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.



Alan Douglass and I played for six people in the memory loss unit. I asked for names and nobody gave one, except Bobbie. And nobody clapped.

“God Bless America.” Alan knocked that one out of the park. And maybe we did “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” Can’t remember.

Alan Douglass. Yiddishe Cup gig, 2011.

Something funky? Alan did “Will It Go Round in Circles.” He told me to add a C harp, crossed position.

I didn’t know it was a memory loss unit. It only dawned on me a couple tunes in; there was absolutely no applause, except one aide clapped for “My Girl.” Usually people will clap for everything even if it’s bad.

A couple people sang along to “Tumbalalaika.” Bobbie was the most enthusiastic. She got up frequently, but the aide told her to sit. Bobbie was shaky. So were Alan and I. We did shaky tunes. It’s enervating playing for people who don’t respond much. But who knows, maybe they did respond deep-down. And don’t forget, “Tumbalalaika” kind of hit.

(Bobbie a pseudonym.)

Here’s an essay I had in the Cleveland Plain Dealer last Wednesday:

I Like Refrigerators

CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio — The plumbing-supply rep tried to sell me water-savings toilets. And another guy tried to sell me small refrigerators (less than 12 cubic feet) to fit in tiny apartment kitchens. There was a door-buzzer salesperson, too. This was downtown at a trade show for landlords. My wife had encouraged me to go. She had said, “You’ll have fun.”

I didn’t have fun, but it wasn’t painful. I ran into some fellow landlords I hadn’t seen much of. Landlords don’t meet up at the office; we’re out looking for late rent payers and plumbers who will actually show up. There were a lot of middle-class guys in sweaters and slacks. Some had on work boots. They probably owned duplex houses. Many of the landlords were mom-and-pop, owning a few buildings, like me. Some landlords wore bomber jackets and T-shirts. They were the big-time operators.

One landlord said he owned 900 units and “a dumpy shopping center in Amherst. You want to buy it?”

“No thanks,” I said.

He also said he owned five or six other shopping centers. Landlords will tell you what they own, as well as what they used to own. The bigger the number, the better. Lou owned doubles in Cleveland Heights and said he wouldn’t mind selling some. John managed and owned apartment buildings in Lakewood. I said to him, “I haven’t been to a trade show in years.” “You haven’t missed much,” John said. But I had missed him – slightly. And I had missed refrigerators.

I like refrigerators, in real life and in brochures. Refrigerators don’t often screw up, and you can occasionally get a few beers and pops from a refrigerator after a tenant moves out. Definitely some half-open ketchup.

Hotpoint is the value brand of General Electric Appliances / Haier. A Hotpoint refrigerator can last 20 years. That’s what you want in a refrigerator: 15-to-20 years. I once bought a refrigerator made in Spain. It was a Welbilt. The spelling said it all. It was good for only nine years. Now I buy appliances from a small-time distributor out of Stow. I could go with Lowe’s or Home Depot, but Josh — my refrigerator man in Stow – is very reachable and friendly. He even quotes Bible verses in his invoices.

I attended my first trade show, back in the 1970s, with my dad. He would ramble on about radiator valves and radiator air vents. He had started the family investment-property business. I said to him: “I wouldn’t mind being the next Cannonball Adderley.” I was in my 20s.

“Are you pulling my leg, son? Tell me, so I won’t get mad!”

I was half-pulling his leg. I liked to upset him — not drive him crazy, just rile him.

My dad said, “The arts are one big ego trip.”

That was a flesh wound. All quiet on the father-son front. I had played alto sax in the college jazz band.

My dad insisted I go to a landlord association get-together at the Theatrical Grill on Vincent Avenue, aka Short Vincent. This was the mid-1970s. My father and I met garbage haulers, real estate brokers, boiler guys and bankers. I heard jazz wafting into the dining room from the piano bar. Instrumental jazz was the background track for random dinnertime conversation about real estate. The big question — directed mostly at my dad — was: “You buying?” (Buying buildings? Compactors? Flushmates?)

My dad said, “Depends on the kid.” That meant me.

Now, to this day, I carry water-saving showerheads. You never know when a tenant might rip out a water-saving showerhead and replace it with an Old Faithful, water-guzzling gusher. (I pay for the water at my buildings.)

And I still play the sax (and clarinet). That doesn’t pay the rent.

Bert Stratton, a frequent contributor, lives in Cleveland Heights and has also written for The Wall Street Journal and New York Times. He writes the blog “Klezmer Guy: Real Music & Real Estate.”


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