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

THE TEN COMMANDMENTS
OF PROPERTY MANAGEMENT

  • Don’t rent to anybody for less than a year. How about six months? Nope. You’ll attract unstable — in all ways — tenants.
  • Don’t go long-term on a natural gas contract. Anything can happen with natural gas prices.
  • Don’t assume store tenants will do preventive maintenance. I once hired Roto-Rooter to jet a restaurant’s drain. The bill was $925. The restaurant owner didn’t reimburse me. He said, “How do you know it was my grease?” Well, was it grease from the flower shop next door?
  • Roofers are gonifs. It’s hard work and you can’t easily check their work.
  • When the temperature goes below 20 degrees, everything fails: pipes, downspouts, boilers, walls, roofs, snowplow guys, concrete.
  • Miller is a good all-purpose name. Miller can be Amish, African-American, Jewish, German, English, Gypsy. I once rented to Gypsy Millers. The cops wanted their license plate number but I didn’t get the number fast enough. The Millers left suddenly. They had New York plates.
  • There aren’t enough Elvis lovers in the trades anymore.
  • Real estate brokers wear expensive suits even though they’re not all rich. They go into boiler rooms and climb roofs. They have significant dry-cleaning bills.
  • Make sure there aren’t any Q-tips — even new ones — in the bathroom when showing vacant suites.
  • Wear a tie to court. The defendant usually will not. You win.

  • WSJ readers, here are more real estate stories.

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    January 19, 2022   3 Comments

    MAKING THE SCENE (PART II)

    This is a guest post by Mark Schilling, a longtime friend of Bert’s. It’s an edited excerpt from an unpublished novel Mark wrote in 1973.

    Bruce answered my questions about his trip to Puerto Rico in a monotone, with that dry humor of his, never looking at me and seldom saying more than the minimum. Wanting to cheer him up, I suggested we go to The Scene — the bar famed for having the only psychedelically lighted dance floor in Ann Arbor. I said, “Maybe we can pick up some secretaries from Ypsilanti and tell them we’re pre-med students.”

    Bruce agreed to go. “But no junior high school shit,” he said. “No standing around for an hour to get the feel of things. We walk up to the first two hip-looking girls we see and ask to sit down with them.”

    “You take the lead, man.”

    “Don’t try to bring me down, I’ll need all the help I can get,” Bruce said.

    “I’m not going to bring you down,” I said, feeling pissed. But I let it ride.

    The Scene was packed. It was Saturday night. The drummer and keyboard player, who accompanied the records, were taking a break. Bruce and I stood at the bar surveying the crowd. “See the two chicks in back?” Bruce asked. “I’ll go over and see if it’s cool. Just stay here.” One, with her back to us, was wearing a red bandana. The other, a blonde, looked fantastic.

    What was Bruce going to say? Hi, my friend and I would like to sit with you? I hoped it would be something better than that, but what? Bruce waved me over.

    Now it was my turn to feel the butterflies. Bruce was sitting next to the blonde. The girl with the red bandana had a friendly, intelligent smile, which made me wonder what she was doing at The Scene. We covered everyone’s name, occupation and place of residence. The bandana girl, Jane, was a natural resources student at the U of M; the blonde, Marie, was a drop-out from Wayne State, now working as a check-out clerk at a Kroger’s in Detroit.

    Bruce asked Marie who her favorite authors were, as a ploy for recounting his own poetic and journalistic exploits (he wrote music reviews for the college newspaper). When she told him she had read On the Road, he looked as though he was going to hug her. “You know Kerouac! What else have you read?” All interesting, but with the music blasting away it was hard to hear half of what they were saying.

    So I quizzed Jane about her major. She was very concerned about the environment. “We’re running out of time,” she told me. “We’ve got to make changes now. In twenty years it will be too late.” She didn’t know what to do about it and neither did I. We danced, talked some more, and then Jane and Marie had to leave. Bruce wrote Marie’s number down on a napkin.

    Walking back to campus, Bruce said, “Her name is Marie Verdoux. She’s a Frog — a Canuck!” Bruce had wanted to meet a French girl ever since becoming a fan of Kerouac, that son of Canucks. “She’s a genius, no doubt about it.”

    A couple days later I dropped by Bruce’s place, a rooming house just off State Street. He was sitting on his bed listening to records. He’d been at it for hours. Bruce told me he had called Marie. “She was surprised but I think she dug it,” he said.

    “What did you talk about?”

    “Bullshit. I was just doing it to keep my edge. I don’t want her to forget who I am, you know.” Then Bruce rambled on more about Marie — what a good time they would have together. Bruce liked to make every encounter with a girl into a big moment of truth, a matter of make or break. We could endlessly analyze the nuances of these meetings. Bruce said, “I tape-recorded the call. She has an incredible voice, like an airline stewardess or something.”

    Bruce tape-recorded nearly everyone who walked into his room or talked to him on the phone. It bugged me at first to see him flipping that thing on at the start of a conversation, but I’d gotten used to it. Bruce said he was making the tapes for posterity. He liked to quote Ed Sanders’ adage “this is the age of investigation and every citizen must investigate.”

    This tape — this blog post, label it “The Scene, 1973.”

    Mark Schilling, 1977

    Mark Schilling, 1977

    —  Mark Schilling has lived in Japan for decades and writes about Japanese culture, particularly about Japanese film. He writes regularly for The Japan Times and Variety. His books include Sumo, A Fan’s Guide; Tokyo After Dark; The Encyclopedia of Japanese Pop Culture; and most recently Art, Cult and Commerce: Japanese Cinema Since 2000.

     

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    January 12, 2022   9 Comments

    MY BEAT-EST FRIEND

    Mark Schilling was my beat-est buddy. He moved to Los Angeles, quite possibly to live out a Charles Bukowski fantasy. Before L.A., Mark was in Ann Arbor, where he did some cool things (can’t remember any of them) and some cloddish things, like going out on a first date and taking one dollar with him, and the girl said, “Do you think I’m paying for myself.”

    “Yes,” Mark said.

    Mark showed up at my place. “Just blew another one!” he said. We played the Best of the Beach Boys, Vol 2, and Mark sang along. He had a good voice. We hopped into Mark’s Chevy and made the scene — The Scene bar in downtown Ann Arbor. The bar had flashing colored lights, nude photos of women on the ceiling, and peace and love posters. The Scene was cheesy, an ersatz European discotheque. Stupid. The more philosophical heads in town were at Flick’s Bar or Mr. Flood’s Party. But Mark and I preferred the drama of The Scene, because at The Scene there was dancing, which could lead to . . . whatever. The Scene had a contingent from Ypsilanti that could go nuts at any moment.

    I approached a girl called Pinball Annie, who was next to the speakers. She refused to budge, and I didn’t feel like going deaf, so Mark and I retreated to the loft, above the dance floor. The viewing was good up there, and Mark and I were above-average voyeurs. (Below-average players.) Mark talked about his student teaching and what he’d been reading lately. Mark worshipped Henry Miller. Mark was all about Hen (Miller) and Buk (Bukowski). Mark also admired Anais Nin, who lectured once at U-M. She defended Henry Miler before a crowd of Miller-hating women. She said Miller’s writing was picaresque.

    Mark was picaresque, too. (Picaresque: “relating to an episodic style of fiction dealing with the adventures of a rough and dishonest but appealing hero.”) Mark was all that, but honest.

    Mark sold Christmas trees in L.A., then moved to Tokyo to teach English at Sony. He quit the Sony ESL gig after a few years and wrote books and articles about Japanese culture. One of Mark’s first books was a guide to nightlife, Tokyo After Dark. Figures.

    mark schilling BEST PHOTO(R) & bert stratton, 1971, ann arbor

    Bert Stratton (L) and Mark Schilling. 1971. A2.

    P.S. Mark is still my beat-est buddy.

    I recently wrote a book review of Donald Hall’s Old Poets for City Journal. The review is titled “A Viking Cruise for Old English Majors.”

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    January 5, 2022   7 Comments

    MY AUTOBIO

    I skipped third grade. Let me put that out here right away.

    I was the shortest kid in my class and got the crap kicked out of me regularly.

    I remember Colavito hit four homers in a row against Baltimore in 1959.

    I did juggling, tennis, ping pong and music.

    I got beaten up by Italians, in particular. I was 4-foot-7 in seventh grade. However . . . I made the junior high basketball team. I didn’t see a minute of play, but I could sink 20 free throws in a row.

    I was a Life Scout, not Eagle, just like musician Irwin Weinberger.

    I worked summers at a drugstore, stocking shelves for $1.25 an hour. I got one free Snickers per shift.

    My dad often dozed in the upholstered chair in the front room. He had The Cleveland Press in his lap. My mom was a homemaker and did all the normal Donna Reed stuff.

    In high school I placed in a national math contest and attended a summer workshop at the University of Rochester, where I got schooled by true math geniuses. After that I became modest, except here.

    I went to some big-name rock concerts. I saw the Byrds, the Band. Everybody. Janis Joplin. James Cotton opened for her.

    I attended Michigan, U. of.  Then I went into real estate. Is there anything else to do? Not that I know of.

    I got married in 1978. My wife has a degree in physics from Ohio State. Never used it. She taught gym. We have three adult children and 11 grandchildren — more than some Orthodox Jews.

    I skipped a grade. Did I mention that? Sandy Stein did too. He was also short.

    [fake profile]

    You want to read something true? I wrote about Santa Claus and small-claims court for the Wall Street Journal last week. “Never Throw Out Santa Claus”

    Triple play. I made a 1:45-minute video. “Deli Jews, My Dad, and the Browns.”

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

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    December 29, 2021   3 Comments

    ROBERT BLY’S WORST NIGHTMARE

    Poet Robert Bly’s worst nightmare was visiting his family in Minnesota and attending hockey games. Maybe not as bad as Vietnam, but up there pain-wise, he said.

    Bly’s anti-Midwest rap was a big hit in Ann Arbor in the 1970s. Bly’s main message: your parents are middle-class stiffs; your real family is elsewhere. Join the counterculture. Bly was a 44-year-old Harvard man in a serape. He had a lot of chutzpah dispensing life advice wearing that shmate.

    Bly died at 94 in Minnesota last month. He lived in Minnesota most of his life and was the state’s first poet laureate, so he was putting us on when he said don’t go home.

    I liked going home. Whenever I came home from college, I received the treatment due the future Dr. Stratton. I only had to do the occasional minor chore, like emptying the dishwasher or dusting. Some of my college buddies didn’t go home. They were scared of becoming middle-class, even for a single weekend.

    During college vacations I sometimes hung around with my grade-school neighborhood pals. My friend John was installing tanning booths. My friend Chuck owned shares in a racehorse. Chuck worked as a mutuel clerk at the day-time Thoroughbred track and at the trotters’ track at night. When Chuck wasn’t working, he was firing his .357 magnum at beer cans in the woods in Geauga County.

    I learned something about guns. Not a lot, but enough to swiss-cheese any intruder with a 12-gauge shotgun. Bly knew about guns, too, and Midwestern culture. But it wasn’t his thing. Or maybe it was.

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    December 22, 2021   1 Comment

    THE SOUND GUY

    When I’m drinking at the neighborhood bar, I like to hear a lot of noise. And when I’m at the corner restaurant, I want it loud in there, too. I like vibrations. Sometimes I pretend to get drunk just so I can be crazy-loud and incoherent. I try to knock over beer bottles with my voice.

    When I’m riding the Rapid, I talk as loudly as possible. I see drops of bloods, people screaming at me, exclamation points (!) all over. Doesn’t bother me.

    Should I attenuate? No. Potentiate? Probably. I’m 71. I’m not old. An old person is somebody who says, “It’s too loud in here.” I have never said that.

    I hang out with my musician friends and talk about tinnitus and loud Orthodox Jewish weddings. Musicians are all sound wrestlers. Some of us are hard of hearing.

    We’re not living in an abbey. Crank it up. I’m here to hear.

    [fake profile]

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    December 15, 2021   2 Comments

    SHE SAVED ME SOME MONEY

    Ms. Gibson skipped. I phoned her because she left her apartment purple, black and yellow. She didn’t want to talk about that. She wanted to talk about why I hadn’t changed the toilet seat when she moved in, and why hadn’t I fixed the ceiling in her hallway, and why did the building manager tell her she could paint the walls purple, black and yellow if she couldn’t.

    Ms. Gibson was never late on her rent. She was there two years. But she skipped and used weird paint colors. “Didn’t you get my final month’s rent?” she said. “I sent it with a note saying I was moving.”

    I didn’t receive the check. It was the twentieth of the month. I went dumpster-diving in my wastebasket for the check. Maybe I misplaced it. I had a 30-gallon wastebasket. I wondered how many more times I would go dumpster-diving for liars. Ms. Gibson had seven months left on her lease. I threatened to take her to court.

    She said, “Go ahead, I’m broke.”

    “It’ll be on your public record,” I said. “If you try to buy a car or a house, the public record will be on your credit report. At least pay this month’s rent. You said you mailed it. I didn’t get it. Mail it again. Do the right thing.”

    She said she would send a half month’s rent. (Better than nothing.)

    “Make sure you send it. You know, you painted the kitchen cabinets black.”

    “And those cabinets look better than when I moved in!”

    The half month’s rent didn’t show up. I left Ms. Gibson a voice mail: “Pay the half month’s rent. Give it to the Pony Express, or the mailman, or hand-deliver it to me. If you don’t, I’m going to sue you. I don’t care if you are broke.”

    I never did get the half month’s rent. The new tenant — post-Gibson — liked the black cabinets. He also liked Ms. Gibson’s yellow paint job in the kitchen. Ms. Gibson knew her colors. She saved me some money on re-painting. Ms. Gibson had some pluses.

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    December 1, 2021   No Comments

    ONE COTTON-PICKIN’ YID

    I get emails — which I ignore — from Hadassah magazine and The Forward. I’m a cotton farmer in Rolling Fork, Mississippi. Fourth generation. I have 9,000 acres. You don’t know what an acre is, so why am I telling you this?

    I have 30 employees. Right now two guys are from South Africa. Harvest season just ended. The Africans have to leave the country by tomorrow, Thanksgiving. Several Hispanics. Blacks. Whites. I treat everybody fair. I also grow soybeans and harvest pecan trees. I have a cotton gin. Everybody uses my gin.

    I’m on the board of Anshe Chesed Temple in Vicksburg. My great-grandfather came over from Germany in 1886. No, I don’t live right on the farm. And no, my acreage is not one big square.

    I should mention Rolling Fork isn’t too far from Yazoo City, where Stratton’s mother grew up. Stratton says he wants to take me on a tour of the Northeast. I’d lecture and he’d play clarinet. No thanks.

    Stratton was just here for a family wedding. He brought his clarinet. He spent a lot of time hanging around with the wedding band, trying to convince them to let him play the hora. Didn’t happen.

    Every town in the Mississippi Delta, back in the day, had at least 10 Jewish families.

    I’ll stop here. I don’t do interviews. If you want to know more, visit the Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience in New Orleans. It’s new and I’m in it.

    [This post is based on a conversation I had with a farmer at a wedding in Little Rock this month. Eighty-seven percent true. And by the way, I did play some clarinet at the rehearsal dinner.]

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    November 24, 2021   3 Comments

    STRATTON VS STRATTON

    Stratton asked me, “How was it?”

    “How was what? I survived — whatever it was,” I said.

    “Good. What’s your field, chap?”

    Real estate, music and writing.”

    “I bet you like the music and writing best.”

    “You got that right. I’m Bert Stratton. What’s your name?”

    “Tom Stratton-Crooke.”

    “We’re relatives!” I said.

    “I could tell by the cut of your jib.”

    “What’s your field?” I asked.

     “Steamships,” he said. “Hey, where did you go to school?”

    “Michigan.”

    “Ann Arbor?”

    “Yes. What about you?”

    “King’s Point, the Merchant Marine Academy. Then NYU. I was in Japan and Korea, and Iran, and then throughout the Middle East. The colonel liked my loquacious manner.”

    “Hah.”

    “I just got my third jab. Moderna. I’m 88. You never know.”

    “You’re gonna need a fourth shot. You’re big.”

    “Hah. You watch Downton Abbey?”

    “Not in, like, five years.”

    “I missed season one. I’m watching it now. My father served in the Grenadiers. He had the same medals as Lord Grantham.”

    “You’re from England?”

    “My father was. I was in Mary Poppins in high school in New Rochelle. Does that count?”

    “That counts.”

    “Do you want me to sing ‘Burlington Bertie from Bow?'”

    “I never heard of it.”

    “I’ll pull it up on my phone. Julie Andrews sings it. She’s marvelous.”

    “Have you ever seen that clip of Julie Andrews singing Yiddish?”

    “Can’t say that I have.”

    ——

    Julie Andrews singing in Yiddish at the 50-second mark.

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    October 26, 2021   4 Comments

    GROSS

    This has been building up for a long time. I can’t take it. My dad goes to the bathroom 20 times a night, and he never closes the door, and he doesn’t aim for the side of the bowl, so I hear it.

    My dad makes the worst sounds when he chews. He chews his gums and slides his tongue around and makes weird noises.

    His toots . . . I’m not talking about quick ones, I’m talking about toots that toot for 20 seconds.

    I’m not done. My mother is always on the phone talking about The Sisterhood or some other garbage. I hear every bit of those calls, and I don’t want to!

    Oh Christ, have you ever smelled the upstairs hallway after my old man’s gotten out of the bathroom? His craps are worse than Bubbie’s ever were.

    My brother takes an odorless crap. Oh, that doesn’t matter.

    I think I’m ready for the funny farm. I can’t stand soap operas, Mom. Let me watch The Match Game at 4 pm, OK?

    My skill: I’m a good belcher. I can belch “Gordon Finkelstein the Third” in one take.

    Listen, there’s one Stratton in The World Book encyclopedia — Charles Stratton, who was a midget in the Barnum & Bailey Circus. Jesus H. Christ! I’m 4-foot, 8-1/4 inches. I can’t think of too many kids shorter than me. My doctor says I don’t need hormone shots. He says I’ll grow to around 5-5. Albie Pearson is taller than that!

    This stinks. I pray every night. I want somebody to pray for me.

    [fake profile]

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    October 20, 2021   3 Comments

    LIBRARY INTERROGATION

    I interviewed for a position on the library board. I knew two people who had been on the board and liked it. I wondered if the board would ask me what books I was reading. In 1967, at a college interview at Johns Hopkins, I talked about my Holocaust reading. That was a big hit. The Holocaust wasn’t even the “Holocaust” yet. (I was pre-med but didn’t apply to Hopkins. My parents said. “Go to a state school and get all A’s.”)

    I recently read David Byrne’s How Music Works and Shit my Dad Says by Justin Halpern. I have also read 100 pages in Bernard Malamud’s A New Life. I’m thinking, “I’m reading Malamud” might be the ticket for the library-board interview.

    When I interviewed, the board sat on a dais. I took the “witness stand” in the center of the room. Only three board members — out of the five — were there. One missing board member was a playwright; the other, a guy from my synagogue. My A-team was not there.

    Question 1: How would you make the library better for students?

    A. You mean those brats who play computer games and horse around in the teen room? I’ve never been in that room.

    Question 2. Mr. Stratton, what do you do at the library besides take out books?

    Not much! I was at the dedication of the Harvey Pekar statue, though.

    Question 3: What would you do to help the library’s finances?

    I’d vote for the levies.

    Question 4: Are you willing to commit to a seven-year position?

    Yes, but actuarially speaking, who knows.

    Nobody asked the Malamud question. I didn’t get the offer. A black chemist beat me out. Top that. In a follow-up email, the library director thanked me for applying and encouraged me to apply again.

    Maybe. But first I have to walk through the teen room and get a feel for young adults’ needs.

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    September 29, 2021   3 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!

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    April 21, 2021   1 Comment

    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.”

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    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]

     

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    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?

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    March 3, 2021   2 Comments