If so, you cannot be on the show.” Teddy did not know anybody on Jeopardy! Teddy and Billy Wisse ate breakfast once, two years ago.

Alex Trebek, the Jeopardy host,  wore a cast on his wrist the day I went to the show. I sat in the peanut gallery. Trebek told the studio audience he had fallen off a ladder cleaning his gutters. Billy Wisse stood by a computer at the edge of the Jeopardy set. This was at Sony Studios in Culver City, a suburb of Los Angeles. I was nervous Billy Wisse was going to disqualify Teddy, but Billy didn’t make a move.

jeopardyTed aced the category “Our Lady,” about Catholic shrines. He knew Our Lady of Czestochowa (Poland), Our Lady of Gethsemane (Kentucky) and several others. The Final Jeopardy category was Fictional Children. The answer was “This boy, introduced in a 1902 book, flew away from his mother when he was 7 days old.”

An editor from Boston answered, “Who is Peter Pan?” Right! She went up to $10,900.

Teddy said, “Who is Peter Pan?” He went up to $13,399.

The returning champ, a scientist from Tennessee, said, “Who is the Little Prince?” He went down to $7,900.

Alex Trebek said, “The new champion, Ted Stratton, a reporter from Cleveland Heights, Ohio.”

Look it up.

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December 5, 2018   3 Comments

CALIFORNIA

Around the time my younger son left for California — about seven years ago — I ran into a 24-year-old San Francisco girl at a shiva in Cleveland and told her to meet up with my son in Cali and show him around. I said, “Find him a job, a house, and marry him. I hope I’m not laying too big a trip on you.”

I was. She avoided me the rest of the shiva.

My daughter (who moved to Chicago about 10 years ago) once told me: “The kids who go out to California never come back.” My son in Cali said he feels guilty about leaving Cleveland, but not that guilty. He is 47-percent homeboy. I — by comparison — am 99.9-percent homeboy. I went to California four times in my twenties and ate a lot of KFC chicken on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley and saw many loose screws on Sproul Plaza, such as a woman who wore a vinyl yellow-and-black Carnaby Street cap all the time. I hitchhiked up to Bolinas and Santa Rosa, and ate a large snail at a marine biology lab in Bodega Bay. My dad told me to move to California. Maybe that’s why I didn’t.

Time Traveler

Time Traveler

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November 28, 2018   3 Comments

J RAPPER

I’m a J rapper — a Jewish rapper. I like hiphop, klezmer and all that stuff. Weird, because I’m 70. I go to rap-offs and win. I can rhyme Yiddish, like balebos with ball of fuzz, and mishegas with lift up the gas. People like it.

hypno klezThere used to be another old Jewish rapper — Murray Saul. (Yeah, I know there are young Jewish rappers, like Matisyahu and Ari Lesser.) Anyway, old Murray Saul would go on WMMS radio — this was in the 1970s — and screech about the exciting, impending weekend. Saul was Cleveland’s answer to Allen Ginsberg but without the talent. Saul would just yell a lot. He was also a salesman; he sold radio ads.

I have a half hour’s worth of material.

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November 21, 2018   3 Comments

A BUNCH OF BURGLARS

I employed a building manager whose family was “a bunch of burglars,” according to the police. Why the cops waited so long to tell me, I don’t know. The building manager’s adult kids pilfered tools and lawnmowers, but I couldn’t prove anything, and, besides, I liked the building manager. He was a hard-working “hillbilly”— his term. I was his “little bitty buddy” — his term again. His kids took the master key and broke into an apartment. They also committed a botched burglary down the street and got caught. They confessed to that, plus the break-in at my place. My building manager and his family had to move out. “See you in the funny papers,” he said.

Years later I hired another manager, Speedy, who also had crook relatives. His “niece” was a prostitute. She took the master key and entered an apartment and stole a tenant’s checkbook, ID and ring.  The “niece,” Amber, slept on Speedy’s couch. My plumber said, “A black guy is pimping her.”

I told the police about Amber, and the detective said, “Amber Carney. She’s a known druggie and thief.” Amber’s victim — my tenant—said the stolen ring was an Irish ring. Whatever that meant. The ring was fenced and gone. The tenant asked if I was Irish.

“I’m Jewish,” I said.

“I’m Palestinian,” she said. OK. I had the locked changed, and she stayed another year, pressing charges against the whore. Amber went to jail, and Speedy moved out and took a job at an adult bookstore.

blindfold test

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November 14, 2018   1 Comment

COPS ARE FUNNY

Cleveland cop Tommy Alusheff moonlighted as a comedian under the name Morey Cohen, which was a conflation of “Morey Amsterdam” and “Myron Cohen.”

Tommy Alusheff / Morey the Cop died in 2010. I knew him only by reputation. Morey wasn’t in the Sixth District — my old police beat. The funniest cop in the Sixth was Paul Falzone, who once told me, “I have eight minutes of material to Morey’s twelve. How can you tell Ronald McDonald at a nudist colony? He’s the one with sesame seed buns.”

Falzone ran for county sheriff and president of the patrolmen’s union, and didn’t win either. He eventually became police chief of Bratenahl, a suburb. In 2008 Cuyahoga County tried to put Falzone in jail for theft. Something about drugs and guns missing from the Bratenahl property room. Falzone was acquitted and sued Bratenahl for “humiliation.” That wasn’t funny.

stand up cops

I had an op-ed about immigrants in the Wall Street Journal on Monday.

indian store 08 W-1

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November 7, 2018   3 Comments