Real Music & Real Estate . . .

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

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

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

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

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


 
 

Category — Family History, Not Boring

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.

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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.

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Please see the post below too.  It’s fresh and it’s football.
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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.”

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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

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