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

TOWER OF POWER

The bride can ditch her own wedding. She gets the flu, or a headache, or a swollen ankle, and lies down for a few hours. Misses the whole party. Or what if the mom dies during the “Chicken Dance”? That happened. Not at my gig, but at my video guy’s gig. Did he get it on tape? I don’t know. My video guy died.

The video guy had a video rack which I called the Tower of Power. He barely budged from the rack the whole night. That bugged me. For instance, when Yiddishe Cup strolled table-to-table taking requests, the video guy would tell me which tables to go to. Like “Can you do the head table next?”

I thought to myself, “Why should I do the head table next? I’m in charge of this band.” I told him no. The head table was nowhere near us, but it was near the Tower of Power. I said, “Why do you want me to go over there now?”

“Because I want to sit down,” he said.

Screw that.

“I’ll remember this when you want a favor,” he said.

Then he died. I didn’t know he was gravely ill.

Passover, larry david, no cavities

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June 12, 2019   1 Comment

JEOPARDY! AND MATH

I like the woman who beat James Holzhauer on Jeopardy! Monday night. I think she’ll go far. (If she lost last night, please ignore this paragrah.)

When my kid Ted — he was 23 at the time — won on Jeopardy!, our family had to keep his wins a secret for a few months. If the news got out, Ted wouldn’t get the money, for one thing. Jeopardy! tapes its shows a couple months in advance. How does Jeopardy! keep the taping results a secret? [Maybe Robert Knecht Schmidt will read this “Klezmer Guy” post and tell us. He’s a former J! contestant and expert.]

Relevant to this — today’s date, June 5. For Ted’s second game, the Final Jeopardy category was Middle Eastern Affairs, and the “answer” was “The Arab-Israeli War that started on June 5, 1967, ended with a cease-fire on this date in Israel.”

Ted knew about the Six-Day War, and so did the two goys who rounded out the panel. I — watching at home — did some easy math; I added 6 to June 5 and got the answer: June 11.

Wrong, Pops. It’s June 10. (Use your fingers to figure out the right answer, and while you’re at it, check out the math concept “fencepost error” on Wikipedia)

Ted answered correctly, and the others got it wrong. I have never been more flabbergasted.
fencepost

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June 5, 2019   No Comments

ALLEN GINSBERG TOLD ME
THE WORLD WAS ENDING

When Allen Ginsberg visited my college poetry class in 1969, he said we only had five years left. He said, “I’m afraid to read the papers.” And he said Burroughs claimed we had less than five years.

schilling and bert 1970

Mark Schilling (L) and Bert Stratton. 1970, hitchhiking from Cleveland to A2. Sign reads “Ann Arbor.”

How was I supposed to get through pre-med if the world was ending? The Ann Arbor Bank sign read 15 degrees. The sign at the First United Methodist Church was “Are you going through life with a kindergartner’s conception of God?” Probably. Ginsberg had a beard.

The first Earth Day was in April 1970. People suddenly were talking about duck-down and goose-down sleeping bags instead of the Vietnam war. I bought a bag for $35. The feathers kept coming out the seams. It was sewn-through, so where the thread was, there was no down. The seams were supposed to keep the down from rolling down to one end. It didn’t work too well. I couldn’t even turn in it. It was called a mummy bag. I felt dead. But the world didn’t end.

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May 29, 2019   4 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

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 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

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

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