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.



Bill DeArango played guitar with Dizzy Gillespie on 52nd Street and was the music guy in Cleveland. I was at DeArango’s University Heights music store, playing charts from New Sounds in Modern Music (edited by Bugs Bower, 1949). DeArango had randomly picked the New Sounds in Modern Music book from his sheet-music rack. A kid with a horn (alto) in 1970. Back then it was all guitars and drums. I didn’t tell DeArango I had bought the New Sounds book a couple years before and knew it cold.

DeArango introduced me to Jimmy Emery, a guitar player who could pick out all the Charlie Parker solos. (Emery moved to New York three years later and went on to record with all the big names.) Emery and I had jazz to ourselves in 1970, at least among 20-year-old white kids in Cleveland.

I visited Berklee in Boston. It had no campus, just one building. The founder was Lawrence Berk. The lee in Berklee is for Lawrence’s son, Lee. Berklee — the name — reminded me of my dad’s failed foot-powder company, Lesbert Drug Co., named for my sister, Leslie, and me. Maybe not a real college — Berklee? I went home to Cleveland, then back to Ann Arbor to reactivate my authentic college life.

I was not near Jimmy Emery’s level. Emery could mimic any sound he heard, and do it quickly. I bought play-along records and got into the Michigan jazz band. Dave Brubeck’s son was in that band. I got the second alto seat by playing a blues in F, or something like that. Few kids knew how to improvise back then. Music students came from high school stage bands, not jazz bands.

I borrowed recordings of Hank Crawford, Lou Donaldson and Rufus Harley from a black Detroit kid I knew from the dorms. I went to Baker’s Keyboard Lounge in Detroit to see Gene Ammons, Sonny Stitt and Roland Kirk. I bought how-to-play-jazz books. I read Leroi Jones for cultural background. My how-to-play-jazz books were mostly by David Baker, Indiana University. These books were boring chord patterns and scales. Not as dry as Organic Chemistry, but not a pleasure.

I eventually quit playing and dropped out of college for a few months. These days I play some Dixieland clarinet, and not too well. Hurray for klezmer!

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January 20, 2021   5 Comments


I thought I had shingles again. My first shingles was when my dad died. My dad was stressed, and so was I. This time around I was stressed about a building, not even a human. I had sold an apartment building and was annoyed with the gas company. The temperature outside was zero, and a meter man was at the building with a huge wrench, threatening to turn the gas off. I didn’t even own the building. I had sold it the day before! “You have two choices,” the gas man said to me. “Turn the gas off or leave it on.” I don’t own the place!

The new owner hadn’t called in for an initial reading. The temperature was supposed to drop to – 7. “Keep it on,” I said.

I went swimming to relax. I would chase the new landlord the next day for the bill. When I finished my laps, I noticed a red streak across my stomach. Shingles again?

My wife, a registered nurse, checked out my stomach when I got home. She said I had scratched myself.

Paranoid? No. Shingles is bad.

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January 13, 2021   2 Comments


I saw Wilma Salisbury, the former Cleveland Plain Dealer dance critic. She was a tough critic. Used to be a tough critic. She was retired, so she was simply Wilma Salisbury now. I saw PD columnist Eleanor Mallet — also retired. She was simply Eleanor now. Winsor French — a long-dead Cleveland Press columnist — used to arrive at work in a Rolls. He was independently wealthy. He went all over the world during the Depression, reporting on glamorous parties.

Have you made it through a book-length compilation of newspaper columns? I have. One book: Eric Broder’s very funny The Great Indoors. Would you read 45 Dick Feagler columns in a row? Good stuff but you might die from an overdose.

Here are some other former Cleveland columnists: Don Robertson, Alfred Lubrano, Jim Parker, Jim Neff, Mary Strassmyer, Tom Green . . . and I’m just getting started. I was once a columnist. I wrote about candy, sheepshead and the public library for Sun Newspapers. I could see both sides to everything, even sheepshead. Not a good thing for a columnist.

Terry Pluto, Plain Dealer columnist, writes about religion and sports. Pluto phones clergy and asks (my guess): “Can you tell me and my readers how to live — and preferably in three or fewer sentences. And how about them Browns!” I like Pluto on both religion and sports. It’s all coming together for Pluto, what with the Browns in the playoffs and the plague (Covid) hitting the head coach and several key players. In one religion column, Pluto quoted a rabbi who cited Pirke Avot: “The one who is wealthy is satisfied with what he has.”

I am satisfied with not writing a newspaper column.

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January 6, 2021   3 Comments


How come documentaries about California musicians — Hal Blaine, the Sherman brothers — have poolside shots, but no outdoor ping-pong shots? The musicians are sunbathing poolside. Are they embarrassed to show their ping-pong moves? (The Kids Are All Right, a comedy-drama set in California, had an outdoor ping-pong table. No musicians, though.)

My father, Toby, had an old friend in Los Angeles, Irv Drooyan, who taught high school, wrote math textbooks and played outdoor ping-pong. Toby kept in touch with Irv and another Kinsman Road old-timer — Sol of San Diego. In the 1950 and 1960s, California was just an extension of Cleveland. My dad’s friends switched their first names to sound more American. Irv was Red. Sol was Al. Toby was Ted.

My introduction to outdoor ping-pong was on Red Drooyan’s patio in Woodland Hills, California, in 1962. Unforgettable because A) it was outdoors, and B) I didn’t know my dad had any friends. In Cleveland my father hung out exclusively with my mom’s friends and their husbands.

I’ve got to get back. To 1962? Cleveland? California?

To the ping-pong table. Your serve.

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December 30, 2020   5 Comments


Cholent was the vehicle for my return to cooking. In the 1970s I took a Chinese cooking class at the Pearl of the Orient. But no cooking classes since. My rabbi’s son hosted a Zoom class on cholent last month.

There were about 50 people at the Zoom meeting. (It’s a big synagogue.) I tried to hide; I muted; I didn’t scream, “I’m a novice!” I dumped beans, barley, kishke, flankn, potatoes and onions into my slow cooker. The instructor, Jared, said the Crock Pot was invented by an Orthodox Jew to slow-cook cholent on shabbat. (Lookin’ that up . . . Yep, the Crock Pot was invented by one Irving Nachumsohn for cholent cooking.)

Most Jews — and everybody else —  don’t know what cholent is. It’s mostly an Ortho thing. Cholent is a stew you slowly cook for 12 hours or more, so as not to light a fire on shabbat.

My cholent cooked too long. My stuff came out like a big cow pie. No definition to it. The meat melded into the beans. Just one massive turd.

I had people coming over for dinner and was going to serve it! My wife, Alice, who’s a good cook, turned the cow pies into sliders. She served cholent sliders, without buns, as an appetizer. I didn’t apologize, or say to my guests: “This is my first time!” (Cooks should never apologize. Neither should musicians.)

My friends liked it. Alice added extra pepper and salt, and some soy sauce. And luckily I had picked out the plastic  kishke casing prior. I didn’t realize the kishke was wrapped in plastic when I sliced it and dumped it in the stew. The next day I ate huevos cholent — a fried egg on top of a cholent slider. That was good, too. Alice came up with that.

Need cholent?

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December 23, 2020   4 Comments


The guys who are eight to 10 years older than you, they’re your idols. You’re not in competition with them. They’re different: wiser, polished, cooler.

Dennis Ralston died last week at 78 from brain cancer. He was on the Davis Cup team in the 1960s. I wasn’t a huge fan of him, because he was tall and I was short. Ralston was 6-2. His teammate, Chuck McKinley, was my guy, 5-8. McKinley died of brain cancer, too, at 46 in 1986. I didn’t know that until a minute ago. I don’t follow tennis that closely.

Here’s a great 1:56-minute video of McKinley playing Roy Emerson at Roxboro Middle School. Technically, Harold T. Clark Courts, Cleveland Heights, 1964:

My mother bought me a ticket. She wouldn’t buy an extra one for herself or my father because tickets were expensive — $10 a day ($84 in today’s money). The setting: a 7,500-seat bleacher rig where the Roxboro running track is. The U.S. lost to Australia.

OK, you never heard of Ralston. Try Bob Dylan. I hope to outlive Dylan, born in 1941. I idolized him. I hope I don’t croak before he does. That wouldn’t be right. Heroes dies first.

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December 16, 2020   3 Comments


Max Burstyn lived in the Jewish highlands on the other side of the public park from me. No flooding in the highlands, and 99-percent yidlach. Max spoke English, Yiddish and German. Max was born in Munich and came to America as a baby in the 1950s. His dad was a Galitzianer from Krakow.

Max Burstyn, 1969

Max Burstyn, 1969

I played tennis with Max in the park. That’s where we met. Max still rants about my neighborhood — the lowlands, the other side of park. He says, “You lived with the goys — like Stropki. I played Pony League with him. There were about eight Stropkis. What about Bobrowski? He was a Catholic too. Went to St. Joe’s. He played third-string for the Browns. He was from your street. There was Mastrobuono. He had a funny walk.”

Max was a mischling ersten grades, self-described. (First-degree mixed race.) That’s a Nazi term, but Max used it — at least around me. Max’s mother was a German gentile. Max’s father and mother met in Germany after the war. Max was halachically converted as a baby.

Max knows some strange Yiddish words. He mentions kudraychik — a swindler. I can’t find that in the dictionary. It’s probably Slavic, not Yiddish. Max says, “There was a kudraychik, a Jewish barber, in the occupied zone after the war . . .”

You don’t hear that kind of language, except around Max.

A groysn dank, Max.

Check out my essay, “Some Acts of God Are Better Than Others,” in the Wall Street Journal (12/3/20). The link, here, takes you over the WSJ paywall.

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December 9, 2020   2 Comments


I lost 16 rent checks. I used the bank’s night drop, and the envelope wedged between the metal chute and the bank’s brick wall. Just got buried in there like a time capsule.

I wondered, Did I forget to make the deposit? Was the deposit in my car somewhere?

I spent hours looking through file cabinets and garbage cans for that deposit. The bank found the deposit three months later. I wrote the bank manager about my embarrassment — having to tell 16 tenants I lost their checks. I asked the bank to waive its service fees for a year. I wrote: “I heard my father — who died years ago — talking to me, saying ‘You did what? You lost the money?’”

The bank didn’t waive the fees. They did, however, give me $110 to cover tracer fees.

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December 2, 2020   2 Comments


My dentist thinks he’s Larry David. My dentist insults me every visit, shouting, “You bastard, you don’t have any cavities!” My friend Mike, a retired businessman, thinks he’s Larry David. Mike is tough on waiters when we eat out.  “What? No Pellegrino?”

I’m Larry David. I used to listen to comedy records at Harvey Pekar’s apartment. Harvey had all of Bob and Ray, Lenny Bruce, and even Arnold Stang, the actor who did the Chunky commercials. I heard everything.

My band has gigged with a couple comedians. The comics did bits on dieting and Jewish cuisine. Frum comedians did riffs on kosher food, like “We had a power outage at our house and lost $100 worth of kosher meat — two chickens and a pound of hamburger.” I could do that — if I kept kosher and could tell a joke.

One of my relatives thought he was Phil Silvers. He ruined everything at Seders with stale constipation jokes. Yiddishe Cup once did a Catskill-themed event at a nursing home. Luckily, few people in Cleveland know about the Catskills, so our stuff went over, sort of.

I’ve watched Curb Your Enthusiasm a lot lately. Reminds me of me at my worst. That’s the point, right? I’m Larry David. You’re Larry David.

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November 25, 2020   2 Comments


Whenever I came home for college vacation, my mother always suggested I go to the West Side with my father. (West Side meant the apartment biz.) My mother never went to the West Side. She didn’t go once! On the West Side I listened to my dad talk about boiler additives and sump pumps. My dad carried an Allen wrench to adjust boiler controls. I nearly died on the West Side. I was resentful. I had seen Roland Kirk at the Eastown Motor Hotel, East Cleveland; Sonny Stitt at Baker’s Keyboard Lounge, Detroit; Ben Webster at Ronnie Scott’s Club, London. And now I was on the West Side talking about radiator vents.

I watched the Dick Cavett Show and hung out with my high school buddies who were also home for college vacation. One guy was applying to medical school. Another was studying for the CPA exam. A friend was angling for a job as a reporter. The nightmare job: a high school acquaintance was studying nursing-home administration. How did he come up with that? He didn’t. His mother did. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do besides write novels. (Wrote them. Different story.)

I gave my parents tsuris. College was nonsense, I said, and I quit. I wound up in front of the draft board. The whole nine yards: bend over, touch your toes, spread your cheeks. I had a low number, 42, in the draft lottery. (You remember your lottery number if you’re of a certain age. It’s the closest our gang got to military service, except for G. Klein, who went to Annapolis.)

At the Selective Service office downtown, I took a mechanical aptitude exam. This test featured drawings of carburetors and brake shoes. The test stumped me. Many of the other test-takers loved it. A test about GTOs! These test-takers were mostly from my neighborhood. Draft boards went by neighborhoods, and my ‘hood had more than its share of greasers. At the end of the exams, I handed the draft-board doctor a list of my allergy medications and shots, and got out.

My parents didn’t go AWOL on me. They could have. My dad was bemused by my combat boots and jeans jacket, but he didn’t go Archie Bunker on me. My dad took his marching orders from Walter Lippmann, who called Vietnam a “quagmire.” My parents waited me out. My mother insisted I was still a good boy. She had been saying that since I was in kindergarten. I graduated college in due time, and I eventually went to the West Side — a lot. You’re a good boy. I can still hear my mother saying that.

I have a story in today’s Cleveland Plain Dealer about leaf blowers. Check it out here.

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November 18, 2020   2 Comments


I went to the Shaker Square farmers market on Saturday just because the weather was good. I didn’t buy anything. My wife likes to buy brussels sprouts. I asked the head cheese at the farmers market: “How about if I come back here with my clarinet and play? I’ll give you the money.” I was sick of playing just for myself in my basement. He said OK.

I made $21.50 in 45 minutes. All single bills, plus two quarters. The “little guys” supported me with their Washingtons ($1s). Power to the people. I played mostly standards and campfire songs. That’s where the money is. “When the Saints Go Marching In,” “This Land is Your Land,” and “Autumn Leaves.”

Very few people actually stopped and listened. That’s the ignominy of busking. Nevertheless, I got in some clarinet practice, and an elderly lady said to me, “‘Bye Bye Blackbird’ made my day!” and a middle-aged black man said, “Nothing like live music!’

My sole regret is I didn’t hand the head cheese my band’s business card when I gave him all my dough. How’s he going to know to call me post-Covid? 

Enough. Orwell wrote: “Autobiography is only to be trusted when it reveals something disgraceful. A man who gives a good account of himself is probably lying . . .”

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November 11, 2020   4 Comments


The Irish rank musicians with fiddle contests. So do bluegrass associations. There is a $50,000 Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass. I rank Jewish musicians . . .

#1. Alan Douglass. Keyboards. Yiddishe Cup. His big hit is “Gentile on My Mind.”

#2. Ari Davidow, who operates the KlezmerShack website in the basement of the Brandeis student union by the foosball tables. Entrepreneur.

#3. Steven Greenman. Violinist. Born Steven Chemlawn.

#4. Gary Gould, the Cali King of Klez. He’s the bandleader to Hollywood stars, and sometimes he goes to Santa Monica.

#5. Hankus Netsky, a k a The Great One. The Klezmer Hall of Fame waived the waiting period for The Great One.

#6. Bert Stratton. The Ohio/Michigan/Indiana distributor of  Yiddishe Cup coffee mugs.

#7. Margot Leverett. An award-winning mixologist of klez and bluegrass.

#8. Lori Cahan-Simon. She produced the Yiddisher Soul Train, KYW-TV, Philadelphia, 1970.

#9. Marc Adler. He invented the clarinet suck vac, available only at Adler’s Hardware, Providence, R.I.

#10. Cookie Lavagetto. Third base.

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November 4, 2020   4 Comments


I walked into an Orthodox shul and saw an Amish man putting bales of hay and live chickens in the lobby. I said to myself, “No way.” Then I turned the corner and saw 15 Amish women in blue dresses with white aprons, and white bonnets. “No way” again. Then an Amish horse and buggy clopped by the front door.

Orthodox Jews arrived. Most were Modern Orthodox — dentists and lawyers with kippahs. A couple rabbis donned the full-black The Frisco Kid. This was for a sheva brocha (a post-wedding reception). John, from Middlefield, told me he used to be a wheelwright and now worked for a Jew who made mattresses. This mattress manufacturer was sponsoring the sheva brocha in celebration of his son’s wedding.

Yiddishe Cup’s violinist played klezmer outside by the buggy. The Amish driver said to me, “It sounds like Mozart!” The driver said Amish in northeast Ohio sometimes play harmonica but no other instruments. Instruments like “flute and guitar” might lead to forming a band, which is not sanctioned.

The bartender doled out Jack Daniels-and-Coke to the young Jews and young Amish, but nothing crazy happened other than the optics. My band played “Amazing Grace” — maybe a first for Green Road Synagogue. John said he sings “Amazing Grace” at home but not in church. He said his fellowship sings only Pennsylvania Dutch tunes in church.

I think the Amish enjoyed Yiddishe Cup, but who knows. They weren’t big talkers, at least around me. We played “Di Grine Kusine.” I wanted to see how the Yiddish lyrics would go over. Nothing. I guess I wasn’t going to figure out the Amish in one day. I’ve been working on the Jews, too — also with limited success.

(Yes, this happened.)

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October 28, 2020   2 Comments


I used to write essays about what I had for breakfast, and get the articles in the Wall Street Journal and New York Times. This was pre-Trump. Now, to get in these papers, I need to write “Trump every paragraph to have a shot.

When I was in grade school, sixth graders attended a week-long camping retreat. My elementary school — Victory Park — shared our retreat with neighboring Sunview School. Our sixth-grade teacher, an ex-Marine, said we Victory Park boys should pay attention to Trump from Sunview. Our teacher said Trump’s dad owned Lyndhurst Lumber, and “she would be a good catch.”

Yes, Trump was a girl, and she had two p’s in her last name, Trumpp, but let’s ignore the second p here. Trump was pretty and friendly, and she played clarinet. In junior high, she and I sometimes shared the same music stand. I think she gave up clarinet to become a cheerleader, and she married a guy on the football team, and she was never heard from again — at least by me. No reunions, nothing. I recently Googled her and learned her husband took over Lyndhurst Lumber, so I suppose I could go in there and ask, “How’s Trump?” But let’s keep this virtual, not real.

A fellow classmate, Robby Stamps, hitchhiked to Trump’s house in Lyndhurst and dated her. Stamps was James Dean-esque. Hitchhiking at age 13! (Later Stamps was wounded at Kent State.) Stamps was fluid, culturally. His father was a gentile car salesman named Floyd, and his mom was Jewish. Stamps felt comfortable in both worlds. Remember, this was back when “ethnicity” could be a white thing.

Trump worked part-time at The Swedish Bakery at Mayfield and Green roads. I never went in there. I should have. But my shyness trumped all.

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October 21, 2020   3 Comments


Every once in a while I go full Harvey Pekar. Like yesterday, when I spent half the day running bummer errands and waiting in lines. I had three missions: new driver’s license, new passport, flu shot. Wait, it gets interesting. Slightly. For example, I took an envelope from the Huntington Bank ATM lobby and the envelope had a $30 check in it — payable to the Ohio Treasurer from a tailor, dated a year ago. My son Ted took the check to the tailor shop, and the guy was happy to get it.

Bureau of Motor Vehicles. I registered online, so I got to cut in front of the 30-or-so people waiting in line on the sidewalk, social distancing. On my way out, I told everybody, “In and out — A to Z — in 30 minutes. Go home and sign up online.” Nobody moved.

Flu shot. CVS couldn’t pull up Medicare on its screen so I left. I went back to the bank. The line was still long there, so I slipped my dough in the night drop. I had cash, which is a bit risky to “drop,” but so far no problems — and “so far” for me means the last four decades. I wouldn’t slip 5K cash in a night drop, but I’m pretty sure plenty of retail merchants do.

CVS reprise. The Medicare computer connection was now working. I told the shot administrator he had the voice and demeanor of a doc, and he was flattered. I thought he was a clerk. No, he was a doctor of pharmacology. “Did you go to Ohio Northern?” I asked. Bullseye. He said, “How’d you know that?” Ohio Northern = pharmacy.

My passport photo doesn’t look so good, but hey, I’m 70, and the government doesn’t let you wear glasses now. My wife got hers, too, and she said hers is worse. I told the passport-photo taker, “I guess I’m not 35 anymore.” Like a lot of old guys, I like to BS with clerks. I hit it off with everybody yesterday but the BMV ladies. I bragged to a BMV clerk, “This is an original social security card from 1961.” She didn’t care. My dad had gotten the card for me when he bought me two shares of GTE in 1961. (GTE eventually became Verizon.) The card is crisp and has never been in a wallet. It’s got my childhood address and postal zone (as opposed to ZIP code) on it. Did you read this far? Pekar would have gotten you this far.

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October 14, 2020   6 Comments


An interview I did with a guy looking to join Yiddishe Cup :

Me: A deer jumps on stage while you’re performing. What do you do?

Musician: I shoot the deer.

Me: A concertgoer yells, “Stop talking and start playing!” What do you do?

Musician: I shoot him.

Me: Can you make hot hors d’oeuvres pop out of your instrument?

Musician: Yes, and candy apples, too, on Simchat Torah.

Me: What is the most creative thing you’ve ever done on stage?

Musician: I tore up a $100 bill centerstage at the Beachland.

Me: What if nobody shows up at the gig?

Musician: Happens all the time.

Yidd Cup / Funk A Deli live streams this Friday, around 7 p.m. ET, from Fairmount Temple, Beachwood, Ohio, for Simchat Torah. The sanctuary will be empty. Be there!  The stream is here.

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October 7, 2020   3 Comments


My childhood friend Chap attended ballroom dance classes at the Alcazar Hotel. He had to wear white gloves. Chap’s dad worked for the Plain Dealer in home delivery, and his mom had been a professional banjo player. She was a realtor. Chap became “Chuck” in adulthood (he was always legally “Charles”) and got a job at the racetrack. He usually drove Corvettes. He liked to take the front plate off his Vettes to mess with the cops.

Chuck played quality trumpet in a soul band and was a flashy dresser. Lots of leather. He wanted to be Italian but wasn’t. He knew some racehorse owners at the track and eventually owned a horse or two. Also, he went to Bowling Green for a while, but college wasn’t his thing.

I haven’t seen Chap since 1992. I’d like to. He owes me $50 ($91 in today’s dollars). I advanced him the $50 for a meat tray for the wake of a mutual friend.

Nobody, except Chuck, in our neighborhood went to dance lessons, let alone the Alcazar — white gloves, tea and cookies. That program was called Mrs. Baltzer’s Dancing School. I found the name on the internet. Can you blame Chuck for rebelling and buying racehorses?

Here’s my op-ed from the Monday Wall Street Journal, “Landlords Have Bills Too.”

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September 30, 2020   1 Comment


My father, Toby, ate his last meal out at Wendy’s on his way to Columbus, Ohio, for experimental leukemia treatments. He checked in to the hospital, then checked out, so to speak.

My father liked Wendy’s (headquartered in Columbus) because he had a quasi-business relationship with the company. Toby had almost invested in Wendy’s before it went national. Almost. Toby’s near-miss with Wendy’s stock topped my uncles’ near-miss sagas at Seder.

Toby liked fast food. He and I often ate at McDonald’s on the West Side. I got the Filet-O-Fish. I thought it was good for me. Toby explained franchising: the franchisor took a percentage of the action for eternity. Toby had been a franchisee/sucker with a cosmetics company — and he knew something about the food business, too. He especially knew about chazerai (junk food). Toby had worked in his mother’s candy store. When I visited my father’s grave the first couple times, I brought along Mr. Goodbars. Once, a Planters Peanut.

Decades later, I sat at the West Side McDonald’s with my oldest son, Ted, then 28. I ordered the chicken Caesar salad. I was instructing my son on the watchword of our people: Don’t be a sucker. Lesson 1: The first generation (Grandpa) scrapes, the second (me) tries to keep things on keel, and the third (Ted) needs tutorials in toughness because they don’t remember the beginning.

During Toby’s final days, the Cleveland Clinic nurses called him “chief” because he was bossy. A doc said, “You’re a hard one.” Toby answered, “That’s right. It’s my life.”

I told my son not to forget the little things: (Lesson 2) pens, checks, Post-It notes. Lesson 3: “Write everything down. You don’t want to think about ‘cold water leak, bathroom sink, apartment 24,” I said. Lesson 4: Be wary of restaurant workers, particularly chefs and servers. They come home late, party hard, and wake up the solid-citizens in the building. Lesson 5: Always Be Closing. ABC. That’s from a David Mamet play and is a joke between my son and me. Ted, like every other young person, enjoys quoting movies verbatim. I thought of a non-movie line for him. I said, “If the tenant hasn’t mailed his rent, say, ‘Do not mail in your late rent. Hand it to the building manager. Hand it.'” Ted seemed more interested in his burger. I wasn’t up to Mamet’s standards. “The job sucks on some level!” I said. That got my son’s attention. “You make it interesting. It can take a while.”

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September 23, 2020   4 Comments


My records were heavy, and I didn’t want them. I hadn’t listened to them in about 20 years. I said to my friend Carl, “In 10 years I might not be able to physically pitch them. I’ll be sitting in my La-Z-Boy and making my kids choose between Bob Dylan and Jefferson Airplane. So I’m doing it now for my kids’ sake.”

Harvey Pekar used to rifle through my albums. The only album he ever wanted was my Charlie Parker Memorial Album, Vogue Records, England, 1956. I didn’t sell the record to Harvey because I figured if he wanted it, it must be worth something.

A record-store owner came to my house; Pete from Blue Arrow Records stopped by. This was in 2012. Pete went through my record collection a few times as I said goodbye to Aretha Live at the Fillmore West, Herbie Mann’s Memphis Underground, and some Paul Butterfield, Gary Burton, B.B. King and Mayall. I got $300 for about 100 records. Not bad. Pete didn’t care about the condition of the records. Pete said his target market — millennials — “won’t buy the reissue LPs, they want the originals like yours.”

I said, “What jumped out at you? Is there any album worth ninety percent of what you paid me?”

He said, “I like your two Fred Neil’s — Everybody’s Talkin’ and Sessions. You don’t see those often.”

“Let me take a photo, Pete, of the collection. Don’t worry, I don’t want the records back.”

I want them back now. I also want my baseball cards back, which I sold in 2007. I’m King Tut II, and I can take this stuff with me.

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September 16, 2020   6 Comments


My friend Mike said he wouldn’t mind being shot dead at the restaurant. We were at Barrio, Cleveland Heights. Mike said, “I’ve had a good life and I don’t want to suffer.” Mike is 68. His dad is 99 and suffering.

I would mind getting shot to death. I want to see my kids get married, see a grandkid, go to more simchas, play more simchas, see more Vulfpeck shows, play more nursing-home gigs, and sit on my porch.

Nursing homes? Nursing homes are cool — the ones I’ve played at. Nobody sits in doo doo, and the residents hear quality live music. (Pre-Covid, that is. I’ve played some outdoor gigs at nursing homes this summer.) I’ve jammed with talented musicians at nursing homes. They do their schtick in one room, and I’m in another, and then I crash their gig and join them on clarinet. I just jump in. I should ask before I sit in, but sometimes I forget.

Once I busted in on a pianist playing “Blue Rondo a la Turk.” I had no idea how that tune went, but I played anyway. I apologized later. He didn’t shoot me, but maybe he wanted to.

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September 9, 2020   4 Comments