Real Music & Real Estate . . .

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

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

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

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

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


 
 

Category — Miscellaneous

MY DAD WAS A NUMBERS GUY

This post is for everybody who read my Wall Street Journal article about my dad and wants more info on him. (The article, which was in Monday’s WSJ, is linked here.)

My father, Toby, got a letter from a Piney Woods Arkansas man, extolling my dad’s homemade foot powder: “Mr. Lesbert: Do NOT stop making the powdor! Do NOT stop!!” Toby used to make the foot powder in the basement. The company was Lesbert Drug Co., named after my sister, Leslie, and me. My dad stopped making the powder. The Arkansas man was about his only customer.

Then Toby started selling cosmetics. Then he starting buying buildings . . . on and on. He was the Jewish Willy Loman. (Kind of like how Dave Tarras — the klezmer clarinetist — was the Jewish Benny Goodman.)

My dad schlepped me to banks. I remember a banker who called my dad “Teddy.” That was weird. My father’s given name was Theodore and his Jewish nickname was Toby. This banker liked to talk Tribe (baseball) and his wife’s spaghetti recipes. The banker was a “people’s person,” he said. (Maybe he was a dogs’ person too.)

My father was not a people’s person. He was the Lone Ranger. He got the mortgage and we got out of there.

My dad owned one LP record, of the Ohio State marching band. My dad owned stock records. Toby bought his first stock, Seaboard Air Line, when he was at Ohio State. Air line meant train line back then. Air line was the shortest distance between two points — the way the crow flies. My dad never made money on stocks. He was too busy buying and selling and not holding. Toby was a stockbroker —  a “customer’s man” — for about six months in 1955 at Bache & Co.

He liked numbers. He was totally a numbers guy.

Confidential report (1958): “On the basis of an analysis of the personal history and psychological test results, we believe that Mr. Stratton has the experience and ability to successfully handle his present position [at Curtis Industries, a car-key manufacturer]. He has shown personality characteristics, however, which may cause him to be difficult to get along with and, therefore, a supervisory problem.”

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

September 20, 2021   4 Comments

BRUSH HIGH
GRADUATES PERMITTED

On Yom Kippur, a congregant approached me in shul and said I was cool. Why? “Because you went to Brush High,” he said.

What? Brush High was cool? Brush, in Lyndhurst, Ohio, was the one place you graduated from and never thought of again. It isn’t to be confused with Bronx Science, Cass Tech, Heights or Shaker.

I knew a few more Brush people at services. Off subject: Brush had outstanding science teachers — Frank Smith, biology; Ron Yarian, chemistry; Alfred Eich, physics.

There’s no Brush section in the shul on Yom Kippur. Maybe there’s a Heights section.

Maybe there’s no shul. My shul is totally on Zoom tomorrow, because of Covid. I’m totally Zoomed out. I’ll probably go to Solon Chabad. They have a big tent and let everybody in, including Brush grads.

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

September 15, 2021   2 Comments

ROT OR BURN?

Would you prefer to be buried or cremated? To put it another way, rot or burn? The “rot or burn” expression comes from a Saul Bellow novel. In Humboldt’s Gift, the main character, Charlie Citrine, is always rambling on about death, and how death might feel the same as before you were born.

Also, along the same lines, check out Nabokov’s memoir Speak, Memory, which opens with “. . . Our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness. Although the two are identical twins, man, as a rule, views the prenatal abyss with more calm than the one he is heading for.”

I try to imagine my prenatal abyss. For instance, September 1949. (I was conceived in October 1949.) How does it feel not to exist? Bellow believed something comes after death, but he just said “something.” Be more specific, Saul!

I’ve going to rot. My wife would prefer to burn, but I’ve bought burial plots at Hillcrest cemetery. The plots come with cement coffin sealers. The vault sealers are pretty much mandatory at every cemetery I’ve ever been to. I’m not wild about coffin sealers. They don’t prevent the rot, but they slow it down. They aren’t sealed airtight because bodily gases would explode them. The vaults are mandatory to keep the cemetery grounds level. I’m all about being level. (I like levels — those tools with the bubbles.)

One personal request: if you have something interesting to say about September 1949, let me know. For instance, my friend Mark Schilling, who was born in August 1949, can probably give me the lowdown.

Take me home, to the place I belong . . .

Change of topic: L’shana tova!

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

September 1, 2021   8 Comments

LEGAL TENDER

I never subjected my future-wife to a Diner-style quiz. I never said, “Who is Unitas or I won’t marry you.” But if I had asked important dating questions, I would have asked about money. Who is on the dime? I have a negative opinion of people who don’t know who is on the dime.

Who is on the $10,000 bill? That, I won’t hold against you. The government hasn’t printed a 10K bill since 1946. [Answer: Salmon P. Chase. Sir, your first name is a fish!]

My favorite coin is the Kennedy half-dollar because it has heft and has a good feel to it (serrated edges), and it’s half a rock — a quality nickname. I haven’t seen one in years. The government stopped making Kennedy half-dollars in 2003. You can go to a bank and request a half a rock, but who’s going to do that? I sold most of my half-dollars for their silver content decades ago, during the Hunt brothers silver boom.

I did give my wife a low-stakes money quiz. Way too late — we were already married many years. Alice knew Lincoln is on the penny and Washington is on the dollar bill. She said an Indian is on the nickel. That’s a very old nickel, Alice. I didn’t say anything. I didn’t want her to have a negative opinion of me.

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

July 7, 2021   1 Comment

MY CUBAN COMEDY HOUR

I was in a comedy show in Cuba. I passed by a beach and saw a company picnic — a group of off-duty cops. There was a comedian entertaining the troops. There were about 75 people. It was Christmas day, 2017. The picnic shelter was just like a Metroparks’ shelter. The comedian was cracking the folks up. I said to him in Spanish, “You can make fun of me. I speak some Spanish and I’m a gringo.” He brought me on mic and asked where I was from. I said. “From the north, near Canada.” I didn’t think “Ohio” would mean anything. I said, “I’m not like the Cuban-Americans in the first row here.” There were several well-dressed Cuban-Americans, on vacation, up front. The comedian said to me, “You’re puro gringo.” Yep, that’s me.

When he asked if I liked Cuba, I said I was enchanted with it. (It’s a hellhole to live  in but great to visit.) He said I should stay in Cuba and teach him English, and he would teach me how to use Cuban currency, which is complicated; there’s one currency for locals and another for tourists  The currency joke got him some laughs. You had to be there. “Tu me ensenas ingles y yo te enseno la moneda nacional.”

He talked about the bathroom. He said, “What time is it? 3:15 pm? We have a record! There’s still soap in the bathroom!” Laughs. “Hola, todo el mundo. Me pueden decirme que hora es? 3:15. Senores, tenemos un record! Son las 3:15 de la tarde y todavia nadie se ha robado el jabon del bano.”

There’s a shortage of everything in Cuba, including soap. In Cleveland, I have a shortage of Spanish áccent marks.

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

June 23, 2021   1 Comment

BUYING DRUGS IN LATIN AMERICA

One fun thing to do in Latin America is buy prescription drugs off the shelf at the local drugstore. Last month I forgot my prescription pills and was in Guatemala. I emailed the Cleveland Clinic. They said it was OK for me to skip my Lipitor, but the Clinic thought I should stick with my blood-pressure medicine. But that drug (trade name Bystolic) is expensive and hard to find, even in the U.S.

I went to a farmacia, and bingo, they had it. Not called Bystolic. The Latin version is from Argentina, but the same drug. And they had a Lipitor-clone from India. Then I looked for some aloe vera because I had a sun burn. No go. I found aloe vera somewhere else. Finally, I bought some pepto-abysmal.

Just yank the Rx drugs off the shelves. My first time was in El Salvador in 1973, when my asthma inhaler ran dry, and I walked into a pharmacy and got a canister. I used that canister for the next twenty years. I have faith in expired meds.

I also bought some baby aspirin in Guatemala. The standard down there is 100mg instead of 81mg.

I wouldn’t mind running a farmacia in Latin America. Maybe next time around.

My present inventory:
1) 5 mg nebivolol, trade name Nabila. Same as American Bystolic. Made in Argentina.
2) 40 mg atorvastatin, trade name Atorgras. Same as Lipitor. Indian-made.


Want more Guatemala? Check out my article “My Guatemalan Vacation” in City Journal.

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

May 19, 2021   4 Comments

CANDYLAND

Snickers was my candy bar. I also had a taste for Nestle Triple Deckers. Long gone. My wife, in her youth, liked Valomilks. She bought one a few years ago at a specialty store and didn’t like it. Too sweet.

My dad was big on Planter’s Peanut and Mr. Goodbar. I used to buy a Mr. Goodbar before visiting his grave.

Canada, that’s a great candy vacation. Kit Kat, not bad.

Chunky . . . I miss the idea of Chunky. I liked the Arnold Stang Chunky commercials.

Anna Soltzberg, my grandmother, ran a candy store at 15102 Kinsman Road, Cleveland, from 1927 to 1937. Here’s some of her the inventory: Mr. Goodbar, Sensen breath mints, Boston Wafer, halvah, Coca-Cola, peanut bars, chocolate-covered cherries, Uneeda biscuits, Dentyne, Lifesavers, Tootsie Rolls, Oh Henry, and cigars such as White Owl, Dutch Master, Websters, Cinco, Murad, John Ruskin and Charles the Great Pure Havana. (I got these brands from studying a photo of her store with a magnifying glass.) Candy stores were a common first business for immigrants.

When did Snickers first come out?

[Googled.] 1930. Frank Mars named the bar after his horse.

Reese. Who was Reese?

Here’s my Sunday Plain Dealer essay about playing gigs and not playing gigs. “The gigs disappeared. Now it’s all just talk.”

Irwin Weinberger and I played a nursing home yesterday. It was our first indoor gig in front of a live audience in 14 months.

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

May 12, 2021   6 Comments

HOW MUCH WOULD YOU PAY
TO GET RID OF YOUR BACK PAIN?

I had a part-time job dealing with my back pain. I enrolled in a three-month Cleveland Clinic program for back-pain sufferers. It was a group class. Rule #1 of the class: Nobody wants to hear about your back pain. #2: Never say “pain,” it’s “discomfort.”

To get rid of back pain, I would have paid 400K.  I would have walked down Euclid Avenue naked. I would have . . . [fill in the blank]. Philosopher Viktor Frankl said how you deal with your suffering is one way to define your life. I would have bribed and cheated — for starters.

My back-class classmates were mostly whiners (like me). One woman said she lay in bed all day, using ice packs. Another used a heating pad and lay in bed all day. The group psychologist said, “What do you do to get out of your stupor?” Classmates said they lie in bed.

After class, I met a friend for lunch and said, “What a great day. It’s sunny out.” I was just doing my cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), circumventing my usual glass-half-empty M.O.

My back doctor said, “Back pain is truly one of the medical conditions that can rate a 10 on a pain level.” I told him I was at 8. He said back pain typically went away within a year, often less. I said my pain was like a hundred cell phones vibrating in my thigh all at once. (My back pain was in my thigh. Uh.) Or a thousand red ants scurrying. I had a couple CAT scans.

A woman in my class said her mantra was “I’ve got this!” Nice mantra. When she moved out of town, I took her mantra. I meditated and tried new exercises, developing new neural pathways!

“Motion is the lotion” was a sign in the physical therapy department. A couple verbal catch phrases were “Exercise to the pain but not through the pain” and “Sore but safe.” I saw a lot of PTs.

The pain ended in 10 months. Two shots in the back helped. I think about back pain a lot. Even when I don’t have it.

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

April 21, 2021   1 Comment

SAVED BY MY BASEBALL CARDS

When Yiddishe Cup played in New York in 2006, we rented a van at LaGuardia Airport and drove to our hotel in Elmhurst, Queens, which was like Cleveland except for more Asians. The hotel was between a transmission shop and a Burger King. We played the Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts.

On our way from Queens to the gig in Brooklyn, I saw a fender bender. The driver called out, “Would you be a witness?”

“No, I’m from Ohio,” I said. Hey, I was preoccupied with our rapidly approaching gig and not denting our ride — a 15-passenger rental van. I was weaving through very dense borough traffic, and the last thing I needed was an hour wait for the police before the gig.

We played for old people, not hipsters, in Brooklyn. I had my 1957 Brooklyn Dodgers baseball cards with me, and gave the audience a quiz: What was Duke Snider’s real first name? Edwin. What was Pee Wee Reese’s real name? Harold. What was Al Walker’s nickname? Dixie. The audience got every answer right. One man even knew Duke Snider’s height (6-1).

Success.

We played New York. Don’t forget that.

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

April 7, 2021   4 Comments

SAME OLD, SAME OLD JEWS

Ashkenazi Jews are the same everywhere. My Mississippi mishpocha are lawyers. My relatives in Israel are lawyers. My relatives in Arizona are lawyers. I have relatives, through marriage, in West Virginia. Some are lawyers. (By the way, West Virginia Jews request “Country Roads” at banquets; I’ve played several West Virginia Jewish Reunions at the Marriott in Charleston.)

Philip Roth wrote about New Jersey Jews. Joseph Epstein wrote about Chicago Jews. Mordecai Richler wrote about Montreal Jews. Stories populated with pickles and old guys named Herman. (By the way, there’s a Don Hermann’s Pickles in Cleveland.)

I played a wedding for a Canadian Jew and an American Jew. Under the chuppah the rabbi talked about choosing between “about” and “aboot.” That’s the big difference between an American Yid and a Canadian Yid.

Happy Passover.


Here’s an article I just wrote for City Journal. “Hanging in There.”

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

March 24, 2021   2 Comments

GRAMPS THE RECORD PRODUCER

My grandfather owned a record label in Cleveland, like the Chess brothers’ thing in Chicago, except smaller. Gramps’ label churned out everything from Slovenian polkas to gospel. It was a labor of love. Gramps’ parnassah (livelihood), all along, was a shopping strip center he owned on Mayfield Road — the main drag in Cleveland Heights. Gramps rented to a print shop, beauty parlor, locksmith and bar. I hung around the bar in grade school for the pretzel rods.

Gramps used a storefront for his record label. The place had no sign. My grandfather said to me, “I’ve got this little curl in my tail — this little something different — this something the new treatment doesn’t cure. I’m in trouble. The doctors tell me, ‘We can’t straighten out your tail.’ You’re dead. That’s what. I’ve got one or two more records in me.”

Gramps liked a Slovenian-style polka group out of Wickliffe called Terri and the Soup Nuts, a popular all-girls band. Gramps said to me, “There are a lot of Slovenians in this town. A lot. Money will be made.”

Money was not made. Terri and the Soup Nuts didn’t sell many records. Johnny Pecon did better. Yonkee, way better.

Gramps had a soft spot for Terri and the Soup Nuts. He told me, “That stupid name sticks! Sticks like a burr.” He put a pic of the girls on the side of a CTS bus. No traction. Only one DJ ever spun the girls’ records — Tony Petkovsek, the “nationalities hour” honcho. That was limited.

At Gramps’ funeral, Terri asked to sing a hymn. An ecumenical, no-Jesus thing. Hey, Terri, no music at Jewish funerals. She handled the rabbi’s rejection well.

This is all history.

Terri and the Soup Nuts’ records and memorabilia are in storage at the National Cleveland-Style Polka Hall of Fame. All the musicians are dead. The building on Mayfield Road is still there. Somebody should put up a Cleveland Heights heritage plaque there, right next to Subway.

[fake profile]

 

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

March 17, 2021   3 Comments

BLOOD AND MONEY

My dad, Toby, admired Linus Pauling, the Nobel Prize-winning Vitamin-C taker. Toby was very health-conscious; he did the Royal Canadian Air Force exercises in the early 1960s. He used to jog in his underwear in the kitchen. Didn’t anybody make running shorts back then? My dad could beat me in a foot race up through my college years. Toby, in retirement, told me his best years were the Boca years: financial security and grandchildren.

Even though Toby was an exercise nut, he had lousy health. His big problem was polycythemia vera, a blood disease. He got it in his fifties. The disease kept him focused on his muni bonds and real estate investments. He wasn’t sure he’d be around the next day. He donated blood every month or two. He had to lower his red-blood count. He died in 1986, just shy of 69, from leukemia, which evolved from polycythemia vera.

My mother kept the Florida condo another 11 years after my dad died. The condo association owes my sister and me $8,160.82. That’s the golf membership dinero. The condo association has had that money since 1997. Many elderly Jews decamped from the condos (their bodies went north) in the late 1990s, and the condo association was short on cash.

Who’s playing golf at the Boca Lago Country Club these days? Is it still Jews or is it some new genre, like Latin Americans? Any cash floating around?

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

March 3, 2021   2 Comments

FUNERAL REPPING

When my parents spent winters in Florida, I represented them at their friends’ funerals in Cleveland. I didn’t like the work. My mother would call from Boca Raton and say, “Edith was such a good friend of ours. Please go, son.” Screw Edith.

But I went. The hardest part was the walk from my car to the shiva house. I always imagined the homeowner would open the door and say: “We don’t want any! Who are you? Have you no decency?”

It never happened that way. I was often the youngest non-relative at the shiva. I eavesdropped a lot because I didn’t know anybody. An old woman said, “When I feel sick, I want to die. Then I get better and want to live.” OK with me.

A rabbi talked about the Cleveland Browns a lot. Rabbis usually weren’t sports nuts back then, but this rav was young and a major Browns fan. A food broker said to me, “I sell Heinen’s.” What was I selling? Not sure.

My parents made me do it.


Footnote:
While shiva repping, I met a  California man who produced Joel Grey’s shows for 27 years. I said, “I’ll send you my band’s CD and you can show it to Joel. Wait, I won’t send it. Joel might sue me for ripping off Mickey Katz tunes.”

“Don’t worry,” the producer said. “Lebedeff’s people tried to hit Joel up for royalties on ‘Romania, Romania’ for years. No luck.”

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

February 24, 2021   1 Comment

ASK ME ANYTHING

I’ve managed a lot of bands. So I know a lot about marketing, booking and touring. I won’t tell you everything I know here, but I will say this much: the key to success is publicity stunts, cameo appearances at strip joints, and surreptitious holographic projections of your band’s PR photo onto billboards at midnight.

The bands I manage make money — large money. And you’ve probably never heard of them. Most Klezmer Guy blog readers think music ended in 1975.

OK, you’ve heard of Vulfpeck. That’s because I bang on about that band so much here. I made Vulfpeck what they are today. The Vulf boys don’t know what a newspaper is, or a press release. I’m old school, they’re New School. They’re about social media. I’m about being social: Hello, my name is ____________.  I make many calls a day for Vulf. (Granted, half are to WE1-1212. More snow?)

Right now two Vulfpeck musicians are in Los Angeles, one is in Ann Arbor, and two are at a Bibibop in Carmel, Indiana. I monitor the boys’ moves and temperatures. I know how much water and booze they’ve drunk today, down to the cc.

Ask me anything. (AMA, as we say on Reddit.)

[fake profile]


Check out this op-ed I wrote last week, “Stayin’ Alive — the Covid-19-shot Hustle,” for the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Guitarist Irwin Weinberger at Discount Drug Mart

Guitarist Irwin Weinberger at Discount Drug Mart

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

February 17, 2021   4 Comments

GO BUCKS

I’m out of the pre-med game. I lost my University of  Michigan Zoo-Bot 106 frog-dissection scissors. I used the scissors for the past five decades to cut my fingernails. I took the scissors to an athletic club and lost them. The scissors said “Made in Italy” on them, in case you find them.

I bought some German scissors on Amazon the other day. Not as good. (By the way, my professor at Michigan, poet Donald Hall, said scissors is the longest word in the English language.)

There were about 30 pre-meds on my dorm floor,  and I think one or two made it to doctorhood. I took inorganic and math my freshman year, and organic and physics my sophomore year. Organic did me in.

Those dissection scissors were my main connection to the U. of Michigan. For some people, it’s football. For me, it was the scissors. Now I’m a free man.

Go Bucks.

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

February 10, 2021   4 Comments

THIS IS BERT STRATTON

This is Bert Stratton. Is there a market for a book with that title? There’s a book This is Larry Morrow . . . My Life On and Off the Air: Stories from Four Decades in Cleveland Radio. There’s a new book by Paul Orlousky: Punched, Kicked, Spat On, and Sometimes Thanked: Memoirs of a Cleveland TV News Reporter.

Is there a market for Bert? Yes, I know I’d have to expand the title. How about This is Bert Stratton . . . Stories About Strippers, Mobsters and Klezmorim.

Every Sunday my family gathered around the piano. Neighbors stood on the sidewalk and listened. We played klezmer music, which we simply called “Jewish music” in the 1960s. Neighbors didn’t listen for too long. By age 13 I was supporting my family, playing at the Roxy Burlesque, where I saw naked women. I knew Tarzana and Morganna, who were at my bar mitzvah party at the Shaker House Motel. Nobody could top that.

I knew mobsters. An acquaintance, gangster Shondor Birns, was blown up by a car bomb on the West Side. Then Danny Greene, a fellow mobster, was blown up by a car bomb in Lyndhurst. By default I became head of the Cleveland Mob. My gangster income, plus my music, was a living. My high school grades suffered, but so what.

I have a couple questions for you. Would people in, say, Peoria, Illinois, buy a book about Cleveland mobsters, strippers and klezmer musicians? Or should I cut the part about mobsters and strippers, and go pure klez?

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

February 3, 2021   8 Comments

TOO MUCH NOSTALGIA

I joined the South Euclid Facebook page after I saw a recipe for the 3-cent toffee bars we used to get in the junior high cafeteria.

I recently listened to an interview with klez trumpeter Frank London, who grew up in Plainview, Long Island. Frank said Plainview in his day was all Jews and Italians. Just like my old neighborhood. My high school was 25-percent Italian, 25-percent Jewish, and the rest white-bread American, who didn’t count.

On the South Euclid Facebook group, Bruce Udelf, a classmate, remembered all. Bruce could tell you the recipe for the toffee bar, which he got from a retired cafeteria worker. I have one thing over Udelf: I still live in Cleveland, and he’s in California. I biked by Udelf’s house the other day. It looks the same.

Right now I’m snoozing a bit on the South Euclid FB group. I need a slightly slower nostalgia drip. I can’t deal with three South Euclid flashbacks a day — about Mr. Lane (our sixth grade teacher), Chuckles candy, or the Kiwanis Club Ox Roast. I could probably handle two.

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

January 27, 2021   4 Comments

JAZZMAN IN TRAINING

Bill DeArango played guitar with Dizzy Gillespie on 52nd Street and was the music guy in Cleveland. I was at DeArango’s University Heights music store, playing charts from New Sounds in Modern Music (edited by Bugs Bower, 1949). DeArango had randomly picked the New Sounds in Modern Music book from his sheet-music rack. A kid with a horn (alto) in 1970. Back then it was all guitars and drums. I didn’t tell DeArango I had bought the New Sounds book a couple years before and knew it cold.

DeArango introduced me to Jimmy Emery, a guitar player who could pick out all the Charlie Parker solos. (Emery moved to New York three years later and went on to record with all the big names.) Emery and I had jazz to ourselves in 1970, at least among 20-year-old white kids in Cleveland.

I visited Berklee in Boston. It had no campus, just one building. The founder was Lawrence Berk. The lee in Berklee is for Lawrence’s son, Lee. Berklee — the name — reminded me of my dad’s failed foot-powder company, Lesbert Drug Co., named for my sister, Leslie, and me. Maybe not a real college — Berklee? I went home to Cleveland, then back to Ann Arbor to reactivate my authentic college life.

I was not near Jimmy Emery’s level. Emery could mimic any sound he heard, and do it quickly. I bought play-along records and got into the Michigan jazz band. Dave Brubeck’s son was in that band. I got the second alto seat by playing a blues in F, or something like that. Few kids knew how to improvise back then. Music students came from high school stage bands, not jazz bands.

I borrowed recordings of Hank Crawford, Lou Donaldson and Rufus Harley from a black Detroit kid I knew from the dorms. I went to Baker’s Keyboard Lounge in Detroit to see Gene Ammons, Sonny Stitt and Roland Kirk. I bought how-to-play-jazz books. I read Leroi Jones for cultural background. My how-to-play-jazz books were mostly by David Baker, Indiana University. These books were boring chord patterns and scales. Not as dry as Organic Chemistry, but not a pleasure.

I eventually quit playing and dropped out of college for a few months. These days I play some Dixieland clarinet, and not too well. Hurray for klezmer!

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

January 20, 2021   5 Comments

YOU WANT SHINGLES WITH THAT?

I thought I had shingles again. My first shingles was when my dad died. My dad was stressed, and so was I. This time around I was stressed about a building, not even a human. I had sold an apartment building and was annoyed with the gas company. The temperature outside was zero, and a meter man was at the building with a huge wrench, threatening to turn the gas off. I didn’t even own the building. I had sold it the day before! “You have two choices,” the gas man said to me. “Turn the gas off or leave it on.” I don’t own the place!

The new owner hadn’t called in for an initial reading. The temperature was supposed to drop to – 7. “Keep it on,” I said.

I went swimming to relax. I would chase the new landlord the next day for the bill. When I finished my laps, I noticed a red streak across my stomach. Shingles again?

My wife, a registered nurse, checked out my stomach when I got home. She said I had scratched myself.

Paranoid? No. Shingles is bad.

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

January 13, 2021   2 Comments

COLUMNY

I saw Wilma Salisbury, the former Cleveland Plain Dealer dance critic. She was a tough critic. Used to be a tough critic. She was retired, so she was simply Wilma Salisbury now. I saw PD columnist Eleanor Mallet — also retired. She was simply Eleanor now. Winsor French — a long-dead Cleveland Press columnist — used to arrive at work in a Rolls. He was independently wealthy. He went all over the world during the Depression, reporting on glamorous parties.

Have you made it through a book-length compilation of newspaper columns? I have. One book: Eric Broder’s very funny The Great Indoors. Would you read 45 Dick Feagler columns in a row? Good stuff but you might die from an overdose.

Here are some other former Cleveland columnists: Don Robertson, Alfred Lubrano, Jim Parker, Jim Neff, Mary Strassmyer, Tom Green . . . and I’m just getting started. I was once a columnist. I wrote about candy, sheepshead and the public library for Sun Newspapers. I could see both sides to everything, even sheepshead. Not a good thing for a columnist.

Terry Pluto, Plain Dealer columnist, writes about religion and sports. Pluto phones clergy and asks (my guess): “Can you tell me and my readers how to live — and preferably in three or fewer sentences. And how about them Browns!” I like Pluto on both religion and sports. It’s all coming together for Pluto, what with the Browns in the playoffs and the plague (Covid) hitting the head coach and several key players. In one religion column, Pluto quoted a rabbi who cited Pirke Avot: “The one who is wealthy is satisfied with what he has.”

I am satisfied with not writing a newspaper column.

shareEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on Twitter

January 6, 2021   3 Comments