Real Music & Real Estate . . .

Yiddishe Cup’s bandleader, Bert Stratton, is Klezmer Guy.

He knows about the band biz and – check this out – the real estate biz, too.

You may not care about the real estate biz. Hey, you may not care about the band biz. (See you.)

This is a blog with a gamy twist. It features tenants with snakes and skunks, and musicians with smoked fish in their pockets.

Stratton has written op-eds for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post.


Category — Coming of Age


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.

Sun Press 7/29/82

Sun Press 7/29/82

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”

corky lenny

YCKB logo from web page croppedClevelanders, 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.

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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. 

The girl: Alice Shustick, 1977

The girl, Alice Shustick, 1977

Footnote: Alice lived on West 45th Street because it was somewhat near Tri-C West nursing school, and the rent was cheap.

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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.

Putt Putz

Putt Putz

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.)

Josh Dolgin

Josh Dolgin

Here’s a new vid, Don Bryon Salutes Mickey Katz.

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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.”

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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-ran a school

I have an essay up at City Journal,  “Tales From Landlordia.”

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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

Elmore Leonard junk mail


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.

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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.

Toby Stratton, 37, at American Greetings, 1954

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

Plain Dealer, 1981

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

We landed in the Amazon a few hours later.

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


“I’m going back to my parents.”

Adiós, amigo.

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

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

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

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

I went back to Cleveland after three months.

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

Yid Yak

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?

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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.”)

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November 20, 2013   4 Comments



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:

[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


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


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 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


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

When will it end?

Superstorm Sandy or the election?


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.


From the history channel . . .


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



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.



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.



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


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 . . .



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.)


New construction — Side C — for Michiganders. . .


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


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.

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. and 216-371-3000.

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August 8, 2012   1 Comment


“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, 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: or 216-371-3000.

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July 25, 2012   5 Comments


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


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


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   13 Comments