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 is an occasional contributor to the New York Times, the Times of Israel, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and City Journal. He won two Hopwood Awards.


 
 

Category — Miscellaneous

FREE PIZZA

I used to give Kelly, a tenant, an eviction notice every month and file on him in court. Then he would always pay the day before the court hearing. He’d pay an extra $120 — to cover my filing costs.

I got tired of it. When his lease was up, I gave him a non-renewal.

I wasn’t sure he would  move, so to protect myself I filed an eviction. He moved. But he left some pizza . . .

pizza steve kelly b 202 1_30_17.

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February 15, 2017   2 Comments

I NEED MONEY

I think a lot about money. I never used to. Today I sketched a $100 bill. If I had a bag of real $100s, I’d be happy, but not completely happy. I need $1,000,000. I have expenses.

My rabbi talked about fire and ash — the fire was the animal sacrifice at the Temple,  and the ash was the charred sacrificial remains. Conclusion: the fire is the fun part of life — such as music, art, and dining at Tommy’s. And the ash is the workaday stuff.  For instance, you’re a doctor and you’re filling out forms instead of healing people, or you’re a teacher doing student assessments instead of teaching. There is a lot of ash-hauling in life, and I’m sick of it. I want to have fun. Have any extra $100s?

money


This is neither fiction nor non-fiction.

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February 8, 2017   4 Comments

TIL (Today I Learned): SARDINES

Oliver Sacks practically lived on sardines until he found a partner who liked to cook. Sacks said he ate sardines on the run. (For sardine eating, seating is optional. So is a plate.)

My wife, Alice, invented an odd sardine recipe, because she doesn’t like sardines. She pan-fries the sardines, then mixes in pickle relish, mayonnaise and a dab of soy sauce. She spreads this concoction on bread.

I buy sardines at Discount Drug Mart. A can of Chicken of the Sea, lightly smoked with bones, is 68 cents. Texture, size and nationality (of the sardine) vary.

sardines

Some sardine advice: don’t buy sardines in water. They’re tasteless. Also, don’t go with “skinless and boneless.” That is not a true sardine experience. You need the calcium, the crunch from the bones.

Here is some sardine lingo: “Good source of calcium . . . Source of omega-3 fatty acids . . . All natural wild caught . . . Sustainably harvested . . . MLHB Parasite Free — Rabbi Shneur Z. Revach.”

I don’t bulk-shop for  sardines (like six-packs at Costco). Sardine shopping should be more spontaneous, like buying a Snickers or Hershey bar. (Confession: Alice went to Costco on Sunday and I asked her to get me a six-pack.)

Some respected brands: Ocean Prince, Prince Oscar, Roland, Season, Trader Joe’s.

The Season box reads: “After opening, refrigerate and store in a covered glass or plastic container and consume within 3 days.” No problem — for me. How about you?  (Maybe you don’t like sardines. Get out of here!)

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February 1, 2017   7 Comments

Q & A WITH DON FRIEDMAN, DRUMMER

Don Friedman is Yiddishe Cup’s former drummer.

—–
What’s the best part of retirement, Don?

Not schlepping my drums to gigs.

You were with Yiddishe Cup about 20 years. What was the worst part of being in a klezmer band?

Nothing.

Don Friedman, 2011

Don Friedman, 2011

What were some of your highlights with the band?

Playing outdoor gigs – you know, festivals. But I didn’t like the druggie stuff at the outdoor festivals. I think the kids call it mollys – ecstasy. And bearded mountain-men dudes — I don’t like them. They got ugly with us a couple times and called us anti-Semitic names, but we just ignored them.

The band clashed internally. A little or a lot?

Not that I’m aware of you. But I do want to say I was totally gutted every time Bert belittled my hometown, Erie, Pennsylvania, on the bandstand. I finally told him to shut up about it.

What kind of music moves you the most?

Klezmer, jazz. You know, I grew up with jazz. Saw Philly Jo Jones and Trane in the 1950s. I went off to Berklee for a while. It was just one building.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Drink more at gigs. I only had a beer per gig. It was all free. I should have had two per gig.

Who are your heroes?

Buddy Rich, Stan Levey, Teddy Charles — any Jewish jazz drummer.

—–
This interview is fiction.

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January 25, 2017   4 Comments

WALK ON WATER

I walked on water, across Horseshoe Lake in Shaker Heights, the other day. You’re not supposed to walk on the lake, but around it. I walk on it every 25 years or so. Why not walk on water? What’s the worst that could happen? Drown?  (The lake is only 4-feet deep. I know this because I saw it dredged about 20 years ago.)  A former county engineer described the Shaker Lakes system as a “two-bit duck pond.”

I like a new outlook —  like standing in the middle of a lake. On Sunday evening it was dark and 15 degrees; nearly everybody was inside. I saw about four cars while I was at the lake. I wish I had done a “Script Ohio” in the snow with my name “Bert.” Nick Mileti, the former owner of the Cavs,  said he built the Coliseum in Richfield, Ohio, to “have some fun, make some dough, leave some footprints in the sand.”

Here are my footprints:

horseshoe-lake-1_8_17-bert-footprints

Horseshoe Lake, Shaker Heights, Ohio

I’m not onboard for cremation and scattering my ashes, but if I were, I would have my ashes strewn over Horseshoe Lake, which I walk around every couple days. One big drawback: the dredging every 20 years, that’s kind of gross, ashes-wise.

Years ago – about 100 – there was boating on the lake. This now happens about every ten years, when Shaker Heights throws a family day. Horseshoe Lake is three-fourths in Shaker Heights and one-fourth in Cleveland Heights. I started on the Shaker side, in case you’re wondering.

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January 11, 2017   5 Comments

SKIN CANCER

Alice, my wife, told me to see a skin doctor. She said, “The sore on your nose isn’t healing.” So I went to the dermatologist.

The doc said, “I’m pretty sure this is cancer. Basel cell carcinoma. If it’s benign, we won’t call you back.”

Three weeks later and no call back. Good. It was benign. I said to Alice, “Maybe I should call the doctor. He said he was pretty sure it was cancerous.”

I called. The skin doctor’s receptionist put me on hold for five minutes. A nurse said, “We’re waiting for a fax.” What’s with a fax? The doctor got on the line: “I have to apologize. We are using a new lab, and they failed to send a report to us. I take the blame. I should have followed up. It’s basil cell carcinoma, just like I expected.” Skin cancer.

I hate that, when you dig hard for a bad diagnosis and get it. Suddenly your world revolves around medical appointments and follow-ups. I went to the specialist, a doctor who did Mohs surgery — deep-dish nose drilling.

What if I hadn’t called the dermatologist back? Maybe I wouldn’t have a nose. I don’t know.

skin cancer

The surgery featured recorded klezmer music. (Some other time for that story.)

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January 4, 2017   5 Comments

I HAVE NOT COME A LONG WAY

I grew up about 10 blocks from the Long Island Sound, but for the past 42 years I’ve lived by Lake Erie — no salt. I make do. You can’t see the other side of Lake Erie. It’s a real lake. I don’t swim in the lake too long because I don’t want to catch a disease. I often walk on the beach, and I’m a member of the Edgewater Yacht Club.

After walking on the beach, I like to make a cup of tea. Then I garden or cook, and think back to my childhood by the Long Island Sound. I have come a long way — or not.

lake erie swimming

fiction

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November 30, 2016   4 Comments

TRADE SHOW

At the apartment owners trade show, I talked to a salesman about toilets. I talked to Sears about refrigerators. I talked to AT&T about the high bills for intercom service. Another subject: halogen lighting for my parking lots.

toilets

My wife encouraged me to attend the trade show. I hadn’t been to one in years. She said, “You’ll have fun.” I ran into Marty Cohen, who owns about 900 rental units and “a dumpy shopping center in Amherst. You want to buy it?” He said he had previously owned five or six other shopping centers. Landlords tell you what they used to own, as well as what they own. Another landlord, Lou Powers, has some doubles in the Heights and wouldn’t mind selling them, he said. John Marcus – whose wife is a rabbi — was there. He has something to do with real estate, not sure what.

So the trade show was good, people-wise. But I’m sick of toilets.

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November 16, 2016   1 Comment

FROM THE HISTORY CHANNEL . . .
PRESIDENTIAL POLITICS

When a relative of mine ran for school board and lost, my father said, “Don’t run again.  You don’t want to get a loser’s reputation.” My relative didn’t run again. I, too, play by my dad’s rules. I might run for president in 2020. Not saying yet.

First, a little background: I was a Kennedy man. I had a button as a big as a dinner plate.

Bert Stratton w/ Kennedy buttons, Ohio Stadium, 1960

I started my own country (on paper) in sixth grade and elected presidents and representatives. My country was a solace, because in the real world I couldn’t run for president because a) I wasn’t 35 and b) I was Jewish.

My mother said I could run and win. She duped me! Mom, my man, Abe Ribicoff of Connecticut, couldn’t even run. Newsweek said the country wasn’t ready for the Ribman, even for veep.

Now presumably a Jew could win. But let me be clear: I won’t start out at school-board level or even vice president. Trump taught me to go big or go home. My Little League teammate Joel Hyatt (Cleveland Heights High ’68) ran for U.S. Senate and got clobbered, maybe because he hadn’t paid his dues; he hadn’t run for lesser offices.

Lee Fisher wins state senate seat, 1982

Lee Fisher (Shaker Heights High ’69) paid dues. I saw him at a civic club meeting in Collinwood in 1982: six neighbors, Lee and me. (I was a Sun Newspaper reporter.)  Fisher eventually climbed to lieutenant governor. Then he got clobbered for the U.S. Senate.  He paid  dues, though. Give him that.  [What’s he up to now? . . . Interim dean of Cleveland State law school.]

I’m willing to pay no dues. Again, the Trump influence.

My American history teacher at Brush High said Stratton is a good political name. (My teacher’s name was Americo Betori. He should have run for mayor of Cleveland, about 1950, against Celebreeze. Battle of the vowels.)

Remember that name. No, not Americo Betori. Stratton! (Mr. Betori died three years ago. I could identify 98 capitals and states on a blank map — my strong suit. My weak suit: being personable. Mr. Betori wrote on my final report card, “Cheer up, Bert, and give the world a chance!”  Good advice. I try to follow it. I might give the world a chance to vote for Stratton in 2020.  No experience necessary.

A version of this appeared here 10/31/12.

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November 9, 2016   4 Comments

CUBS FANS,
NO HARD FEELINGS

Hi, Cubs Fans.

I’ve got one word for you: Go Tribe.

I post here every Wednesday.

I had an essay in the Chicago Tribune,“Don’t Be Greedy, Chicago . . . “, the other day.

feller

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October 26, 2016   1 Comment

HARVARD

After college I returned to Cleveland and hung around Case Western Reserve University to keep my sanity. I wanted the college bubble. I was at Case every chance I got. At a Case party a medical illustrator asked me what I did, and I said, “I manage apartment buildings.” She walked away. Marcy — a friend at the party — said, “It’s not in her experience — apartment building management.” Marcy was a grad student in organizational behavior. I couldn’t see grad school.

A woman asked me, “Are you in OB?”

“No, I’m not in medical school.”

“OB is organizational behavior.”

“I’m not in that either.”

Harmonica dudeApartment building management. What more could I say — want to hear my harmonica? I shut up. Docs, nutritionists, organizational behaviorists, and medical students. I went up to another medical illustrator. Illustrators are arty. She wouldn’t talk to me. (Could have been other factors — not going there.)

Marcy wrote her OB thesis on the “event of play in a closed group.” For a while, I was in her closed group. Marcy’s parents had a mansion outside of New York City with a quarter-mile driveway. I never saw the house but I heard about it. Her dad was on the board of trustees of a major foreign university. I blew it.

“So many Harvard people here!” a woman said, walking past Marcy and me. Three Harvard people: 1) The host, an OB grad student 2) my friend Marcy 3) a man who was on his way to D.C. to be a lobbyist. Harvard people were on their way, and I was in Cleveland, maybe forever. Tenants called about low water pressure and no heat. Tenants mailed in flecks of peeling paint with notes like “I”m taking $10 off my rent because of this.”

I’m in real estate. I say that now. It’s OK when you’re over 30. The night my father died, my mother and I spent hours sorting business checks on the dining room table, waiting to go to the funeral home. I’ve been dealing with bills ever since.

I Googled Marcy. She’s a professor at a college in Massachusetts. (Not Harvard.) I should message her. I won’t. Too awkward. Remembering this — also awkward.


A version of this post appeared in Belt Magazine 2/19/15.

I had another op-ed in the New York Times, on Monday, about Trump, taxes and me. Hundreds of comments. 

I own the Times. Sulzberger > Stratton. My dad did that name change.

Stratton (white cap) surrounded by minority partners in NYT

Stratton (white cap) surrounded by minority partners in NYT

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October 19, 2016   3 Comments

FOR NYT READERS

I’m a musician-landlord from Cleveland — a curiosity to New York Times editors, no doubt. mr 1939 crossroad

I post up here every Wednesday. Subscribe if you want a weekly dose.

By the way, the “drummer in the Michigan Wolverines women’s basketball pep band” has a new record out today: The Beautiful GameThe band, Vulfpeck, has been on Colbert and appeared at Bonnaroo.  (The album is available on Bandcamp.)

If you’re a book editor and want to read my non-fiction book proposal, Landlord, contact Eric Myers at Dystal & Goderich Literary Management.

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October 16, 2016   5 Comments

MAKE SOME NOISE

Welcome to my sound. Right now I’m at the corner bar making a lot of noise. I can knock over beer bottles with my booming voice. I sweep a room, no question.

hang thread on earsI see blood droplets and people screaming. I’m going to broadcast this mess.

Don’t talk to me about tinnitus! We’re not living in an abbey, folks. Wake up. Hang some string from your ears. Make some noise!

——

[Some of this was stolen from the Poetry Project Newsletter Feb/March ’14.]

Oh, to be in England

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

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September 21, 2016   No Comments

11 HEALTH TIPS

1.  Eat your fist once a week.

2. Sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” every morning. It aligns you. It starts with a major triad, 5-3-1.

3. If you’re blood isn’t bright red, eat cheese immediately.

sardines4. Eat sardines. Chicken of the Sea, lightly smoked in oil, is your best good bet.

5. Avoid fad diets.

6. Drink a shot glass of olive oil once a day.

7. Don’t knock Miller Lite.

8. Exercise at least two minutes an hour.

9. Catholics: carry smartphones. Sainthood is difficult to prove if you don’t have evidence.

10. Eat a lot of marshmallows. They aid your stomach in absorbing the flavonoids.

11. Arby’s Horsy Sauce is better for you than tomato sauce.


A slightly different version of this post appeared here 11/27/13.

Vulfpeck’s Kickstarter for its new album, The Beautiful Game, is up. Click on this link to contribute.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1461914303/vulfpeck-the-beautiful-game

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August 24, 2016   5 Comments

FOR NYT READERS

I’m a musician-landlord from Cleveland — a curiosity to New York Times editors, no doubt. mr 1939 crossroad

I post a new story here every Wednesday.

The Times didn’t activate the “comments” button on my Republican National Convention essay. If you want to comment on the piece, you can fire away here.

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July 19, 2016   3 Comments

UPDATE ON VULFPECK

1. SO FILTHY​

I have this band, Vulfpeck, which is so filthy. My lead singer is the shit — a Lebanese kid from Detroit who sings some Yiddish. And my drummer grew up next door to Aretha in Bloomfield Hills. He’s the shit plus one. My bass player has a following in Norway.

We’re on fire. We play at temples and Jewish arts festivals throughout the country, but we aren’t locked into the J bag. We’re in discussion with a major label, but I’m skeptical. The label says we’re “too Jewish.” We’re not too Jewish. We’re too filthy!

vulf peck the shit
2. ​MUSIC DREAMS​

I hear animal voices, particularly cats and fleas. Significant to my music?  Yes. ​A coffee table book, Hope You Like My Music!​,​ has more than 100 photos of professional musicians. Some tied up, some with instruments in odd places. I’m in a bathtub with clarinet reeds, like Moses.

3. OUR ESTHETIC​

I admire musicians who, when you first hear their recordings, you know exactly who is playing. Like you say, “Hey, that’s Arnie!” because you hear the snorting hogs in the background, which is always Arnie’s thing.

Vulfpeck’s latest tune is “Gas.” It stresses colors and dynamics. One guy belches whole notes. Doesn’t feel forced either.

fiction

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June 15, 2016   3 Comments

STUNT WRITER

A.J. Jacobs read an encyclopedia for a year and wrote about it. Lee Kravitz apologized to his old enemies for a year and wrote about it. Another writer lived off dumpster food for a year. Ben Ryder Howe bought a Korean deli, ran it for two years, and wrote about it. (That was good: My Korean Deli.) I buy buildings, own them for decades, and write about that. That’s less contrived than the other guys, I think.

stunt writerWhen a tenant with Alzheimer’s forgets to pay her rent, I put her checkbook right in front of her, and she writes. Then she moves out, because I can’t be her full-time nurse.

A tenant uses too many fresheners in the washing machine and clogs it up. Drama? Not quite. This paragraph doesn’t make the cut.

Philip Roth was jealous Primo Levi had a profession — chemist — to write about. It’s hard writing about nothing. I did that when I was young and failed.

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June 8, 2016   3 Comments

MIDWEST POSEUR

 

I got semi-famous a few days ago when my article about the Rust Belt was published throughout the world. Question: how much rust can the world ingest?

A lot. My article, “My Rust Belt Doesn’t Rust,” was about my love for my Cleveland, my resentment of the term “flyover country,” and Go Cavs.

rust belt

A lot of papers ran it. It’s in Anchorage now. It was in the International New York Times.

Midwesterners have good manners, don’t raise their voices, and don’t care about credentials, etc. Around here (Cleveland) the only thing that matters is you didn’t go to Michigan.

Truth be told: I’m a Midwest poseur. All Jews, no matter where they live, are New York Jews. I play the Stratton/Ohio card to get published.  Another guy who occasionally plays that card is Bob Greene, who grew up in suburban Columbus, Ohio. He writes about Midwestern-ness, particularly about Bexley, the Shaker Heights of Columbus. I like that, probably because my wife grew up in Bexley. Now, if you want vintage Midwest, the true-blood cornfield stuff, read Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg Ohio about Clyde, Ohio.

I see something in Italian. Gotta go. One more thing: can’t believe Stephen Curry might not make it to the Finals. Does San Fran have bad luck?  That would be so Rust Belt.

This is fiction — the bit about the newspaper article.

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May 25, 2016   3 Comments

NANCY THE ECCENTRIC

umbrella nancy the eccentric

Nancy Hoffman changed her middle name from Arlene to “3.” Nancy runs the Umbrella Cover Museum in Peaks Island, Maine, and does “eccentric artistry” (to quote her website). Nancy also plays accordion in the Casco Bay Tummlers klezmer band and is a friend of Avner the Eccentric.

I was at Nancy’s book-signing in Cleveland for Uncovered and Exposed: A Guide to the World’s Only Umbrella Cover Museum. Nancy kept a ledger of her book sales. That didn’t seem eccentric.

Yiddishe Cup plays for the community-wide Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel Independence Day) celebration tomorrow evening (Thurs., May 12) at Landerhaven, Cleveland.  Free.

happy tips  klez

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May 11, 2016   4 Comments

LONG AND DEEP

I don’t purposely visit graves of famous people, but I do bump into those graves on occasion. Harvey Pekar is buried next to Eliot Ness at Lake View Cemetery. I happened to be at the cemetery and asked about Harvey’s grave. A docent said look in section 7, lot 9-0, but there was nothing there, just a stick. This was a few years ago. Now there’s a tombstone.

At John D. Rockefeller’s grave, there was a quarter on the base of the monument. A tour guide said visitors sometimes put money on John D’s grave. The money is in repayment for the dimes Rockefeller gave out to kids, the guide said.

I saw a tombstone with a Jewish star at Lake View. I think I could go long and deep at Lake View, or I could go next door to Mayfield Cemetery, which is Jewish, but for that I’d have to rejoin Temple-Tifereth Israel for the cemetery plot. Or I could use my cousin’s unused plot out at Hillcrest Cemetery, where my parents are buried. Also, I could go to Park Synagogue’s cemetery, but my wife prefers Lake View. So I’ll probably go there.

My main beef with Lake View is they don’t allow bikes. Cars are OK, but if a biker goes through Lake View, the management has a conniption. The cemetery has steep hills and the management is afraid of bike-car collisions.

Let me think about Lake View. Give me some time.

lake view cemetery bike bert

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April 27, 2016   3 Comments