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


Category — Coming of Age


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  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


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


The small tough Jews in my high school were wrestlers, except for the one who was a gymnast.

I saw the gymnast — and his wife — years later at a Yiddishe Cup concert.  I said to the wife, “Your husband was a star!”  She didn’t seem to know that.

The great Reed Klein.  He went on to the Ohio State  gymnastics team.  Reed was the only gymnast in our high school.  There was no team.  Reed was an iron man and one small tough Jew.  Five-foot-five, max.

The other small tough Jews were Harry Kramer and Steve Gold.  They wrestled in very low weight classes, like 93 pounds and 103 pounds in junior high.

Small Jewish wrestlers — as a classification — are still with us.  The Cleveland Jewish News ran an article titled “Gross, Jacober, Harris place in state mat meet.”  The boys are Beachwood High’s 112-, 130- and 125-pound wrestlers.

My son Jack wrestled in  middle school.  The matches were so primal: two or three minutes of  animal behavior in a stinky windowless wrestling room.  Tough and scary.  And I was just watching.

My wife dated a wrestler in high school.

Maybe I should have wrestled.

It never entered my mind.  I don’t like singlets.  I don’t like armpits – other guys’.  I don’t like headlocks, unless Bobo Brazil is giving one to Lord Layton, and it’s 1960.


The yideo below, “Stratton of Judea,” is from the Klezmer Guy live show.  The clip is about my father changing his last name.   One of my better efforts.

The text — but not the video — was posted here Sept. 16, 2009.


Yiddishe Cup plays 7 p.m. Thurs., Aug 25, at Wiley Middle School, 2181 Miramar Blvd., University Heights, Ohio.  The concert is in the air-conditioned auditorium rather than on the lawn, due to construction outside the building.   Free.  More info at 216-932-7800.

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August 17, 2011   6 Comments


Constantin Ferrito, a neighbor, was an usher at the Stadium.  Good for him.  Not good for us — the neighborhood kids.  Mr. Ferritto didn’t allow kids to sneak into the box seats, even though Cleveland Municipal Stadium was usually three-quarters empty.

Mr. Ferritto’s wife was also  hard on us.  Specifically, she was very sensitive to noise — except her son’s.  Her son, John,  played piano a lot.  He would not shut up on piano.

I practiced an hour a day on clarinet; John Ferritto was just getting warmed up at an hour.

Another neighbor, Frankie, practiced a half hour on trumpet and a half hour on piano.  His father kept a clock on him.  Frank’s sister punched the clock for a half hour on piano and a half hour on accordion.

John Ferritto ultimately attended the Cleveland Institute of Music and Yale, and became a conductor.

Right now –- a million decades later –- a neighbor is playing drums a block from me.  I might call the cops on him.  I’m sick of hearing his drums. He plays in his garage, and the sound reverberates.  He plays all year round, even during school hours; he must be an adult.

Should I call the cops?

Nobody called the cops on John Ferritto.  Nobody called the cops on me.

Somebody did call the cops on Yiddishe Cup.  We were playing a bar mitzvah party in a backyard in Shaker Heights.  No music allowed  in Shaker after 10 p.m.

I can’t call the cops.

My best option: Go nuts.

Footnote: “Frank” is a pseudonym.

Here’s an original yideo, “Is Dave Brubeck Jewish?”

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August 3, 2011   5 Comments


Poet Robert Bly’s worst nightmare was visiting his family in Minnesota and attending hockey games.  Maybe not as bad as Vietnam, but up there pain-wise, he said.

Bly’s anti-Midwest rap was a big hit in Ann Arbor in the 1970s.  Bly’s main message: your parents are middle-class stiffs; your real family is elsewhere.  Try the counterculture.

Robert Bly, 1970

Bly was a 44-year-old Harvard man in a ridiculous serape.  He had a lot of chutzpah dispensing life advice in that shmate.

I was a mama’s boy and proud of it.  My family was out of sight.  Whenever I went home for vacation, I received the treatment due the future Dr. Stratton.  I did the occasional minor chore, like emptying the dishwasher and dusting.

Some of my college buddies didn’t go home.  They were scared of becoming middle-class, even for a single weekend.

At home I hung around with old neighborhood pals.  My friend John was installing tanning booths.  My other neighbor, Frank (not his real name), owned shares in a racehorse.  Frank worked as a mutuel clerk at the day-time Thoroughbred track and at the trotters’ track at night.  When Frank wasn’t working, he was  firing his .357 magnum at beer cans in the woods.

I was an American Jew who knew something about guns.  Not a lot, but enough to turn a burglar into Swiss cheese with a 12-gauge shotgun.

Bly knew about guns, too, and Midwestern culture.  But it wasn’t his thing.


Mark Schilling, 1970

For my college American English class,  I traveled with my friend (and classmate) Mark Schilling to southwest Ohio to research dialects.  We asked the Buckeye hicks to choose between bag/sack,
eaves trough /gutter,
belly whopper/belly slam,
lightning bug/firefly
and warsh/wash.

Mark’s parents said “warsh” instead of “wash.” They lived in Troy, Ohio, just north of Dayton.  (This was North Midland dialect country.)

Mark didn’t return to Troy after college.  He wasn’t interested in becoming a J.C. Penney store manager like his dad.

Mark Schilling, 1977

Mark went to L.A. , then on to Japan.

He’s still in Japan 36 years later.

Beat the drum for Mark Schilling, Bly.

Bly, you only spent a year or two in Norway!




Mark Schilling, 2010:

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July 27, 2011   3 Comments



When Mel, the bride’s father,  inquired about Yiddishe Cup’s fees, he said his grandmother had baby-sat Joel Grey (Mickey Katz’s son).  Mel asked if Yiddishe Cup knew any Mickey Katz tunes.

I said, “We play more Mickey Katz songs than anybody in the world! You’ve heard us, right?”

No, he hadn’t.

I said, “Have you been under a rock for twenty-one years?”

Mel was from Cleveland.  Where had he been hiding?  Mel said he didn’t get around much.  He used to get around.  He said, “Where did you go to high school?”

“Brush,” I said.

Mel graduated from nearby Cleveland Heights High — a rival — but, nevertheless, he was OK with Brush High.  He had played softball with Brush boys in a JCC league.  Mel was six years old than me; I didn’t know any of his Brush buddies.

Mel’s daughter — the bride — was 31 and living in Brooklyn — Yiddishe Cup’s target demographic.  I said, “Has your daughter checked out Yiddishe Cup’s Web site? It doesn’t matter if you like Mickey Katz.  She’s calling the shots. ”

“Do you know Joel Schackne?” Mel said.  (Schackne had been a champion tennis player at Heights High.)

“I know of him.  Whose idea is the Jewish music?”

“Schackne is in Florida.  He’s still playing tennis.”

“What does your daughter think about Jewish music?”

“What AZA were you in?”  (AZA: a B’nai B’rith boys’ club.)

“I was in a JCC club.”


The Great Schackne

A week later, I met Bob, a cleaning supply man, and also a Heights High grad.  I met him at an AIPAC meeting.   Bob was not OK with Brush.  He said, “Brush was a bunch of greasers and Italians!”

The AIPAC speaker, a Brush grad by the way, had left Cleveland years ago to attain multiple Ivy League degrees and become a weapons analyst with the government, maybe the CIA.  He was an old friend of mine.  I wanted to talk Iranian nuclear capabilities with him.  The inside story.  He didn’t.

brush-greaser1Ron, a Brush graduate living in Connecticut, phoned to say he was in Cleveland at a nursing home, visiting his dying mother.  Ron asked if anybody was still in town.  (“Anybody” meant “Our Crowd.”)

I said, “Nobody is here.” Most of our gang had left.  The Jewish guys still in town were, for the most part, entrepreneurs and family-business owners.  A couple local guys had even made serious money.  One, who built cell phone towers, was a playboy with femme fatales poolside.

Howard, a Brush grad in New York, called.   He was coming through Cleveland.  His parents were moving to assisted living.  He said we should get together.

Did I have a post–high school life?

I think so.  I’m not stuck on high school.  But the subject does come up.  I live in my hometown.  What can I say?

Go Arcs.
1. Mel didn’t hire Yiddishe Cup for his daughter’s wedding.
2. The Arcs is the nickname of Charles F. Brush High School.  Brush, a Cleveland inventor, developed the arc light, which illuminated streets prior to the incandescent bulb.

A version of this post appeared in the Heights Observer online on April 26, 2011.

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June 29, 2011   3 Comments


When I was home for college vacation, my mother suggested I go to the West Side with my father. (“West Side” meant the apartment biz.)

My mother never went to the West Side.  She didn’t go once!  I listened to my dad talk about boiler additives and sump pumps.  My dad carried an Allen wrench to adjust boiler controls.

I nearly died on the West Side.  I had seen Roland Kirk at the Eastown Motor Hotel, East Cleveland; Sonny Stitt at Baker’s Keyboard Lounge, Detroit; Ben Webster at Ronnie Scott’s Club, London.  And now I was on the West Side talking about radiator vents.

cup-reporter-pad1I watched the Dick Cavett Show and hung out with old high school buddies, who were also home for vacation.  One bastard was applying to medical school.  Another was studying for the CPA exam.  One was a cub reporter.

In Ann Arbor, my college friends were mostly still listening to the MC5 soundtrack:  “You must choose, brothers and sisters, if you want to be part of the problem or part of the solution!”

I didn’t want to be part of the problem or the solution. My worst hometown scenario: a high school acquaintance was studying nursing home administration.  How did he come up with that one?  He didn’t.  His mother did.

I gave my parents tsuris.  College was nonsense, I said.  And I quit.

I wound up in front of the draft board.  The whole nine yards: bend over, touch your toes, spread your cheeks.  I had a low number (42) in the draft lottery.

At the Selective Service office, I pondered the mechanical aptitude exam, which had drawings of carburetors and brake shoes.  This test pretty much stumped me.  Some of the other test-takers loved it.  The test-takers were from my neighborhood.  (The draft board went by neighborhoods.)  Finally, a test about GTOs!


I handed the draft board doctor a list of my allergy medications and shots, and got out.

My parents didn’t go AWOL on me.  They could have.  My dad was bemused by my work boots and jeans jacket, but he didn’t go Archie Bunker on me.  My dad took his marching orders from columnist Walter Lippmann, who called Vietnam a “quagmire.”

My parents waited.  My mother insisted I was still a good boy.  She had been saying that since I was in kindergarten.

I graduated college in due time. And I eventually went to the West Side — a lot.  You’re a good boy.  I can still hear my mother saying that.

Please see the next post too.  It’s new.

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March 9, 2011   3 Comments



I’m loyal to my clarinet.  A reminder card in the case tells me I have  an orthodontist appointment on Oct. 19, 1964.

Many people in Cleveland are loyal to axes and other old things: sports teams, neighborhoods (East Side or West Side), mustards (Bertman Ball Park or Stadium), delis (Jack’s or Corky & Lenny’s).

ball-park-mustardThe most loyal Clevelanders are often those who have left town.

I tried to leave.  My father kept hocking me to move to California.  I visited California several times.  I hitchhiked to San Francisco and bought a yarmulke at a Judaica store on Gerry Street and went up and down the loayl-to-axe-12coast.  I didn’t get any reaction to the yarmulke until I hit the Chabad House at UCLA:  Oy hey!


Yiddishe Cup has several lifelong Clevelanders in the band.  Alan Douglass, our keyboard player, is from Mayfield Spillage (Mayfield Village).  Irwin Weinberger, our singer, is from Pukelid (Euclid).  I’m from South Useless (South Euclid).

jacks-deli1“We’re Yiddishe Cup from Cleveland! We’ve had a great time being part of this simcha!”  No lie, because  a) we enjoy playing simchas and  b) we’re definitely Clevelanders.*

corky-lenny1*A half truth.  Half the band is from out of town.  Trombonist  Steve Ostrow is from San Diego. Drummer  Don Friedman is from Erie, Pennsylvania.  Daniel Ducoff, our dance leader, is from San Francisco.

P.S. Daniel tried to convince the San Francisco Jewish newspaper that Cleveland is cooler than San Francisco.  (Read that interview here.)

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February 25, 2011   No Comments


The most Norman Rockwellian thing I ever did was go to Boy Scout meetings in the basement of the Methodist church in South Euclid, Ohio.

I wonder if Boys’ Life magazine is still around. [Yes, it is.]

I sold seeds for the Lancaster Seed Co., which advertised in Boys’ Life. I sent away for stamps on approval.

Be prepared . . .

Irwin Weinberger and his father, Herman (with cigarette), 1966

Irwin Weinberger and his father, Herman (with cigarette), 1966

For surprises. Like the lead singer in Yiddishe Cup, Irwin Weinberger, is A.B.E. (All But Eagle). He tried to get an Eagle Scout badge as an adult, but the national office wouldn’t give the badge to an old guy. I’ve seen Irwin swim. He can do it now, Headquarters!

If the Scouts would give Irwin the badge, he would donate $1,000, minimum. (My guess.)

Did Irwin ever get the Ner Tamid religious service medal? [Yes.]

medals The Boy Scouts religious service medals — like the Ner Tamid emblem — were attractive because they were real medals. For the Episcopalians and other Christians, the medals looked like British flags, with lots of crosses. Very cool. The Ner Tamid medal was an eternal light. Not as cool, but cool. bosco1

Boys’ Life. I miss that mag. Then again I miss a lot of things, and Boys’ Life is way down the list.

Just above Bosco.

[Please scroll down for one more photo.]


boy-scouts-1961-pd-bert-in-cap Cleveland Plain Dealer, Dec. 3, 1961. My wife identified me on her third try.

[And here’s one more Ralph Solonitz illustration.]

I'm standing at attention right here till I get my Eagle badge!

I'm standing at attention right here till I get my Eagle badge!

Please see the next post too. It’s new.

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February 23, 2011   12 Comments


A Yiddishe Cup fan said she lived in the house I had grown up in.  I asked her if the basement was still wood veneer paneling.

Yes, she said.

My teenage sister had lobbied for that basement veneer.  It made for better make-out parties. Basements were where the action was.  It was where you got all kinds of work done.

How do people in sunny climates get any work done?

My friend and neighbor John Cermak lived in his basement his entire adult life.  He installed a pool table, gun rack and shower.

tricicleWhen I became a landlord, I often called John for advice on boilers, blown fuses and backhoes.   When he was about 8 years old, he mounted a lawnmower engine on a tricycle.  He was my guru of the physical world.  John was also good at academics; he was interested in everything from English literature to Saab car engines.  He graduated St. Ignatius High and John Carroll University.

John died at 41 from complications of mental illness and alcoholism. He could put away a case of Wiedemann’s in a single weekend.  Or was it in a single day?

I still often think of calling John.  For instance, the electric company called and said, “The voltage at the cap is good.”  It was?  If the voltage was good, why didn’t we have any power in four suites?  The electric guy said, “The inside line, outside, is yours.”

John, you there?

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January 28, 2011   No Comments


Rich Greenberg, a former tennis pro, thanked me for the blues harmonica lessons I gave him 32 years ago.  My lessons — in conjunction with pros’ instructional videos on YouTube — had helped him, Rich wrote in an email.

Rich ended with “Do you still play tennis?”

What? Tennis? Tennis was another lifetime ago, Rich.  And what exactly is “tennis”? Hacker tennis, club level, or college caliber?

When Rich and I were in high school, tennis was a tree of life to lay hold fast of.  Rich shoveled the snow off the courts at Cain Park in Cleveland Heights.  Nuts.  He played so well he wound up on the UC-Santa Barbara team.  Maybe the Cali coaches needed a court shoveler.  (Rich has been out west for decades.)

order-in-the-courtRich taught me an important life lesson: how to wait.  I waited six months every winter to play tennis.  I wasn’t going to shovel courts.  Think about it: no snow blowers in the 1960s, and the courts had to be perfectly dry.  And right after you shoveled, it would snow again.

Contemplating tennis — and not playing — was like practicing music without an instrument.   It was doable, but not much fun.  I had Bill Tilden’s book on singles and Gardnar Mulloy’s doubles book.  There was no tennis on TV.

I wasn’t in Rich’s league.  (Correction: I was in Rich’s league. Rich went to Cleveland Heights High and I went to Brush High. Heights and Brush were in the Lake Erie League. No question, though, Rich was much better than me.)

Tim Gallwey in The Inner Game of Tennis recommends watching the spin on the ball.  Focus on the rotation of the ball’s seams.  The author of The Inner Game of Music said something similar.  Focus.  I can’t remember on what.  (Not as good a book as Inner Tennis.)

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

When I was a sub on a gig, the bandleader shouted at me: “Listen!”  Meaning “Listen to the music!”  Maybe I was distracted by the hors d’oeuvre.

In my twenties, after college, I thought tennis was just stupid.  Dumb.  Existentially dumb. Two adults hitting a ball over a net.  That was not solving any world problem.

I hung out with Rich at his tennis pro job in Rocky River, Ohio.  Rich said he couldn’t teach the middle-aged women — the 35 year olds — anything new.  He said, “I wish tennis hadn’t boomed.  It would force me to do something else.”  He spent time arranging interclubs between “our girls” and Lorain.

harmonica-racketRich, in his email, asked if I still played harmonica. I said I sometimes play harp in first position on the song “Tsena, Tsena.”

“First position” means playing diatonically (no sharps, no flats).  It is usually simple non-bluesy melodies. First position, initially, is insipid and idiotic, just like tennis.

Then you grow up.

Please see the next post too.  It’s an original video from Klezmer Guy Studios.

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January 26, 2011   2 Comments



My father’s triumvirate of sports heroes was Bob Feller, Harrison Dillard and Jesse Owens.

My father, Toby, went to Ohio State during the Owens era.  My dad lived in the stadium where Owens ran.  (The stadium had a dorm in it.)

Who was Dillard?  I think he won gold medals in track in the 1952 and 1956 Olympics.  [No, it was the 1948 and 1952 Olympics.]

fellerToby bought an insurance policy from Bob Feller.  Toby bought the insurance mostly so he could say, “Bob Feller was in my house.”  Feller inscribed How to Pitch to me. I was 12.   “To my friend Albert.”  Ouch.

Last week’s obituaries on Bob Feller mentioned Feller’s father’s influence on young Bob’s pitching.

Ditto: my dad and my pitching. My father taught me the big-kick windup like Feller (or Marichal) in our driveway.

I didn’t pitch my first year in Little League. I played outfield.

I ran into my Little League manager, Mr. Feldman, at a Yiddishe Cup gig.  I didn’t recognize him, but he knew me.  Mr. Feldman mentioned his sports triumvirate: Zuckerman, Hyatt and Stone.*  Zuckerman, shortstop, became a successful real estate developer in Atlanta; Hyatt (formerly Zylberberg), infield, had been a U.S. Senate candidate and was now a multi-millionaire macher in California; and Stone, first base, was a doctor. “You were good boys,” Mr. Feldman said.


My dad became manager the next year. One of Toby’s lessons to the boys was about nepotism.  I pitched.

I didn’t throw the “very small ball,” as Casey Stengel described Feller’s ball.  I threw the large beach ball.  Luckily, I was a lefty, which rattled a few batters.

The big lesson from Bob Feller’s How to Pitch:  Pitch balls.  Pitch insurance.  Keep pitching.

* “Stone, first base” — in Mr. Feldman’s triumvirate — is made up.  I can’t remember who the third player Mr. Feldman mentioned, but the player was definitely a doctor or lawyer.

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December 24, 2010   3 Comments



A simple fall pleasure is walking around Shaker Lakes listening to Michigan football on the radio.

I came by this diversion fairly recently.  My older kids went to liberal arts colleges with no football teams.  I figured my youngest child would too.  I took him to Oberlin on a college tour and said, “Can you see yourself here?”

“In a word, Dad, no,” he said.  “There’s not enough sports talk.”  Jack, the youngest, wanted rah-rah.

He went to Michigan and got rah-rah.  We rehashed the football games his freshman year.

I monitored the university’s Web site like a helicopter parent.  I told my son to audition for the pep band, the Hillel a cappella group, the school’s percussion group and anything else he could think of.  I wanted him to find a niche at the Big U.

And I wanted Michigan to win at football, because my son was so rah-rah.

Jack Stratton, 2008. Michigan Women's Basketball Band

Jack Stratton, 2008. Michigan Women’s Basketball Band

I followed the football games on the Internet my son’s first year.  I didn’t know about the games on Cleveland radio.   That was stupefying — the Internet — like staring at a tickertape: Joe Blow . . . 3 yards . . .  3rd and 5 . . . M 46 yard line.”

Then I serendipitously found Michigan football on Cleveland radio.  No more squinting at the computer.  The announcer promoted Detroit pizza parlors and grocery stores.  I felt like a ham operator picking up an exotic locale.  “Gratiot at 8 Mile.”  CKLW radio — the border blaster — was sending out the Wolverine word from Windsor.

Michigan football isn’t on CKLW this year.  It’s on a weak FM station from Detroit. End of my fall bliss.

The team used to be good, then suddenly stunk.  The university hired a new coach.

I asked my son what he thought of the new guy.

He said, “Who is it?”

He didn’t know about Rich Rod!  (Rich Rodriquez, the new coach.)  Jack had fallen under the sway of the football atheists at the Residential College and music school.

I knew more Michigan football than my son.  I was now rah-rah and he was so-so.  Odd.



A PhD classical music student at the co-op house in Ann Arbor didn’t like my practicing.  He didn’t like jazz, period. And he didn’t like my girlfriend.  He called her a “hole,” which was black slang around 1970.   This guy, though, was a tall blond Texan.

Tex would answer the house phone and announce to one and all: “Bertie, your hole is on the line.”  (“Bertie” wasn’t too cool either.)

I punched him.  He was seated on the couch in the co-op living room.  I hit him and his coffee went flying.  He stopped bugging people — at least me — after that.  He thought I was nuts.

I wasn’t nuts.  I haven’t attacked anybody since, except a teenager I punched when I taught at an ESL school. (Different story.)

In 1970 Miles Davis had just released Bitches Brew, the first big-time jazz-rock album.  I borrowed recordings of Hank Crawford, Lou Donaldson and Rufus Harley from black students.  I went to Baker’s Keyboard Lounge in Detroit to see Gene Ammons, Sonny Stitt and Roland Kirk.

Tex became an administrator in the Michigan music school.  Mazel tov.  He stayed there forever.

My youngest kid went to music school at Michigan.  Mazel tov. I occasionally went to see my son perform and kept an eye out for Tex.  I didn’t run into him.  I was ready to apologize, unless he called me Bertie again.

Bertie?  That numbskull, I swear . . .

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October 13, 2010   6 Comments


My clarinet teacher, Harry Golub, was nicknamed the Bald Eagle.

Harry was hairless.

A student, Zuckerman, gave Mr. Golub that nickname.

Zuckerman, like many junior high clarinetists, dropped out of private lessons around bar mitzvah time.  I hung in through eleventh grade.  During my high school years, Mr. Golub asked me how the clarinet dropouts were doing.

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

Mr. Golub’s store was in Little Israel, the Jewish quadrant of South Euclid. (Little Israel was across the park from the Italian neighborhood,  where I lived.   At least we had finished second floors. The bungalows in Little Israel were custom-built for Jews; nobody over 5-9 could stand up in the dormers.)

I ran into Mr. Golub frequently years later at Yiddishe Cup gigs.  He still railed against the school system . . . “those mumzers [bastards], those anti-semits.”

I don’t know . . . I don’t know if the school was truly anti-Semitic.  Exhibit A: Steve, a loudmouthed Jewish kid, a NYC-style sasser, and one of the smartest guys in my grade.  [Steve isn’t his real name.]   Steve and his father, from the East, read the Sunday New York Times. Steve knew about Dylan way before the rest of us.

The high school administration — mostly non-Jewish grads of small Ohio teachers colleges, it seemed — didn’t believe in adjusting to different “learning styles” back then.  Steve’s style was to question all authority and study like mad.  Also, he wore jeans and got sent home.  He talked back to teachers.  He got straight A’s.

Steve was turned down by every college he applied to.  Our guidance counselor wrote something like “rabble rouser” on Steve’s college applications.  (Steve learned this when a classmate, working part-time in the Wesleyan University admissions office, snooped around a couple years later.)

I don’t think the high school administration was purposefully anti-Semitic.  They just had no idea what to make of the insanely competitive, antic Semites — children of pawn shop owners, umbrella salesmen and Holocaust survivors.  These students would ask: “Will this be on the next test?” “Are we responsible for all of section A?  “Can I skip marching band because I have SATs tomorrow?”

You can skip marching band and you’ll be out of the band.


[Credit to writer Josh Kun for antic Semites.]
1 of 2 posts for 5/12/10.  Please see the next post too.

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May 12, 2010   No Comments


My dentist thinks he is Larry David.  When he looks at my X-rays, he shouts, “You bastard, you don’t have any cavities!”

My friend Mike, a retired businessman, thinks he is Larry David.  Mike has lived in Cleveland 35 years, but still considers himself a New Yorker.  “I don’t want to lose my standards,” he says when we eat out.  Mike is tough on bread — for starters.  Then it’s on to water: “What?  No Pellegrino?”

I’m Larry David.

A lot of middle-aged Jewish men think they’re Larry David.

I used to listen to comedy records at Harvey Pekar’s apartment.  Harvey had all of Bob and Ray, Lenny Bruce, and even Arnold Stang, the actor who did the Chunky commercials.  I could only listen to jazz for so long at Harvey’s.

Yiddishe Cup has gigged with a couple comedians.  The comics do bits on dieting and airport travel.  Frum (religiously observant) comedians even do riffs on kosher food.  Like “We had a power outage at our house and lost $100 worth of kosher meat — two chickens and a pound of hamburger.”

I could do that.  Every Jewish guy thinks he can do that.

Seder is the training ground for Jewish comedians.  I had a relative who thought he was Phil Silvers.  Ruined everything at Seder.  I like a serious Seder.  Curb the jokes about matzo and constipation.


My last close relative left Cleveland in 2001.  Now my Seders are with friends.

My relatives went to warmer places or died.

I hope some of my sun-worshipping, Sunbelt relatives come back.  And if they want a sip of fresh water, that’ll cost five dollars.  That’s the Great Lakes’ big hope: the rest of the country runs out of water.

I’m in about two traffic jams a year in Cleveland.  I would prefer five.  I don’t relish the horrible traffic of Chicago or Washington, but just a few more tie-ups in Cleveland would be nice.

In the 1970s Clevelanders first began imagining the whole town could go under.  T-shirts were silk-screened: “Cleveland: You’ve Got to be Tough.”

A musician in Milwaukee wrote a song called “Thank God This Isn’t Cleveland.”   [Thanks to former Milwaukeean Andrew Muchin for that info.]

Some Clevelanders never got over the trauma of the 1970s.  I know Clevelanders who vacation in Cape Cod; they’re instructed by the national media to vacation very far from the Midwest.  They wait an hour for ice cream on Cape Cod.  I biked around Nantucket in 1979 and it was crowded then.

Some of the best scenery in America is the bike path from Gambier to Coshocton, Ohio.  Rolling farm country, horses, sheep, cows, pigs and Amish buggies.

But some Midwesterners need to see the ocean.  They drive all day to the Carolina shore.  For what?  Lake Erie has beaches, waves, fat people and miniature golf.  Check out Geneva on-the-Lake.

Seder with friends . . . It’s not the same as with Aunt Bernice, Cousin Howard, and the rest of the gang at the old Seder table.

I live three miles from where I was born.  I’m always running into things that don’t exist anymore.

Is it unusual for a college-educated Jewish baby boomer to live so close to where he was born?


[To my three goys: Pesach, in the post title, is Hebrew for Passover.]

See the “Driving Mr. Klezmer” show tonight (Wed. March 24) at the Malt Shop (Maltz Museum), Beachwood, Ohio.  7 p.m.  Features the mail-fraud team of  Stratton & Douglass.

Jack Stratton, drums, and  Bert Stratton, clarinet, are featured in the movie “First Voice Ohio” at the Cleveland International Film Festival Fri. March 26, 2:15 p.m.

See Yiddishe Cup Sat. March 27, 9 p.m., at COW, the College of Wooster (Ohio).

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March 24, 2010   5 Comments


Yiddishe Cup’s biggest fan is Lea Grossman.

She got us a gig at The Ark, the premier acoustic music club in the Midwest.  She kugel-ed The Ark’s program director.  She delivered a noodle kugel to his office in Ann Arbor, Mich.  He liked it and he hired us.  (Hopefully our music had something to do with the booking too.)

I had been avoiding Ann Arbor.  I had attended college there during the hippie era and hadn’t learned much.  There had been a quasi-ban on book learning.  The foreign language requirement had been oppressive, according to protestors, and the Psych teaching assistants led T-Groups and gave everyone A’s.  Until I signed up. Then it went to pass/fail.

When my kids started looking at colleges, I told them Michigan was a swamp.  Too big, too impersonal.

I even rooted for Ohio State over Michigan.  I harbored some serious animosity toward the Blue. I told Michigan to stop sending me alumni mail.  But for $75 I hedged and sent a donation every year.  You never knew.

Thanks to Yiddishe Cup super-fan Lea Grossman, I wound up back at Michigan big-time.  Lea is 60-something but gets around like a coed, and she promoted our band to everybody and helped put signs on every phone pole.  The woman can dance, party and cook.  She knows every Jewish dance, and has sung “Tumbalalaika” on stage with Yiddishe Cup at The Ark.

Lea lived near North Campus in a university-affiliated retirement community.  It was like a dorm for seniors — real seniors.  North Campus — the last time I had been there — had been a music school, a smattering of grad student housing, and one undergraduate dorm.  It had been the end of the earth.  You had to take a bus to get there.  (Still do.)  The dorm was called Bursley, as in “brrr, it’s cold.”

For Yiddishe Cup’s first Ark appearance, I picked January.  Not too many rational Clevelanders scheduled weddings in January, so we had an opening.

Ann Arbor’s weather was just like Cleveland’s.  Bad.  And we got a huge crowd at the club.  That was weird.  The difference between Cleveland and Ann Arbor was Michigan had a puffy coat brigade. The worse the weather, the more the puffy coaters came out.  It was almost an Upper Midwest can-do chic — like something from the Progressive Era — a bunch of irregular Jews in irregular puffy coats.

On our first Ark gig, my youngest son stayed in the North Campus dorm, Bursley.  He was in eleventh grade.  (He also played drums on the gig.)

He liked the school and wound up at Michigan.

So I returned to the swamp– to see my son, and play gigs.  (My other kids went to small liberal arts colleges.)

I couldn’t get the Michigan Daily to write up Yiddishe Cup.  Ever.  I tried. The reporters wouldn’t return calls.  Maybe they weren’t too crazy about talking to a middle-aged klezmer guy.

When I had been a Daily reporter, I had enjoyed the John Lennon and Miles Davis assignments but not the local-angle profiles, like when I wrote up the Discount Records clerk who played sax.  (That sax player, Steve Mackay, was good, and cut some records with the Stooges later.)

Lea didn’t know who to kugel at the Daily; the Daily reporters were always rotating in and out.  They missed a good dish. 

Lea moved to New Jersey a year ago.

“To Kugel,” this post,  first appeared in the Washtenaw (Ann Arbor, Mich.) Jewish News, Dec. 2009/Jan. 2010.
Check out the new video clip “Driving Mr. Klezmer,” live from The Challah Fame Cafe. The Klezmer Guy blog exits the loch (your computer).  Klezmer Guy walks and talks.  Rated scary.
Yiddishe Cup plays The Ark, Ann Arbor, Mich., 8 p.m. Sat., Jan. 23.   Guests include Hawaiian guitarist Gerald Ross, comedian Seymour Posner, and members of the soul/klez band Groove Spoon.

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January 6, 2010   3 Comments


 Most artists prefer to practice and wait for the phone to ring.

When I started out in klez, a Cleveland Irish musician, Dermot Somerville, told me: “You need to remind people you’re alive at least every six months.”

I do — X 26. As you know.

Yiddishe Cup is one of the most popular klezmer bands, because:

(1.) We’re good.

(2.) We promote ourselves.

I learned item #2 , and the chutzpah to say item #1, from my dad, who was not a WASP-modest George “Poppy” Bush kind of guy. My father said if you don’t toot your own horn, nobody will.  When my father was at the hospital dying of leukemia, he told the doctor, “I own this place.”  My dad owned a Cleveland Clinic municipal bond.

I used to be shy.  So was my father.  He took a Dale Carnegie course on public speaking.   In my twenties, I was still shy; I heard a West Side hardware store owner say “jew down,” and it took me 20 minutes to sputter, “Bob, you know I’m Jewish.”  (My family spent about $500 a month in that store. I figured Bob would be open to my viewpoint.)

Bob didn’t know “jew down” had anything to do with real Jews.  He apologized.  He was a decent guy.
2 of 2 posts for 12/23/09

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December 23, 2009   2 Comments


When I was growing up, saying “Jewish music” was like  “Jewish cars.”   Didn’t mean a thing.

On second thought, “Jewish cars” did mean something.  It meant, for example, the Boat — an Olds 98 owned by my friend Mark’s father.  The Boat had electric windows and was oceanic.  (Mark was richer than the rest of us, I think.  He lived by Cedar and Green roads, and his doorbell lit up.)

Years later, a West Side gentile called those humongous Detroit rides “Jew boats.”   So maybe there were Jewish cars.

Re: Jewish music . . .

I learned about that at the house of another high school friend, Shelly Gordon.  His parents knew Israeli and Yiddish music, cold.   Shelly was rarely home.  I was an adult when I got interested in Jewish music, and Shelly had already moved to Israel.  (His parents were such impassioned Zionists most of the family wound up in Israel.)

Shelly’s parents were Labor Zionists (Poale Zion).  They seemed to know every classic Israeli tune and how to dance and/or sing it.  And the  Gordon family  attended a Yiddish camp in Michigan.  (Farband/Jewish National Workers Alliance.)

The parents didn’t know sports, which was odd because Shelly turned into a star athlete.  He played tennis for Ohio State and became a tennis pro in Israel.  Shelly did that for more than 30 years.  (Still at it.)  He never took a private tennis lesson.

Shelly didn’t care about Jewish music; he cared about the Browns, Buckeyes and Indians.  In Israel he logs on — to this day — at about 3 a.m. to catch Cleveland sports scores on the Internet.  He has a yarmulke that reads “Cleveland Cavaliers.”

When I went to Jerusalem in 2006, I played The Wall.  Shelly.  At the Israel Tennis Center, Shelly was like Moshiach (Messiah); he had the highest seniority and everybody deferred to him.  He had even beaten Andy Ram, a Wimbledon doubles champion.  “Andy was 12 at the time,” Shelly pointed out.

Shelly’s dad, Sanford (the man who knew all the Hebrew tunes),  never played tennis.  In fact Mr. Gordon was so oblivious to sports he didn’t even sign Shelly up for Little League.  Mr. Gordon was not an immigrant or DP (Displaced Person); he was a NASA scientist and full-time Zionist.  Baseball meant nothing to Israelis, thus, it meant nothing to Mr. Gordon.

Shelly went to a Zionist camp in Michigan.  (Habonim Camp/The Builders.)

On the flipside: My parents played tennis; didn’t collect Jewish song books;  didn’t send me to any kind of  camp; and my dad managed a Little League team.  So I wound up playing klezmer music.

When Mrs. Gordon died last month, her body was flown from Israel to Cleveland, to Mt. Olive Cemetery.  A twist on shipping an American Jewish corpse to Mt. Olive, Jerusalem.  Mrs. Gordon wanted to be buried next to her late husband.

At Mrs. Gordon’s funeral, I had time to kill because the mourners, following Orthodox tradition, shoveled mounds and mounds of dirt into the grave.  Took a half hour.   I noticed Mr. Gordon’s tombstone said on the back side: “A kind and gentle man loved by all.”  In his case, true.

Mr. Gordon was eydl (polite/refined).  Also, a rocket scientist and excellent balloon twister.  His wife, Beatrice, had gone to college and social work school after raising children.  She wasn’t idle.

When my kids were little, I took them to the Gordons often.  (The Gordon grandchildren were in Israel.  That worked out well for my family.)  I called Mr. and Mrs. Gordon “Beasan” behind their backs.  It was a contraction of Beatrice and Sanford, as in: “Let’s go to Beasan’s for pizza and some magic tricks.”

What a pair.
1 of 2 posts for 11/11/09.  Please see the post below too.

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November 11, 2009   2 Comments


Nobody in my neighborhood knew about private tennis lessons.  Music lessons, yes. Tennis, no.

Exception: my father, Toby.  When I was in high school, Toby got me about 10 tennis lessons at a gentile country club, and suddenly I was one of the best players on my high school team.  Yes, we still got clobbered by Shaker Heights and University School, but in our division, the Lake Erie League, we were above average.

That goyish club now will accept anybody, and not just for drop-in tennis lessons.  Show them the money.

One of my mega-rich buddies says two Cleveland country clubs still don’t want Jews.  Yiddishe Cup plays those clubs.  Well, once.  We got treated fine there.  The upper crust treats help and dogs best.

We get hassled the most at a Jewish club: “Use the kitchen door,” says Kim the Kurva (Whore), the manager.  Kim (not her real name) doesn’t want musicians near her front door, messing up the view or her valet parking.

Kim’s view might disappear soon.  That Jewish club is considering closing and merging with a nearby gentile club.

“Hine Ma Tov” (How Good It is) at the Mistletoe Dance.  Yiddishe Cup on the bandstand.  We’re ready.
2 of 2 posts for 11/11/09.

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November 11, 2009   No Comments



Musician Mickey Katz called chocolate phosphates “Jew beers.”   He drank them at Solomon’s on E. 105th Street.

I drank mine at Solomon’s at the Cedar Center shopping strip, where Solomon’s moved to.

For some Semitic semantic reason, goys occasionally called Cedar Center the Gaza Strip. Now it kind of is.  The north side of Cedar Center is concrete chunks and gravel heaps. A real estate developer knocked down the 1950s-era plaza and plans to redevelop.  Who knows when.

Solomon’s was my family’s deli of choice. My father, Toby, was a “deli Jew.”  In the Jewish world, that’s usually a putdown, meaning the person knows more about corned beef than Rashi.  Toby’s favorite food was a “good piece of rye bread.”

Toby, a phosphate fan, probably didn’t drink more than a dozen real beers his whole life.  He should have.  In his retirement, when he drank booze he smiled a lot more.  A bit shiker at one party, Toby teed off on a watermelon fruit bowl with a golf club. That stuck with me.  [Shiker is drunk.]

Toby grew up in a deli. His mother had a candy store/ deli at E. 118 Street and Kinsman Road. She sold it to her half-brother when he came over from the Old Country.  Something fishy about that deal — something involving the half-brother’s wife.   My grandmother went from candy store/deli owner to simply candy store owner.  Not a lateral move.

At the Gaza Strip, there was also Corky & Lenny’s. (Still around — four miles east.)   A couple small Jews hung out in the rear booth at Corky’s.  One was Harvey, who did collections for a major landlord.  (Major, to me, means more than 1,000 units.)  I knew Harvey from junior high.

He sued my mother.  My mother, for health reasons, moved from her Beachwood apartment after 27 years into an assisted living facility.  She had a couple months left on her lease.  Harvey, who represented the major landlord, went after her.  Harvey’s boss, by the way, loved my band.   So what.  My mother was collectable.

Freelance journalist David Sax just wrotea book about the decline of delis.  Here’s something for the second edition, David: Delis went downhill when they added TVs.  Now you have to watch the Browns while you eat.

I was deli-famous.  At Jack’s Delion Green Road, I had a thank-you note up in the entrance.   My letter was about the terrific tray for my firstborn’s bris.  Fatherhood was about buying huge quantities of smoked fish.  What a blast.  (I ordered the exact same tray for my daughter’s naming.)

I complimented Jack’s Deli on its fish, which my Aunt Bernice, The Maven, also liked.   I mentioned “The Maven’s seal of approval” in my letter.  Bernice work for a food broker and knew food.

My letter was up for a couple years.

(Acknowledgment to Henry Sapoznik for “fork-lore” in this story’s title.)


2.  ’DINES

The trend at mass-feed kiddushes (post-service temple chows) is toward Israeli foods: hummus, baba ganoush, Israeli salad.

When you privatize — and don’t invite the whole congregation — you typically add some fish.

All Jews like a good piece of fish: lox, smoked fish, herring, the occasional sardine.

My youngest son recently called  from Trader Joe’s in Ann Arbor, Mich., and said, “Don’t get excited, Dad, but do I want the sardines in oil or water?”


I did get excited.  My college kid was finally getting into ’dines.

My mother had given me about eight cans of ’dines when I went off to college.  I ate them on Sunday evenings, when the dorm cafeteria was closed.  (This was back when sardine cans opened with a key, and the ’dines were Portuguese — not Moroccan like now.)  Surprisingly – to me at least – the guys in the dorm wouldn’t share my ’dines. Pizza time.

I liked all kinds of ’dines.  Even the monster-size sardines in tomato sauce were OK.  Bones, no bones . . .  no matter.  Cajun sauce, soya oil, olive oil, mustard sauce . . .  all good. Four ’dines in a can, two in a can . . . either way.

Anchovies?  Also, an excellent choice. Make sure you buy your anchovies in a bottle; they last longer than in cans.

Herring in wine sauce.   Beware.  Last month Heinen’s supermarket substituted Vita brand for Golden Herring.  That was lamentable.  Vita is too sugary.

At luncheons, the other Yiddishe Cup musicians don’t seem to appreciate the fish (i.e., the “dairy spread” in kosher parlance) as much as I do.  Yes, they like the lox.  Lox is apple pie.  But the other items (smoked fish excluded) get little play from the band.  You should see the mountains of herring left over.

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October 21, 2009   17 Comments