Category — Miscellaneous
Martin Amis said being in his father’s business (writing) was somewhat disreputable. Martin Amis said, “Being a hereditary novelist is a freaky thing, and people do find it a bit creepy.”
Here are some other hereditary artists and/or public figures: Ravi Coltrane, Ben Cheever, Katie Roiphe, Ben Stiller, Dweezil Zappa, George W. Bush, A.G. Sulzberger. All schmucks! Yes, that’s an extreme reaction, but I’m a bit envious.
A friend said to me about my family business: “I wish I had a business to pass on to my son.”
A family business which is real world (like carpet sales, real estate, or law) is nothing to get envious about, so don’t get envious. But show biz and politics, that’s a different mammal.
One exception to the above rules: If a father is a regional musician, and his son becomes a nationally known musician, that’s called roots and is very acceptable. Joe Lovano’s father was a sax player in Cleveland. Joel Grey’s father (Mickey Katz) was a clarinetist in Cleveland. Ken Peplowski’s father played in a polka band in Cleveland. That’s all very admirable.
April 26, 2017 5 Comments
Dr. Michael Roizen, the longevity guru, spoke at my temple men’s club. He said take 6-to-8 supplements a day. He said he hadn’t eaten ice cream since 1993. A good-natured heckler said, “And that’s when you stopped growing!” Roizen is about 5-5. Roizen gave the heckler a fist-bump, acknowledging the man’s comment was the best moment of the lecture.
Roizen says eat more turmeric, fish oil and vitamin D. And here are few more tips:
Meat portion . . . the size of two fists and a ping-pong ball.
Get a flu shot unless you’re allergic to “wool.”
Waffles for breakfast every day. But no maple syrup.
Avoid fad diets.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid apples from Washington State. Bad chemicals up there.
People over 70: exercise more. Run or walk 25,000 steps a day. You can break that up.
Fight for the little guy — anybody under 5-7.
Play the lottery. Bet daily — and a lot. You’ll feel better.
Say “yes” to wine and beer, but no more than four drinks a day, ladies, and no more than eight drinks a day, gents. And don’t knock Miller Lite and other “piss waters,” to quote Roizen.
Chocolate is good for you. We know that, but here’s the latest: eat a marshmallow before and after your chocolate intake. The mallow triggers many good enzymes.
The first two paragraphs are true. The rest isn’t.
April 19, 2017 3 Comments
Two nights, two swallows. They were coming in through the chimney. I hate that – birds in the house. My wife hates it worse.
Some people are good with birds in their house, but I run around with a towel and swing at the birds, and they dive-bomb at me.
Everything in the house started to go bad that night. The kitchen sink trap leaked, and there was a rug in Jack’s old bedroom that got stinky mildewy. Rain came in the window onto the rug. We had to put a big fan in there for days. And the washing machine broke; I overstuffed it and broke the motor.
But the worst was the birds.
April 12, 2017 4 Comments
Danny Kaye liked to hang around doctors and operating rooms. My parents admired Danny Kaye because he could dance, sing, and do impersonations — plus the medical stuff. My parents wanted me to be Danny Kaye — the medical part.
But I didn’t go to med school. I became a journalist. I once researched and wrote an article on open-heart surgery. I watched surgery for that article, and I tried surgery. The docs let me. It took two years for the patient to regain her health. Plus, I suffered significant financial losses. A lawyer called me a “kidnapper” as if I took the patient – call her Karen – into the operating room and held her against her wishes for eight hours. (The surgery was nine hours, actually.)
Afterward, I told Karen, “The good news is you’re alive, and I have your aortas – two of them – 90-percent clearer. The bad news is your other aortas are controversial. Also, any sudden outburst by you, and you might die.”
Karen screamed but she didn’t die. She sued me.
Danny Kaye featured Herman’s Hermits on the Danny Kaye Show in 1965 to get more baby-boomer viewers. The regular viewers preferred Imogene Coca and Jim Nabors. Danny Kaye was a terrific dancer, comedian, mimic, singer and medical enthusiast. My parents liked him more than me. I operated on Karen so I wouldn’t have to endure any more of my folks’ diatribes about my suspect career path. They said, “Son, you write for a suburban weekly. That’s not a living to support a family.” So I took up the knife. The cold rejection of my parents. Walk in my bloody booties for a second. I’m decent at surgery — maybe not Cleveland Clinic level — but I’m OK. I’m as good as Danny Kaye.
fiction. A version of this first appeared here 10/30/13.
April 5, 2017 4 Comments
My wife says I like to pop cans. She says, “Guys like to pop cans.” I’ve been popping soda pop cans a lifetime, but I now mostly pop seltzer water. We have SodaStream, but I’ve also discovered L’Croix, and then Klarbrunn (at Costco). Alice says popping cans is not sustainable.
SodaStream is better-tasting — more carbonated — than canned seltzer.
I told my kids not to drink real pop. I said, “If you need to drink pop, drink diet pop.” But some of my kids refuse to drink diet pop. They think it has bad chemicals. We’re all chemicals. For years my wife preferred Diet Coke to Diet Pepsi and made stinks at restaurants about cola choices.
With canned seltzer, I drift toward lemon- and lime-flavored choices. At a gig I saw every L’Croix flavor, but I was too shy to pop eight, or so, cans to sample everything.
My parents didn’t have seltzer home-delivery.
Do kids like seltzer? I’d guess no.
March 22, 2017 1 Comment
The first time I ate Wonder Bread I was 14. I didn’t see TV until I was 14. I didn’t drink pop until I was 14. My mother had a bottle of 7-Up in our freezer, which was not a freezer, just a hole — a slat — below the floor in our “living room.”
[This space is snow.]
I grew up in Holy Cross, Alaska. The Jesuits had a mission there, and they sent me to Glenallen, Alaska, for high school — 460 miles away. I was out there nine months a year.
I joined the Navy at 17, went to Nam, and launched jets from aircraft carriers for three years. I liked the Navy; I had grown up on two things: moose and salmon. The Navy’s macaroni and cheese was something different.
My dad was a beaver trapper. There were 12 of us in one room. I’m not telling you this to impress you, I’m telling you because you seem interested (seeing as you’ve read this far).
I worked the pipeline as a surveyor and was really good at 40-degrees-below zero. I’m retired now and live in Anchorage. I miss some of the “attaboys” — compliments — from management and fellow tradesmen. My team could put up 100 vertical posts in a day and do it right.
I go fishing every morning during the season, particularly when the kings are running. I have plenty salmon and halibut in my freezer. You need any?
And I should mention my favorite klezmer band is Yiddishe Cup.
Yiddishe Cup plays for Purim 7:30 Sat. (March 11) at Park Synagogue, Pepper Pike, Ohio.
March 8, 2017 4 Comments
Oliver Sacks practically lived on sardines until he found a partner who liked to cook. Sacks said he ate sardines on the run. (For sardine eating, seating is optional. So is a plate.)
My wife, Alice, invented an odd sardine recipe, because she doesn’t like sardines. She pan-fries the sardines, then mixes in pickle relish, mayonnaise and a dab of soy sauce. She spreads this concoction on bread.
I buy sardines at Discount Drug Mart. A can of Chicken of the Sea, lightly smoked with bones, is 68 cents. Texture, size and nationality (of the sardine) vary.
Some sardine advice: don’t buy sardines in water. They’re tasteless. Also, don’t go with “skinless and boneless.” That is not a true sardine experience. You need the calcium, the crunch from the bones.
Here is some sardine lingo: “Good source of calcium . . . Source of omega-3 fatty acids . . . All natural wild caught . . . Sustainably harvested . . . MLHB Parasite Free — Rabbi Shneur Z. Revach.”
I don’t bulk-shop for sardines (like six-packs at Costco). Sardine shopping should be more spontaneous, like buying a Snickers or Hershey bar. (Confession: Alice went to Costco on Sunday and I asked her to get me a six-pack.)
Some respected brands: Ocean Prince, Prince Oscar, Roland, Season, Trader Joe’s.
The Season box reads: “After opening, refrigerate and store in a covered glass or plastic container and consume within 3 days.” No problem — for me. How about you? (Maybe you don’t like sardines. Get out of here!)
February 1, 2017 8 Comments
I walked on water, across Horseshoe Lake in Shaker Heights, the other day. You’re not supposed to walk on the lake, but around it. I walk on it every 25 years or so. Why not walk on water? What’s the worst that could happen? Drown? (The lake is only 4-feet deep. I know this because I saw it dredged about 20 years ago.) A former county engineer described the Shaker Lakes system as a “two-bit duck pond.”
I like a new outlook — like standing in the middle of a lake. On Sunday evening it was dark and 15 degrees; nearly everybody was inside. I saw about four cars while I was at the lake. I wish I had done a “Script Ohio” in the snow with my name “Bert.” Nick Mileti, the former owner of the Cavs, said he built the Coliseum in Richfield, Ohio, to “have some fun, make some dough, leave some footprints in the sand.”
Here are my footprints:
I’m not onboard for cremation and scattering my ashes, but if I were, I would have my ashes strewn over Horseshoe Lake, which I walk around every couple days. One big drawback: the dredging every 20 years, that’s kind of gross, ashes-wise.
Years ago – about 100 – there was boating on the lake. This now happens about every ten years, when Shaker Heights throws a family day. Horseshoe Lake is three-fourths in Shaker Heights and one-fourth in Cleveland Heights. I started on the Shaker side, in case you’re wondering.
January 11, 2017 5 Comments
Alice, my wife, told me to see a skin doctor. She said, “The sore on your nose isn’t healing.” So I went to the dermatologist.
The doc said, “I’m pretty sure this is cancer. Basel cell carcinoma. If it’s benign, we won’t call you back.”
Three weeks later and no call back. Good. It was benign. I said to Alice, “Maybe I should call the doctor. He said he was pretty sure it was cancerous.”
I called. The skin doctor’s receptionist put me on hold for five minutes. A nurse said, “We’re waiting for a fax.” What’s with a fax? The doctor got on the line: “I have to apologize. We are using a new lab, and they failed to send a report to us. I take the blame. I should have followed up. It’s basil cell carcinoma, just like I expected.” Skin cancer.
I hate that, when you dig hard for a bad diagnosis and get it. Suddenly your world revolves around medical appointments and follow-ups. I went to the specialist, a doctor who did Mohs surgery — deep-dish nose drilling.
What if I hadn’t called the dermatologist back? Maybe I wouldn’t have a nose. I don’t know.
The surgery featured recorded klezmer music. (Some other time for that story.)
January 4, 2017 5 Comments
1. Wear shorts to a wedding. You’ll draw attention away from the bride, to you, where it belongs.
3. Start a doo-wop band.
4. Invent a new colonoscopy flavor. (Pineapple, cherry, lemon-lime and orange are already taken.)
6. Trade diarrhea stories with a friend over a campfire.
7. Convert to Christianity (or Judaism). Why spend your life in only one religion? See what’s out there.
7. Spend at least $1,000 on watches.
8. Re-watch Napoleon Dynamite.
9. Spy on your neighbor to learn what kind of beer and Smucker’s, he or she consumes. If you see Sugar Free Apricot, call the police.
9. Buy insurance for fun one afternoon.
10. Hold a pen horizontally in your mouth and bite down until the ink cartridge explodes. This activates the same muscles that create a smile.
December 14, 2016 4 Comments
When a relative of mine ran for school board and lost, my father said, “Don’t run again. You don’t want to get a loser’s reputation.” My relative didn’t run again. I, too, play by my dad’s rules. I might run for president in 2020. Not saying yet.
First, a little background: I was a Kennedy man. I had a button as a big as a dinner plate.
I started my own country (on paper) in sixth grade and elected presidents and representatives. My country was a solace, because in the real world I couldn’t run for president because a) I wasn’t 35 and b) I was Jewish.
My mother said I could run and win. She duped me! Mom, my man, Abe Ribicoff of Connecticut, couldn’t even run. Newsweek said the country wasn’t ready for the Ribman, even for veep.
Now presumably a Jew could win. But let me be clear: I won’t start out at school-board level or even vice president. Trump taught me to go big or go home. My Little League teammate Joel Hyatt (Cleveland Heights High ’68) ran for U.S. Senate and got clobbered, maybe because he hadn’t paid his dues; he hadn’t run for lesser offices.
Lee Fisher (Shaker Heights High ’69) paid dues. I saw him at a civic club meeting in Collinwood in 1982: six neighbors, Lee and me. (I was a Sun Newspaper reporter.) Fisher eventually climbed to lieutenant governor. Then he got clobbered for the U.S. Senate. He paid dues, though. Give him that. [What’s he up to now? . . . Interim dean of Cleveland State law school.]
I’m willing to pay no dues. Again, the Trump influence.
My American history teacher at Brush High said Stratton is a good political name. (My teacher’s name was Americo Betori. He should have run for mayor of Cleveland, about 1950, against Celebreeze. Battle of the vowels.)
Remember that name. No, not Americo Betori. Stratton! (Mr. Betori died three years ago. I could identify 98 capitals and states on a blank map — my strong suit. My weak suit: being personable. Mr. Betori wrote on my final report card, “Cheer up, Bert, and give the world a chance!” Good advice. I try to follow it. I might give the world a chance to vote for Stratton in 2020. No experience necessary.
A version of this appeared here 10/31/12.
November 9, 2016 4 Comments
Hi, Cubs Fans.
I’ve got one word for you: Go Tribe.
I post here every Wednesday.
I had an essay in the Chicago Tribune,“Don’t Be Greedy, Chicago . . . “, the other day.
October 26, 2016 1 Comment
I post up here every Wednesday. Subscribe if you want a weekly dose.
By the way, the “drummer in the Michigan Wolverines women’s basketball pep band” has a new record out today: The Beautiful Game. The band, Vulfpeck, has been on Colbert and appeared at Bonnaroo. (The album is available on Bandcamp.)
If you’re a book editor and want to read my non-fiction book proposal, Landlord, contact Eric Myers at Dystal & Goderich Literary Management.
October 16, 2016 5 Comments
Welcome to my sound. Right now I’m at the corner bar making a lot of noise. I can knock over beer bottles with my booming voice. I sweep a room, no question.
I see blood droplets and people screaming. I’m going to broadcast this mess.
Don’t talk to me about tinnitus! We’re not living in an abbey, folks. Wake up. Hang some string from your ears. Make some noise!
[Some of this was stolen from the Poetry Project Newsletter Feb/March ’14.]
Oh, to be in England
September 21, 2016 No Comments
1. Eat your fist once a week.
2. Sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” every morning. It aligns you. It starts with a major triad, 5-3-1.
3. If you’re blood isn’t bright red, eat cheese immediately.
4. Eat sardines. Chicken of the Sea, lightly smoked in oil, is your best good bet.
5. Avoid fad diets.
6. Drink a shot glass of olive oil once a day.
7. Don’t knock Miller Lite.
8. Exercise at least two minutes an hour.
9. Catholics: carry smartphones. Sainthood is difficult to prove if you don’t have evidence.
10. Eat a lot of marshmallows. They aid your stomach in absorbing the flavonoids.
11. Arby’s Horsy Sauce is better for you than tomato sauce.
A slightly different version of this post appeared here 11/27/13.
Vulfpeck’s Kickstarter for its new album, The Beautiful Game, is up. Click on this link to contribute.
August 24, 2016 5 Comments
I post a new story here every Wednesday.
The Times didn’t activate the “comments” button on my Republican National Convention essay. If you want to comment on the piece, you can fire away here.
July 19, 2016 3 Comments
1. SO FILTHY
I have this band, Vulfpeck, which is so filthy. My lead singer is the shit — a Lebanese kid from Detroit who sings some Yiddish. And my drummer grew up next door to Aretha in Bloomfield Hills. He’s the shit plus one. My bass player has a following in Norway.
We’re on fire. We play at temples and Jewish arts festivals throughout the country, but we aren’t locked into the J bag. We’re in discussion with a major label, but I’m skeptical. The label says we’re “too Jewish.” We’re not too Jewish. We’re too filthy!
2. MUSIC DREAMS
I hear animal voices, particularly cats and fleas. Significant to my music? Yes. A coffee table book, Hope You Like My Music!, has more than 100 photos of professional musicians. Some tied up, some with instruments in odd places. I’m in a bathtub with clarinet reeds, like Moses.
3. OUR ESTHETIC
I admire musicians who, when you first hear their recordings, you know exactly who is playing. Like you say, “Hey, that’s Arnie!” because you hear the snorting hogs in the background, which is always Arnie’s thing.
Vulfpeck’s latest tune is “Gas.” It stresses colors and dynamics. One guy belches whole notes. Doesn’t feel forced either.
June 15, 2016 3 Comments
A.J. Jacobs read an encyclopedia for a year and wrote about it. Lee Kravitz apologized to his old enemies for a year and wrote about it. Another writer lived off dumpster food for a year. Ben Ryder Howe bought a Korean deli, ran it for two years, and wrote about it. (That was good: My Korean Deli.) I buy buildings, own them for decades, and write about that. That’s less contrived than the other guys, I think.
When a tenant with Alzheimer’s forgets to pay her rent, I put her checkbook right in front of her, and she writes. Then she moves out, because I can’t be her full-time nurse.
A tenant uses too many fresheners in the washing machine and clogs it up. Drama? Not quite. This paragraph doesn’t make the cut.
Philip Roth was jealous Primo Levi had a profession — chemist — to write about. It’s hard writing about nothing. I did that when I was young and failed.
June 8, 2016 3 Comments
I got semi-famous a few days ago when my article about the Rust Belt was published throughout the world. Question: how much rust can the world ingest?
A lot. My article, “My Rust Belt Doesn’t Rust,” was about my love for my Cleveland, my resentment of the term “flyover country,” and Go Cavs.
A lot of papers ran it. It’s in Anchorage now. It was in the International New York Times.
Midwesterners have good manners, don’t raise their voices, and don’t care about credentials, etc. Around here (Cleveland) the only thing that matters is you didn’t go to Michigan.
Truth be told: I’m a Midwest poseur. All Jews, no matter where they live, are New York Jews. I play the Stratton/Ohio card to get published. Another guy who occasionally plays that card is Bob Greene, who grew up in suburban Columbus, Ohio. He writes about Midwestern-ness, particularly about Bexley, the Shaker Heights of Columbus. I like that, probably because my wife grew up in Bexley. Now, if you want vintage Midwest, the true-blood cornfield stuff, read Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg Ohio about Clyde, Ohio.
I see something in Italian. Gotta go. One more thing: can’t believe Stephen Curry might not make it to the Finals. Does San Fran have bad luck? That would be so Rust Belt.
This is fiction — the bit about the newspaper article.
May 25, 2016 3 Comments
Nancy Hoffman changed her middle name from Arlene to “3.” Nancy runs the Umbrella Cover Museum in Peaks Island, Maine, and does “eccentric artistry” (to quote her website). Nancy also plays accordion in the Casco Bay Tummlers klezmer band and is a friend of Avner the Eccentric.
I was at Nancy’s book-signing in Cleveland for Uncovered and Exposed: A Guide to the World’s Only Umbrella Cover Museum. Nancy kept a ledger of her book sales. That didn’t seem eccentric.
Yiddishe Cup plays for the community-wide Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel Independence Day) celebration tomorrow evening (Thurs., May 12) at Landerhaven, Cleveland. Free.
May 11, 2016 4 Comments