Real Music & Real Estate . . .

Yiddishe Cup’s bandleader, Bert Stratton, is Klezmer Guy.

He knows about the band biz and – check this out – the real estate biz, too.

You may not care about the real estate biz. Hey, you may not care about the band biz. (See you.)

This is a blog with a gamy twist. It features tenants with snakes and skunks, and musicians with smoked fish in their pockets.

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



  • Don’t rent to anybody for less than a year. How about six months? Nope. You’ll attract unstable — in all ways — tenants.
  • Don’t go long-term on a natural gas contract. Anything can happen with natural gas prices.
  • Don’t assume store tenants will do preventive maintenance. I once hired Roto-Rooter to jet a restaurant’s drain. The bill was $925. The restaurant owner didn’t reimburse me. He said, “How do you know it was my grease?” Well, was it grease from the flower shop next door?
  • Roofers are gonifs. It’s hard work and you can’t easily check their work.
  • When the temperature goes below 20 degrees, everything fails: pipes, downspouts, boilers, walls, roofs, snowplow guys, concrete.
  • Miller is a good all-purpose name. Miller can be Amish, African-American, Jewish, German, English, Gypsy. I once rented to Gypsy Millers. The cops wanted their license plate number but I didn’t get the number fast enough. The Millers left suddenly. They had New York plates.
  • There aren’t enough Elvis lovers in the trades anymore.
  • Real estate brokers wear expensive suits even though they’re not all rich. They go into boiler rooms and climb roofs. They have significant dry-cleaning bills.
  • Make sure there aren’t any Q-tips — even new ones — in the bathroom when showing vacant suites.
  • Wear a tie to court. The defendant usually will not. You win.

  • WSJ readers, here are more real estate stories.

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    January 19, 2022   3 Comments


    This is a guest post by Mark Schilling, a longtime friend of Bert’s. It’s an edited excerpt from an unpublished novel Mark wrote in 1973.

    Bruce answered my questions about his trip to Puerto Rico in a monotone, with that dry humor of his, never looking at me and seldom saying more than the minimum. Wanting to cheer him up, I suggested we go to The Scene — the bar famed for having the only psychedelically lighted dance floor in Ann Arbor. I said, “Maybe we can pick up some secretaries from Ypsilanti and tell them we’re pre-med students.”

    Bruce agreed to go. “But no junior high school shit,” he said. “No standing around for an hour to get the feel of things. We walk up to the first two hip-looking girls we see and ask to sit down with them.”

    “You take the lead, man.”

    “Don’t try to bring me down, I’ll need all the help I can get,” Bruce said.

    “I’m not going to bring you down,” I said, feeling pissed. But I let it ride.

    The Scene was packed. It was Saturday night. The drummer and keyboard player, who accompanied the records, were taking a break. Bruce and I stood at the bar surveying the crowd. “See the two chicks in back?” Bruce asked. “I’ll go over and see if it’s cool. Just stay here.” One, with her back to us, was wearing a red bandana. The other, a blonde, looked fantastic.

    What was Bruce going to say? Hi, my friend and I would like to sit with you? I hoped it would be something better than that, but what? Bruce waved me over.

    Now it was my turn to feel the butterflies. Bruce was sitting next to the blonde. The girl with the red bandana had a friendly, intelligent smile, which made me wonder what she was doing at The Scene. We covered everyone’s name, occupation and place of residence. The bandana girl, Jane, was a natural resources student at the U of M; the blonde, Marie, was a drop-out from Wayne State, now working as a check-out clerk at a Kroger’s in Detroit.

    Bruce asked Marie who her favorite authors were, as a ploy for recounting his own poetic and journalistic exploits (he wrote music reviews for the college newspaper). When she told him she had read On the Road, he looked as though he was going to hug her. “You know Kerouac! What else have you read?” All interesting, but with the music blasting away it was hard to hear half of what they were saying.

    So I quizzed Jane about her major. She was very concerned about the environment. “We’re running out of time,” she told me. “We’ve got to make changes now. In twenty years it will be too late.” She didn’t know what to do about it and neither did I. We danced, talked some more, and then Jane and Marie had to leave. Bruce wrote Marie’s number down on a napkin.

    Walking back to campus, Bruce said, “Her name is Marie Verdoux. She’s a Frog — a Canuck!” Bruce had wanted to meet a French girl ever since becoming a fan of Kerouac, that son of Canucks. “She’s a genius, no doubt about it.”

    A couple days later I dropped by Bruce’s place, a rooming house just off State Street. He was sitting on his bed listening to records. He’d been at it for hours. Bruce told me he had called Marie. “She was surprised but I think she dug it,” he said.

    “What did you talk about?”

    “Bullshit. I was just doing it to keep my edge. I don’t want her to forget who I am, you know.” Then Bruce rambled on more about Marie — what a good time they would have together. Bruce liked to make every encounter with a girl into a big moment of truth, a matter of make or break. We could endlessly analyze the nuances of these meetings. Bruce said, “I tape-recorded the call. She has an incredible voice, like an airline stewardess or something.”

    Bruce tape-recorded nearly everyone who walked into his room or talked to him on the phone. It bugged me at first to see him flipping that thing on at the start of a conversation, but I’d gotten used to it. Bruce said he was making the tapes for posterity. He liked to quote Ed Sanders’ adage “this is the age of investigation and every citizen must investigate.”

    This tape — this blog post, label it “The Scene, 1973.”

    Mark Schilling, 1977

    Mark Schilling, 1977

    —  Mark Schilling has lived in Japan for decades and writes about Japanese culture, particularly about Japanese film. He writes regularly for The Japan Times and Variety. His books include Sumo, A Fan’s Guide; Tokyo After Dark; The Encyclopedia of Japanese Pop Culture; and most recently Art, Cult and Commerce: Japanese Cinema Since 2000.


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    January 12, 2022   9 Comments


    Mark Schilling was my beat-est buddy. He moved to Los Angeles, quite possibly to live out a Charles Bukowski fantasy. Before L.A., Mark was in Ann Arbor, where he did some cool things (can’t remember any of them) and some cloddish things, like going out on a first date and taking one dollar with him, and the girl said, “Do you think I’m paying for myself.”

    “Yes,” Mark said.

    Mark showed up at my place. “Just blew another one!” he said. We played the Best of the Beach Boys, Vol 2, and Mark sang along. He had a good voice. We hopped into Mark’s Chevy and made the scene — The Scene bar in downtown Ann Arbor. The bar had flashing colored lights, nude photos of women on the ceiling, and peace and love posters. The Scene was cheesy, an ersatz European discotheque. Stupid. The more philosophical heads in town were at Flick’s Bar or Mr. Flood’s Party. But Mark and I preferred the drama of The Scene, because at The Scene there was dancing, which could lead to . . . whatever. The Scene had a contingent from Ypsilanti that could go nuts at any moment.

    I approached a girl called Pinball Annie, who was next to the speakers. She refused to budge, and I didn’t feel like going deaf, so Mark and I retreated to the loft, above the dance floor. The viewing was good up there, and Mark and I were above-average voyeurs. (Below-average players.) Mark talked about his student teaching and what he’d been reading lately. Mark worshipped Henry Miller. Mark was all about Hen (Miller) and Buk (Bukowski). Mark also admired Anais Nin, who lectured once at U-M. She defended Henry Miler before a crowd of Miller-hating women. She said Miller’s writing was picaresque.

    Mark was picaresque, too. (Picaresque: “relating to an episodic style of fiction dealing with the adventures of a rough and dishonest but appealing hero.”) Mark was all that, but honest.

    Mark sold Christmas trees in L.A., then moved to Tokyo to teach English at Sony. He quit the Sony ESL gig after a few years and wrote books and articles about Japanese culture. One of Mark’s first books was a guide to nightlife, Tokyo After Dark. Figures.

    mark schilling BEST PHOTO(R) & bert stratton, 1971, ann arbor

    Bert Stratton (L) and Mark Schilling. 1971. A2.

    P.S. Mark is still my beat-est buddy.

    I recently wrote a book review of Donald Hall’s Old Poets for City Journal. The review is titled “A Viking Cruise for Old English Majors.”

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    January 5, 2022   7 Comments


    I skipped third grade. Let me put that out here right away.

    I was the shortest kid in my class and got the crap kicked out of me regularly.

    I remember Colavito hit four homers in a row against Baltimore in 1959.

    I did juggling, tennis, ping pong and music.

    I got beaten up by Italians, in particular. I was 4-foot-7 in seventh grade. However . . . I made the junior high basketball team. I didn’t see a minute of play, but I could sink 20 free throws in a row.

    I was a Life Scout, not Eagle, just like musician Irwin Weinberger.

    I worked summers at a drugstore, stocking shelves for $1.25 an hour. I got one free Snickers per shift.

    My dad often dozed in the upholstered chair in the front room. He had The Cleveland Press in his lap. My mom was a homemaker and did all the normal Donna Reed stuff.

    In high school I placed in a national math contest and attended a summer workshop at the University of Rochester, where I got schooled by true math geniuses. After that I became modest, except here.

    I went to some big-name rock concerts. I saw the Byrds, the Band. Everybody. Janis Joplin. James Cotton opened for her.

    I attended Michigan, U. of.  Then I went into real estate. Is there anything else to do? Not that I know of.

    I got married in 1978. My wife has a degree in physics from Ohio State. Never used it. She taught gym. We have three adult children and 11 grandchildren — more than some Orthodox Jews.

    I skipped a grade. Did I mention that? Sandy Stein did too. He was also short.

    [fake profile]

    You want to read something true? I wrote about Santa Claus and small-claims court for the Wall Street Journal last week. “Never Throw Out Santa Claus”

    Triple play. I made a 1:45-minute video. “Deli Jews, My Dad, and the Browns.”

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    December 29, 2021   3 Comments


    Poet Robert Bly’s worst nightmare was visiting his family in Minnesota and attending hockey games. Maybe not as bad as Vietnam, but up there pain-wise, he said.

    Bly’s anti-Midwest rap was a big hit in Ann Arbor in the 1970s. Bly’s main message: your parents are middle-class stiffs; your real family is elsewhere. Join the counterculture. Bly was a 44-year-old Harvard man in a serape. He had a lot of chutzpah dispensing life advice wearing that shmate.

    Bly died at 94 in Minnesota last month. He lived in Minnesota most of his life and was the state’s first poet laureate, so he was putting us on when he said don’t go home.

    I liked going home. Whenever I came home from college, I received the treatment due the future Dr. Stratton. I only had to do the occasional minor chore, like emptying the dishwasher or dusting. Some of my college buddies didn’t go home. They were scared of becoming middle-class, even for a single weekend.

    During college vacations I sometimes hung around with my grade-school neighborhood pals. My friend John was installing tanning booths. My friend Chuck owned shares in a racehorse. Chuck worked as a mutuel clerk at the day-time Thoroughbred track and at the trotters’ track at night. When Chuck wasn’t working, he was firing his .357 magnum at beer cans in the woods in Geauga County.

    I learned something about guns. Not a lot, but enough to swiss-cheese any intruder with a 12-gauge shotgun. Bly knew about guns, too, and Midwestern culture. But it wasn’t his thing. Or maybe it was.

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    December 22, 2021   1 Comment


    When I’m drinking at the neighborhood bar, I like to hear a lot of noise. And when I’m at the corner restaurant, I want it loud in there, too. I like vibrations. Sometimes I pretend to get drunk just so I can be crazy-loud and incoherent. I try to knock over beer bottles with my voice.

    When I’m riding the Rapid, I talk as loudly as possible. I see drops of bloods, people screaming at me, exclamation points (!) all over. Doesn’t bother me.

    Should I attenuate? No. Potentiate? Probably. I’m 71. I’m not old. An old person is somebody who says, “It’s too loud in here.” I have never said that.

    I hang out with my musician friends and talk about tinnitus and loud Orthodox Jewish weddings. Musicians are all sound wrestlers. Some of us are hard of hearing.

    We’re not living in an abbey. Crank it up. I’m here to hear.

    [fake profile]

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    December 15, 2021   2 Comments


    Be prepared . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Just above Bosco.bosco

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

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

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

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    December 8, 2021   6 Comments


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

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

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

    She said, “Go ahead, I’m broke.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    December 1, 2021   No Comments


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    November 24, 2021   3 Comments


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

    March 10 “The Klezmer Dinner & Lecture.”

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

    And here are some future Klezmer Dinner Project events:

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

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

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

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

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

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    November 17, 2021   4 Comments


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    November 10, 2021   7 Comments


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    [fake profile]

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    November 3, 2021   2 Comments


    Stratton asked me, “How was it?”

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

    “Good. What’s your field, chap?”

    Real estate, music and writing.”

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

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

    “Tom Stratton-Crooke.”

    “We’re relatives!” I said.

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

    “What’s your field?” I asked.

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


    “Ann Arbor?”

    “Yes. What about you?”

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


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

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

    “Hah. You watch Downton Abbey?”

    “Not in, like, five years.”

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

    “You’re from England?”

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

    “That counts.”

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

    “I never heard of it.”

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

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

    “Can’t say that I have.”


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

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    October 26, 2021   4 Comments


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    [fake profile]

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    October 20, 2021   3 Comments


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    October 13, 2021   1 Comment


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    October 6, 2021   5 Comments


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    I’d vote for the levies.

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

    Yes, but actuarially speaking, who knows.

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

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

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    September 29, 2021   3 Comments


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

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

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

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

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

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

    He liked numbers. He was totally a numbers guy.

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

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    September 20, 2021   4 Comments


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

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

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

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

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

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    September 15, 2021   2 Comments


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    alan douglass 2011

    Alan Douglass, 2011


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    September 8, 2021   2 Comments