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 — Kinder, Di

HALIBUT WAS CHEAP THEN

For Clevelanders only, don’t forget to click the City Journal link at the end of this post.

When my mother died, we stored her furniture in the basement of one of my apartment buildings on the West Side. The furniture sat there for five years until my older son, Teddy, took the stuff and went off to law school. The furniture was mildewed but usable.

When I visited Teddy at law school and saw my mom’s furniture again, I had full-color flashbacks. Seeing that yellow kitchen table in play again was mildly disturbing. I had eaten at that table for my first 18 years, and now it was in student-housing in Toledo. It was Formica. It was worth something.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In high school I was laconic at that table. I didn’t talk. My dad didn’t talk much either. My whole family didn’t talk much. We didn’t watch TV at dinner, either. We ate a lot of fish. Halibut was cheap then.

Here’s one I wrote for City Journal about snow. Just came out. “Gettin’ My Snow Belt On.”

super woman

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March 21, 2018   2 Comments

JEOPARDY!

At a Detroit wedding, the bride came down the aisle to Barbra Streisand recordings. She paused several times to read from her childhood diaries. She had 109 journals. She didn’t read from them all. Eight years later, the bride emailed me and asked if I remembered her. Yes, and I remembered the bridal dance, too, and how we were followed by a soul band, and how I announced the bridal party participants by name. One groomsman was Billy Wisse.

I pronounced it correctly, like Billy Weiss. I said to him, “There’s a Ruth Wisse, a Yiddishist and professor at Harvard. I’ve heard the name pronounced before.”

“That’s my mother,” Billy said.

I asked if he was a professor. I knew his uncle, David Roskies, was a prof as well. Billy said he wrote questions for Jeopardy.

“That’s a job?” I said, taking out a pen and jotting down Billy’s email address. My son Teddy –then a college student — would love a job at Jeopardy on graduation. Teddy was on Brandeis’ Quiz Bowl team.

Two years later, Brandeis Quiz Bowl team played in Los Angeles for the national championship, and I handed Billy’s email to Ted. It turned out Ted and his Brandeis teammates met Billy Wisse for breakfast at Canter’s Deli.

Two years after that, 2004, Ted got a call from Sony, which owns Jeopardy. Sony offered Ted a slot on Jeopardy and sent him a contract via FedEx. One paragraph read something like “Do you know anybody from Sony or Jeopardy? If so, you cannot be on the show.” Teddy did not know anybody on Jeopardy. Teddy and Billy Wisse ate breakfast together two years ago.

Alex Trebek, the Jeopardy host, wore a cast on his wrist. I was in the peanut gallery. Trebek told the studio audience he had fallen off a ladder. Billy Wisse stood by a computer at the edge of the Jeopardy set. This was in Culver City, a suburb of Los Angeles.

Ted did particularly well in the category of “Our Lady,” about Catholic shrines. He knew Our Lady of Czestochowa (Poland), Our Lady of Gethsemane (Kentucky) and several others. A Brandeis education! The Final Jeopardy category was Fictional Children, and answer was “This boy, introduced in a 1902 book, flew away from his mother when he was 7 days old.” I felt like I was watching my kid line up a 50-yard field goal at the Ohio State-Michigan game with one second left on the clock. This is the weird part about being a parent — all that collateral joy and pain.

A player, an editor from Boston, answered, “Who is Peter Pan?”

Right. She went up to $10,900.

Teddy said, “Who is Peter Pan?” He went up to $13,399.

The champ, from Tennessee, said, “Who is the Little Prince?” He went down to $7,900.

Alex Trebek said, “The new champion, Ted Stratton, a reporter from Cleveland Heights, Ohio!”

Look it up.

jeopardy

Rerun

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November 22, 2017   3 Comments

CARMA

My son Ted parked his car at the Brookpark Road Rapid Transit lot and flew to Las Vegas. The Rapid Transit lot was cheaper than the nearby airport lot. My son didn’t come back. I thought he was going on a vacation, but he got a job in Las Vegas and stayed for a long while.

My son’s 2007 Ford Focus sat in the Brookpark lot for two months, until my wife, Alice, and I loaded our car with jumper cables and a generator air pump and drove to the RTA lot, which is next to Ford Engine Plant #1 and a couple strip bars. I said to Alice, “Ted’s car is technically in Brook Park, not Cleveland. That’s good. If the car has been towed or stolen, we can deal with Brook Park red tape better than Cleveland red tape.” But the car wasn’t towed or stolen. It was there. The doors were unlocked, and the tires were low, and there was a bottle of bourbon in the backseat.

I drove Ted’s car to the Lusty Wrench in Cleveland Heights. Sam Bell, the mechanic, said, “The car is basically in good shape with 89,000 miles. The battery will not make it, and as you know the side-view mirror is taped on. But the tape actually is not a bad solution. The rear tires are round, black and hold air. The car is serviceable.”
What I want to know, Is Greater Cleveland really this safe? I need more data. Please park your car for two months at a Rapid stop and tell me.

carma RTA lot teddys car

Rerun

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September 13, 2017   2 Comments

YELLOW TABLE

After my mother died, I put her furniture in storage in the basement of one of my apartment buildings on the West Side. The furniture sat there for five years until my son Teddy took the furniture when he went off to law school. The furniture was mildewed, but usable.

When I visited Teddy at law school, I saw my mom’s furniture and got something akin to post-traumatic stress disorder. Seeing her yellow kitchen table again was a punch to the solar plexus. I had eaten at that table for 18 years, and now it was in student-housing in Toledo. It was Formica. It was 1950s.

During high school, I was laconic at that table. How’s school? I ain’t talking. My dad didn’t talk much either. My entire family didn’t talk much. And we didn’t watch TV. We ate a lot of fish. Halibut was very cheap, believe it or not. For breakfast, we ate pink grapefruit.

Toledo 2012

Toledo 2012

A version of this post appeared here 5/9/12.

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August 2, 2017   4 Comments

CARMA

My son Ted parked his car at the Brookpark RTA lot and flew to Las Vegas. The RTA lot was cheaper than the airport lot. My son didn’t come back. I thought he was going on a vacation, but he got a job in Las Vegas and stayed for a while.

My son’s Ford Focus, a 2007, sat in the Brookpark lot for two months, until my wife, Alice, and I loaded our car with jumper cables and a generator air pump and drove to the RTA lot, which is next to Ford Engine Plant #1 and a couple strip bars.

I said to Alice, “Ted’s car is technically in Brook Park, not Cleveland. That’s good. If the car has been towed or stolen, we can deal with Brook Park red tape better than Cleveland red tape.”

But the car wasn’t towed or stolen. It was there. The doors were unlocked, and the tires were low, and there was a bottle of bourbon in the backseat.

The next day I drove Ted’s car to the Lusty Wrench in Cleveland Heights. Sam Bell, the repair-shop owner, said, “The car is basically in good shape, with 89,000 miles.  The battery will not make it, and as you know the side-view mirror is taped on.  But the tape actually is not a bad solution. The rear tires are round, black and hold air.” The car was serviceable, he proclaimed.

What I want to know, Is Greater Cleveland really this safe? I need more data. Please park your car for two months at a Rapid stop and tell me.


This post first appeared at CoolCleveland.com 5/15/13.

—–
SIDE B

Here’s something new . . .

RECALCULATING

You dislike yourself for several very good reasons:

    • You fist-bump too much. That is so childish. Shake hands!
    • You have tiny cracks in your fingers that irritate others. Try fist-bumping.
    • You are not 25, so act your age.
    • Your sexuality is questionable.
    • Cut back on the Facebook postings. Three a day is
      too many.
    • Don’t be so jittery.
    • Move to a log cabin. Or else go to an airport lounge with your laptop and iPhone, and live there for a week.
    • Doodle more.
    • Recalculating . . . ignore this.

doodle

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May 13, 2015   3 Comments

MY SON AND THE IRS

 

My younger son, Jack, got a certified letter from the IRS with a hand-written Post-it note on it.  What did the gobierno want?  The government usually sends unsigned computer-generated letters.   Maybe Jack the Drummer Boy owed another $15 from his Michigan Wolverines basketball band income.  (Jack was in college at the time.)

Why didn’t the IRS pick on me, instead? I wanted to be audited. I haven’t been audited since 1982. Thirty-three years of saving bills and income/expense statements and checks — and nobody wants to see it.  Yes, I throw the stuff out periodically, but I replenish.

irs and jackJack told the IRS he made money as a camp counselor and playing gigs.  He said his dad paid for college.  Jack later told me, “The auditor was impressed you were footing the out-of-state tuition.”

Thank you.  No penalty.  (Jack got a $68 credit.)

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March 18, 2015   6 Comments

SLURPING THROUGH
THE UPPER MIDWEST

My son Ted was interested in ice cream.  One summer he worked the night shift at Pierre’s, loading ice cream onto trucks.  One summer he worked at East Coast Custard on Mayfield Road, making shakes.

He owned a shake mixer and concocted date shakes at home, using date crystals from California.  He had a following (his mother).

After his junior year of high school, Ted and I drove through the Upper Midwest, hitting A&Ws and assorted other chazerai shops, while looking at colleges .  (He wound up at Brandeis. Oops.)

We rode the amphibious Ducks in The Dells, Wisconsin, and saw The House on the Rock, which Teddy described as an “affront to Frank Lloyd Wright.”  Ted was good with words, even back in high school.

We visited the mustard museum in Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin.  Then we hit the A&W, where Ted asked for a “mama burger, papa burger and a rooty tooty.”  He knew that terminology from a junk-food guide.

That trip to the Upper Midwest was one of my favorites — l0oking for A&Ws and colleges with my son.

Root beer!  (I’m still good for a Diet Hank’s or Diet IBC at Tommy’s in Cleveland.)


“Root beer,” to rhyme with “put beer.”  That’s how we say it here.

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April 9, 2014   9 Comments

{TODAY I AM A MAN} X 2

My son Jack played his first professional gig with Yiddishe Cup at age 8, when I gave him five dollars to play “Wipe Out.” We were at a temple Chanukah party.  Before that gig, he had done pro bono work, sitting in frequently with the band and stealing the show. The senior citizens loved him.

Jack, age 4, 1992, Beachwood library, tambourines and drumsticks.

Years later, Shirley Guralnik, a fan of the band, would ask me, “How’s the little one?” And I would answer, “The little one is in college now and bigger than me.” Shirley died in 2011. She had followed  Jack’s career from the beginning.

Jack never got nervous.  A case of nerves was hard to develop if, like Groucho Marx, your stage-mom (or dad, in this case) put you on stage practically in diapers.

I told Jack I would pay him $75 — real money — for a real gig after his bar mitzvah.  He would be Yiddishe Cup’s drummer for some gigs. He wouldn’t just sit in.

He did great.

Jack got uptight only once.  It was at his own bar mitzvah — not the music, reading Torah.  The rabbi asked him, “How nervous are you on a scale of 1 to 10.”

“Eight.”

“That’s not bad,” the rabbi said.

Jack said, “I’ve never been an 8 before!”

***

Jack, 13, 2000, at his first "real money" gig

Jack’s $75 gig was at the Barrington Golf Club in Aurora, Ohio.  A country club staffer asked if she should light the Christmas tree for the bar mitzvah luncheon.  I said,  “Not a good idea.”

On the way home, we stopped by my dad’s grave on Aurora Road.   I told Jack to place an old clarinet reed on the grave marker.

My point? 1) I didn’t have any old drumsticks. 2) I was at my father’s grave with my youngest kid, who I had just paid to work, just like my father had paid me (to paint walls, argh). The cracked reed fit into the Jewish star on the grave marker.

My son got the $75.


Jack’s band, Vulfpeck, 2013. Jack on keys.

(Today I am a man)  X 2  =  Age 26, 2013

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October 9, 2013   2 Comments

SHOES — MY DAD’S

I. PURCELLS  

My father, Toby, had about 15 pairs of shoes when he died.  I didn’t take any of his shoes, even though he and I wore the same size. He had a foot fungus, and my mother told me to pass.

My dad had wingtips, golf shoes and tennis shoes. I never saw him in sandals, work boots or hiking boots.  White shoes, definitely.

I’m more sensible about shoes — a habit picked up from my mom.  I like SAS shoes, which my mother told me about. She needed solid shoes when she got Parkinson’s disease.  “SAS” stands for San Antonio Shoes.

When my then-20-year-old, fashionable daughter studied abroad in Barcelona, she said I couldn’t visit her if I wore tennis shoes or a fanny pack.  My SAS shoes were an excellent substitute for tennis shoes in Europe.

I never did figure out a good way around the “no fanny pack” rule.

My dad wore Purcells abroad.  He didn’t let his children tell him what to wear.

II. PURCELLS AGAIN

My grandfather was hit by a May Co. truck in 1924. The doctors put a metal plate in his head.  After that, he just hung around the pool hall on Kinsman Road.

Years later, my great aunt told me, “If they had given out prize money for playing pool, like they do now, Louie would have been a millionaire.”

Louis “Louie” Soltzberg — my father’s dad.

My dad, Toby, didn’t play pool. He played ping pong. My dad wasn’t a pool hall–type guy.  My dad once entered a ping-pong tournament at Danny Vegh’s club and got creamed by a Hungarian.  After that, my father played only in our basement with friends.

My father was pretty good at several sports. For one thing, he was a fast runner. He took me to the Arena for the annual Knights of Columbus track meet. I looked for “Ohio State” and “Michigan” jerseys and came up with “Seton Hall,” “Holy Cross” and “Villanova.”  Were those real colleges?

My dad and I often played tennis together.  No pool.

My dad would hit balls with me after work.  He would say, “Racquet back. Hit it now.  Racquet back, hit it now.” He was a color man with no color.  He wore Bermuda shorts and Jack Purcells, and often no shirt.   That was appropriate attire for tennis in the 1960s, at least at the public courts in South Euclid, Ohio.

I didn’t appreciate the tennis instruction from my dad. I moped on the court. I should have hustled.

There were no other dads out there.

I should have hustled more.

Part I (above ) is also a Klezmer Guy movie, originally posted July 11, 2011.

Here’s a new Jack Stratton vid . . .

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May 1, 2013   No Comments

IN JEOPARDY

At a Detroit wedding, the bride came down the aisle to Barbra Streisand recordings.  She paused several times to read from her childhood diaries. She had 109 journals.  (She read only from a handful.)

Eight years later, the bride emailed me and asked if I remembered her.

Yes.  And I remembered the bridal dance we had played, and how we opened for a soul band (a good band), and how I announced the bridal party individually; one groomsman was Billy Wisse.

I had said Billy Weiss.   He thanked me.  I explained to him, “There’s a Ruth Wisse, a Yiddishist and professor at Harvard.  I’ve heard the name pronounced before.”

“That’s my mother,” Billy said.

“No! Where do you teach?” I said.  The Wisse family is scholarly; David Roskies, Ruth Wisse’s brother, is a professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary.

Billy said, “I write questions for Jeopardy.”

“That’s a job?” I said, pulling out a pen and jotting down Billy’s email address. My son Teddy — a college student then — would love a job at Jeopardy upon graduation. Teddy was on Brandeis’ Quiz Bowl team. (Quiz Bowl is Jeopardy minus the money.)

Two years later, Brandeis played in Los Angeles for the national championship. Teddy was on the Brandeis team. I gave Billy’s email to Ted.

Ted and his Brandeis teammates met with Billy Wisse for breakfast at Canter’s Deli.

Two years after that (2004), Ted got a business call at our house.  He had recently graduated college. He wouldn’t pick up the phone. I yelled, “Pick up the phone, Teddy!  It’s for you.”

Sony was on the line.

Sony owns Jeopardy. Sony offered Ted a slot on Jeopardy as a contestant. Sony sent a contract via FedEx. One paragraph read (paraphrased): “Do you know anybody from Sony or Jeopardy? If so, you can not be on the show.”

Teddy did not know Billy Wisse!  Teddy and Billy Wisse ate breakfast two years prior for one-half hour.  Also, there had been other Brandeis players at that breakfast.

At Sony Studios in Culver City, California, Billy Wisse stood by a computer at the edge of the Jeopardy set. Alex Trebek, the show’s host, wore a cast on his wrist. He had fallen off a ladder, he told the studio audience.  He had been cleaning his gutters.  Sounded odd to me. (I was in the peanut gallery.) A Hollywood guy cleans his own gutters?  Maybe. There are low gutters in California.

Alex Trebek and Ted Stratton, 2004. (Show aired in 2005)

Jeopardy tapes five shows a day. The show’s contestants for that day sat in rows isolated from the studio audience.  Whenever an on-deck contestant went to the bathroom, he or she was escorted by a guard from Standards and Practices, which monitored cheating.

The first game was between an Idaho man, a Washington state woman, and the defending champ, “a schoolteacher from Lancaster, Ohio.”

The Jeopardy stagehand said, “Lights, camera.”  But no “action.”  Wisse and other Jeopardy employees huddled at the side of the set.  They looked at computers and talked to each other.  This went on for about a half hour.

Wisse, you do not know my son.  Have rachmones (pity), Wisse.  You see 11 Jeopardy contestants per day; they’re mostly all young white guys who look alike.  You do not know Teddy!

The Jeopardy people couldn’t locate the appropriate random packet of questions for the first game.  That was the hold-up. Everything had to be kosher — up to Standards and Practices.

Teddy didn’t play that morning.

Lunch break was at Quizno’s for the peanut gallery. (The contestants ate in the Sony cafeteria.)  At Quizno’s, the girl friend of one contestant said, “I don’t care if Jonathan wins or loses.  I don’t love him for his game playing.”

Shut up.  I was so nervous I couldn’t eat.

Teddy didn’t play the game after lunch either.  I asked an usher, “What if my son doesn’t play today?”

She shrugged.

Teddy made it onto the final game of the day.  He faced a Boston book editor — the defending champ — and “a graduate student originally from Johnson City, Tennessee.”  That was Jeopardy-speak for “a graduate student now living in Cambridge, Massachusetts, doing a post-doc at MIT.”

Ted did well in the Double Jeopardy category “Our Lady,” about Catholic shrines. The “Our Lady” questions covered Our Lady of Czestochowa (Poland), Our Lady of Gethsemane (Kentucky) and several others.  This is what my son learned at Brandeis.

Heading into Final Jeopardy, the Tennessee grad student was in first place.  Ted was in second, and the defending champ, Boston book editor, was in third.

The Final Jeopardy category was Fictional Children. The answer was: “This boy, introduced in a 1902 book, flew away from his mother when he was 7 days old.”

I felt like I was watching my kid line up a 50-yard field goal at the Ohio State-Michigan game with one second left on the clock.  That is the weird part about being a parent — all that collateral joy and pain. Merv Griffin’s Jeopardy think-music ended.

The Boston editor, in third place, answered, “Who is Peter Pan?”

Right-o.  She went up to $10,900.

Teddy said, “Who is Peter Pan?” Right. He went up to $13,399.

The graduate student from Tennessee said, “Who is the Little Prince?” He went down to $7,900.

Alex Trebek announced, “The new champion, Ted Stratton, a reporter from Cleveland Heights, Ohio!”


Footnote:  For $500, “Who is Billy Wisse?”  Answer: a mentsh.

For a blow-by-blow of the game, see Robert KS’ J! Archive.


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January 23, 2013   No Comments

THE BIG THRILL

I went to the White House for a Christmas party.  Did you?

My daughter, Lucy, works for a Chicago event-planning company, and she helped decorate the White House for Christmas.  She got me in.

Lucy and I arrived fashionably late, because my daughter has been to the White House before, and she didn’t want to wait in the long line.  We were the last guests — numbers 485 and 486.

I was denied entrance. What?

I sat on a folding chair in a heated tool shed–like room in the White House backyard. My birth date was listed incorrectly on the White House checklist. I thought I might miss the party.

But the guard, constantly checking her smartphone for updates, finally said, “You’re good. Tell the next security booth, you’re a re-clear.”

I was a re-clear at the next security stop — a dog-sniffing station.

A Marine Band jazz quintet played in the main entrance of the White House. Michelle Obama was there. Lincoln’s portrait was up in the State Dining Room.  There were 54 live Christmas trees, according to the Washington Post.  Plus some fake trees — classy fake trees, like out of glass.

I told the Marine Band’s bass player to tell his boss to bring in Yiddishe Cup for the Chanukah party next year.

I did not see Bo the dog.  I did not sleep in the Lincoln bedroom. I did not see any celebs. The food — at grazing stations — was very good.  Spielberg, dressed like Lincoln, was at the White House a couple nights before, to screen Lincoln with the president.  That was the word at the party.  There was a 300-pound gingerbread replica of White House.

This event was a thrill for me — a once in a lifetime experience. No, wait, I’ve got to talk to my rabbi; he once lit the White House Chanukah menorah.  Maybe he’ll know how to get Yiddishe Cup in.

My rabbi called.  He said,  “Somebody from the synagogue got me in. Or a group of people.  No one person from the synagogue took sole credit.  Maybe the White House wanted somebody from Cleveland.”

The Jews of Cuyahoga County.  Work with them.

Lucy Stratton, Bert Stratton, and Claus.
White House, 2012

SIDE B

KLEZKAMP 2012

This year’s KlezKamp theme is anti-NY.

No rush-rush.

The KlezKamp swimming pool has piped-in klezmer music. Don’t do the crawl; your wildly flapping arms will drown out the underwater speakers. (Kapelye’s classic, “Chicken,” is looped.)

New this year: a pretzel bar . . . Rold Gold, Dan Dee, Snyder’s of Berlin, Snyder’s of Hanover. (Trucked in from Cleveland.  Heymish.)

There is a spiritual gathering every morning in the exercise room. Universal love machines. Yarmulkes optional.

You can touch your musical instrument but can’t play it.  Oil keys, apply grease to cork joints, rub valve oil. And calm down.

Dress code?  Only if you insist.  Try the all-cotton plush bathrobes with the KlezKamp logo ($179).  Notice how young klezmer musicians  wear KK bathrobes on stage?

At KlezKamp, director Henry Sapoznik repeats the same spiel every hour, so you don’t miss anything if you skip a lecture. His topic this year: “New York Sucks. I Moved to Wisconsin.”

Also, this year pianist Pete Sokolow blots out — pours Manischewitz on — his classic how-to book, 100 Jewish Music Insults That Really Work.

Before this book disappears forever, here are, for the record, Sokolow’s five favorite putdowns:

1.  What’s your phone number? Junior congregation needs a clarinetist.
2.  You’re slicker than butter on matzo, but there’s no salt.
3.  Tighten your neck strap.  Tighter.
4.  You couldn’t find D freygish with a GPS.
5.  I make desk lamps. Let me see your clarinet.

—-
This is KlezFiction.  KlezKamp is real.  It happens next week.

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December 19, 2012   7 Comments

I’M TWICE AS OLD AS YOU

I liked to provoke my mother-in-law.  She would say, “They’re wearing their hair high in the 1940s look.” And I would say, “Who’s they?”  Or she would say, “I don’t have any shoes to wear tonight to the party.” And I would say, “You going barefoot?”

I shouldn’t have been such a smart aleck. I hung around Harvey Pekar, who was inspirational — very bitter. “I’m hateful,” he said.  “I’d like to have a cool way to slip my George Ade article to Lark [Pekar’s second ex-wife, an academic]. She’s small-minded.  Who wants to dig through Ade’s school grades?  So what.  I want to do something more creative.”

This was in 1981.

Now I’m twice as old as my son Ted. Exactly twice as old. He’s 31.  ekar was at Teddy’s bris.  Pekar considered writing a comic about the mohel raising his hands like a prize fighter and saying, “Golden hands!”

Ted has been a newspaper reporter and taught English in Korea. He has a law degree. He was on Jeopardy. He has worked temporary crap jobs, too.  He has done a lot, but he’s still only half my age!

Here’s what I’ve learned in the past 31 years:

1. Guard against bitterness
2. Make your job interesting
3. Do something beneficial for others
4. Zekhor  (Remember)
5. Get married and have kids
6. “Don’t just view it, do it”  (Shari Lewis)
7. Old people are dumb! (joke)
8. Don’t judge people by bumper stickers, neighborhoods, or their tastes in music.

I hope to list 10 items by the end of the decade.  (Make it to the end of the decade, then worry about the list, dude.)

***

When my youngest child, Jack, moved to California last year, I held a mini-shiva; I walked through the music room in the basement and threw out old mic cables, cassette tapes and tons of drumsticks.

Eli “Paperboy” Reed (L) and Jack Stratton down the basement, 2011

Jack took his drums and an electric bass out west.  I called him when he was driving through Nebraska, and said, “Did you open the letter I wrote you?”

“Yeah,” he said, “my friends thought it was funny that on the envelope you wrote, ‘Don’t open till Nebraska.’ They thought it contained hallucinogenics.”

I’m anti-drugs!  I was dispensing wisdom-in-a-can (in an envelope) to my youngest child. If  he could combine my old guy’s experience with his 24-year-old’s enthusiasm and creativity, he would do fine. [Story about the letter is here.]

I filled up four contractors garbage bags in the basement.

I hauled the stuff to the tree lawn on garbage day.  An hour later, three bags were gone, but the fourth remained. A junk man had picked up three bags.  And I had put some paperwork in those bags, as well as Jack’s garbage.

Mac — the  junk guy  — pulled up the next week in a pickup truck. He said he liked my trash, particularly the ersatz medieval knight’s helmet from my son’s high school days.

I said, “What about the paperwork?”

He said he had pitched that. Good. I didn’t want my identity stolen that day. He handed me his card.

Age 24 is when you have the least amount of possessions. Now Jack has even less –- four bags less.

And Mac has some good stuff, like the helmet.


Yiddishe Cup is at the College of Wooster (Ohio) 9:30 p.m. Sat. (Nov. 17).  More info here.

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November 14, 2012   5 Comments

COOL CLEVELAND

My daughter, Lucy, is a corporate event planner in Chicago.  She has done work for the president, Oprah, McDonald’s, Coke and Target.  She has worked gigs from Turkey to Australia.  Maybe I’m not allowed to say all this.  (I’ll clear it with her.)  She said to me, “We’re doing something [in Chicago] for Topshop.  Do you know what that is, Dad?   It’s a women’s fashion store from London.  They want to bring in their own fashion-show coordinators from New York.  They don’t trust Chicago.”

Lucy Stratton in Chi, Dec. 2007

Chicago is fourth — behind New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco — in American coolness, Lucy said.  “They think we’re hicks.”

What do Londoners think of Cleveland?  Do they think it’s in northern England?  I think Cleveland is in northern England.  [Yes, it’s a county near Scotland.]

Cleveland, Tennessee.  Magic Chef makes stoves there.

Boston.  That was a cool town once.  In the early 1970s,  young people headed to Boston.  The town was popular because, for one thing, it had James Taylor . . .  “[The turnpike was covered] from Stockbridge to Boston.”  The Ohio Turnpike was covered from Youngstown to Toledo, but nobody noticed that.

New York wasn’t that popular in the 1970s.  Chicago wasn’t either.

These days Chicago attracts young people from all over Big Ten country.  Whenever I meet baby-boomers in Cleveland, I assume their kids are in Chicago unless told otherwise.

I like Pittsburgh.

“Keep Austin weird.”  That’s so lame.

I would like at least one of my three adult children to move back to Cleveland.  But I’m not twisting my kids’ arms.  Cleveland ain’t happening, at least not like the Big Four (Chi, LA, SF and NY).

The Big Four gets old when you get old, kids.

Which city is number five?  Minnie?  Seattle?  DC?  Cleveland?

Cleveland.  (I just polled myself.)


SIDE B

JEWS, GOD AND BAKERY

My challah purveyor is On the Rise Bakery in Cleveland Heights.  I know the owner and some of the help.

I went there to put up a poster for a klezmer concert:

The cashier said, “We don’t do religious events.”

What?

I stammered, “It’s not religious. It’s the Workmen’s Circle. It’s secular. It’s bluegrass and klezmer.”

I wonder if the owner is against religion. I’ll have to ask him. I don’t think he is. He’s Jewish. I get along with him. The cashier said, “I’ll have to run it by the owner.”

I went back a week later, and the poster was up.

What if the poster hadn’t been up? I would have had to move my challah biz to another bakery — one with  “religious” flyers.

Thank God, the poster was up, because I really like On the Rise.

For tix to the Klezmer Mountain Boys concert, click here. The concert is 7 p.m. Sunday, Mandel JCC, Cleveland.

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June 20, 2012   8 Comments

BUY ONE DOG, GET ONE FREE

 

One dog isn’t enough.  When I walk around Horseshoe Lake by my house, I see a lot of people with two dogs.

On my last walk, I saw five people with two dogs, and one schnook with a schnauzer.

My family was a one-dog family for 13 years.  This was before the two-dogs-are-mandatory rule in the Heights.  My family’s dog, Sammy, was a meshugenner who liked to play in traffic and bark a lot.

Sammy

I Hate Barking Dogs was my bumper sticker, so I had a problem.  The barking dog was my dog; I couldn’t call the cops.

The other day I called my cousin Howard in Colorado; he told me he had been up since 5 a.m. because of barking dogs.

My wife, Alice, is bugged by our neighbors’ barking dogs.

We have new neighbors on the other side.  The day they moved in, I said, “Give me the bad news.  How many dogs do you have?”

The neighbor said, “None.  My daughters are allergic to dogs.”  I couldn’t believe it.   Even if he turns his house into a crack den, I’m ahead.

Years ago –- when I lived on Oak Road — I approached a neighbor and said, “Your dog is barking.”

The woman stared at me, at her dog (who was yapping 24/7 on a chain in her backyard) and said, “No, he isn’t.”

She didn’t “hear” the dog barking, and she certainly didn’t hear me.

Our dog, Sammy, was a standard poodle.  Supposedly poodles are smart and non-allergenic.  Doubtful on both counts.

My kids in particular loved Sammy, who died exactly when the youngest kid went off to college.

I knew the pediatrician John Kennell.  He should have had two dogs.  Him.  Nobody else.

This clip is “Critters” . . .

Yiddishe Cup plays tonight (Wed. 4/25) at Fairmount Temple, 6:40 p.m., Beachwood, Ohio.   Free. The community-wide Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration.

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April 25, 2012   4 Comments

A WINDOW ON GLASSES

Ken Goldberg, a friend, came over for shabbes dinner and brought not only dessert, but an eyewear catalog.

The catalog was from Ben Silver, a store in Charleston, South Carolina . . . “Tasteful and refined eyewear for men and women.”

Ken said his favorite Cleveland eyeglass shop is Park Opticians, the fashionable and expensive store near my house.

I ran into Susannah Heschel — the daughter of  Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel — at a wedding; she said she was going to Park Opticians the next day.  Susannah has many frames.  She lives in New Hampshire.  She is a scholar at an Ivy League school.  She shops at Park Opticians.

Susannah Heschel

My frames adjuster at Park Opticians is Mickey.  Keep your hands off my glasses if you’re not Mickey!

My daughter, Lucy, bumped into my glasses when I gave her a horsy-back ride.  (Lucy was 4 at the time.)  My glasses wouldn’t fit right after that.  I went to the headache center at the Cleveland Clinic.  Either my eyeglass frames were askew, or I was.

B. Stratton, 1973

I like clear frames, aka “crystal.”  I’ve been a crystal wearer for years.  My younger son, Jack, jacked a pair of my crystals.  What’s with that, son?  (I have extra crystals lying around the house.)

I usually unveil a new pair of crystals after visiting Les Rosenberg, an optometrist who works out of a box, 20/20 Eyewear, on the West Side.

Les doesn’t care that I don’t buy his frames.  Les makes a living, with or without my purchases.  Les is simply happy to see a fellow yidl and old high school buddy.

Jack Stratton w/ child (seltzer machine) and crystals, 2011

Les didn’t hang out with  the smart guys in high school.  Les was a goof-off.  But a smart goof-off.  Les dated, did little homework, and went to Ohio State and partied.  He eventually studied, I guess.  He is a doctor.

At 20/20 Eyewear, Les gives me the latest info on the popular “kids” from high school, and I give him the latest on aging eggheads like Marvin and Howard.  Les says, “I was as smart as those guys!”

Yes, you were, Les.  And you were a goof-off.

Les is not a goof-off  now.  He’s a skilled professional, and bonus, he’s empathetic.  He does not criticize my crystals or my supplier, Park Opticians.

Life with tortoiseshells is not an option.  Les knows that.  Goldberg, my shabbes guest, knows that too.

I once had ultra-light rimless frames.  The frames were so flimsy they fell off  my head whenever I put on a pullover sweater.  Ski caps, another big problem.  The ultra-lights were Swiss; you’d think they’d be good.

One word:

Crystals.

***

Lucy Stratton at the White House, 2011.  Her eyeglasses are partially wood.  (The White House hired a Jew to decorate the Christmas tree.  I hope she put a Jewish star on top.)

—-

SIDE B

’Tis the season to be . . .

PASSED OVER

Giant Eagle asked me to play at its pre-Passover shopping extravaganza last Sunday.  Giant Eagle, headquartered in Pittsburgh, called me in Cleveland and said they needed two musicians at Legacy Village, the “lifestyle” shopping center in suburban Cleveland.

I’m anti-“lifestyle” centers.  And I don’t like the phrase “playing in the aisles.” The Giant Eagle booking agent said, “We can pay X dollars for this.”

I said, “X + 50 percent.”

She said she’d get back to me.  She didn’t.

She hired my competitors.  Actually, two musician friends of mine.

The Sunday morning of my non-gig, I said to my wife, “I could be at Giant Eagle right now playing.”  She was impressed.  She likes Giant Eagle.  (I’m more a Heinen’s supermarket guy.)

I ran into Irwin Weinberger from my band, Yiddishe Cup.  I said, “Right now we could be playing Giant Eagle.”

He shrugged and said, “We don’t have anything to prove at this point in our careers.  Now if you said you just priced us out of a gig in Fuerth, Germany, that’s a different story. But not Giant Eagle.”

The musicians with the grocery-store gig worked Facebook hard that morning.  They elicited 10 comments about how cool it must be to play a grocery.

Ten Comments on Facebook is commanding.  Why had I quoted such a high price to that Pittsburgh agent?

And I probably could have gotten a free box of matzo, too.

Later, I read the eleventh-or-so Facebook commandment.  It was from a Giant Eagle musician: “Sure wish the agent who hired us could have notified Giant Eagle that we were playing.  Sorry to all those who made it out to see us.  We are very disappointed.”

What?   Did they make you guys play over the Muzak?  Did people throw Tam-Tams at you?  Did a kid spill grape juice on your violin?

I suddenly felt pretty good about the gig.

Happy Passover.

The next day, my first question to the musician was “Are you getting paid?”

“Yes, we are getting paid in full,” he said. “The store manager, who wasn’t the main manager, didn’t know we were scheduled.  The main manager wasn’t there.  So we went home.”

The check is coming by giant eagle from Pittsburgh.

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April 4, 2012   11 Comments

SHREDDING IT

Cleveland is in the middle of the cereal belt.  Shredded Wheat of Niagara Falls, New York, is to the east, and to the west is Kellogg’s of Battle Creek, Michigan.

Shredded Wheat moved from Niagara Falls years ago, but the cereal belt remains.  Cleveland is the buckle.

Clevelander Marty Gitlin just published a cereal encyclopedia, The Great American Cereal Book  (Abrams Images), featuring “hundreds of images of vintage cereal boxes and spokes-characters — Tony the Tiger, Snap, Crackle, Pop, and Lucky the Leprechaun.”

Test-marketed in Cleveland

I had a prospective store tenant who wanted to open a cereal store.  He opened down the street and went under almost immediately.  He was Cereal Central, aka Cerealicious.   Nobody in Cleveland wanted to eat cereal in a store.  (He also had a store in Columbus near Ohio State.  Apparently,  OSU students were willing to eat cereal in a restaurant.)

Most people like to eat cereal alone and not talk about it.  That’s my guess.

In my temple bulletin, no bar mitzvah kid’s profile reads: “Jacob is interested in cereal.”  More often it’s “Morgan enjoys  Sudoku and chatting online, and is a member of the recycling club.”

What is Morgan’s cereal?

Marty Gitlin and I want to know.

***

Musicians — at least one — eat cereal at home after late-night gigs.  Musicians can’t fall asleep after gigs.  Musicians’ heads are filled with fruit loops of “Simon Tov” and “Hava Nagilah.”  (Klezmer musicians’ heads, that is.)

Shredded wheat choices at 1 a.m.: Barbara’s shredded wheat or Quaker shredded wheat.  (Shredded wheat is not trademarkable.)  I mix Barbara’s with Autumn Harvest (Kashi).

—-
I wrote an “advice column” for the Ann Arbor Observer (February 2012).  Check it out: “Hit the Road, Jack . . . A dad’s advice.”   

Click here to hear what junior (Jack) is up to today:  “Louder Naftule.”  The latest in klezmer.

Drummer Jack Stratton, backed by clarinetists Merlin Shepherd and Lucy Stratton. KlezKamp, 1993. (Photo by Al Winn)

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February 8, 2012   10 Comments

THE OPTIMAL LEVEL OF JEWISHNESS

If I didn’t lead a klezmer band, I might not hire one.  Yiddishe Cup might be too Jewish for me.

“Too Jewish” means anything — or anybody — more Jewish than oneself.  Example: Franz Rosenzweig, a German Jewish intellectual, said nothing Jewish — no matter how far out — was alien to him.  I tried Franz’s approach: I davened (prayed) with the yeshiva buchers in Boro Park, Brooklyn; drank schnapps at Telshe Yeshiva, Cleveland; and soaked in the mikvah (ritual bath) in Cleveland Heights.  Also, I read Rabbi Sherman Wine’s God-is-dead books.  I covered a lot of humentashn (bases).

Would I hire a klezmer band?

Yes.

I did.  I hired Yiddishe Cup three times — for my kids’ b’nai mitzvot parties.  (And I got a decent price.)

1. For my daughter’s bat mitzvah party, I also hired a troupe of hospital-therapy dogs for the cocktail hour.

2. For my younger son, we had a DJ party, plus the klez band party.  My son organized the DJ party.  He hired the DJ — himself.

3. My older son had a trivia quiz, plus the klezmer band. That worked out well.  He wound up on Jeopardy!

Yiddishe Cup plays, at minimum, 15 minutes of Jewish music, and we use a dance leader, so everybody knows what to do.

Naturally, the goys like us best.  Jews have hang-ups.

I know about Jews and hang-ups.  I have belonged to more shuls than the Pope.  I was Reform, then Conservative, then Reform, and now Conservative again.

My friends and relatives don’t always hire Yiddishe Cup.  But I go to their parties and have a good time.  The weddings are enjoyable; the bar mitzvahs are sometimes difficult.  The DJ and his “dance facilitators” can be loud and obnoxious.  The DJ announces, “The young adults will gather on the dance floor for a group photo.”

Get in the picture yourself, DJ.  You look 18.   And the “young adults” are not young adults, they’re animals.  Stow the glow sticks.  Bring out the cattle prods.

The optimal level of Jewishness is Yiddishe Cup with therapy dogs.

Yiddishe Cup plays  The Ark 8 p.m. Sat (Feb.4), Ann Arbor, Mich.   Here is an unrepresentative video from last year’s  show:

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February 1, 2012   11 Comments

BEST SHOW IN VEGAS


I was back from Las Vegas, attending a Shaker Heights brunch.  Several people asked, “Did you play?”

Did Yiddishe Cup play Vegas?

I wish Yiddishe Cup had played Vegas.

I had been in Las Vegas on vacation with my wife, Alice, and older son, Teddy.   I had played blackjack.

Monaco Motel, Vegas, 1962.  Stayed there w/ my parents and sister.  Caught Red Skelton's show at the Sands.

Monaco Motel. The Strattons stayed here in '62. Caught Red Skelton at the Sands nearby.

That was my second trip to Vegas. My first trip was in 1962, when a Vegas waitress predicted I (then-12 years old) would return to Nevada for my honeymoon.  That waitress was very wrong.

I prefer outdoorsy vacations.

On my latest trip I won $7.50 at blackjack at the Jokers Wild, then quit.  I could hardly breathe in the Jokers Wild –- or in any other Nevada casino — because of the cigarette smoke.  I hung around the casino parking lot, waiting for Teddy and Alice to finish up.

My favorite Las Vegas attraction is the Red Rock Canyon, which is similar to Zion National Park, but only 17 miles from Vegas.

The Red Rock performs daily in an original revue that is F’n Crazy!   Be a Part of  It!  Best Show in Vegas for the Past 900 Years!

***

Scouting locations for a Las Vegas School of Klezmer

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December 28, 2011   5 Comments

WHITE ELEGANT

At Yiddishe Cup gigs, I sometimes send photos to my daughter, Lucy.  Like of centerpieces or lighting.  I get the photos from my bandmates — some of whom are camera happy.

Lucy is an event planner in Chicago.

I was at a gig in Hunting Valley, Ohio, where the backyard tent was draped with strings of tiny candles.  I thought that was noteworthy.

I sent  this:

My daughter answered “pretty.”  One word.  Was that like “whatever”?

How about the white vinyl dance floor?  Workers were on their knees scrubbing that white dance floor.  My daughter wasn’t too impressed with that either:

Lucy knows about white flooring.  In Los Angeles she covered a parking deck with white carpet.   She bought 400 shoe-booties at Home Depot for workers, so they wouldn’t dirty the carpet before the guests arrived.

I didn’t get any photos of the horses at the Hunting Valley wedding.  The horses — in a stable by the party tent — went berserk during the upbeat recessional.  The horses, however, liked the stately and lyrical  “Erev Shel Shoshanim” (Evening of the Roses) — the processional.

Lucy used to ride horses.  Why didn’t anybody in the band get a pic of the horses?   Lucy would have been impressed with horses, I think.

These are the gigs Lucy works:

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November 9, 2011   4 Comments

SHUL WITH A POOL

The “shul with a pool” movement peaked in the 1920s.  Major synagogues in large Eastern and Midwest cities sometimes built sanctuaries with pools attached.   My shul — at its previous location (East105th Street, Cleveland) — had an indoor pool.  It’s still there, the pool and the shul (now Cory United Methodist Church).

The church has famous Jews’ names carved into the frieze. Hillel, Maimonides, Rashi . . .

105th-st-synagogue

Jews and swimming. It’s in the Talmud somewhere: A Jew must learn to swim.

I started my serious swimming — my lap swimming– at the Mayfield JCC in 1995.  I thought I was going to jail; that dingy pool had no natural light.  Russian women in bathing caps and Russian guys in Black Sea briefs bumped into me in the lap lane.

For serenity, I tried the newer JCC in Beachwood.  But that didn’t solve my problem. A doctor/lap swimmer there thought he was playing water polo.  He would bump and splash me.  I liked the guy but not in the water.

***

My favorite indoor lap pool is at the Intercontinental Hotel in Chicago.  I’ve only been there once, but I’d like to go back.  My daughter, Lucy, a renowned globe-trotting event planner, lined up the Intercontinental-with-pool for me.

Johnny Weissmuller trained at the Chicago Intercontinental (formerly a Shriners’ athletic club and hotel).  It’s an historic landmark.johnny-weismuller-best-at-intercontinental-hotel-pool

The most beautiful part of the Chi pool: three signs that read laps only.  The pool’s fourth lane has an open swim sign. Usually it’s the other way around: Three lap lanes for horsing around and one for swimmers.

I politely asked a young dad and his bobbing kid to leave my lap lane.  They did.  Then other bobbing dorks encroached.  Couldn’t these kids read laps only? There was no lifeguard.  I muttered, “What a disaster.”

The young dad, overhearing me, said, “The sun is out! You’re alive!  Sorry if we’re ruining your swimming.”

The dad did not understand lap swimming.  He did not realize lap swimming is a quasi-religious experience.  Lap swimming is a combination of mediating, praying, thinking and just zoning out.  A lap swimmer needs a shul in a pool.

The New York Times ran an op-ed piece by me on Sunday. Click here to read it.  The article was about love, junk food and Jewish tongue.

Why didn’t the Times use this Ralph Solonitz illustration?

jewish-tongue5031

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May 11, 2011   11 Comments