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

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   No Comments

JEOPARDY!

At a Detroit wedding, the bride came down the aisle to a Barbra Streisand record. She paused several times to read from her childhood diaries. She had 109 journals. Luckily she only paused five times. Eight years later, she emailed me and asked if I remembered her. Yes, I did, and I remembered her bridal dance, too. Also, Billy Wisse was a groomsman at that wedding. I pronounced it Billy Weiss. I explained to him, “There’s a Ruth Wisse, a Yiddishist and professor at Harvard, and I’ve heard her name pronounced that way.”

“That’s my mother,” Billy said.

So I asked Billy if he was a professor as well. He said he wrote questions for Jeopardy. I said, “That’s a job?” And I jotted down his email address, because my son Teddy — a college student then — would love a job at Jeopardy on graduation. Teddy was on Brandeis’ Quiz Bowl team.

Two years later, Brandeis’ Quiz Bowl team played a national championship game in Los Angeles, and Ted and his Brandeis teammates met Billy Wisse for breakfast at Canter’s Deli.

Two more years ago by. We’re at 2004: Ted gets a call from Sony, which owns Jeopardy, offering Ted a slot on Jeopardy. A paragraph in the contract reads something like “Do you know anybody from Sony or Jeopardy? If so, you cannot be on the show.” Teddy did not know anybody on Jeopardy! Teddy and Billy Wisse ate breakfast once, two years ago.

Alex Trebek, the Jeopardy host,  wore a cast on his wrist the day I went to the show. I sat in the peanut gallery. Trebek told the studio audience he had fallen off a ladder cleaning his gutters. Billy Wisse stood by a computer at the edge of the Jeopardy set. This was at Sony Studios in Culver City, a suburb of Los Angeles. I was nervous Billy Wisse was going to disqualify Teddy, but Billy didn’t make a move.

jeopardyTed aced the category “Our Lady,” about Catholic shrines. He knew Our Lady of Czestochowa (Poland), Our Lady of Gethsemane (Kentucky) and several others. The Final Jeopardy category was Fictional Children. The answer was “This boy, introduced in a 1902 book, flew away from his mother when he was 7 days old.”

An editor from Boston answered, “Who is Peter Pan?” Right! She went up to $10,900.

Teddy said, “Who is Peter Pan?” He went up to $13,399.

The returning champ, a scientist from Tennessee, said, “Who is the Little Prince?” He went down to $7,900.

Alex Trebek said, “The new champion, Ted Stratton, a reporter from Cleveland Heights, Ohio.”

Look it up.

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December 5, 2018   3 Comments

CALIFORNIA

Around the time my younger son left for California — about seven years ago — I ran into a 24-year-old San Francisco girl at a shiva in Cleveland and told her to meet up with my son in Cali and show him around. I said, “Find him a job, a house, and marry him. I hope I’m not laying too big a trip on you.”

I was. She avoided me the rest of the shiva.

My daughter (who moved to Chicago about 10 years ago) once told me: “The kids who go out to California never come back.” My son in Cali said he feels guilty about leaving Cleveland, but not that guilty. He is 47-percent homeboy. I — by comparison — am 99.9-percent homeboy. I went to California four times in my twenties and ate a lot of KFC chicken on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley and saw many loose screws on Sproul Plaza, such as a woman who wore a vinyl yellow-and-black Carnaby Street cap all the time. I hitchhiked up to Bolinas and Santa Rosa, and ate a large snail at a marine biology lab in Bodega Bay. My dad told me to move to California. Maybe that’s why I didn’t.

Time Traveler

Time Traveler

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November 28, 2018   3 Comments

J RAPPER

I’m a J rapper — a Jewish rapper. I like hiphop, klezmer and all that stuff. Weird, because I’m 70. I go to rap-offs and win. I can rhyme Yiddish, like balebos with ball of fuzz, and mishegas with lift up the gas. People like it.

hypno klezThere used to be another old Jewish rapper — Murray Saul. (Yeah, I know there are young Jewish rappers, like Matisyahu and Ari Lesser.) Anyway, old Murray Saul would go on WMMS radio — this was in the 1970s — and screech about the exciting, impending weekend. Saul was Cleveland’s answer to Allen Ginsberg but without the talent. Saul would just yell a lot. He was also a salesman; he sold radio ads.

I have a half hour’s worth of material.

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November 21, 2018   3 Comments

A BUNCH OF BURGLARS

I employed a building manager whose family was “a bunch of burglars,” according to the police. Why the cops waited so long to tell me, I don’t know. The building manager’s adult kids pilfered tools and lawnmowers, but I couldn’t prove anything, and, besides, I liked the building manager. He was a hard-working “hillbilly”— his term. I was his “little bitty buddy” — his term again. His kids took the master key and broke into an apartment. They also committed a botched burglary down the street and got caught. They confessed to that, plus the break-in at my place. My building manager and his family had to move out. “See you in the funny papers,” he said.

Years later I hired another manager, Speedy, who also had crook relatives. His “niece” was a prostitute. She took the master key and entered an apartment and stole a tenant’s checkbook, ID and ring.  The “niece,” Amber, slept on Speedy’s couch. My plumber said, “A black guy is pimping her.”

I told the police about Amber, and the detective said, “Amber Carney. She’s a known druggie and thief.” Amber’s victim — my tenant—said the stolen ring was an Irish ring. Whatever that meant. The ring was fenced and gone. The tenant asked if I was Irish.

“I’m Jewish,” I said.

“I’m Palestinian,” she said. OK. I had the locked changed, and she stayed another year, pressing charges against the whore. Amber went to jail, and Speedy moved out and took a job at an adult bookstore.

blindfold test

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November 14, 2018   1 Comment

COPS ARE FUNNY

Cleveland cop Tommy Alusheff moonlighted as a comedian under the name Morey Cohen, which was a conflation of “Morey Amsterdam” and “Myron Cohen.”

Tommy Alusheff / Morey the Cop died in 2010. I knew him only by reputation. Morey wasn’t in the Sixth District — my old police beat. The funniest cop in the Sixth was Paul Falzone, who once told me, “I have eight minutes of material to Morey’s twelve. How can you tell Ronald McDonald at a nudist colony? He’s the one with sesame seed buns.”

Falzone ran for county sheriff and president of the patrolmen’s union, and didn’t win either. He eventually became police chief of Bratenahl, a suburb. In 2008 Cuyahoga County tried to put Falzone in jail for theft. Something about drugs and guns missing from the Bratenahl property room. Falzone was acquitted and sued Bratenahl for “humiliation.” That wasn’t funny.

stand up cops

I had an op-ed about immigrants in the Wall Street Journal on Monday.

indian store 08 W-1

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November 7, 2018   3 Comments

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

TOM CLARK

Donald Hall, the big-time English professor at Michigan, had some super-favorite students, and I wasn’t one of them. Number one was Jane Kenyon, whom he married. Another was Tom Clark, who became poetry editor of the Paris Review at 22, thanks to Hall.

Hall wrote in A Carnival of Losses: “Tom Clark was the best student I ever had. As a senior at the University of Michigan he wrote a 44-page paper about the structure of Ezra Pound’s Cantos, replete with Chinese characters — Tom’s back hurt from carrying Chinese dictionaries — and Greek, neatly ball-pointed . . . His paper went further into Pound’s structure of improvisation than anyone else had done.”

Tom Clark (L) and Lewis Warsh on the beach at Bolinas, Calif., 1968. Photo by Anne Waldman

Tom Clark (L) and Lewis Warsh on the beach at Bolinas, Calif., 1968. Photo by Anne Waldman

Clark was at Michigan seven years before me. I bought his first poetry book, Stones, shortly after it came out in 1969. I hitchhiked to Bolinas, but Clark wasn’t there. (I met Lewis Warsh instead, another poet.) I had a poem in The World, an East Village mag, and was thrilled. I wrote some more poems.

Clark kept up with poetry. Clark had a wise-acre, yet lyrical, poetic style that reminded me how I would write poetry if I was good, brilliant, and had stuck with it. I went over to prose (for the fame and money).

Clark wrote prose, too – mostly dry bios. I liked just one: The Great Naropa Poetry Wars, an investigation on Allen Ginsberg’s weird relationship with a Buddhist leader, Chogyam Trungpa, in Boulder.

I wanted to be Tom Clark for a while.

On Friday Clark was hit by a car and died. He was walking across the street in Berkeley. He was 77. It was an accident. A screw up.


I had an op-ed — “5oth high school reunion time? Just Show up” — in the Cleveland Plain Dealer on Sunday.

brush greaser

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August 20, 2018   3 Comments

DEATH TRAINING

My younger son recommended I try a flotation tank in California. You climb into a flotation capsule that feels like an MRI tube, but it’s filled with several inches of salt water. There’s music, and then the lights go out, and the music goes off, too. You float on your back in the dark.

I couldn’t find the exit handle and panicked. But when I finally found the handle, I settled in and kept my hand on the exit lever. I counted down from 100. That flotation tank in Pasadena was an acquired taste. Not much going on in there. It was death training.

bert tombstone

Funk a Deli / Yidd Cup on the lawn tomorrow (7 pm Thurs., Aug. 16) at John Carroll U., University Hts., Ohio. Free. Free ice cream, too. If raining, we’re indoors at the Dolan Science Center. (Some PR says “indoors at the O’Malley Center,” but that’s incorrect.)

funk a deli

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August 15, 2018   2 Comments

WRONG JOB?

The building manager became shell-shocked when a tenant called from the hospital, crying about losing his toe to diabetes. Worse: the building manager had to chase the sick man for his rent. Meanwhile, the manager also had to collect rent from apartment 102. She knocked on that door. 102 was passed out on the floor. Drunk.

huebner b101 2_21_11

Messiest apt. ever. 2011

“I’ve never seen a place that messy,” the manager said to me later. The place wasn’t that messy. Some people live like pigs. Some tenants are messy because they have health issues and can’t clean.

A tenant had Alzheimer’s. He couldn’t remember if he had written his rent check. The manager thought the tenant might accidentally light the place up, too, so we turned off the tenant’s stove gas.

There were about 40 cigarette butts on the front stoop. A tenant used the stoop as his personal ashtray. I picked up some of the butts and said to the manager, “If this grosses you out, you’ve got the wrong job.”


Funk a Deli/ Yidd Cup is on the lawn at John Carroll U. next Thurs. (7 p.m. Aug. 16). Free. University Hts., Ohio.

Alan Douglass. Middletown, Ohio 2008

Alan Douglass.

Middletown, Ohio 2008

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August 8, 2018   1 Comment

I’M THE BARD

I used to be a drummer. Now I’m a bard. I break it down by letters, not beats. My favorite letters are k and l, like in glock.

A blue jay smoking a cigar — that’s an abstraction. A blue jay on a cigar — that’s for real. I did wordplay on the drums, but it didn’t work well. I used to play jazz clubs, weddings, bar mitzvahs. I was embattled — with myself. I once did a gig where the club owner strew pillows on the floor so the audience could nod out. They did. One guy woke up halfway through my set and yelled, “I hate this!”

hypno klezI switched to words. Words are tougher than music. The English language is pretty limited with end-rhymes. I hate that tune/spoon, moon/June shit. At least music keeps you anchored with real-life reminders like “when’s the call? . . . what’s the pay? . . . food? . . . dress? . . . parking situation?”

The bard thing is a challenge. What rhymes with challenge?

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August 1, 2018   2 Comments

THE HUMAN JAZZ ENCYCLOPEDIA

Michael “Moon” Stevens has an almost photographic memory for jazz facts. Moon gets most of his information from reading jazz bios and LP liner notes. Moon grew up in Flint, Michigan, and knew John Sinclair, a well-known jazz aficionado. I’m not sure why Moon is “Moon.” I see him about once a year, when he visits family in Cleveland. Moon is a painter at the Los Angeles airport. Moon was talking to his brother-in-law, Louis, and me about Albert Ayler, Pharaoh Sanders, Joe Maneri, Charlie Parker, Roland Kirk and Bill Evans. Louis mentioned Bill Evans was Jewish.

“How do you know Evans is Jewish, Louis?” I said. “Do you wake up in the morning and wonder who’s Jewish, and who isn’t?” I do. But why would Louis, who isn’t Jewish. Neither is Moon.

“I grew up in Greenwich Village,” Louis said. “New York was a very Jewish town when I grew up.”

“If somebody shoots somebody, or if somebody wins the Nobel Prize, I wonder if the guy is Jewish,” I said. “That’s my M.O.”

Moon said, “Bill Evans wasn’t Jewish. His father was Welsh and his mother was Russian Orthodox.”

Louis corroborated this on Google.

Impressive, Moon.

—-

Was Dave Brubeck Jewish? Here’s that one . . .

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iaWvixN_a9Q

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July 25, 2018   5 Comments

SOME THINGS I HAVE LEARNED

  1. Wear a bike helmet (even though nobody in Holland does).
  2.  Put air in your car tires regularly.

In my thirties, I kvetched about not living in New York, or someplace else equally glamorous. Now, who cares where you live. When I was young, I judged people by their tastes in music and their bumper stickers. I don’t care about that now.

In my twenties, I sometimes wore a tool belt, thinking I was blue-collar. I did some brick pointing, painting, whatever. I didn’t like it.

I annoyed old people for fun. For instance, when my mother-in-law said, “They’re wearing their hair high in the 1940s look,” I would answer, “Who’s they?”

She would say, “I don’t have any shoes to wear tonight to the party.” I would say, “You going barefoot?”

Harvey Pekar

Harvey Pekar

I hung around with the comic-book writer Harvey Pekar — a bitter guy. He said, “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 was more cynical than me. I liked that.

Getting married and staying married was one of my better moves. Starting the klezmer band was another good play. Having kids was a good move. Basic stuff.

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July 11, 2018   4 Comments

WRONGFUL DEATH

Two of my friends’ parents died the same week. The first funeral was a massive Catholic Mass, and the second was a small Jewish affair. At both funerals, mourners chit-chatted about wrongful death. The Catholic man had gone into a local satellite hospital for a fairly routine matter, then went to “code blue,” and died. The Jewish woman had a procedure on her trachea and died. They were both in their 80s.

bad gigWhen my father died, he was treated first by a Mt. Sinai Hospital doc, then a Cleveland Clinic doctor. My dad thought he might get better care at the Clinic. Nope.

Marc Jaffe, a comedian, once told me that he wants to interview people regarding the best way to die. Like he will go up to a guy impaled on a picket fence and say, “Hey, is that a good death?” You don’t know till you try it. (The interview and the death.)

People I know — and know of, in a fanboy way — who have died recently:

From my gen . . . Lillian Goldberg, a friend; David Ariel, former head of the Cleveland College of Jewish Studies.

Older gen . . . Philip Roth, Tom Wolfe, Donald Hall.

[I should convert “my gen” to “older gen” right after I post this. The older crowd — the Silent Gen and WWII folk — is tapped out.]

I wrote a tribute to Donald Hall, who died Saturday. He was a mentor to me. “The Freelancer” in City Journal.

Donald Hall (L) and Bert Stratton, New Hampshire, 2000

Donald Hall (L) and Bert Stratton, New Hampshire, 2000

—-

I wrote “Me and my Lawnmower” for Belt Mag. This one is not about anybody dying, but it does touch on the subject.

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June 27, 2018   4 Comments

THE ODDS ARE . . .

The odds are actuaries have interesting jobs. What could be better than figuring out the odds on everything? For instance, what are the odds I’ll rent a store a month sooner if I reduce rent $50? What are the odds I’ll get a gig if I reduce the size of the band?

I’ve had stores empty for years. I had a barber who wanted to put photos of “fades” in her window. I let her. It was a tough store to rent. She was a Puerto Rican Lesbian cage fighter. She had a couple tattoos on her face, like Mike Tyson. She said she was part Jewish. The odds are you’re not Jewish if you say, “I have some Jew in me.”

Me the Landlord? (No, late coroner Lester Adelson)

Me the Landlord? (No, late coroner Lester Adelson)

I rented to a tattoo parlor the other day. I used to not rent to tat shops. We call the new business a “tattoo shop and art gallery” in the lease. I think it’ll work. Tats are mainstream now. Times change. What are the odds an old Jewish landlord would be OK with tats? 55-45.


Funk a Deli, aka Yidd Cup, is at Cain Park, Cleveland 7 p.m. Sun. June 24. Free. No tix necessary. Michael Wex is the emcee. Guests artists are Steve Greenman, Kathy Sebo, Shawn Fink and Greg Selker. We’re gonna burn down Cain Park with klez and soul.

Gonna burn down Cain Park with klez and soul.

Gonna burn down Cain Park with klez and soul.

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June 6, 2018   2 Comments