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

My Life in Fiddler on the Roof

I’ve played Perchik and Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof. Mostly in small-town gigs. The regional theater directors often ask me to discuss Jewish stuff with the cast, like about yarmulkes and the breaking of the glass, and chair lifting. I make up stuff. I’ve heard rabbis make up stuff, too — particularly about the glass breaking. There are many reasons why the glass is broken. All bobe mayses.

When I’m not acting, I do a one-man show. I play guitar, hand drum, even harmonica, and I sing. And I use backing tracks. I know some Yiddish, too.

Here’s a promo pic. I use it sparingly now that I’m 65  . . .

irwin 1990s

I should advertise in the back of Hadassah magazine like Ruth Kaye and Caryn Bark. Who are they? Who am I? I live in Cleveland and play the nursing home circuit. I went to Brush High. I’m married with adult children. I spend about six weeks every winter in Florida. I’m in Sarasota today. I’ve played Tevye a dozen times. I’ve also played the lead in Jesus Christ Superstar.

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February 13, 2019   3 Comments

SHREDDING IT

Cleveland is in the middle of the cereal belt. Shredded Wheat of Niagara Falls, New York, is to the east, and to the west is Kellogg’s of Battle Creek, Michigan. Shredded Wheat moved from Niagara Falls years ago, but the cereal belt remains. Cleveland is the buckle.

cerealI eat cereal just about every day. Nothing too sweet. Cheerios, Shredded Wheat, Weetabix. Blueberries added, maybe. You don’t care.

I had a prospective tenant who wanted to open a cereal store. He opened down the street and went under almost immediately. He was Cereal Central or Cerealicious. I don’t remember. Nobody in Cleveland wanted to eat cereal in a store. (He also had a store in Columbus near Ohio State. Apparently, OSU students in pajamas were willing to eat cereal in a restaurant.)

Most people like to eat cereal alone and not talk about it.

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February 6, 2019   4 Comments

THE TENNIS COURT SHOVELER

When Rich Greenberg and I were in high school, tennis was a tree of life to them that lay hold fast of it. Rich shoveled the snow off the courts at Cain Park in Cleveland Heights. Nuts. He played so well he wound up on the UC-Santa Barbara team. I waited six months every winter for spring tennis. I wasn’t going to shovel courts.Think about it: no snow blowers in the 1960s, and the courts had to be perfectly dry.

Contemplating tennis — and not playing — was like practicing music without an instrument. It was doable, but not much fun. I owned Bill Tilden’s book on singles and Gardnar Mulloy’s doubles book. There was no tennis on TV. We didn’t have access to indoor courts.

Tim Gallwey’s The Inner Game of Tennis (1974) recommends watching the spin on the ball. Focus on the rotation of the ball’s seams. The author of The Inner Game of Music said something similar. Focus. I can’t remember on what. (Not as good a book as Inner Tennis.)

When I play a concert, I sometimes focus on an imaginary green cot as a mental image. The cot is an emergency-shelter Red Cross cot. Keeps me calm.

green cot

When I was a sub on a gig, the bandleader shouted at me: “Listen!” Meaning “Listen to the music!” Maybe I was distracted by the hors d’oeuvre.

In my twenties — after college — I thought tennis was dumb. Two adults hitting a ball over a net. That was not solving any problem. I hung out with Rich at his tennis pro job in Rocky River, Ohio. Rich said he couldn’t teach the middle-aged women — the 35 year olds — anything new. He said, “I wish tennis hadn’t boomed. It would force me to do something else.” He spent time arranging inter-clubs between “our girls” and Lorain. He eventually moved to Seattle and did something else. Insurance, for one thing. And he plays harmonica in a blues band.

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January 30, 2019   4 Comments

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

LOST MONEY

My main job is getting the rent money in the bank. A tenant put $640 cash in the drop box at the apartment building. Thirty-two $20-dollar bills. The money never made it into my hands. I was in Peru. That didn’t help.

screw upI should get rid of that drop box. It’s a thin metal box with a cheesy diary-like lock. The lock wasn’t broken. From now on, each tenant mails the rent, just like back in the Stone Age. Or maybe I should simply put a sign on the box “no cash” and still permit checks.

I believe the tenant – that she put the money in the drop box. She always pays with cash. And I don’t think it was an inside theft job by my employees. (Take my word on that, or not.)

My dad used to say, “Job one is getting the money in the bank.” He didn’t even trust drive-thru tellers. He always waited in line in the bank.

Another tenant put a money order in the same drop box, and that check is missing, as well. What’s happening here? I told the tenant to get a replacement money order. He said, “This sucks.” True. I apologized three times and told him to take $50 off his rent. So now I’m out $690 (= $640 + $50) for January.

I really wanted to write about bumping my head on a door jamb in Peru, but I’m too upset about this money thing to write about door jambs. I’m 5-8½. Bumping my head on a door jamb is new to me. A lot of people in Peru are short. I have a scab. In junior high I was the fourth-shortest boy in my class. Of about 165 boys, three were shorter: Krill, Kramer and Gold. (Kramer and Gold  became wrestling champs — 93 pound and 103-pound, or something like that.) At the start of high school (10th grade), I was five feet.

Back to money . . . My dad wouldn’t be happy with me today. This is the first time I’ve lost a rent payment in 43 years, to my knowledge. I’m thinking about video surveillance cameras.

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January 16, 2019   5 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

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

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