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 New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post.


 
 

Category — Coming of Age

MAX

Max Burstyn lived in the Jewish highlands on the other side of the public park from me. No flooding in the highlands, and 99-percent yidlach. Max spoke English, Yiddish and German. Max was born in Munich and came to America as a baby in the 1950s. His dad was a Galitzianer from Krakow.

Max Burstyn, 1969

Max Burstyn, 1969

I played tennis with Max in the park. That’s where we met. Max still rants about my neighborhood — the lowlands, the other side of park. He says, “You lived with the goys — like Stropki. I played Pony League with him. There were about eight Stropkis. What about Bobrowski? He was a Catholic too. Went to St. Joe’s. He played third-string for the Browns. He was from your street. There was Mastrobuono. He had a funny walk.”

Max was a mischling ersten grades, self-described. (First-degree mixed race.) That’s a Nazi term, but Max used it — at least around me. Max’s mother was a German gentile. Max’s father and mother met in Germany after the war. Max was halachically converted as a baby.

Max knows some strange Yiddish words. He mentions kudraychik — a swindler. I can’t find that in the dictionary. It’s probably Slavic, not Yiddish. Max says, “There was a kudraychik, a Jewish barber, in the occupied zone after the war . . .”

You don’t hear that kind of language, except around Max.

A groysn dank, Max.

Check out my essay, “Some Acts of God Are Better Than Others,” in the Wall Street Journal (12/3/20). The link, here, takes you over the WSJ paywall.

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December 9, 2020   2 Comments

GOOD BOY / BAD BOY

Whenever I came home for college vacation, my mother always suggested I go to the West Side with my father. (West Side meant the apartment biz.) My mother never went to the West Side. She didn’t go once! On the West Side I listened to my dad talk about boiler additives and sump pumps. My dad carried an Allen wrench to adjust boiler controls. I nearly died on the West Side. I was resentful. I had seen Roland Kirk at the Eastown Motor Hotel, East Cleveland; Sonny Stitt at Baker’s Keyboard Lounge, Detroit; Ben Webster at Ronnie Scott’s Club, London. And now I was on the West Side talking about radiator vents.

I watched the Dick Cavett Show and hung out with my high school buddies who were also home for college vacation. One guy was applying to medical school. Another was studying for the CPA exam. A friend was angling for a job as a reporter. The nightmare job: a high school acquaintance was studying nursing-home administration. How did he come up with that? He didn’t. His mother did. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, besides write novels. (Wrote them. Different story.)

I gave my parents tsuris. College was nonsense, I said, and I quit. I wound up in front of the draft board. The whole nine yards: bend over, touch your toes, spread your cheeks. I had a low number, 42, in the draft lottery. (You remember your lottery number if you’re of a certain age. It’s the closest our gang got to military service, except for G. Klein, who went to Annapolis.)

At the Selective Service office downtown, I took a mechanical aptitude exam. This test featured drawings of carburetors and brake shoes. The test stumped me. Many of the other test-takers loved it. A test about GTOs! These test-takers were mostly from my neighborhood. Draft boards went by neighborhoods, and my ‘hood had more than its share of greasers. At the end of the exams, I handed the draft-board doctor a list of my allergy medications and shots, and got out.

My parents didn’t go AWOL on me. They could have. My dad was bemused by my combat boots and jeans jacket, but he didn’t go Archie Bunker on me. My dad took his marching orders from Walter Lippmann, who called Vietnam a “quagmire.” My parents waited me out. My mother insisted I was still a good boy. She had been saying that since I was in kindergarten. I graduated college in due time, and I eventually went to the West Side — a lot. You’re a good boy. I can still hear my mother saying that.

I have a story in today’s Cleveland Plain Dealer about leaf blowers. Check it out here.

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November 18, 2020   2 Comments

TRUMP, TRUMP, TRUMP

I used to write essays about what I had for breakfast, and get the articles in the Wall Street Journal and New York Times. This was pre-Trump. Now, to get in these papers, I need to write “Trump every paragraph to have a shot.

When I was in grade school, sixth graders attended a week-long camping retreat. My elementary school — Victory Park — shared our retreat with neighboring Sunview School. Our sixth-grade teacher, an ex-Marine, said we Victory Park boys should pay attention to Trump from Sunview. Our teacher said Trump’s dad owned Lyndhurst Lumber, and “she would be a good catch.”

Yes, Trump was a girl, and she had two p’s in her last name, Trumpp, but let’s ignore the second p here. Trump was pretty and friendly, and she played clarinet. In junior high, she and I sometimes shared the same music stand. I think she gave up clarinet to become a cheerleader, and she married a guy on the football team, and she was never heard from again — at least by me. No reunions, nothing. I recently Googled her and learned her husband took over Lyndhurst Lumber, so I suppose I could go in there and ask, “How’s Trump?” But let’s keep this virtual, not real.

A fellow classmate, Robby Stamps, hitchhiked to Trump’s house in Lyndhurst and dated her. Stamps was James Dean-esque. Hitchhiking at age 13! (Later Stamps was wounded at Kent State.) Stamps was fluid, culturally. His father was a gentile car salesman named Floyd, and his mom was Jewish. Stamps felt comfortable in both worlds. Remember, this was back when “ethnicity” could be a white thing.

Trump worked part-time at The Swedish Bakery at Mayfield and Green roads. I never went in there. I should have. But my shyness trumped all.

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October 21, 2020   3 Comments

FANCY DANCING

My childhood friend Chap attended ballroom dance classes at the Alcazar Hotel. He had to wear white gloves. Chap’s dad worked for the Plain Dealer in home delivery, and his mom had been a professional banjo player. She was a realtor. Chap became “Chuck” in adulthood (he was always legally “Charles”) and got a job at the racetrack. He usually drove Corvettes. He liked to take the front plate off his Vettes to mess with the cops.

Chuck played quality trumpet in a soul band and was a flashy dresser. Lots of leather. He wanted to be Italian but wasn’t. He knew some racehorse owners at the track and eventually owned a horse or two. Also, he went to Bowling Green for a while, but college wasn’t his thing.

I haven’t seen Chap since 1992. I’d like to. He owes me $50 ($91 in today’s dollars). I advanced him the $50 for a meat tray for the wake of a mutual friend.

Nobody, except Chuck, in our neighborhood went to dance lessons, let alone the Alcazar — white gloves, tea and cookies. That program was called Mrs. Baltzer’s Dancing School. I found the name on the internet. Can you blame Chuck for rebelling and buying racehorses?

Here’s my op-ed from the Monday Wall Street Journal, “Landlords Have Bills Too.”

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September 30, 2020   1 Comment

I REMEMBER, PART 2

I remember my mother’s apple sauce. Always lumpy.

I remember the 45 CTS bus to the Mayfield Road JCC.

I remember the shofar player missing every single note on Rosh Hashanah. He needed a trumpet mouthpiece.

I remember U.N. stamp souvenir sheets.

I remember the H-bomb.

I remember Pedwin loafers.

Ron Yarian (Brush chem teaacher) and Bert 7-21-19 Cleveland

Bert Stratton and Ron Yarian (R), 2019 photo

I remember CBA (Chemical Bond Approach) Chemistry. I remember the teacher, Mr. Yarian. I saw him last year. He’s 84 and doing well.

I remember Charlene Cohen, the homecoming queen runner-up. I didn’t know her, by the way.

I remember the Cream-O-Freeze. You do, too. You don’t forget your childhood ice cream hangout. (My daughter’s favorite place was Draeger’s at Van Aken.)

I remember my mother writing: “Bert was absent from school yesterday due to religious observances.”

I remember How to Play Better Tennis by Bill Tilden.

—-

Afterthought:
These days there are Facebook groups specializing in South Euclid nostalgia. One site listed our dads’ occupations: plumber, insurance man, tailor, aerospace engineer, cop. One contributor to the list, Sal, said he was a barber and his dad and grandfather had been barbers, and his son was a barber. One guy wrote, “[We had] a family business on 89th and Hough until about a year or so after the riots. After that and an injury he sustained to the head from a robbery, he never was the same.” A woman wrote, “My father rented a building on 88th and Buckeye for his tools and supplies for his plumbing business.” I don’t remember.

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July 29, 2020   6 Comments

THOSE ANTI-SEMITS!

My clarinet teacher, Harry Golub, was nicknamed the Bald Eagle. Harry was hairless. Howard Zuckerman, a student, gave Mr. Golub the nickname. Mr. Golub taught out of a South Euclid storefront. His dad ran a kosher butcher shop next door. Harry Golub owned the building. One of his better moves.

Zuckerman, like many junior high clarinetists, dropped out of private lessons around bar mitzvah time. I hung in through eleventh grade. During my high school years, Mr. Golub asked me how the clarinet dropouts were doing. I gave him some updates — so-and-so got straight A’s, so-and-so was on the tennis team.

Mr. Golub was often cranky because, for one thing, he didn’t get along with the music department at the high school. They wouldn’t buy instruments and sheet music from him, he claimed. Mr. Golub said the high school was in cahoots with another music store, the one out in goy land — Lyndhurst.

I occasionally ran into Mr. Golub years later at Yiddishe Cup gigs, and he was still railing against the school system. He said, “Those mumzers! Those anti-semits!” He had a point. It was a city (yidn) versus country (gentile) thing. Those gentiles in Lyndhurst were probably taken aback by the several thousand post-War Jews who moved into their farmland, built bungalows, studied hard (my friends did), and ate smelly salami. Mr. Golub, himself, ate Hebrew National sandwiches (from his dad’s kosher meat market) while giving lessons.


Here’s a story I wrote for today’s Cleveland Plain Dealer: “Peaceful enjoyment of the premises.”

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July 1, 2020   6 Comments

COME THE REVOLUTION

I told my dad I couldn’t do pre-med because of the Revolution. How could I do eight years, minimum, of science and medicine during a revolution? My dad did not think I was nuts. (This was 1969.) He believed a revolution was coming, too. He read the papers and Newsweek, and followed Cronkite.

In Ann Arbor, the extremely radical Jesse James Gang splintered from the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). The Jesse James Gang leaders were Diana Oughton, Bill Ayers and Jim Mellon. These gedolim wore work boots (J.C. Penney), wire rims, and were Hollywood handsome. These leaders were several years older than undergrads like me. These radical kids’ “maturity” made them seem a lot more worldly. Seven years older is a big deal when you’re 19. Wire rims, plus long hair, and you got some looks, at least outside of Ann Arbor. You could get “hassled.”

The leader of the U. of Michigan student government was Marty McLaughlin, who wore Oxford-cloth shirts and was handsome too, but high school-y.  (I should have been a fashion writer.) Meanwhile, the Jesse James Gang met in U. buildings and encouraged us to take it to the streets. Protestors threw rocks through store windows and carried NLF flags. An acquaintance, John Gettel, threw a rock through the Ann Arbor Bank. I was next to him. I was always “next to” somebody. I was Zelig, curious about revolution.  I was at Kent State the night before. I didn’t want a revolution — and still don’t — and I knew it wasn’t going to be televised, so I tried to be there.

A couple years after college I saw Gettel on a street corner in Cleveland, passing out leaflets for Lyndon LaRouche. Gettel and his girlfriend were in Cleveland on assignment, mingling with the working class. I was on my way to my job managing apartments. I honked, said hi, and got out of there, and went to my job with the working class, who by the way hated the hippies.

Donald “Ducks” Wirtanen, a Finn from the U.P. and a college acquaintance of mine, got his jaw broken in a fight outside Hill Auditorium. I don’t remember why. I went to Cobo Hall to protest George Wallace. The funny thing, George Wallace was a good speaker, other than he was a racist.

In 1968 the Michigan Daily endorsed Hubert Humphrey and was criticized by Morris R., another acquaintance, for not endorsing Eldridge Cleaver of the Peace and Freedom Party.

The revolution was over by the end of 1970. Diana Oughton got blown up in her bomb factory in Greenwich Village. All politics were personal . . . “But the Man Can’t Bust our Music!” (Columbia Records). Marketing schemes and inner peace. Co-opt me, baby. Ecology was the next big thing. Back to the land. I didn’t do very well in Organic Chemistry. I blame it on the Revolution.

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June 17, 2020   6 Comments

TAXI DRIVER

The taxicab supervisor, smoking a stogie, asked me, “Where’s Charity Hospital?”

“I don’t know,” I said.

“Where’s the Federal Building?”

“Ninth Street.”

“The Pick-Carter Hotel?”

“I don’t know.”

“The Hollenden House?”

“Downtown — St. Clair.”

“People want to know where their hotel is,” he said. He hired me. He worked for Universal Cab, a division of Yellow Cab. I drove welfare recipients with vouchers to hospitals, and workers to Republic Steel Works #4. I didn’t drive rich people; I thought I was going to drive rich people but it was mostly poor people. I picked up one rich guy, downtown. He said, “Severance Hall.”

I asked, “Are you Claudio Abbado?”

“How do you know!” he said. I told him I’d seen his photo in the Plain Dealer that morning. Afterward, I told a friend John I had driven “a conductor from Italy.”

“So why did he come here?” my friend said. John’s favorite expression was “Cleveland is the armpit of the nation.” (This was in 1970.)

My taxi-driving job went downhill after Abbado. A cabbie told me to carry a bat. He said, “A bat isn’t a concealed weapon. It’s legal.” One time I thought I was being followed by robbers. I got boxed in around St. Luke’s Hospital and escaped by going in reverse. Maybe I was imagining it. I was skittish. To understand, you have to have been around in 1970.

My cab stalled at Fairmount Circle. The engine smoked. I left the cab and hitchhiked back to the Noble Road garage. The supervisor said, “You mean you left your cab, son?”

“I knew I could get back here.”

“You mean you left your cab unattended?”

“Yes.”

Dead end.

taxi driver 2

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February 26, 2020   4 Comments

YOU ARE A COMPLETE FAILURE

What happened to Sylvia Rimm? She used to be on public radio, dispensing childrearing advice. Rimm told my wife and me to subsume our individual personalities and create a united front to raise our kids. We didn’t. My wife, Alice, quoted Sylvia Rimm endlessly. Alice also quoted Eleanor Weisberger, Spock, Braselton and every other childrearing guru.

Alice wanted our kids to acquire a “sense of mastery” — of everything. Like going to Disney World was garbage, according to Alice, because our kids wouldn’t learn anything there. Actually, the kids learned a lot there. Teddy single-handedly planned the whole Disney World itinerary.

Our kids had so many lessons. I mean, ping pong lessons, tumbling lessons, Hebrew lessons, accordion lessons . . . Capoeira. What’s that?

My wife now gives lessons in everything.

Our youngest kid, Jack, learned to juggle by age 10. Our daughter, Lucy, became a Division 3 college athlete in diving. We didn’t allow much TV, except Mr. Rogers and once in a while The Simpsons. When our kids grew up, they immediately got TVs and watched every show made in the past 40 years.

I liked Bettelheim’s A Good Enough Parent. I liked the title. I swore at my kids. Was that so horrible? Probably hit my kids. Blocking it. One of my teenage kids took my car to an SAT test, and I needed the car for a gig because my music gear was in the trunk. I went to the SAT site and swore at the kid. An adult said to me, “Hey, ease up.” My outburst cost my child at least 30 points.

I snitched on some delinquent neighborhood kids who were very loud and rowdy. I called the police. The cop said, “Hey buddy, you’ve got a pretty short fuse.”

Are you perfect? Are you “slightly imperfect,” like my underwear? Are you good enough? Or are you a complete failure?

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February 12, 2020   1 Comment

I REMEMBER

I remember Fail-Safe by Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler. Who wrote the Fail part?

I remember Ted Williams could read the label on the ball.

When I was 10, I sent away to the Air Force Academy for a catalog and got one, along with an application.

I remember Larry and Norm Sherry of the Dodgers.

I remember Summit, the board game.

I remember Burger Chef.

I remember crepe dreidels hanging in the dining room.

I remember the Boy Scouts’ Life badge.

I remember my dad “hitting them out” to me in the park.

I remember playing “Exodus” on clarinet at the sixth-grade assembly. I also remember “Margie.”

I remember 1950-D nickels.

I remember “Hands Off Cuba” graffiti by the Rapid.

I remember slow-dancing to “Moon River” with a Christian Scientist.

I remember the Roxy.

I remember the JCC pop machine, and how it was frequently broken. The milk machine always worked. I drank a lot of chocolate milk. Maybe the useless pop machine was a parents’ conspiracy.

I remember Walter Lippmann in Newsweek.

I remember T.A. Davis tennis rackets.

I remember Rich Greenberg played Bobby McKinley — Chuck’s younger brother — in a national 16-and-under tennis tournament. Rich lost, but still, he played a McKinley.

I remember Harvey Greenberg got a 799 Math and 785 Verbal. (And this was before re-centering.)

I remember Chap’s GTO.

I remember Bruno Bornino’s “Big Beat” music column in the Cleveland Press. He also wrote “Pit Stop” about cars.

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October 30, 2019   6 Comments

MEN’S FASHION — A HISTORY

I was a bit stylish in seventh and eight grades. I shopped at Mister Jr.’s and Skall’s Men’s Wear at Cedar Center. After eighth grade, I gave up on making it in fashion. I couldn’t cut it — shopping, fashion and popularity contests.

One of my dad’s friends sold Farah pants. I liked Farah but Farah wasn’t cool. Nice feel but not cool. Lee –- the brand — was popular. Farah was the continental look — the greaser thing, like iridescent sharkskin. Italians clung to the continental look for years. Jews moved on to the “collegiate” look — Lee’s colored jeans.

Ben Skall, an old man, ran Skall’s Men’s Wear. He became a state senator. I gave up white socks to enter Skall’s. I bought black socks with gray rings around the top (Adler brand). Sam McDowell and Hawk Harrelson shopped at Skall’s.

I was in the in-between crowd. I noticed right off in seventh grade half the class was yiddlach, and these kids seemed “fast” and could dress, and they would mock you out if you dressed wrong. The dagos, my side of the tracks, dressed like Dean Martin or the Fonz (who came later). I wore a spread-shirt collar. Verboten amongst Jews and dagos. It had to be button down. So I went to Skall’s.

I wore a fisherman’s knit sweater my mom made. Homemade was verboten, too, I learned. But a girl complimented me on the sweater, so I kept wearing it. “Nice sweater,” she said. History!

I had a shirt jac and light blue denim pants. The shirt jac didn’t tuck in, by design.

Shoes? Pedwin cordovan penny loafers.

Sweaters: Alpaca was the continental look. Very Italian and very itchy. The collegiate look was a comfy cashmere-feel V-neck like a color called Summer Wheat.

Underwear? Yes.

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September 4, 2019   3 Comments

SCREW WOODSTOCK

I didn’t go to Woodstock. Never even thought about going. Wasn’t into Woodstock, period. I disdained anything popular. That was me. (My future wife, Alice, went to Woodstock for a fraction of a day. She saw Richie Havens and left because Woodstock was too crowded. By the way, Richie Havens was OK with me because he wasn’t super popular.)

I saw most of the Ann Arbor Blues Festival, which was two weeks before Woodstock. I should have seen the whole blues festival but my sister got married in Cleveland the same weekend. The chutzpah. I had to bounce back and forth from the wedding to the festival. I was the blues festival’s PR chairman, so I placed ads in major daily newspapers, Coda (a Canadian jazz mag), underground newspapers and Rolling Stone. I got in touch with the Voice of America, which taped the event. (The tapes haven’t resurfaced. Some other tapes have. There is a  just-released live double album.)  I worked with an ad agency in downtown Cleveland — a guy there did ads for the key company my dad worked at.

ann arbor blues festival poster 1969

First A2 Blues Festival, 1969.

The blues festival drew 20,000, and we spent about $60,000 from the University of Michigan and Canterbury House — an Episcopalian coffeehouse. That was a lot of money. ($419,000 in today’s terms.) I got a free trip out of it, to New York to talk to WNET. They weren’t interested in filming the festival because they had just done the Memphis Blues Festival.

Woodstock got a lot of ink because of the big crowd and the movie (1970).

Another national music festival in August 1969  was the Atlantic City Pop Festival. That drew about 100,000. Atlantic City Pop — you don’t hear much about that anymore. You don’t hear much about the Ann Arbor Blues Festival either.

The blues festival committee was U-M “blues freaks.” Most were Jews. University Activities Center — a student programming organization — ran an ad in the Daily that said hey-you-want-to-put-on-a-blues-festival? The student who placed that ad was Cary Gordon. He had a thing for Clifton Chenier. Gotta bring in Chenier! We did. And we brought in everybody else, too: Fred McDowell, Son House, Big Mama Thornton, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, B.B. King, and more. These old black musicians had a certain presence. They knew more about music and life than we did. Screw Woodstock.

*Speaking of old, B.B. King was 43. Son House was 67. Sleepy John Estes was the oldest at 70.

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August 28, 2019   6 Comments

POOL, PING PONG
AND MARCHING BAND

My father’s father, Louis Soltzberg, was run over by a May Co. truck in 1924 and had a metal plate put in his head. After that he began hanging out at the pool hall a lot. My great aunt once told me, “If they had given out prize money for playing pool like they do now, he would have been a millionaire.”

My dad steered his kids toward ping pong, away from pool.  Ping pong was in our basement. To shoot pool, you had to go to Severance Center. There was a big sign at Severance: “No Hats.” That was because black customers liked to wear stingy brim hats while shooting, and the owners didn’t want too many blacks.

My dad entered a ping pong tournament at Danny Vegh’s club and got clobbered by a Hungarian. After that, Toby played only in our basement.

My father was good with racquets, and at sports in general. His brothers were good, too. His brother Milt was a fast-pitch softball player, and brother Sol played football at Western Reserve. My dad, Toby, took me to annual indoor track meets sponsored by the Knights of Columbus. I kept trying to find Ohio State and Michigan on the jerseys, but it was all Seton Hall, Holy Cross and Villanova. Were those colleges?

We lived three houses from the public tennis courts. My dad hit tennis balls with me after work. He would say, “Racquet back. Hit it now. Racquet back. Hit it now.” He was the color man without much color. I didn’t like his constant patter. To rile him, I’d mutter, “You stink.” You meant me. That drove my dad nuts. And I would say, “I quit!”

I liked music, too, and particularly the intersection of music and sports. Ohio State’s marching band had no woodwind section. It was all brass, and my parents wouldn’t buy me a trumpet. I had my Uncle Al’s hand-me-down clarinet. I stopped begging for a trumpet around ninth grade. I got used to the clarinet. In twelfth grade I dropped marching band altogether. I wasn’t marching anymore (to quote Phil Ochs, another South Euclid boy).

The marching band director at Cleveland Heights High – a nearby school — kept his “marching” band stationary in the end zone. That would have suited me, but I was at Charles F. Brush High, and we marched. I didn’t like learning the marching patterns.

My dad never saw me march, or play with my klezmer band, for that matter. He died before I got it going. I still play tennis. Ping pong, every three years. Pool, every six years.


Tomorrow night (7 p.m, Thurs., Aug. 15)
Funk A Deli / Yidd Cup
Free outdoor concert
Walter Stinson Community Park
2313 Fenwick Road
University Heights, Ohio
Be there!

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August 14, 2019   3 Comments

YOU ARE THERE: 1973 PART 2

Cleveland was a hell for me last month. But not a bad hell. My mother lined up dates for me. The dates were with daughters of my mother’s friends. I took girls to bars and ordered 7&7s. That was my booze repertoire: 7&7.

I got feedback about the dates through back channels — info my mother gleaned at bridge games. Some girls liked me, some didn’t. One girl thought I was “a little weird.”

She was weird! She had no business dragging me through a military courtroom  — her dad’s den with World War II medals on the wall. “What are your plans? What do you do?” I wasn’t dating him.

What’s an apricot sour? That’s what I want to know. The daughter ordered that at the bar.

Right now I’m in Bodega Bay, California, sitting on the dock. A friend from college works at the marine lab here. I’m eating squid. Or maybe it’s a big snail. Wastin’ time?

2019 update: I stayed about a month in California and left for Latin America. I hitched and rode buses from Tijuana to Colombia. I stayed in Colombia a couple months, teaching English. In early 1974 I returned to Cleveland. My autobio: I Stayed in Cleveland.

Dunk A Feli / Funk A Deli / Yiddishe Cup plays an outdoor concert 7 pm Thurs., Aug 15, in University Heights, Ohio.  Walter Stinson Community Park, 2313 Fenwick Road. Used to be a school site — Northwood. You can bring beer and wine to the show. And hopefully there will be free ice cream bars, too. We’ll play klezmer and soul music and a combination of the two.

 

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July 31, 2019   1 Comment

YOU ARE THERE: 1973 PART 1

Beachwood, Ohio  1973

I live with my parents at the Mark IV, a high-rise apartment by the freeway. I’m living with my parents at age 23. I want to go to the North Pole. Chekhov said, “People do not go to the North Pole and fall off icebergs. They go to offices, quarrel with their wives and eat cabbage soup.”

My dad got mad at me because I didn’t want to save five dollars on traveler’s checks by shopping at various banks. “You aren’t a millionaire yet,” he said, scratching himself. He was wearing just underpants.

Tonight at a party — a parents’ party — Zoltan Rich, a Hungarian know-it-all, said, “The students protest for entirely selfish reasons. You know what the chief word is we’re missing — the key to the whole discussion? It’s obligation. Parents have abrogated their responsibility.”

It’s time to go. A guy from Case Western Reserve said he could give me a ride out west tomorrow. I won’t come back here for at least six months. My mother has a bridge game here tomorrow. If I’m within 100 feet of that game, I die.

I’ll try the Rand McNally approach to self-discovery . . .

loayl to axe 1

It’s 3 a.m. in Utah and I’m sleeping under a picnic bench. I hear deer. Or bears? I hear semis shifting. What’s up? I don’t even like “freak” America. Deep down I’m straighter than David Eisenhower. I might wind up back in Cleveland. Or maybe I’ll settle out in California.

 

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July 24, 2019   5 Comments

ALLEN GINSBERG TOLD ME
THE WORLD WAS ENDING

When Allen Ginsberg visited my college poetry class in 1969, he said we only had five years left. He said, “I’m afraid to read the papers.” And he said Burroughs claimed we had less than five years.

schilling and bert 1970

Mark Schilling (L) and Bert Stratton. 1970, hitchhiking from Cleveland to A2. Sign reads “Ann Arbor.”

How was I supposed to get through pre-med if the world was ending? The Ann Arbor Bank sign read 15 degrees. The sign at the First United Methodist Church was “Are you going through life with a kindergartner’s conception of God?” Probably. Ginsberg had a beard.

The first Earth Day was in April 1970. People suddenly were talking about duck-down and goose-down sleeping bags instead of the Vietnam war. I bought a bag for $35. The feathers kept coming out the seams. It was sewn-through, so where the thread was, there was no down. The seams were supposed to keep the down from rolling down to one end. It didn’t work too well. I couldn’t even turn in it. It was called a mummy bag. I felt dead. But the world didn’t end.

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May 29, 2019   4 Comments

COLLEGE ADMISSION

I knew a college counselor who if he put in a good word for you, you were in. Harvard, Yale, Harvey Mudd, Deep Springs. That’s what we parents all thought, but the counselor didn’t produce every single time. He said go to a college that was a “good fit.” He, himself, went to Harvard, always a good fit for a college counselor.

Here’s my approach — and  a tip for high schoolers. Describe a setback you have faced. “My parents don’t like klezmer music. They are so wrong. I’ve been playing klezmer my whole life. It has made me think for myself and be my own person.”

I attended a college-rejection shiva in 1968. A high school friend was rejected by every college he applied to. He got in nowhere! And he was in the top 10 in our class. (We’re pretty sure, in hindsight, the guidance counselor blackballed him.) We sat in a corner booth at Corky & Lenny’s and drank chocolate phosphates. My friend eventually got in to Ohio State on a late application. OSU had rolling, open admissions. In Columbus, my friend lived in a high-rise dorm with 16 guys per suite. It was not exactly the house system at Harvard.

Tower Club OSU 1937 Toby Stratton

My dad with his dormmates at Ohio Stadium, about 1935. The men lived in the stadium. All in one room, on cots.


Yidd Cup / FAD (Funk a Deli) is at Park Syn, Pepper Pipes, Ohio, tonight (March 20) at 7:15 pm. Free. Happy Purim!

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March 20, 2019   2 Comments

THE TENNIS COURT SHOVELER

When Rich Greenberg and I were in high school, tennis was a tree of life to them that lay hold fast of it. 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. I waited six months every winter for spring 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.

Contemplating tennis — and not playing — was like practicing music without an instrument. It was doable, but not much fun. I owned Bill Tilden’s book on singles and Gardnar Mulloy’s doubles book. There was no tennis on TV. We didn’t have access to indoor courts.

Tim Gallwey’s The Inner Game of Tennis (1974) 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.)

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

green cot

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 dumb. Two adults hitting a ball over a net. That was not solving any 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 inter-clubs between “our girls” and Lorain. He eventually moved to Seattle and did something else. Insurance, for one thing. And he plays harmonica in a blues band.

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January 30, 2019   4 Comments

CALIFORNIA

Around the time my younger son left for California — about seven years ago — I ran into a 24-year-old San Francisco girl at a shiva in Cleveland and told her to meet up with my son in Cali and show him around. I said, “Find him a job, a house, and marry him. I hope I’m not laying too big a trip on you.”

I was. She avoided me the rest of the shiva.

My daughter (who moved to Chicago about 10 years ago) once told me: “The kids who go out to California never come back.” My son in Cali said he feels guilty about leaving Cleveland, but not that guilty. He is 47-percent homeboy. I — by comparison — am 99.9-percent homeboy. I went to California four times in my twenties and ate a lot of KFC chicken on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley and saw many loose screws on Sproul Plaza, such as a woman who wore a vinyl yellow-and-black Carnaby Street cap all the time. I hitchhiked up to Bolinas and Santa Rosa, and ate a large snail at a marine biology lab in Bodega Bay. My dad told me to move to California. Maybe that’s why I didn’t.

Time Traveler

Time Traveler

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November 28, 2018   3 Comments

THE REVOLUTION

I told my dad I couldn’t do pre-med because of The Revolution. How could I do eight years, minimum, of science during a revolution? My dad, surprisingly, did not think I was nuts. This was 1969, and he believed a revolution was coming too.

In Ann Arbor, the Jesse James Gang splintered from the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). The gedolim of the gang – Diana Oughton, Bill Ayers and Jim Mellen — wore hiking boots, wire rims, and were Hollywood handsome. They were several years older than me. The Jesse James Gang met in a U. building and encouraged us to take it to the streets.

Some protestors threw rocks through store windows and carried NLF flags. An acquaintance, John Gettel, threw a rock through the Ann Arbor Bank. A couple years later I saw him on a street corner in Cleveland, passing out leaflets for Lyndon LeRouche. John had moved to Cleveland to mingle with the working class. I honked, said hi, and drove off. I was on my way to my job managing apartments.

Dux Wirtanen, a Finnish-American student from the UP, got his jaw broken in a fight outside Hill Auditorium. I don’t remember why. Afterward, he drank through a straw for weeks.

I went to Cobo Hall to protest George Wallace. The funny thing was George Wallace was a good speaker. In 1968 the Michigan Daily endorsed Humphrey. Some of my friends thought the Daily should endorse Eldridge Cleaver (Peace and Freedom Party).

george c wallace

George Wallace

The Revolution petered out in late 1970, after Kent State. Youth-craziness and youth fashion shifted toward ecology — back to the land, communes, and brown rice.

I blame my flame-out in organic chemistry on The Revolution.

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May 30, 2018   4 Comments