Real Music & Real Estate . . .

Yiddishe Cup’s bandleader, Bert Stratton, is Klezmer Guy.

He knows about the band biz and – check this out – the real estate biz, too.

You may not care about the real estate biz. Hey, you may not care about the band biz. (See you.)

This is a blog with a gamy twist. It features tenants with snakes and skunks, and musicians with smoked fish in their pockets.

Stratton has written op-eds for the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Washington Post.


Category — Miscellaneous



I rented to a yoga lady. I went halves with her on a laminate floor for her storefront. She did the legwork, hired the installer, and sent me a bill. I expected a copy of the installer’s invoice, but I got the yoga woman’s note as to what I owed.

I did a Reagan trust-but-verify; I called the floor installers, whom I knew from way back. They had rented a store from me down the street. I hadn’t talked to them since they had moved out. The flooring woman said the numbers on the invoice were right, and she told me her husband had died of cancer at 54 in 2008. I said, “I can still picture you and Rick walking around the [flooring] store with sweaters on, freezing.” The store was on the end of the heating line and didn’t warm up too quickly.

The flooring woman mentioned my father, whom she remembered and had a good impression of. That always gets me –when people remember my dad. Not too many people do; he died in 1986. My dad had had a real affinity for young entrepreneurs: flower shop guys, flooring stores, beauty parlor owners, resale shops, bars, you name it.

I had an essay in the Cleveland Plain Dealer on Feb. 16. They story might have been paywalled. Here’s the whole thing:


Bert and Toby Stratton, 1957, Victory Park School, South Euclid, Ohio

CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio — My family used to be shy. Then, in the 1950s, my father enrolled in a Dale Carnegie course on public speaking and became less shy. When I was in my 20s, my father bought me Carnegie’s book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” and I became less shy, too. When my children grew up, I bought them the book. Carnegie’s book, written in 1936, holds up. Carnegie’s message is, essentially, it’s not about you. He wrote “arouse in the other person an eager want.” Let the other person talk her head off, and you listen. Warren Buffet displayed his Carnegie-course diploma on his office wall.

Harvard psychologist Jerome Kagan wrote that shyness is partially inherited. There is a brain marker for shyness. However, if you are willing to work on shyness, you can become less shy.

I’m an extrovert now in my old age. When I play clarinet at nursing homes, the audience members occasionally heckle me, and I welcome that. I actually relish it. One listener blurted out, “Shut up and play!” And I kept on talking – bantering about whatever seemed amusing. I typically poll the audience about their lives and tell anecdotes between songs. I like all kinds of interactions, short of violence.

I ask the nursing-home residents what high schools they attended, and which delis they like. Corky & Lenny’s and Jack’s Deli finished in a dead-heat for first. Then Corky’s went under. Now the residents and I try to create lists of defunct Jewish delis: Budin’s, Seiger’s, Solomon’s, Irv’s, Lefton’s, Sand’s and Diamond’s. Are there others? As for where everybody went to high school, Cleveland Heights High comes in first. (It used to be Glenville High. I play mostly Jewish nursing homes.)

My dad, toward the end of his life, became fearless and often sent back tepid soup at restaurants, and he once told floor sanders to re-sand floors that came out too wavy. (My dad owned Lakewood apartment buildings with wood-plank floors.) The sanders were off-duty policemen, and my dad wouldn’t pay until those floors were smooth. I was impressed my dad would go head-to-head with cops. The height of my dad’s boldness was when he was in the Cleveland Clinic dying of leukemia. He told the doctor, “I own this place.” My father owned a $10,000 Cleveland Clinic municipal bond.

A hardware-store owner in Lakewood once said to me, “Nobody is going to jew me down on that price.” This was in the 1970s, and I was in my 20s and very shy. I spent several minutes pacing the store’s aisles before reapproaching the owner. I said, “Bob, you know, I’m Jewish.” Bob didn’t know that. He didn’t know “jew” was derogatory. He apologized. No big deal, in hindsight.

Jack Stratton on his first gig, age 3 1/2, Beachwood Library, 1991

When my youngest child, a musician, finished college, he moved to California to try to make it in the music business. I told him to call Joe McDonald of Country Joe and the Fish. I had gotten Joe’s number from a friend. Joe lived in California. My son said, “Who’s Country Joe?” Huh? Had my son never heard of Woodstock? Or at least seen the movie. I said, “Don’t be shy. Call him.” I was talking to myself mostly – my younger self.

My son didn’t call Country Joe. It takes time to become less shy.

Bert Stratton, a frequent contributor, lives in Cleveland Heights and has also written for The Wall Street Journal and New York Times. He writes the blog “Klezmer Guy: Real Music & Real Estate.”

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February 21, 2024   No Comments


A Cleveland friend, Alan Sherwin, started an avant garde jazz band, which I followed around. Me and about two other people. This was in 1975. The band had zero commercial success; however, one musician ultimately wound up in Tin Huey — a big deal in northeastern Ohio — and another guy, a some-time drummer, wound up in Devo.

Alan Sherwin, circa 2020

Alan’s band was called Jazz Death. “Jazz Death?”– with a question mark — was the name of a jazz tune written by trumpeter Lester Bowie of the Art Ensemble of Chicago.  One couldn’t get more “outside” than Bowie and the Art Ensemble. (“Outside” means playing outside the traditional chord structure.)

Alan outlined Jazz Death’s M.O. to me: “Everybody plays at once but we don’t get in each other’s way.” Besides the Art Ensemble of Chicago and other avant garde groups, Alan also liked bebop: Parker, Monk, Bud Powell. We’re not talking smooth jazz here.

Alan was an electronics teacher at my alma mater, Brush High School. He was pretty much self-taught on sax. He majored in something non-music-y at Miami University of Ohio. He didn’t care what others thought of his musical tastes. He said to me, “I don’t need Downbeat to tell me who to listen to.” He didn’t care who was playing at Slug’s.

Alan was intrigued by my career path. He said I was on “an old Jew trip” because I was going into real estate. No selling out for Alan! He wouldn’t even listen to music while he drove. He needed to sit alone in his apartment and focus hard on the tunes. (He did install a cassette player in my car. He knew electronics.)

Alan eventually moved to Washington, D.C., for a girlfriend, and I didn’t see him for years after that. I looked him up in 2012. Alan told me to learn some jazz licks — “you only need to do it in four keys” — and I’d be decent. Four keys beat 12 keys, but still, I stuck to klezmer for the most part.

A few years ago I sent Alan a comic strip by Harvey Pekar that acknowledged the late, not-lauded Jazz Death. Alan wrote me back, “What is Pekar smoking?” (Pekar was dead but that’s beside the point. The point: Alan was being self-deprecating.) Alan had become more mainstream — less Art Ensemble of Chicago, more Duke Ellington. No more going “outside.”

This link here and this one are all I can find on Alan’s music on the internet.

Wait, I’ll check Spotify . . .

Nothing. Just “Allan Sherman.”

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February 14, 2024   2 Comments


“Struttin’ with Some Barbecue” by Lil Hardin Armstrong is probably the best song title. It has action, smell and humor. The worst song title is “Rise Up to New Jewish Music.” Some Jewish bands go for that sort of thing. (Anything “New” is old.)

The worst name of a klezmer band is the Klezmer Conservatory Band, They are a good band but a bad name. “Yiddishe Cup,” the name, gets the job done around town, but doesn’t land us any concerts at cool, mohel’s-edge music festivals. “Yiddishe Cup” is bubbe’s procus (stuffed cabbage). Very soggy.

I once changed the band’s name to Funk A Deli but that only confused people. Every Purim, a synagogue scheduler emailed and ask what the band’s name was going to be for that year.

Last month, when I was on vacation in Mexico, I was jamming on the street (which I often do on vacations to meet people), and  I was playing “Misty,” when an American couple asked me if I knew any klezmer. I said, “So happens I do!”  The couple was from Madison, Wisconsin, and had hired Yid Vicious for their wedding. I’ve always liked “Yid Vicious,” the name.

Speaking of which,  I was playing a gig recently at a nursing home, Menorah Park, where the fairly new activities director came up to me and said, “Do you know any Jewish songs?”

I said, “Do you know who you’re talking to!” She didn’t. She explained that the new owners of the nursing home requested all musicians play at least “4 to 6 Jewish songs.” I said, “We can play 999 Jewish tunes if you want.”

Yiddishe Cup’s last CD, Klezmer Guy, 2009, was almost called Jammin’ With Some Salmon. I test-drove that title, and nobody understood it. “Nobody,” meaning my wife, Alice. I didn’t run the title by anybody else. I didn’t want the aggravation of multiple artistic input. I wasn’t running a democracy. I settled on Klezmer Guy and started this blog, Klezmer Guy: Real Music & Real Estate, to promote the album.

–Bert Struttin

P.S. To purchase a Klezmer Guy CD, contact Alan Douglass. He has a few cartons in his basement.

Alan Douglass (above) has cornered the market on “Klezmer Guy” CDs


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February 7, 2024   4 Comments


I envy you. Don’t gloat over that. I envy a lot of people. For instance, I envy the patients at the Cleveland Clinic. They are among the 1,700 sickest people in the world. The Clinic is the 4th-best hospital in the country, according to US News & World Report. I envy that #4 ranking.

I wore a white lab coat to the Cleveland Clinic and walked the halls . . .

Desk H-70, Pain Management. The patients there don’t know about real pain. My car has static at 91.5 FM, the jazz station. That is pain.

G-50 Dermatology. The doc took full-body naked pics of me. She’s sick.

C-20, Palliative Care. People are dying but look pretty good. I take drugs and don’t look as good as these folks.

I-20, Eye Clinic. Floaters to my left, floaters to my right. I told the gate attendant at the eye-clinic parking lot, “You’ve got the most dangerous job in the world because half the people coming out of here are blind.”

He said, “Don’t you know it. This is the third time we’ve fixed the turnstile this month.”

I envy that man — the car crashes he must see.

NV-50, Envy Clinic. I’m here for a month.


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January 31, 2024   1 Comment


In the winter, Cleveland Jews retreated to gated landsmanshaft (hometown association) condo developments in Florida to kvetch about the New Yorkers who had cut them off in the deli line earlier that day

Toby Stratton, far left, 1983. (age 66)

Toby Stratton, far left, 1983, Boca. (age 66)

Boca Lago (where my parents lived) was reunion central for alums from John Adams High and Glenville High in Cleveland. My parents wouldn’t play golf with anybody they hadn’t gone to grade school with. Exception: Detroit people were OK. (Detroiters had their own deli, the Detroiter, featuring Motown hot dogs and Vernor’s.) Other acceptable landslayt (countrymen) were Jews from Columbus, Cincinnati, Dayton and Pittsburgh. Those people were OK. They wouldn’t say, “I’m on line. Get behind me!” (Although they might say, “I’m in line. Get behind me!”)

My dad owned a Florida deli. (Actually, he was the deli’s landlord.) Toby owned a shopping strip center in Sunrise, Florida, that had a tenant Tam Tov Deli. The parking lot was always jammed. Cars of old Jews smashed regularly. Above the deli, there was office space, mostly vacant. My dad lost a lot on that building.

My dad liked deli food. I’ve written enough on that subject, but for the record, halvah was a big thing with Toby and doesn’t get enough play in this blog.

Glades Road, Boca Raton, had a Bagel Nosh, which was not up to standards. I told my dad,”We have that in Cleveland and it’s crap.” He agreed.

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January 24, 2024   3 Comments


I employed a building manager who loved the Weather Channel and thought the end of the world was coming daily via tornados or snowstorms. I don’t think she ever went outside in the winter. She said winter was too gray for her.

Bad weather is no excuse for a bad attitude. If you don’t like gray, move or get a sun lamp. More gets accomplished in gray weather. The Scots and New Englanders didn’t invent stuff sitting at the beach.

Another employee was fixated on the weather, too. He did a lot of  interior apartment painting and wanted it to be 74 degrees, like Costa Rica, so he wouldn’t sweat.

My parents had a condo in Florida. So did my in-laws. In fact, my folks and Alice’s parents lived in the same development (Boca Lago, Boca Raton) and got along better than Alice and I.

I’m not a Florida fan. Too hot. I know a klezmer musician — a bushy-haired baby-boomer — who moved to Florida and took up golf. Maybe he played a freylekhs (hora) by the water fountain on the 16th hole at Boca Lago. (Mickey Katz did that, although not at Boca Lago. His band got paid to surprise a golfer on his birthday at a golf course somewhere.)

Arizona versus Florida – that’s the question here in Cleveland in the winter. Alice and I went to a wedding in Florida, where a guest asked us, “Are you still in Cleveland?” That meant: “Are you nuts? Do you like snow, gray skies, slush and potholes?” Don’t mind those things. I went walking yesterday in very cold weather. As they say, there’s no bad weather, just bad clothes. I think a Scandinavian said that.

Lake Erie

Another Cleveland woman at that Florida wedding said, “The day I hit 62, I had to leave Cleveland.” She now spends her winters in Scottsdale. A third Clevelander — originally from South Africa — said she preferred Florida over Arizona because of the water. “I like the ocean,” she said.

Lake Erie is the “ocean.” Look it up. Cleveland is doable.

One last word: layers.

Here’s my op-ed from the 1/11/24 Wall Street Journal. (No paywall)  “Wait a Minute, Mr. Postman.” 

a blue-ish mailbox

P.S. re: mailbox story . . . Yesterday I got a FedEx gift of a carton (12 cans) of USPS spray paint from a mole deep in a paint factory. The mole’s note read, “Always paint with the correct color.” (If you need a can of Postal Blue, let me know. But I don’t ship.)

Please read my WSJ article if this is all Greek to you.

The real stuff

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January 17, 2024   3 Comments


If you’re going to lose something, lose a ski cap. When I lost my ski cap, I retraced my steps along Taylor Road. I figured nobody would pick up a used ski cap. But some jerk did! The cap was gone. Coincidentally, my wife had lost a ski cap the day before.

I like a cap that isn’t too snug.

I always have a couple ski caps in storage. I need various weight caps. I reinspect my inventory every December for the impending winter. I like a ski cap with some color in it in case I drop it.

Discount Drug Mart has good ski caps for $2 each.

If this post is too Larry David, so be it. The guy is always ripping me off.

Stay warm.

(Illustration by Ralph Solonitz)

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January 10, 2024   3 Comments


I held a party last month in a dumpy part of New York, at a winery/bar in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn, right near a pedestrian foot bridge. The Scott Avenue pedestrian foot bridge — a steel-and-concrete structure — was built by Republic Steel, circa 1952, so that steelworkers could safely cross the Long Island Rail Road tracks to get to the then-extant mill.

The Scott Avenue foot bridge.(Photo by Mitch Waxman)

My party was a Vulfpeck pre-concert “tailgate” for friends and relatives. After the party we were going to walk en masse over the bridge from the winery/bar to the concert venue, which was in a nearby Flats-like former warehouse/factory.

I was concerned my guests wouldn’t take to the bridge. For one thing, the bridge had a lot of graffiti and there was garbage all over. I thought my sister would bail and take an Uber from the winery/bar to the concert. My sister has never been big on filth. But she and everybody else didn’t complain about the hike or the bridge! It helped that it was dark out. The litter on the bridge was less apparent. On the far side of the bridge, several Latinos were finishing up a volleyball game. Other than that, nothing.

I had read stories in the Brooklyn Paper about crime in the neighborhood of the bridge. But those stories mostly had to do with concertgoers leaving rave shows at 2 am, drunk or stoned, and getting robbed or just plain dying of overdoses.

That Scott Avenue pedestrian foot bridge held its weight. Nothing cracked.

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December 27, 2023   1 Comment


Ted Budzowski had two Stratoloungers in his living room. One for him and one for his wife. Also, Ted had a stuffed mongoose-and-cobra souvenir from Okinawa, and a tree-stump occasional table, which his son had made. The son lost $8,000 on tree stump tables, which never caught on big in Cleveland. The good news was the son also was a retired career soldier. (Note, I’m not knocking Stratoloungers. I have a La-Z-Boy.) My daughter says I shouldn’t discuss recliners, but I’m a fan of recliners.

Ted Budzowski, 1978, age 63.

Ted grew up in Youngstown, Ohio, near Cow Shit Hill (a real place). Ted and his kids made it out. Ted’s second son worked for the phone company.

Ted worked at Republic Steel. Ted and his wife, Sophie, managed a building for my family. When Ted retired to Texas in 1984 — to live near his soldier son — I hired a tougher hombre — a guy named Buck — who had grown up in a Tennessee orphanage. Buck didn’t like me and people like me (sons of bosses). Buck didn’t cotton to cleaning up after tradesmen and watering outdoor plants. Not part of his job. Buck often got “porky” with me. (That meant “argumentative.”)

Ted, on the other hand, had always treated me kindly. I had counted on Ted to tell me when my tire pressure was low, for instance. He had an eye for low tire pressure. (This was before cars had low- tire-pressure warning lights on the dash.) Ted knew cars; he said, “I might be a dumb Polack but I know when a nut on a steering column has been messed with.”

For his last 15 years, Ted’s Stratoloungers were in San Antonio, where he lived. He didn’t check back with me except for an annual holiday card. Meanwhile, Buck — who was working for me — raised prices on me unilaterally for odd jobs. He never asked what I thought a job was worth; he just charged me. Who was bossing whom?

I was young and had a hard time bossing old people. That eventually changed. One, I got old. I should  take a picture of me in my La-Z-Boy. Nah, Lucy, my daughter, wouldn’t approve. Just picture it. I look something like Ted in his photo.

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November 7, 2023   1 Comment


My 2019 Subaru Legacy is the safest car in the world. I know you don’t care, but bear with me. The car has many blinkers and warning signals, and that’s why I bought it. Five years ago I fell asleep at the wheel of my Ford Fusion and drifted across a two-lane road into an oncoming car. I was tired. It was 2:30. Two-thirty pm, not 2:30 am! I was going about 25 mph and hit a Greek immigrant’s car head on. The accident happened on Larchmere Boulevard, right on the Cleveland-Shaker Heights line. Efficient Shaker cops showed up. Nobody got hurt! The accident was in front of Shaker Auto Body. I just wheeled my wrecked car right into the shop. Beautiful.

My red Ford Fusion and a Greek man on his phone

I bought the 2019 Subaru with all the bells and whistles shortly after the accident. The car is good, but the battery not so good. The battery recently went dead for the second time in four months. There’s a class-action suit against Subaru for bad batteries. I’m taking the car to the dealer, or maybe I’ll pay my son Ted to take it. I can’t stand going to car dealerships.

More car talk (and some sax talk) . . .  Last month I was at a family wedding in a town halfway between San Diego and Los Angeles. (The wedding was at a winery. Nobody gets married at synagogue anymore, have you noticed? It’s always at a winery or a barn.) Uber — which my son Jack reserved ahead of time — didn’t show up at the hotel the morning after the wedding to take Alice and me to the airport. Instead, Uber sent us a message at 6 am: “Sorry.” Uber couldn’t find a driver. I should have hired a car service but I didn’t think of that. My daughter, Lucy, did, but too late, I guess. My son Ted booked Alice and me a flight out of Palm Springs because we couldn’t get to LAX on time. Ted drove us to Palm Springs and got a flat tire.  Can you believe we got a flat on the way to the airport? I lent Ted my AAA card; he hung around the  car; and Alice and I got an Uber.

Our flight out of Palm Springs was delayed, so I baggage-checked my saxophones. (My band had played the wedding. Terrific celebration, by the way.) The airlines could mangle my axes, but I didn’t care; I didn’t want to lug the heavy instruments around Palm Springs airport all afternoon.

My alto sax is student-level, so no big loss if it got destroyed. My tenor, however, is a classic, The Martin Tenor. I bought it around 1964 from a music teacher. When I first got that axe, it reeked of ciggy smoke, and its pads were brown from phlegm. That’s why I never took up smoking. At the Palm Springs airport, I plastered the tenor case with “Fragile” stickers. My clarinet, I kept in my backpack. It’s not heavy.

The saxes arrived in Cleveland about 11 hours later in fine shape. Better shape than me, actually. I’ve kept a couple “Fragile” stickers on the tenor case to remind me of my adventure.

By the way, the Subaru guys didn’t fix the “parasitic drainage” on my car battery. I might get a trickle charger. whatever that is.

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November 1, 2023   4 Comments


Woody, a friend from high school, is coming in from California tonight and staying at my house, and he’s bringing his Spanish girlfriend. He’s staying for a week. A week. Give me a break. Woody wants to see the leaves change. He’s a sensitive guy and a bit strange.

Even in high school, Woody didn’t care what others thought of him. He was often blisteringly inappropriate. He still is. For instance, last week in our phone conversation, he said, “I don’t give a shit about Hamas or Israelis.” I didn’t appreciate that.

In 1997, Woody showed up at my house, muttering, “My old man just told me I’d better run while I can. My father just threatened to kill me!” I think his old man had a gun. Woody grew up in easternmost Lyndhurst (goy-land), on Ridgebury Road, where you could keep a horse. Woody had a horse. His father had worked for an American construction company in Venezuela. Woody knew a lot of Spanish because he spent some time down there in his youth.

Woody was the only kid at my high school who went off to California for college. Nobody considered California except Woody. You were going to fly five hours to college? Nope. Woody wanted to get as far away from his family as possible, he said. Ultimately he became a Spanish teacher at a high school in Santa Rosa, California, and has lived there for the duration, although he spends a lot of time in Spain, and he pops into Cleve for leaves.

Here’s the problem: Woody’s obliviousness toward Israel. Maybe he’s even anti-Israel. There are only 16 million Jews in the world, and almost half are in the line of fire right now. I will tell Woody — the minute he walks in tonight — if he says anything anti-Israel, or even semi-anti-Israel, and even in jest, he’s done for. I will tell him. I can’t have a guy making jokes about Israel in my house now.

Alice took this photo of Woody in 1980, when we were all 30 years old. Smiling, charming Woody. And he’s got a mouth. Heads up, Bert.


Postscript: Woody left. He wasn’t anti-Israel. I super-overreacted. (Probably been reading too many news reports.) We even attended a concert for Israel; members of the Cleveland Orchestra performed. The orchestra was supposed to be in Israel.

Woody knows a lot about language and said he might do a “codpiece” on language. (“Codpiece” as opposed to “podcast.” He’s funny.) He told me deber, the Spanish verb, comes from the same Latin root as debit, or owe. Good to know.

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November 1, 2023   No Comments


Here’s my essay in today’s Cleveland Plain Dealer.

If that link doesn’t work for you, here’s the text, pasted in:


Cleveland Heights, Ohio — You don’t see the letter B for “basement” in elevators much anymore. It’s mostly LL for “lower level.” Classier, I guess. But I recently stumbled upon a B-level basement in Washington, D.C., that was truly top shelf. The basement was at the University Club, a 1920s mansion not too far from the White House. Several Brush High School buddies and I met up at the club. My childhood friends wouldn’t come to Cleveland, so I had to go to Washington. My Brush High friends are all members of the coastal elite now. I brought a sports jacket.

I spent a lot of time in the basement at the University Club because I wasn’t allowed in the club dining room on the main floor. I was wearing tennis shoes, which weren’t permitted in the dining room, but were OK in the basement. I’m all for dress standards, but those University Club regs were extreme. I jabbered in Spanish with the dining room hostess. She didn’t let me in. In hindsight, I don’t think she was Hispanic. She didn’t seem to know what I was talking about.

I was wearing tennis shoes because I planned to do a lot of sightseeing in Washington. In the lobby, outside the dining room, I noticed a visitor in a blue blazer and a blue oxford-cloth shirt. I asked him if he was going to eat breakfast in the restaurant. He said “yes,” and I pointed at him and said to the hostess, “This man has on tennis shoes!”

“These are Cole Haan,” the man said coolly. His Cole Haan shoes had white rubber trim around the soles, just like my New Balance tennis shoes. But his Cole Haans were not tennis shoes, apparently. I was perplexed. I had on a sports jacket and black tennis shoes. I wasn’t wearing Sen. John Fetterman cargo pants.

There was a snack bar in the basement, plus a Jacuzzi, two saunas (steam and dry), and a four-lane swimming pool. While I ate breakfast in the basement snack bar, I had a good view of the empty pool. John Kennedy, when he was a senator, swam laps at the pool. I had a swimsuit in my suitcase. I got the suit and swam where Kennedy swam. (By the way, there used to be a University Club in Cleveland on Euclid Avenue. It had tennis courts, but I don’t think a pool. The building morphed into the Children’s Museum of Cleveland in 2017.)

My friends and I reminisced about bygone Cleveland hangouts, like La Cave, the music club at East 105th Street and Euclid Avenue, Balaton Restaurant on Buckeye Road, and Publix Book Mart on Prospect Avenue. We covered a lot of intersections. Next time we should go deeper: Jean’s Funny House and the Roxy Burlesque.

I visited the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and considered checking out the National Portrait Gallery, but that was too far off my Mall-focused walking route. Besides, I needed to get back to my man cave — the basement at the University Club. I wanted to swim more laps in the Kennedy pool. That B-level basement in Washington was absolutely grade-A.

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October 18, 2023   4 Comments


I told Alice, “I have a certain medical condition, and you haven’t asked how it’s going?” We were at breakfast. She didn’t seem to understand what I was talking about. “My ear,” I said. “Remember?” My ear had water in it. My ear was clogged from swimming.

“Your ear is not a medical situation,” Alice said.

What was it then? A hardware store? My ear  had been clogged for more than a day. (Have you ever had a clogged ear for more than a day? I doubt it. A couple minutes, sure, but not a day-plus.) I called my niece, an E.N.T. in Atlanta. Naturally, she said I should visit an E.N.T.

“Can I just go to a doc in the box?” I asked.

No, I should go to an E.N.T., my niece said. “They have special tools,” she said. “Even a P.A. there in the office could do it.”

“How about if I wait a couple days?”

“If it was me, a blocked ear would drive me crazy.”

True. Everything sounded like an echo chamber. I couldn’t hear a lot of stuff, and my clarinet playing was off. But no pain. So maybe this wasn’t a medical situation?

The fixer. Alice Shustick, 1977

Alice is a registered nurse and fixes people. She doesn’t appreciate whiners, but she deals with them. She assigns stretches and remedies for a lot of things. (She’s also a retired gym teacher who teaches Pilates, yoga, after-school gym, spinning and senior fitness.) My ear, though  . . .

On Alice’s advice I jumped up and down on one foot, and I tugged on my earlobe. I bought alcohol ear drops at CVS, and even a homeopathic “natural active ingredients” remedy at Discount Drug Mart. No luck.

After the second night, I woke up unclogged. I think the alcohol drops helped. My niece said the water in my ear had probably been trapped behind earwax.

I’m hearing things better now. I should ask Alice about her pinched nerve this morning. I will. Everything is a “medical situation,” am I right?

Yiddishe Cup is celebrating Simchat Torah 6:15 pm Friday at Fairmount Temple, Beachwood, Ohio, and 7:15 pm Saturday at Park Synagogue, Pepper Pipes, Ohio. Free and open to the public.

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October 4, 2023   2 Comments


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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September 27, 2023   3 Comments


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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September 20, 2023   2 Comments


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So can I.

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

My dad’s long game wasn’t too good.

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

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August 2, 2023   1 Comment


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

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

Toby Stratton 1984, age 67.

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

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

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

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

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

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July 26, 2023   1 Comment


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

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

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

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

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

btw, we’re OK.

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July 5, 2023   3 Comments


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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June 27, 2023   8 Comments


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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May 31, 2023   3 Comments