What was the worst Yiddishe Cup concert ever? Hard to say. There have been so many. (Joke.) What about when we showed up on stage and a PTA-type meeting was on stage too? The school principal, via the custodian, said no way were we getting on stage for our concert. The custodian said, “The PhDs and MBAs think they know so much.”
We went on 20 minutes late.
We’re never late. It wasn’t our fault.
I had a story, “Believeland in Cleveland,” in the New York Times online about the Cavaliers winning the NBA championship.
June 22, 2016 5 Comments
1. SO FILTHY
I have this band, Vulfpeck, which is so filthy. My lead singer is the shit — a Lebanese kid from Detroit who sings some Yiddish. And my drummer grew up next door to Aretha in Bloomfield Hills. He’s the shit plus one. My bass player has a following in Norway.
We’re on fire. We play at temples and Jewish arts festivals throughout the country, but we aren’t locked into the J bag. We’re in discussion with a major label, but I’m skeptical. The label says we’re “too Jewish.” We’re not too Jewish. We’re too filthy!
2. MUSIC DREAMS
I hear animal voices, particularly cats and fleas. Significant to my music? Yes. A coffee table book, Hope You Like My Music!, has more than 100 photos of professional musicians. Some tied up, some with instruments in odd places. I’m in a bathtub with clarinet reeds, like Moses.
3. OUR ESTHETIC
I admire musicians who, when you first hear their recordings, you know exactly who is playing. Like you say, “Hey, that’s Arnie!” because you hear the snorting hogs in the background, which is always Arnie’s thing.
Vulfpeck’s latest tune is “Gas.” It stresses colors and dynamics. One guy belches whole notes. Doesn’t feel forced either.
June 15, 2016 3 Comments
A.J. Jacobs read an encyclopedia for a year and wrote about it. Lee Kravitz apologized to his old enemies for a year and wrote about it. Another writer lived off dumpster food for a year. Ben Ryder Howe bought a Korean deli, ran it for two years, and wrote about it. (That was good: My Korean Deli.) I buy buildings, own them for decades, and write about that. That’s less contrived than the other guys, I think.
When a tenant with Alzheimer’s forgets to pay her rent, I put her checkbook right in front of her, and she writes. Then she moves out, because I can’t be her full-time nurse.
A tenant uses too many fresheners in the washing machine and clogs it up. Drama? Not quite. This paragraph doesn’t make the cut.
Philip Roth was jealous Primo Levi had a profession — chemist — to write about. It’s hard writing about nothing. I did that when I was young and failed.
June 8, 2016 3 Comments
I did a background-talking gig. I read blog posts at a real estate convention while guests ate salads and drank, and ignored me. I should have played music. I said to the crowd, “Hi, I’m going to tell you how to manage real estate.” The crowd listened for about five seconds, but nobody wanted to hear narrative comedy (a la David Sedaris) during cocktails. Also, I wasn’t properly introduced. I had to blurt out over the clanging of silverware, “Hi, everybody!”
That was my one-and-only background-talking gig. I have, however, done a lot of background-music gigs.
My essay “My Son the Sort-of Rock Star” was in the Washington Post, online, on Monday.
June 1, 2016 7 Comments
During the Torah processional at synagogue, Cohen said to me, “That zipper on your shirt makes a nice tie. Metallic!” He shook his head. Cohen — a snappy dresser — wears a Brooks Brother suit, legit tie and vest. At home, Cohen collects clothes catalogs, like his men’s overcoat catalog from pre-World War II. Cohen once tried to sell me a bomber jacket. I said no. I can’t stand old Jews in bomber jackets.
He eventually sold the bomber jacket on eBay. “Same price you would have paid, Bert.”
“But you paid shipping.”
“No, that was an extra $12.50 to the buyer.”
Cohen kept looking at my zipper. I said, “I spray it with WD-40 to keep it shiny.” It had no name, not even YKK.
I just want to be comfortable at shul. I usually walk to shul — a major hike. I’m not trying to make a countercultural statement. The zipper shirt is the least of it. The rabbi often wears tennis shoes (for health reasons, I’m told). I’m not a complete shlub.
Cohen is a pseudonym
May 18, 2016 2 Comments
Nancy Hoffman changed her middle name from Arlene to “3.” Nancy runs the Umbrella Cover Museum in Peaks Island, Maine, and does “eccentric artistry” (to quote her website). Nancy also plays accordion in the Casco Bay Tummlers klezmer band and is a friend of Avner the Eccentric.
I was at Nancy’s book-signing in Cleveland for Uncovered and Exposed: A Guide to the World’s Only Umbrella Cover Museum. Nancy kept a ledger of her book sales. That didn’t seem eccentric.
Yiddishe Cup plays for the community-wide Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel Independence Day) celebration tomorrow evening (Thurs., May 12) at Landerhaven, Cleveland. Free.
May 11, 2016 4 Comments
Italians have great names, grant them that. The best name from my old neighborhood was Bocky Boo DiPasquale. Bocky led a band, Bocky and the Visions, a local version of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Bocky Boo was a pre-Beatles greaser with a strong regional following; he got significant air play on Cleveland radio and on Detroit’s CKLW.
The Bock became a Cleveland legend. I, however, was too young to grasp Bocky’s vision. I didn’t listen to his music. I just knew his name and wondered, Can Bocky Boo be real?
I knew an Alfred Mastrobuono. Real.
I knew Carmen Yafanaro. Real.
Ralph Dodero. Real.
Bocky Boo’s real name was Robert DiPasquale.
Robby Stamps — another musician from my high school — knew The Bock and all other local bands, past or present. Stamps was a rocker, riding the first wave of psychedelia. (Robby’s sister incidentally was Penny Stamps.)
Stamps never showed up at high school reunions. He said the Italian greasers would harass him for being a radical. Stamps was a misher — a meddler — more than a radical. He was always around the action, like Zelig. Stamps was shot in the buttock at Kent State on May 4, 1970.
After graduating Kent, Stamps worked jobs as an adjunct faculty member in Hawaii, California and Florida. He majored in sociology and Spanish. Stamps was half Jewish — an oddity in the 1960s. Back then you were generally all Jewish, or you weren’t. Robby’s father was Floyd. (Not a Jew.)
Stamps hung around with just about everybody in high school: racks (aka greasers, dagos), white-bread American kids (aka squids, collegiates) and Jews (aka Jews). Stamps was an emissary between the various groups; he had a pisk (big mouth), played music and was fearless — except at reunions.
Stamps wasn’t part of the “in” crowd or the “out” crowd. Stamps was his own man. He scribbled “pseudo-freak” on the photo of a hippie poseur in my yearbook.
In middle age, Stamps developed every kind of illness: Crohn’s, Lyme Disease and pneumonia, plus he had the May 4 bullet wound. He died in 2008 at 58.
If Stamps had come to the reunions, he probably would have shed light — some sociology — on the cliques. Stamps’ perspective was sarcastic, bitter and funny. He would have said something like: “See those Jews at the bar, those guys wore penny loafers in seventh grade without pennies in them, and yelled at me because I put pennies in mine. They threw pennies on the floor. If you picked up the pennies, you were a ‘cheap Jew.’ I threw pennies. I worked both sides of the street.”
In 1988 Bocky Boo was shot and killed in a bar. The cops — some who had grown up with The Bock — tried hard to find Bocky’s killer. There was even a website, whokilledbocky, for a few years ago. (Now down. ) No Luck. The Bock and Stamps didn’t stick around.
Well, that’s one thing I can say about that boy, he gotta go.
–Paul Butterfield Blues Band, “Born in Chicago,” lyrics by Nick Gravenites
This post originally appeared 5/2/12.
May 4, 2016 7 Comments
I don’t purposely visit graves of famous people, but I do bump into those graves on occasion. Harvey Pekar is buried next to Eliot Ness at Lake View Cemetery. I happened to be at the cemetery and asked about Harvey’s grave. A docent said look in section 7, lot 9-0, but there was nothing there, just a stick. This was a few years ago. Now there’s a tombstone.
At John D. Rockefeller’s grave, there was a quarter on the base of the monument. A tour guide said visitors sometimes put money on John D’s grave. The money is in repayment for the dimes Rockefeller gave out to kids, the guide said.
I saw a tombstone with a Jewish star at Lake View. I think I could go long and deep at Lake View, or I could go next door to Mayfield Cemetery, which is Jewish, but for that I’d have to rejoin Temple-Tifereth Israel for the cemetery plot. Or I could use my cousin’s unused plot out at Hillcrest Cemetery, where my parents are buried. Also, I could go to Park Synagogue’s cemetery, but my wife prefers Lake View. So I’ll probably go there.
My main beef with Lake View is they don’t allow bikes. Cars are OK, but if a biker goes through Lake View, the management has a conniption. The cemetery has steep hills and the management is afraid of bike-car collisions.
Let me think about Lake View. Give me some time.
April 27, 2016 3 Comments
My last close relative left Cleveland in 2001. Now my Seders are with friends. My relatives went to warmer places or died.
I’m in about two traffic jams a year in Cleveland. I would prefer five. I don’t relish the traffic of Chicago or Washington, but a few more traffic jams in Cleveland would be nice. In the 1970s, Clevelanders first began imagining the whole town could go under. A musician in Milwaukee wrote a song called “Thank God This Isn’t Cleveland.” Some Clevelanders never got over the trauma of the 1970s. I know Clevelanders who vacation in Cape Cod; they’re instructed by the national press to vacation on the East Coast. They wait an hour for ice cream on Cape Cod.
Some of the best scenery in America is the bike path from Gambier to Coshocton, Ohio: rolling farm country, horses, sheep, cows, pigs and Amish buggies. However, some Midwesterners need to see the ocean. They drive all day to the Carolina shore. Why? Lake Erie has beaches, waves and miniature golf.
Every one of my relatives bailed. Now I look for distant relatives. I’ve found some. My older son found Mississippi relatives via a PBS documentary, “Delta Jews,” about the Jews of the Mississippi Delta. The mayor of Louise, Miss., had been my mother’s cousin. (My mother grew up in Yazoo City, Miss.) My son called down there. We eventually met the Mississippi clan. Most were lawyers. They have Southern accents. That’s what you want from Southerners — a Southern accent. (So often Southern Jews will disappoint you on that.)
Seder-with-friends is not the same as with Aunt Bernice, Uncle Al, Cousin Howard and the rest of the family at the old Seder table. I live three miles from where I was born. I often see things that don’t exist anymore.
A version of this appeared in the Cleveland Plain Dealer 4/6/12.
April 20, 2016 6 Comments
Irwin Weinberger and I sometimes drive home together from gigs. We’ve been doing this for so many years I know everything about him. He collected stamps. That came up on trip #401.
We talked stamps for an hour, coming back from Akron. Slightly boring? No, very boring. I had some first-day covers and canceled stamps my dad got from work. The stamps were in manila envelopes marked “For Ted.” (My dad was Ted, not Toby, at work.) My father worked for a key-manufacturing company.
Mr. Polatsek, an old guy in my neighborhood, gave me stamps. The first stamp was Wisconsin Worker’s Compensation (1961). He visited the local elementary school and passed out stamps to all the kids. He once took me to a stamp show at the Manger Hotel. It was old guys and me. I ran into Mr. Polatsek again years later — when he was actually old — and asked him about his collection. He said it had been stolen. He said, “Now I only collect pictures of my grandchildren.”
In college, I got stamps in the mail, forwarded by my mother. I told her to stop sending the stuff: W.C. Handy (1968), Leif Erikson (1968). It was embarrassing for a quasi-hippie to get stamps from his mom in the mail.
Irwin, I’ll look at your stamps when I get really, really old. Meanwhile, readers can read about Irwin’s stamp collection at his new blog.
Footnote . . . From one of my plate-block books: “We have heard from collectors who reside in the tropics, where provision of stamp gum is almost impossible, that they have had very good results by dusting a little corn starch or unscented talcum powder (free from oils and perfumes ) on the gummed side of their stamps. We do not recommend this procedure, but pass it on to collectors for this own experimentation, should they reside in unusually humid communities.”
Yiddishe Cup plays a concert in Metro Detroit, at Cong. Beth Shalom, Oak Park, Mich., 4 p.m. Sun. (April 17). $10. More info here. Motown and matzo.
April 13, 2016 6 Comments
Arvids Jansons. I got a desk from him when he moved out.
Argero Vassileros. Her nickname was Argie.
Michael Bielemuk, the professor. He had many floor-to-ceiling bookshelves.
Maria Trifiletti. She stole light bulbs from the halls, so we glued the bulbs into the sockets.
Saram Carmichael, a transvestite who solicited customers from her second-floor window. The johns waited at the bus stop.
Stan Hershfield, one of the few Jews on the West Side. He was raised in an orphanage and loved the word bupkes (beans). “Stratton, I have bupkes so don’t hondle me about the rent.” (Hondle means haggle.) When Hershfield painted the wood floor in his kitchen, he said, “Only the best, Stratton, Benjamin Moore!”
Malfalda Bedrossian. She was never late with her rent.
Chris Andrews slept in a coffin. (He had a regular name.)
Merjeme Haxhiraj, an Albanian who talked me down every year $10/month on her rent.
John “Chip” Stephens, a Chet Baker-like figure in looks, music and name. He played jazz piano and landed a tenure-track job at a university in Missouri.
This post originally appeared in slightly different form on 9/30/09.
April 6, 2016 3 Comments
During the dying days of burlesque, I was a stripper in Toledo, Ohio. I dressed like a hippie — bell-bottoms and long hair — and went by the name Tzippy the Hippie. I did New Burlesque, which we called “burlesque” back then.
I worked throughout the Midwest. The main burlesque guy in Detroit was Herman the Head. He liked to drink. I think he was a beer bottle in a previous life. I lived with Herman for six months. He also liked talk radio a lot. He listened to that shit so much he was a radio before he was a beer bottle. I didn’t get my name, Tzippy the Hippie, from Herman; I got it from a U. of Toledo professor. Yes, I have some college!
I dyed my hair blond, wore tie-dyed rags, and didn’t shave my underarms. One night, when I was supposed to be in Fort Wayne, I was in Toledo with my professor, and Herman found out about it. I said to him on the phone, “I’m not coming home. There’s this party here in Fort Wayne and I’m so drunk I’m going to crash here.” Herm knew I was lying. He went directly to the prof’s house, and I ate out of a straw for six weeks. (The prof suffered three broken ribs.)
Now I’m 70 and my health is real bad. It’s awful — diabetes, heart condition and arthritis. Every cent, to me, is precious now. A vintage strippers website says I’m dead. Not quite, kids! Next week I’m in Denver for a New Burlesque conference. I’m getting $200 plus expenses. I have cool 1969 photos for sale (only $10). Hope to see you there!
This post is based 0.1 percent on Pat Oleszko the Hippie Stripper — a 1960s performance artist from Ann Arbor. This post is fiction, I think.
March 30, 2016 7 Comments
Klezmer clarinetist Giora Feidman plays well and is a master of special effects. However, “L’Academie Klezmér” shuns him. Feidman’s nickname is Mr. Chalk-Chalk. (In Yiddish that’s Tshok-Tshok.) This onomatopoetic expression refers to Feidman’s guttural-sounding notes. Members of L’Academie (like some teachers at KlezKanada and the late KlezKamp) decry Feidman’s frequent clarinet hiccupping, yelping, slurping and grepsing.
Feidman helped start the klezmer revival. He played Carnegie Hall in 1981. I interviewed Feidman in the early 1990s for the Cleveland Jewish News and asked him to take potshots at other klezmer musicians, some of whom were bad-rapping him. Feidman declined. Feidman said klezmer music is “not a particular kind of music. It is a language of the inner soul — a truly universal means of communication.” I tried to get him beyond that feel-good stuff, to trash-talk, but no dice.
Feidman often plays with a string-bass player and an acoustic guitarist. He plays West Side Story tunes, American swing, Meron nigunim and klezmer. Not many clarinets are that versatile. He does 90-minute shows, playing lead the whole time.
Feidman turns 80 on Saturday. He will get into L’Academie Klezmér posthumously.
March 23, 2016 5 Comments
At his 90th birthday party, Mort Gross talked about real estate. (Yiddishe Cup played Mort’s party.) Mort sounded like my dad, except Mort was a lot richer, lived a lot longer than my dad, and was more outgoing and more philanthropic than my dad. Mort developed properties; my dad never did that. Mort had a yacht in Florida and a Rolls Royce. My dad never got beyond Buick.
Mort had three favorite expressions: 1) A deal is a deal 2) Wait a minute [to kill a deal], and 3) Don’t do paperwork twice. I learned this at the party.
I didn’t understand item #3, and I forgot to ask the person who did the roast for an explanation of item #3 — “Don’t do paperwork twice.” I said to one of Mort’s son, “Those were very good toasts, and I’ve heard hundreds.”
Maybe the toasts were sappy, and I was just thinking about my dad a lot. A second son toasted, “Our parents instilled in all of us a love of Judaism, and we all married Jewish girls. In fact I did it twice.”
I’m telling you, they were good toasts.
I had a piece in the New York Times 3/12/16. “I’m not Evil. I’m a Landlord.” Check out the comments in the post below, “For NYT Readers.” The comments are good!
March 16, 2016 1 Comment
I’m a musician-landlord from Cleveland — a curiosity to New York Times editors, no doubt. Definitely not a Harvard professor. You want more real estate stories? Here’s one. Heads-up: it’s long, but it’s my best and is the basis for my Dear Landlord memoir.
I post a new story to this blog every Wednesday.
The Times didn’t activate the “comments” button on “I’m Not Evil. I’m a Landlord.” If you want to comment on the piece, you can fire away here.
March 11, 2016 17 Comments
1. A slob tenant wanted a spiffed-up bathroom. My drywall man said to me, “The guy ain’t did his dishes in years, I mean holy shit, and he’s bitching about his bathroom falling apart?” We fixed up the tenant’s bathroom and hauled away a couch and chair too.
2. A tenant wanted free rent because we were digging a trench in his apartment. In order to install a condensate return line to the boiler, our plumber dug a four-foot trench through the tenant’s kitchen, dining room and living room. It looked like WWI. That was a bad scene and it lasted a month. The tenant got the free month’s rent.
Here’s a top-quality article I wrote for City Journal. “Gotta Serve Somebody.”
March 9, 2016 3 Comments
I’m a funeral strategist. I advise mourners, like my wife, who occasionally gets disoriented at funerals. I don’t.
The Jewish funeral parlor in Cleveland is BK Broiler (aka Berkowitz Kumin). Many funeral services are only 15 minutes. Others go way too long. It’s bad when too many relatives speak. Three relatives is plenty. On the other hand, I once attended a funeral where nobody spoke. That was 12 minutes. The sweet spot is 25 minutes, with two to three personal eulogies.
I arrive at the funeral parlor 20 minutes before, to work the family room, where only relatives sit. I want to reminisce, catch up with friends.
A tip to eulogists, don’t say, “She enjoyed traveling in her later years.” That’s so boring. Talk about the person’s youth, instead.
BK Broiler employees wear dark suits and act polite. They never say anything off script. They say, “This ends our service here. Please go to your cars and turn on your lights.” The satin black, throw-away yarmulkes are always new, never recycled.
Why does B-K have no windows, at least in the chapel? Are windows against Jewish law? (Shuls must have windows, my rabbi told me.) Maybe mourners don’t want to see bums walk by. Non-Jewish funeral parlors don’t have windows either, I’ve noticed. Think about it. Or don’t think about. It’s my job to think about it.
March 2, 2016 6 Comments
Nobody out-talks Cleveland Councilman Mike Polensek. He’s the quote machine. He once said, “I’m old-school Collinwood. You mess with me or my property, and I mess with you.” He called former councilman Jay Westbook a “weasel,” and former mayor Mike White a “son of a bitch, but our son of a bitch.”
Before Polensek was a councilman, he was a machinist at White Motors. I saw Polensek frequently in 1981 and 1982, when I was a reporter for the Sun Scoop Journal. Polensek ran for city council against Dave Trenton — a fellow incumbent Slovenian — in 1981. The city wards had been redrawn, and Polensek or Trenton was going to be out of a job. Trenton was “shanty Slovenian,” said my editor, another Slovenian. Trenton was slightly rougher-edged than Polensek. For instance, Trenton smoked a cigar in public.
The editor endorsed Trenton, maybe because he and Trenton played softball together. The editor told me to survey the 14,000 registered voters in the ward. I talked to 75 people. Trenton received 32 votes in my poll. He had a plurality. The paper ran this headline: “Trenton called favorite in Ward 11 race.” And the endorsement stated: “As council’s majority leader, Trenton can serve the community from a position of strength . . . [He has] invaluable connections downtown.”
But Polensek, the underdog, won! When I walked into Polensek’s victory party at the Italian Cooperative Association Hall on St. Clair Avenue, a Polensek supporter announced, “Your paper endorsed Trenton!” Another man said, “You’re in the wrong place. You’re going to eat crow when you write up your shit. You’re one of the worst writers ever! What are you doing here?” A woman, somewhat calmer than the men, said, “I don’t think you’re going to find what you’re looking for here.”
They didn’t like me. (I was a curly-haired hippie Jew from the Heights. That didn’t help.) But Polensek liked me — liked me enough. He liked media people, period. He said, “Oh well, you’re here. Like I told your boss, I knew we’d win.” I said I would have voted for Polensek if I lived in Ward 11. Polensek wasn’t impressed. He said, “You’re disrespecting your boss.”
Polensek is still a councilman 35 years later. I ran into him a couple years ago and said, “You remember the ICA Hall, when some of your supporters wanted to kill me?”
He was foggy on it. I wasn’t. He said, “No hard feelings.”
February 24, 2016 5 Comments
I don’t help with the shopping, cooking, or bill-paying. I never cut the grass or wash the dishes. Self-medication — mostly alcohol — works best.
I had a miserable childhood. That’s part of it. And I botch up my adulthood daily. For instance, I screamed at my wife today for moving the rinse glass in the bathroom. Where is it? I have to stop blaming her — and others — for everything.
Bottom line, I have wronged a lot of people. Maybe I should disappear. Where to? Hawaii? Canada? I’m thinking Canada. I’m cold.
This is a fake profile — the part about the booze.
February 17, 2016 8 Comments
I have a closet full of unsold Yiddishe Cup CDs. Maybe I should get Irwin Weinberger from Yiddishe Cup to hand-paint covers for the CDs. I’ll sell them as art. (Irwin is a painter and musico.)
I’ve already sent out some of Irwin’s art-laden CDs for review, and I’ve gotten back these blurbs:
1. Rabbi Albert Trattons: “You nailed it, Yiddishe Cup. This is better than my shalom plaque. However, the music is so-so.”
2. Treb Nottarts, Cleveland Plain Dealer art critic: “This is grand theft–art from the Jewish Museum. I’m talking New York Jewish Museum. Tremendous. Just one quibble, why so few rollicking tunes on this CD?”
3. Albie Sattront, A&R, Capitol Records: “Love the Chagall cover. Music is kind of fun too. Caught half of track 1 — a personal best for me and klez.”
4. Albert Ratnotts, real estate developer: “I’m buying your band! These CDs would make excellent tiles for the kitchen floors at my downtown apartments.”
To order your art-enhanced Yiddishe Cup CD, call 1-888-KLEZART. $49.50. Includes shipping.
February 10, 2016 2 Comments