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 — Family History, Not Boring

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.”

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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

COUSINS CLUB

My cousin Bill is a big fan of Yiddishe Cup.  I’m five years older than him, so whatever I say goes, and I say, “Like my band.”

Bill flew Yiddishe Cup to Atlanta for his son’s bar mitzvah party.  (Note: my cousin Margie brought Yiddishe Cup to Kansas City for her four kids’ simchas.  Margie is also younger than me.)

We cousins usually meet up at simchas and funerals. One time, though, Bill came up to Cleveland on biz, and we weren’t at a simcha or funeral.  What to do?  Where was the smoked fish?

We went out to a Korean restaurant and a cemetery on the West Side.  The restaurant was across the street from where our grandparents were buried.

The cemetery was closed, so we crawled underneath the iron grating and looked around in the near twilight for our grandparents’ graves.

A security guard with a German shepherd approached.

I said to the man, “I know you’re closed, but my cousin came all the way from Georgia.”

The guard asked, “Are you Polish?”

“No, Jewish,” I said.

“That’s the right answer,” he said.  It was like a World War II checkpoint scene.  He let us stay.  (There had been vandalism at various West Side Jewish cemeteries.)

***

A friend, living in Israel, came home to Cleveland to bury his mother.  He had nowhere convenient to sit shiva, so he rented a room at an I-271 hotel.

He hung around that room for a couple days.  Visitors knocked on the door, which was kept ajar, to announce themselves.  Ten Jews in a suite, chanting Hebrew prayers, was mystical and somewhat subversive.

My friend left after three days.  It was no picnic, that hotel, except for the picnic I brought in: $204  of kosher chicken Marsala and sides, from Norman the caterer.  (Norman is not his real name).

Norman, years ago at a gig, had thrown dirty plates all over the kitchen floor at the auto museum.  So many plates, we couldn’t roll our carts over the jumble.  It was like a Greek party center at 4 a.m.

When a wedding client called and asked about Norman, I said, “I wouldn’t use him.” Then she promptly told Norman.

It was just business, Norman! It wasn’t loshn hora (evil gossip).

Norman said the messy gig had been his first off-premises catering job. I hadn’t known that.  I told him I wouldn’t bad-rap him again.

So I dropped $204 on Norman for hot food.  Everything is kosher between us now.  He is a good experienced caterer.

My cousin Margie is coming to Cleveland next week to visit.  Where’s the food?  What to do?  Crawl under a cemetery fence in Parma?

1 of 2 posts for 7/14/10.  Please see the post below too.

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July 14, 2010   6 Comments

STRATTON OF JUDEA

My father, Toby, said he 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 the family.  My mother said no.  The writer persisted, because years prior Toby had found the editor a moonlighting job.  The editor had written the in-house newsletter for the key company where my dad had worked.

No again, my mother said.

Toby wound up in the Cleveland Jewish News. That was OK.  Not too many IRS agents read that.

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. 1941.

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.” J. Alvin Kugelmass.]   Some of the impetus was anti-Semitism and some was 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.  “You’re looking for trouble!  Don’t do it!”

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

“He was my father.”

“I left town in 1941,” the man said, his eyes focused 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 info.

For years a Soltzberg uncle had told me Toby had jumped ship because my mother had wanted to “pass.”

I liked the right-in-my-apartment story better.
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1 of 2 posts for 9/16/09.  Please see post below too.

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September 16, 2009   7 Comments