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 Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Washington Post.


Category — Miscellaneous


1. The book Ten Authors and Their Novels by Somerset Maugham, from Libreria Buchholz in Bogota. I rationalized the theft because it was hard to find quality lit in English in Bogie in 1974. The bookstore carried quality English-language paperbacks, mostly Penguins from England. I justified my theft because I fantasied that Buchholz was an escaped Nazi on the lam in Latin America. I dealt with Buchholz’s son, who often showed me around. Nice guy. (I found out the other day, on the web, the father had been an art dealer for Hitler, specializing in unloading “degenerate” Jewish art for a profit. So there.)

2.In the late 1980s I bought a backyard jungle gym for my kids from Heights Furniture & Toy. The store failed to charge me for the tent portion — the multicolored fabric “treehouse” part. I never told Heights Furniture about the error. The treehouse tent was approximately $150. I disliked the owners at Heights Furniture because they sold bikes but didn’t know much about bikes. I bought a bike there –- and I still use it 45 years later. So Heights Furniture was probably OK people, and I was a schmuck.

3.Last week I was in Lucky’s (like a Whole Foods) at West 117 Street, and I walked out with $24 in free Faroe Island salmon. The fish was free to me because I went through the self-serve checkout and screwed up on the machine. When I asked for help, the store clerk double-voided my salmon purchase.

The salmon was in my bag. I was in the parking lot. Free fish. I felt guilty but not super guilty. Funny, I had been in Rosh Hashanah services just two days prior, where the rabbi had talked about regrets. The rabbi had regretted, for instance, not continuing to visit an elderly man in a nursing home. The rabbi had told the old man he would continue to visit but didn’t. (The rav was in college at the time.)

I went about my job in Lakewood. The fish was in my car trunk. I talked to a building manager about lease renewals, and then I talked about pecados (sins). She’s from Latin America. I said the High Holidays are kind of like what Catholics do every week – confess sins. I mentioned, in part, my situation at Lucky’s. She said, “You probably returned the fish.”

OK. I went back to Lucky’s. Three clerks thanked me for my “honesty.” I said, “Tell Saltzman.” (The Saltzman family owns the Lucky’s stores in Cleveland.)

. . . I stole the book. I stole the jungle-gym tent. I didn’t steal the fish. So I’m bragging here. Now I gotta cut back on the bragging. (Proverbs 11:2)

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September 27, 2023   3 Comments


I shopped at all the right stores and was somewhat stylish. But then, around ninth grade, I slipped up. I couldn’t keep up with the fads. A friend of my father was a rep for Farah pants. I liked Farah, but Farah wasn’t Lee and Lee wasn’t Levi’s. Farah was mostly the iridescent sharkskin look — the greaser look. I was not a greaser.

Greasers — at least at my school — clung to the Farah “Continental” greaser look for many years. “Collegiates” was  my crowd. Collegiates wore Lee jeans. Blue jeans weren’t permitted, but colored Lee jeans were. (Aside: greaser wasn’t a word when I was dealing with greasers. Greasers were “racks,” short for racketeers.)

I shopped at Cedar Center, at both Mister Jr. and Skall’s Men’s Wear. Ben Skall was dapper and ultimately became a state senator. I gave up white socks just so I could enter Skall’s. I bought black socks with gray rings around the top (Adler brand) at Skall’s. Cleveland Indians players Sam McDowell and Hawk Harrelson shopped at Skall’s.

I failed in fashion. I occasionally got “mocked out” at school for dressing wrong. I once wore a spread-collar shirt. That was strictly verboten. It had to be button down.

Wrong (L) / Right (R). Bert Stratton, early 1960s. junior high.

I also wore homemade clothes, such as a sweater my mom knitted. Homemade was also verboten, but a girl complimented me, so I kept wearing the sweater. The peak of my fashion phase was when I wore a shirt jac and light-blue denim pants. The shirt jac didn’t tuck in.

Sweaters, generally, weren’t my thing. Note: the alpaca sweater was the true Continental statement. Not for me. Alpaca was very itchy. A cashmere V-neck collegiate sweater suited me. I had a comfy one, the color was “summer wheat.”

I exited the fashion world about the time I started hanging out almost exclusively with grade-grubbing nerds. Tenth grade. (Nerds wasn’t a word yet. We were “dips,” probably short for dipshits.)

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September 20, 2023   2 Comments


Violet Spevack, the retired gossip columnist for the Cleveland Jewish News, died last week. She was 107! Born in 1916.

Violet mentioned my band, Yiddishe Cup, a lot. I had an “in” with her. Vi knew my parents from Temple Emanu El (Cleveland), which was originally an offshoot shul that Violet was a founding member of, and my parents had joined. Temple Emanu El was known for being heymish — not snooty. No old German Jewish money. The big money at Emanu El was Maurice Saltzman, the Bobbie Brooks founder. Saltzman grew up in an orphanage.

Violet would call my band “freyleky,” “toe-tapping,” “joyous,” “finger-snapping,” “multitalented,” and “may their cups runneth over.” I had my picture in that column almost as often as the presidents of the Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland.

Vi never said a bad word about anybody — in print. Off the record, she warned me not to tangle with certain heavy-hitters in the Jewish community. For instance, one heavy-hitter, who was bossy, dissed my band by saying “Your band is sounding better.”  That meant we weren’t up to her level. I was a bit sensitive back then! This disser ran a Jewish organization that wouldn’t hire us. Vi said, “That woman is very powerful. Steer clear.” I did — for decades. Funny, I eventually became friends with the disser, and she started to like my band. Violet loved all kinds of music. Her husband, David, played harmonica. He was a big fan, too, of Yiddishe Cup.

The only problem with Vi was she was from Glenville (a Cleveland neighborhood). The sheyne yidn (higher class Jews) lived in Glenville. Everything in her columns was Glenville this, Glenville that. You’d think Glenville was the center of the world. (She had been an editor of the Glenville High school paper in the 1930s.) Hey, my parents were from the more proste (working-class) part of  Jewish Cleveland, Kinsman. John Adams High. Vi tolerated John Adams rivals and their descendants!

Vi Spevack

Reunions in Florida for Glenville snowbirds — those were always newsworthy in Vi’s column. The Glenville diaspora ruled. If you had gone to Glenville High and moved to California, you could get ink in Vi’s column for having, say, a good round of golf in Palm Springs.

Violet was all about the phone. Never email. She would write out quotes (from me and other interviewees) longhand and then type them up. She usually called me before publication. Together, we fine-tuned copy. For instance, she would say, “How do you like ‘The heymishe Yiddishe Cup performed with spirit and ta’am (taste)?’” Violet, how about fewer Yiddish words? I couldn’t say that. Violet had her go-to Yiddish stable of well-known Yiddish words, and she worked it hard. She really liked freylach (happy).

Here’s another Yiddish word for you, Vi. Mentsh. As in, “Violet was a mentsh.”

[The photo of Vi is from when I was at her Sherri Park apartment in Lyndhurst in 2012. She was 96. We were talking about Mickey Katz, who she knew from . . . . drumroll,  Glenville.]

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September 13, 2023   2 Comments


When my dad was dying, I asked him if ever thought about his mother. I said, “You don’t think of your mother much, do you?” He rarely talked about his mother, or the past in general.

“I think of  my mother every day!” She had been dead for 22 years. (My dad’s dad was out of the equation; he had been hit by a May Co. truck in 1924 and had played a lot of pool after that.)

I haven’t seen my father in 37 years. About half a lifetime ago.

Bert and Toby at father-son night at Victory Park School, South Euclid, Ohio. 1957.

“Anything within 10 feet of the cup, Toby sank,” said Hy Birnbaum, a golfer, druggist and friend of my father. Hy, in his later years, worked part-time as a pharmacist at the neighborhood drugstore. Hy told me all his friends were dead. My dad was, for sure. Hy was about 85. (This was in 2010.)

I ran into John Kelly, who had worked with my dad at the key company. I met John at a folk music festival in Lake County. He recognized my band. John said one of the “big bosses” at the key company had slept in the office overnight because he had marital problems. The “big boss” had had a slew of problems. His kids were “real hippies,” John said. I remembered the boss.  He had been a loud-mouth, know-it-all country-club Jew from Shaker Heights. I remember my dad bitching about him almost nightly at the dinner table.

My dad disliked most “big bosses.” The one “big boss” my dad liked was the company president, Manny Schor, who was a World Federalist. He was modest and smart. He came to my gigs occasionally in his later years. Manny said to me, “I can still picture your father sitting at his desk.”

So can I.

One question: why were these guys alive (in 2010) and my dad dead?

My dad’s long game wasn’t too good.

[Toby Stratton died Aug. 2, 1986, eight days short of age 69. Manny Schor died in 2009 at 91. Hy Birnbaum died in 2016 at 91. John Kelly died in 2011 at 80.]

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August 2, 2023   1 Comment


My father, Toby, was interested in family, money and Ohio State football, in that order. He wanted financial security, and he got it, but not before losing a lot of money on a cosmetics firm, postage-stamp machines, race horses, and a New Mexico real estate gamble. The cosmetics firm was in the basement. Like Mary Kay but not pink. Red.

Toby’s “day job” was at a key company. Car keys. The plant was right next to the King Musical Instruments factory. I got a student-model alto sax, at a steep discount, out of the proximity. The sax model was “Cleveland.” (Cool. Like my ping pong table, which is a “Detroiter.”)

Toby Stratton 1984, age 67.

When my dad escaped the key company — after 17 years — he became self-employed (in real estate). The only way to go, he claimed, even with all the aggravation. Aggravation was one of my dad’s favorite themes. Like he’d say to me, “You’re aggravating me. You ever shave anymore? If you dress like a bum, your tenants will treat your building like trash.”

It took me a while to find the rhythm of property management.

Property management is not for the fainthearted. It’s city building inspectors trying to nail you with violations; put a lens cover on that fluorescent light in the basement. What’s a lens cover? It’s the plastic thing that shields the fluorescent tube, which is screwed into a metal holder called a troffer.

Tear down that 11-car garage. Why? Because the wall is 20 degrees out of plumb (and will last another hundred years). The inspector says tear it down. And get a structural engineer to do some drawings. My father used to give the city building commissioner a fifth of whiskey at Christmas. Those were the days. We thought they’d never end. And they haven’t.

Here’s the link to my essay, “Turn off the AC and soak up Cleveland’s summer,” in last Sunday’s Cleveland Plain Dealer. Luckily for me, Sunday was a cool day, weather-wise.

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July 26, 2023   1 Comment


My family came across two ticks in Connecticut. The ticks got on my wife and daughter. We were in CT for a friend’s wedding, and after the wedding we spent some time at a resort on the CT/New York State border. My wife asked the concierge at the resort for a hiking trail. He sent us to a nearby nature reserve; he didn’t warn us about ticks.

The only tick I’d ever seen — before that  — was Tik Krieger, the late aunt of my friend Shelly Gordon. (Theresa “Tikvah” Krieger.)

My family ran in a meadow in CT, like in a Wyeth painting. We lay in a field. It was idyllic. We were dumb about ticks. When we got back to the resort, Alice noticed a tick on her hip. She pulled the tick out with tweezers. (Let’s hear it for tweezers — the word.) Then Alice found a tick in our daughter’s hair. Alice got it out and accidentally dropped it back into Lucy’s hair. Lucy wasn’t happy about that. Lucy’s husband got out his iPhone flashlight, and he and Alice re-found the tick.

We googled ticks. Everybody in CT knows a lot about ticks. CT is Tick World. On our way home — on the drive to LaGuardia — I read a front-page story about ticks in the Wall Street Journal. Ticks are very numerous this summer.

I have a problem with CT. I don’t like its size (too small), its spelling (too complicated), or its wildlife.

btw, we’re OK.

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July 5, 2023   3 Comments


I bought a white linen sports coat in Colombia that has a very 1950s Cuban look to it. I needed it for my daughter’s destination wedding in Colombia. I got a Panama hat, too. Made in Colombia, not China. I have the Meyer Lansky-in-Cuba look down.

I’m not a shopper. So buying the white jacket at a fancy shop in Cartagena, Colombia, was memorable. There were a lot of pastels. Photo, please . . .

I didn’t think I’d get much use out of the jacket after the wedding, but I’ve worn it a couple times since. I wore it to a friend’s wedding this month. I was the only person in a white jacket, which was cool. At least I thought so. The coat is not a polyester Cleveland Pops rag. It’s a nice-looking piece of cloth. Then I wore it to a gig. As bandleader I can wear whatever I want.

Tonight [June 24] I’m going to the summer solstice bash at the Cleveland Museum of Art. I just bought the ticket. I’m going solo. And if I don’t go, the money goes to the art museum. All good. Three Latin bands will play outside the museum. I’m thinking of wearing the white linen jacket. Why not?

. . . I went. Two friends came along, as it turned out. My outfit was a hit. I am officially a fashionista. A random partygoer complimented me on my “linen.” Another said I looked like I was in Jurassic Park. A Colombian musician dug my hat.

I’m looking for more opportunities for my white linen sports coat.

Yo, at the summer solstice party, Cleveland Museo de Arte, June 24, 2023

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June 27, 2023   8 Comments


I’m experiencing flashbacks. Not unusual. I get these South Euclid flashbacks frequently. I remember when my uncle Bob got old and started dreaming about the Kinsman Road streetcar of his youth. At least that’s what he told me. He was decades out of Cleveland, too, living in Georgia.

The first two periods (classes) of high school, we practiced marching-band routines in the church parking next to the school. The parking lot had first-down markers and was the size of a football field. I stayed only one period. I could get away with that because I wasn’t a regular. I was an alternate. Every game, I marched in a different position. I spent more time remembering where to turn than actually playing music.

The band was fronted by the Golden Girl and the Silver Twins — baton-twirlers modeled after the Purdue University system. There were also flag-waving majorettes and a drum major. I joined marching band because I couldn’t be in concert band if I wasn’t in marching band. Was I a highbrow music snob? No. Mozart — never heard of the guy.

Concert band, for me, was a social thing. It was like gym because it was a mix of the entire student body. In concert band we annoyed the band director by chatting instead of listening. A couple times he got so mad he threw pencils at us. He never connected because the pencils hit the music stands.

The concert-band room had four white fiberglass sousaphones. Each sousaphone had a letter in the bell.  One sousaphone had A,  one R, one C, and one S. ARCS was the school nickname. Charles F Brush High in Lyndhurst, Ohio. Charles Brush — a contemporary of Edison — invented the arc light. That was a quality name — Arcs. Much better than Wildcats or Tigers. The school colors were brown and gold. Also quality.

We played Shaker Heights High. It was an afternoon game. Shaker didn’t have lights. Didn’t want to attract rowdies with Friday-night lights, I think. There were no fire-twirling baton-twirlers at the afternoon game. One of our band members walked across the entire football field on his hands. That was part of a Mary Poppins halftime show. We formed a kite and played “Let’s Go Fly a Kite.”

After the game I jumped on the band bus and watched the majorettes put away their flags and batons. We drove back to Lyndhurst, singing “Brush High Varsity” and “We’re From Brush High, Couldn’t Be Prouder.” We lost all our games.

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May 31, 2023   3 Comments


I get a kick looking at buildings for sale. Any kind of building: office, commercial, multi-family. I feel like I’m going out on a date. My heart races. Not everybody is a deal junkie, I know. Deals are stressful and there’s a lot of posturing. Most people don’t go for it. There’s risk — enormous risk.

I know brokers. They all work on commission. Nobody is on salary. They eat what they kill. There’s a lot of BS, as you can imagine.

When I  see a property that throws a nice bottom line, I skip around my living room like a kid. I do a deal or two a year. My dad owned a shoe store in Willowick. His landlord was Albert Ratner. When I first started, I called Ratner. I cold-called him. He agreed to meet me at his Terminal Tower office. I said, “My dad used to have the shoe store in Willowick. Remember him?” Of course Ratner remembered my dad. We talked about Arnold’s Shoes. Ratner said, “I take it you don’t want to sell shoes. You want to learn about real estate. Then do it. Buy a building and learn it.”

I did. I like it. I like almost every facet of real estate. I even like bankers.

Granted, there are always holes to patch. Asphalt, concrete. Nothing lasts forever. Office buildings — the worst. Medical-office space – the absolute worst. Medical is very painful. Doctor as tenants, they think they’re God.

Multi-family . . . I’ve made a fortune there. I’ve got a crew that’s on top of everything. Still, I handle some of the mishigas myself. A tenant calls and says, “Hey, my bathroom ceiling is falling in.” Ever heard of humidity, buddy? Open a window. “Hey, my stove smells like carbon monoxide.” Bullshit. Carbon monoxide is odorless. “Hey, my cat is dying from the black mold in the bathroom.” Black mold is not Black Plague, deary. Get some Clorox and a scrub brush.

I like foreclosures; I like straight-cash deals; I like leverage. I’m a deal animal. For me, there’s nothing better than hanging around old people at Jewish Federation events and asking if they own property. Some sell, some don’t. No broker. Sweet.

I have holdings in Ohio, Utah, Florida and Texas. I’m not only Rust Belt. I learned that from Ratner.

Please call my assistant if you’ve got something for me to look at. Thank you.


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May 16, 2023   1 Comment


I hadn’t seen Bill in approximately 20 years. I  remembered he was a computer nut, but then I discovered, upon meeting him again, he was also a boiler nut. When he came over for dinner, he wanted to see the boiler in my basement just for fun. I have a low-pressure, two-pipe system. I said, “You should come to the West Side to look at boilers. I’ve got boilers over there as big as locomotives.”

Bill advised me not to set back the thermostat on my house every night. With a steam boiler system, you don’t save any money that way, he said. So for 21 years I’d been freezing my ass off every winter for nothing? I always set back my thermostat. Repeat (from Bill): don’t set the thermostat back. I asked a commercial boiler guy the next day, and he agreed with Bill.

This dinner meet-up with Bill was 10 years ago, and I still set my thermostat back. Maybe Bill is wrong.

Here’s “Blues for Horseshoe Lake,” my latest polemic about saving the lake. The essay is in today’s Plain Dealer.

Yiddishe Cup plays a free Mother’s Day concert 2-3 pm Sunday (May 14) at the Beachwood (Ohio) library. You need to register because there is limited seating. Approximately 30 seats left.

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May 9, 2023   1 Comment


I’m a whale. I get free parking and free food, and I even have a free cruise lined up. I can go anywhere in the world, but it’s gotta be on Norwegian. Also, I can stay at any Harrah’s for free. Where to? Vegas? Tahoe? San Diego?

I hang out with Serbian furniture dealers. I mostly play poker. I won’t tell you the details. Let’s just say poker is the best game in the house if you know what you’re doing.

I make money and I lose money. If you ever want a free casino buffet meal, see me. I have rewards.

[fake profile / fiction]

Happy Passover. Here’s my recent essay in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “Passed Over for a Grocery-Store Passover Gig.”

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April 5, 2023   2 Comments


At big bar mitzvah parties, the teens are sometimes in a room with a DJ, while the klezmer band plays in an adjacent room for the AKs. I’m OK with that. I don’t whine about sharing the bill. Frankly, it’s rare to see a klez band in any room at a bar mitzvah. It’s mostly a DJ scene.

Hadassah – the women’s organization — sponsored Simchapalooza, a bar mitzvah fair, where bar mitzvah moms shopped for DJs, balloon twisters, video guys and caterers. I had a booth. Nobody stopped by. Maybe I reeked of herring. The Bar Mitzvah King, DJ Terry Macklin, drew a crowd. He had three exhibition tables strung end to end. He offered full-service: invitations, catering, DJ services and photo booths.

Rock the House — mere youngsters — eventually encroached on Terry’s DJ turf. Rock the House wasn’t black like Macklin, but they worked on it. And they were a lot younger than Macklin.

There was a lower-rung DJ, Joey Gentile, who advertised “Mitzvah Services” in the Cleveland Jewish News. I sent his ad to Moment magazine, which held an ongoing contest highlighting funny real-life ads, like “Easter Challah $3.99 Special.” My submission read “Gentile Mitzvah Services.” Didn’t get in.

A man from the Bar Mitzvah Guide, published in New York, called and asked me to buy an ad. He was doing an Ohio version. The Bar Mitzvah Guide carried ads for everything from bottle dancers to personalized chocolate bars. The man called me way too often. The final time, I said, “I’ll place an ad but I bet you won’t take it.”

“Try me,” he said.

“I want the text to read ‘Yiddishe Cup. If the other ads in here aren’t your bag, we are.’”

He took the ad.

And we didn’t get any gigs.

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March 28, 2023   3 Comments


I met Earl (of Earl Bananas and His Band With Appeal) in Kansas City. Earl’s band had been a minor sensation in St. Louis decades previously. Now Earl was a hotel developer with interests in trumpet, tennis, gardening and Orthodox Judaism. We talked about all that. We were at a Shabbat dinner.

Earl said it was difficult to achieve kavanah (a prayerful mindset) in synagogue. It was a easier in music or even tennis, he said. He could really zone out at music and tennis. My wife, Alice, a gym teacher, said zoning out is also known as “flow.”

“Flow” and kavanah are overrated. Face it, you can lose track of time at a casino or on Facebook.

Try to keep track of time. That’s the challenge. At a bar mitzvah party, Yiddishe Cup strolled, going table to table, taking requests. We heard a crash – a table collapsing. We kept on playing. Then a second table collapsed. A third table went down . . . there were salads on the floor; 10-person round tables buckling; ice water, silverware and bread rolls all over. People were jumping away from the tables. People were soaked. We kept playing. I said, “We’re on the Titanic, boys. Just keep playing.” Extreme concentration.

(The tables hadn’t been properly locked underneath.)

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March 8, 2023   1 Comment


I went down a rabbi hole.

Here’s the hole:

1. I’m reading a New York Times article about Shaker Heights schools, about how some blacks at Shaker want out, moving to academically highly rated Solon. The NYT writer is Debra Kamin. [The story: “Could Black Flight Change a Model of Integration?” January 15, 2023.] I check out Debra’s bio because her last name sounds familiar. Yes, she is the daughter of Ben Kamin, who was head rabbi at The Temple Tifereth Israel, Cleveland, in the late 1990s. Rabbi Kamin was a heavyset ebullient man. He told the religious-school kids “wake up and smell the Torah!” He also wrote op-eds for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, often about growing up in Israel. And he said he wanted to be the commissioner of baseball. In 2000 Kamin got fired. Nobody said why. Simply fired. And he moved to San Diego, where he led a congregation.

2. In 2015 Kamin writes in the San Diego Jewish World how he got blindsided by The Temple in 2000 and was shit-canned via letter, read aloud by the the local Jewish funeral-parlor director. Rabbi Kamin boasts in the San Diego article:

The rabbi’s study of The Temple in Cleveland was a national seat of power and prestige. Everyone in town knew me, many sought me out. Sports franchise owners had confided to me in this office. The African-American mayor had sat across from me, asking for Jewish support and money as he sought reelection. I had spoken by telephone more than once from this office with the Commissioner of Baseball. The Governor of Ohio had called me to offer congratulations on the day I ascended to the position I was now about to lose.”

3. 2017. Kamin’s older daughter, Sari, writes in Medium that she was sexually harassed by James Toback, a well-known film director. Sari was trying to be an actor in New York City. Sari’s story gets some national attention. [Medium headline: “I am one of the countless women film maker James Toback has harassed.”]

4. Kamin jumps in with an essay in the San Diego Union Tribune, 2017, saying it’s bad what his daughter is going through, and bad for him too:

“What does a father feel when he reads and hears his daughter’s harrowing story in various media and watches her, through his tearful eyes, stand up on national television on behalf of her own dignity and that of so many incalculable victims of this plague-perversion?

“The first thing he does not feel is any celebratory sense that his daughter is suddenly the subject of national interest and scrutiny. Pain should not derive fame; it needs to be released in the private corners of one’s subconscious, it needs to be mended with and by the mindful. It unequivocally needs to be reported — I’m proud of my child. But her pain needs more so to be redeemed. She needs to fulfill herself more than she is obligated to service CNN, NBC, and the New York Times.”

5. In 2019 Kamin is expelled from the Central Conference of American Rabbis (the Reform Jewish conclave) for violation of “sexual boundaries.” [Cleveland Jewish News: “CCAR expels former Cleveland Rabbi Benjamin A. Kamin.”]

6. Kamin’s obit, 2021, dead at 68 from heart complications. Daughter Debra says her dad was “a charming and complicated person.” [Cleveland Jewish News: “Former TTTI Rabbi Kamin recalled for humor and speaking ability.”]

7. Debra again, in Conde Nast Traveler, 2021, reiterates her dad was complicated. [“Getting to Know My Late Father Through his Travel Journals”]:

“My father, Ben Kamin, was a brilliant enigma. He was a rabbi and an author, an occasional journalist, and a late-life social justice warrior whose narcissism choked his full potential. He was stymied, both as parent and professional, by a desperate need for adulation that sent him tilting at windmills when confronted with even a whiff of criticism. Safe in the shell of his ego, my father was gregarious, and generous. He was my confidante and steadfast cheerleader. But if that shell took a blow, he retaliated with searing cruelty. Like skin on the body, my memories of him are mottled with these scars.

“Though my dad lifted up thousands—he led congregations, and wrote a dozen books and countless sermons—he let me and my family down. When I was 16, he was fired from his rabbinical pulpit, a public, gossip-fodder ejection that he would spend decades refusing accountability for. This was the first crack that divided my relationship with him into poles of before and after.

“To escape his shame, he pushed away those who reminded him of it, first divorcing my mother, then alienating my sister and I. As an adult, my relationship with my father was one of low expectations and high boundaries. With those guardrails in place, we found a way to stay connected. After a childhood of closeness, I could only allow him in my life by keeping him at an arm’s length.”


I ran a draft of the above by my wife, who wasn’t interested. That’s for the best probably. I was just reading an article in the New York Times about Shaker schools and fell in a rabbi hole.

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February 7, 2023   2 Comments


Plantar fasciitis. Your heel feels like there’s a spike in it. I fear plantar fasciitis. My wife has had it. My friend Danny has had it. Nobody knows how you get it or how you cure it. Just walk around with a spike in your hell – uh, heel.

I did a lot of walking during the day, and then played a gig that night at Stone Gardens assisted living facility, and during “Tsena, Tsena,” I did some groovy hora dance steps, and I walked out of the gig with plantar fasciitis. I immediately knew I had it. I can’t spell it but I felt it. I popped a couple ibu and used Volteran and did some stretches. Went to bed. I read that plantar fasciitis is worse in the morning.

Got up. No pain. So I started worrying about something else, like why was my computer acting like a fool. Then the plantar fasciitis came back when I played tennis a couple days later. My opponent, Jimmy, told me about his cure for plantar fascistic. Jimmy said I should do some stairway stretches. My wife suggested a foot roller. I’m working on the cure. I don’t want plantar whatever.

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February 1, 2023   6 Comments


My sophomore year at college I took Organic Chemistry (got a D), Physics (A), Intro to Poetry (A), and Psychology (Pass). I was in the process of transitioning from pre-med to no-med. The poetry-class teacher was Ted Berrigan, visiting Ann Arbor from the East Village. Ted was a big man with a beard who giggled like a little girl. He liked everything I wrote. He said young poets didn’t need criticism, they needed encouragement.

I visited him later on in New York. He was a player in the contemporary art/poetry scene in NYC. That’s how I once wound up in Allen Ginsberg’s apartment. (Ginsberg wasn’t there.) Berrigan lived on the edge, financially. He traipsed around to hip bookstores in NYC and collected money for his poetry books that had sold. And he also made real money on the burgeoning college poetry-reading circuit. He sometimes made $1000, adjusted for inflation, for a reading. [Got this  money info from a new book of Berrigan’s collected prose, Get the Money.] Writer/professor Donald Hall brought Berrigan to Michigan for the visiting-prof job.

Berrigan called poetry “work ” — as in “show me your work, Bert.” His poet friend Anne Waldman did a reading at the UGLI (undergrad library), and I handed her my work — a couple poems — and she published one in the St. Mark’s Poetry Project mag, The World. This was around 1972. I have to look that up. I think the poem was “Yellow Pages.” It’s a found poem, lifted from the page headings of the Yellow Pages. For example: “appraiser attorneys / automobile barbecue / bicycles burial / chaplains cigar / clubs cranes / day dentists / drapery engineer / . . . topsoil transmission / truck vacuum / washing water / womens zippers.” Definitely the best poem I ever wrote.

. . . Just back from my attic, home of dead poems. The World poem was not about the Yellow Pages. It was about Herbie Hancock, kind of. “Yellow Pages” — the poem — was published in a different East Village mag, Telephone. The mag was called Telephone. The poem was “Yellow Pages.” You following? If so, you get an A.

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January 10, 2023   4 Comments


I saw a bike inside Discount Drug Mart. It wasn’t for sale. It was blocking an aisle. A fully loaded bike – camping gear, front bag. I was trying to get blueberries but couldn’t easily navigate around the bike. A girl came up and said the bike was hers. I asked if Drug Mart let bikes in. She said yes. She was biking from Maine to California, she said.

She was Audra, 20, from Maine. She goes to Mount Holyoke and is studying film and environmental-something. She was biking out the southern route, Route 66.

She hadn’t heard of the song “Route 66.” I sent her a link to the Nat “King” Cole version. Also, I told her I had contributed to Adventure Cycling in Missoula, Mont., like forever. Like since it was Bikecentennial, 1976. I like maps — bike maps in particular.

Audra did the trip solo. (This all happened in August.) She said she’d send me a film of her trip. Cool. I haven’t gotten it yet, young lady!

All this went down next to the blueberries at Discount Drug Mart in Lakewood, Ohio.

I had an essay, “Rushing to the Gate is a Young Man’s Game,” in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, about airport travel. (No paywall.)

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November 23, 2022   4 Comments


I tried to cancel the shot in my back. I’d already had a shot, and I wasn’t keen on getting a second poke. But I had this brutish pain in my right thigh. I couldn’t walk too far, or swim, or play tennis. I had a herniated disc. I used to categorize water joggers as wusses. No more.

At the PT place, I saw a young woman without the lower part of her leg. That shut me up for a few seconds.

Meanwhile, I biked to Chagrin Falls, and somebody posted that on Facebook and everybody thought everything was cool with me. (The only thing cool was the bike riding. That didn’t hurt my back.)

The pain felt like 100 red ants crawling on my thigh, or 1,000 cell phones vibrating. It wouldn’t go away.

I canceled the second shot. No, I postponed it. The doc, the first time around, had said there was a one in 10,000 chance I’d be paralyzed from a poke. I had to sign off on that. I dithered. I had a few tricks left: cognitive behavioral therapy, yoga, chiropractors, massage, acupuncture, four more PTs and another doc.

I’m not complaining, am I? Just reporting. I’m reminiscing. This all happened five years ago. I still think about back pain a lot. It gets your attention. I got the second shot and steadily improved.

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November 2, 2022   1 Comment



I placed high in a couple math contests. Nationwide stuff. I’ve told you this before but it bears repeating. I got offers to attended workshops at U. of Chicago, MIT and other colleges. This was in high school. I went off to U. of Rochester one summer and got my gonads scraped by some smart kids there. After that, I became modest.

I saw the Stones, Beatles, Dylan. Everybody. Janis Joplin. James Cotton. For the record.

I went to Rochester for college. That was a long time ago. I’m not sure where Rochester is anymore.

My parents? My mom wanted a career in show biz. That wasn’t going to happen in Cleveland, but she did do some community theater. She wanted NYC. She got there on a couple vacations. My dad — you know about him from this blog. My brother? He doesn’t want any ink. Respect.


Here’s my essay in today’s Cleveland Plain Dealer. What will become of my wheat berry salad? Dave’s supermarket is taking over Zagara’s supermarket in Cleveland Heights.

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October 26, 2022   3 Comments


I’m related to very few Strattons. So I got excited when I came across Jon Stratton, the author of Coming Out Jewish. I found him on the internet. Wow, another Stratton writing about Jewish matters.  Maybe I’m Jon, using a pseudonym.

Jon Stratton is a cultural studies professor in Perth, Australia. His mother was Jewish and his father Christian. Jon grew up in England, not knowing anything about Judaism or Yiddishkayt (Jewishness).

I ordered Jon’s book on Amazon. I found out Jon “came out Jewish” in multicultural academic circles, writing about, among other things, “ghetto-thinking” — Jewish anxiety. He said he had been slightly different from his friends in England because his mother had made him “ring home” whenever he went out, while his chums never had to ring home. Jon’s mother was an angst-ridden Jew from the Continent.

My mother, on the other hand, was from the Mississippi Delta and didn’t worry about anything. My mother left me off at freeway exits to hitchhike. One trip I made a left on I-80 and wound up in South America. She was OK with that.

In 1990, at the Cleveland airport, I waited for my mom to arrive on the “snowbird” flight from Florida. I was with my then 9-year-old son, Teddy, who I let run around the airport. But I warned him, “If you wander off too far, you’re going home on the Rapid.”

He wandered off and I left him. A half hour later a Cleveland policeman called me, and I had to go back to the airport — 20 miles one-way. The airport cop gave me a “sir, you are a douche bag” smirk when I entered the airport police office. The cop didn’t understand my son had practically memorized the Rapid Transit timetable and had ridden the complete Lee Road route.

I learned laissez-faire childrearing from my mother. There was nothing continental about her except her airlines. (Cleveland to West Palm Beach direct on Continental.)

If I ever go to Australia, I’ll look up Jon Stratton and maybe we can talk about our mothers.

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October 12, 2022   1 Comment