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.


 
 

Category — Coming of Age

COOL WORLD

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.

What's happnin', ladies?

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.

About time.

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:  ellenfpill@gmail.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.]

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June 12, 2013   4 Comments

STYLIN’

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

My dad had a friend who sold the Farah pants line in Cleveland.  I liked Farah, but Farah wasn’t fashionable.  Nice feel, but not too cool.  Lee –- the brand — was cool. Farah was part of  the Continental look — the greaser look. Iridescent sharkskin.

Greaser / Collegiate

Italians clung to the Continental look for years.  Jews got out of it quickly and moved to the “collegiate” look —  Lee’s.  Like colored jeans.  This hurt Farah.

Ben Skall, an old guy, owned Skall’s Men’s Wear.  He became a state senator. I had to give up white socks to enter Skall’s world; I bought black socks with gray rings around the top (Adler brand).

Sam McDowell and Hawk Harrelson shopped at Skall’s.

I didn’t quite make the in-crowd at school.  I made the in-between crowd.  My problem (one of them): I  came from a hick elementary school –- a place with plenty shark-skinned Italians and few Jews. When I arrived at junior high, I noticed right off half the school was yiddlach, and these kids were by and large “fast,”  and they could dress, and they could “mock you out” if you dressed wrong. I had no idea what to wear!  I had a spread-shirt collar. That was verboten. It had to be button down.  I went to Skall’s.

Wrong (L) / Right (R).  Bert Stratton, early 1960s

I wore a fisherman’s knit sweater my mom made.  Homemade was verboten too, but a girl complimented me, so I kept wearing the sweater.  “Nice sweater,” she said.  (If she had said “Nice sweater”  — accent on the “nice” — that would have been a putdown.)  Home run.  Thanks, Mom.

I bought a shirt jac and light blue denim pants.  The shirt jac didn’t tuck in.

Shoes:  Pedwin loafers — black,  cordovan, or  olive green.  Choose one.  Cordovan was M.O.R. (middle of the road).

I bought Levi’s – not Lee – jeans. Cream-colored.  Not blue jeans.  Blue jeans weren’t permitted at my junior high.

The rules about clothes and fashion confounded me for several years. For instance, shirts could have box patterns, but not big boxes.  If you wore a box pattern the size of a checker board, you were dead.  I avoided box patterns and wore striped shirts — always appropriate.

One more thing . . .  sweaters: Alpaca was the anchor of the Continental look.  Alpaca sweaters were itchy and very Italian.  The comfy V-neck sweater was the collegiate look.  I had a gold V-neck called Summer Wheat.  (Like my cereal, which is Autumn Wheat.)

I dropped out of the fashion whirl about ninth grade. I hung out mostly with nerds.  “Nerds”  wasn’t even a word.  Neither was “geek.”

Dufuses?  Dips? We were anti-social and afraid of girls.   We were hopeless, so why shop?

This is ancient history.

What about knickers?

Footnote: Greasers were called “racks” at my school.  Derived from “racketeers,” I  think.

Click here for more on the guys I went to school with [a Klezmer Guy rerun, from 11/30/11].

And please read the info below this illustration.

 —
Matzo and Motown. 

Tamar Gray

The Klezmer Guy trio plays Nighttown, Cleveland Hts., 7 p.m. Tues.,  April 23.  $10. 

Alan Douglass, keyboard and vocals, Bert Stratton, clarinet and prose; and Tamar Gray,  mostly singing Motown vocals.

Tamar Gray’s uncle is Slide Hampton, the jazz trombone player.  Tamar’s brother is Pharez Whitted, a Chicago jazz trumpeter.  Tamar’s mother was part of the Hampton Sisters of Indiana.  In other words, Tamar has yikhes (musical lineage).

Speaking of yikhes (and nepotism), Jack Stratton is 75% of the way toward reaching his latest Kickstarter goal.  Check out his  Kickstarter project here.  It’s about Vulfpeck, Jack’s German-Jewish band.

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April 3, 2013   4 Comments

HUMOUR ME

My friend Rob, a social worker, was fixated on Canada. He watched “Hockey Night in Canada” on TV and studied the Canadian railroad timetables. He filled out immigration papers to Canada, waited several months for clearance, and moved to a small town in Ontario.

The next day he came back to Cleveland.  He was a mama’s boy, I figured.

He didn’t like the social work job, he said, but he liked Canada.

Rob definitely didn’t like Cleveland — the blasting car horns, the boom boxes, the leaf blowers, and his parents pestering him. One day Rob’s father said, “You’re going to move too far away.” The next day his dad said, “You need to go out into the world and prove yourself.”

I subscribed to “Hockey Night in Canada” for Rob, so he would babysit my  then-toddler son for free on Saturday nights.

Rob moved to Canada again. This time to Nova Scotia.  Change your place, change your luck, as the Hebrews sages say.

It worked.  I haven’t seen Rob in 18 years.

I miss him, even though he verbally abused me.  He was misanthropic.  He was jaded.  No, I was jaded.  We held jadedness contests.  Rob said I was restaurateur on a perpetual hunt for dishes my bubbe never made.

He said, “You crave urban experience so badly you would eat flankn cooked directly off the seat of a cross-town bus.”

True enough.  So would he.

Rob and I listened to comedy records, played music together, and made fun of Jews.  Rob knew more Yiddish than I did back then. His favorite curse was Gey mit dayn kup in drerd. (Go to hell.  Lit., go with your head in the ground.)

We attended High Holidays at Case Western University Hillel. I had to drive; Rob was anti-car, anti-noise.  He was so sensitive  — probably the most sensitive person I’ve met, and that includes Harvey Pekar, who was not exactly loosey goosey on the avenue.

I schlepped Rob to a hillbilly bar on the near West Side, so he could jam with the house band. He played guitar and sang a couple tunes.  Rob was devoted to country music — authentic country.   Rob’s favorite player was Hank Williams.

Lake Erie gets you there: Canada. 57 miles. (Cleveland shore, Feb. 2013)

Rob made his sole East Side musical appearance at Heinen’s supermarket for a cancer-awareness fundraiser.  He played “Good Old Mountain Dew” in the pop section and “Hava Nagila” by the oranges.  He had a sense of place.

And he moved to Canada.

I wonder what he’s up to.  He has family in Cleveland.  He visits here, I imagine.

Rob doesn’t call.  He doesn’t write.  He doesn’t humour me.


“Rob” is a pseudonym.


At CoolCleveland.com today, “The Kid from Cleveland.”  About a “kid” I ran into in Atlanta.

Extreme Canada is England. Here’s a video about England. (A Klezmer Guy rerun.)

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March 13, 2013   No Comments

OHIO’S STATE

(A version of this post appeared in the Cleveland Plain Dealer 11/4/12.)

When will it end?

Superstorm Sandy or the election?

Either.

Definitely by Tuesday.

Ohio returns to flyover status Tuesday, and I’m back to looking for celebs at Ohio Turnpike rest stops — bands and gangsters traveling from New York to Chicago.

Bill Clinton, Bruce Springsteen and Condoleezza Rice: history.

My friend Jane posted on Facebook: “Can’t wait until this election season is over so I can be sane again.”

A friend from Rhode Island asked me, “How is it living in a swing state?”

“It’s swinging,” I said.  It’s sweet. We’re loved.

When I’m not loved, I’m a landlord. I receive calls from political operatives who want to rent stores for “staging areas.”

I haven’t rented to a politician in years, because politicians tend to trash stores and not pay enough rent. The campaign workers are gone the day after the election, but the pizza boxes aren’t. And where are the keys?

I’m supposed to give the store away cheap, as a political gesture. My gesture: Pay and I’ll rent to you.

“I’m Brian,” said the young man on the phone.

“Where are you from?” I asked. He didn’t sound local.

“I’m in Cleveland right now.”

“I see.”

“I need the store for a few days.”

“How many people will be in the store?”

“Twenty to 30 people. They’ll go out canvassing. Teams are sent out.”

Twenty to 30 people is a lot of foot traffic for a 1,000 square-foot store, and a lot of pizza boxes.

Plain or pepperoni.

I’ll never know.  My price was too high, I guess.

SIDE B

From the history channel . . .

PLAYING POLITICS

When a relative 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.  When?  Not saying.

First, a little background: I was a Kennedy man.  (Who wasn’t?  A lot of people.)

Bert Stratton w/ Kennedy buttons, Ohio Stadium, 1960

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!  My man, Abe Ribicoff of Connecticut, couldn’t even run.  Newsweek  said the country wasn’t ready for the Ribman for prez or even veep.

Now presumably a Jew could win the nomination for the top job.

Let me be clear: I won’t start out at school-board level or even vice president.

My Little League teammate Joel Hyatt (Cleveland Heights High ’68) ran for U.S. Senate and got clobbered.  He hadn’t paid his dues; he hadn’t run for lesser offices.

Lee Fisher wins state senate seat, 1982

Lee Fisher (Shaker Heights High ’69) paid dues.  I saw him at civic club meetings in Collinwood in 1982:  six neighbors, me and Lee.  Fisher eventually climbed to lieutenant governor. Then he got clobbered for the U.S. Senate.  He paid  dues.  Give him that.

I’m willing to pay dues.  About $10.

My American history teacher in high school said Stratton is a good political name.  (My teacher was Americo Betori.  He should have run for mayor of Cleveland in 1950.  He would have won.)

Stratton.  Remember that name.

***

A few weeks ago at Simchat Torah, the rabbi said, “We will now read the last verse of the Book of Deuteronomy.”  A Yiddishe Cup musician — not paying close attention — said, “Did he just say, ‘We will now read from the Book of Mitt Romney’?”

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November 5, 2012   6 Comments

KILLER FLOORING

1.

My dad, Toby, and I hired Charles Tuncle for kitchen-floor lino jobs.  Tunkl means dark in Yiddish, which my dad never failed to point out.  Tuncle — the man — was black. Also, he was a killer. He shot a man in a bar.

Armstrong no-wax. Tuncle, 1984. (2010 photo)

When Tuncle was sent to prison, my dad wrote the parole board about Tuncle’s quality vinyl-floor work, and Tuncle got out early.  My father never told the tenants — or our building managers — about Tuncle’s record.  My dad never said:  “You see that guy over there with the utility knife?  He’s a killer.”

***

My dad called our business Reliable Management Co.

We should have hauled garbage with a name like that.

When I started an offshoot company, Acorn Management Co., my dad said, “What the hell does ‘Acorn’ have to do with anything?”

“Dad, I live on Oak Road.  That’s why.”  It was 1976.  Environmentalism was the next big thing.

“Nobody is going to understand ‘Acorn,’” he said.

I sometimes call my company “Reliable + Acorn Management companies” now.  That makes me feel like a Danish architecture firm.

***

I hired Standard Roofing for a roof tear-off.  Standard Roofing went under.  Too standard?

My electrician is Jack Kuhl, pronounced “Jack Cool.”

I knew Emin Lyutfalibekov, a handyman.  I told him to shorten his name, and he said no way; he was offended.  He said he was royalty back in Azerbaijan.

Napoli Construction is a bricklaying firm. Art Gallo, chief mason.

I use Donnelly Heating once in a while.  Dan Donnelly.  There are four Donnelly heating companies on the West Side: Dan, Tom, William and Original.  They must have large Seders.

Lawrence Christopher Construction — that was Larry Vesely.   He filled a hole for me for $9,000 — a coal bin that had collapsed beneath a parking lot.  The city wouldn’t allow me to fill the hole with plain gravel. The city wanted a reconstructed coal bin that could practically double as a bomb shelter, complete with beams and concrete.  Larry said the job would cost $3,000 and take several weeks.

The final bill was $9,000 and the job took nine months.  One delay and complication after another.

I could not charge higher rents just because I had a nice coal bin.  No tenant cared I had a bomb shelter.

I paid Larry back in nine monthly installments, just to get slightly back at him.

***

Tuncle the floor guy — I miss him.  He died at 84 in 2008.  A nice guy, except for that night in the bar.  He didn’t have any other criminal record.

 

2.

I was at a gathering of Jewish landed gentry — a landlords’ shabbat — in Pepper Pike.

Landlord A — to my right — owned a 17-suiter which her late father had bought in 1955.

Landlord B owned a building his father bought in 1936.

Buy and hold, chaverim.  Shabbat shalom.

I owned (with my sister) a building my dad bought in 1965.

In real estate — as in many fields — it’s good to pick the right father.

In college Donald Trump bought his first building, using his father’s money: a 1,200-unit apartment complex in Cincinnati.   Trump’s dad owned property in  New York’s outer boroughs.  Trump’s net worth upon graduating college in 1965 was $1.4 million, in today’s dollars.  [Trump, The Art of the Deal.]

Suites, a local real estate mag, did a profile on Marty Cohen, a Cleveland  landlord.  The article said Marty “couldn’t shake his interest in property management.”  Marty worked at a bank for a while, but that wasn’t a good fit.  His family owned a 150-unit Parma apartment complex.  Maybe that had something to do with Marty finding a good fit in real estate.

Buy and hold, brothers and sisters. Pass the strudel.

 

3.

Griffith, the state boiler inspector,  called.

I said to him, “You’ve been around as long as me!”

“Yes, sir,” he said.  “I was around even when your dad was still around!   You know, your father was a kinda guy.  A good dude.  I miss your dad.  He was hoping you’d take over the business.  And you did!”  (My father died in 1986.)

“How long you been around, Griffith?”

“Since 1972.  You were just a kid.  You were in high school.” (I was in college, Griffith!)    “Your dad was a little worried about you, I’ll be honest with you. I hope you don’t take this personally, he thought you didn’t have the fire.  You know, he had went through some things that weren’t easy, and he wanted to leave the buildings to somebody who would appreciate them.”

“I gave my father some things to think about, I guess.”

“I’m proud of you.  You come around.  If he was around, I’d tell him how good you’re doing.”

I didn’t run the family biz totally into the ground.

My epitaph — if I’m lucky: I’m in the Ground But My Business Ain’t.

Next week’s post will be on Thursday, not Wednesday, due to Yom Kippur.

Here’s an op-ed I wrote for the Sunday Cleveland Plain Dealer  (9/16/12). “High Holidays beckon twice-a-year worshipers.”

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September 19, 2012   6 Comments

A LOVE SUPREME

The Jazz Temple was a music club in a former Packard showroom at Mayfield Road and Euclid Avenue.   Coltrane played there.  Dinah Washington tooEverybody 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, a Reform synagogue in University Circle, Cleveland.

Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver was the head rabbi at The Temple.  Rabbi Silver was  very prominent; he spoke at the United Nations, advocating for the establishment of the state of Israel.  Rabbi Silver’s son, Danny, was the assistant rabbi.  He played football at Harvard and blocked hard for his dad.

The Sunday school kids at The Temple were mostly from Shaker Heights.  One kid got a ride in a limo to shul.  The driver wore a chauffeur’s cap.

I couldn’t grasp how temple — the word — fit into a non-Jewish setting, like in “Jazz Temple.”  Was Jazz a religion too?  (Give me a break. I was 10.)

Years later, I met a couple ex-beatniks who had been old enough to go to the Jazz Temple in the early 1960s.  They had heard Trane and Ella.

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, the religious-school kids would attend the last part of the service and hear the sermon.  Rabbi Silver looked like God and talked like Him.

Today, at The Temple East in Beachwood, there is an Abba Hillel Silver memorial study.  The rabbi’s desk is laid out like he just stepped out for lunch. He died in 1963.

Rabbi Silver: Live at the Jazz Temple.  Interesting.

John Coltrane: Live at The Temple.  Another possibility.

A love supreme . . .

A love supreme . . .

SIDE B

PRECIOUS

In the arts, if you’re precious, you’re bad. Precious is the worst thing. Precious means you’re dainty and overly refined.

A friend (a former music critic) called all college a cappella music precious.

Harvey Pekar called Willio and Phillio — the Cleveland music-comedy duo — precious. (Willio and Phillio was around in the 1980s.) Willio and Phillio was precious — their stage name for sure. Willio (Will Ryan) went out to Los Angeles to work for Disney, and Phillio (Phil Baron) became a cantor in L.A. They were good, and probably still are.

Yiddishe Cup is precious occasionally. The musicians say “oy vey” too much on stage. I’ve tried to get my guys to stop. I can’t.

Peter Laughner, a Cleveland rocker, died from drug abuse and alcoholism at 24. He killed himself, basically. (This was in 1977.) He was not precious. He was dead — and funny — about art. He was in the Pere Ubu underground before Pere Ubu was famous.

Suicide doesn’t appeal to me for two reasons: 1) My wife would kill me if I tried it. 2) I want to attend my kids’ weddings and eventually meet my grandkids-to-be.

“Precious” is OK for grandkids. (“Grandkids” is precious.)

SIDE C

New construction — Side C — for Michiganders. . .

THE LODGE

Chester Ave., Cleveland, 2011

I drove to Rochester, Michigan, which is not as cool as Rochester, New York, but it does have a small-town charm.

I’ve seen Father Coughlin’s former church in Royal Oak, Michigan.

I’ve been to Detroit many times.

My wife, Alice, said, “Detroit has very long roads.”

She probably meant Woodward, Gratiot and Telegraph.

Detroit also has the Lodge. Elmore Leonard mentions the Lodge in his books, like, “The gambling casino, Mutt, you can’t fucking miss it, over by the Lodge freeway.”

A couple Cleveland freeways and bridges have names, like the Bob Hope Memorial Bridge, but nobody ever uses the names.

I stayed at a hotel near the Silverdome, which looked like a big pillow. (The stadium did.) A Detroiter told me the Silverdome sold for about $200,000. A stadium for the price of a California carport.

Who was John C. Lodge? Probably a labor leader. [No, the mayor of Detroit in the 1920s.]

Detroit is like Cleveland. Detroit has the Eastern Market; Cleveland has the West Side Market. Detroit has downtown casinos. Now Cleveland has a downtown casino.

Metro Detroit has a few more Jews than Cleveland. And probably more Arabs, Poles and Ukrainians. And more blacks.

People who wear Tiger caps are cool, as are Indians cap wearers.

What about Berkley, Michigan? Is that worth a visit?

Elmore Leonard eats at the Beverly Hills Café. I wonder if that’s part of the Beverly Hills Café chain, or an independent restaurant in Beverly Hills, Michigan.

I wonder if Elmore Leonard spends his winters in Detroit. I bet he doesn’t. He writes a lot about Florida.

I have some Elmore Leonard junk mail.

City Primeval: High Noon in Detroit. That’s worth reading.

Maple means 15 Mile. Big Beaver is 16 Mile.

What about Oakland University? Does the university have Bobby Seale barbecue sauce in the cafeteria?

I live only three and a half hours from Berkley, Beverly Hills and Oakland.

Yiddishe Cup pulls into Motown Sunday. See us at Cong. Beth Shalom, Oak Park, Mich.,
2 p.m., Sept. 9. Open to the public. Concert info here.

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September 5, 2012   7 Comments

FUNERAL REPPING

When my parents spent winters in Florida, I occasionally represented them at their friends’ funerals in Cleveland.

I didn’t like the work. My mother would call from Boca Raton and say, “Edith was such a good friends of ours. Please go, son.”

Screw Edith.

But I went. The hardest part was walking from my car to the shiva house.  I pictured a bereaved relative opening the door and saying, “Who are you? Have you no decency?  We don’t want any!”

That never happened.  I mingled with  mourners.  I was often the youngest non-relative there.  Occasionally the rabbi would recognize me . . . “You have such a Stratton punim.” I looked like my mom or dad.  Take your pick.

I eavesdropped.  That was the action. An old woman said, “When I feel sick, I want to die. Then I get better and want to live.”

“Let me tell you something, deary,” another woman said. “They don’t ask when you want to die.”

My Cleveland Heights friends didn’t talk like that. They talked about marathons, 10Ks and Tommy’s milk shakes.   A rabbi talked to me about the Cleveland Browns. Rabbis are into sports now, but a generation ago it wasn’t that common.

A food broker said, “I sell Heinen’s.”

Heinen’s didn’t interest me — not until at least fifteen years later.

I spent about twenty minutes per shiva call.  The mourners were always appreciative.

My parents made me do it.

I’m glad.

Footnote:
While shiva repping, I met a California man who  produced Joel Grey’s shows for 27 years.  I said, “I’ll send you my band’s CD and you can show it to Joel.  No, on second thought, I won’t send it, because Joel might sue me for ripping off Mickey Katz tunes.”

“Don’t worry,” the producer said.  “Lebedeff’s people tried to hit Joel up for royalties on ‘Romania, Romania’ for years.  No luck.”

Yiddishe Cup plays 7 p.m. tomorrow (Thurs. Aug. 9) at Cain Park, Alma Theater,  Cleveland Hts.  We’re doing a tribute to Mickey Katz.

A documentary filmmaker from D.C.  plans to be there.  You might wind up in the movie. 

Tickets are $20-22 in advance and $23-25 manana.  Discounts for seniors and students.  www.cainpark.com and 216-371-3000.

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August 8, 2012   1 Comment

YOU ARE THERE: 1973

“Forty years ago, the news media were filled with reports of a generation gap.  Let’s be grateful that we’ve finally solved that problem.” —  Karen  Fingerman and Frank Furstenberg, op-ed, New York Times, 5/31/12.

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!  My life is so unexciting it couldn’t get published in a mortuary journal.

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.”

I want to go to the North Pole.

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

Tonight at a party — a parents’ party — Zoltan Rich, the 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 might give me a ride out west tomorrow.

California or Mexico?

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.

Move along.  Try the Rand McNally approach to self-discovery . . .

It’s 3 a.m. in Utah.  I’m under a lamppost, “sleeping” in a sleeping bag.  I hear deer.  Or is it bears?  I’m afraid of nature!  I hear semis shifting.

I wonder if I like “freak” America.  Deep down I’m straighter than a library science major.  I could wind up back in Cleveland.  You can go home again.

Or maybe I’ll settle out in California.

My dad says, “I’m sure you’ll be a success some day.”

At what?  Whatever it is, I should do a good job of it.  My father never says, “What are your plans? What do you see yourself doing in ten years?”  That would be cruel.

***

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

I got feedback about the dates from my mother through back channels.  She picked up tidbits at bridge games.  Some of the girls liked me, some didn’t.  One girl thought I was “a little weird.”

She was weird.  She had no business dragging me through her dad’s kangaroo court (his living room was plastered with World War II medals) for interrogation. What are my plans?  What do I do?

What’s an apricot sour?  That’s what I want to know.  She ordered that.

I’m sitting on the dock of the bay in Bodega Bay, California.  I’m eating squid.  Or maybe it’s a big snail.  I’m not sure.  I’m at a marine lab.  Wastin’ time?  I don’t know yet.

Part of this post was on CoolCleveland.com, 10/12/11, called “Mom’s Dating Service.”

Yiddishe Cup plays a tribute to Mickey Katz  7 p.m. Thurs., Aug. 9, at Cain Park, Alma Theater, Cleveland Heights.  For tickets:  www.cainpark.com or 216-371-3000.

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July 25, 2012   5 Comments

TENNIS, ANYONE?

I grew up in a gully, according to my friend Max Burstyn.  Max said, “You lived on one of those dead-end streets that had flooding.  You lived in a gully.”

Yes, there was some flooding, Max.   I remember a canoe on my street.

Max Burstyn, 1969

Max lived in the Jewish highlands on the other side of the public  park.  No flooding in the highlands there, and 99-percent yidlach. Max was equal to
1 ½ Jews.  He spoke Yiddish and German.  His dad was a Galitzianer from Krakow.  Max was born in Munich and came to America as a baby in the 1950s.

I played tennis with Max in the park.  That’s where we met.

Max still rants about the gully.  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.”

True, I lived with Catholics, but I heard Jewish mothers shry gevalt (scream bloody murder) at their kids from across the park.  Those Jewish moms had powerful lungs.

“Max, what about Willie Hendricks?” I said.  “Why was he in your neighborhood?”

“Hendrick’s mother was Jewish,” Max said.  “He could pitch.”  Hendricks was about 6-4.  He was drafted by the majors but never played pro ball.

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

Max, 2012

Max comes to my house for shabbes.  I like his Yiddish.  He knows words that nobody else knows.   He talks about a kudraychik — a swindler.  I can’t find that in the dictionary.  It’s probably Slavic, not Yiddish.  For example, Max says, “There was a kudraychik, a Jewish barber, in the occupied zone after the
war . . .”

Max books rooms for a hotel chain.  He works out of his house.  He occasionally talks German to Europeans who want to book rooms in Florida and play golf.  Max also gets calls from drunken Englishmen who call him “your majesty.”  He has to work 92 percent of the time during business hours.   He can watch baseball and football games on mute. “It’s not a bad job,” Max said.  The occasional call from Germany, no boss and no commute.  Not bad.

Max beat me at tennis.  I hadn’t lost to him in a while. Did I sully the honor of the gully?  I don’t think so.  I’m not Catholic and I’m not gully-proud.

***

The tennis instructors at Bexley Park were mostly college kids who didn’t care about the job.  One year it was Stovsky; the next year, Nagy, the state champ.  These “pros” rarely showed us anything.  Maybe they showed us  grips: the Western, the Eastern, the Continental.

The courts were asphalt with cracks and weeds.  At least the nets were real, not chain-link.

My dad got me about 10 private lessons at the Cleveland Skating Club in Shaker Heights.  The pro there called me Tiger.  I think he called most non-members Tiger.  He was  John Hendrix.  He went on to coach at Ohio State.

Shelly Gordon, 1969

Some of my Bexley Park tennis friends became jealous of me because of my private lessons.  I got better than most of the Bexley players.  One player, Shelly Gordon, still harps about my private lessons, like I violated the South Euclid Tennis Court Oath: Don’t Be a Tennis Snob.  Shelly played at Ohio State and became a teaching pro in Israel.  He’s self-taught.  His strokes are horrible, but he’s good.

A seeming midget, Denny A., ruled Bexley Park, along with a gambler, Twitch, and a tomboy named Annie G.  They bet on everything, like who could hit the most first serves in, who could bounce a ball the longest on his racquet.  Bexley Park was not a genteel place.  Some guys didn’t wear shirts.  Billings –- the court gentile — played so much shirtless tennis he wound up with skin cancer.

Krinsky was the best hitter.  He could have been a regional player, but he preferred baseball, softball and chasing girls.  He was voted the “best dancer” in the senior class.

Max was third singles.  Not that good, not that bad.

Shelly, 2012

Some of the best public court players were from neighboring Cleveland Heights.  A couple Cleveland Heights boys took several private lessons at the Jewish country club, Oakwood.  Garry Levy and Rich Greenberg became the number-one doubles team in Northeast Ohio.

The great public courts players of my day were:

Chuck McKinley, St. Louis
Billie Jean King, Long Beach, California
Pancho Gonzales, Los Angeles
Shelly Gordon, Cleveland

Shelly is remembered by all some in Cleveland, even though he moved to Israel years ago.


Yiddishe Cup plays 7:30 p.m. Thurs. (July 5) on the lawn at Wiley Middle School, 2181 Miramar Blvd., University Heights, Ohio.  (Indoors if raining.) Free.  It’s “Family Fun Night” with games and free ice cream one-half hour before the show.

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July 3, 2012   2 Comments

THE NOSTALGIA VORTEX


About half the people I meet in Cleveland are graduates of Shaker Heights High School or Cleveland Heights High.

The others are often out-of-towners.  (“Out of towner” is anybody who moved to Cleveland within the last 30 years.)

Cleveland Heights High grads like to reminisce about the Cedar-Lee neighborhood. Their nexus is the Cedar Lee Theatre and what used to be around there . . . Mawby’s, Meyer Miller shoe store,  Earth by April.

One Heights guy told me he learned almost everything in life by selling shoes at Meyer Miller.

Meyer Miller’s co-owner was Cuppy Cohen.

The pool hall below the Cedar Lee Theatre was Wally’s.

Who cares?  Heights people do.

Sid Abrams, the late freelance writer for the Cleveland Jewish News, wrote about Coney Island for many years.  He and the Jewish News editor grew up in Coney Island.  Two people in Cleveland read the Coney Island stories: Sid and the editor.

My nostalgia vortex is Mayfield Road, South Euclid.  Mayfield Road was Italians and a couple Jews.  My elementary school was on Mayfield, as was my high school.  On my way home from elementary school, I would buy Italian bread at Alesci’s and hollow out the insides.  My mother would say, “Where’s the bread?” as I handed her the crust.

West of Alesci’s was the Cream-O-Freeze; to the east, Norge Village Laundromat.  It took a village . . . Jay Drugstore (for baseball cards), Lawson’s (for Hostess cupcakes), Society for Savings (for uncirculated pennies).

Excuse me, I have to check the Sohio Jackpot winners list.

 

 

 

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June 11, 2012   No Comments

THE SMARTEST WOMAN EVER

Ann Wightman got all As and one B in high school.  I think she purposefully got the B to let a boy be valedictorian.  That’s how it worked back then; some smart girls didn’t want to stick out academically.

In 1991, my wife, Alice, called me from the Okefenokee Swamp, Georgia.  She was on a canoe trip.  She said, “You’re not going to believe who I’m with.”

Ann Wightman

“Ann Wightman?” I said.

“Yes!”

I often  guessed “Ann Wightman.”  I had a case of Ann-on-the-brain, even though I hadn’t seen her in 23 years — since high school graduation.

When my kids were very young, I told them: “There was this girl, Ann, in my second-grade class who read so many books, the teacher had to put up extra sheets of paper on the wall to track her book reports.”

I probably ran into Ann after graduation, but didn’t recognize her.  Maybe we were at Disney World or O’Hare airport together.  I’ve seen everybody at least twice.  That’s my theory.

The Georgia sighting: Ann was in an alligator-infested swamp with my wife.  Alice, via the park pay phone,  said, “Ann says your crowd at Brush High was so full of itself  — particularly after they went up to Boston and saw Harvard their senior year — that they clapped when Larry Klein was named valedictorian instead of her.  That bothered her.”

I could see why.  Klein was smart, but not as smart as Wightman.

I met Ann at the swamp when I picked up Alice.  (I had been at my cousins’ in Jacksonville.)

Ann was blasè.  She didn’t want to reminisce with me about high school.  She said, “I’ve probably mentioned high school twice to my husband.”

Ann, what about about our Spanish teacher, Mrs. Worth?  I knew Ann was a professor of Latin American history at Wesleyan University.   Ann wasn’t interested in recordando a Mrs. Worth.

Was high school that bad, Ann?

I haven’t seen Ann since.  And she’s not coming to any high school reunions.

It’s over.

Three days left to Jack Stratton’s Kickstarter campaign.  Something about synth and banjo.  He needs a couple more backers.  Check it out and contribute here.

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May 30, 2012   5 Comments

TWO GUYS FROM CLEVELAND

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.

Bocky Boo, second from left, early 1960s

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.) 

Robby Stamps, 1996, at Kent State

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

Tombstone Eyes

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May 2, 2012   11 Comments

A WINDOW ON GLASSES

Ken Goldberg, a friend, came over for shabbes dinner and brought not only dessert, but an eyewear catalog.

The catalog was from Ben Silver, a store in Charleston, South Carolina . . . “Tasteful and refined eyewear for men and women.”

Ken said his favorite Cleveland eyeglass shop is Park Opticians, the fashionable and expensive store near my house.

I ran into Susannah Heschel — the daughter of  Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel — at a wedding; she said she was going to Park Opticians the next day.  Susannah has many frames.  She lives in New Hampshire.  She is a scholar at an Ivy League school.  She shops at Park Opticians.

Susannah Heschel

My frames adjuster at Park Opticians is Mickey.  Keep your hands off my glasses if you’re not Mickey!

My daughter, Lucy, bumped into my glasses when I gave her a horsy-back ride.  (Lucy was 4 at the time.)  My glasses wouldn’t fit right after that.  I went to the headache center at the Cleveland Clinic.  Either my eyeglass frames were askew, or I was.

B. Stratton, 1973

I like clear frames, aka “crystal.”  I’ve been a crystal wearer for years.  My younger son, Jack, jacked a pair of my crystals.  What’s with that, son?  (I have extra crystals lying around the house.)

I usually unveil a new pair of crystals after visiting Les Rosenberg, an optometrist who works out of a box, 20/20 Eyewear, on the West Side.

Les doesn’t care that I don’t buy his frames.  Les makes a living, with or without my purchases.  Les is simply happy to see a fellow yidl and old high school buddy.

Jack Stratton w/ child (seltzer machine) and crystals, 2011

Les didn’t hang out with  the smart guys in high school.  Les was a goof-off.  But a smart goof-off.  Les dated, did little homework, and went to Ohio State and partied.  He eventually studied, I guess.  He is a doctor.

At 20/20 Eyewear, Les gives me the latest info on the popular “kids” from high school, and I give him the latest on aging eggheads like Marvin and Howard.  Les says, “I was as smart as those guys!”

Yes, you were, Les.  And you were a goof-off.

Les is not a goof-off  now.  He’s a skilled professional, and bonus, he’s empathetic.  He does not criticize my crystals or my supplier, Park Opticians.

Life with tortoiseshells is not an option.  Les knows that.  Goldberg, my shabbes guest, knows that too.

I once had ultra-light rimless frames.  The frames were so flimsy they fell off  my head whenever I put on a pullover sweater.  Ski caps, another big problem.  The ultra-lights were Swiss; you’d think they’d be good.

One word:

Crystals.

***

Lucy Stratton at the White House, 2011.  Her eyeglasses are partially wood.  (The White House hired a Jew to decorate the Christmas tree.  I hope she put a Jewish star on top.)

—-

SIDE B

’Tis the season to be . . .

PASSED OVER

Giant Eagle asked me to play at its pre-Passover shopping extravaganza last Sunday.  Giant Eagle, headquartered in Pittsburgh, called me in Cleveland and said they needed two musicians at Legacy Village, the “lifestyle” shopping center in suburban Cleveland.

I’m anti-“lifestyle” centers.  And I don’t like the phrase “playing in the aisles.” The Giant Eagle booking agent said, “We can pay X dollars for this.”

I said, “X + 50 percent.”

She said she’d get back to me.  She didn’t.

She hired my competitors.  Actually, two musician friends of mine.

The Sunday morning of my non-gig, I said to my wife, “I could be at Giant Eagle right now playing.”  She was impressed.  She likes Giant Eagle.  (I’m more a Heinen’s supermarket guy.)

I ran into Irwin Weinberger from my band, Yiddishe Cup.  I said, “Right now we could be playing Giant Eagle.”

He shrugged and said, “We don’t have anything to prove at this point in our careers.  Now if you said you just priced us out of a gig in Fuerth, Germany, that’s a different story. But not Giant Eagle.”

The musicians with the grocery-store gig worked Facebook hard that morning.  They elicited 10 comments about how cool it must be to play a grocery.

Ten Comments on Facebook is commanding.  Why had I quoted such a high price to that Pittsburgh agent?

And I probably could have gotten a free box of matzo, too.

Later, I read the eleventh-or-so Facebook commandment.  It was from a Giant Eagle musician: “Sure wish the agent who hired us could have notified Giant Eagle that we were playing.  Sorry to all those who made it out to see us.  We are very disappointed.”

What?   Did they make you guys play over the Muzak?  Did people throw Tam-Tams at you?  Did a kid spill grape juice on your violin?

I suddenly felt pretty good about the gig.

Happy Passover.

The next day, my first question to the musician was “Are you getting paid?”

“Yes, we are getting paid in full,” he said. “The store manager, who wasn’t the main manager, didn’t know we were scheduled.  The main manager wasn’t there.  So we went home.”

The check is coming by giant eagle from Pittsburgh.

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April 4, 2012   11 Comments

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.
I remember the Cream-O-Freeze.
I remember when the Air Force Academy sent me an application. I was only 10. I wanted a catalog.

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 biography of Robert E. Lee.

I remember my mother’s apple sauce. Always lumpy.
I remember the CTS 45 bus to the JCC.
I remember the Boy Scouts’ Life badge.
I remember my dad “hitting them out” to me in the park.

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

I remember the shofar player missing every single note on Rosh Hashanah.

I remember 1950-D nickels.
I remember U.N. stamp souvenir sheets.
I remember the H-bomb.
I remember Continental pants, Pedwin loafers and
alpaca sweaters.

I remember Chemical Bond Approach Chemistry.
I remember Charlene Cohen, homecoming
queen runner-up.
I remember “Hands Off Cuba” graffiti by the Rapid.
I remember Saturday Night at the Movies on TV.
I remember slow-dancing to “Moon River” with a
Christian Scientist.
I remember the Roxy.

I remember the JCC’s vending room and how the pop machine was always broken.  The milk machine worked.  I got a lot of chocolate milk.  Was that a parents’ plot?

I remember Walter Lippmann.

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

I remember T.A. Davis tennis rackets.
I remember How to Play Better Tennis by Bill Tilden.
I remember Rich Greenberg lost to Bobby McKinley (Chuck’s younger brother) in the National 16-and-unders.

I remember the bell at 3:30.
I remember Harvey Greenberg got a 799 Math
and 785 Verbal.
I remember more Greenbergs.
I remember Madden Football.  No, I don’t.
I remember Chap’s GTO.
I remember Geronimo, a Landmark book.

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

I remember when I was 21 and remembering all this and feeling old.


This  post is a riff on poet Joe Brainard’s I Remember.


You may not have seen the post below.  It went up this weekend.  The cartoon at the end is super.

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March 21, 2012   17 Comments

MY FORMER IDENTITY

When I got rid of my LP record abums, my friend Carl said, “How can you do that?”

The LPs were heavy, for one thing.  And I hadn’t listened to them in 20 years.  “Carl, in 10 years I might not be  able to physically pitch them, ” I  said.  “I’ll be pointing at each one from my La-Z-Boy and making my kids choose between Bob Dylan and Charlie Parker.  So I’m doing it now for my kids’ sake.”

I could have put my records on the treelawn (Cleveland-
speak for the grass strip by the curb).   I could have taken the LPs to a record store.  Or a record store could come to me.

A record store came to me.   Pete the Record Guy showed up at my house.

Just prior to Pete, Carl took five LPs for a wall montage.  He liked Coltrane Plays the Blues, Volunteers by Jefferson Airplane, and Archie Shlepp’s Four for Trane — all good cover art.  Carl, a roots-music maven, said I was in the top 5 percent of respectable record collections.

My record collection was my former identity.  It was my Facebook persona, circa 1975.

I found a receipt in a Stuff Smith Black Violin album — $1.50 from Mole’s.   Where was Mole’s?  I don’t remember.  [It was on Coventry Road in Cleveland Heights.]

Harvey Pekar

Harvey Pekar used to rifle through my albums.  The only album he ever wanted was my Charlie Parker Memorial Album, Vogue Records, England, 1956.  I didn’t sell it to Harvey.  I figured, If Pekar wants the record that badly, it must be worth something.

I checked on the Charlie Parker Memorial on the Internet.  Today it’s worth £5.40 to an Englishman on eBay.  That’s about $9.  Nothing.  Pekar was always into small numbers.

My kids didn’t want my albums.

I wanted to play Lenny Bruce’s “Lima, Ohio” bit (from The Best of Lenny Bruce) for Carl, but I didn’t have a record player handy.  Carl said, “It’s probably on YouTube.”

Right.  That’s why I got rid of my records.

Pete the Record Guy went through my albums three times.  Adiós Aretha Live at the Fillmore West, John Handy’s Carnival, Paul Butterfield . . .

Let it go.

Three-hundred dollars from Pete for 100 records.  Not bad.  Pete didn’t care about the condition of the records.   Pete said young kids –- his main customers — “won’t buy the reissue LPs, they want the originals, like yours.”

I said, “What jumped out at you? Is there any album worth 90 percent of what you paid me?”

He said, “I like your two Fred Neil’s, Everybody’s Talkin’ and Sessions.  You don’t see those often.”

“Let me take a photo.  Don’t worry, Pete, I’m not taking the records back.”

—-
SIDE B
(This flip side is a little something extra for readers arriving on the A train from
New York Times Square. Northerners, let’s trash the Sun Belt . . .)

ATLANTA: NOT SO HOT

Atlanta is not far enough south for some Atlantans. Right next to the Atlanta airport is a billboard “Beach Bummed?” Meaning, go to Florida.

Atlanta isn’t very good for sunbathing unless you want to tan your left elbow in traffic for several hours.

I was at Atlanta airport, going through nine time zones to get to my gate.  The TSA clerk, glancing at my ticket, said, “So you’re going back to beautiful Cleveland?”

Yes, sir, and it’s a lot better than Atlanta.  (I didn’t say anything.)  Cleveland is not Paris — or Pittsburgh, for that matter — but it’s a step up from a Southern-sprawl traffic crawl.

I’m going to Atlanta this month for a family bat mitzvah, and I have a summer gig there with Yiddishe Cup.  I’ve been to the Coke Museum twice.  Is there a rum-and-Coke museum in Atlanta?  If so, where?


Atlanta relatives, nothing personal!

My best writing is “The Landlord’s Tale” in the latest City Journal.  Please check it out.   Must read long amusing essay about real estate now!

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March 7, 2012   9 Comments

BEST SHOW IN VEGAS


I was back from Las Vegas, attending a Shaker Heights brunch.  Several people asked, “Did you play?”

Did Yiddishe Cup play Vegas?

I wish Yiddishe Cup had played Vegas.

I had been in Las Vegas on vacation with my wife, Alice, and older son, Teddy.   I had played blackjack.

Monaco Motel, Vegas, 1962.  Stayed there w/ my parents and sister.  Caught Red Skelton's show at the Sands.

Monaco Motel. The Strattons stayed here in '62. Caught Red Skelton at the Sands nearby.

That was my second trip to Vegas. My first trip was in 1962, when a Vegas waitress predicted I (then-12 years old) would return to Nevada for my honeymoon.  That waitress was very wrong.

I prefer outdoorsy vacations.

On my latest trip I won $7.50 at blackjack at the Jokers Wild, then quit.  I could hardly breathe in the Jokers Wild –- or in any other Nevada casino — because of the cigarette smoke.  I hung around the casino parking lot, waiting for Teddy and Alice to finish up.

My favorite Las Vegas attraction is the Red Rock Canyon, which is similar to Zion National Park, but only 17 miles from Vegas.

The Red Rock performs daily in an original revue that is F’n Crazy!   Be a Part of  It!  Best Show in Vegas for the Past 900 Years!

***

Scouting locations for a Las Vegas School of Klezmer

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December 28, 2011   5 Comments

NO GIRLS ALLOWED: KEEP OUT!

The Intakes, a JCC boys’ club, should have met at the old Council Educational Alliance on Kinsman Road.  The Intakes was a throwback to a Depression-era settlement-house boys’ club.

The purpose of the Intakes was to keep teenage boys off the streets, which wasn’t too hard because we studied so hard we rarely went out.

The club president had a regular Saturday night excuse:  “I’ve got too much homework.  I can’t go out.”  On Saturday night?   One summer the club president landed a grant to write a report on the crystal structure of molecules.

The Intakes Club didn’t “intake” girls.  We were for the most part afraid of girls.  We played poker, miniature golf, bowled and held meetings.

Our advisor was a social worker from New York.  He often called us “schmucks,” which we found endearing.

We debated where to spend our money, which we earned by selling salamis and Passover macaroons.

Should we go to New York or Washington?

We went to both, on the Hound.  (Two different trips.)

In New York we went to the Statue of Liberty, saw Jeopardy! live and ate at Katz’s Deli.  I bought Existentialism Versus Marxism in a Village bookstore.  I haven’t finished it yet.

In Washington we met our congressman and pantsed an Intake back at the hotel.  We tried to post his pics on the ’net, but got an error message: Internet not invented yet.

Our congressman, Charles Vanik, had an administrative aide, Mark Talisman,  a small smart Jew who was just eight years older than us.  He seemed to know everything about the government.  He gave us a private meeting.  He was the puppet master for the entire suburban east side of Cleveland.

Talisman was an inspiration.  He made it out of the tough Harvard-Lee neighborhood to Harvard U.

We should have made Mark Talisman an honorary Intake.

We shouldn’t have taken those naked pictures.

Intakes, 1967

The Intakes, 1967, poker game

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November 30, 2011   6 Comments

THE BILLYS

My parents often name-dropped Billys, who I usually didn’t recognize.

The Billys were:

1.) Billy Rose.  He  put together the Aquacade show at the Great Lakes Exposition in 1936-7.  The Aquacade was a theater-like pool.  There was an orchestra and synchronized swimming.  Johnny Weissmuller starred in it. Billy Rose took the show to the New York World’s Fair in 1939.

 

2.) Billy DeWolfe.  A character actor.   Billy De Wolfe occasionally ate at my Great Uncle Itchy’s restaurant, Seiger’s, on Kinsman Road.  Was Billy De Wolfe  really Billy D. Wolf, Billy The Wolf, or what?

3.) Billy Weinberger, a Short Vincent Street restaurateur (Kornman’s) who moved to Las Vegas in 1966 and took over Caesar’s Palace.  My Uncle Al  got discount hotel rates “from Billy” in Vegas.  Billy was close with the Cleveland mobsters who started Vegas.

***

Did I ever name-drop Billys to my kids?  I don’t think so.  I can’t think of any Billys.  My parents took all the Billys.

I did Garys: Gary Moore, Gary Powers and Gary Lewis.

Bonus:  Whatever Happened to Putt Putt?, an original video:

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October 19, 2011   5 Comments

ALMOST BLACK LIKE ME

At Monte’s bar in South Euclid, there was a lot of talk about blacks, but no blacks.

For instance, a Harley Electra Glide was a “nigger-lighted” Harley.  The Harley Electra Glide was the black man’s bike because it had after-market trim lights.  The white man’s bike was the Harley Sportster, the chopper.

“Nigger fishing” meant casting from the power-plant pier instead of from a boat.  Sheepshead was a “nigger fish,” usually caught from the pier.  Lake Erie perch was a high-end fish, often requiring a boat to catch.

Monte’s bar also featured Italian specials like tizzone (“coal”) and mulunyan (“eggplant”).

I went to Monte’s to see my neighborhood friend Frank, a mutuel clerk at the racetrack.  He wore a snub-nosed .38 in a shoulder harness and always had a wad of cash.  Frankie didn’t like dirty money.  “I can’t stand it when people give me dirty bills,” he said.

Frank’s mother had played banjo in an all-women’s band, and his father had idolized trumpeter Harry James.

Frank played trumpet in a white soul band.  He kidded me because I dabbled in a “nigger band” — a band with blacks.

A bad-ass mo'fo, 1969, Michigan dorm

I was interested in soul jazz (Hank Crawford, Wes Montgomery), which I had   heard at my college dorm.  I had lived across the hall from three Detroit black kids who were from inside 8 Mile — way inside.  Two were  dopers into scag (heroin), grass and cocaine.  They railed at me for being so straight and suburban.  I bothered them.  They would say: “Bert, you be a trippin’ motherfucker . . . You’re a bitch with your shit . . . That motherfucker be trippin’ . . . ”

They kidded me because they loved me  . . . “Stop playing that country shit!”  (I played blues harmonica along to Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry tapes.)

When money was low, the dopers would go to the parking garage across from the dorm and sniff gas from cars for a high.  That was called “hitting the tank.”

The third black kid was a non-doper.  He was middle-class,  an “elite.”  He moved to another floor and became a doctor.

At Monte’s bar, patrons liked the idea of blacks and black slang.   I was the maven on the subject.  Frankie suggested I go to the ghetto and talk shit.

Great idea.  I went to Hough and walked past an angry black man (not too hard to find in the early 1970s) and said, “What’s happnin’, man?”

“Nothin’ to it,” the man said, not breaking stride.

I was hip.  He was hip.

I stayed hip for  another two years, until I took an ulpan (Hebrew course) at Case Western Reserve Hillel.

—-
“Monte’s bar” is a made-up name.  “Frank” is also a pseudonym.

More on Frankie at today’s CoolCleveland.com.  See “Mom’s Dating Service.”

World-class shofar playing from Cleveland . . .

More on this guy — and his Kickstarter project —  here.

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October 12, 2011   8 Comments

MY PERSONAL G-MAN

The FBI building in Cleveland on Lakeside Avenue is on a bluff overlooking Lake Erie.  The building is outside the downtown district by a few blocks and somewhat secluded.

I went there to see the head man.

To get to him, I went through two minutes of various security checks in the lobby.  Then I was in the boss’ office, overlooking the lake.  Nice.  If the sun had been out, it would have been Santa Monica.

The boss, Gary Klein, and I were old friends from high school.   Gary had been a fearless JCC-league basketball player.  After high school, Gary went off to Annapolis, where he got his nose broken by a Southerner in a boxing match.  Gary told me some of the students had razzed him because he was Jewish.  It didn’t faze him.

Gary was tough, but not greaser tough.   He was smart and bowlegged like a cowboy.

Gary Klein, 2004. (Photo by Ted Stratton)

Gary showed me the FBI’s war room and the bug-proof room.  He said FBI life looked glamorous but wasn’t.  In 19 years he had lived in Boston, New York (Cosa Nostra and Russian mob work), Phoenix, Houston, Washington and Cleveland.

His new job was snooping on potential terrorists in northern Ohio, from Cleveland to Toledo.  He said, “Ninety-nine percent of it is B.S. leads, like somebody dumping burial ashes over Parma Heights.”

Fighting terror was job one, forget about The Mob, he said.

Gary, how can we forget The Mob?  They’re a lot more fun than Islamic terrorists!   We grew up on The Mob.  Hollywood wouldn’t exist without Mob movies.  I had been inside the Little Italy house of James Licavoli (aka Jack White), the last head of the Cleveland Mob.  Licavoli made wine in his cellar.  Drinks all around.

Gary asked me to keep my eyes open.

I said I would.  (This was 2003.)

So far nothing but B.S. leads, thank God.

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September 7, 2011   3 Comments