Category — Kinder, Di
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.”
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.
Here’s something new . . .
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
- 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.
May 13, 2015 3 Comments
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.
Thank you. No penalty. (Jack got a $68 credit.)
March 18, 2015 6 Comments
Whenever I get a new T-shirt, I throw out an old one. That’s my T-shirt inventory control method — a system I stole from my friend Carl.
My 26-year-old son, Jack, takes my old T-shirts, which make excellent hipster wear. My old tees typically memorialize 10K runs from decades ago, with logos for University Heights, Domino’s, Fuddruckers, Leader Mortgage, “Freedom Run for Soviet Jewry,” Tower City Run and the Cleveland Press (which went out of business in 1982). Basically, the tees are walking billboards. Jack likes thin T-shirts. The shirts are thin, son — even threadbare. I hope the T-shirts outlast me. Always nice to be remembered.
I have very few clothing items from my dad. Like one shirt. No, I gave that to Jack too! You can see it in this video.
I don’t think I have any of my dad’s clothes. Fine. No point in being necrophiliac. (My dad died 28 year ago.)
My dad didn’t wear T-shirts. He wore guinea tees (wife-beaters), not the round-collar T-shirts. At social gatherings he favored the 1950s spread-collar shirts, like the one in the Vulfpeck vid.
I interviewed my dad on videotape in 1985 — 10 months before he died — and he wore a polo shirt. I showed the video recently to Jack, who didn’t want to watch it, but I made him. Jack became spellbound. Not that the video was so good, but some of my mannerisms are like my dad’s, Jack noticed, and that was worth the imposed viewing.
I only have a few super-thin tees left. Jack has basically cleaned me out. Here’s a vid of Jack in my 1987 “Freedom Run for Soviet Jewry” shirt.
For the record, I bought my first non-college logo T-shirt in 1968. It was for the Mexico Olympics. Before 1968, you could only get college shirts. Look it up. Does anybody have a pre-1968 non-college T-shirt? If so, go to Sotheby’s. Does anybody have any really thin 1980s T-shirts? If so, go to Jack.
Footnote: A Vulfpeck video came out yesterday, and my shirt isn’t in it! What’s with the new striped shirt, Jack? What’s with that? And the vid goes viral.
August 27, 2014 9 Comments
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).
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.
April 9, 2014 9 Comments
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.
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.”
“That’s not bad,” the rabbi said.
Jack said, “I’ve never been an 8 before!”
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
October 9, 2013 2 Comments
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 . . .
May 1, 2013 No Comments
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.
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?”
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.
January 23, 2013 No Comments
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.
This year’s KlezKamp theme is anti-NY.
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.
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.
December 19, 2012 7 Comments
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.
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.
November 14, 2012 5 Comments
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.”
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.)
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.”
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.
June 20, 2012 8 Comments
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. My older son, Teddy, took the furniture when he went off to law school. The furniture was mildewed, but usable.
When I visited Teddy, I saw my mom’s furniture and suffered post-mom stress disorder. My mother’s sectional sofa meant nothing to me, but her yellow kitchen table was like a punch to my solar plexus. I had eaten at that table for my first 18 years, and now it was in marginal student-housing in Toledo, Ohio!
Unacceptable. My mother’s table belonged in the Cleveland Museum of Art. The table was worth something. It was Formica. It was 1950s. I hope my son doesn’t sell it on eBay or Craigslist.
During high school, I was historically laconic at that table. How’s school? Forget it, I ain’t talking.
My dad, for that matter, didn’t talk much either.
My entire family didn’t talk much. We didn’t watch TV during dinner either. We ate a lot of fish. Fish was cheap. Halibut was very cheap, believe it or not.
For breakfast, we ate pink grapefruit quietly.
Hitchhiking story . . . Ple-ease, no!
THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE
I occasionally meet young people who lament they didn’t live through the hippie era.
They lived through nothing.
I know that feeling — living through nothing. I missed World War II and felt bad about that.
Skip Heller, a rockabilly musician, posted a video “Reflections of a 44-Year-Old Middle-aged Jewboy.” It was his reminiscence.
Heller was born in 1965; he missed not only World War II but the hippie era. What could he possibly reminisce about? Transformers?
I hitchhiked across America four times, I think. That’s worth talking about for a minute. One minute . . .
I spent eight hours at the on-ramp in Needles, California, in 100-degree heat. I counted so many Roadway trucks and “Humpin’ to Please” trucks and Consolidated Freightways trucks and Winnebagos . . . it was forgettable.
Worse, no driver ever told me the secret of life. Drivers often asked me my college major and if I knew anybody in Flint, Michigan. (I told drivers I was from Ann Arbor, close by. That got a better response than “Cleveland.”)
A man in Arkansas said he was the youngest person to ever have a heart attack. I gave him a $10 traveler’s check. That was a lot of money in 1970. You could hitchhike cross-country on $5 in the 1970s. (Five dollars equals $29 in today’s money.)
The hippies — aka freaks — had the worst cars. Alternator troubles, steering problems.
The city of Flagstaff, Arizona, didn’t allow hitchhiking. You had to walk through Flagstaff.
Jim Mandich, a Miami Dolphins star, gave me a ride out of Toledo, Ohio. He had been a standout player at Michigan. He was coming from Ann Arbor, where he had partied with former Michigan players — “studs,” he called them. (Studs die. Mandich died of cancer last year at 62.)
I hitchhiked across country with an English girl. She was cute and Jewish. The problem: she was meeting her boyfriend in California.
In Nebraska I stayed at the house of a future congressman, Mezvinsky. No, that was in Iowa. Mez got busted a decade or so later. For what, I can’t remember.
I hitchhiked too much. I should have done something more productive. My knowledge of trucking companies has yet to come in handy.
May 9, 2012 6 Comments
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.
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.
April 25, 2012 4 Comments
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
’Tis the season to be . . .
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.”
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.
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.
April 4, 2012 11 Comments
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.”
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.
February 8, 2012 10 Comments
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?
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:
February 1, 2012 11 Comments
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.
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!
December 28, 2011 5 Comments
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:
November 9, 2011 4 Comments
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 . . .
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.
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?
May 11, 2011 11 Comments
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.
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.
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!”
“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.
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:
March 23, 2011 10 Comments
Go to a restaurant — in this case, Corky & Lenny’s in Cleveland. And listen to a klezmer history lecture while eating.
It’s only $45.
We will celebrate the Cleveland klezmer sound. Legend has it, this sound came together at I-271 and Chagrin Boulevard, to become one of the most combustible klezmer sounds the world has ever seen. Alice Stratton (née Shustick), author of Alice’s Restaurants (1981), will share her recipes and Cleveland food discoveries. This could be an amazing Cleveland klezmer meal.
March 10. The Supper-charged Klezmer Dinner
Don Hermann’s Pickles from Garrettsville, Ohio.
Gefilte fish pâté
Falafel balls from the Falafel Queen, Alice Stratton
Challah from the Park Synagogue preschool
Precision matzo ball soup. Cleveland Punch & Die Co.
Smokin’ salmon. Pot Sauce Williams
Alice’s farfel (egg barley) and mushrooms
Star of David lollipops from the Chocolate Emporium
Mr. Meltzer’s line of Seltzer Boy! products
–Make reservations now for this fictional March 10 event–
Future Klezmer Dinner Project events:
4/16 Klezmer Goy
Alan Douglass — an original member of both the Kleveland Klezmorim and Yiddishe Cup — talks about his life as Klezmer Goy. He’ll recite the bruchas (blessings) over both the wine and cheese to show he knows some Hebrew (like Italians on the Lower East Side used to know a bisl Yiddish).
The meal: rugelach, mandelbroit, hamentashen, honey cake and Cinnebuns.
5/3 Fear in Loadin’
Irwin Weinberger, Mr. Jewish Music Ohio, talks about eating at gigs. He shows how a pro musician loads a plate. Trick number one: Put lettuce on top of everything, so the host thinks you’re eating only salad.
The meal: tschav (cream of sorrel soup), creamed herring on shmura (handmade) matzo, turkey pot pie, and a wedding cake made from real butter, real vanilla extract and real waiter’s eggs.
6/13 Die Kleveland
Greg Selker, founder of the Kleveland Klezmorim, speaks about the early days of the group. He’ll show 1985 videos from Booksellers, Pavilion Mall, Beachwood, Ohio.
Booksellers was probably the first suburban mall bookstore in America with a café.
The meal: pickled herring with mustard sauce; Jewish fried chicken; butter beans and gelato.
Jack Stratton, Yiddishe Cup’s alternate drummer, demonstrates the Jewish rhythm method. Think “in the pocket.” In the groove. Be down with the knish, the Jewish pie. Wear one on shabbes. Also, be down with the empanada pie (Latin music). And appreciate the pasty, the miner’s pie from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It’s all music.
The meal: cold borscht, tsimmes (fruit stew), Mr. Brisket soaked in Coke, albondigas (Sephardic meatballs) and butter kuchen.
8/15 The Happy Bagel
Daniel Ducoff, a.k.a. Sir Dancelot, talks about happy times — how to make money from dancing at bar mitzvah parties and weddings. Ducoff shows us the Happy Bagel, his latest dance. And we eat bagels. Not hole-less, soulless bagels. We’ll munch authentic Chew-ish bagels (crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside) with holes big enough to stick shabbes candles in and light.
The meal: Tractor-size bagels from Russia; chicken liver with gribens (cracklings); and fruit tarts.
9/16 The Crazy Mom
The late Barbara Shlensky, party planner, talks about the “Crazy Mom” phenomenon. How much Valium is too much for Mom’s cocktail? What if Mom jumps on the bandstand and screams, “Stop right now! The floor is collapsing!” What about Mom’s 45-minute cocktail hour that runs two hours, and the now-drunk guests are accidentally breaking wine glasses and dripping blood onto the white vinyl dance floor? Finally, has there ever been a $100,000 bar mitzvah party in Cleveland? Whose? Barbara answers that.
The meal: Thai kreplach; cauliflower kugel; stuffed cabbage with cranberry sauce; and pistachio macaroons.
See the next post, too, please. More food references . . .
March 2, 2011 7 Comments