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

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

10 HAPPY TIPS FOR 2017

Because I play happy music (klezmer), people think I’m an expert on happiness.

I am. Here are some ways to be happier in 2017:

1. Wear shorts to a wedding. You’ll draw attention away from the bride, to you, where it belongs.

2. Sleep with an insect light on. Once a week works.

3. Start a doo-wop band.

4. Invent a new colonoscopy flavor. (Pineapple, cherry, lemon-lime and orange are already taken.)

5. Go to a fire station on Christmas Eve and serve kreplach.

6. Trade diarrhea stories with a friend over a campfire.

7. Convert to Christianity (or Judaism). Why spend your life in only one religion? See what’s out there.

7. Spend at least $1,000 on watches.

8. Re-watch Napoleon Dynamite.

9. Spy on your neighbor to learn what kind of beer and Smucker’s, he or she consumes. If you see Sugar Free Apricot, call the police.

9. Buy insurance for fun one afternoon.

10. Hold a pen horizontally in your mouth and bite down until the ink cartridge explodes. This activates the same muscles that create a smile.

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December 14, 2016   4 Comments

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

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

UNHINGED

Irwin Weinberger and I sometimes drive home together from gigs. We’ve been doing this for so many years I know everything about him. He collected stamps. That came up on trip #401.

We talked stamps for an hour, coming back from Akron. Slightly boring? No, very boring. I had some first-day covers and canceled stamps my dad got from work. The stamps were in manila envelopes marked “For Ted.” (My dad was Ted, not Toby, at work.) My father worked for a key-manufacturing company.

unhinged 2Mr. Polatsek, an old guy in my neighborhood, gave me stamps. The first stamp was Wisconsin Worker’s Compensation  (1961). He visited the local elementary school and passed out stamps to all the kids. He once took me to a stamp show at the Manger Hotel. It was old guys and me. I ran into Mr. Polatsek again years later — when he was actually old — and asked him about his collection. He said it had been stolen. He said,  “Now I only collect pictures of my grandchildren.”

In college, I got stamps in the mail, forwarded by my mother. I told her to stop sending the stuff: W.C. Handy (1968), Leif Erikson (1968). It was embarrassing for a quasi-hippie to get stamps from his mom in the mail.

Irwin, I’ll look at your stamps when I get really, really old. Meanwhile, readers can read about Irwin’s stamp collection at his new blog.

Irwin

Irwin


Footnote . . . From one of my plate-block books: “We have heard from collectors who reside in the tropics, where provision of stamp gum is almost impossible, that they have had very good results by dusting a little corn starch or unscented talcum powder (free from oils and perfumes ) on the gummed side of their stamps. We do not recommend this procedure, but pass it on to collectors for this own experimentation, should they reside in unusually humid communities.”

Yiddishe Cup plays a concert in Metro Detroit, at Cong. Beth Shalom, Oak Park, Mich., 4 p.m. Sun. (April 17). $10. More info here. Motown and matzo.

YCKB logo from web page cropped

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April 13, 2016   6 Comments

FOR NYT READERS

I’m a musician-landlord from Cleveland — a curiosity to New York Times editors, no doubt. Definitely not a Harvard professor. You want more real estate stories? Here’s one.  Heads-up: it’s long, but it’s my best and is the basis for my Dear Landlord memoir.mr 1939 crossroad

I post a new story to this blog every Wednesday.

The Times didn’t activate the “comments” button on “I’m Not Evil. I’m a Landlord.” If you want to comment on the piece, you can fire away here.

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March 11, 2016   17 Comments

THE FUNERAL STRATEGIST

I’m a funeral strategist. I advise mourners, like my wife, who occasionally gets disoriented at funerals. I don’t.

funeral strategistThe Jewish funeral parlor in Cleveland is BK Broiler (aka Berkowitz Kumin). Many funeral services are only 15 minutes. Others go way too long. It’s bad when too many relatives speak. Three relatives is plenty.  On the other hand, I once attended a funeral where nobody spoke. That was 12 minutes. The sweet spot is 25 minutes, with two to three personal eulogies.

I arrive at the funeral parlor 20 minutes before, to work the family room, where only relatives sit. I want to reminisce, catch up with friends.

A tip to eulogists, don’t say, “She enjoyed traveling in her later years.” That’s so boring. Talk about the person’s youth, instead.

BK Broiler employees wear dark suits and act polite. They never say anything off script. They say, “This ends our service here. Please go to your cars and turn on your lights.” The satin black, throw-away yarmulkes are always new, never recycled.

Why does B-K  have no windows, at least in the chapel? Are windows against Jewish law?  (Shuls must have windows, my rabbi told me.) Maybe mourners don’t want to see bums walk by.  Non-Jewish funeral parlors don’t have windows either, I’ve noticed. Think about it. Or don’t think about. It’s my job to think about it.

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March 2, 2016   6 Comments

NO HARD FEELINGS,
SAYS COUNCILMAN POLENSEK

Nobody out-talks Cleveland Councilman Mike Polensek. He’s the quote machine. He once said, “I’m old-school Collinwood. You mess with me or my property, and I mess with you.” He called former councilman Jay Westbook a “weasel,” and former mayor Mike White a “son of a bitch, but our son of a bitch.”

Polensek, 2002

Polensek, 2002

Before Polensek was a councilman, he was a machinist at White Motors. I saw Polensek frequently in 1981 and 1982, when I was a reporter for the Sun Scoop Journal. Polensek ran for city council against Dave Trenton — a fellow incumbent Slovenian — in 1981. The city wards had been redrawn, and Polensek or Trenton was going to be out of a job. Trenton was “shanty Slovenian,” said my editor, another Slovenian.   Trenton was slightly rougher-edged than Polensek. For instance, Trenton smoked a cigar in public.

polensekThe editor endorsed Trenton, maybe because he and Trenton played softball together. The editor told me to survey the 14,000 registered voters in the ward. I talked to 75 people. Trenton received 32 votes in my poll. He had a plurality. The paper ran this headline: “Trenton called favorite in Ward 11 race.”  And the endorsement stated: “As council’s majority leader, Trenton can serve the community from a position of strength . . . [He has] invaluable connections downtown.”

But Polensek, the underdog, won! When I walked into Polensek’s victory party at the Italian Cooperative Association Hall on St. Clair Avenue, a Polensek supporter announced, “Your paper endorsed Trenton!” Another man said, “You’re in the wrong place. You’re going to eat crow when you write up your shit. You’re one of the worst writers ever! What are you doing here?” A woman, somewhat calmer than the men, said, “I don’t think you’re going to find what you’re looking for here.”

They didn’t like me. (I was a curly-haired hippie Jew from the Heights. That didn’t help.) But Polensek liked me — liked me enough. He liked media people, period. He said, “Oh well, you’re here. Like I told your boss, I knew we’d win.”  I said I would have voted for Polensek if I lived in Ward 11. Polensek wasn’t impressed. He said, “You’re disrespecting your boss.”

Polensek is still a councilman 35 years later. I ran into him a couple years ago and said, “You remember the ICA Hall,  when some of your supporters wanted to kill me?”

He was foggy on it. I wasn’t. He said, “No hard feelings.”

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February 24, 2016   5 Comments

WHO YOU GOING TO BLAME?

Tom, a friend, said he got food poisoning at an upscale Mexican restaurant. But maybe he didn’t. I got food poisoning about four times, and always blamed it on Taco Bell. I once called The Bell and asked if other people had gotten sick there. Of course not, the manager said.

What about Chipotle? Who you going blame? You can’t tell your friends, “I have a non-specific 24-hour flu.”  That’s not newsworthy. Food poisoning is.

Somebody yanked a shrub from my yard. My wife wondered if I had hit it with  the car. No, I hadn’t.  Maybe one of our adult kids hit it, I said. But they weren’t even around.

Who you going to blame? Never yourself!

The snowplow guy. Blame him.

I’m thinking of Chipotle stock, but it’s still overpriced. Let’s eat there today, OK?

eating utensils

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January 13, 2016   2 Comments

ACCOUNTING AND KOREAN

 A 52-second video about when my dad, Toby, told me to take a business course at Cleveland State:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8q2m3Yu6I60

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January 6, 2016   No Comments