Real Music & Real Estate . . .

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

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

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

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

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


 
 

Category — Landlord Biz

SPEEDY

Speedy, a building manager, was always falling off ladders. It wasn’t that he was uncoordinated, it was he worked too fast. He could “turn” a vacant apartment in a day. I regularly got claims from workers comp, and I paid.

Eventually I had to fire Speedy because his relatives and friends were ripping me off: stealing hoses, lawnmowers and snow blowers. Speedy’s relatives were crooks. Also, he started hanging around with a prostitute who ripped me off. (She eventually got arrested. Story is here.) Speedy was loyal and worked like a fiend. He was 5-3 and often limped. He didn’t complain and never turned down a job.

Three years after I fired him, I still received letters from workers comp: “open wound of hand, right; OxyContin, $349.00; knee, right, active, 2000; right knee disallowed, 2003; eye allowed, 2005; right arm,2005, allowed; neck sprain allowed, 2003.”  Speedy’s forwarding address was a porn shop. He wrote me, “There is one thing you can never deny, I was the best manager you had. I don’t want a job as a manager. I just want to paint or do tile work. I had a major heart attack.”

I didn’t call him. Anything not nailed down: gone.

speedy

Speedy & two rooftops

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

September 2, 2015   2 Comments

THIS BUILDING IS
NOT PARTY CENTRAL

 

These are my Greatest Hits (letters) to tenants:

1. Dear Tenant, The building manager heard you yelling, “I’m a porno star and a sex machine,” out your window. This isn’t the only time this has occurred.

2. Dear Tenant, You flicked 20-to-30 cigarette butts out your window. Some of these butts landed on cars and left burn marks. This must stop!

3. Dear Tenant, You got in a fight with a female in your apartment and tore the door jamb off. Also, you have slipped unsolicited notes under the door of other tenants. That can be construed as sexual harassment, depending on the content of the notes. You are a self-described drunk. That, too, won’t do here — at least outside your apartment.

4. Dear Tenant, There was very loud recorded music coming from your suite between 3-5 a.m.  That’s when people sleep. You aren’t living in a dormitory.

5. Dear Tenant, You were incessantly buzzing a neighbor’s entry buzzer, banging on a neighbor’s back door, and banging on your ceiling. You phoned me and said a neighbor’s cat was annoying you by running across your ceiling. Tenants are allowed to have cats. The tenants pay extra for cats.

6. Dear Tenant, The hallway smells outside your apartment. You need to clean up immediately. 

7. Dear Tenant, you and a female visitor were drunk and screaming in the parking lot. She lay down on the ground. She could have gotten killed.

8. Dear Tenant, You disturbed other tenants’ sleep at 3 a.m. by loud talking, running through the halls, and kicking on the locked door.  Three tenants complained.  Three — that’s serious. Please understand, this building is not party central.

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

July 1, 2015   5 Comments

LAUNDRY-MACHINE GUY

Howard the laundry-machine guy said I had a yiddishe kup. Thanks.  Howard rented me coin-op washers and dryers.

Howard had never heard of Yiddishe Cup. What, a Cleveland Jew who has never heard of Yiddishe Cup?   “But I’ll see you guys soon!” Laundry guys will say anything.

laundry machine guyI once got a check from a coin-op company in Plainview, New York; their Cleveland rep told me, “We’re a local company.”  The Plainview company was owned by the Royal Bank of Scotland. Somebody in Scotland was pocketing quarters from my buildings’ laundry rooms.

Howard the laundry guy had bona fides: 1) He had gone to my high school. 2) “I got in a lot of fights with the Italians there.” 3) His father had been in Auschwitz. 4) “Jewish geography is my favorite subject.” All pluses.

I said, “I don’t trust you.”

“I don’t blame you,” he said.

I hope to trust him.

End.

Continue if you’re interested in laundry contracts  . . . There was a classic screw-the-landlord lease (yes, there is such a thing) written by a Chicago law firm. (Always referred to as the “Chicago lease” by Cleveland landlords.)  In clause #5 of the lease, the coin-op company had the “right of first refusal,” which meant the company could match any new bid or supplier the landlord came up with. In other words, the old laundry company could remain the landlord’s supplier for life. It was like indentured servitude. The headline for the infamous clause #5 was not “right of first refusal,” which would have been OK, but the very misleading header “exclusive laundry equipment,” which made no sense.  And in very small type too.

Come to Cain Park (Cleveland Heights) 7 p.m. Sun., June 28, for a free klezmer concert in the Evans Amphitheater. No tix necessary.  It’s Yiddishe Cup plus Steven Greenman, Lori Cahan-Simon and Shawn Fink. And don’t forget Yiddishe Cup’s newest singer: Tamar Gray. Klez from Kleveland: The 37th Annual Workmen’s Circle Yiddish Concert in the Park.

never hoid em


I had an op-ed, “Don’t Go to Music School,” in the New York Times on Saturday (June 13). Check out the comments section.

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

June 17, 2015   3 Comments

THE DIRTIEST APARTMENT EVER

Evelyn had the dirtiest apartment. Her bathtub was black, like she never used it. There were about 50 roaches in the tub. Lots of beer and liquor bottles around. Cigarette butts everywhere.

roach spray dirtiest apt everI told her to clean up, or I would call the health department on her. I had already dropped about $2,000 on an exterminator for the building, mostly because of her.

She cleaned up. Then I put her on month-to-month; I wanted the flexibility to end the lease if she got sloppy again.

She got cleaner. Not Martha Stewart clean, but no roaches either. She said she wanted to talk to me. I stood outside her door. She said, “How do I know it’s Bert Stratton?”

“I’m not sure. Take your chances.”

She let me in and immediately called me an asshole and said I had disrespected her with the month-to-month lease. She had been on a 12-month lease for 21 years. She also asked for a new refrigerator, plus a two-year lease with a discount for the first six months. She wanted a new kitchen sink cabinet, too. And she wanted her stove removed. “I don’t even use it,” she said. I looked at the stove.  “No,” she said, “Look at me. Look me in the eyes. You have disrespected me all these years. Think of all the money I’ve saved you by not having to redecorate every couple years. To you, I’m an asshole.”

Not true. I liked her spunk. But I shouldn’t have stopped in; I should have had let the building manager handle it, which is always cheaper for me. Evelyn said. “I was in a coma for a couple years. That’s why it’s so messy here. I was a little out of it.  If you come back in two weeks, it’ll look even cleaner. I’m opening a business here.  I’m bringing in customers here.”

I offered her a one-year lease with a $5 increase and a new refrigerator.

She said no thanks.  She said, “Just for shits and giggles, what do you want for this place?”

“The entire building?”

“Yeah.”

“Eight-hundred thousand.”

“You got it. I’m buying it from you.”

(Hasn’t happened.)


“Evelyn” is a pseudonym.  Here’s a pic of another dirty apartment — not Evelyn’s.  Top 5:

huebner b101 2_21_11

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

April 8, 2015   3 Comments

STACKED AGAINST ME

The boiler died at a building I own.  I called the repair company, D.B. Johnsen Co., who said try somebody else.  Stack Heating & Cooling came out. Stack was no bargain. Stack was like going to 10 dentists.

Then I had a second boiler go bad, down the street.  Stack’s proposal on boiler #2 was $5950 for two sections of new boiler, to replace a corner that had corroded. I was thinking zero for that corner, Stack.  The boiler had worked perfectly well a few minutes ago.  Now it was cracked.  I had budgeted zero for #2.  I had put everything into boiler #1.  I called a couple guys for quotes.  They were all busy.  Stack himself was very busy.  It was cold out.  He said, “I’m getting too old for this shit.” So was I.  (Stack and I are the same age).

Madison Plumbing did the job and screwed up. It cost me a few grand extra.

Then a third boiler went down.  This was a couple months later.  Stack said, “I want to prepare you. Eleven burners are shot. That boiler is older than me. ” Again with the age, Stack?  This boiler was carboning up and sooty.  “I’ll try to save it.”

“Do that,” I said. “Thanks.”

Stack called again: “I have bad news.” 

I asked him to knock $500 off the price if I didn’t get a second quote.  Agreed.  I wrote the tenants they could buy a space heater at Home Depot and take $50 off their rent until the heat went on.  I recommended a Polonis convection oil-filled space heater. About a third of the tenants opted for the free space heater. One tenant even added $37 for a comforter.

My bill: $38,350 (boiler #3).  Stacked against me.

stack


CYA footnote: Stack is expensive but he’s very, very good.

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

January 7, 2015   6 Comments

YOUR MANAGER TRIED TO KILL ME

Mr. Shuck said the tenant above him was running a big fan on the floor and keeping him up all night.  It was November.  Why would anybody have a fan on?

I thought, “Shuck is out of work and has too much time on his hands.  Forget about it.”

Shuck called: “I was pressing my arms over my ears so hard to block the noise, it took the muscle off the bone by my upper arm.”

“Have you tried earplugs?” I said.

“I had tubes in my ears as a child.  I’m not sticking anything foreign in my ears.”

“I’ll look into this.”

“I’ve lost hundreds of hours of sleep over this. Look into this!”

I called the tenant upstairs.  She did have a fan — a box fan on the floor. She said she would place it higher off the floor.  I said, “You need physical space between the fan and the floor.” Matter settled.

Not settled. Shuck called again. “They’re literally stomping in the apartment above me.  I’m having palpitations right fucking now!  I’m calling the police.  Your manager won’t do anything.  I’m having a heart attack.  If I die, it’s on your head.”  (A Browns party was going on upstairs.)

Shuck lived.  He called and said his bathtub was backed up, and he mentioned the manager had threatened to kill him.

I said, “I’ll get the plumber on the bathtub right away. I’ll call the plumber.”

“The plumber is in my apartment right now!” Shuck said.  “He woke me up.  I have contusions on my legs and have had to sponge bathe for four weeks because the tub didn’t work.”

“Four weeks?” I said.

“Also, your manager stole money from me.”

“How much?”

“Five dollars.”

Five dollars?  Why so little?  “Your tub was down four weeks?” I said.

“Your manager tried to kill me.”

I know.  OK.  “When?”

“Three years ago. She tried to force me to drink a beer.  I’m a recovering alcoholic.”

“We’ll have the bathtub fixed right away.”

“Somebody is tampering with my mailbox.  That’s a federal offense.”

There was a noisy fan above Shuck.

“Shuck” is a pseudonym.

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

November 19, 2014   3 Comments

LATE FEE OR NO LATE FEE?

I charge a $20 late fee if I don’t get the rent by the seventh day of the month. Some tenants regularly pay the $20 late fee, because $20 is nothing compared to, say, a credit-card late fee.

I had a tenant who promised to pay on the 11th. He changed to the 15th. Then the 20th.  Today — October 29 — I have just one late tenant.  She said she’s not paying because she had a stroke and is broke.  She sounded pretty good on the phone for a stroke.  I asked my wife, a former RN, about that: “Can you talk right if you just had a stroke?”

My wife, Alice, said, “It depends what part of the brain it affected.”

late fees  late feetOne guy had his foot cut off due to diabetes. That’s a decent excuse.

I generally don’t allow late payers to slide into the next month. “Mom is sick . . . My grandmother died . . . I switched banks and they messed up my account.”

Why didn’t you call me?  Why am I calling you?

Maybe I should charge more than $20. Some landlords charge by the day, like $10/day.  But life is too short for that kind of intense bookkeeping.

I have a tenant who has been late every month for 30 years.  I hope I outlive him to get his final month’s rent.

Sometimes I lean too hard on the tenants and get no late fee — no rent.

Yiddishe Cup is a soul band, Jewish and otherwise.  Check out our version of Aretha’s “Respect.”  We play a wide range of American pop music.  Please don’t boot us out of your wedding after the hora.  Hey, we’re better than those other wedding bands!  We’re slicker than schmaltz laced with WD-40.  Our newest singer is Tamar Gray.  She works the crowd.  Fun . . .

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EyjzxJW3y78

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

October 29, 2014   3 Comments

GOLDEN AGES

I like to proclaim “golden ages” as they happen. My record is 2-1.

Win: The klez revival. In 1998 I told my band: “This is the golden age of Yiddishe Cup. We’re getting gigs in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.” We flew to the U.P. via Minneapolis, then on to Calumet, Michigan, a mining town with an opera house.  Every town in America hired a klezmer band in the 1990s for its multicultural performing arts series.

Lose: I didn’t see the real estate crash of 2008-09.  A couple young guys wanted to buy my Riverview building in Lakewood, Ohio, in 2004, and I asked too much.  I wish they had bought it. I should have come down in price.

golden age  julia at fed eventWin The peak of Cleveland Jewry was 2000. The Jewish Federation would bring in entertainers like David “Dudu” Fisher and Mike Burstyn for galas. Burstyn and Fisher both charged at least $15,000.  I took my mother to see Burstyn.  She was in a wheelchair with Parkinson’s.  I wheeled her to the front of the room, where the machers were. Some of the “healthy old” looked kind of scared of my mom.  The Jewish Federation employees wore earpieces like FBI agents and worked crowd control; others Federation workers ran the wide-screen video and cued up speeches; and other workers told guests where to line up for dessert — the most important event. Fisher and Burstyn haven’t been back since.

We’re in the golden age of the Klezmer Guy blog now.  What other golden ages?  I don’t know.  You tell me. The golden age of golden-agers?  I’m playing a lot of nursing homes lately, specializing in 80th, 90th and 100th birthday parties, and the residents and nursing homes are looking very spiffy.  I hope those facilities — and the residents — look that good when I’m there.

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

October 1, 2014   8 Comments

SEVERAL SCREWUPS

Fatima had a B.A. and a steady job, and was single — for about three days, until her boyfriend moved in with her. The boyfriend wouldn’t fill out a rental application. He drifted around the basement electric meters with a screwdriver.

The building manager told him to stay out of the meter area.

He said, “How do you know I’m not a registered electrician?”

The building manager said, “Because I didn’t call one.”

I got a call from an anonymous man: “Watch out. Fatima is no good. She owes me $40, and her boyfriend carries a gun.”

I told Fatima I’d give her all her money back if she left within two days. If she didn’t move out, I would evict her for “unauthorized roommate.”

screw upI gave her $900 back, and she moved. Add another $100 to that — my extra cost  because I owed a tenant in the building $100 for recommending Fatima. I couldn’t not pay the guy for his referral; I had approved Fatima, and then she had screwed up, bringing in her boyfriend with the screwdriver

There were several screwups.


“Fatima” is a pseudonym.

Check out Jack Stratton’s latest Kickstarter. He’s hoping to raise $25.  Click here for info.  And watch this slightly incoherent vid:

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

August 13, 2014   No Comments

STREET WEAR

A young man opened up a street-wear store in my building.  Street-wear is hip-hop clothes, like low-slung pants.

I was nuts to rent to the guy.  He just sat on a beat-up couch in the store and never really opened. I hired workers to do dry wall and electrical work, and block off doorways.  The tenant said he would do the rest.

He complained about the awning out front.  It spelled “Main Street” — stodgy — to him.  He wanted a funkier look. I wanted the classic green canvas awning to stay.  He knew that up front.  I had it in writing.

He complained about the basement.  He said, “It’s old.  There are rats maybe.  The walls are crumbling.”  I hadn’t even promised him a basement.  It was an add-on.

He said he was going to paint the interior of the store black.  OK, paint it black. Fine.  Just do it.  Get off the couch.

Some hip-hop buddies from New York stopped by to give him design pointers.  They sat on the couch too. The tenant said to me, “People are going to come from LA and New York to shop at this store.”

He didn’t get off the couch. “My dad thinks you’re ripping us off,” he said.  “He’s an extremist.  But still, the basement is a wreck.”

I thought, “Spend some money.”  I said, “The basement is the least of your worries.  You don’t know what hit you.  Wait till you get the city’s code violations letter. Forget about the basement.  You’ll have bigger problems.”  For instance, he had no electrical service.  He had low rent and was supposed to do the “build out” — the electrical, the improvements.

I gave him one month’s free rent.  I couldn’t do more.  No, I gave him $2000 off on the new electric service panel.

Nothing much happened.  Finally I said, “I’ll give you all your money back plus $500 if you move out.”

He took that.

I rented to a tax-prep guy. He wears shorts, but not low-hanging.


Yiddishe Cup is in Parade The Circle, Wade Oval, Cleveland, noon June 14.

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

June 4, 2014   6 Comments

“THIS BUILDING IS
NOT PARTY CENTRAL”

Here are my greatest letters (my greatest hits) to tenants:

1. Dear Tenant, The building manager heard you yelling out your window, “I’m a porno star and a sex machine.” This isn’t the only time this has occurred.

2. Dear Tenant, You flicked 20-to-30 cigarette butts out your window.  Some of these butts landed on cars and left burn marks. This must stop!

3. Dear Tenant, You got in a fight with a female in your apartment and tore the door jamb off. Also, you have slipped unsolicited notes under the door of other tenants.  That can be construed as sexual harassment, depending on the content of the notes. You are a self-described drunk.  That, too, won’t do here — at least not outside your apartment.

4. Dear Tenant, There was very loud recorded music coming from your suite between 3-5 a.m.  That’s when people sleep. You aren’t living in a dormitory.

5. Dear Tenant, You were incessantly buzzing a neighbor’s entry buzzer, banging on a neighbor’s back door, and banging on your ceiling. You phoned me and said a neighbor’s cat was annoying you by running across your ceiling.  Tenants are allowed to have cats.  The tenants pay extra for cats.

6. Dear Tenant, The hallway smells outside your apartment. You need to clean up immediately. 

7. Dear Tenant, you and a female visitor were drunk and screaming in the parking lot.  She lay down on the ground.  She could have gotten killed.

8. Dear Tenant, You disturbed other tenants’ sleep at 3 a.m. by loud talking, running through the halls, and kicking on the locked door.  Three tenants complained.  Three!  That’s serious. Please understand, this building is not party central.

In case you missed Jack Stratton on NPR’s All Things Considered, click here.

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

April 2, 2014   2 Comments

LET ME PULL YOUR COAT,
MR. STRATTON

I served an eviction notice on an artist — a tenant — who was late with her rent.  When I handed her the eviction paper, she yelled at me, “I was going to pay the rent, but not now!”

My father had sent me.  She was a painter — a real artist.

Aubrey, another tenant, wrote for an alternative weekly.  Aubrey wrote my dad:

Allow me to pull your coat, Mr. Stratton, to something. Where do you get off raising my rent?  I had to spend last winter in my kitchen because the bedroom ceiling caved in.

Would you like my bill for cleaning up the plaster?  My services do not come cheaply, Mr. Stratton.

Aubrey was a meshugener — my dad’s take.

Let me pull your coat, Mr. Stratton.  My dad didn’t know what Aubrey was talking about. My dad wasn’t Miles Davis.

My dad told Aubrey to waive his privacy rights so we could get into his apartment to fix the problem.

Aubrey wrote back: “Quite bluntly, Mr. Stratton, keep out.”

But we got in and made the repairs, and Aubrey stayed another year.

I saw the painter at an artists’ party about a year later. I didn’t say hi. She didn’t recognize me.  Good.

I never saw the writer again. Also good.


“Aubrey” is a pseudonym.


SIDE B

180-degree turn . . .

THE GAMBLER

The Gambler

I’ve made millions in gambling. You probably know that because I’ve written about it a lot.

Nevertheless, some readers still believe I inherited my money.

Wrong!

I work hard for my money. I play video poker, and not at some tribal casino in Oregon. I play at Vegas casinos that offer the best margin. I demand a 99.5 JOB (jacks-or-better) edge.

I tip well and live well.

Do I play video poker all day?

Yes, and I love it.

My ex-wife didn’t love it. She tried to control my bankroll. Nobody controls my bankroll!

I’m a known quantity here in Vegas. For a while I had a radio show. I coughed so much on air, I got fired. What did the producer want? I’m in smoky casinos 12 hours a day;I’m lucky I can breathe, let alone cough.

I administer an online forum, Millionaire VP. No smoking on my site.

I used to play craps. If you play craps long enough, you lose everything. Which I did. Once was enough.

I’m filing w-2Gs totaling $400,000 for 2013. The ex-mayor of San Diego lost $13 million on video poker. Don’t be her. Be me.

Lots of royal flushes, everybody!

My website, VP Millionaire, is here.

(This post, Side B/The Gambler, is part of the fake-profile series.)

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

January 15, 2014   4 Comments

A STORE’S STORY

This was a witch store. Now it’s an insurance agency.

Before the witch, Fred Smith operated Smith’s Deli here, in the 1950s,1960s and 1970s.  Students from St. Ed’s High, across the street, would come in and rip off Fred for candy and pops.

I ran into one St. Ed’s alum — a 55-year-old man — who thought I was God because I had known Fred on an adult level.

Fred got tired of the kids and retired.  He needed more than Snickers sales to pay the rent.  One Snickers sold, one Snickers lost to shrinkage/shoplifting. No gain.

After Fred left, 1977, the store went through many owners. The most famous post-Fred tenant was Angela Hicks, who founded Angie’s List.

There was also a flower shop, a tax service, sports cards shop and the witch store, Ancient Ways.  The witch kept cats in the basement. She reimbursed me for the destroyed carpet when she left, but not for the five months remaining on her lease.

The insurance agency has been here five years.  Five years is a decent run.  That’s the proof the store was not hexed by the witch.

But the insurance guy is moving.  He just called [12/31/13].  “I’m vacuuming and going to be out by 1 p.m.,” he said.

1975

2008

 

Footnote:

A list of  tenants at 13431 Detroit Avenue, 1977-on:

Fred’s deli, moved out, 1977.

Streeter Sporting Goods, 1978-80.

Antique store, various owners for another 10 years or so.

Ka-La’s Flower Shop, 1983.  (“KaLa” for Kathy and Laura.) Then various other flower shops.

Embossed stuff.  Embroidery Ink, 1991.

Kayln Tax Service, 1993

For You Productions.  More the embossed stuff, 1993.

Grand Slam Collectibles, 1994.

Vacant 1995-1997.

Resale shops, a couple years.

Angie’s List, 1999.

Ancient Ways, New Age, 2001-2004.

Vacant 3 ¾ years.  2004-2008.

Farmer’s Insurance. 2008-13.

2014 — ?

A version of this post is also a video (originally posted  1/21/11).

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

January 1, 2014   4 Comments

TEMPLE IN THE ROUND

The former Brith Emeth temple in Pepper Pike, Ohio, looks like a clam shell or flying saucer.

My kids went to Hebrew school there. It was disorienting; I never knew which way to turn, right or left, to pick them up.

The acoustics in the social hall were bad.  Everything was boomy.

Brith Emeth folded in 1986, and Park Synagogue East took over.  Then Park Synagogue East sold the building to the Ratner School, a Montessori school.  Now Kol HaLev — a Reconstructionist shul — rents from the Ratner School, the owner, for shabbes services.

When my band plays Kol HaLev, I tell my musicians, “We’re playing the clam shell.”  I never say, “We’re playing Ratner Montessori School.” I also don’t say, “We’re playing the old Park East,” which would be confusing because there is a new Park East. I also don’t say, “27575 Shaker Boulevard,” because for a while, shrubs in front of the building obscured the address.

“We’re playing the clam shell, aka the flying saucer, guys.”

On October 17, 1969, Rabbi Philip Horowitz delivered the sermon “Is the Negro Equal?” at the clam shell.

The place still has a very sixties flare.  I travel back in time every time I  enter Brith Emeth. After-burners. The clam shell.  The launch pad.


More on Brith Emeth here.

Yiddishe cup plays First Night Akron (Ohio), 6-8 p.m. Tues., Dec. 31.

SIDE B

For the record . . .

JUST NUMBERS

If you get a 3 percent return, on top of the inflation rate, that’s solid, middle of the road. But right now you can only get 1 percent on a CD, with inflation around 1 percent. You can’t get 3 percent without significant risk. If you go for more than 3 percent real growth, you’re taking a risk.

Risk in business is integral, part of the equation. Can’t be avoided.

You’re a genius; the stock market is booming. You weren’t a genius in 2008.

I know a woman who lost with Madoff, and now she’s doing the 1 percent CDs. I talked to another Madoff investor who said she had found a short-term investment that paid 20 percent. But for only 90 days. Twenty percent is 20 percent, doesn’t matter how long a period. Twenty percent is crazy. “That’s a lot of risk!” I said.

I have a friend who went in for CDOs (Collaterized Debt Obligation) and lost. He said he was getting 15 percent on them. But it only lasted a month. Then the whole thing collapsed.

We are here today to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the Madoff debacle . . . Another Madoff investor I know — enough with the Madoff! — this Cleveland schoolteacher said she didn’t think she was greedy when she was pulling in 10-12 percent a year from Madoff. She just thought she had made a good investment. I would have thought likewise. Madoff returned the schoolteacher’s original investment minus the paper gains. A small-timer, she got national TV attention for being a salt-of-the-earth Madoff victim.

The stock market typically clocks 9 percent per year, but that’s meaningless because the figure doesn’t take into account human behavior, known in the biz as “investors returns.” Most people buy and sell at the wrong time.

My father went all in on real estate 1965, and that’s why I’m in real estate now. He went in at the right time, luckily, and leveraged himself to the hilt. Our house was leveraged; he had second mortgages. He was gutsy, smart and fortunate.  (He flopped at some other businesses.)

I’ve bought two buildings. The first building, I put down 25 percent and got a 10 ¾-percent mortgage. That was the going rate in 1987.

The second building, I put down 15 percent. I bought it from an old guy who was dying. I was dying too!  The old guy lived another 21 years.  The seller financed the deal; I didn’t have to go to the bank for a mortgage. I paid him off 17 years later. It worked out.

The first building — the one with the 10 ¾-percent mortgage —  I paid off as quickly as possible.  Took 7 1/2 years.

Win more than lose, hopefully.

And don’t chase 20 percent returns!

Hey, did my kids read this far?

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

December 25, 2013   8 Comments

SO FILTHY

I have this new band, Funklikht, which is so filthy. My lead singer is the shit — a Lebanese kid from Detroit who does it all, including Yiddish hip-hop. He was a shabbes goy in Oak Park. My drummer — also from Detroit — grew up  next-door to Aretha in Bloomfield Hills.  He’s shit-plus.

My bass player kills it.  (He has a following in Norway.)

I found all these players in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I go up there regularly for cheap young talent.

We’re on fire. We play temples and Jewish arts festivals throughout the country, but we aren’t stuck in the J bag.

We have a major presence on iTunes.  Our best-selling tunes are  “Shvantz Tantz,” “Di Gantse Velt is a Blintz” and “Dreck II.”

We’re in discussion with a major label, but I’m skeptical; the label thinks we’re “too Jewish.” We’re not too Jewish! We’re too filthy!


SIDE B

This one is real . . .

LARRY DAVISES

I knew two Larry Davises — both Jewish landlords in Cleveland. There was Larry Davis of Solon and Larry Davis of Cleveland Heights.

Larry Davis of Solon was a Romanian immigrant who developed industrial parks in the far eastern suburbs. He loved Yiddish music and hired Yiddishe Cup for his 75th birthday party. He died shortly after that. (No foul play.)

Larry Davis of the Heights is alive, and owns property in Cleveland Heights. You’ve probably seen him around (if you live in Cleveland). He has a beard, wear shorts a lot, and has a small tattoo on his leg. Larry Heights started with a lunch counter in Lakewood and worked his way up.

I ran into Larry Heights at the grocery store and we kvetched about the real estate biz. Our kids weren’t too crazy about running the properties. Larry said, “I wouldn’t wish it on my daughter.”

I thought to myself, “Here we are, two fairly healthy guys, standing in the vegetable aisle at 2 p.m. on a Wednesday. Objectively speaking, we’ve got it made.”

Maybe I’m the third Larry Davis. Larry Davis Heights II.

—-

Larry Davis, Heights, left / Larry Davis, Solon, right:

(Click on the drawing to make it bigger)

Footnote: “Objectively speaking, you’ve got it made” is a line I regularly steal from writer Mark Schilling.


Yiddishe Cup plays First Night Akron (Ohio), 6 p.m. Dec. 31.

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

December 18, 2013   7 Comments

QUARTER STEALERS

Some thieves specialize in quarters. They pry open coin boxes on washing machines and dryers in laundry rooms.

Quarter stealers did this a couple times at one of my apartment buildings. One time the building manager ran into them, took their picture, and asked them who they were. They said they were Sarah and Michael.

Afterward, the building manager handed the photo over to the police. Sarah and Michael were then videoed pouring quarters into a coin-sorting machine at a nearby grocery store.

Sarah and Michael hit 21 buildings on the West Side, the cops told me.

About a month later,  I got a letter from the county prosecutor about Paul and Erin — the crooks’ real names.  They were charged with burglary, possessing criminal tools, aggravated theft, theft, tampering with coin machines and vandalism.  The thieves wound up in prison.

My damages: $884.50.

That’s a lot of quarters. (For the record: 3,538.)

SIDE B

Not another fake profile! (The complete fake-profile series is here.)

THE BOXER

I’m a boxer. That’s the essence of who I am.

I’m not a heavyweight so you probably don’t know me. I grew up boxing. I listened to Johansson-Patterson fights on the radio. Also, Patterson versus Clay. I boxed at the Ukrainian Club, AAU and Junior Golden Gloves.

My parents were all for it. My father encouraged boxing. In my dad’s day, Jewish fighters frequently hit the top: Jackie Davis, Benny Leonard. Locally, Harry Levine was a good light heavyweight. Levine fought with his face out front. If it got hit, his head would shake like a bobblehead. He kept hitting though.

My last sanctioned fight was in 1968 against Johnny Montello. We were from the same neighborhood. The bout was old-school, Italian versus Jew. It was a 1930s ethnic turf battle but in the 1960s! Johnny was just back from ’Nam. He had been a cook over there. He was punchy (foggy-headed). He had boxed too much in the Army.

Johnny got into my face verbally, like Ali, saying: “You’re always talking about Jewish shit.” Johnny pointed at the Star of David on my trunks.

I said, “You should know one thing about me: being Jewish is who I am. Everything I do is a part of that.” I was a college student back then. Up at Michigan, I boxed in Waterman Gym — with myself. Existential stuff.

My buddies attended the Montello fight. My friends were hippies. Montello’s friends were extras from Grease.

Montello broke my nose and gave me a concussion. After that, I promised my parents I would quit boxing. My dad, finally, thought it was a good idea and got me private tennis lessons. Tennis was like boxing, he said, but without hitting. Agassi’s dad — a boxer — said the same thing.

I miss the ring. I play tennis, but I miss the ring. I think about boxing a lot: Babe Triscaro, Jimmy Bivins, Tony Mulia.

I would like another chance. The Senior Olympics has pickleball but no boxing. What’s pickleball?


An op-ed, by yo, in the Cleveland Plain Dealer Friday (11/29).  The print headline was “Klezmer Christmas?  He’s actually in favor of goodwill to men.” The online headline was “Dreaming of a Green Christmas.”

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

December 4, 2013   2 Comments

THE GOOD, THE BAD
AND THE NUANCED

Stan Herschfield paced his apartment at 3 a.m., waking up the tenants below.  I asked Herschfield to ease up, and  he said, “What do you want from me?  I can’t fly.”

He moved out shortly after that.

About 10 years later, he called. “Stratton, you remember me — Herschfield.  I want to move back in.”

“Herschfield!” I said, emoting like I was in a bad JCC play. “You painted the floor.  You complained about the deaf guy across the hall blasting organ music.  You complained about the people below you fornicating. You skipped out on your final month’s rent.  It cost me fifty dollars to clean the place.  But you did teach me some good Yiddish words.”

“I didn’t skip!  Those yentzers below, they drove me out!”

“You painted the kitchen floor.”

“Stratton, I used Benjamin Moore.  Only the best!”

I didn’t let him back.

Maybe Herschfield didn’t say yentzers.  Maybe he said shtuppers.  I only caught a fraction of his Yiddish.  He talked so fast.

I’ve had a couple former tenants move back in.  Usually not into the same suite, but often into the same building.

I save old records on tenants.  F. Scott Fitzgerald said bookkeeping is not a sexy subject, but it is moderately interesting.  I wish I hadn’t thrown out my dad’s tax returns; they would make fascinating reading now I’m older and into nuance.

I keep dossiers on ex-tenants.  Nothing personal, no nude posture photos like those Ivy League colleges did.  Just notes on whether the tenant paid his final month’s rent, turned in his keys and didn’t trash the place.  If all’s well, I’ll let him back.  Could be a decade later.

The good tenants, you don’t remember.  You have to look them up.


This post was a vid first,  4/5/12. Features Alan Douglass singing “Dear Landlord.”

Yiddishe Cup is at KlezmerPalooza at The Temple, Beachwood, Ohio, 7:30 p.m. Sat., Nov. 16.  $20, or $15 if you buy by Nov. 9.  Call 216-831-3233.  Free dessert, beer and wine.

A new vid, “You wouldn’t believe the derelicts . . . ”   Forty-five seconds of  real estate talk:

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

October 23, 2013   2 Comments

MOTHER’S ’HOOD

This is a fake profile . The complete fake-profiles series is here.

My mother collects rents.  She tracks down delinquent tenants every third of the month.  She’s a bit forgetful — she misplaces checks — but she still makes the rounds, chasing tenants.  She’s 80 and owns 38 units on the East Side of Cleveland.

She wants me to do the collecting. I don’t want to.

I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but I don’t want to dun 22 year olds for their rent.  I prefer to be at work; I’m a lawyer, and have been for 29 years.

I have manilla folders with notes from my mom.  She collects legal clauses like some old ladies collect Hummels. I once tried to streamline her five-page lease but she wouldn’t let me. She instructs her tenants to use a string mop.  That’s in the lease! Why?  What 22 year old even owns a mop?

My mother hides apartment keys everywhere, and says to me, “Now this key is to that room, which is next to this door. Turn right, and reach your hand around the corner and it’s on this ledge.”

I have to write all that down. My sister is in Texas. It’s all on me.

I ran into Bert Stratton, the real estate blogger, the other day.  His klezmer band really should hang it up.  How long have they been around?  Pass the torch (Havdalah candle), Bert!  Bert always asks me the same thing: “What are you going to do when your mother dies?”

I don’t want to collect rents and fix leaky toilets, Bert, understand?

Bert says he understands that, but then mentions the real estate gig is, if nothing else, parnassah.  Bert likes to sling Yiddish.  Sling this, Bert: Va fangool(Parnassah means livelihood in Yiddish.)

I’ve got a livelihood!  I’m 54 with a successful law practice.

Stratton: “Really, what are you going to do when your mother dies?”

“Call you, Bert.”

That shuts him up.

No disrespect to anybody.

For more on the landlord biz, check out my interview on NPR yesterday, from the show The Story.  I got my 15 minutes.  No, 20 minutes.  It’s long, yet amusing.

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

September 18, 2013   5 Comments

THE BEST ETHNIC / WORLD BAND

Think ethnic

Yiddishe Cup was nominated for the “best ethnic/world band.”  We were practically the only non-Afro/ non-reggae/ non-Caribbean/ non-Zydeco band in the contest.

With one email blast to our fan base, Yiddishe Cup would have won the Cleveland Music Award.

Sorry. Not our scene, Scene.   (Cleveland Scene magazine sponsored the contest.)  We did not want to email blast our Yiddishe Cup fans. We didn’t want to disturb world Jewry.

I think the judges — Scene editors — designed the ballot so we would win.  Their theory:  Young voters would spread their votes among the Afro bands, and Yiddishe Cup would pick up the rock-solid Jewish block.

Do you think the other bands held back on email blasts?  No! They sent out hundreds of emails: “Vote for us!” . . . “Make us number one!” . . . “We’re number one!”

Pathetic.

The winner was Mifune, an Afrobeat hip-hop band.   Mifune — you can’t even pronounce that.  At least you can pronounce Yiddishe Cup (if you’re Jewish).

The most-recent music awards contest was in 2010.  Nothing since.*

Scene, please reboot. Yiddishe Cup wants to be number one.  We’re ready to rock and e-blast now.   Free Cleveland coconut bars to everybody who votes for Yiddishe Cup!

*News flash: Scene just held another music awards contest (September 2013).  There was no “ethnic/world” category.  Foul ball!

—-
The photo at top is Daniel Ducoff (L) and Alan Douglass of Yiddishe Cup.  Their hats are Mongolian.

SIDE B

CENTIPEDE LANDLORD

I was the landlord in a panel discussion, sponsored by the Cleveland Tenants Organization and the Center for Families and Children

I wore a sports coat and polo shirt.  I looked good.

One problem: there was no audience, to speak of (to). Only two people.  One had an apartment full of centipedes.  She had put her money in escrow for several months, and the landlord hadn’t gotten rid of the centipedes.  She said, “I don’t mind a bug or two, but I don’t like them crawling on my ceiling, and me, when I’m sleeping.”

She also said there were grain moths when she moved in. She said the city inspector came out and said, “Where do you shop?” Which she considered a veiled racial remark.  “Like he thought I shopped in the ghetto.  I shop where everybody else shops!”

The woman’s landlord should have gotten rid of the centipedes. I would have liked to have heard from the landlord.

The other person at the presentation had been booted out of her apartment. Her common-law husband had kicked her out.  She had two kids and lived on $400/month.

Mr. Polo Shirt – me — had nothing to say.  Come move in with me?  Nope.

Lead paint. That’s boring. The meeting ended on that note.

Centipede eats lead and dies

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

September 11, 2013   6 Comments

NEVER ON FRIDAY AFTERNOON

I had two hot water tanks go out in the same building on the same day,  a Friday afternoon.

Four guys can carry in a 92-gallon commercial hot water tank .  And I can pay $5,400 for their fun.

No plumbers were around.  They were all preparing their boats for Lake Erie weekend-cruising.

I reached Stack Heating.   Stack said he didn’t do commercial hot-water tanks.  Just boilers. I reached Royal Flush.  They said they couldn’t get it until Tuesday.  Dale at Madison Plumbing could do it Monday.  Pompeii said never. B & B Hot Water Tank said no thanks.

I started flipping through the Yellow Pages.  That is the end of the world.

I braced myself for calls, like “Mr. Landlord,  there is no hot water.  How am I supposed to go to work without showering? ” . . . “I have to stay at my parents’ house and it’s 60 miles from work . . . ”

It’s not pleasant, these scenes.

I  got Bill the plumber.  He came by and blow-torched the old tanks to dry them.  (The tanks had flooded because a sump pump had failed.)   The plumber gave the first tank a 50-50 chance of recovery.  The second tank had 40 percent chance, he said.  I liked his odds.

The first tank went on after six hours of pampering. We were good.

Still, it was no picnic.

 . . . Dear Landlord,  I have  deducted $275 from my rent payment because I  stayed in a hotel for three days due to the lack of hot water.

Didn’t happen!


SIDE B

In honor of the mildest summer ever . . .

WICKIN’ COOL

I threw out my dad’s wife-beater T-shirts. About time. My father died 27 years ago. The wife-beaters were balled up in my dresser drawer.

When it’s 90-plus degrees — which it isn’t often this summer — I think “wife-beaters.” I used to wear my dad’s wife-beaters around the house.

My wife bought me a wicking T-shirt with UV protection at Target. Only $11. It was cooler than the wife-beater.

I saved one of my father’s T-shirts for posterity and threw the rest out.

Underwear fashion is generational. My grown sons aren’t interested in my wife-beaters. My dad wore his wife-beaters under dress shirts for work, for his day job at the key company.

I’m going to buy a couple more ultra-light wicking T-shirts.

No doubt, my sons will pitch my ultra-lights when I’m either dead or not looking. By 2025, T-shirts will be spray-on from a can.

Meanwhile, I’m wickin’ cool.


A version of  “Wickin’ Cool” was on CoolCleveland.com 7/12/12.

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

August 28, 2013   2 Comments