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. So maybe he’s really Klezmer Landlord.
 

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 is an occasional contributor to the New York Times, the Times of Israel, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and City Journal. He won two Hopwood Awards.


 
 

AMERICAN GREETINGS

“Cleveland is a hard town.  I came near committing suicide when I lived there.” — Robert Crumb, American Splendor intro, 1986.

Crumb worked for American Greetings. My dad, Toby, worked there too.

Toby was at American Greetings before Crumb.  My dad worked with Morry Stone, who eventually became a vice chairman.  My dad didn’t like working for anybody, including Morry, so Toby left in 1954.

Toby Stratton, 37, at American Greetings, 1954

Everybody in Cleveland has worked at American Greetings, I think.  Or tried to.  I applied for a job at American Greetings in 1981.

Plain Dealer, 1981

American Greetings had a Creative Building at West 78th Street.  I didn’t even get called in for an interview.  Maybe I wasn’t sick enough to write sick cards.

***

Robert Crumb again, 1996, Bob & Harv‘s Comics:  “Cleveland is a city that has been ravaged by financiers and industrialists . . . its population abandoned to their fate, left to freeze their ass off, standing in the dirty winter slush, waiting for a bus that is a long time coming.  Somehow they go on living.”

I haven’t lived anywhere else, so I can’t complain like Crumb.  I went to college in Ann Arbor (which doesn’t count) and spent a few months in Bogota, Colombia, in my twenties.

Bogota was tougher than Cleveland. That, I can testify to.  Bogota was rainy, gray, and headache-inducing from the high altitude.  Cleveland was simply rainy, gray and slushy.

***

A pilot stood in a grassy field by the Bogota airport and said, “Tell your friends to throw their packs in back and we’ll be off.”

They weren’t my friends.  They weren’t even Americans.

We climbed into the cargo section of the plane. “It smells like shit in here,” a Swiss girl said.

“This is Fish Airlines,” the pilot said.  (Aeropesca.)

We landed in the Amazon a few hours later.

I ran into a college friend in the Amazon! I knew him from my freshman dorm.  He said, “I scamp.”  That meant he sold gems, coke, pot or counterfeit bills.  “I’m going to reunite with my creators soon,” he said.

What?

“I’m going back to my parents.”

Adiós, amigo.

I tried to catch the ferry to Belem, Brazil. I waited several days in Leticia, Colombia, by the Amazon River dock, but the ferry didn’t arrive. I flew back to Bogota on the guppy/yuppie flight.  (Guppies to Bogota, yuppies to the Amazon.)

In Bogota, I froze — even indoors.  I wore two sweaters and socks-for-gloves in a small house I shared with a widow and her maid.  I taught English at a nearby private junior high.  For fun at night I read Cancer Ward .  I also looked at photos of beauty queens from El Espacio and El Bogotano — the tabloids. My bedroom had doggy pictures on the wall, a toy cannon on the windowsill, and a crucifix over the bed.

For mental exercise I tried to reconstruct my high school schedule: first and second periods, PSSC Physics.  What was third?  What was PSSC?  [Physical Science Study Committee.]  I didn’t know many people in Bogie.

I heard Charlie Byrd play “Bogota” in Bogota.  He was on a government-sponsored tour.  Byrd en guitarra, con bajo y batería. (Byrd on guitar, with bass and drums.)

I went back to Cleveland after three months.

American Greetings. I couldn’t take Bogie. The major bookstore in Bogota was run by a Nazi, I thought.  The owner was German, and I fabricated a fake bio, in my head,  about him. I went to the Peace Corps office to borrow more paperbacks.  I got Papillon, about a prisoner in Latin America.

I played blues harp for my English class.  The kids loved it but the administration didn’t.

I had to leave. Bogie was un frío horrible (a freezing cold).

Crumb should write about Bogota.  I want to hear his take on a real tough town.


Footnotes:
1.  My  Bogota adventure was  in 1974. 
2. I didn’t meet my college friend in the Amazon.  I met him in Bogota.   I remembered the encounter incorrectly. My friend straightened me out  in Cleveland in 2013. 

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5 comments

1 Mark Schilling { 02.12.14 at 10:01 am }

Sources? Some of this is familiar from letters you sent me in ’74, but I don’t remember you complaining so much about the cold. You should have tripped down to sunny Cartagena — you might still be there.

2 Bert Stratton { 02.12.14 at 10:22 am }

To Mark Schilling:

Sources? Me! Including some old manuscripts of aborted fiction I dug up. (This story, above, is true, though.)

I did stop in Cartagena. I wouldn’t mind going back there.
I rode the train from Cartagena to Bogota. Went thru Barrancabermeja! Now that was a hot town.

The train ride was so bumpy I used a spoon instead of a fork to eat my paella, because I didn’t want to poke my eye out.

(Personal to Mark Schilling: No sushi for you, Mark, if you had taken that job in B/meja!)

3 Mark Schilling { 02.12.14 at 10:29 pm }

I thought my English teaching job was in Barranquilla. You’re right that if I had taken it I probably never would made it to the Far East. But somehow the thought of traveling to SA daunted me — I imagined days and weeks of riding rattle-trap buses ever deeper into the jungle. Japan, by comparison, was just a long plane ride, paid for by Sony. What was not to like?

4 Bert Stratton { 02.13.14 at 8:05 am }

I thought it was B/meja. I’m probably wrong.

Barranquilla is nicer than Barrancabermeja, in case the opportunity arises again.

5 Steve Ostrow { 02.14.14 at 10:07 pm }

Great you can share your experiences in a way that makes reading about them pleasurable.

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