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


At big bar mitzvah parties, the teens are sometimes in a room with a DJ, while the klezmer band plays in an adjacent room for the AKs. I’m OK with that. I don’t whine about sharing the bill. Frankly, it’s rare to see a klez band in any room at a bar mitzvah. It’s mostly a DJ scene.

Hadassah – the women’s organization — sponsored Simchapalooza, a bar mitzvah fair, where bar mitzvah moms shopped for DJs, balloon twisters, video guys and caterers. I had a booth. Nobody stopped by. Maybe I reeked of herring. The Bar Mitzvah King, DJ Terry Macklin, drew a crowd. He had three exhibition tables strung end to end. He offered full-service: invitations, catering, DJ services and photo booths.

Rock the House — mere youngsters — eventually encroached on Terry’s DJ turf. Rock the House wasn’t black like Macklin, but they worked on it. And they were a lot younger than Macklin.

There was a lower-rung DJ, Joey Gentile, who advertised “Mitzvah Services” in the Cleveland Jewish News. I sent his ad to Moment magazine, which held an ongoing contest highlighting funny real-life ads, like “Easter Challah $3.99 Special.” My submission read “Gentile Mitzvah Services.” Didn’t get in.

A man from the Bar Mitzvah Guide, published in New York, called and asked me to buy an ad. He was doing an Ohio version. The Bar Mitzvah Guide carried ads for everything from bottle dancers to personalized chocolate bars. The man called me way too often. The final time, I said, “I’ll place an ad but I bet you won’t take it.”

“Try me,” he said.

“I want the text to read ‘Yiddishe Cup. If the other ads in here aren’t your bag, we are.’”

He took the ad.

And we didn’t get any gigs.

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March 28, 2023   3 Comments


Mickey grew up on the street over from me. He had seven siblings. His dad was a Sealtest milkman. Mickey scored touchdowns. Who can forget his touchdown run against Wiley Junior High? And there was one against Memorial Junior High, too, I seem to recall.

We didn’t hang out that much in high school. So be it. Mostly grade school and junior high.

After Bowling Green U., Mickey moved to Texas and then to Washington state, and I only saw him at funerals and reunions in Cleveland.

A few months ago, he texted me: “I’m back in Ohio.”

What did that mean exactly?

Lake County. He moved there. Mickey moved back to northeast Ohio to retire. Nobody moves to Ohio to retire! He said he moved back here to be closer to his siblings. Ohio has always felt like home, he said. We met for lunch and talked about old times. He asked if I had ever lived outside of Cleveland, and I told him about my three weeks in New York City and three months in Latin America. Pathetic, I know. We talked about Cub Scouts and which neighbors had died.

Mickey’s move to Ohio is a nice change of pace. (Some of my recently retired friends are moving out of Cleveland.)

I had an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal last week about accosting random people and talking Spanish with them. “For a Language Lesson, Oprima el Dos.”


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March 22, 2023   No Comments


Downtown Detroit has many detour signs. When you think you’re heading back to Ohio, you’re not. You’re on your way to Detroit Metro airport. Don’t play for peanuts in Detroit. You’ll feel like a fool when you’re lost on a Michigan freeway at 2 a.m.

In the Yiddishe Cup van, each musician has an assigned role. The drummer is in charge of windshield fluid. Our dance leader supplies the bottled water. Our keyboard player loads the van; he knows the secret order of packing the gear.

Van life smells. Think about it: six guys in a metal box, topped with cherry scent courtesy of the van-rental company. The icing: Krispy Kremes. Our driver eats that stuff like he’s on death row.

By the way, this blog post is a flashback. Haven’t been on a van trip in a while.

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March 14, 2023   1 Comment


I met Earl (of Earl Bananas and His Band With Appeal) in Kansas City. Earl’s band had been a minor sensation in St. Louis decades previously. Now Earl was a hotel developer with interests in trumpet, tennis, gardening and Orthodox Judaism. We talked about all that. We were at a Shabbat dinner.

Earl said it was difficult to achieve kavanah (a prayerful mindset) in synagogue. It was a easier in music or even tennis, he said. He could really zone out at music and tennis. My wife, Alice, a gym teacher, said zoning out is also known as “flow.”

“Flow” and kavanah are overrated. Face it, you can lose track of time at a casino or on Facebook.

Try to keep track of time. That’s the challenge. At a bar mitzvah party, Yiddishe Cup strolled, going table to table, taking requests. We heard a crash – a table collapsing. We kept on playing. Then a second table collapsed. A third table went down . . . there were salads on the floor; 10-person round tables buckling; ice water, silverware and bread rolls all over. People were jumping away from the tables. People were soaked. We kept playing. I said, “We’re on the Titanic, boys. Just keep playing.” Extreme concentration.

(The tables hadn’t been properly locked underneath.)

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March 8, 2023   1 Comment


I went down a rabbi hole.

Here’s the hole:

1. I’m reading a New York Times article about Shaker Heights schools, about how some blacks at Shaker want out, moving to academically highly rated Solon. The NYT writer is Debra Kamin. [The story: “Could Black Flight Change a Model of Integration?” January 15, 2023.] I check out Debra’s bio because her last name sounds familiar. Yes, she is the daughter of Ben Kamin, who was head rabbi at The Temple Tifereth Israel, Cleveland, in the late 1990s. Rabbi Kamin was a heavyset ebullient man. He told the religious-school kids “wake up and smell the Torah!” He also wrote op-eds for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, often about growing up in Israel. And he said he wanted to be the commissioner of baseball. In 2000 Kamin got fired. Nobody said why. Simply fired. And he moved to San Diego, where he led a congregation.

2. In 2015 Kamin writes in the San Diego Jewish World how he got blindsided by The Temple in 2000 and was shit-canned via letter, read aloud by the the local Jewish funeral-parlor director. Rabbi Kamin boasts in the San Diego article:

The rabbi’s study of The Temple in Cleveland was a national seat of power and prestige. Everyone in town knew me, many sought me out. Sports franchise owners had confided to me in this office. The African-American mayor had sat across from me, asking for Jewish support and money as he sought reelection. I had spoken by telephone more than once from this office with the Commissioner of Baseball. The Governor of Ohio had called me to offer congratulations on the day I ascended to the position I was now about to lose.”

3. 2017. Kamin’s older daughter, Sari, writes in Medium that she was sexually harassed by James Toback, a well-known film director. Sari was trying to be an actor in New York City. Sari’s story gets some national attention. [Medium headline: “I am one of the countless women film maker James Toback has harassed.”]

4. Kamin jumps in with an essay in the San Diego Union Tribune, 2017, saying it’s bad what his daughter is going through, and bad for him too:

“What does a father feel when he reads and hears his daughter’s harrowing story in various media and watches her, through his tearful eyes, stand up on national television on behalf of her own dignity and that of so many incalculable victims of this plague-perversion?

“The first thing he does not feel is any celebratory sense that his daughter is suddenly the subject of national interest and scrutiny. Pain should not derive fame; it needs to be released in the private corners of one’s subconscious, it needs to be mended with and by the mindful. It unequivocally needs to be reported — I’m proud of my child. But her pain needs more so to be redeemed. She needs to fulfill herself more than she is obligated to service CNN, NBC, and the New York Times.”

5. In 2019 Kamin is expelled from the Central Conference of American Rabbis (the Reform Jewish conclave) for violation of “sexual boundaries.” [Cleveland Jewish News: “CCAR expels former Cleveland Rabbi Benjamin A. Kamin.”]

6. Kamin’s obit, 2021, dead at 68 from heart complications. Daughter Debra says her dad was “a charming and complicated person.” [Cleveland Jewish News: “Former TTTI Rabbi Kamin recalled for humor and speaking ability.”]

7. Debra again, in Conde Nast Traveler, 2021, reiterates her dad was complicated. [“Getting to Know My Late Father Through his Travel Journals”]:

“My father, Ben Kamin, was a brilliant enigma. He was a rabbi and an author, an occasional journalist, and a late-life social justice warrior whose narcissism choked his full potential. He was stymied, both as parent and professional, by a desperate need for adulation that sent him tilting at windmills when confronted with even a whiff of criticism. Safe in the shell of his ego, my father was gregarious, and generous. He was my confidante and steadfast cheerleader. But if that shell took a blow, he retaliated with searing cruelty. Like skin on the body, my memories of him are mottled with these scars.

“Though my dad lifted up thousands—he led congregations, and wrote a dozen books and countless sermons—he let me and my family down. When I was 16, he was fired from his rabbinical pulpit, a public, gossip-fodder ejection that he would spend decades refusing accountability for. This was the first crack that divided my relationship with him into poles of before and after.

“To escape his shame, he pushed away those who reminded him of it, first divorcing my mother, then alienating my sister and I. As an adult, my relationship with my father was one of low expectations and high boundaries. With those guardrails in place, we found a way to stay connected. After a childhood of closeness, I could only allow him in my life by keeping him at an arm’s length.”


I ran a draft of the above by my wife, who wasn’t interested. That’s for the best probably. I was just reading an article in the New York Times about Shaker schools and fell in a rabbi hole.

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February 7, 2023   2 Comments


Plantar fasciitis. Your heel feels like there’s a spike in it. I fear plantar fasciitis. My wife has had it. My friend Danny has had it. Nobody knows how you get it or how you cure it. Just walk around with a spike in your hell – uh, heel.

I did a lot of walking during the day, and then played a gig that night at Stone Gardens assisted living facility, and during “Tsena, Tsena,” I did some groovy hora dance steps, and I walked out of the gig with plantar fasciitis. I immediately knew I had it. I can’t spell it but I felt it. I popped a couple ibu and used Volteran and did some stretches. Went to bed. I read that plantar fasciitis is worse in the morning.

Got up. No pain. So I started worrying about something else, like why was my computer acting like a fool. Then the plantar fasciitis came back when I played tennis a couple days later. My opponent, Jimmy, told me about his cure for plantar fascistic. Jimmy said I should do some stairway stretches. My wife suggested a foot roller. I’m working on the cure. I don’t want plantar whatever.

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February 1, 2023   6 Comments


My sophomore year at college I took Organic Chemistry (got a D), Physics (A), Intro to Poetry (A), and Psychology (Pass). I was in the process of transitioning from pre-med to no-med. The poetry-class teacher was Ted Berrigan, visiting Ann Arbor from the East Village. Ted was a big man with a beard who giggled like a little girl. He liked everything I wrote. He said young poets didn’t need criticism, they needed encouragement.

I visited him later on in New York. He was a player in the contemporary art/poetry scene in NYC. That’s how I once wound up in Allen Ginsberg’s apartment. (Ginsberg wasn’t there.) Berrigan lived on the edge, financially. He traipsed around to hip bookstores in NYC and collected money for his poetry books that had sold. And he also made real money on the burgeoning college poetry-reading circuit. He sometimes made $1000, adjusted for inflation, for a reading. [Got this  money info from a new book of Berrigan’s collected prose, Get the Money.] Writer/professor Donald Hall brought Berrigan to Michigan for the visiting-prof job.

Berrigan called poetry “work ” — as in “show me your work, Bert.” His poet friend Anne Waldman did a reading at the UGLI (undergrad library), and I handed her my work — a couple poems — and she published one in the St. Mark’s Poetry Project mag, The World. This was around 1972. I have to look that up. I think the poem was “Yellow Pages.” It’s a found poem, lifted from the page headings of the Yellow Pages. For example: “appraiser attorneys / automobile barbecue / bicycles burial / chaplains cigar / clubs cranes / day dentists / drapery engineer / . . . topsoil transmission / truck vacuum / washing water / womens zippers.” Definitely the best poem I ever wrote.

. . . Just back from my attic, home of dead poems. The World poem was not about the Yellow Pages. It was about Herbie Hancock, kind of. “Yellow Pages” — the poem — was published in a different East Village mag, Telephone. The mag was called Telephone. The poem was “Yellow Pages.” You following? If so, you get an A.

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January 10, 2023   4 Comments


I saw a bike inside Discount Drug Mart. It wasn’t for sale. It was blocking an aisle. A fully loaded bike – camping gear, front bag. I was trying to get blueberries but couldn’t easily navigate around the bike. A girl came up and said the bike was hers. I asked if Drug Mart let bikes in. She said yes. She was biking from Maine to California, she said.

She was Audra, 20, from Maine. She goes to Mount Holyoke and is studying film and environmental-something. She was biking out the southern route, Route 66.

She hadn’t heard of the song “Route 66.” I sent her a link to the Nat “King” Cole version. Also, I told her I had contributed to Adventure Cycling in Missoula, Mont., like forever. Like since it was Bikecentennial, 1976. I like maps — bike maps in particular.

Audra did the trip solo. (This all happened in August.) She said she’d send me a film of her trip. Cool. I haven’t gotten it yet, young lady!

All this went down next to the blueberries at Discount Drug Mart in Lakewood, Ohio.

I had an essay, “Rushing to the Gate is a Young Man’s Game,” in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, about airport travel. (No paywall.)

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November 23, 2022   4 Comments


I tried to cancel the shot in my back. I’d already had a shot, and I wasn’t keen on getting a second poke. But I had this brutish pain in my right thigh. I couldn’t walk too far, or swim, or play tennis. I had a herniated disc. I used to categorize water joggers as wusses. No more.

At the PT place, I saw a young woman without the lower part of her leg. That shut me up for a few seconds.

Meanwhile, I biked to Chagrin Falls, and somebody posted that on Facebook and everybody thought everything was cool with me. (The only thing cool was the bike riding. That didn’t hurt my back.)

The pain felt like 100 red ants crawling on my thigh, or 1,000 cell phones vibrating. It wouldn’t go away.

I canceled the second shot. No, I postponed it. The doc, the first time around, had said there was a one in 10,000 chance I’d be paralyzed from a poke. I had to sign off on that. I dithered. I had a few tricks left: cognitive behavioral therapy, yoga, chiropractors, massage, acupuncture, four more PTs and another doc.

I’m not complaining, am I? Just reporting. I’m reminiscing. This all happened five years ago. I still think about back pain a lot. It gets your attention. I got the second shot and steadily improved.

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November 2, 2022   1 Comment



I placed high in a couple math contests. Nationwide stuff. I’ve told you this before but it bears repeating. I got offers to attended workshops at U. of Chicago, MIT and other colleges. This was in high school. I went off to U. of Rochester one summer and got my gonads scraped by some smart kids there. After that, I became modest.

I saw the Stones, Beatles, Dylan. Everybody. Janis Joplin. James Cotton. For the record.

I went to Rochester for college. That was a long time ago. I’m not sure where Rochester is anymore.

My parents? My mom wanted a career in show biz. That wasn’t going to happen in Cleveland, but she did do some community theater. She wanted NYC. She got there on a couple vacations. My dad — you know about him from this blog. My brother? He doesn’t want any ink. Respect.


Here’s my essay in today’s Cleveland Plain Dealer. What will become of my wheat berry salad? Dave’s supermarket is taking over Zagara’s supermarket in Cleveland Heights.

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October 26, 2022   3 Comments


I’m related to very few Strattons. So I got excited when I came across Jon Stratton, the author of Coming Out Jewish. I found him on the internet. Wow, another Stratton writing about Jewish matters.  Maybe I’m Jon, using a pseudonym.

Jon Stratton is a cultural studies professor in Perth, Australia. His mother was Jewish and his father Christian. Jon grew up in England, not knowing anything about Judaism or Yiddishkayt (Jewishness).

I ordered Jon’s book on Amazon. I found out Jon “came out Jewish” in multicultural academic circles, writing about, among other things, “ghetto-thinking” — Jewish anxiety. He said he had been slightly different from his friends in England because his mother had made him “ring home” whenever he went out, while his chums never had to ring home. Jon’s mother was an angst-ridden Jew from the Continent.

My mother, on the other hand, was from the Mississippi Delta and didn’t worry about anything. My mother left me off at freeway exits to hitchhike. One trip I made a left on I-80 and wound up in South America. She was OK with that.

In 1990, at the Cleveland airport, I waited for my mom to arrive on the “snowbird” flight from Florida. I was with my then 9-year-old son, Teddy, who I let run around the airport. But I warned him, “If you wander off too far, you’re going home on the Rapid.”

He wandered off and I left him. A half hour later a Cleveland policeman called me, and I had to go back to the airport — 20 miles one-way. The airport cop gave me a “sir, you are a douche bag” smirk when I entered the airport police office. The cop didn’t understand my son had practically memorized the Rapid Transit timetable and had ridden the complete Lee Road route.

I learned laissez-faire childrearing from my mother. There was nothing continental about her except her airlines. (Cleveland to West Palm Beach direct on Continental.)

If I ever go to Australia, I’ll look up Jon Stratton and maybe we can talk about our mothers.

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October 12, 2022   1 Comment


I had these editors at Sun Newspapers, Stan and John. This was in the early 1980s. My beat was the city — Collinwood.

I just saw John — the head editor — at a wedding. He told my wife I got in a fistfight with Stan at the paper. Alice, on the way home from the wedding, said to me, “Why didn’t you tell me about that fight? You were hotheaded.”

I never got in a fistfight. Prove it! Maybe a little yelling but I never hit Stan.

Here’s how it went down in ’83:

Stan, marking up my copy, said, “How can you write like this?”

“Listen, schmuck,” I said. “I’m not writing like this. I’m leaving.”

“Don’t get so worked up.”

“You have no tact, Stan. No ability with human relations. My copy is easy to edit. You’re dictatorial. We don’t get paid enough to listen to this.”

“Your copy is the most difficult here,” Stan said. “No, I take that back. Bob’s copy is.”

I never hit Stan. By the way, I’m friends with Stan. The recent wedding — the one mentioned above — was Stan’s younger daughter’s. I talked copy editing at the wedding. I told John how a summer intern at a national publication had recently tried to change a line of mine from “I said” to “I replied.” (For example: “I like ketchup,” he replied. instead of “I like ketchup,” he said.)

“I let it stand, John,” I said. “I had other battles to fight. But then when the story came out, the ‘I replied’ practically ruined it for me.”

“Who says ‘I replied’?” John said.

“Nobody. Exactly. It’s ‘I said.’”

John and I agree on that, at least. Nice. But John still claims I got in a fight with Stan. Lately he has hinted he might downgrade the fight to “maybe it was some pushing.” I’d like a full retraction, John.

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September 14, 2022   3 Comments


Why do eyeglass-frame adjusters have so much power over us? Did they all attend I.U.?

How come newspaper columnists don’t write about pet peeves anymore?

What about those phone solicitors who ask for money for your kids’ colleges? We have our own alma maters not to give to.

Why do sensitive people insist on telling everybody they’re sensitive?

Why are we so nostalgic for mimeo machines? The smell, I guess.

Why do so many Clevelanders brag about not reading the Plain Dealer? The paper is on life-support, yes, but still, it’s all we have. “I’ve lived in Cleveland 20 years and never subscribed to the PD.” Go back to New York.

If you want to talk about cars, first ask: “Do you want to talk about cars?” Same goes for sports and politics.

What is preferable: “He passed away” or “He passed”?  Neither. “He died.”

Don’t let signs like THE SMITH’S get you down.

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August 3, 2022   No Comments


I like virgin olive oil. It costs more, but it does make a difference, at least on salads. I’ve made trips to various import shops in Cleveland for the quality juice. Sometimes I buy the huge XL can. A can is your best buy because you don’t want to expose the oil to light, or worse, plastic.

I drizzle olive oil on everything. I don’t want to sound like a snob here, but you really can’t live a full life without extra virgin olive oil. I flew once to Rome and traveled in a rental car four hours due-east to get my favorite olive oil, I-77. No lie. Not the freeway. I went to the I-77 headquarters in Vasto, Abruzzo, and bought a couple cans there and shipped them home. That trip was the highlight of my life (that, plus being captain of the tennis team at Brush High).

Everybody is going to Italy right now. Rich people, at least. Italy is the number-one tourist destination, I think. If you go, please stop by the I-77 place and pick up a couple cans. Gotta be cans.


(This post is partially true. The true part: I have been to the I-77 HQ in Abruzzo.)

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July 13, 2022   1 Comment


I’m a funeral strategist. I advise mourners on funerals. No charge, by the way. The big Jewish funeral parlor in Cleveland is BK Broiler (Berkowitz Kumin). Some funeral services last only 15 minutes. Others go way too long. It’s bad when too many relatives speak, but I once attended a funeral where nobody spoke. That’s worse. The entire funeral was 12 minutes. Come on! The sweet spot is 25 minutes with two or three eulogies.

A tip to eulogists: don’t say, “She enjoyed traveling in her later years.” Talk about her upbringing and prime time.

I try to arrive at the funeral parlor 20 minutes beforehand, to work the family room, where relatives sit. I like to say hi, catch up, and offer my condolences.

The employees at BK Broiler wear dark suits and are very proper. They never say anything off script. They say, “This ends our service here. Please go to your cars and turn on your lights.”

Why doesn’t the chapel at B-K Broiler have windows? Are funeral-home windows forbidden in Jewish law? (Shuls must have windows, my rabbi once told me.) Maybe it’s because mourners at funeral homes don’t want to see passersby laughing and joking.

Think about it. Or don’t think about. I’ll think about it for you.

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June 29, 2022   1 Comment


The fitting room at the orthotics store had a small stage, fit for one person. I sat on the stage, and the orthotics guy sat in front of me, in the front row so to speak, and looked at my feet. He had a box with foam in it. He said, “Step in it.” I wondered what this had to do with my sore knee.

Afterward his assistant said, “That’ll be two eighty.”



My wife didn’t like my outing to the orthotics store. She thought orthotics weren’t worth it — at least for me. My issue was more of a head case, she said.

The orthotics man gave me plaster of Paris casts of my feet. I have the casts in my closet in case I ever need more orthotics.

. . . More orthotics, please!

Big Bert Stratton and his klez group Yiddishe Cup perform 2 pm Sun., June 19 at the Beachwood Library, Beachwood, Ohio. The show is free and indoors. You’re supposed to make reservations ahead of time, but if you don’t, just show up and ask for “Hedy.” You’ll get in.

Li’l Jack Stratton and his klez group Yiddishe Pirat perform 7 p.m. Sun., June 26, at the Cain Park amphitheater, Cleveland Hts. The show is free and no tix necessary.

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June 15, 2022   1 Comment


In my 30s I kvetched about not living in New York, or someplace else equally glamorous. And I judged people by their tastes in music and their bumper stickers, and where they lived. I’ve given up on all that.

In my 20s I was bad, too. I hung around with Harvey Pekar, who said to me: “I’m hateful. I’d like to have a cool way to slip my George Ade article [published in a local magazine] to my ex-wife [an academic]. She’s small-minded.” Pekar had a lot of bitterness. Worse than me. It was cool to be cynical and pissed off.

I’m still working on that — the opposite. Not being cynical and pissed off.

Getting married and staying married was my best move. Starting the klezmer band was another good move. Having kids was a terrific move. The rest is commentary, and I don’t mean Commentary.

Yiddishe Cup plays a free outdoor concert at the Cedar Fairmount district, Cleveland Hts. 6:30-8:30 pm Thurs., June 9, in the parking lot in back of Firestone, 12420 Cedar Rd. Bring a tire iron and be ready to rumble. We’ll play klezmer and soul music.

yiddishe cup 5_22_22

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May 25, 2022   No Comments


Philip Roth was envious of Primo Levi. Levi was a chemist and had something to write about. Roth had nothing. Levi dealt with businessmen and scientists, plus he had his concentration-camp experiences. All Roth had was the occasional lecture at colleges, like Bard or Penn, where he interacted with young women.

Solution for Roth: He decided to do research. He would approach taxidermists and say, “I’m a novelist. You’ve probably heard of Portnoy’s Complaint. Maybe not. Can I watch you skin that cat?” Roth learned about taxidermy for I Married a Communist.

Roth and Levi and me. (It’s my blog) . . .

I used to write about nothing. No research. Sometimes I wrote about my parents or asthma. I wrote a whole novel about wheezing. I also wrote a detective novel (unpublished — like my wheezing book) about a Slovenian cop. I did the Slovenian-cop thing before novelist Les Roberts did. I once saw Roberts at a lecture at a temple. (Roberts is a lantsman.) I told him I had written a Slovenian-cop book, which had failed miserably. Roberts said, “I’m glad.” Funny. Roberts was a producer for Hollywood Squares before he moved to Cleveland. He should have stayed in California. (Roberts wrote novels about a Cleveland Slovenian cop, in case you’re lost here.)

I recently booted a tenant for nonpayment of rent, plus he was scaring other tenants by banging on the walls and swearing loudly. He said to me, “I don’t have to tell you this, because of HIPAA, but I’m bipolar and I don’t have any place to live but my car.”

I patiently listened to his story and finally said, “I wish you the best.”

“Don’t wish me anything, man. I’ve worked three jobs and now nobody will hire me. I don’t want your wishes.” He moved. More real than Roth? Less real than Levi? It is what it is, to quote somebody.

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May 11, 2022   2 Comments


Because I play happy music (i.e. klezmer), people think I know about happiness. And I do. Here are some guidelines for more happiness:

  1. Wear shorts to a wedding. You’ll draw attention to yourself and away from the bride. Perfect.
  2. Invent a new colonoscopy flavor. Don’t do pineapple, cherry, lemon-lime or orange. These flavors have been taken.  I’ll write up a story about you and submit it to the Wall Street Journal.
  3. Convert to Christianity (or Judaism). Why spend your life in one religion?
  4. Drop in on your neighbor and see what kinds of Smucker’s jelly they have. If they have Sugar Free Apricot, call the police.
  5. If you feel really bad, grip a pen horizontally in your mouth and bite down until the ink cartridge explodes. This activates the happy muscles in your face — the ones that make you smile.

I had an essay in the Cleveland Plain Dealer on Sunday, “Strike up the (klezmer) bands for Ukraine.”

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May 4, 2022   1 Comment


My wife, Alice, said the sore on my nose wasn’t healing, so I went to the dermatologist. He said, “I’m pretty sure this is cancer. Basel cell carcinoma. If it’s benign, we won’t call you back.”

Three weeks passed. No call back. Good. Nevertheless, I told Alice, “Maybe I should call the doctor. He said he was pretty sure it was cancerous.”

I called. The skin doctor’s receptionist put me on hold for five minutes. Then a nurse said, “We’re waiting for a fax.” I waited a long time.

The doctor got on the line: “I have to apologize. We are using a new lab, and they failed to send a report to us. I take the blame. I should have followed up. It’s basil cell carcinoma, just like I expected.”

Skin cancer. I hate that — when you beg for a diagnosis and get a bad one. Suddenly my world revolved around appointments and follow-ups. I went to a specialist who did Mohs surgery — deep-dish nose drilling.

What if I hadn’t called the dermatologist? Nobody nose.

I wrote an op-ed about baby-naming for the WSJ last week. “Who’ll Win the Baby Name Game.”

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April 6, 2022   5 Comments