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. So maybe he’s really Klezmer Landlord.
 

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

I OWNED A MEDICAL OFFICE BUILDING

The medical office building was right next to Pizza Hut, Burger King and Boston Market. Every time I went to the medical building I felt crappy. What was I doing in Pizza Hut land?

Who owns all the restaurants, office buildings, and gas stations in Solon, Ohio? Guys like me. I owned a medical building, complete with docs, dentists, massotherapists and chiropractors. I ran a 30,000 square-foot mini-hospital. A hazardous-waste company picked up surgical needles. The HVAC filters were hospital-grade so the patients wouldn’t breathe anything but the purest air. The windows didn’t open much.

I put up some oil paintings in the lobby. My friend Irwin Weinberger painted them. A tenant, a doc, texted me: “If you can put that up, how about painting my wall?” So we painted his wall. That doc was picky. He had vanity plates that read “DDS MD.” (A real estate broker once told me doctors are the worst tenants “because they think they’re God.”)

moneyThe A/C bill for the building was $2,500.month. That’s some air. Also, I paid the snowplow guy an extra $125 per push for salt because I didn’t want any patients falling in the parking lot. Don’t forget the the elevator guy, the security company, and we had a phone line to the elevator in case anybody got stuck in there. One day the elevator went out completely. That was a bad day. There was only one elevator in the building. “How are my elderly patients going to get to the third floor!” They’re not.

Every Dollar General Store, Burger King, medical office building and car lot in the world is owned by somebody. I already said that but it bears repeating. I’m an owner. I took a risk buying that medical office building; I wasn’t sure docs would re-up because independent docs were phasing out. I sold the building. Now I never go there.

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April 17, 2019   4 Comments

HECKLERS’ NIGHT OUT

There was fervid heckling at the 2018 Workmen’s Circle concert. The show, at Cain Park in Cleveland Heights, featured Yiddishe Cup / Funk a Deli. The emcee was Michael Wex, author of Born to Kvetch. Wex is a kamikaze raconteur. He takes chances with his monologues, playing with self-immolation. Wex wears elves shoes to bring him luck. The shoes curl up at the tips.

The Yiddish-concert audience can be unforgiving, maybe because the show is free and attracts all types. One year Josh Dolgin, aka Socalled, was heard backstage saying, “Why do they bring freaks like me here!” Maybe Dolgin was having second thoughts about how the AK crowd would respond to his hip-hop klezmer. The Cleveland audience is mostly baby-boom AKs, plus a few genuine WWII types, and some Russians and Orthodox. Every year there are fewer bodies at the show. Six-to-eight hundred is a typical turn out. Used to be around 2,000.

Miguel Wex

Miguel Wex

At last year’s concert, a man interrupted Wex with “When’s the music start!” Wex was discussing hok a tshaynik and how it related to funk (as in Funk a Deli). Wex told the heckler, “This is the music, schemdrick!”

Wex also did a comedic bit about fat Hasidim. (Before the show, Wex had noticed some yarmulkes in the crowd and wondered if his shtick would fly. He told me his humor had gone over well with frum Jews before.) In his monologue, Wex said many Hasidim don’t exercise but do seem to like to push. Wex said the inventor of Roller Derby, the late Leo Seltzer, was a former Hasid. Wex said if four Hasidim gathered in opposite corners of the Cain Park amphitheater, the four Hasidim would eventually meet in the middle of the theater and push each other. Wex said he had been to Japan (not true) and wanted to start a new sport, Frumo. A concertgoer stood up and yelled, “Stop it. Stop it right now!”

Wex said, “This is what I get paid to do. You don’t have to listen to me if you don’t want to.”

We were witnessing a Lenny Bruce reenactment — for free yet.

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April 10, 2019   11 Comments

REMEMBERING KLEZKAMP

I couldn’t get Alice, my wife, to go to KlezKamp. I went without her (1989). I took our kids Teddy and Lucy, and spent a lot of time in the game room and swimming pool that year. The pool was slightly larger than a silver dollar, and you had to coat yourself with skin cream, or get a rash. The kids and I went to New York City afterward. Lucy, then 5, made me carry her everywhere. We weren’t going too far. We ate at Popeye’s on Times Square.

When we got back to Cleveland, my wife said, “The kids look anemic!” But we ate beans and rice and lemonade at Popeye’s, Alice! (The kids weren’t crazy about the borscht and herring at KlezKamp.) Alice never trusted me with food-and-kids.

The next year Alice came to KlezKamp, and we brought the entire family, including toddler Jack. Alice took folk dancing classes but the sessions weren’t enough exercise for her. She found an indoor tennis court which was dusty and dark, like playing in a parking garage.The balls turned gray in a minute. Also, we went skiing on Christmas. I thought the slopes would be empty. No, a lot of Asians and Jews were there. Also, we sneaked into The Pines resort for ice skating. The Pines was a 1950s Borscht Belt movie. Trivia contests in the lobby.

We kept going back to KlezKamp, and every year Alice would complain, “I can’t believe we’re going to KlezKamp again!” After 12 years, we hung it up. Alice had learned all the dances, the kids were thoroughly brainwashed with klez and Yiddishkeit, and I had met all the old klez guys: Max Epstein, Felix Fibich, Danny Rubenstein, Velvel Pasternak, Paul Pincus, Leon Schwartz, Ray Musiker, Ben Bazyler, Sid Beckerman, German “That’s Herman in Russian” Goldenshteyn, Howie Leess and Elaine Hoffman Watts. KlezKamp was great.

Jack, drums, Lucy, clr, Klezkamp 1993.

Jack, drums, Lucy, clr, KlezKamp 1993.

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April 3, 2019   4 Comments

BURY ME AT __________.

Every few days I get an email from my synagogue that reads something like this: “Subject — the passing of Melvin Weiner.” About three people die per week at my shul. (I belong to a big shul.) My rabbi must live at funerals. Yes, he has an associate rabbi, but  still, I think he — the senior rabbi — does most of the heavy lifting. The senior rabbi told me Costco has the best lox in town. He should know; he must see at least five dairy spreads a week. (I see my fair share, too. I love a dairy spread.)

The passing of Albert “Bert” Stratton. No, I prefer “the passing of Albert Stratton.” Cleaner. I visited my mom’s grave a while back and couldn’t find it because it had snow on it. The headstones are flush to the ground. I guessed the approximate location of the grave and drew a Jewish star and Mom. She’s at Hillcrest Cemetery with my dad.

My wife doesn’t want to be buried in our shul’s cemetery (Park Synagogue /Bet Olam) because it’s too cramped. I’m fine with Park. My wife wants to be in Lake View Cemetery. Actually, she doesn’t “want” anything. She doesn’t like to discuss this. I wonder if my rabbi does burials at Lake View. [Yes.] Lake View is a nondenominational garden-style WASPy place. I’ve seen Jewish stars on some of the tombstones there. Lake View is in Cleveland Heights. Nice. It’s not by the freeway. Nice. But if I die today, put me in Bet Olam — by the freeway.

albert tombstone

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March 27, 2019   2 Comments

COLLEGE ADMISSION

I knew a college counselor who if he put in a good word for you, you were in. Harvard, Yale, Harvey Mudd, Deep Springs. That’s what we parents all thought, but the counselor didn’t produce every single time. He said go to a college that was a “good fit.” He, himself, went to Harvard, always a good fit for a college counselor.

Here’s my approach — and  a tip for high schoolers. Describe a setback you have faced. “My parents don’t like klezmer music. They are so wrong. I’ve been playing klezmer my whole life. It has made me think for myself and be my own person.”

I attended a college-rejection shiva in 1968. A high school friend was rejected by every college he applied to. He got in nowhere! And he was in the top 10 in our class. (We’re pretty sure, in hindsight, the guidance counselor blackballed him.) We sat in a corner booth at Corky & Lenny’s and drank chocolate phosphates. My friend eventually got in to Ohio State on a late application. OSU had rolling, open admissions. In Columbus, my friend lived in a high-rise dorm with 16 guys per suite. It was not exactly the house system at Harvard.

Tower Club OSU 1937 Toby Stratton

My dad with his dormmates at Ohio Stadium, about 1935. The men lived in the stadium. All in one room, on cots.


Yidd Cup / FAD (Funk a Deli) is at Park Syn, Pepper Pipes, Ohio, tonight (March 20) at 7:15 pm. Free. Happy Purim!

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March 20, 2019   2 Comments

STANDING IN LINE AT THE BMV

Do I get new plates or keep my 2003 Ohio bicentennial plates?

Whichever is easiest.

Entering the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, I had Harvey Pekar-level anxiety. But I lucked out; I was a plate transfer, not a new driver’s license, so I got to skip to the head of the line.

I had bought a Subaru Legacy and sold my Ford Fusion. Both cars are red, so nobody knows I have a new car. A disappointment. I wanted a blue car, but the Subaru Legacy doesn’t come in blue. I refuse to drive gray, silver, black or white. I miss the purple on the Plymouth Duster.

I was in and out of the BMV in 15 minutes. Can you beat that? I accidentally left one of my plates on the counter and a clerk ran out, yelled “sir” at me, and handed me the plate. I said to her, “At least I got you outside! Thanks.” It was 20 degrees and snowing. She said, “I don’t want to be outside.” The BMV. I miss Harvey Pekar.

klezmer plate

Not my plate, btw.

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March 13, 2019   3 Comments

BIG NAMES

Howard Metzenbaum was a big name in my father’s generation. Metzenbaum made millions in parking lots, and eventually became a U.S. senator. My father and Metzenbaum were born the same year, 1917, in Cleveland. My dad didn’t know Metzenbaum but enjoyed following his career.

Metzenbaum, in his later years, owned a condo at Three Village, the holy of holies for upscale living on East Side Cleveland. The building went up in 1978 near Cedar Road at I-271. The Three Village condo development was wooded and secluded. My parents lived nearby, at the Mark IV apartments (now called the Hamptons). My parents liked brand-new housing; they weren’t keen on used. Everything had to be shiny and new, maybe because they grew up in poverty.

Across from the Mark IV was Acacia on the Green — a step up, rent- and prestige-wise, from the Mark IV. Next to Acacia was Sherri Park, a step down. Across from Sherri Park was Point East, a step up from Acacia but down from Three Village. These buildings all went up in the 1970s and were popular with my parents’ generation.

three village

My parents never went inside Metzenbaum’s building. I did. I visited a rich friend who bought a condo in Three Village. Metzenbaum was long gone — dead as of 2008. The building’s buzzer directory read Maltz, Mandel, Ratner, Risman, Weinberger and Wuliger.

Maybe you have to be an old Cleveland Jew to appreciate that. If you’re not an old Cleveland Jew and have read this far, please explain why.

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March 6, 2019   10 Comments

SHUT UP AND PLAY

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

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

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

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

candy man john lokar 1981

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

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February 27, 2019   3 Comments

PENAL BURNING

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

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

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

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February 20, 2019   1 Comment

OH, TO BE IN ENGLAND

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

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

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January 23, 2019   2 Comments

ONE THING LEADS TO ANOTHER

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

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

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

caducious

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

Interesting how one thing leads to another.

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January 9, 2019   2 Comments

THE TAXMAN COMETH

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

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

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

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

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

 It’s an IBM knock-off, actually.

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

What are you in jail for?

Blue ink.

No thanks.

 

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January 2, 2019   1 Comment

BACK WHEN ROOSEVELT WAS GOD

 

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

Jean's house, 2011

Jean’s house, 2011

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

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

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

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

Jean and Roosevelt, 2011

Jean and FDR, 2011

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

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

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

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

 

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December 19, 2018   5 Comments

SOMEWHAT DISREPUTABLE?

Martin Amis said being in his father’s business (writing) was somewhat disreputable. Martin Amis wrote, “Being a hereditary novelist is a freaky thing, and people do find it a bit creepy.”

Here are some other hereditary artists, and personalities, who are a bit creepy: Ravi Coltrane, Ben Cheever, Katie Roiphe, Ben Stiller, Dweezil Zappa, George W. Bush, A.G. Sulzberger. All schmucks! Yes, that’s an extreme reaction. I’m envious.

A college friend said to me — about my family’s real estate business — “I wish I had a business to pass on to my son.”

unemployed father and son

But a family business is so unglamorous (think carpet sales, plumbing supplies) that there is nothing to get envious about, so don’t get envious. I just read the Ratner family real estate biz, Forest City, finally imploded after four generations. Everybody wants to be a novelist. Well, at least one Ratner — Austin Ratner — is a novelist.

One exception to all the above: If your father is a regional musician, and your son becomes a nationally known musician, that’s called roots and is very acceptable. Joe Lovano’s father was a sax player in Cleveland. Joel Grey’s father, Mickey Katz, was a clarinetist in Cleveland. Clarinetist Ken Peplowski’s father played in a polka band in Cleveland. That’s all very admirable.

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December 12, 2018   1 Comment

VOCAL REST

I wrote a song based on “St. James Infirmary” about the local funeral home:

I went down to Berkowitz-Kumin
To see my baby there
They said I could not view her
No open casket
It’s a Jewish affair.

The song bombed when I sang it at a nursing home. Worse, I strained my vocal cords. I could hardly talk for three weeks.  My wife thought I was avoiding her. About the only thing I said was “I don’t want to hose down the garage.”

I tried cough drops and tea. The internet advised me not to talk for two full days. The first day I sat through two family breakfasts. The first breakfast was at an Ann Arbor restaurant with my younger son, and the second was at a pancake house in Toledo with my older son. My sons didn’t talk. They never do. My wife carried the ball. I went to a party and brought a bag of cough drops and a bottle of water. I said, “What are you up to?” That’s all I had to say. People answered at length. And if anybody asked me, “How’s the band?” I said, “Still playing. What else are you up to?”

My throat got better, but it took at least two years. What worked: Ayr salt water spray and gel (up the nose). That’s the best thing for dry weather. An ENT friend told me about the Ayr of my ways. I had been getting ultrasounds of my throat at the Cleveland Clinic. No help. Just go into Discount Drug Mart and get yourself some Ayr saline mist and gel.

screw up

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October 24, 2018   1 Comment

THE BUILDING DEPARTMENT

A very uncomfortable place — the building department. It’s in the basement of city hall. The inspectors cite landlords and homeowners. One inspector has a desk with a ton of architectural drawings. He’s the engineer and handles ADA cases.

I had to redo an entrance ramp for a store. My drawing was properly scaled. I did it with the inspector’s help. I paid $30.90 for the permit. After paying, I went to another inspector, who hocked me about a garage wall. I try not to go into the building department, because you just bounce from desk to desk and feel on edge.

Yiddishe Cup / Funk a Deli plays 3 p.m. Sun. (Oct. 14) at the Fort Wayne, Ind., Jewish Federation.

happy bagel

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October 10, 2018   4 Comments

BUGGED

Why do nursing-home administrators request peppy music from performers? Don’t some residents want to hear downer tunes?

bugginWhy do eyeglass-frame adjusters have so much power over us? Where did they all go to college? I.U.?

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

My wife took the electric toothbrush to Columbus, Ohio, on a business trip. The electric toothbrush is a permanent attachment to the dwelling, Alice.

Why does Zagara’s grocery store in Cleveland Heights sell only 12-packs of shabbat candles and not the 72-candle jumbo box?

What about those phone solicitors who ask for money for your kids’ alma maters? I’ve got my own alma mater to not give to.

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

Why aren’t we nostalgic for mimeo machines? We should be!

Why do some Clevelanders brag about not reading the Plain Dealer? “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, ask first: “Do you want to talk about cars with me?” Same goes for sports and politics.

What is preferable: “He passed away” or “He passed”? Answer: “He died.”

Don’t let signs like the smith’s bug you.

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October 3, 2018   6 Comments

MY FIRST DATE

I went out once in high school. It was a fix up, courtesy of my parents. I took out Barbara E. to see Cool Hand Luke at the Vogue and then on to Manner’s Big Boy at Van Aken for shakes. My parents knew her parents. I didn’t see her again, although we went to Michigan together, but I never saw her or said hi to her on the Diag, or anything at all.

How could you say no to this guy?

Bert “Pancho” Stratton, 1967

A couple years ago I was playing tennis in Cleveland, and I saw her father, who is in his 90s. I knew him from my nursing home gigs. Next to him was a young woman (age 66!) in a ski jacket. She was watching the oldsters play doubles. These oldsters were talking to the woman about a nor’easter in Boston. I knew Barbara had moved to Boston after college because I had Googled her. It was her.

I told my tennis partner that Barbara was the first girl I had dated. He didn’t care. He wanted to play tennis. But I stopped everything and said to her, “We went out on a date in high school. I’m Bert Stratton.”

“Really?” she said. I reminded her about Cool Hand Luke and the shakes. Really? “I do remember the name Stratton, though,” she said.

OK.

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September 20, 2018   3 Comments

FOOTNOTE

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

phoenix sweatin'Not much. Afterward the assistant said, “That’ll be two eighty.” As in $280. For an insert.

My wife didn’t approve of the orthotics outing. She thought the orthotics weren’t worth it, at least for this particular problem. My issue was more of a head case. The orthotics person gave me plaster of Paris casts of my feet. I stored the casts in my closet in case I ever need more orthotics.

More orthotics, please!

Footnote on a similar subject: I recently polled five physical therapists about heel lifts. Four are against heel lifts (for me) and one is for.

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September 5, 2018   1 Comment

I HAVE SOME CAPS

I lost my Brooks running hat. I owned two and lost them both. They were from a running store in Ann Arbor. I don’t usually lose things (except hats, gloves and caps). I went to Dick’s in Cleveland for a replacement hat and bought an Adidas, but it was constricting. I got headaches from the Adidas. (Granted, I didn’t give my head enough time to adjust to the new hat.)

hats five capsAmazon — I tried that. Nothing I liked there. I wanted a long-bill white cap with not much writing on it. eBay had four. I bought them all. That’s excessive, I know, but it’s only overkill if I die tomorrow. (Yiddishe Cup’s former drummer, Don Friedman, has 10 pairs of black jeans. Steve Jobs had at least 50 black turtleneck shirts.)

I went on eBay a couple days after my hat buys to see how the world of caps was holding up. There were no old-style Brooks hats left. I had cornered the market.

My Brooks hats arrived from Mississippi. Then my wife found one of my old ones.

I have some caps.

Here’s my latest essay from City Journal, “Locking My Bedroom Door,” about Airbnb, my wife and me.

The hostess

The hostess

 

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August 29, 2018   3 Comments