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

JAZZMAN IN TRAINING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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January 20, 2021   5 Comments

YOU WANT SHINGLES WITH THAT?

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

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

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

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

Paranoid? No. Shingles is bad.

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January 13, 2021   2 Comments

COLUMNY

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

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

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

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

I am satisfied with not writing a newspaper column.

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January 6, 2021   3 Comments

GOOD VIBRATIONS
FROM CALIFORNIA

How come documentaries about California musicians — Hal Blaine, the Sherman brothers — have poolside shots, but no outdoor ping-pong shots? The musicians are sunbathing poolside. Are they embarrassed to show their ping-pong moves? (The Kids Are All Right, a comedy-drama set in California, had an outdoor ping-pong table. No musicians, though.)

My father, Toby, had an old friend in Los Angeles, Irv Drooyan, who taught high school, wrote math textbooks and played outdoor ping-pong. Toby kept in touch with Irv and another Kinsman Road old-timer — Sol of San Diego. In the 1950 and 1960s, California was just an extension of Cleveland. My dad’s friends switched their first names to sound more American. Irv was Red. Sol was Al. Toby was Ted.

My introduction to outdoor ping-pong was on Red Drooyan’s patio in Woodland Hills, California, in 1962. Unforgettable because A) it was outdoors, and B) I didn’t know my dad had any friends. In Cleveland my father hung out exclusively with my mom’s friends and their husbands.

I’ve got to get back. To 1962? Cleveland? California?

To the ping-pong table. Your serve.

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December 30, 2020   5 Comments

HEROES DIE FIRST

The guys who are eight to 10 years older than you, they’re your idols. You’re not in competition with them. They’re different: wiser, polished, cooler.

Dennis Ralston died last week at 78 from brain cancer. He was on the Davis Cup team in the 1960s. I wasn’t a huge fan of him, because he was tall and I was short. Ralston was 6-2. His teammate, Chuck McKinley, was my guy, 5-8. McKinley died of brain cancer, too, at 46 in 1986. I didn’t know that until a minute ago. I don’t follow tennis that closely.

Here’s a great 1:56-minute video of McKinley playing Roy Emerson at Roxboro Middle School. Technically, Harold T. Clark Courts, Cleveland Heights, 1964:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZJYmGGwwSd8

My mother bought me a ticket. She wouldn’t buy an extra one for herself or my father because tickets were expensive — $10 a day ($84 in today’s money). The setting: a 7,500-seat bleacher rig where the Roxboro running track is. The U.S. lost to Australia.

OK, you never heard of Ralston. Try Bob Dylan. I hope to outlive Dylan, born in 1941. I idolized him. I hope I don’t croak before he does. That wouldn’t be right. Heroes dies first.

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December 16, 2020   3 Comments

YOU’RE LARRY DAVID

My dentist thinks he’s Larry David. My dentist insults me every visit, shouting, “You bastard, you don’t have any cavities!” My friend Mike, a retired businessman, thinks he’s Larry David. Mike is tough on waiters when we eat out.  “What? No Pellegrino?”

I’m Larry David. I used to listen to comedy records at Harvey Pekar’s apartment. Harvey had all of Bob and Ray, Lenny Bruce, and even Arnold Stang, the actor who did the Chunky commercials. I heard everything.

My band has gigged with a couple comedians. The comics did bits on dieting and Jewish cuisine. Frum comedians did riffs on kosher food, like “We had a power outage at our house and lost $100 worth of kosher meat — two chickens and a pound of hamburger.” I could do that — if I kept kosher and could tell a joke.

One of my relatives thought he was Phil Silvers. He ruined everything at Seders with stale constipation jokes. Yiddishe Cup once did a Catskill-themed event at a nursing home. Luckily, few people in Cleveland know about the Catskills, so our stuff went over, sort of.

I’ve watched Curb Your Enthusiasm a lot lately. Reminds me of me at my worst. That’s the point, right? I’m Larry David. You’re Larry David.

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November 25, 2020   2 Comments

SAINTHOOD?

I went to the Shaker Square farmers market on Saturday just because the weather was good. I didn’t buy anything. My wife likes to buy brussels sprouts. I asked the head cheese at the farmers market: “How about if I come back here with my clarinet and play? I’ll give you the money.” I was sick of playing just for myself in my basement. He said OK.

I made $21.50 in 45 minutes. All single bills, plus two quarters. The “little guys” supported me with their Washingtons ($1s). Power to the people. I played mostly standards and campfire songs. That’s where the money is. “When the Saints Go Marching In,” “This Land is Your Land,” and “Autumn Leaves.”

Very few people actually stopped and listened. That’s the ignominy of busking. Nevertheless, I got in some clarinet practice, and an elderly lady said to me, “‘Bye Bye Blackbird’ made my day!” and a middle-aged black man said, “Nothing like live music!’

My sole regret is I didn’t hand the head cheese my band’s business card when I gave him all my dough. How’s he going to know to call me post-Covid? 

Enough. Orwell wrote: “Autobiography is only to be trusted when it reveals something disgraceful. A man who gives a good account of himself is probably lying . . .”

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November 11, 2020   4 Comments

HEAVY VINYL

My records were heavy, and I didn’t want them. I hadn’t listened to them in about 20 years. I said to my friend Carl, “In 10 years I might not be able to physically pitch them. I’ll be sitting in my La-Z-Boy and making my kids choose between Bob Dylan and Jefferson Airplane. So I’m doing it now for my kids’ sake.”

Harvey Pekar used to rifle through my albums. The only album he ever wanted was my Charlie Parker Memorial Album, Vogue Records, England, 1956. I didn’t sell the record to Harvey because I figured if he wanted it, it must be worth something.

A record-store owner came to my house; Pete from Blue Arrow Records stopped by. This was in 2012. Pete went through my record collection a few times as I said goodbye to Aretha Live at the Fillmore West, Herbie Mann’s Memphis Underground, and some Paul Butterfield, Gary Burton, B.B. King and Mayall. I got $300 for about 100 records. Not bad. Pete didn’t care about the condition of the records. Pete said his target market — millennials — “won’t buy the reissue LPs, they want the originals like yours.”

I said, “What jumped out at you? Is there any album worth ninety percent of what you paid me?”

He said, “I like your two Fred Neil’s — Everybody’s Talkin’ and Sessions. You don’t see those often.”

“Let me take a photo, Pete, of the collection. Don’t worry, I don’t want the records back.”

I want them back now. I also want my baseball cards back, which I sold in 2007. I’m King Tut II, and I can take this stuff with me.

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September 16, 2020   6 Comments

SHOOT ME LATER

My friend Mike said he wouldn’t mind being shot dead at the restaurant. We were at Barrio, Cleveland Heights. Mike said, “I’ve had a good life and I don’t want to suffer.” Mike is 68. His dad is 99 and suffering.

I would mind getting shot to death. I want to see my kids get married, see a grandkid, go to more simchas, play more simchas, see more Vulfpeck shows, play more nursing-home gigs, and sit on my porch.

Nursing homes? Nursing homes are cool — the ones I’ve played at. Nobody sits in doo doo, and the residents hear quality live music. (Pre-Covid, that is. I’ve played some outdoor gigs at nursing homes this summer.) I’ve jammed with talented musicians at nursing homes. They do their schtick in one room, and I’m in another, and then I crash their gig and join them on clarinet. I just jump in. I should ask before I sit in, but sometimes I forget.

Once I busted in on a pianist playing “Blue Rondo a la Turk.” I had no idea how that tune went, but I played anyway. I apologized later. He didn’t shoot me, but maybe he wanted to.

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September 9, 2020   4 Comments

MORE OF A DESK GUY

In 1938, when my father graduated college, he wanted a job — any job. When I graduated college in 1973, I wanted meaningful work. Meaningful work — the expression — I first heard from Lawrence Kasdan, The Big Chill director. (By the way, The Big Chill was a total ripoff of Return of the Secaucus 7.)

I tried bricklaying. I got a joiner, mortar and a mason’s trowel. I knew a Jewish bricklayer who talked up the profession, and he showed me a few things. This was before YouTube.

My father said, “You want to work with your hands?”

It turns out, I didn’t. I’m more of a desk guy. I like to keep records. I have records on most everything. I know how long ink rollers last in my adding machine. One year, almost to the date. I wrote dates on lightbulbs. That, I’ve given up. Life is short. Life, itself, lasts . . . uh, varies.

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September 2, 2020   1 Comment

MY BAGEL DIET

My diet was sesame and poppy seed bagels. I thought it was a smart way to lose weight. Bialy’s Bagels in University Heights was my go-to place. My back-up was Amster’s at Cedar Center. The counter woman at Amster’s, Marilyn Weiss, volunteered for school levies and racial integration projects, and did a ton of schlep work at my shul. (She died in 2000 and Amster’s closed a few years later.)

I also shopped at Better, as in “Better Bagel,” on Taylor Road. The owners were New Yorkers who wore yarmulkes and Brooklyn Dodgers shirts. I figured they knew bagels. They didn’t. Their bagels were too doughy and not crispy enough on the outside. Better Bagel eventually changed its name to Brooklyn Bagel. No better.

I never buy bagels now. (My bagel diet didn’t work.) I hear Cleveland Bagel is pretty good. I have a friend who swears by Bruegger’s. Pathetic. I’d go back to Bialy’s if I ever go back.

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August 12, 2020   2 Comments

SMALL TOUGH JEWS

The small tough Jews at my high school were wrestlers, except for Reed Klein the gymnast. The school had no gymnastics team. Reed was a one-man team. He went on to the Ohio State gymnastics team. The other small tough Jews were Harry Kramer and Steve Gold. They wrestled in low weight classes, like 93 pounds and 103 pounds.

My wife dated a wrestler in high school. My younger son wrestled in middle school. Jack was small and, at most, semi-tough. The matches were primal — two or three minutes of animal behavior in a stinky windowless wrestling room. The matches were scary and scarring. And I was just watching.

I never wrestled, except in gym. I didn’t like singlets or other guys’ armpits. I didn’t like headlocks either, unless Bobo Brazil was giving one to Lord Layton and it was 1960.

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June 10, 2020   6 Comments

MEDICAL STORY — GOOD NEWS

I used to go to Haber the Dermatologist. He didn’t like small talk. He carried a mole-zapping heat gun. He sizzled me a couple times and collected his check. Then I switched docs because Haber wasn’t taking my insurance anymore.

I wound up with a doctor who was very, very cautious. She saw a cyst on my head, which she wanted to get rid of — my cyst, not my head. She scheduled me for a seven-stitch deep dig. Not a quicky zap job. This was a “procedure” in hospital jargon, but “surgery” to me.

The surgeon  — a specialist — didn’t look too seasoned. I said, “How old are you?” She answered, “Old enough to be your doctor.” I liked that. She offered a discount package: three stitches, and she’d go back in for more only if warranted down the road. A deal.

It was a benign cyst. I didn’t need any more work.

How’s that for an upbeat medical story?

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April 22, 2020   6 Comments

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

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

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