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 Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Washington Post.


Posts from — January 2011


A Yiddishe Cup fan said she lived in the house I had grown up in.  I asked her if the basement was still wood veneer paneling.

Yes, she said.

My teenage sister had lobbied for that basement veneer.  It made for better make-out parties. Basements were where the action was.  It was where you got all kinds of work done.

How do people in sunny climates get any work done?

My friend and neighbor John Cermak lived in his basement his entire adult life.  He installed a pool table, gun rack and shower.

tricicleWhen I became a landlord, I often called John for advice on boilers, blown fuses and backhoes.   When he was about 8 years old, he mounted a lawnmower engine on a tricycle.  He was my guru of the physical world.  John was also good at academics; he was interested in everything from English literature to Saab car engines.  He graduated St. Ignatius High and John Carroll University.

John died at 41 from complications of mental illness and alcoholism. He could put away a case of Wiedemann’s in a single weekend.  Or was it in a single day?

I still often think of calling John.  For instance, the electric company called and said, “The voltage at the cap is good.”  It was?  If the voltage was good, why didn’t we have any power in four suites?  The electric guy said, “The inside line, outside, is yours.”

John, you there?

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January 28, 2011   No Comments


Rich Greenberg, a former tennis pro, thanked me for the blues harmonica lessons I gave him 32 years ago.  My lessons — in conjunction with pros’ instructional videos on YouTube — had helped him, Rich wrote in an email.

Rich ended with “Do you still play tennis?”

What? Tennis? Tennis was another lifetime ago, Rich.  And what exactly is “tennis”? Hacker tennis, club level, or college caliber?

When Rich and I were in high school, tennis was a tree of life to lay hold fast of.  Rich shoveled the snow off the courts at Cain Park in Cleveland Heights.  Nuts.  He played so well he wound up on the UC-Santa Barbara team.  Maybe the Cali coaches needed a court shoveler.  (Rich has been out west for decades.)

order-in-the-courtRich taught me an important life lesson: how to wait.  I waited six months every winter to play tennis.  I wasn’t going to shovel courts.  Think about it: no snow blowers in the 1960s, and the courts had to be perfectly dry.  And right after you shoveled, it would snow again.

Contemplating tennis — and not playing — was like practicing music without an instrument.   It was doable, but not much fun.  I had Bill Tilden’s book on singles and Gardnar Mulloy’s doubles book.  There was no tennis on TV.

I wasn’t in Rich’s league.  (Correction: I was in Rich’s league. Rich went to Cleveland Heights High and I went to Brush High. Heights and Brush were in the Lake Erie League. No question, though, Rich was much better than me.)

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

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

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

In my twenties, after college, I thought tennis was just stupid.  Dumb.  Existentially dumb. Two adults hitting a ball over a net.  That was not solving any world problem.

I hung out with Rich at his tennis pro job in Rocky River, Ohio.  Rich said he couldn’t teach the middle-aged women — the 35 year olds — anything new.  He said, “I wish tennis hadn’t boomed.  It would force me to do something else.”  He spent time arranging interclubs between “our girls” and Lorain.

harmonica-racketRich, in his email, asked if I still played harmonica. I said I sometimes play harp in first position on the song “Tsena, Tsena.”

“First position” means playing diatonically (no sharps, no flats).  It is usually simple non-bluesy melodies. First position, initially, is insipid and idiotic, just like tennis.

Then you grow up.

Please see the next post too.  It’s an original video from Klezmer Guy Studios.

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January 26, 2011   2 Comments



This insurance agency used to be a witch’s store.  Before that, it was a deli.

Here’s the store’s story, as told by Mr. Landlord. [Please click on the video to continue.]

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January 21, 2011   1 Comment


My mother went deep-sea fishing off the coast of Miami Beach and caught a sailfish in 1965.  She had the fish mounted, and over the years, the trophy fish moved around like Waldo.  It’s in a garage now at my nephew’s in Arizona.

Cleveland Press

Cleveland Press

When I was young, my family went to Florida just that once.  I’m not saying we were deprived.  I’m saying I didn’t go to Florida regularly like my wife did!

My wife, Alice, went every single year.  Her family stayed at the Deauville. Even Alice’s mother (a small-town Jew from West Virginia) went to Florida annually in her childhood.   That was in the 1930s, to a kosher hotel in Miami Beach.

I married into money.  Or so I thought.    [See the post “Major Roofer.”]


In the mid-1980s, I took my parents’ car and drove from Boca Raton (where my parents had a condo) to Miami Beach, looking for extremely old Jews.  The Boca Raton Jews weren’t old enough for me; I wanted to see Isaac Bashevis Singer and similar alter kockers in Collins Avenue cafeterias.

Philip Roth’s father had stayed at the Hotel Singapore. So had Meyer Lansky.  Mickey Katz patronized the Delano.  (I didn’t see these men. That would have involved time-traveling.)

The Clevelander Hotel at 10th and Ocean Avenue featured a horrible restaurant, Harpoon Mickey’s.  I saw plenty old Jews on that trip.

A piece fish, plus Toby and Julia Stratton.  Florida, 1983

A piece fish, plus Toby and Julia Stratton. Florida, 1983

Last winter I returned to Miami Beach and saw very few old Jews.  I saw a lot of jet-setters speaking foreign languages and wearing nearly nothing.

I noticed the Clevelander Hotel was spiffed up; the bedroom floors had a silicon seal to keep the guests’ puke from seeping to the rooms below. The Clevelander was now rocking.  I looked for T-shirts in the hotel gift shop and read about the silicon seal in a local newspaper article.

At the Fontainebleau Hotel, Max Weinberg’s swing band was playing in the lobby.  The horn players — studio musicians from California — were wailing.  What a treat, and it was free.

I phoned the cultural arts director at the Boca Raton JCC.  She was on vacation.  I wondered, Where does a Miamian go for winter vacation?  I left a voice mail: “Yiddishe Cup wants to play in Boca again!”

Success. We landed the Boca fish.   Yiddishe Cup plays the Boca Raton  JCC this Sun. (Jan 23), 3 p.m.


Please see the post below too.  It’s fresh fish.

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January 19, 2011   4 Comments


January is the big month for wedding planning.  Yiddishe Cup usually advertises in the Cleveland Jewish News “Weddings” supplement, which comes out next week.

Women ponder dresses, make-up and plastic surgery.  There are also ads for face lifts.  The face lift ads are for mothers of the brides, presumably.

cjn-wedding-supplemtn-cover-2010There isn’t much talk about music in the wedding mag supplement.  It’s more about dresses, flowers, rings and gifts for the bridal party.  Destination weddings are another major topic.

The wedding bands in the CJN supplement are usually of a certain type: sexy female lead singer, black male singer, plus a lot of horns and guitars.

Then there’s Yiddishe Cup (we place a small ad): no females, no blacks and a lot of Jews.

A lot of Jews can’t stand a lot of Jews.  The majority of Jews want just a few minutes of “Hava Nagila” at a wedding.  They want half a Nagila.


A prospect asked for a five-minute hora.  I told her a Yiddishe Cup hora has to be at least 10 minutes.

She said, “In that case, I’ll give my DJ a CD for a five-minute hora.”

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January 14, 2011   3 Comments


I like roofs more than most people.  I even married a roofer’s daughter.

My late father-in-law, Cecil Shustick, had a roofing company in Columbus, Ohio.  He was an orthodontist prior to being a roofer.   Look it up.

Cecil was an orthodontist in the early 1950s.  Meanwhile, Cecil’s father owned a roofing company.  Cecil had a wartime neck injury, so he didn’t relish standing all day at a dental chair.  Furthermore, orthodontia wasn’t yet a big moneymaker in central Ohio.

roofer-fleet2Cecil did mostly roof estimating.  He eventually ran a 27-man, 9-truck company.

He talked to me about roofs and gutters.  Gutters are interesting: copper, galvanized (the worst) and coated.

Cecil didn’t offer me the biz.  He should have, my father said.  My dad said Cecil should have at least given me the opportunity to say no.

Dad, I wasn’t moving to Cow-lumbus to run a roofing company!

Cecil Shustick (w/ ciggy), 69. (1978)

Cecil Shustick (w/ ciggy), 69. (1978)

When Cecil retired, he sold the business to Don The Goy, his right-hand man, who ran the biz into the ground.  Cecil lost a lot of money on that, and so did I, indirectly.

If I had taken over the business, I probably would now be in a nice house in Bexley, Ohio, with a stack of workers’ comp claims in front of me.  (A lot of roofers are overweight drinkers with back problems.)

That wouldn’t be much different than the way I did wind up!

pina-coladaCecil was a bon vivant.  He kept a quart of piña colada by his bed for dry throat, due to antihistamine overuse, he said.  He liked top-shelf, like Chrysler Imperials and Chivas Regal.  And he didn’t like sweating.  Golf was his game.  Cecil said, “If man was meant for jogging, he’d have hooves.”


Cecil Shustick, U.S. Army Dental Corps, circa 1942

Cecil Shustick, U.S. Army Dental Corps, circa 1942

Cecil worked in roofing, went to war and raised a family.  I didn’t know that “early Cecil.”  I knew the retired Cecil, my father-in-law in the velour warm-up suit with the Marlboros.

Don Whitehead, an A.P. correspondent, filed a dispatch, Dec. 3, 1943, with the Fifth Army south of Rome:

In one large, roomy cave Capt. Cecil Shustick, Columbus, Ohio, and Lt. Samuel Clarkson, Lebanon, Ky., set up a medical detachment station.  On the little ledge, a charcoal fire was burning to take the damp chill from the air . . .

The Italians had used the caves as storage places for vegetables, fruit and grain.  When the Americans came along, they moved into them and used them as command posts, medical stations and billets.

This is a valley of hell – a man-made hell of thunder and lightning . . . The guns never cease their striking.  Whole batteries of them roar in unison with a concussion that shakes the earth.

Cecil Shustick came home a major with a Bronze Star for heroism at the Battle of Monte Cassino, Italy.

Give him the piña colada medal too, posthumously. Cecil kept things light and bright. You’d never know about Italy.

Please see the post below too.  It’s fresh and it’s football.
Yiddishe Cup plays the Boca Raton (Fla.) JCC Sun. Jan. 23.  3 p.m.

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January 12, 2011   11 Comments


In the Midwest, you need to know something about football.  You don’t need to know much.

Here’s what you need to know today:

1. Rich Rodriguez — the just-fired Michigan football coach — is going to the University of Pittsburgh, where the brand-new Pitt coach allegedly beat up a woman and just got fired.  (This is speculation, the Rich-to-Pitt bit.)

2. The Big Ten has 12 teams.  The league should add the University of Toledo and put a lid on new powerhouses.

3. I told my sons I was going to watch the Mississippi State – Michigan game on New Year’s.  They laughed at me.  Who cared about that game, they said.  (I didn’t dare watch.)

4. My Ohio State-alum dad, of blessed memory, is breathing easy for another year; Ohio State beat Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl.

5. The Sugar Bowl is the Allstate Sugar Bowl.  Next year take a charter flight to the Manischewitz Borscht Bowl.  Everybody wears pink and knocks back “l’chaim” vodka shots.  It’s in Pinsk.

6. My former neighbor, a rabid Michigan fan, lit a votive candle after every Wolverines touchdown.  The candle triggered a music box that played the Michigan fight song.  Those were the days.  Michigan won a lot.  (About four years ago.)

7. What’s Michigan going to do for a coach?  You tell me.

midwest-football8. If you want to see real, quality, cheatin’ football, go down south.

9. Maybe you don’t want to see football. Then please see the Weekend Klezmer Report,
item #10:

10. Klezmer star Michael Winograd is bar-storming the West Coast,  playing nearly every bar and bar mitzvah between Los Angeles and Oregon.  Tomorrow The Wino is at Havurah Shir Hadash in Ashland, Oregon.  Kikhl-off is 8 p.m.

[Kikhl is “sugar cookie.”]

Thanks to journalist Stan Urankar for the Rich Rod–to-Pitt tip.

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January 7, 2011   2 Comments


Maybe a collage artist can do something with my yarmulke collection, from 22 years’ worth of gigs.  I know an artist — a bad one — who did something with old saxophone reeds.

yarmalka-quiltMy Guatemalan yarmulkes, crocheted by Mayan Indians, are from neo-hippie weddings.  There are no bouquet tosses, garter-belt strip routines, or formal introductions at these weddings.  The Mayan kippot (yarmulkes) are particularly popular with female rabbi brides. That’s a niche — weddings of women rabbis — that Yiddishe Cup has cornered in the Midwest.

bubby1The most heymish lids are grandmas’ knitted yarmulkes.

My blue suede yarmulkes are from A-1 Skull Caps.  The lids don’t breathe.  Skull cap. I like a yarmulke that breathes.

Camouflage kippahs exist, too.  One Yiddishe Cup musician, a pacifist, declined to wear his camo lid at a Zahal-themed bar mitzvah.  Zahal is the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).  The bar mitzvah boy’s father wore combat boots and a full Israeli uniform.  The band wore IDF T-shirts and camouflage yarmulkes.  (Nobody noticed our musician in street clothes.)

beathing-yarmulke1I have six purple kippot from a bar mitzvah.  I thought the band might want to wear the lids again at another bar mitzvah.  Go for the clean David Clark Five look.  The guys declined.

We wore sports yarmulkes — plus basketball jerseys — at a sports-themed bar mitzvah party.  The party even had a cheerleading squad:

Mazel tov / Let’s shout hurray / It’s Jeremy and Sam’s bar mitzvah day!

I say oy / You say vey / Jeremy and Sam are men today!


Yiddishe Cup’s keyboard player, Alan Douglass, frequently asks, “Is this a yarmulke gig?”  He’s a goy and can’t figure out what’s up with the various Jewish denominations.

My Conservative rabbi wears a throwaway satin lid that funeral homes and synagogues give out.  He apparently doesn’t want to look different from his congregants. I haven’t asked yet — after 20 years — why he wears the throwaway.

My white satin yarmulke from Dec. 9, 2007 has “Ananth Uggirala” — the groom’s name — in it. The groom’s parents were Anjaneyulu and Manorama Uggirala.  I had to announce them.  Tip, please.

You need good hair clips for a yarmulke.  Bobby pins are the worst; they take your hair out with the yarmulke.  Duck bill clips – also no good.  The best clips are the surfboard barrettes.   If you don’t have these clips, get some, particularly for outdoor gigs.

If you drop a yarmulke, you don’t have to kiss it before putting it back on.  A lid is a lid.  It’s not a holy object.  Also, goys, wear the lid at the wedding ceremony; you’re not exempt.

At an American-Israeli wedding, one of the chuppah (bridal canopy) bearers smoked and balanced a drink.  His yarmulke fell off.  Secular Israelis, they’re funny that way.

It’s shocking when you see an Orthodox guy without a lid.  For instance, an Orthodox man might go into a non-kosher restaurant on a road trip and take his yarmulke off.  (Some Orthodox, when in the sticks, will go to a fast-food place for a salad.)

I wore a yarmulke for a week when I hitchhiked the coast of California in my twenties.  I had seen a photo of Bob Dylan wearing a yarmulke at the Western Wall.  Dylan did yahm-ops at The Wall every couple decades, it seemed.


My Easter basket of yahms makes for a moderately interesting pop-psych experiment on shabbes: Who is going to take the pink, who is going to take the matzo-textured lid, and who is going to hide behind the black lid?

Have fun with lids.  That’s in the Torah somewhere.

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January 5, 2011   9 Comments