Category — Coming of Age
There’s no money in the arts. My old clarinet teacher told me that. He used to eat salami sandwiches while I took lessons. That stunk. Mr. Golub. He bought a building across from his music store; named the building after his daughter, The Joyce Manor; and sold it years later. He said he regretted he didn’t move with his brother to D.C. and make an even bigger killing there in a real boom town.
Golub’s Music Center. He had a neon saxophone on the sign. That, alone, drew the customers. Inside, there were bongos and guitars.
Mr. Golub couldn’t play by ear. That mystified him. Mystifies me — playing by ear. But I can do it — somewhat.
I’m the klezmer guy. I go to shivas and tell the mourners that, and, yeah, they recognize me. They say, “Oh, you’re the klezmer guy.”
Everybody needs to be some kind of “guy” (or “gal”). I became the klezmer guy because I put together the longest-lasting Jewish band between Chicago and D.C. Yiddishe Cup.
No mega money in this but it keeps me from going nuts.
A version of this post first appeared 5/12/09. Klezmer Guy post numero-uno.
Yiddishe Cup is at Akron First Night 10-11:30 p.m. Sat. (Dec 31.)
December 28, 2016 2 Comments
Most everybody was into Steppenwolf. My freshman roommate liked the MC5 too. I convinced him to move out. I got a roommate who was into Jefferson Airplane. That was better, but not much. (By the way, fans said “Jefferson Airplane” or “The Airplane,” but never “The Jefferson Airplane.”)
Pure jazz — that was my thing. The blues, too, was OK. My last freshman roommate, Dave (not his real name), was an inner-city Chicago kid into nothing musically. Dave didn’t know a clarinet from an oboe. We got along fine. (I went through three roommates. Was it me?)
I visited Dave at his Chicago house decades later (1995); he lived in his childhood neighborhood, Wrigleyville. His teenage kid was jamming to jazz play-along records. Dave was a brakeman. He had begun the U. of Michigan as a pre-med, like everybody else, but had come out a railroad brakeman, like Neal Cassady. Sophomore year he had chalked “Take Drugs” and “Only Fools Stay in School” on the sidewalk outside the co-op house. Dave did drop out.
Dave, rolling a cigarette on his Chicago front stoop, said he was sweating his monthly urine test. His house, which he had bought in 1975 for $30,000, was worth more than a half mill. “I’m a capitalist,” he said. “I have two renters.” And he still subscribed to the Socialist Workers newspaper. His kid played “Watermelon Man” on tenor sax. Every high schooler starts on that, thanks to Jamey Aebersold’s jazz play-along series.
This scene was familiar, except for The Militant newspaper. (I had played along to Aebersold, too; my parents had subscribed to Newsweek.)
A version of this appeared post here 4/28/2010
December 21, 2016 13 Comments
When a relative of mine ran for school board and lost, my father said, “Don’t run again. You don’t want to get a loser’s reputation.” My relative didn’t run again. I, too, play by my dad’s rules. I might run for president in 2020. Not saying yet.
First, a little background: I was a Kennedy man. I had a button as a big as a dinner plate.
I started my own country (on paper) in sixth grade and elected presidents and representatives. My country was a solace, because in the real world I couldn’t run for president because a) I wasn’t 35 and b) I was Jewish.
My mother said I could run and win. She duped me! Mom, my man, Abe Ribicoff of Connecticut, couldn’t even run. Newsweek said the country wasn’t ready for the Ribman, even for veep.
Now presumably a Jew could win. But let me be clear: I won’t start out at school-board level or even vice president. Trump taught me to go big or go home. My Little League teammate Joel Hyatt (Cleveland Heights High ’68) ran for U.S. Senate and got clobbered, maybe because he hadn’t paid his dues; he hadn’t run for lesser offices.
Lee Fisher (Shaker Heights High ’69) paid dues. I saw him at a civic club meeting in Collinwood in 1982: six neighbors, Lee and me. (I was a Sun Newspaper reporter.) Fisher eventually climbed to lieutenant governor. Then he got clobbered for the U.S. Senate. He paid dues, though. Give him that. [What’s he up to now? . . . Interim dean of Cleveland State law school.]
I’m willing to pay no dues. Again, the Trump influence.
My American history teacher at Brush High said Stratton is a good political name. (My teacher’s name was Americo Betori. He should have run for mayor of Cleveland, about 1950, against Celebreeze. Battle of the vowels.)
Remember that name. No, not Americo Betori. Stratton! (Mr. Betori died three years ago. I could identify 98 capitals and states on a blank map — my strong suit. My weak suit: being personable. Mr. Betori wrote on my final report card, “Cheer up, Bert, and give the world a chance!” Good advice. I try to follow it. I might give the world a chance to vote for Stratton in 2020. No experience necessary.
A version of this appeared here 10/31/12.
November 9, 2016 4 Comments
The Jazz Temple was a former Packard showroom at Mayfield Road and Euclid Avenue. Coltrane and Dinah Washington played there. The Jazz Temple was in business from 1960 to 1963. I passed the Jazz Temple weekly on my way to Sunday school at The Temple, the gold-domed Reform temple in University Circle.
Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver was the head rabbi at The Temple. He once spoke at the United Nations, advocating for the founding of the State of Israel. Rabbi Silver’s son, Dan, was the assistant rabbi. Dan played football at Harvard and occasionally wrote for the Cleveland Edition.
At Sunday school, kids were mostly from Shaker Heights. One kid got a ride in a limo to temple. The driver wore a chauffeur’s cap. The limo wasn’t a Rolls; it was a Buick station wagon.
I couldn’t grasp how temple — the word — fit into the Jazz Temple. Was Jazz a religion too? Many years later, I met former beatniks who had actually gone to shows at the Jazz Temple.
The Jazz Temple was blown up in 1963. Somebody didn’t like the club or the owner, Winston Willis, a controversial black businessman. At The Temple religious school, we students attended services every Sunday morning to hear Rabbi Silver. (Services were on Sunday, not Saturday, in the 1950s at Silver’s.) Rabbi Silver looked like God. Nowadays, at The Temple East in Beachwood, there is a Abba Hillel Silver memorial study. The rabbi’s desk is laid out like he just stepped out for lunch. He died in 1963, just six days after Kennedy got murdered.
A slightly different version of this appeared 9/5/12. If you need baseball stuff, see my story at City Journal.
November 2, 2016 5 Comments
Italians have great names, grant them that. The best name from my old neighborhood was Bocky Boo DiPasquale. Bocky led a band, Bocky and the Visions, a local version of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Bocky Boo was a pre-Beatles greaser with a strong regional following; he got significant air play on Cleveland radio and on Detroit’s CKLW.
The Bock became a Cleveland legend. I, however, was too young to grasp Bocky’s vision. I didn’t listen to his music. I just knew his name and wondered, Can Bocky Boo be real?
I knew an Alfred Mastrobuono. Real.
I knew Carmen Yafanaro. Real.
Ralph Dodero. Real.
Bocky Boo’s real name was Robert DiPasquale.
Robby Stamps — another musician from my high school — knew The Bock and all other local bands, past or present. Stamps was a rocker, riding the first wave of psychedelia. (Robby’s sister incidentally was Penny Stamps.)
Stamps never showed up at high school reunions. He said the Italian greasers would harass him for being a radical. Stamps was a misher — a meddler — more than a radical. He was always around the action, like Zelig. Stamps was shot in the buttock at Kent State on May 4, 1970.
After graduating Kent, Stamps worked jobs as an adjunct faculty member in Hawaii, California and Florida. He majored in sociology and Spanish. Stamps was half Jewish — an oddity in the 1960s. Back then you were generally all Jewish, or you weren’t. Robby’s father was Floyd. (Not a Jew.)
Stamps hung around with just about everybody in high school: racks (aka greasers, dagos), white-bread American kids (aka squids, collegiates) and Jews (aka Jews). Stamps was an emissary between the various groups; he had a pisk (big mouth), played music and was fearless — except at reunions.
Stamps wasn’t part of the “in” crowd or the “out” crowd. Stamps was his own man. He scribbled “pseudo-freak” on the photo of a hippie poseur in my yearbook.
In middle age, Stamps developed every kind of illness: Crohn’s, Lyme Disease and pneumonia, plus he had the May 4 bullet wound. He died in 2008 at 58.
If Stamps had come to the reunions, he probably would have shed light — some sociology — on the cliques. Stamps’ perspective was sarcastic, bitter and funny. He would have said something like: “See those Jews at the bar, those guys wore penny loafers in seventh grade without pennies in them, and yelled at me because I put pennies in mine. They threw pennies on the floor. If you picked up the pennies, you were a ‘cheap Jew.’ I threw pennies. I worked both sides of the street.”
In 1988 Bocky Boo was shot and killed in a bar. The cops — some who had grown up with The Bock — tried hard to find Bocky’s killer. There was even a website, whokilledbocky, for a few years ago. (Now down. ) No Luck. The Bock and Stamps didn’t stick around.
Well, that’s one thing I can say about that boy, he gotta go.
–Paul Butterfield Blues Band, “Born in Chicago,” lyrics by Nick Gravenites
This post originally appeared 5/2/12.
May 4, 2016 7 Comments
I was allergic to everything from buckwheat pancakes to peaches. I went to the Asthma and Hay Fever Clinic for shots with my dad. He got shots too. The treatment for asthma and allergies back then was shots, which didn’t work too well — at least for me.
My mother said, “Sit up. I’ll get your pills.” The pills were red tabs I put under my tongue in the middle of the night. This was before albuterol and steroids. This was when there were leeches and cupping. I had a difficult time breathing. I’m not saying I was going to die, but I had some bad nights as a kid. My mother said, “Stick another pill under your tongue and press it down, and try to keep your mouth closed.” I couldn’t keep my mouth closed; I had to breathe. “Get on your bathrobe and stand up,” my mother said. So I walked around.
I was 13, and I was the wheezer.
The asthma attacks tapered off in my teenage years. Breakthrough: at 31 I participated in a drug trial at the VA hospital and got Cromolyn and started jogging. Everything worked out for the best, except I’m probably more morbid than the average person.
Yiddishe Cup plays First Night Akron tomorrow night, New Year’s Eve, 10-11:30 p.m, John S. Knight Convention Center, Goodyear Ballroom.
December 30, 2015 2 Comments
1964 . . .
Maybe I should buy Canoe for Stone’s bar mitzvah. No, I think I’ll go with a proof set.
The guys outside the Coin Shop at Cedar Center are sharp dressers. Schwartz has a built-in watch in his ID bracelet. Levin is twitching — a nervous thing. Stern has a heart murmur. The Twitch says, “I wish Cotton was a monkey.” That’s from the Little Rascals. Schwartz asks if I’m going to Stone’s bar mitzvah.
Yes, I’m going, but I’m not dancing at the bar mitzvah!
Proof set? I don’t know. BU set? (Brilliant uncirculated.)
I don’t want to go.
This is half-true fiction.
I wrote “At Harvey Pekar’s Pad” for the Cleveland Plain Dealer (7/12/15).
July 15, 2015 4 Comments
I had a show biz lunch at Corky & Lenny’s. The lunch was Hollywood-style, not Hollywood. Bert Dragin, the owner of a furniture store chain, was looking for a movie script. (This was in 1980. C&L’s was still at Cedar Center.) Dragin said to me, “I’ve got money. Everybody will talk to me in L.A. Right now I have something in the Best of the New York Erotic Film Festival.” He suggested I write a screenplay about a fire at a gay nightclub in Atlanta. Not my thing, sorry.
Dragin sold his Name Brand Furniture stores and moved to Hollywood to make movies. He produced Suburbia (1983), and directed Summer Camp Nightmare (1987) and Twice Dead (1988).
I wrote a screenplay, The Flamer, about a bar mitzvah party where several kids got burned to death by playing with sterno. [This paragraph is fiction. The rest is true.]
Dragin ran a tab at Corky & Lenny’s, which he probably paid monthly. He acted in his TV ads for the furniture store. “You heard of Erotic Salad?” he said. “It’s got a soft-X rating.”
“No.” That’s as close as I got to Hollywood.
March 4, 2015 6 Comments
I was at a brunch where all the men wore Ohio State apparel. That in itself was not unusual; I know a lot of Ohio State fans who do brunch, but the host at this brunch was particularly Bucks-nuts; he would not let anybody into his house with Michigan gear on.
I’m not that big a football fan. I’m a Michigan graduate but I wish Ohio State all the best — most of the time. I like it when Michigan is winning, but this year the team is horrible, so let Ohio State go all the way.
Yiddishe Cup had a trumpet player — a sub — who played in the Ohio State marching band. He played a luncheon with Yiddishe Cup, and the OSU-Michigan game (originally scheduled for 3 pm) went on at noon, so I gave the musician leeway on the bandstand; I let him periodically watch the Bucks on a TV in a corner. The other guys in the band thought I was too accommodating. They didn’t
understand . . .
Take 1962: OSU versus Northwestern, homecoming. Before the game, my dad and I went to a reunion luncheon. My dad had on a Class of ’38 name tag. I don’t know what the name tag read; my father changed his name from Soltzberg to Stratton in 1941. The theme for the fraternity floats in 1962 may have been “Peanuts.” My dad knew the words to “Carmen Ohio,” the OSU alma mater. My dad never knew the words to any song!
My dad and I went to about a half dozen Ohio State homecomings. I liked Long’s Bookstore for sweatshirts. Charbert’s for hamburgers. We checked out the floats on fraternity row. My dad wanted to show me the medical school.
The Bucks: Tom Matte, Warfield, Matt Snell and Bob Ferguson.
If Michigan doesn’t win it all (and it ain’t going to this year), let Ohio State.
November 26, 2014 2 Comments
I saw Wilma Salisbury, the former Cleveland Plain Dealer dance and music critic, at a concert. She used to be feared — used to be. When she stopped writing for the Plain Dealer, she became just Wilma Salisbury.
I saw Eleanor Mallet. She was a columnist a couple decades ago. Now she’s simply Eleanor Mallet.
Winsor French — the late Cleveland Press columnist — arrived at work in a Rolls. This was in the 1930s. He was independently wealthy. He went all over the world during the Depression, reporting on glamorous parties, for working stiffs in Cleveland. He also wrote a lot about Cleveland nightlife.
Have you read any book-length compilations by newspaper columnists? I read one good one: Eric Broder’s funny The Great Indoors. What if you read 45 Dick Feagler columns in a row? Would you die? (Dick Feagler is an excellent writer but 45 columns in a row about the good old days, that’s rough.)
Here are a few other former Cleveland columnists: Don Robertson, Alfred Lubrano, Jim Parker, Jim Neff, Mary Strassmyer, Tom Green . . . I’m just getting started. (No Googling either.)
I was a columnist once. I wrote about candy, sheepshead and the library for Sun Newspapers. I picked easy, uncontroversial subjects. I was too ambivalent.
Terry Pluto, a Plain Dealer sportswriter, moonlights as a religion columnist. I sometimes clip his columns for inspiration. Pluto phones clergy and asks (my guess), “Can you tell us how to live — and preferably in three or fewer sentences.”
It’s tough to crank out columns weekly. Pluto quoted a rabbi who cited Pirke Avot (a section of Talmud): “The one who is wealthy is satisfied with what he has.”
Do I covet Pluto’s job?
I had an essay in Belt Mag last week about delis. (Boni: Some interesting comments at the end of the article.) Click on “Deli Men”
Clevelanders, Yiddishe Cup plays tomorrow (Thurs. Aug. 7) at 7 p.m. at John Carroll University. We’re on the lawn in front of the Grasselli Library. Park at the college lot across from Pizzazz restaurant and walk toward the campus. Bring a chair or blanket.
The concert is free. If raining, the show is indoors at the Dolan Science Center.
August 6, 2014 4 Comments
I lived in a Cleveland Heights duplex — a side-by-side. Joe, the landlord, lived in the other half. He wore a sleeveless T-shirt, smoked cigars and nagged his wife.
A note taped to the thermostat — on my side of the house — read: “Whoever is turning the thermostat up and not turning it down, is throwing money out the window!” I lived with a social worker, a Case Western Reserve nursing student from a strawberry farm in Lake County, and a telemarketer. I met these guys off a bulletin board at Case.
I practiced guitar in the basement, trying to be Bob Dylan.
When the social worker moved out, a woman came by to look for a room to rent. I met her at the house’s front door and said, “We’re looking for somebody clean, quiet, and . . .”
“Cute?” she said. She was wearing taped glasses. Nevertheless, she was not bad looking.
The strawberry farmer said to me, “You think she’s Jewish?” (He was always looking out for me.)
“She’s a nurse from West 45th Street,” I said. “Not likely.”
The woman rented the room. Then the landlord’s wife, Gertie, kicked her out. Gertie said, “Girls spell trouble. I’d rather deal with men. You should take that as a compliment, fellas. Why would a girl who makes a good living want to live here anyway?”
Joe, the landlord, chimed in, “We have to be indiscreet about this. What if you all start bringing in girls? It’ll look like a whorehouse. You’ve always been gentlemen till now.”
I went down the basement to practice. I was making $9/hour teaching blues harmonica at the adult-ed program. Not bad for 1977.
The nurse moved out, to her own place, a nearby double, and I called her and we went out. We hit it off. I told my parents, “She’s from West 45th Street.”
My father said, “Are her parents devout Catholics?”
“She’s Jewish.” (She was. I wasn’t pulling my dad’s leg, for a change.)
My mother said, “I’m getting a new dress now. Get married. You can get divorced later. You promised you’d get married when you’re 27 and you’re 27. A Jewish girl in nursing?”
“Because she wants to marry a doctor,” my father said. “Anything wrong with her? She’s a 26-year-old unmarried Jewish girl.”
“Girls are more independent nowadays,” my mother said.
The girl and I got married the next year.
Footnote: Alice lived on West 45th Street because it was somewhat near Tri-C West nursing school, and the rent was cheap.
July 23, 2014 6 Comments
My son Teddy had a birthday party at Putt-Putt on Northfield Road. This was in 1990. I think that’s the last time I played Putt-Putt — official Putt-Putt. There are only 49 Putt-Putt courses left in the United States.
There was a Chinese miniature golf course on Libby Road at Broadway Avenue in Cleveland. (I think that’s where it was.) It had a Buddha that went up and down. My high school friends and I couldn’t get enough of that course.
Arnold Palmer Miniature Golf . . . Just had to say that.
I would like to live long enough to play Putt-Putt with my grandchildren. (First, I need the grandchildren.) I want to stay healthy enough to bend down and pick up the ball. That’s the hardest part of mini golf.
Adventure golf, such as Pirate’s Cove, sounds good.
There’s a vid version of this post — slightly more in-depth. (Originally posted in 2011).
Come to Cain Park, Cleveland Heights, 7 p.m. Sun. (June 29) for a free klezmer concert by the Josh “Socalled” Dolgin Sextet, featuring super clarinetist Michael Winograd. (Jack Stratton on drums.)
Here’s a new vid, Don Bryon Salutes Mickey Katz.
June 25, 2014 8 Comments
I audiotaped a family dinner in April 1973. I told my dad I was doing “cinema verite.” (Don’t knock it. Louis Armstrong did a lot of audiotaping.)
In 2010 I played the audiotape for my adult children. They thought I sounded like my then college-age son Jack. My parents had asked me questions about my college roommates.
My mother said What’s So-and-So from your dorm doing?
Doing what? I stonewalled my mom, like a good college kid.
My son Ted, listening to the tape in 2010, said, “You’re weird, recording everything.”
Weird? No. Wired? Yes. You can never have too much documentation. (“This is the age of investigation and every citizen must investigate” — Ed Sanders.) For instance, I wish my mother had saved my dad’s letters from Fort Benning, 1941. My mother threw nearly everything out. When she moved to assisted living, I cleaned out her apartment in about two hours. Two hours, not days.
My audiotape is boring. “I don’t want any dessert” — that kind of thing. I hope somebody throws it out. Maybe I will. For one thing, there’s a horrible sax solo after the dinner recording, and I sound like a jerk — on sax and at dinner:
Dad: “What the hell you got it [tape recorder] on for? There’s nothing going on.”
Mom: “He likes to do it.”
Bert: “I don’t listen to them anyway, so what do I care.”
I had an essay in Belt Magazine last week. Belt is online dispatches from the Rust Belt. “On Lee Road.”
May 28, 2014 5 Comments
During the last days of the shah of Iran, I taught Iranian teenagers at a fly-by-night ESL school in Cleveland.
I punched a kid from Hamadan. The school director called me into his office and said, “What’s with the discipline problem all of a sudden? These kids are under 18. We’re liable.”
I apologized to the principal and promised I wouldn’t punch anybody . . . else that day.
Javad –- another Iranian — flicked a pen into the air during class and said, “Excuse me, is this toss?” I was in the middle of teaching the song “Tom Dooley.”
Solheil –- Iranian #3 — said: “Dooley means dick in Farsi.”
I punched Soheil.
Javad interrupted, “Anus is asshole?”
I didn’t touch Javad. I just punched Solheil!
The principal wasn’t happy with me. My students were smaller than me, and the principal was very solicitous of them; he washed the kids’ clothes in Woolite and presented each new student with a can of Right Guard. He also took the kids bowling, to the art museum, and threw parties. He took the boys to the dentist, the visa office, the optometrist, and the jeans store.
The principal was also the school owner, and he was burning out. He said to me, “I don’t know what stinks more — an Iranian or nine cats. These sons of millionaires have two undershirts and two underpants, and I still don’t know color they are.”
The ESL school didn’t last. I wonder where the principal is. [Google: Washington state.] I bet the Iranians are in California. I never see Iranians here. But if I ever do see an Iranian, I’ll punch him just for old time’s sake (assuming he is under 5-5 and 110 pounds.)
I have an essay up at City Journal, “Tales From Landlordia.”
May 14, 2014 2 Comments
Pamela Paul, editor of the New York Times Book Review, keeps a list of all the books she has read. She wrote about her list — that goes back to 1988 — in the book review.
I know somebody else who keeps a list.
My list goes back to 1973, Ms. Pam Paul! (Actually 1971, but I can’t find the 1971-72 portion right now.)
My four literary horsemen of the early 1970s were Kerouac, Saroyan, Thomas Wolfe and Henry Miller. Plus every beatnik writer. Every beatnik. That included Dutch motorcyclist/writer Jan Cremer and Turkish East Village beat Erje Ayden.
Here is my 1974 list, edited:
The First Circle Alexandr Solzhenitsyn
Geronimo Rex Barry Hannah
Kentucky Ham William Burroughs Jr.
Confessions of a Child of the Century Thomas Rogers
Strangers and Brothers C.P. Snow
The Manor Isaac Bashevis Singer
Pere Goriot Honore de Balzac
Tropic of Cancer Henry Miller
Blue Movie Terry Southern
Monday the Rabbi Took off Harry Kemelman
I’m Glad You didn’t Take it Personally Jim Bouton
Call It Sleep Henry Roth
My Friend Henry Miller Alfred Perles
The Wanderers Richard Price
Imaginary Speeches for a Brazen Head Philip Whalen
Franny and Zooey J.D. Salinger
The Boys on the Bus Timothy Crouse
Nine Stories J.D. Salinger
The Autograph Hound John Lahr
Raymond Chandler Speaking Raymond Chandler
Lolita Vladimir Nabokov
My Last Two Thousand Years Herbert Gold
The Slave Isaac Bashevis Singer
Did you skim or read that list? If you read it, here’s your reward — a continuation, with asterisks for really funny books. (At the end of the list, there is a prose wrap-up.) My fav books, generally . . .
Keep the Aspidistra Flying George Orwell
Burmese Days George Orwell
Fear of Flying Erica Jung
A Fan’s Notes Frederick Exley
The War Against the Jews Lucy Dawidowicz
Little Big Man Thomas Berger
Hot to Trot John Lahr *
The Fight Norman Mailer
Miss Lonelyhearts Nathanael West
The World of Our Fathers Irving Howe
Bloodbrothers Richard Price
The Rise of David Levinsky Abraham Cahan
Tales of Beatnik Glory Ed Sanders
The Idiot Fyodor Dostoyevsky
While Six Million Died Lucy Dawidowicz
Thirteenth Tribe Arthur Koestler
Chrysanthemum and the Sword Ruth Benedict
The Last Tycoon F. Scott Fitzgerald
Confessions of a Nearsighted Cannoneer Seymour Krim
Union Dues John Sayles
All My Friends are Going to Be Strangers Larry McMurtry
The Chosen Chaim Potok
A Feast of Snakes Harry Crews
The Basketball Diaries Jim Carroll
The Cool World Warren Miller
Rabbit Run John Updike
Airships Barry Hannah
The Rector of Justin Louis Auchincloss
Sophie’s Choice William Styron
King of the Jews Leslie Epstein
The Pope of Greenwich Village Vincent Patrick
Dubin’s Lives Bernard Malamud
The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz Mordecai Richler *
The Right Stuff Tom Wolfe
Tess of the d’Urbervilles Thomas Hardy
Jane Eyre Jane Austin
The House of Mirth Edith Wharton
Ethnic America Thomas Sowell
Zuckerman Unbound Philip Roth
Maiden Rites Sonia Pilcer *
The Friends of Eddie Coyle George V. Higgins
God’s Pocket Pete Dexter
Rabbis is Rich John Updike
This Way for the Gas Tadeusz Borowski
The Abandonment of the Jews David Wyman
Survival in Auschwitz Primo Levi
Man’s Search for Meaning Viktor Frankl
The Headmasters Papers Richard Hawley
Bright Lights Big City Jay McInerney
The Art of Fiction John Gardner
Fathers Playing Catch with Sons Donald Hall
La Brava Elmore Leonard
Babbitt Sinclair Lewis
Wiseguy Nicholas Pileggi
Providence Geoffrey Wolff
The Sportswriter Richard Ford
The Great Pretender James Atlas
Bonfire of the Vanities Tom Wolfe
Papa Play for Me Mickey Katz
Life is with People Mark Zborwski and Elizabeth Herzog
The Facts Philip Roth
A History of the Jews Paul Johnson
In Praise of Yiddish Maurice Samuel
Old New Land Theodor Herzl
Architects of Yiddishism Emanuel Goldsmith
From that Place and Time Lucy Dawidowicz
Paris Trout Pete Dexter
Patrimony Philip Roth
Mr. Bridge Evan Connell
Devil’s Night Zev Chafets
Rabbit at Rest John Updike
Rabbit Redux John Updike
Class Paul Fussell
Days of Grace Arthur Ashe
Lost in Translation Eva Hoffman
How We Die Sherman Nuland
Roommates Max Apple
Moo Jane Smiley
Independence Day Richard Ford
The Road from Coorain Jill Kerr Conway
Parts of My Body Phillip Lopate
American Pastoral Philip Roth
The Wishbones Tom Perrotta
Ex-Friends Norman Podhoretz
Hole in Our Soul Martha Bayles
The Trouble with Cinderella Artie Shaw
The Human Stain Philip Roth
Winning Ugly Brad Gilbert
Up in the Air Walter Kirn *
John Adams David McCullough
Selling Ben Cheever Ben Cheever *
The Corrections Jonathan Franzen
The New Rabbi Stephen Fried
Samaritan Richard Price
Funnymen Ted Heller *
My Losing Season Pat Conroy
Fabulous Small Jews Joseph Epstein
The Case for Israel Alan Dershowitz
The Da Vinci Code Dan Brown
Good Vibes Terry Gibbs
Made in Detroit Paul Clemens
On Beauty Zadie Smith
Prisoner of Trebekistan Bob Harris
High Fidelity Nick Hornby
Sweet and Low Rich Cohen
America’s Polka King Bob Dolgan
Prisoners Jeffrey Goldberg
Infidel Ayaan Hirsi Ali
A Random Walk Down Wall Street Burton Malkiel
Lush Life Richard Price
Dean’s List Jon Hassler
Irrational Exuberance Robert Shiller
Rabbit at Rest John Updike
How I became a Famous Novelist Steve Hely *
Facing Unpleasant Facts George Orwell
The Great Indoors Eric Broder *
Pops Terry Teachout
Olive Kitteridge Elizabeth Stout
I Feel Bad About My Neck Nora Ephron
Open Andre Agassi
How to Win Friends Dale Carnegie
The Whore of Akron Scott Raab *
I Married a Communist Philip Roth
Pocket Kings Ted Heller *
The Love Song of Jonny Valentine Teddy Wayne *
I bought the Richard Price books for pleasure and investment purposes. His books are probably worth nothing. I have followed Price’s career since he was 25. I knew a woman who dated him at Cornell. Price is a Lit god around my house.
I like short books. Most classics are long, so I’m bad at classics. Funny books are my favorite. Throw in a few jokes, or lose me. I don’t need a strong plot.
I’ve read The Great Gatsby five times because it’s great and short. I would read it more often if it was funny.
I can’t remember most of what I read.
A lot here — in this post — is a rip off of Nick Hornby and his Ten Years in a Tub, about books Hornby has read in the past 10 years.
I haven’t read much philosophy. Any? I’ve tried the Bible a few times. Proust — I’ve done 50 pages with him. I’m good with Shakespeare!
I haven’t read The Hobbit or War and Peace. (Check out Buzzfeed’s “22 Books You Pretend You’ve Read but Actually Haven’t.”)
I’ve read many books about Cleveland. Here are three random CLE books: A Fares of a Cleveland Cabby, Thomas Jasany; Confused City on a Seesaw, Philip W. Porter; and First and Last Seasons, Dan McGraw. I’ve read all of Harvey Pekar. Harvey didn’t write much. Maybe 90,000 words total. Thanks, Harvey.
I’ve read every klezmer book, I think. Did you know a Polish academic, Magdalena Waligorska, cited this blog in her book Klemzer’s Afterlife (Oxford University Press)?
My wife occasionally takes my literary recommendations to her book club. But not lately. She recommended How I Became a Famous Novelist by Hely. That ruined my wife’s credibility.
If you read a book on this list, pick one with an asterisk. And if you don’t think the book is funny, bail immediately.
I’m bailing. Gotta list something. What, I don’t know. Maybe I’ll tally the people who liked this post vs. those who thought it was too self-indulgent.
March 5, 2014 12 Comments
“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.
Everybody in Cleveland has worked at American Greetings, I think. Or tried to. I applied for a job at American Greetings in 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.
“I’m going back to my parents.”
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.
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.
February 12, 2014 5 Comments
At a nursing home gig, a resident told me she knew my late Aunt Bernice.
Another resident remembered me from my junior high days. Her daughter had played first-chair clarinet, to my second chair, in junior high band.
A third resident said he was the former dentist of Yiddishe Cup’s drummer. “What’s your drummer’s name again?” the dentist asked. [Don Friedman! The great Donny Friedman!]
I said, “I’ll give you the drummer’s name, but first I’m going to be clairvoyant!” I guessed the dentist’s name, his approximate age (90), and what he had done that morning — three hours prior to the gig.
I got everything right, but the dentist wasn’t impressed. He wanted the drummer’s name.
I guessed everything right about the dentist because 1. I had seen the dentist playing tennis at a nearby racquet club that morning. A 90-year-old guy playing tennis is hard to forget. 2. I knew his approximate age because he used to play tennis with my dad. 3. I knew his name because I had dated his daughter in high school.
The daughter and I had gone to see Cool Hand Luke at the Vogue, then out for shakes at Manner’s Big Boy, Van Aken. It was a fix-up by our parents. It was my one-and- only date in high school.
I asked the dentist, “What’s Barbara doing?” The daughter.
“She’s a piano teacher in Boston,” he said.
I just Googled her. She teaches classical and jazz. She used to be a radio DJ.
Did I make a major mistake not asking her out for a second date?
January 22, 2014 4 Comments
A college kid told my band’s guitarist he went to Columbia University, and my guy said, “Where’s that?”
That knocked the college boy back a few SAT points.
College quiz question: What college narrowly missed being in the original Ivy League football conference?
Answer: Colgate University.*
Another fact: Yiddishe Cup once shared the bill with the Colgate glee club at a Cleveland wedding.
More: Former MIT folk dancers are a solid market for Yiddishe Cup. Yiddishe Cup has played several simchas for MIT folk dancers.
Regionally speaking, I was loyal to Ohio State for many years. My dad took me to Ohio State homecoming games every year. My father lived in a corner of Ohio Stadium, in the scholarship dorm, the Tower Club, which was actually a barracks with cots. My dad often said some of the gentiles at Ohio State, back in the 1930s, thought Jews had horns.
A New Jersey woman — a potential bar mitzvah customer — called me and said, “I went to Ohio U. in the 1980s. All the kids from Mentor and Madison [Ohio] thought I had horns.”
The Buckeye marching band had horns. (Horns and percussion. No clarinets.)
The only time my father yelled at a TV was when Ohio State played Cincinnati for the 1961 basketball championship. Who won? [Cincinnati, 70-65.]
I attended a college-rejection shiva. The shiva — at Corky & Lenny’s restaurant in April 1968 — was for a friend who was rejected by every college he applied to. He got in nowhere! He was ranked fifth, or so, in our high school class, but every college turned him down because the high school guidance counselor didn’t like him and wrote a negative recommendation. (He was way too political for my school.)
We sat in the corner booth at C&Ls and drank chocolate phosphates, commiserating with our friend. We were all in somewhere, and he wasn’t.
He eventually got accepted to Ohio State on a late application. Back then, if you had a heartbeat you could get into OSU. He wound up in an OSU high-rise dorm with 16 guys per suite. It wasn’t anything like the house system at Harvard.
I knew a college counselor at University School, a private boys’ school in Cleveland. If the counselor put in a good word for you, you were in. Harvard, Yale, you name it. Harvey Mudd. Deep Springs.
The counselor didn’t believe his own myth. Go to a school that was a “good fit,” he said. (“Good fit” was the watchword of college counselors.) This counselor went to Harvard, a “good fit” for a college counselor.
Here’s a tip for high school kids: on your application, focus on something esoteric. Write: “I want to be a klezmer musician because it is the cornerstone of my existence.” Describe a setback you have faced. “My parents don’t like klezmer music. They are so wrong. I’ve been thinking about klezmer my whole life.”
No guarantees, but give it a try.
*The statement about Colgate narrowly missing out on the Ivy League football conference may be apocryphal.
OSU Tower Club residents, 1937. Click on the photo to make it bigger. “Tower Club,” a sign, is on the stadium entrance to the left of “Toby.”)
November 20, 2013 4 Comments
A friend from high school, Mike, found me on the Web and emailed me questions about real estate. Mike lives in Minnesota. He added a postscript: “I haven’t thought about high school in decades!” He listed a few old names – high school buddies.
I haven’t thought about high school in decades! Was he bragging? Like, “I’ve moved on.”
News flash: “Nostalgia has been shown to counteract loneliness, boredom and anxiety” — New York Times, 7/9/13, John Tierney.
I go to reunions even when they’re not mine. I was at the 50th Cleveland Heights High reunion. I was playing a gig nearby and went into the reunion for atmosphere. Go Tigers!
I wish teachers were invited to reunions. My 12th-grade English teacher, Mr. Hill, walked his dog by my house almost daily in the 1990s. One day I got up the nerve to say hi. He didn’t remember me! He said, “I had so many students.”
I said, “I bet you remember Ann Wightman!”
Yes, he remembered Ann, the smartest woman ever and salutatorian. [See post about Ann here.]
I should call my high school buddy Dennis. He’s around.
I should also call Howard. He’s in New York. We occasionally vacation together to do in-depth analyses of our high school days, to talk about the Jewish “Tiger Mom” ethos of our youth — how it no longer exists (our youth and the Jewish “Tiger Mom” ethos).
Howard has constructed two main classifications for the Jews of South Euclid, circa 1965: 1. Racetrack Jews (gamblers / working class), 2. Refined Jews (sheyne, college-educated yehudim.)
My family was in between. No New York Times, no Racing Form. We had the Cleveland Press on the doorstep.
I haven’t been back to my high school (Charles F. Brush) in decades. It’s off my flow chart, even though it’s only 5 1/2 miles from my house. If I entered my high school, I would probably feel very young or very old. I think “very old” would win. Not worth it.
I haven’t thought about high school . . . in seconds.
I gave the graphic novel Maus to a bat mitzvah girl as a gift. The girl was the daughter of my high school friend Dennis. Dennis returned Maus, saying, “She wants a gift certificate to an arts supply store.”
Dennis was the only person who could get away with that.
Dennis and I were born nine days apart at the same hospital. We were the only Jews in our elementary school class. (No wait, there was often a third Jew — Udelf.) Dennis and I were at Kent State the night before the shootings. I was the best man at his wedding. I went to a no-hitter with him. We bought Playboys together. I was not Dennis’ best man the second time around. He went on JDate and exchanged emails with a Philly woman almost immediately after his divorce. He said he was going to re-marry. I said wait. “You’re jumping off a cliff. ” He wouldn’t listen.
Dennis has been married to the Philly woman for about six years. So I guess I was wrong.
Dennis and I haven’t been on the same wavelength since about seventh grade. (For instance, he loves sports and I’m blasé — unless the Tribe keeps winning.)
It’s my turn to call.
But maybe enough is enough.
“Nostalgia makes us a bit more human” — psychologist Constantine Sedikides (New York Times, 7/9/13).
Just up at CoolCle, a Heinen’s grocery story.
Yiddishe Cup plays the West Virginia Jewish Reunion Sat. (Aug. 3) night. All Jewish Mountaineers, be there. Charleston, W. Va.
July 31, 2013 2 Comments
1. CLEVELAND 1975
I wore red Adidas tennis shoes to an audition for a soul band at E. 91st Street and Union Avenue.
The bandleader, Amos, liked my shoe color and my skin color. He said, “Ain’t no Holiday Inn going to hire no band without a white guy, and right now there ain’t nary a grain of salt in this room.”
I wasn’t too good on sax and harmonica, but I got the job.
Amos thought harmonica was corn pone, not a respectable axe for a black man, but it was OK for a white. He said, “We can use that harp. You hip to Tower of Power? They got a bad white dude on harp. You hip to War? Another bad brother of yours on harp.”
The keyboard player had doubts — not just about my playing. He didn’t like Amos’ pot smoking.
The keyboard player broke up the band a few weeks later. He said. “Weed is communicating with the demon.”
“What you think?” Amos said. “What you gonna do when we play cabarets and shit? It ain’t no motherfucking church!”
“I said, I quit.”
Regardless of the church/cabaret conflict, we would have broken up. At our next rehearsal, Amos’ son was on drums, then a woman drummer sat in. The other horn player — an old guy, about 40 — had no teeth. He said, “I can’t play without my choppers.” But he could play. He played bebop.
Amos wanted to try gut bucket blues, even country western. “I’m unemployed! I’ll try anything,” he said.
I stopped by the Hibachi Lounge at Union Avenue and E. 103rd Street, where we were scheduled to play. The bouncer wore a red jump suit and a red wide-brim hat; he shuckled (davened) at the pay phone like he was listening to Dial-A-Jewish-Concept. Several women line-danced to the jukebox.
The women stopped dancing when they saw me.
Was I cool?
Ask the women. I got out of there.
2. DETROIT 2002
Yiddishe Cup shared the bandstand with a soul band at a fancy wedding. I asked the soul singer if she had seen the documentary Standing in the Shadows of Motown, which had just come out. She said her father, pianist Johnny Griffith, was in it.
The tenor player said, “The movie didn’t feature the horn players. It should have.”
The tenor player tuned up. He sounded better than most Yiddishe Cup jazz solos.
The tenor player liked our klezmer stuff, particularly our “Araber Tantz.” “What kind of scale is that?” he asked.
“In Yiddish it’s called freygish,” I said. (Freygish is the “Hava Nagila” scale: E F G# A B C D E.) “It has a flatted second and a 1½-step leap from the second to the raised third.”
“Very cool,” he said.
Public service announcement.
For all you readers down in Wayne County (Wooster), Ohio.
From Ellen Pill:
Re Don’t Buy From the Jew! A History of Jews in Wayne County, Ohio — 1840-1950.
We are writing a book and looking for any information on early Jewish settlers in Wayne County and surrounding areas: photos; newspaper clippings; personal information; and especially, anecdotes about daily life. Contact Ed Abramson: 330.345.5350 or Ellen Pill: email@example.com
[Editorial comment from Bert Stratton: Don’t Buy from the Jew. Harsh! My grandfather Albert Zalk ran a “Jew store” in Yazoo City, Mississippi. They liked him down in the Delta. My wife’s grandfather George Rosen ran a “Jew store” in Clarksburg, West Virginia. I was there a few times. The town loved the Rosens.]
June 12, 2013 4 Comments