(A version of this appeared in The Forward online on 3/7/12, minus “Side B” — a one-minute play about The Schvitz. There is a lot of swearing in the play. You’ll like it.)
If you’re a Cleveland Jewish man and have never been to The Schvitz, you are a disgrace.
Real Cleveland Jewish men will regularly malign you, impugning your Jewish bona fides.
The Schvitz is at East 116th Street and Luke Avenue, off Kinsman Road. (In a lousy neighborhood.)
The Schvitz has no sign.
The Schvitz’s official name is the Mt. Pleasant Russian-Turkish Baths, which nobody uses. Some people call it the Bathhouse. Some people call it the Temple of the Holy Steam. (Attorney Harvey Kugelman does. Does anybody else?)
Most people call it The Schvitz. It has photos of Mussolini, Dayan and Patton on the walls. That’s it for decorations. (Plus a photo of Clint “Dirty Harry” Eastwood by the kitchen, reports Mike Madorsky.)
There are three acceptable responses to “Have you ever been to The Schvitz?”
a) I held my stag there.
b) I was there with my father.
c) My grandfather took me there.
The Big Five in Russian-Turkish–style schvitzes are in New York, Los Angeles, Detroit, Chicago and Cleveland. I got this list from Billy Buckholtz, the pleytse guy at the Cleveland schvitz. Billy’s grandfather was the original pleytse guy. (Pleytse is the rubdown, traditionally done with a broom of soaked oak leaves. Billy uses a seaweed broom and horsehair brush.)
Cleveland’s schvitz isn’t coed. Most of the other schvitzes are. The Detroit schvitz even used to have an orgy night. The Cleveland schvitz never went coed (aside from a short experiment in the 1970s) because the neighborhood is so bad. Why encourage women to come to Kinsman?
In The Schvitz’s heyday, it catered to immigrant factory workers who dropped by after work “to get the creosote off their skin, knock down a few shots and get a pleytse,” Billy said. “The immigrants didn’t want to wait in line with their eight kids for the only bathtub at their house.” Billy told me all this at a Yiddishe Cup gig at an art gallery. Not at The Schvitz.
I’m not crazy about steam.
I get periodic Schvitz invitations from the Brothers in Perspiration, an ad-hoc group of Cleveland Heights Jews. The email subject-line reads: “Have a serious jones for the stench of sweat, mildew, steak, cigar, garlic?”
That sounds good, except for the cigar, sweat, mildew and steam.
I’m due back at The Schvitz.
My bona fides. My bona fides . . .
THE SCHVITZ (THE PLAY)
The Schvitz is a movie and a CD. Now it’s a one-minute play . . .
JIMMY, STAN AND KMETT are Cleveland cops at The Schvitz. They are in the boom-boom room (gas-passing room), lying on cots.
JIMMY, wearing only an Italian good-luck horn pendant: I used to work patrol with your son Pete in the Fifth.
STAN: That so? Where you now, Jimmy?
JIMMY: Downtown with homicide.
STAN: Pete is a meter maid in the Fourth.
JIMMY, pointing to another body: This is Walter Kmett. He’s with the detective bureau in the Third.
STAN: Did your father go to Latin?
STAN: I knew a Kmett at Latin.
KMETT: That’s my uncle.
STAN, sitting up and looking around: Is this cops-only night at The Schvitz?
JIMMY: Why? There are Jews here. A couple. I’m Jewish. They circumcise you right on the spot here. You’re next.
KMETT: They should have did Hitler.
JIMMY: Hitler was bad news.
KMETT: There are others. Ahmadinejad. Nobody says nothing.
STAN: The Israelis say “fuck you.”
BILLY THE PLEYTSE GUY walks in, waving his brush: Step right up. Twenty dollars for goys, twenty-five for Jews. I can do everything your wife can — everything for the last twenty years.
KMETT: Really, Billy? My wife and I have something magical going on.
BILLY THE PLEYTSE GUY: Such as?
KMETT: Tonight I’m making her disappear.
BILLY THE PLEYTSE GUY: What’s the admission charge?
KMETT: For you, twenty-five dollars. Where you been?
BILLY THE PLEYTSE GUY: I just got back from LA.
KMETT: Why there?
BILLY THE PLEYTSE GUY: My kids are out there.
BILLY THE PLEYTSE GUY: Not nice. California is one vast shithole. Everybody’s so casual there, it rubs off on the kids. What about you?
KMETT: I was down in Florida, visiting my dad. He sits on the toilet all day and reads about how to make a putt. That’s what they do down there. He got his pension — 66 percent. A shine tried to poke his eye out.
BILLY THE PLEYTSE GUY: Did you hear Ralph Friedman got 72 percent for a hangnail?
KMETT: Ralph is a scumbag. A hangnail?
JIMMY: He’s a slime bag.
KMETT: He’s the shit in the toilet.
BILLY THE PLEYTSE GUY: Ralph Friedman is my cousin.
KMETT: Your cousin? He’s still a slime bag.
STAN: Ralph is smart, I’ll grant you that. He was the Einstein of S.I.U.
KMETT: He’s a scumbag!
JIMMY: Ralphy the Alkie. He sampled more booze than Eliot Ness. Ralphy could smell booze a mile away.
STAN: He’s a goose.
BILLY THE PLEYSTE GUY: He’s not my cousin.
JIMMY: You schmuck, why’d you say he was your cousin? Where are the steaks?
KMETT: It smells in here.
BILLY THE PLEYSTE GUY: That’s garlic.
KMETT: That’s not garlic. This place is one vast shithole.
Ralph Solonitz’s illustrations, above, were in The Forward print edition, 3/16/12, and online, 3/7/12.
I’m dubious of over-40-year-olds asking for money on Kickstarter.
My friend Mike got hit up by an old guy/ friend who was trying to raise $100,000 for a sculpture project. Mike said to me, “Let him get a job. What am I — his relative?”
Under 40, you can play Kickstarter.
Synth-player Jack Stratton and banjoist Rob Stenson are trying to raise $2,400 on Kickstarter. The young duo has 10 days left to reach its goal. They are more than halfway there, with $1243 and 70 backers.
Kickstarter chose the Stenson-Stratton project as a pick-of-the-week. The project video (below) features Jack as a German. Kickstarter co-founder Yancey Strickler wrote, “These guys make the best/weirdest projects.” (Helps if you’re under 40 — like Strickler and his Kickstarter crew — to fully appreciate the vid and work.)
Watch the video, then click here to donate.