Real Music & Real Estate . . .

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

He knows about the band biz and – check this out – the real estate biz too. So maybe he’s really Klezmer Landlord.
 

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

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

Stratton is an occasional contributor to the New York Times, the Times of Israel, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and City Journal. He won two Hopwood Awards.


 
 

Category — Family History, Not Boring

STRATTON VS SOLTZBERG

My father, Toby, didn’t want an obituary. He thought that might tip off the IRS to his change in status. Nevertheless, when Toby died, an editor at the Cleveland Plain Dealer asked to write something. The editor was a friend of my dad’s.  My mother said no. The writer persisted, because years prior, Toby had gotten the editor a moonlighting job — editing the newsletter for the key company where my dad worked.

No again, my mother said.Toby wound up in the Cleveland Jewish News. That was OK.  Not too many IRS agents read that.

Theodore "Toby" Stratton (1917-1986) Photo 1984

Theodore “Toby” Stratton (1917-1986) Photo 1984

It wouldn’t have mattered; my dad lived his entire adult life under an alias: Stratton. He had gotten “Stratton” out of a phone book. His birth name was Soltzberg. How had he felt about all that? Fine, he often told me.

I had my doubts. (His two brothers stayed Soltzbergs, while Toby rode off to become Stratton of Judea.)

His only regret, which was momentary, he claimed, was when his then 21-year-old daughter dated a sheygets (gentile boy) from Parma who had no college degree. Back then Toby said, “If I hadn’t changed my name, this wouldn’t be going on!” He picked “Stratton” in a waiting room, waiting for a job interview.  He got the job and changed his name in 1941.

The story sounded like BS to me. I thought Toby might have been embarrassed and insecure about his Jewishness.  A lot of Jews back then jumped to the U.S.S. Wasp. I’ve read  half the Jews in the U.S. changed their names. [Commentary, August 1952,”Name-Changing — And What It Gets You,” by J. Alvin Kugelmass.]   Some of the impetus for the name-changing was anti-Semitism and a desire to “pass.”  (I’m not blaming anybody. Different times back then.)

When I was right out of college, I told my dad I was going to change my name to Soltzberg. He went nuts. He said, “You’re looking for trouble!  Don’t do it!”

Decades later I lectured on Mickey Katz at the International Association of Yiddish Clubs convention; I was wearing a “Stratton” nametag and an old man approached me, asking, “Are you related to Toby Stratton?”

“He was my father.”

“I left town in 1941,” the man said, his eyes on my nametag. “It was there, right there in my apartment, when he talked about changing his name. He had gotten turned down by three chemical companies.  He was one of  the smartest guys I ever met.  He changed his name and got a job right then.” Solid.

For years one of my Soltzberg uncles had told me Toby jumped ship because my mother had wanted to “pass.” I liked the right-in-my-apartment story better.

__

A version of this appeared here 9/16/09 and in the Jerusalem Post 1/16/12.

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June 14, 2017   7 Comments

MAJOR ROOFER

I like roofs more than most people. I married a roofer’s daughter. My father-in-law, Cecil Shustick, had a roofing company in Columbus, Ohio. He was an orthodontist before being a roofer. (Look it up. It’s true.) He was an orthodontist in the early 1950s. His father owned a roofing company. Cecil had a wartime neck injury, so he didn’t relish standing all day at a dental chair, so he became a roofer. Also, orthodontia wasn’t, as yet, a big moneymaker in central Ohio in the fifties. Cecil did mostly estimating. He ran a 27-man, 9-truck company.

roofer-fleet2Gutters are interesting: copper, galvanized (the worst) and coated. Cecil didn’t offer me the biz. He should have, my father always said. My dad swore Cecil should have at least given me the opportunity to say no.

Dad, I ain’t moving to Cow-lumbus to run a roofing company!

Cecil Shustick (w/ ciggy), 69. (1978)

Cecil Shustick (w/ ciggy), 69. (1978)

When Cecil retired, he sold the business to Don The Goy, who ran the biz into the ground. Cecil lost a lot of money on that, and so did I, indirectly.

If I had taken over the business, I probably would now be in a nice house in Bexley, Ohio, with a stack of workers’ comp claims in front of me. (A lot of roofers are overweight drinkers with back problems.) That wouldn’t be much different than the way I did wind up!

pina-coladaCecil was a bon vivant, who kept a quart of piña colada by his bed for dry throat, due to antihistamine overuse, he claimed. He liked top-shelf goods: Chrysler Imperials and Chivas Regal. And he didn’t like sweating. Cecil said, “If man was meant for jogging, he’d have hooves.” Golf was his game.

***

I didn’t know the early Cecil. I knew the retired Cecil — the guy in the velour warm-up suit with the Marlboros.

cecil-capt-wwii

Cecil Shustick, U.S. Army Dental Corps, circa 1942

Don Whitehead, an A.P. correspondent, filed a dispatch, Dec. 3, 1943, with the Fifth Army south of Rome:

In one large, roomy cave Capt. Cecil Shustick, Columbus, Ohio, and Lt. Samuel Clarkson, Lebanon, Ky., set up a medical detachment station. On the little ledge, a charcoal fire was burning to take the damp chill from the air . . .

The Italians had used the caves as storage places for vegetables, fruit and grain.  When the Americans came along, they moved into them and used them as command posts, medical stations and billets.

This is a valley of hell – a man-made hell of thunder and lightning . . . The guns never cease their striking. Whole batteries of them roar in unison with a concussion that shakes the earth.

Cecil Shustick came home a major with a Bronze Star. He fought at the Battle of Monte Cassino, Italy. Cecil kept things light and bright. You’d never know about Italy.

A version of this first appeared 1/12/11. This one is for the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor Day.

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December 7, 2016   4 Comments

STONE GARDENS, SUITE 105

My mother lived in suite 105 at Stone Gardens Assisted Living. My cousin George’s mother, Natalie Becker, moved in right after my mother died in 2004. Natalie lived there until January 2013.

In March 2013 I had a gig at Stone Gardens; I called up an elderly relative, Shony Long, to invite her to the gig. She was my mom’s cousin and had recently moved to Stone Gardens.

suite 105Shony said, “I know you’re playing. I read it in the Stone Gardens bulletin.”

“You don’t live in 105, do you?”

“Yes.”

“You do?”

What — did 105 have my name on it? I remember I told the ambulance driver in 2004, “Can I just have a few minutes with my mom.” The driver said no problem. My mom was dead.

I said to Shony, “I don’t want to go into your apartment.”

“So you’re going to be that way?” she said.

Shony died in May. I wonder who’s in suite 105 now.


Last chance to pre-order Vulfpeck’s album Thrill of the Arts, which comes out Friday. Buy here and get a download, T-shirt, LP and Reuben sandwich. (Vulfpeck is Jack Stratton’s band.)

girls

Vulfpeck

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October 7, 2015   2 Comments

OVATION OF CALIFORNIA

My dad had a cosmetics franchise similar to Mary Kay. It was Ovation of California. My mother went to Los Angeles to learn more about it, and when she returned, she dumped a box of cosmetics onto the dining room table. My sister got the cosmetics, and I got a shoehorn from the Beverly Hills Hilton Hotel.

My sister held up her diary. “Look what your darling son did to my diary while you were gone,” she said. I had cut the lock off her diary. Big deal.

diary kay

“I apologized,” I said.   (I was researching petting — as Ann Landers called making out. I was 13, my sister was 16. I thought she had some info.)

My mother said, “So you tore open your sister’s diary?”

“I’m sorry.” I bought my sister a new diary.

One more crime: my father put a bottle of Ovation cleansing cream in the bathroom and made me use it. I was supposed to rub the cleanser on my forehead with a cotton ball. “This is no gimmick,” he said. “Men use it.”  My dad tried to turn me into a metrosexual! The franchise went under in a year.

Yiddishe Cup plays 6:30 pm Sun. (July 12) in Granville, Ohio (near Columbus).  More info here.

band of 7

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July 8, 2015   6 Comments

SELTZER GIRL /
MISSISSIPPI ALBERT

Seltzer is a major player in my house.  My wife, Alice, bought stock in seltzer, SodaStream, and I drink a fair amount of La Croix and occasionally Klarbrunn from Costco. I stick to lime and lemon. I should try peach. I was at a party — on a gig — where the host had all the La Croix flavors, but I wasn’t thirsty so I didn’t open up the various cans and sip.

Jack Stratton, 2011, with  SodaStream

Jack Stratton, 2011,
with SodaStream

There used to be seltzer delivery guys. I never saw one. My friend Shelly had home delivery.  My parents didn’t. My mother was big with Diet Rite Cola, though. My son Teddy favored Hank’s Root Beer.  Alice used to be a diehard Diet Coke proponent.  My son Jack loves SodaStream.  My daughter, Lucy, doesn’t drink much.  That’s the story of carbonation in my family.

Alice gives SodaStreams as gifts. She hopes her purchases will increase the stock’s value.

I know people who can distinguish club soda from seltzer water, and can expound on the level of fizz in SodaStream versus canned seltzers.  My wife is one of those persons.  She is Seltzer Girl.

seltzer girl

Check out “Mississippi Albert” in Belt Magazine. It’s about my “roots” in Mississippi.  When I taught blues harmonica, I told the students my mother was from Yazoo City, Mississippi.  I wasn’t lying!  Here is the story.   I traveled to Mississippi. This photo, below, is from Cleveland Heights, 1977:

blues harp brochure 1977 hts adult ed

One more photo . . . from Mississipppi, about 1926. My mother, Julia Zalk Stratton, age 6, on R; her older sister, Bernice Zalk Golden, in back; and baby sister Celeste Zalk Kent (who is now 87) in the high chair; and a cousin on far L:

mississippi about 1925  julia on far R

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November 12, 2014   8 Comments

ADDRESS YOUR MESS

My mother, Julia, never saved anything. When she moved to assisted living, the only thing she kept was her dining room set and some clay pots my dad had made.

My dad was an amateur potter in his retirement. He didn’t use a wheel; he pinched the clay with his thumbs.  His work wasn’t too good; I threw most of his stuff in the garbage. My mother watched and said, “How could you!”

“Mom,” I said, “I’m saving some of  it– some representative pieces!”

Address Your Mess.

Address Your Mess is a woman in Cleveland who, for a fee, de-clutters your house. My mother didn’t need her.

Maybe I need AYM.  I have report cards from elementary school in my attic.  My mother said I could be president someday, so I’m holding on to the report cards.

Is my mess more important than your mess?

I gave the Address Your Mess phone number to a high school friend whose parents moved out of their bungalow after 50-plus years. They had stuff.
address your mess

I read about an elderly woman in southeast Ohio who had 36 boxes of cereal, GAR medals and a wooden fife from the battle of Chickamauga.

I have UN stamps too, besides the report cards.

Here’s a vid, “Square Mile,” about real estate and board games:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qYnabJr7esc

Yiddishe Cup is at Fairmount Temple, Beachwood, Ohio, tonight (Wed.) and Park Synagogue, Cleveland Hts., tomorrow night. 

 

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October 15, 2014   6 Comments

LOVE AND RENT

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

LAKE VIEW

Every few days I get an email from my synagogue that reads something like this:  “Subject — the passing of Melvin Weiner.”

About three people die per week at my shul.  (I belong to a big shul.). My rabbi must live at funerals.  True, he has an associate rabbi, but still, I think he — the senior rabbi — does most of the heavy lifting.  The senior rabbi told me Costco has the best lox in town. He should know; he must see at least five dairy spreads a week.  (I see my fair share, too.  Love a dairy spread!)

The passing of  Albert “Bert” Stratton . . .

That’s overkill.

I prefer “the passing of  Albert Stratton.”  A bit more consequential than “Bert.”  I wonder if Melvin Weiner went by Mel.  I didn’t know him.

I visited my mom’s grave recently and couldn’t find it because it had snow on it.  (The headstone is flush with the ground.)  I found the approximate location of the grave and drew a Jewish star and Mom.  She’s been dead 10 years.  She’s at Hillcrest Cemetery, as is my dad.

My grandparents are buried on the other side of town, as are two of my great-grandparents.  [Stratton kids, see notes below.]

My wife doesn’t want to be buried in our shul’s cemetery (Park Synagogue / Beth Olam) because it’s too cramped.  I’m fine with the Park cemetery.  I would like to be up close next to a bunch of other people’s bones. My wife wants to be in Lake View Cemetery.

Actually, she doesn’t “want” anything.  For instance, she doesn’t want to discuss this.

I wonder if my rabbi does burials at Lake View, or if his college-age son will someday.  Maybe the kid will become a rabbi, and I’ll live another million years.

I think my rabbi will do Lake View — a nondenominational garden-style WASPy place.  I see Jewish stars on some of  the tombstones there now.  Lake View is in Cleveland Heights.  Nice touch.  It’s not by the freeway.

But I’d rather be in a cramped funky Jewish cemetery by the freeway, like Park’s cemetery.  On the other hand, I do want to be near my wife’s bones, so I guess I’ll go with Lake View.

Maybe I can talk her into Park.  How much time do I have?

You won’t want to read this part unless you’re very closely
related . . .

Bert’s parents, Theodore “Toby” and Julia (Zalk) Stratton are at Hillcrest Cemetery, 26200 Aurora Road, Bedford Heights. Temple Emanu El section,  by the  tree.

Toby’s parents, Louis and Anna (Seiger) Soltzberg, are at Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery, aka Ridge Road #1, 3740 Ridge Rd.  Cleveland.  (“Front Left Section” — that’s what the cemetery sign says.  The grave is about seven rows in from Ridge Road, before the Section 3 sign).  Also, against the fence, Cecile Soltzberg, baby, Anna’s  3-year-old daughter, died about 1909.

Julia’s parents, Albert and Ida (Kassoff) Zalk, are at Lansing Road Cemetery, 3922  E. 57th Street, Cleveland.   Here is a blog post about Bill Katz and me sneaking into that cemetery after-hours.

Ida’s parents, Morris and Sadie (Levine) Kassoff, are at Lansing Road Cemetery.

Julia (Zalk) Stratton (1920-2004), left, and her sister Celeste (Zalk) Kent (1926 – ) at their grandparents’ grave, 1997.

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February 26, 2014   10 Comments

SEIGER’S RESTAURANT

The cops at the Sixth District police station in Cleveland considered me a hippie spy from the Heights.  But when I told the cops I was a Seiger (“My uncle owned Seiger’s Restaurant on E.118th and Kinsman”), the cops warmed up to me. The cops — the older ones, the bosses — all knew Seiger’s Restaurant.

Cleveland Jewish News, 1968

Seiger’s Restaurant was a Damon Runyon casting hall on Kinsman Road. All manner of hustlers, cops, businessmen and shnorers (beggars) hung out there. The shnorers were Orthodox Jewish tzedakah (charity) collectors who had their own booth in the back.

Seiger’s, 11802 Kinsman Rd., 1957

My Great Aunt Lil Seiger served the shnorers kosher food from her apartment, which was at the back of the store. The shnorers wouldn’t eat the non-kosher food from the restaurant. The deli was kosher-style, not kosher.  “We served the rabonim [the rabbis] on special china and silverware,  milchig [dairy]’,” Lil’s son Danny said.

Seigers: Audrey (daughter), Lil, Danny (son) and Itchy, 1948

Rabonim and cops — ate well at Seiger’s. Nobody ever got a ticket for an expired parking meter, and sometimes cars were parked two-lanes deep on Kinsman.  “I couldn’t even spend a nickel in Seiger’s,” retired cop Bill Tofant said.

Itchy Seiger, my great uncle, was the owner and chief kibitzer (glad-handler/talker).  He had been a cloak maker in Galicia, Austria-Hungary.  Itchy was the greeter.  Aunt Lil did the cooking, except the breads and strudels, which she bought.

There was a party room, seating about 65, in the basement. The matchbooks read: “Seiger’s Restaurant, Delicatessen, Barroom and Rathskeller.”

Danny and Itchy Seiger, back row, from R. Shiva for Anna Soltzberg, South Euclid, Ohio, 1964

I didn’t go to Seiger’s Restaurant often.  My parents didn’t think Kinsman was the right direction for a Sunday drive. More often we wound up out east — the other direction — at the Metroparks.

Danny — my cousin —  started showing up at Yiddishe Cup gigs in the 2000s. I asked him about the mini-feud between his father (my Uncle Itchy) and my grandmother, Anna  Soltzberg (nee Seiger).  Itchy and Anna had been half-siblings. (Enough with the genealogy, Klezmer Guy!)  Danny said Itchy and Anna had had two things in common: sugar diabetes and iron wills.

My grandmother’s candy store — near Itchy’s deli on Kinsman — had frequently been “oyf tsoris” (badly off), and Itchy rescued it, Danny said.

Anna Soltzberg, center, 1950s. Others unknown

“Everybody loved Itchy,” Danny said. Everybody but my grandmother, who complained about Itchy’s buy-out terms on her store.  Later, my grandmother opened a candy store further east on Kinsman, near Shaker Heights.

Cleveland Plain Dealer ad, 1947

Cleveland Plain Dealer , 1947

“At the restaurant, there were two brothers, the Schoolers,” Danny said. “One, Joe, wanted a soft matzo ball. The other, Morty, wanted a matzo ball as hard as a baseball.  Ma made both kinds.  That’s how we thrived.”

Somebody should take Danny, age 80, and a video camera for a stroll down Kinsman. Walk Danny through the old neighborhood and into Seiger’s, which was recently a soul food restaurant.  (Today it’s boarded up.)

New World Restaurant, formerly Seiger’s, 2010.

The audio,
Danny: “This is where Ma made the mish-mash soup. She gave the recipe to Corky & Lenny’s. This is the counter where Jim Brown bounced a $10 check.  I should have saved it for the autograph.  This is where Oscar Schmaltz downed an industrial canister of soup.  Oscar weighed 400.”

Footnote:  Seiger’s is pronounced Sigh-ger’s (rhymes with High-gers) by Jews, and See-ger’s by cops.  Seiger’s closed in 1968.

For relatives only . . . family photo above, taken at the shiva  for Toby Stratton’s mother, Anna Soltzberg.
On floor, from L: Bert Stratton,  sister Leslie.

Middle: Aunt Lil Soltzberg of Washington;  unnamed woman who divorced out of  the family; Aunt Pearl Bregman; Great Aunt Molly Mittman; Marcia Seiger.

Top:  Uncle Milty Soltzberg, Toby Stratton, Julia Stratton, Uncle Sol Soltzberg, Great Uncle Sam Mittman, Aunt Lil Soltzberg of Delaware, Great Uncle Itchy Seiger, Danny Seiger.

(Sol Soltzberg, Milty Soltzberg, Pearl Bregman and Toby Stratton were siblings.)

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May 8, 2013   12 Comments

MISSISSIPPI BUBBE AND
THE XYLOPHONIST

I look for musical yikhes (lineage/pedigree) wherever I can find it.  My grandmother played piano at a white Baptist church in Yazoo City, Mississippi.  Not bad.

This Mississippi bubbe — Ida Kassoff Zalk — had a brother, Earl Kassoff, in Cleveland.  Earl was a drummer, xylophonist and house painter.  He went by the stage name Earl Castle, and led bands in the 1930s and 1940s.

Xylopainter

In the 1990s — when I first began looking for musical yikhes — I couldn’t find much info on Earl.  I talked to a couple relatives.  Earl didn’t leave behind sheet music or tune books.  He died in 1969.

At a Yiddishe Cup gig, an elderly musician schmoozed with me.  I asked him if he knew Earl Kassoff.  Yes, he  remembered Earl.  The schmoozer was Harold Finger, age 77.  He had made a living playing clarinet and sax during the 1930s and 1940s.

I took my tape recorder to Harold’s apartment and interviewed him. He said there were “four or five bands that got the Jewish work.”

I asked, “What bands?”  He didn’t remember the names.  “What were the most popular Jewish tunes?” I said.

He said, “The songs from the Kammen Book. That was the big thing.”

The Kammen International Dance Folio, published in 1924, is still around.  The Kammen book is to Jewish music what a sex manual is to sex. (Pianist Pete Sokolow makes this statement at most KlezKamp conventions.)

Kammensutra

My Uncle Earl’s band did mostly “dance work” — American music, Harold said. Earl worked the downtown theaters, as well as the Golden Pheasant — a Chinese restaurant where Artie Shaw started.

Harold said he didn’t stick to the melody all the time. He did some “faking” (improvising).  Now he played clarinet with a community orchestra.  “I don’t do much jobbing anymore,” he said.  (Jobbing is gigging.)

Harold died three years after the interview.  I thought his kids might enjoy the  interview tape, from 1992, so I called a Finger relative and left a message in the mid-1990s.

I didn’t hear back.

The relative should have called!  Harold’s wife was on the tape, teasing Harold about how he loved his saxophone more than her.  Harold said, “What? I quit playing music for you!”

Michiganders, come to the Klezmer Guy show at The Ark, Ann Arbor, Feb. 15. 8 p.m. $20.  Bert Stratton on clarinet and prose, Alan Douglass on piano and vocals, Gerald Ross on ukulele and Hawaiian lap steel guitar. Prose pieces will contain words such as “Ann Arbor,” “Michigan”  and “Rudy Tomjanovich.”


More on Mississippi Ida — my bubbe — later.  Maybe not.

Yikhes update.  Check out the latest from Jack Stratton’s band, Vulfpeck.

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February 6, 2013   6 Comments

TRUCKIN’

My cousin David owned a GMC tractor-trailer, which he parked in the May Co. lot in University Heights.  David may have been the only Jewish long-distance trucker in the Heights.  Maybe the only long-distance trucker, period, in the Heights.

In 1975 David borrowed several thousand dollars from my father, Toby, for the truck.  David had a contract with International Truck of Rock, Minnesota.

David moved to Pennsylvania and never repaid my dad.

In high school David had stolen hubcaps.  He had been a Shaker Heights juvenile delinquent.

David even looked like James Dean. My cousin Danny once said, “David’s dad was the most handsome man you ever met.” David’s dad drifted around Cleveland, playing pool.  David’s dad and mother divorced in the 1950s.

When David’s mother heard David hadn’t repaid my dad, she made payments, but she never fully repaid the loan.

My father’s attitude was “win some, lose some.”  Toby believed in lending money to family. My dad had borrowed from his Uncle Itchy to buy his first house.

Last year I called David’s sister. This was a big deal; David and his sister were  out of the cousins’ loop. David is now in his seventies and has had several heart attacks, his sister said.  He is living in a hotel that his son runs in Florida.

No more truckin’.

No more David as family black sheep. Stolen hubcaps and an unpaid loan, is that the worst of it in my family?  I think so.

Now, my wife has an estranged cousin who stole sterling silver . . . Stop.

“David” is a pseudonym.


SIDE B

FITBIT

I became bionic.  My daughter, Lucy, gave me a pedometer.

I can count my daily steps. I can even monitor my sleep patterns, but that’s too much data — even for a guy like me who likes data.

Brisk walking. If you do it, ipso facto, you’re a dork.

I gave up jogging last year. My right knee wasn’t into it anymore. I miss the “sweat” of jogging.

I walk.

Should I post my step count here? Dieters post their calories online.  Bicyclists post their heart rates.

My step count today is _____. (Will post up at 11:59 p.m for maximum effect.)

Your count?

For a couple new illustrations by Ralph Solonitz, please  scroll down to “KlezKamp 2012,” which went up last week.

Yiddishe Cup plays at First Night Akron on New Year’s Eve.

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December 26, 2012   1 Comment

THE ANNIVERSARY WALTZ

My 32nd wedding anniversary was no milestone.

But it was, sort of, because I got my wife, Alice, to go to synagogue — a major accomplishment.  I used the come-on of a free bottle of wine.

My temple passes out Israeli wine to all the anniversary couples.  For example, every married couple with an October anniversary gets a bottle of vino on the first shabbat in October.   Alice and I took our places on the bima (altar), next to eight other couples, while the congregation sang and clapped along to “Simon Tov,” a song of congratulations.  Thirty-two years of marriage was worth something — a bottle of wine.   The “winning couple,” as the rabbi put it, was celebrating 55 years of marriage.

It was like a Reverend Moon ceremony. The congregants read aloud: “These couples have come to the synagogue to give thanks for the institution of marriage and for their mutual love and devotion.”

No preening bat mitzvah girls on the bima. No nervous bar mitzvah boys.  Just married couples:  old guys with gray ponytails, younger guys in bankers’ suits.

The Bible reading that week was from the Creation Story. The rabbi mentioned that ever since Adam and Eve fouled up, we are all going to die, which makes life interesting. Because if we lived forever, we wouldn’t do anything.  For instance, “Why diet if you can put it off for 500 years?” the rabbi said.  “Things get more interesting when there are time constraints.”

What did Adam and Eve do when they became empty-nesters?   They had no peers.  Who did they hang out with?

After temple, Alice and I walked to everywhere we have lived together.  Luckily, “everywhere” was within 2 1/2 miles of the synagogue.

We went to the Oak Road duplex we had rented as newlyweds.  The owner of the duplex wouldn’t let us in.

Bert and Alice. (Polaroid by Herb Ascherman Jr.)

We went to our starter house, where our three kids were born.  We got in. The bungalow looked better than when we had lived there. The kitchen had been gutted and remodeled.

We went home –- to our present house, where we bounce off the walls nightly, waiting for grandchildren to appear.

One in four divorces is by 50-and-overs.  About half my friends are divorced and/or remarried. I look for reinforcements for long-term marriage wherever I can.  I need an ally.

I found one.  No, two:  the synagogue and a bottle of wine.


This happened in 2010.  Been back for more wine since.


I wrote a quasi-review (more of a rant) about Harvey Pekar’s latest — and probably last — comic book.   The review is at today’s CoolCleveland.com.

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October 17, 2012   8 Comments

ALICE’S RESTAURANTS

Pre-kids, my wife, Alice, and I ate out a lot.  We mostly went to dives. That was our hobbyDives as low as Krisplee on East 82nd Street and Euclid Avenue, and Albino’s at West 44th Street and Lorain Avenue.

At home, Alice cooked a lot of tofu.  That’s why we ate out a lot.

We don’t go out much now.  I can’t stand the long waits, the so-s0 food, the noise.  I’m my dad.

Alice published a restaurant guidebook, Alice’s Restaurants, in 1981.  The book sold particularly well at the airport bookstore.  Alice’s oddest recommendation was the cafeteria at Metro General Hospital.  She liked the beef stroganoff and Viennese tort there.  (Alice was a nursing student.)

I liked Draeger’s, an ice cream place at Van Aken.  I wasn’t into balanced meals.

Here are a couple recommendations from the book:

Alice, 1977

(Still around)  Balaton, Corky & Lenny’s, Flat Iron Cafe, Mad Greek, Mamma Santa’s, Hot Dog Inn.

(Dead)  Zosia’s, Gerome’s, Art’s Seafood, It’s It Deli, Vegetaria, Radu’s, Aurora, Draeger’s, El Charro.

When we had our first child,  our eating out petered out.  Alice wrote a baby book, but never published it.  I can’t remember what the book was about, other than babies.  Oh, it was The Bye, Bye Book — how to  prepare your kid psychologically if you left town for a day or two.

Our kids — now grown — became foodies.  Maybe we left them home too much.  A lot of 20-somethings became foodies.  A baby-boom friend described his grown kids’ religion as Foodism.

Alice in stains

Alice — the original Foodist — sold street food.  She never made a dime, but she made a name for herself.  In the mid-1980s, Alice was the first to sell sushi rolls in Cleveland.  This was at the Coventry Street Fair.  Few locals knew what sushi was.  Alice made vegetable rolls.  She grossed well, but her expenses were high.  She paid a Korean-American friend, Mike, to help.  Mike lent an air of authenticity — not that he knew anything about sushi.

Alice did tabouli at the East 115th Street Fair.  Tabouli was a loser.  Why?  It wasn’t that good.   And a Cadillac with musicians playing in the trunk  —  next to Alice’s booth — was a lot more entertaining.

Alice sold falafel at the Coventry fair.  She called that operation Queen Alice’s Falafel.  We ate a lot of falafel because she was always tweaking the recipe.  She did falafels for a couple years.

Alice is talking tacos lately.  Our son Teddy is talking pad Thai.

Foodists.

—-

SIDE B

THE JEW OF HOME DEPOT

Carl Goldstein, a landlord friend of mine, wants to be a docent at Home Depot when he retires. He goes to Home Depot at least twice a day, six days a week. That’s more than 600 Home Depots visits per year. Carl owns and manages double houses on the East Side of Cleveland.

Carl Goldstein, 2011

He said, “Home Depot saved my life. Before they came to town, I used to go out to Builders Square on Wilson Mills. That was the ruination of my life. After Builders Square, I would take the freeway to DIY on Chagrin, and then to Seitz-Agin [hardware] on Lee. And I still wouldn’t have everything I needed!”

Carl worked at a plumbing supply store for seven years; he sold hot water tanks, boilers, Flushmates and plumbers dope. Carl’s father was a plumber in Flint, Michigan. Carl has a collection of Corky toilet flappers and other odds and ends in his truck. He gave me a Niagara water-saving shower head. ($5.13 from Woodhill Supply. Too specialized for Home Depot.)

I bought more Niagaras. I have about fifty now. I switch shower heads when tenants move out. (Bad business to switch shower heads on current tenants.)

Carl wants Home Depot to hold a storewide scavenger hunt. The first contestant through the Home Depot check-out line with all the correct items wins. “I’m a shoo-in,” Carl said. “Second place would be Marc Apple.”

“Marc Apple?”

“He’s a Cleveland Heights contractor,” Carl said.

There are two Jews of Home Depot in Cleveland.

—-
Read Max Apple’s The Jew of Home Depot and Other Stories. (Max Apple is not related to Marc Apple.)

Next: The Jews of Home Depot (Atlanta): Bernie Marcus and Arthur Blank.


I wrote about Alice, hot weather and money at today’s CoolCleveland website.

 


Alice and dance leader Daniel Ducoff on the front page of the Cleveland Heights Sun Press, 7/12/12.  (Well-written article about Yiddishe Cup by Ed Wittenberg. Photo by Jim Olexa.)

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July 18, 2012   11 Comments

THE SILVER FOX / THE CREEP

Charlie Broeckel was the Silver Fox or The Creep. He went by both names. He was a burglar and hit-man in Collinwood –- a neighborhood in northeast Cleveland.

Charlie Broeckel, Plain Dealer drawing by Dick Dugan, 7/7/74

I’m not sure where Broeckel is now. Maybe he’s dead. Or maybe he’s in a safe house in Ada, Oklahoma. For a while he was “John Bradford” (federally protected) in the Pacific Northwest.

Broeckel and Phil Christopher — another Collinwood burglar — did a bank heist at Laguna Niguel, California, in 1972. It was supposedly the biggest bank burglary of all time. Charlie and Phil flew to California from Cleveland for the job. California didn’t have quality bank burglars back then, I guess. Collinwood did.

I saw Broeckel and Christopher at trials in Cleveland. They would periodically come in from their federal prison cells or witness protection program locations. One trial was for murder: Christopher and accomplices took a pimp, Arnie Prunella, out on a boat, shot him and drown him.

Collinwood was “think ethnic”-to-the-10th power. There were four distinct neighborhoods in Collinwood: Slovenian (St. Mary’s parish), Italian (Holy Redeemer), black (west of the E. 152nd Street, aka the DMZ) and Lithuanian (Our Lady of Perpetual Help). Broeckel’s ethnicity was indeterminate. Maybe German, maybe Slovenian. Christopher was Italian.

Broeckel and his fellow burglars stored nitroglycerin — used for blowing up safes — on a Lake Erie beach. In 1983 a Cleveland policeman operated a backhoe at the local beach, searching for old, very unstable nitro. Traffic cops kept reporters and passersby at a distance. Charlie was supposedly in bad health and wanted brownie points for helping the cops find old explosives.

The chief cop in the neighborhood — Capt. Ed Kovacic — had a warm spot for highly skilled crooks. These thieves would drill out safes and jump burglar alarms. They weren’t entirely stupid. Kovacic often said, “If there was a hall of fame for burglars and safecrackers, it would be in Collinwood.”

In 2006, Lyndhurst police chief Rick Porrello wrote a book, Superthief, about Christopher. Then Tommy Reid, a Hollywood entrepreneur, made a documentary movie –- also Superthief — which came out in March. The movie is mostly talking heads: old cops and old thieves sitting in living rooms, reminiscing about old days.

The documentary ran exclusively in theaters in Euclid and Lake County — where many former Collinwood residents moved to. There were three people in the Lakeshore Cinema.  One elderly man, with a walker, said on his way out, “Phil is a thief!” His wife said, “I like Phil!”

Christopher, 66, is out of jail. He has spent nearly half his life in prison. What if Broeckel — the creep, the silver fox, the rat — comes out of hiding and puts Christopher back in prison?

Just like old times.


I was a police reporter in Collinwood for Sun Newspapers in the 1980s. (Last time I’m going to mention this factoid for a while. So please remember.)

—-

SIDE B

Here is the annual “inside baseball” post.  Your name might be in here . . .

NAMING NAMES

We interrupt this blog to tell you this blog is three years old.

“I’ve read every word of your blog!” a musician told me.

Hooray for him.  I wrote every word.

A blog reader said, “You found your subject — your father, Toby.”

No, you did.  I’ve had Toby on the brain for decades.

A woman said, “I look forward to your posts every Wednesday morning . . . I don’t do comments.”

Here’s my comment: Nine-tenths of Klezmer Guy readers don’t do comments.  They want to protect their animosity.  Listen, you are not above comments; you are not paying for this; chip in the occasional enlightening, humorous or really stupid comment.

Several other readers claim to have read every word of the blog.

What was the first word?

Special thanks to our major donors (commenters).  I could have done it without you, but it wouldn’t have been as much fun.

In no particular order, thanks to Marc Adler, Jessica Schreiber, Gerald Ross, Seth Marks, Ted, Adrianne Greenbaum, Bill Jones, Mark Schilling, Harvey Kugelman, Ellen, Susan Greene . . .

David, Margie, Irwin Weinberger, Jane Lassar, Zach Kurtz, Alice Stratton, Alan Douglass, Steve, Jack, Don Friedman, Kenny G, Steven Greenman . . .

Charlie B, Don Edwards, Garry Kanter, Jack V, Ari Davidow, Emilie, B Katz and Richard Grayson.

Get your name on this list next year by contributing at least $2,500 or writing comments.

Special thanks to Ralph Solonitz, the blog’s illustrator.  He adds a lot.  I encourage him to throw in as many pics as possible.  Works out well.  Ralph had a Klezmer Guy illustration in The Forward recently.

I met Ralph about 21 years ago when he designed Yiddishe Cup’s logo.  That’s still your best logo, Ralph.

Sometimes I send my stories to the media before posting here.  This past year Klezmer Guy articles were published throughout the planet: the International Herald Tribune, New York Times, City Journal, Ann Arbor Observer, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Jerusalem Post.  Did I miss any continent?  I’ve started to link to some of the newspaper articles.  Please see the right side of this blog, under “Articles.”  Also, check out “Categories” there.  “Categories” is particularly useful if you want to read 68 posts in a row about real estate. 

Google Analytics — a spy op — says there are Klezmer Guy readers in every state and many foreign countries.  Ohio has the most Klezmer Guy readers, followed by New York, California, Michigan and Massachusetts.  The top foreign countries are Canada, United Kingdom, Israel, Germany and Australia.

Google Analytics, for your information, zeroes in on readers by their hometowns, not their names.  For instance, somebody in Chico, California, reads this blog.

The bell rings, round four.

—-

I wrote this op-ed, “The Impossible Dream,” for Mother’s Day for the Cleveland Plain Dealer (5/13/12).  It’s about listening to the radio with my mother.

Illustration by Ted Crow, Plain Dealer

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May 16, 2012   10 Comments

GOLF OR TAXES

 

Every January I spend a day filling out employer tax forms.

My favorite is the Federal Unemployment Tax Act (FUTA) form.

I did my first FUTA Form 940 in 1978, when my dad went to Florida for the winter.  He and his high school buddies golfed in Boca Raton, and I filled out FUTAs in Cleveland.

Not bad.  I like tax forms better than golf.

Toby Stratton (far L) w/ friends at Boca Lago CC, 1983

The treasurer of Ohio likes his W-2 reconciliations promptly.  The Ohio Bureau of Employment Services also likes its money quickly.  The  Ohio Workers  Compensation bureau has rachmones (pity) and bugs me only twice a year, not quarterly like everybody else.

I used an IBM Selectric-style typewriter for tax forms until the machine died last year.  The A key wouldn’t work.  That was its main drawback.
“ lbert
Str tton”  didn’t cut it with the government.  I threw out the typewriter and several boxes of Ko-Rec-Type.

Now I use IRS computer forms, except for my Yiddishe Cup 1099s, which I do by hand.

Last year I used blue ink on Yiddishe Cup’s 1099s.

The gobierno prefers black ink, I’ve learned.  I’ll get with the program this year.

What are you in jail for?

Blue ink.

No thanks.

***

I wore a camping headlamp and crawled around the attic, culling old manila folders, making room for new files.

The old files weren’t read by anybody.

Why did I save all this stuff?

Because the government wanted me to.

I got insulation flecks on my fleece jacket.  It was freezing up there.  And there were mouse droppings and desiccated rubber bands.

My dad used to recycle manila folders.  For instance, he would reuse the file “1975 Plumbing” in 1981.

I threw out 30 pounds of paid invoices, checks and rent rolls.  I do this every January.

Should I feel nostalgic?

I don’t.

—-
Here’s an op-ed, “From Soltzberg to Stratton,” from last week’s Jerusalem Post (Jan. 17).

Theodore “Toby” Stratton (ne Soltzberg), 1938, age 21

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January 25, 2012   10 Comments

THE BILLYS

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

The Billys were:

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

 

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

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

***

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

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

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

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October 19, 2011   5 Comments

HOLLYWOOD BOWLS US

My wife, Alice, was one of the many star-struck fans who drove to Rockside Road and I-77 in Cleveland to audition for The Avengers movie.

I asked Alice, “Did you get the part?  Did you read anything?”

Not only did she not read, she did not even audition. The traffic was so horrendous at Rockside Road, she turned around.  Thousands of people had shown up for the audition.  The line of wannabes snaked at least a mile from the building, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

There was another Hollywood movie, Fun Size, filmed a few weeks earlier, several blocks from our house in Cleveland Heights.  That’s when Alice got star struck.  Catering and make-up trucks were around our neighborhood.

I heard about it.  I didn’t want to see the trucks.  I have a bias against Hollywood.

Hollywood guys have too much fun.  They should be making radiator valves, or PVC pipe fittings, like the rest of the world.  Not blowing things up and eating from catering trucks.

My wife’s school gym (where she teaches elementary-school physical education) was turned into a vast make-up room for Fun Size.  She said the school board got $500,000 for the rental.

I didn’t believe that.  Alice’s source — the school janitor — told her the five-hundred grand figure.

Make that $50,000.  I’d accept that.  Better yet, $5,000.  Who would pay half a million to rent a school building for a couple days?  Hollywood is a funny ballpark, but not that funny.

Hollywood’s latest tax-abatement haven/heaven is Ohio.  Used to be Michigan.

I would like to be in a movie, Alice.   But I would demand some lines and star food.  No way am I going to be a man in the crowd, not at this point in my career.

I want to blow up something.  Grab a lighter, Alice.  You have a role.

Those Lips, Those Eyes, United Artists, 1980, Cain Park amphitheater, Cleveland Heights. Bert Stratton at far left.

—-
A version of this story is crossposted today at CoolCleveland.com.

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August 31, 2011   4 Comments

SEARCHING FOR GALICIA

My father, Toby, was a lot like his mother.  One of Toby’s mother’s favorite expressions was “Geven-zhe nit a yold.”  (Don’t you be a chump.)  Toby’s mother owned a candy store, raised four kids almost singlehandedly, buried a three-year-old daughter, and during her retirement years, owned a four-suite apartment building.  She was nobody’s sucker.

Anna Soltzberg (née Seiger) occasionally called her grandchildren — like me — foyl (lazy).  She lived at our house for a while. I called her Bub — short for bubbe (grandmother).   I wasn’t going to call her Bubby. Too effeminate.

Bub was not into baseball; she was into casino (a card game), the television show Queen for a Day; borscht, boiled chicken and cows’ feet.  She could eat. She had sugar diabetes.   Bub wore bubbe shoes.

Anna Soltzberg (1884-1964).  Circa 1951.

Anna Soltzberg (1884-1964). Circa 1951.

I couldn’t figure out where Bub was from.  I couldn’t even find her hometown on a map.

Bub said she was from Galicia, a province in Austria-Hungary. She was from the shtetl (village) of Grodzisko.  She came to America at 20.

In junior high I told my friends, “My grandmother is from Austria.”  That was dead wrong, but it made sense.

In her old age, Bub lived at my aunt’s house before she moved in with us.  At my aunt’s, Bub complained about the level of kashrut (kosher observance).  Bub wanted my aunt to not keep kosher.  Keeping kosher was too expensive.  Bub was an apikoros (non-believer), socialist and cheap.

Bub, circa 1904.

Bub, circa 1904.

At Bub’s funeral — at the shiva (mourning) meal — the question of kashrut came up again.  My two aunt Lils (Lil from Delaware and Lil from Washington), plus my Uncle Itchy, were at our dining room table.

Uncle Itchy, sitting next to Delaware Lil, asked, “You keep a kosher house?”

“Yes,” said Delaware Lil.

Itchy, slapping his hand down on the table, said, “Then why are you eating this meat?  It’s not kosher!”

Washington Lil, also slapping her hand down, said, “Ain’t that a hypocrite!”

Washington Lil (left), Julia Stratton, Delaware Lil.  1964

Washington Lil (left), Julia Stratton, Delaware Lil. 1964

“In other words, it’s either everything or nothing?”  said Delaware Lil.

“Yes,” said Washington Lil.

“That’s a very simple philosophy,” said Delaware Lil.

“Yes, it is,” said Washington Lil.

My mother, Julia, interrupted with: “Pass the treyf meat.” (Non-kosher meat.)   Mild laughter.  My mom was the peace-maker.

And the Lils didn’t talk to each other for a long time.  Years.

. . . Grodzisko, Galicia, Austria-Hungary.  I found it about 20 years later, in the mid-1980s, on the Shtetl Finder map. The village’s Yiddish name was Grodzisk (pronounced GRUD-zhisk), about 60 miles west of Przemysl.  The various shtetls (villages) had so many different names.  That was the trick.  And there were several Grodziskos.

Mili Seiger 1939

Mili Seiger 1939

During my research, I came across a family postcard, postmarked “May 1, 1939, Grodzisko.”  It was from cousin Rachela Seiger.  It was in Polish and said, in brief, “How are you?”  On the flip side was a photo of  Rachela’s  sister Mili.

The Germans invaded Poland four months after the postcard was mailed.

I looked up “Mili Seiger” and “Rachela Seiger” on the Yad Vashem (Israeli Holocaust museum) online archives.  There were so many Seigers, Siegers, Zygers, Zaygers and Zeigers, I couldn’t find Mili or Rachela.

There are three types of Jews.  Not Reform, Conservative and Orthodox.  Try American, Israeli and victims of the Holocaust.  Each about a third.  These are my people.

—-

This story was cross-posted on  The Forward, online, last month.

Thanks to Yiddishist Lori Cahan-Simon for help on the expression “Geven-zhe nit a yold.”

Footnote . . .  Plotting Grodzisko by Teddy Stratton, 1998:

map-2-grodisko-by-teddy-1998

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March 23, 2011   10 Comments

MAJOR ROOFER

I like roofs more than most people.  I even married a roofer’s daughter.

My late father-in-law, Cecil Shustick, had a roofing company in Columbus, Ohio.  He was an orthodontist prior to being a roofer.   Look it up.

Cecil was an orthodontist in the early 1950s.  Meanwhile, Cecil’s father owned a roofing company.  Cecil had a wartime neck injury, so he didn’t relish standing all day at a dental chair.  Furthermore, orthodontia wasn’t yet a big moneymaker in central Ohio.

roofer-fleet2Cecil did mostly roof estimating.  He eventually ran a 27-man, 9-truck company.

He talked to me about roofs and gutters.  Gutters are interesting: copper, galvanized (the worst) and coated.

Cecil didn’t offer me the biz.  He should have, my father said.  My dad said Cecil should have at least given me the opportunity to say no.

Dad, I wasn’t moving to Cow-lumbus to run a roofing company!

Cecil Shustick (w/ ciggy), 69. (1978)

Cecil Shustick (w/ ciggy), 69. (1978)

When Cecil retired, he sold the business to Don The Goy, his right-hand man, who ran the biz into the ground.  Cecil lost a lot of money on that, and so did I, indirectly.

If I had taken over the business, I probably would now be in a nice house in Bexley, Ohio, with a stack of workers’ comp claims in front of me.  (A lot of roofers are overweight drinkers with back problems.)

That wouldn’t be much different than the way I did wind up!

pina-coladaCecil was a bon vivant.  He kept a quart of piña colada by his bed for dry throat, due to antihistamine overuse, he said.  He liked top-shelf, like Chrysler Imperials and Chivas Regal.  And he didn’t like sweating.  Golf was his game.  Cecil said, “If man was meant for jogging, he’d have hooves.”

***

Cecil Shustick, U.S. Army Dental Corps, circa 1942

Cecil Shustick, U.S. Army Dental Corps, circa 1942

Cecil worked in roofing, went to war and raised a family.  I didn’t know that “early Cecil.”  I knew the retired Cecil, my father-in-law in the velour warm-up suit with the Marlboros.

Don Whitehead, an A.P. correspondent, filed a dispatch, Dec. 3, 1943, with the Fifth Army south of Rome:

In one large, roomy cave Capt. Cecil Shustick, Columbus, Ohio, and Lt. Samuel Clarkson, Lebanon, Ky., set up a medical detachment station.  On the little ledge, a charcoal fire was burning to take the damp chill from the air . . .

The Italians had used the caves as storage places for vegetables, fruit and grain.  When the Americans came along, they moved into them and used them as command posts, medical stations and billets.

This is a valley of hell – a man-made hell of thunder and lightning . . . The guns never cease their striking.  Whole batteries of them roar in unison with a concussion that shakes the earth.

Cecil Shustick came home a major with a Bronze Star for heroism at the Battle of Monte Cassino, Italy.

Give him the piña colada medal too, posthumously. Cecil kept things light and bright. You’d never know about Italy.

—-
Please see the post below too.  It’s fresh and it’s football.
—-
Yiddishe Cup plays the Boca Raton (Fla.) JCC Sun. Jan. 23.  3 p.m.

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January 12, 2011   11 Comments

RETURN OF THE MAGGIES

Maggies were linoleum salesmen/hustlers in Cleveland.

Harvey Pekar wrote a comic strip about them several decades ago.  I didn’t hear the word maggies again until last week, when my cousin Danny Seiger, 78, expounded at shabbes dinner on the maggies of Kinsman Road.  At first I had no idea what Danny was talking about. Neither did my wife.  She said, “Magistrates?”  And I said, “Magi?”  (I hadn’t remembered the Pekar comic strip.)

“Magi!” Danny laughed.  “Magi?  That would be Yoshke’s boys!” [Jesus’ boys.]

“The maggies carried thick samples of linoleum that looked like Venetian marble,” Danny said. “They sold nine-by-twelve sheets for fifteen dollars.  Nobody had fifteen dollars back then, so the maggies took five bucks on installment, and came back with a roll of tissue-paper.  They could carry it upstairs real easy.  It weighed three pounds.  The maggies laid the tissue-paper linoleum on your kitchen floor, collected the five bucks, and never came back.”

Danny grew up in his parents’ deli, Seiger’s Restaurant on Kinsman Road, and knew something about conmen, kibitzers, bookies, contractors and maggies.  It was like an Eskimo knowing about snow.   [Kibitzers are meddlesome observers.]

The maggies sold more than linoleum, Danny said.  They sold ties at barbershops, socks at saloons.  Each maggie had a territory and a product line. “One maggie stood by the streetcar stop and ran up to women with nice lemons,” Danny said. “The maggie held up a few lemons and said, ‘Two for a nickel, three for a dime.’ The woman gave him the dime and hopped on the streetcar.”

***

Relevant: Yiddishe Cup plays the Harvey Pekar (urn) Benefit this Saturday night at the Beachland Ballroom, Cleveland. If enough funds are raised, Harvey’s urn goes next to Eliot Ness’ grave at Lake View Cemetery.

I Googled “Maggies” after my cousin Danny left. Maggies, an Irish music group, popped up.  Then I tried “Maggies + Pekar.” I was thinking about Pekar because of the Beachland gig, and something about “Maggies + Pekar” jogged my memory . . .

Michigan State University Libraries,
Comic Art Collection.
“The Maggies: Oral History”/story by Harvey Pekar;
art by R. Crumb. 2 p. in American Splendor, no. 7 (1982).

I phoned Danny Seiger and read the Pekar story to him. I wanted to know if Turk’s deli — where the maggies hung out in Harvey’s comic — was the same place as Seiger’s deli.  Danny said, “Turk’s was at One-hundred Seventeenth. We were at One-hundred Eighteenth.”

I said, “There were two delis right next to each other?  How many delis were there in Cleveland?”

“There were seven on Kinsman, and twenty-eight in Cleveland in the 1930s,” Danny said.

“What about Zulu Goldberg and his brothers — the guys in the comic who sold linoleum in bulk to the maggies?” I asked. “Was Zulu a real person?”

“That’s Goldbergs from Ohio Savings,” Danny said.  “They did business.”

***

Maggies, the word, comes from Magnoleum, a linoleum brand, Danny said.  Pekar’s comic-strip character — an unnamed old man — said maggies got their name from calling female customers Maggie.

Harold Ticktin, 83, a former Kinsman cowboy and street-corner historian, might be able to settle this.

Answer the phone, Harold!

. . . Harold says, “I have no idea what maggies are.  Never heard of it. Now there was this Italian, Tom Black, who sold sweaters at One-hundred Forty-second and Kinsman. You tried the sweaters on in the bathroom at the gas station.  The sweaters looked real good in front but went up your back like a window shade.”

—-
Yiddishe Cup plays 8-9 p.m. this Sat. (Aug. 7) at the Harvey Pekar (urn) Benefit at the Beachland Ballroom, Cleveland.

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August 4, 2010   2 Comments