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

INVESTMENT TIPS

In the early 2000s most everybody in the real estate biz was not hitting the long ball. But what was better? My late father, who was a stock broker for about six months in the 1950s, taught me the stock market was legalized gambling. John Bogle, former chairman of the Vanguard Group, said, “The investor in America sits at the bottom of the food chain.” You have to be lucky twice with stocks: when you buy and when you sell. In March 2009 the New York Times business-page headline was “Are We There Yet?” There meant the stock market’s bottom.

In March 2009 the price/earnings ratio was at its lowest in more than 20 years: 13. (Shiller trailing 10-year figure.) The worldwide P/E was even lower, down to 10. It was a good time to invest, but scary.

***

My Uncle Lou and Uncle Al drove a truck, delivering wholesale items to stores. They sold me a carton of baseball cards — 24 packs — at a deep discount. I immediately ripped open all the packs. I was 9. This investment was my first speculation. I got a lot of Humberto Robinsons (a nobody, an Indians relief pitcher) and no Mickey Mantles. Maybe my uncles were teaching me dollar-cost averaging: better to buy a pack a week (dollar-cost averaging) than go all in.

Am I ready to jump into the stock market again? No, I’m not scared enough yet.

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April 1, 2020   2 Comments

KVELLIN’ IN THE YEARS

Joseph Fagen — the father of Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen — used to approach strangers and say, “Would you, by chance, be a Steely Dan fan?” I do that, too, except I ask about Vulfpeck. I query Uber drivers and baristas if they’ve heard of Vulfpeck. Every time I do that, I have to spell out Vulfpeck. I wish Vulfpeck was Hello There. Every fifth barista has heard of Vulfpeck. Uber, longer odds.

At Vulfpeck’s recent Madison Square Garden concert, I spoke Spanish with a Puerto Rican guard at the artists’ entrance and got in through the back door of the Garden. The first performer I ran into back stage was Dave Koz, the smooth-jazz saxophonist. He gave me a “mazel tov.” He said “mazel tov.” Koz told me he remembered how meaningful it was when his parents came to his first mega gig and “they’re dead now.” Right. Show up.

I was backstage looking for backstage passes — about 50 passes. I had relatives coming from all over the country for the show. I was throwing a bar mitzvah party with a really good band.

Here’s the Fagen quote from the Cleveland Jewish News (Feb. 28, 2001). [“Bringing up Steely Dan” by Susan Rezpka]:

“Would you, by chance, be a Steely Dan fan?” Beachwood resident Joseph “Jerry” Fagen inquires wryly. It’s an unlikely question coming from an 80-year-old, but Fagen’s ‘favorite conversation starter’ affords the opening he needs to do what any parent would do in his shoes: kvell a little.

Vulfpeck. That’s V, U, L, F . . .

————

Madison Square Garden video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rv4wf7bzfFE

 

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March 25, 2020   2 Comments

UNCLE BERT IN CONNECTICUT

I’ve been to two weddings in Middletown, Connecticut. How many have you been to? People told me to fly to Providence, Hartford, White Plains, Whatever. Middletown is hard to get to from Cleveland. Drive 10 hours? Not my thing.

One time I flew to LaGuardia and rented a car. Getting a rental from LaGuardia is a supreme hassle, with all the construction, and then driving up the interstate through Connecticut is no picnic either, because drivers on the East Coast either speed or crawl. And one time I took a train to New Haven from Manhattan, and then an Uber to Middletown. Also, rough, at least for a Midwestern guy.

The first wedding in Middletown was a cousin’s daughter. It was in a barn — a catering-hall barn with chandeliers and wooden decks. My second Middletown wedding was also in a barn — a different one. Simply, The Barns. Middletown must be wedding-barn central. (The second wedding was for the son of a childhood friend of mine.) I knew very few people at the second wedding. I met a guy who was a reporter, who hung out with me. He said, “Why didn’t you leave Cleveland?” Why did I stay in my hometown? Never leave? Good question. He followed with: “Why are you at this wedding?”

I said, “Because there are a lot of guys my age who aren’t here.” That’s why. I’m not dead. I wanted to show up.

After my friend’s kid’s wedding, a guest drove me back to the hotel, but the guest was so worried about driving at night, I offered to drive her car. She said her insurance wouldn’t cover me driving. On that 10-minute drive to the hotel, she slammed on her brakes several times and couldn’t read the road signs clearly. I saw the sign for “Portland” about 50 feet before she did. She then offered to drive me to LaGuardia the next day, but I opted for an Uber, which was expensive (about 1 1/2 hours).

My cousin doesn’t live in Middletown, and neither does my high school friend. I wonder if I have more Middletown barn weddings in me.

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March 11, 2020   4 Comments

I MOVED TO L.A.

I moved to L.A. 25 years ago today: February 19, 1995. I still don’t take the weather for granted. Everyday I wake up and say thank you, even if it’s only 50 degrees. I live near a gelato store, smoothie shop and three vegan restaurants. I can order a tofu bratwurst at 2 a.m.

Everyone here is in the industry. I live across the street from the “Shameless” guys. I’m not sure what that is. A TV show? A band? I started off by writing celebrity profiles for Us and People. I wrote for Wings. I wrote for Cheers. I wrote for Seinfeld. After Seinfeld shoots, we would hang at Jerry’s Famous Deli in Studio City. Jerry — Seinfeld, that is — once told me he liked working in L.A. because, since we had such long hours, he didn’t feel he was missing much, like he would have in New York.

I bought my house here in 2002. My sister from Cleveland is visiting me right now. She can’t believe my sitch — my weather, my cuisine, and my net worth. My bungalow, which would go for $100,000 in Cleveland, is worth a million.

My first couple years here I could barely make the rent nut, but I hustled. I never turned down a gig. Now I let the other guys hustle. Last week I invested $100,000 in a gangster love story. Rob, a friend — also from Cleveland — directed and wrote it. Hopefully, we’ll get it into Sundance. Then there’s Toronto. Even if the movie goes nowhere, so what. I didn’t refinance my house for this. The movie was shot in Cleveland. Rob gets great press back home: “hometown boy makes it in Hollywood.” Right now Rob needs about 30,000 Clevelanders to “like” his movie trailer. (Please search “Bloody Vista Boulevard” on Facebook and click “like.”)

Is it snowing in Cleve today?

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February 19, 2020   3 Comments

HONOLULU OR CLEVELAND?

This month started out with incredible weather. On Saturday (Feb. 1) I decided to bike out to shul — the eastern branch of my shul, about four miles away. I mean, it was about 49 degrees and sunny. Also, I was attracted by the “light lunch” come-on in the temple bulletin. Then, just as I was about to get on my bike, a friend texted me and asked if I wanted to go to the Chabad shteibel in Cleveland Heights for cholent. That was tempting, but not enough exercise. Too close. So I scheduled the cholent shabbes for later this month.

At my shul, the sermon was about how you can’t pick your family, like you do your friends, so it’s a good idea to hang with family to get different perspectives. Next, the rabbi announced the light lunch. He said — and this is tragic — “fish sticks and french fries.” I biked to Pepper Pike for this? I was expecting humus, tuna fish, egg salad. Fish sticks? What? Who?

Give it up, Bert.

My point here, I biked on Feb. 1. That was the first time I’ve biked in Cleveland in February. There was a trace of snow on the bike path — an inch or so in places  — so I took my time. I didn’t want to skid out and bruise another rib. The following day, Sunday Feb. 2, was even warmer, and less snow on the ground. So I biked out to shul again, except not to pray, just to bike. I didn’t go in the shul.

Monday was even better weather. One of my kids was in Hawaii that day, and that kid had nothing on me. Finally, yesterday stunk weather-wise. Irwin Weinberger and I played “You Are My Sunshine” at a nursing-home gig, but no sun came out. And today is nothing to write home about. But those first three days of February were unforgettable.

lei away bike 2020

 

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February 5, 2020   5 Comments

MISADVENTURE TRAVELING

I blame my cousin Brian. He’s a 59-year-old mountain biker who posts Facebook clips of himself biking over streams and rocks. So I tried mountain biking in Mexico. There are no laws there. You can do whatever you want. I did off-road level-3 stuff, and I wound up on my side. I bruised my ribs. Not broken, not fractured. Just bruised. Or at least I think so. I’m not going to get an X-ray to find out. I can breathe. It’s a little hard to play clarinet, but I can do it. I think I’ll be OK in a month or so.

I’m through with misadventure traveling. I need to remember that. I shouted “I fell, Teddy!” but my son was far ahead of me, as was the guide. Mexico — do your own thing. Also, I couldn’t yell too loudly because I had the wind  knocked out of me. It could have been worse, yes, I know. I was wearing a puffy-down jacket, which made for good padding.

My cousin Brian is a daredevil. I’ve never been a daredevil. Also, Brian is 10 years younger than me. I should cool it. I will. No more white-water rafting, zip-lining, mountain biking, moped rental, scuba, or horseback riding. In fact I’m not getting out of bed again, on purpose.

Sneezing is the worst (for sore ribs). You know what I’m talking about.

P.S. No sympathy cards, please. I’m 90 percent better.

bike fall mexico

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January 22, 2020   5 Comments

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO PUTT PUTT?

My son Teddy had his birthday party at Putt-Putt on Northfield Road in 1990. I think that’s the last time I played Putt-Putt — official Putt-Putt. There are only 23 Putt-Putt courses in the United States.

There was a Chinese miniature golf course on Libby Road at Broadway Avenue. It had a Buddha that went up and down. My high school friends and I couldn’t get enough of that course.

Arnold Palmer Miniature Golf  . . .  Just had to say that.

I would like to live long enough to play Putt-Putt with my grandchildren. First, I need grandchildren. I want to stay healthy enough to bend down and pick up the ball. That’s the hardest part of miniature golf.

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January 1, 2020   3 Comments

11 HEALTH TIPS FOR CHANUKAH

1. Eat your latkes and shut up.

2. Start every day by singing “The Star-Spangled Banner.”  The song begins with a major triad, 5-3-1, which will straighten your spine.

3. Prick yourself, and if your blood isn’t bright red, eat potato chips — any brand — for the salt.

4. Eat sardines, lightly smoked, in oil. Make sure the can says “Chanukah oil.”

5. You need a gum graft. Get it now.

6. Don’t knock Miller Lite. It does the job.

7. Visit a pawn shop and buy an amp.

8. [For Catholics only. Remember, sainthood is hard to prove, so document everything. Video on.]

9. Eat dark chocolate. It’ll help your stomach absorb the flavonoids. And make sure your gelt is Belgian.

10. Gamble more. Try craps. Craps is more fun than dreidl.

11. Try Arby’s Horsy Sauce on salads, fish, latkes and fries. It’s better for you than tomato sauce.

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December 25, 2019   4 Comments

TWO BERTS AT CORKY & LENNY’S

I had lunch at Corky & Lenny’s with Bert Dragin, the owner of a local furniture store chain. He was looking for a movie script. This was in 1980. He said, “I’ve got money. Everybody will talk to me in L.A. Right now I have something in the Best of the New York Erotic Film Festival.” He asked if I would consider writing a screenplay about a fire at a gay nightclub in Atlanta. Not my thing, I told him.

Bert Dragin eventually sold his business and moved to Hollywood. He produced Suburbia (1983) and directed Summer Camp Nightmare (1987) and Twice Dead (1988). Dragin said, “You heard of Erotic Salad? It’s got a soft-X rating.” I said no.

This was my Hollywood lunch. The meeting was Hollywood-style (like kosher-style) because it was not actually in Hollywood, but Dragin did run a tab at C&Ls. That was pure Hollywood.

—-

Footnotes: The lunch was at C&L’s Cedar Center, not the “new” C&L’s. “Run a tab” means Dragin didn’t have to pull out his credit card or cash every time he ate at the restaurant.

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December 18, 2019   2 Comments

MY HOUSE SHOOK

I told the plumber to check out a rusted-out waste stack in my basement. He cut the pipe in half and said, “Oops, it’s a support post.” My freaking house shook! This plumber was stupid, but I was, too, for telling him it was a waste stack when it was, in fact, a support post. The plumber said he’d take away the old support-post pipe, which he cut into two 30-pound cast-iron sections. Easier to move. But he left the stuff.

So I took the pipes to the tree lawn. No takers. Then I brought them back and called the city. I babysat the pipes for three week. The city guy said, “Put them out a day early this time, and they’ll be gone. Scrappers will take them.” I put the pipes out again.

Scrappers didn’t take them. I arranged with the city to take the pipes with a special pick-up. That happened. One less peeve.

And by the way, I got a new support post, so my house doesn’t shake now.

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November 20, 2019   1 Comment

FIND THIS GUY

I lost my wallet and got it back quickly. I left the wallet on a bike path. Beachwood cops called.

I tried to give the finder a reward. I got his number from the cops. But the finder wouldn’t answer his phone. The police said he was a 47-year-old man from Woodmere, Ohio. He supposedly had told the cops, “If I lost my wallet, this is what I’d want.”

Nothing was taken from the wallet. The man deserved something. Matthew Lewis, 47, of Woodmere. I couldn’t find him. Granted, I didn’t spend hours on my search, but still, I put in time.

Yidd Cup Funk A Deli is at Fairmount Temple, Beachwood, Monday night for Simchat Torah, and Tuesday night at Park Syn, Pepper Pike.

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October 16, 2019   2 Comments

OPRIMA EL DOS

I decided to oprima el dos. I called the Spanish-speaking operator at Spectrum (Time-Warner) to discuss my internet bill, which jumped from $50 to $65/month.

The operator wouldn’t shut up, in English or Spanish. Spanish is a beautiful language, she said, and her grandkids won’t speak it. She said she was from Laredo, Texas, and now lives in San Antonio. She said she could make more money as a bilingual translator in the Carolinas, but she preferred Texas.

She didn’t lower my bill. (I had an introductory offer that had expired.) What good is Spanish.

I’ll oprima el dos again. All Spanish operators speak English, too. That’s a safety net. Buenos dias.

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October 2, 2019   1 Comment

YOU ARE THERE: 1973 PART 1

Beachwood, Ohio  1973

I live with my parents at the Mark IV, a high-rise apartment by the freeway. I’m living with my parents at age 23. I want to go to the North Pole. Chekhov said, “People do not go to the North Pole and fall off icebergs. They go to offices, quarrel with their wives and eat cabbage soup.”

My dad got mad at me because I didn’t want to save five dollars on traveler’s checks by shopping at various banks. “You aren’t a millionaire yet,” he said, scratching himself. He was wearing just underpants.

Tonight at a party — a parents’ party — Zoltan Rich, a Hungarian know-it-all, said, “The students protest for entirely selfish reasons. You know what the chief word is we’re missing — the key to the whole discussion? It’s obligation. Parents have abrogated their responsibility.”

It’s time to go. A guy from Case Western Reserve said he could give me a ride out west tomorrow. I won’t come back here for at least six months. My mother has a bridge game here tomorrow. If I’m within 100 feet of that game, I die.

I’ll try the Rand McNally approach to self-discovery . . .

loayl to axe 1

It’s 3 a.m. in Utah and I’m sleeping under a picnic bench. I hear deer. Or bears? I hear semis shifting. What’s up? I don’t even like “freak” America. Deep down I’m straighter than David Eisenhower. I might wind up back in Cleveland. Or maybe I’ll settle out in California.

 

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July 24, 2019   5 Comments

I’M AROUND

This blog has been around 10 years. Sometimes I think of hanging it up, but then I post a rerun and carry on. Over all, I enjoy writing the blog.

If I hadn’t started the blob, I wouldn’t have had any op-eds in national publications. My first New York Times piece  — about my mom shopping at Heinen’s — was written for this blog, but then I figured, hey, why not first send it to the Times for Mother’s Day. I sent it to “oped@nytimes.com,” and bingo, millions of people read the op-ed, including my ex-girlfriends, long-lost college and high school friends, Obama, Kissinger, and Dylan (or so I imagined).

My mother and father at Ohio Stadium, 1959. Julia and Toby Stratton.

My mother and father at Ohio Stadium, 1959.
Julia and Toby Stratton

Some people don’t want to be in this blog. I once showed a friend a rough draft about him, and he said, “I’m a private person. Please don’t run that.” And the piece was all flattery, too. Another time, a woman asked me to delete a post about her because she didn’t want me to be remembered the way I remembered her.

I started the blob to leave footprints in the sand, as the great Mileti said about his arena at Richfield, Ohio. I wonder if my kids, after I’m gone, will pay GoDaddy to keep the electricity on at this site. I doubt they will, and I don’t blame them. I might quit this blog at any time. Just a heads-up. I don’t owe you a 30-days’ written notice.

Thanks to everybody who write comments. Have you noticed how it’s 90-percent guys who comment?

The hard-boiled reason I started the blog: to promote Yiddishe Cup’s 2009 CD, Klezmer Guy. (Buy the CD here.) What’s a CD? What’s a blog?

 

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May 22, 2019   7 Comments

SHUT UP AND PLAY

Jim Guttmann, the bassist in the Klezmer Conservatory Band, said his biggest thrill is playing nursing homes. Guttmann, who has toured the world, said nursing home residents appreciate him the most.

I don’t know about playing Europe, but I do know about nursing homes. I’ve played a lot of them. If you don’t play “Tumbalalaika” and “Bay Mir Bistu Sheyn,” don’t bother showing up. Humor — at least my brand — doesn’t go over at nursing homes. I once did a comedy number at a nursing home, and an old man in a wheelchair interrupted, “Play music! Sit down!” I was flustered. I blurted out, “I’ll sit down when you stand up!” That quieted him.

When I go to a concert, I often feel like yelling “talk!” at performers. I don’t go for the Bob Dylan no-talk model. Say something between songs, and make it interesting. Don’t just say, “My next tune is . . .” Tell the audience about your favorite candy bar — anything.

I had a Snickers bar recently in Peru. There was this snack shop on a remote mountain trail. I was walking toward a water fall and this Snickers appeared. (Shut up and play.)

candy man john lokar 1981

This is a Snickers from 1981, in Cleveland. Vendor is John Lokar.

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February 27, 2019   3 Comments

PENAL BURNING

I wrote “penal burning” on a canister of Cleveland Clinic pills. I should have written “penile burning” but my spelling skills — which are usually pretty good — were down. I was in the recovery room at the Clinic.

caduciousI like medical stories. Here’s mine: I went into the hospital for bladder stones and to “open a channel in your prostate,” to quote the urologist. The surgeon used a laser up my urethra for about 2 ½ hours in the OR and then sent me to the recovery room, which in my case was a bed with a curtain around it. It wasn’t a bad room. It was like business class on an airplane, I suspect — a fully reclining bed, nurse/attendant on-call, decent food, and chatter from neighbors all night.

The “penile burning” Rx came the next day, when I was discharged. The doctor — a resident — told a nurse about it. I overheard them discussing “penile burning” outside my cordoned area. “Penile burning” caught my attention. The resident should have told me directly about “penile burning.”

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February 20, 2019   1 Comment

OH, TO BE IN ENGLAND

My 1:44-minute video about England is essential viewing, what with the Brexit stuff going on.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=abaOB__6Jhk

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January 23, 2019   2 Comments

ONE THING LEADS TO ANOTHER

Landscaping was my thing for years. I had all the gear. I loved the hum, the buzz, and the hanging out at lunch with the other guys.

Winters were bad; snowplowing sucked. I hit parked cars and had to get up early. Real early.

So I went into medicine. This was back when Case Western was taking older, nontraditional students. It didn’t hurt I’m a woman. I transferred my skills. Nothing much different about cutting grass and cutting prostates.

caducious

Did I tell you I never got married, but nevertheless raised the three kids single-handedly. I lived cheaply for years prior to med school and kids. Like I used to sleep in my car a lot. One day I got a really numb arm from sleeping in my car. I thought I had a stroke, so I went to the ER and they gave me a CAT scan and tested everything. That’s what got me interested in medicine.

Interesting how one thing leads to another.

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January 9, 2019   2 Comments

THE TAXMAN COMETH

Every January I spend a day filling out employer tax forms. My favorite is the Federal Unemployment Tax Act (FUTA) form. I did my first FUTA Form 940 in 1978, when my dad started going to Florida for the winter. He and his high school buddies golfed in Boca Raton, and I filled out FUTAs in Cleveland.

Toby Stratton (far L) w/ friends at Boca Lago CC, 1983

The treasurer of Ohio likes his W-2 reconciliations promptly. The state unemployment bureau also likes its money quickly. And don’t forget workers comp.

I used an IBM Selectric-style typewriter for tax forms until the machine died around 2011. The A key wouldn’t work. That was its main drawback. “ lbert Str tton” didn’t cut it with the government. I threw out the typewriter and several boxes of Ko-Rec-Type.  I spent a few hours behind this typer:

2011 RIP.( I wrote some unpublished novels on this baby.) It's an IBM knock-off, actually.

 It’s an IBM knock-off, actually.

Now I use IRS computer forms, except for my Yiddishe Cup 1099s, which I do by hand. I used black ink on Yiddishe Cup’s 1099s. One year I used blue, which is ill-advised. The gobierno prefers black ink. I got with the program.

What are you in jail for?

Blue ink.

No thanks.

 

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January 2, 2019   1 Comment

BACK WHEN ROOSEVELT WAS GOD

 

Jean Elsner, who died last week at 99, lived in her house on Stilmore Road in South Euclid for 61 years — until 2013, when she moved to a seniors building in Chicago to be near her oldest son. Jean’s father built the Stilmore house in 1951. In 2009, she was the oldest student at Cleveland State. She took courses for the fun of it.

Jean's house, 2011

Jean’s house, 2011

Jean was very nice to my mother. When my mom became a widow, Jean didn’t bail on her like some friends of my mom did. And when my mother got Parkinson’s, Jean didn’t bail either. Jean called the building manager at my mother’s apartment because my mom was on the floor and couldn’t get up.

Jean and my mom went way back — to Kinsman Road. They shared a locker in seventh grade. When my mom moved to Cleveland from Mississippi in 1930, Jean welcomed her.

Jean knew me from day one. Jean said I was a fat baby.

I think I have a picture of Jean’s house with the Franklin Roosevelt picture in the den. In the 1940s she bought the picture for her parents, who “worshipped” Roosevelt, she said. “They thought Roosevelt was God. They had always been Socialist before then — voted for Debs — but they took a chance on Roosevelt in 1932.”

Jean and Roosevelt, 2011

Jean and FDR, 2011

Jean wrote a letter to Eleanor Roosevelt in 1937, asking for help with the Homeowners Loan Corporation, which gave Jean’s dad a loan for a house. Jean had a permanent campaign sign in her front picture window: “Vote Democrat.”

Jean never drove. She took the bus. That was odd, at least for Cleveland. She allowed neighbors to park in her driveway.

Her breakfast was orange juice, hot chocolate and toast. She ate peanut butter and jelly and tea for lunch every day.

That’s some of what you need to know about Jean.

 

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December 19, 2018   5 Comments