Real Music & Real Estate . . .

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

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

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

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

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


 
 

Category — Miscellaneous

BIG-GIG ADVICE

I gave my son Jack some tips on playing Madison Square Garden. Did he listen?  You decide . . .

If a heckler yells “shut up and play,” ignore him and keep the banter going. Concertgoers want to hear your story: where you grew up, where you go for pizza.

Long improvised solos are a turn off. Play in chunks — five minutes, maximum, per song. Listeners want variety, and they want it now.

Sports-talk always works. “How about those Knicks?” When my band, Yiddishe Cup, played the Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts (2006), I talked about the Dodgers. The audience — mostly elderly Flatbush residents — knew everything about the team. They knew Duke Snider’s real first name (Edwin) and Pee Wee Reese’s first name (Harold). I told the audience I had gone to high school in Cleveland with Eric Carmen of the Raspberries. That’s what New Yorkers want to hear — who you went to high school with. New Yorkers say, “I went to Sheepshead Bay with Larry David” or “I went to Erasmus with Sedaka.” If they don’t say that, they’re not real New Yorkers.

Don’t ask “How’s everybody doing?” That can backfire (at least at nursing-home gigs).

Don’t say “Our next tune is” — that’s robotic.

Move around a lot. Concertgoers want to see musicians sweat. The audience “sees” before it “hears.”

Nobody will notice your mistakes unless you stop the music and cry. The audience is on your side.

Don’t take advice from anybody who last attended an arena concert in 1971.

(Vulfpeck — Jack’s band — played Madison Square Garden Sept. 28.)

This post is a day late because of Yom Kippur.

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October 10, 2019   4 Comments

OPRIMA EL DOS

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

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

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

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

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October 2, 2019   1 Comment

CHECK OUT MY LIFESTYLE

I spit wherever I want.

I go to the city dump for toilet seats and milk cartons. I’m a collagist.

I have sexy legs.

I own a big house and need another one. I’m seeing a realtor Friday.

I can’t read in the car. That’s a weakness.

I want to be Mr. Rogers, but not from Pittsburgh.

Rock-and-roll trivia is my forte. Also, baseball history. Pie Traynor!

I hate air conditioning. I wear a Speedo around the house in the summer.

My favorite movie is The Awning Fabricator. It’s Serbian.

Exercise sucks.

My girlfriend is sumptuous and intense, and a fugitive from my wife.

I often eat alone. My fav meal: Don’t have one.

My fav song: “Meshugeneh Mambo.”

Wednesday mornings I’m at Stone Oven, Eton Collection, Woodmere, Ohio. Stop in.

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September 25, 2019   4 Comments

STAR TURN

I backed up a star. A minor star. A minor, minor star: David “Dudu” Fisher. You’ve probably never heard of him, but he’s big in the Jewish music world, and he came to Cleveland and needed a backup band.

The usual Cleveland jazz dudes were called in to back up Dudu. These Cleveland guys play for touring Broadway shows at Playhouse Square and have music-school degrees. These musicians have bio notes that read “shared the stage with blah blah and blah blah.”

I’ve shared the stage, too. Yiddishe Cup played at a Dayton, Ohio, folk festival gig right before Jon Hendricks. War, too,  (Detroit) and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band (Akron). I haven’t actually played with anybody. Correction: a tune with Vulfpeck in Ann Arbor.

The reed player in the David “Dudu” Fisher backup band wasn’t comfortable with the clarinet charts. He was a jazz-sax guy and the klez clarinet parts were a bit too intricate. So I got a call. I practiced a lot and did OK. There was jazz, klez and classical. I can read music! The pro jazz dudes said I did a good job. That meant something to me.

*”Dudu” is a Hebrew/Israeli diminutive for David.

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September 18, 2019   2 Comments

LEGIT

The caller wanted to put a restaurant in a 750-square-feet vacant storefront. Seven-hundred fifty feet is not much bigger than a shoebox. The caller said he could fit a couple tables in there. He said he owned two 500-square-feet restaurants in Brooklyn.

“Where in Brooklyn?” I asked.

“Fort Greene and Williamsburg,” he said. “You know New York?”

“I’ve heard of Williamsburg.”

“You know New York?”

“I know about Williamsburg. That’s where the hipsters live.”

“That’s right.”

“That’s what I want if you open here — hipsters,” I said. “I don’t want you open all night and selling cigarettes, lottery tickets and beer to derelicts.”

“Man, we want the hipsters.”

“What’s your name?”

“Ezzat. And my partner is my brother, Rizi.”

“That’s a lot of Z’s. You should call your restaurant Z’s.”

“Yeah.”

“What’s your last name?”

“Assad.”

“What’s your brother’s last name?”

“He’s Hamda.”

“What kind of restaurant?”

“El Toro Taqueria.”

Legit.

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September 11, 2019   No Comments

MEN’S FASHION — A HISTORY

I was a bit stylish in seventh and eight grades. I shopped at Mister Jr.’s and Skall’s Men’s Wear at Cedar Center. After eighth grade, I gave up on making it in fashion. I couldn’t cut it — shopping, fashion and popularity contests.

One of my dad’s friends sold Farah pants. I liked Farah but Farah wasn’t cool. Nice feel but not cool. Lee –- the brand — was popular. Farah was the continental look — the greaser thing, like iridescent sharkskin. Italians clung to the continental look for years. Jews moved on to the “collegiate” look — Lee’s colored jeans.

Ben Skall, an old man, ran Skall’s Men’s Wear. He became a state senator. I gave up white socks to enter Skall’s. I bought black socks with gray rings around the top (Adler brand). Sam McDowell and Hawk Harrelson shopped at Skall’s.

I was in the in-between crowd. I noticed right off in seventh grade half the class was yiddlach, and these kids seemed “fast” and could dress, and they would mock you out if you dressed wrong. The dagos, my side of the tracks, dressed like Dean Martin or the Fonz (who came later). I wore a spread-shirt collar. Verboten amongst Jews and dagos. It had to be button down. So I went to Skall’s.

I wore a fisherman’s knit sweater my mom made. Homemade was verboten, too, I learned. But a girl complimented me on the sweater, so I kept wearing tit. “Nice sweater,” she said. History!

I had a shirt jac and light blue denim pants. The shirt jac didn’t tuck in, by design.

Shoes? Pedwin cordovan penny loafers.

Sweaters, again: Alpaca was the continental look. Very Italian and very itchy. The collegiate look was a comfy cashmere-feel V-neck like a color called Summer Wheat.

Underwear? Yes, and white.

 

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September 4, 2019   3 Comments

SCREW WOODSTOCK

I didn’t go to Woodstock. Never even thought about going. Wasn’t into Woodstock, period. I disdained anything popular. That was me. (My future wife, Alice, went to Woodstock for a fraction of a day. She saw Richie Havens and left because Woodstock was too crowded. By the way, Richie Havens was OK with me because he wasn’t super popular.)

I saw most of the Ann Arbor Blues Festival, which was two weeks before Woodstock. I should have seen the whole blues festival but my sister got married in Cleveland the same weekend. The chutzpah. I had to bounce back and forth from the wedding to the festival. I was the blues festival’s PR chairman, so I placed ads in major daily newspapers, Coda (a Canadian jazz mag), underground newspapers and Rolling Stone. I got in touch with the Voice of America, which taped the event. (The tapes haven’t resurfaced. Some other tapes have. There is a  just-released live double album.)  I worked with an ad agency in downtown Cleveland — a guy there did ads for the key company my dad worked at.

ann arbor blues festival poster 1969

First A2 Blues Festival, 1969.

The blues festival drew 20,000, and we spent about $60,000 from the University of Michigan and Canterbury House — an Episcopalian coffeehouse. That was a lot of money. ($419,000 in today’s terms.) I got a free trip out of it, to New York to talk to WNET. They weren’t interested in filming the festival because they had just done the Memphis Blues Festival.

Woodstock got a lot of ink because of the big crowd and the movie (1970).

Another national music festival in August 1969  was the Atlantic City Pop Festival. That drew about 100,000. Atlantic City Pop — you don’t hear much about that anymore. You don’t hear much about the Ann Arbor Blues Festival either.

The blues festival committee was U-M “blues freaks.” Most were Jews. University Activities Center — a student programming organization — ran an ad in the Daily that said hey-you-want-to-put-on-a-blues-festival? The student who placed that ad was Cary Gordon. He had a thing for Clifton Chenier. Gotta bring in Chenier! We did. And we brought in everybody else, too: Fred McDowell, Son House, Big Mama Thornton, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, B.B. King, and more. These old black musicians had a certain presence. They knew more about music and life than we did. Screw Woodstock.

*Speaking of old, B.B. King was 43. Son House was 67. Sleepy John Estes was the oldest at 70.

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August 28, 2019   6 Comments

KLEZKLEVELAND

KlezKanada is going on right now. Come on, America, let’s compete against the Canadians. Let’s do a full-blown Midwest klez conference. Not in Chicago, thank you, and not in some bubble town like Madison, Wisc., or Ann Arbor, Mich.

KlezKleveland. Where exactly? My house.

Accommodations: tent camping on my front lawn. There will be shower trucks and port-a-potties in the driveway. Don Johns — only the best.

Gentiles welcome, of course.

Do I need to play an instrument to attend?

No.

Do I need to know Yiddish?

Just chutzpah and putz.

Faculty?

Maybe. 

Sports?

Spinning to the music of KnishKnash, a NYC band.

Teen activities?

Yes. Teens will put on a play about scrap and Midwest Jews, based on Leonard Tanenbaum’s memoir, Junk is not a Four-Letter Word.

KlezKleveland ends with a fireworks display over Shaker Lakes. Look for a KlezKleveland flyer in your mailbox. Look for the next eight years.

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August 21, 2019   4 Comments

POOL, PING PONG
AND MARCHING BAND

My father’s father, Louis Soltzberg, was run over by a May Co. truck in 1924 and had a metal plate put in his head. After that he began hanging out at the pool hall a lot. My great aunt once told me, “If they had given out prize money for playing pool like they do now, he would have been a millionaire.”

My dad steered his kids toward ping pong, away from pool.  Ping pong was in our basement. To shoot pool, you had to go to Severance Center. There was a big sign at Severance: “No Hats.” That was because black customers liked to wear stingy brim hats while shooting, and the owners didn’t want too many blacks.

My dad entered a ping pong tournament at Danny Vegh’s club and got clobbered by a Hungarian. After that, Toby played only in our basement.

My father was good with racquets, and at sports in general. His brothers were good, too. His brother Milt was a fast-pitch softball player, and brother Sol played football at Western Reserve. My dad, Toby, took me to annual indoor track meets sponsored by the Knights of Columbus. I kept trying to find Ohio State and Michigan on the jerseys, but it was all Seton Hall, Holy Cross and Villanova. Were those colleges?

We lived three houses from the public tennis courts. My dad hit tennis balls with me after work. He would say, “Racquet back. Hit it now. Racquet back. Hit it now.” He was the color man without much color. I didn’t like his constant patter. To rile him, I’d mutter, “You stink.” You meant me. That drove my dad nuts. And I would say, “I quit!”

I liked music, too, and particularly the intersection of music and sports. Ohio State’s marching band had no woodwind section. It was all brass, and my parents wouldn’t buy me a trumpet. I had my Uncle Al’s hand-me-down clarinet. I stopped begging for a trumpet around ninth grade. I got used to the clarinet. In twelfth grade I dropped marching band altogether. I wasn’t marching anymore (to quote Phil Ochs, another South Euclid boy).

The marching band director at Cleveland Heights High – a nearby school — kept his “marching” band stationary in the end zone. That would have suited me, but I was at Charles F. Brush High, and we marched. I didn’t like learning the marching patterns.

My dad never saw me march, or play with my klezmer band, for that matter. He died before I got it going. I still play tennis. Ping pong, every three years. Pool, every six years.


Tomorrow night (7 p.m, Thurs., Aug. 15)
Funk A Deli / Yidd Cup
Free outdoor concert
Walter Stinson Community Park
2313 Fenwick Road
University Heights, Ohio
Be there!

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August 14, 2019   3 Comments

THINK YIDDISH, ACT BRITISH

Bill Miller, who went to law school in South Dakota, wore a cowboy hat to our sons’ Little League games. Jews — the subject — came up, as it tends to around me. Bill ended our conversation with, “Think Yiddish, act British.” This was a new expression to my ears. Also, this guy — Bill Miller — was Jewish? Bill said he was inching his way back to the East Coast. He had lived in South Dakota, Iowa, and now Ohio. He had grown up on Long Island.

Bill got me to thinking about my personal “Think Yiddish, Act British” (TYAB) playbook. I had learned the cardinal rule of TYAB, courtesy of my mom: “Don’t make a scene.” If anybody in my family ever said “Jewish” in a restaurant, for instance, my mother would glance around to see if anybody heard. Forget Jew — the word — I rarely heard that growing up.

My dad couldn’t read (sound out) Hebrew. My mother could. My father’s parents were “basically communists,” an elderly cousin told me. That was a bit of an exaggeration. My grandparents were entrepreneurs with a socialist background. Par for the course.

We put out Easter eggs and got Christmas presents. No tree. No yelling. At High Holidays, my mom would write my teachers: “Please excuse Bert’s absence from school due to religious observances.” My temple held services on Sunday, not Saturday.

Jewish got more play beginning in 1967. I was surprised when my parents attended an emergency fundraiser for Israel. A lot of American Jews stepped forward during the Six-Day War. Abba Eban, at the U.N., was my hero. The possibility of a second Holocaust seemed very real. A couple kids in my high school began wearing Jewish Power buttons, courtesy of a button shop in Greenwich Village. I didn’t have the guts to wear the button. The button-wearing kids had grown up in the Jewish neighborhood, not with the Italians like I had. After the Israeli victory in 1967, the TYAB playbook became nearly obsolete.

At my dad’s funeral in 1986, my father’s brother Milt baited the officiating rabbi: “One place I’d never go is Israel.”

“Why is that?” the rabbi asked.

“Our mother was an ardent Zionist who wanted us to move there, and I didn’t want to.”

My mother questioned Milt’s propriety several hours later. According to my mom, 1) Uncle Milt’s mother had been a Zionist, but had never urged her kids to make aliyah. 2) Milt was a jackass for making a scene.

An etiolated version of TYAB was alive. But is TYAB in effect when you’re totally among Jews?

Yidd Cup/ Funk A Deli  plays a concert 7 pm Thurs, Aug. 15, at Walter Stinson Community Park. That’s somewhere in University Heights, Ohio. (hint: 2313Fenwick Rd.) Free. Outdoors.

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August 7, 2019   2 Comments

YOU ARE THERE: 1973 PART 1

Beachwood, Ohio  1973

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

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

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

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

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

loayl to axe 1

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

 

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July 24, 2019   5 Comments

I’M AROUND

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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May 22, 2019   7 Comments

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

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