Category — On the Road
The venue: the Barclays Center.
The show: Jay-Z on the mic.
The kingpin: Cousin Brucie Ratner, owner of the Barclays Center.
Brucie isn’t my cousin, and I don’t know Jay-Z’s music. But I felt part of the Barclays Center’s grand opening. I walked around the outside of the arena.
Furthermore, I occasionally play gigs for the Ratner family in Cleveland. The Ratner patriarch — Albert — likes “Oyfn Pripetchik” (At the Hearth). Albert doesn’t even have to ask.
Bruce Ratner told the New York Times he used to be embarrassed he was a developer. He was an anti–war protestor back in the day, he told the Times.
Brucie is me x 1 billion dollars.
I was at a wedding in Brooklyn. Beyoncé’s sister was there. I sat across from Beyoncé’s marketing agent. (Jay-Z is married to Beyoncé.)
The music at the wedding was arena quality. A gospel singer from the Blind Boys of Alabama sang the ceremony. A doo-wop group did the cocktail hour. An eight-piece New Orleans brass band walked into the wedding through an industrial garage door and wailed for hours.
Where was I — other than two miles from Jay-Z? I was in a former brass foundry, close to a toxic site, the Gowanus Canal.
I saw guys in Brooklyn Nets T-shirts.
My band, Yiddishe Cup, once played the Brooklyn Center for the Performing the Arts in Flatbush. Not too cool, apparently. (My band or Flatbush?)
I think the wedding venue was in Red Hook, a section of Brooklyn. Not sure. Maybe Carroll Gardens (another Brooklyn neighborhood). I like to know where I am.
Boys, hit ‘em with “Oyfn Prip.” Cousin Brucie might drop by. Just like back home. (There is a Brooklyn, Ohio.) Jay-Z in the house? Strike up “Money, Cash, Hoes.”
I sat on a bench at Horseshoe Lake and read the Cleveland Jewish News. I felt like Isaac Bashevis Singer with the Yiddish Forverts. (Typical Singer opening: “While I was sitting on a park bench I noticed that my left shoelace was untied.”)
I had a letter to the editor in the CJN and wanted to make sure the paper got it right.
The park bench at Horseshoe Lake had a plaque: “In loving memory of Arthur Lipton. He played at Carnegie Hall.” My question: Did Arthur Lipton get paid, or was he in a youth orchestra? Did they — the orchestra — rent Carnegie Hall?
The CJN got my letter right.
The “wombs and tomb” section of the CJN is the crux of the paper: the births, bar mitzvahs, weddings and deaths. Deaths are always a good read. Who owned what business. Who fought in Japan. In the weddings, there is usually a U. of Michigan grad. Does every Jewish family in Cleveland have a Michigan connection? I skip the bar mitzvah and birth announcements; I’m too old for those, or not old enough.
On returning from the park, I saw a dog crapping on my front lawn. I paused at a distance, to see if the owner would clean up. She did.
Snack time: I opened a new jar of peanut butter.
It was creamy! I bought creamy by mistake!
Heinen’s should be more distinctive with its labels:
My (future) park-bench epitaph: “Albert Stratton preferred crunchy peanut butter.”
November 21, 2012 4 Comments
Yiddishe Cup has played in 19 states and Ontario.
Our most recent state is Massachusetts.
I didn’t tell anybody about our Massachusetts gig, except Ari Davidow, the dictator of Klezmershack, a Boston-based website.
I didn’t shout, “We’re playing Boston!” Wouldn’t be right. I didn’t want to drive the Mass. bands crazy. There are so many good Jewish wedding bands in Massachusetts.
How did Yiddishe Cup get the Massachusetts gig? Connections. My cousin Margie. She hired us for a wedding.
Mass. football huddle
The band stayed at the Marriott near the Natick mall. The food court at the mall had take-out Indian food; you don’t see that very often in Cleveland.
Notice, we haven’t played Kentucky. That irks me!
Daniel Ducoff — Yiddishe Cup’s Sir Dance-a-lot — collects refrigerator magnets of states Yiddishe Cup has played. Twelve years ago, I gave Daniel magnet-investment advice. I told him to buy “Kentucky.”
Kentucky is ridiculously, abuttingly close to Ohio.
What’s with Texas? We’ve played Texas three times. Once at Temple Emanu El in Dallas, and twice at the Chamizal National Memorial park in El Paso.
Some people think Yiddishe Cup plays only in Cleveland. I hope this map straightens them out.
Buckeyes and fellow travelers, here are the Ohio towns we have played. (Obama and Romney have nothing on Yiddishe Cup.):
Elyria, Akron, Lorain, Warren, Youngstown, Oberlin, Wooster, Lakeside, Toledo, Springfield, Alliance . . .
Kent, Canton, Granville, Gambier, Lancaster, Findlay, Columbus, Delaware, Hiram, Cincinnati, Dayton, Oxford, Celina, Urbana.
You can find good Arabic food in Toledo.
Gambier is not a real town. It has a post office, bookstore, pizza parlor and Kenyon College. Mount Vernon — an authentic town –- is just a few miles from Kenyon. Hey, we played a wedding in Mount Vernon. Please add “Mount Vernon” to the list.
Yiddishe Cup probably won’t play on the West Coast unless one of my sons marries a West Coaster and the wedding is out there. That’s our best hope. Boychicks, you can use a DJ for the breaks. No problem.
Calumet is in the Upper Peninsula. We flew there via Minneapolis. We should have played for change in the Minnie airport so we could color in Minnesota on the map.
Michigan has so few cities. What percentage of Michiganders live in Metro Detroit? My guess is 33 percent. [42 percent –- Google.]
Mappin’ . . . Have you looked at a map today? (Electoral College maps don’t count.)
My op-ed “It’s Campaign Season; Ohio is Swingin‘ was in the Sunday Cleveland Plain Dealer. (Similar to post below.)
November 6, 2012 2 Comments
Yiddishe Cup played a wedding in a backyard in Connecticut where the floor partially collapsed. The ground became soggy underneath the tent, which was built into the side of a hill. The tent grid work — which supported the plywood floor — sunk. About 50 semi-drunken partygoers did athletic hora steps and pogo-ing, and the floor buckled.
The groom’s mom told me to stop the music.
I didn’t. You can’t stop the hora at a wedding; it’s bad luck for the marriage. I said, “Two more minutes.” She said no, and jumped onto the bandstand and yanked the saxophone from my mouth. Luckily, I wasn’t playing clarinet (different embouchure, more likely to damage my teeth). I said, “Don’t ever do that again!” She was oblivious to me. She frantically dialed her phone for a repairman.
The tent-repair crew arrived shortly, and during a break the crew crawled under the tent and put in extra supports. The mom had the band playing only background music. We sounded like a string quartet at a funeral. We didn’t want anybody to dance, because the floor would collapse even more. We had traveled 500 miles to play tepid tunes like “Jerusalem of Gold” and “Tumbalalaika,” and have my ax yanked. What a letdown.
The dancing picked up after the repair crew fixed the support grid work. Lots of ruach (spirit), and no more assaults on my teeth.
Watch out, literature here . . .
13 Jews are in line
A woman says
“Do I want the mushroom omelet?”
Is she talking to me?
The beauty of the East Coast
Red maples in Connecticut
We’ve come a long way
Why do I imagine everybody at this wedding
is thin and wearing black?
Because everybody is thin and wearing black
“You’re from somewhere near Hungary,” I say
“Finland,” the woman says
“Don’t they share a language bond?”
I’m on a losing streak with accents
Where is the euphony?
This band is loud
This band is Yiddishe Cup
Turn it down, guys!
We are in the Berkshires
The leaves are falling
So are we
Yiddishe Cup plays for Simchat Torah 7 p.m. Sun., Oct. 7, Fairmount Temple, and 7:15 p.m. Mon., Oct. 8, Park Synagogue. Cleveland.
October 3, 2012 3 Comments
The Jazz Temple was a music club in a former Packard showroom at Mayfield Road and Euclid Avenue. Coltrane played there. Dinah Washington too. Everybody played there. The Jazz Temple was in business from 1960 to 1963.
I passed the Jazz Temple weekly on my way to Sunday school at The Temple, a Reform synagogue in University Circle, Cleveland.
Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver was the head rabbi at The Temple. Rabbi Silver was very prominent; he spoke at the United Nations, advocating for the establishment of the state of Israel. Rabbi Silver’s son, Danny, was the assistant rabbi. He played football at Harvard and blocked hard for his dad.
The Sunday school kids at The Temple were mostly from Shaker Heights. One kid got a ride in a limo to shul. The driver wore a chauffeur’s cap.
I couldn’t grasp how temple — the word — fit into a non-Jewish setting, like in “Jazz Temple.” Was Jazz a religion too? (Give me a break. I was 10.)
Years later, I met a couple ex-beatniks who had been old enough to go to the Jazz Temple in the early 1960s. They had heard Trane and Ella.
The Jazz Temple was blown up in 1963. Somebody didn’t like the club, or the owner, Winston Willis, a controversial black businessman.
At The Temple, the religious-school kids would attend the last part of the service and hear the sermon. Rabbi Silver looked like God and talked like Him.
Rabbi Silver: Live at the Jazz Temple. Interesting.
John Coltrane: Live at The Temple. Another possibility.
A love supreme . . .
A love supreme . . .
In the arts, if you’re precious, you’re bad. Precious is the worst thing. Precious means you’re dainty and overly refined.
A friend (a former music critic) called all college a cappella music precious.
Harvey Pekar called Willio and Phillio — the Cleveland music-comedy duo — precious. (Willio and Phillio was around in the 1980s.) Willio and Phillio was precious — their stage name for sure. Willio (Will Ryan) went out to Los Angeles to work for Disney, and Phillio (Phil Baron) became a cantor in L.A. They were good, and probably still are.
Yiddishe Cup is precious occasionally. The musicians say “oy vey” too much on stage. I’ve tried to get my guys to stop. I can’t.
Peter Laughner, a Cleveland rocker, died from drug abuse and alcoholism at 24. He killed himself, basically. (This was in 1977.) He was not precious. He was dead — and funny — about art. He was in the Pere Ubu underground before Pere Ubu was famous.
Suicide doesn’t appeal to me for two reasons: 1) My wife would kill me if I tried it. 2) I want to attend my kids’ weddings and eventually meet my grandkids-to-be.
“Precious” is OK for grandkids. (“Grandkids” is precious.)
New construction — Side C — for Michiganders. . .
I drove to Rochester, Michigan, which is not as cool as Rochester, New York, but it does have a small-town charm.
I’ve seen Father Coughlin’s former church in Royal Oak, Michigan.
I’ve been to Detroit many times.
My wife, Alice, said, “Detroit has very long roads.”
She probably meant Woodward, Gratiot and Telegraph.
Detroit also has the Lodge. Elmore Leonard mentions the Lodge in his books, like, “The gambling casino, Mutt, you can’t fucking miss it, over by the Lodge freeway.”
A couple Cleveland freeways and bridges have names, like the Bob Hope Memorial Bridge, but nobody ever uses the names.
I stayed at a hotel near the Silverdome, which looked like a big pillow. (The stadium did.) A Detroiter told me the Silverdome sold for about $200,000. A stadium for the price of a California carport.
Who was John C. Lodge? Probably a labor leader. [No, the mayor of Detroit in the 1920s.]
Detroit is like Cleveland. Detroit has the Eastern Market; Cleveland has the West Side Market. Detroit has downtown casinos. Now Cleveland has a downtown casino.
Metro Detroit has a few more Jews than Cleveland. And probably more Arabs, Poles and Ukrainians. And more blacks.
People who wear Tiger caps are cool, as are Indians cap wearers.
What about Berkley, Michigan? Is that worth a visit?
Elmore Leonard eats at the Beverly Hills Café. I wonder if that’s part of the Beverly Hills Café chain, or an independent restaurant in Beverly Hills, Michigan.
I wonder if Elmore Leonard spends his winters in Detroit. I bet he doesn’t. He writes a lot about Florida.
I have some Elmore Leonard junk mail.
City Primeval: High Noon in Detroit. That’s worth reading.
Maple means 15 Mile. Big Beaver is 16 Mile.
What about Oakland University? Does the university have Bobby Seale barbecue sauce in the cafeteria?
I live only three and a half hours from Berkley, Beverly Hills and Oakland.
Yiddishe Cup pulls into Motown Sunday. See us at Cong. Beth Shalom, Oak Park, Mich.,
2 p.m., Sept. 9. Open to the public. Concert info here.
September 5, 2012 7 Comments
“Forty years ago, the news media were filled with reports of a generation gap. Let’s be grateful that we’ve finally solved that problem.” – Karen Fingerman and Frank Furstenberg, op-ed, New York Times, 5/31/12.
Beachwood, Ohio, 1973
I live with my parents at the Mark IV, a high-rise apartment by the freeway.
I’m living with my parents at age 23! My life is so unexciting it couldn’t get published in a mortuary journal.
Chekhov said, “People do not go to the North Pole and fall off icebergs. They go to offices, quarrel with their wives and eat cabbage soup.”
I want to go to the North Pole.
My dad almost clobbered me because I didn’t want to save five dollars on traveler’s checks by comparison shopping at banks. “You aren’t a millionaire yet,” he said, scratching himself. He was wearing just underwear.
Tonight at a party — a parents’ party — Zoltan Rich, the Hungarian know-it-all, said, “The students protest for entirely selfish reasons. You know what the chief word is we’re missing — the key to the whole discussion? It’s obligation. Parents have abrogated their responsibility.”
It’s time to go.
A guy from Case Western Reserve said he might give me a ride out west tomorrow.
California or Mexico?
I won’t come back here for at least six months. My mother has a bridge game here tomorrow. If I’m within 100 feet of that game, I die.
Move along. Try the Rand McNally approach to self-discovery . . .
It’s 3 a.m. in Utah. I’m under a lamppost, “sleeping” in a sleeping bag. I hear deer. Or is it bears? I’m afraid of nature! I hear semis shifting.
I wonder if I like “freak” America. Deep down I’m straighter than a library science major. I could wind up back in Cleveland. You can go home again.
Or maybe I’ll settle out in California.
My dad says, “I’m sure you’ll be a success some day.”
At what? Whatever it is, I should do a good job of it. My father never says, “What are your plans? What do you see yourself doing in ten years?” That would be cruel.
My last month in Cleveland was a hell. But not a bad hell. My mother lined up dates for me. The dates were daughters of my mom’s friends. I took girls to bars and ordered 7&7s. That was my booze repertoire: 7&7s.
I got feedback about the dates from my mother through back channels. She picked up tidbits at bridge games. Some of the girls liked me, some didn’t. One girl thought I was “a little weird.”
She was weird. She had no business dragging me through her dad’s kangaroo court (his living room was plastered with World War II medals) for interrogation. What are my plans? What do I do?
What’s an apricot sour? That’s what I want to know. She ordered that.
I’m sitting on the dock of the bay in Bodega Bay, California. I’m eating squid. Or maybe it’s a big snail. I’m not sure. I’m at a marine lab. Wastin’ time? I don’t know yet.
Part of this post was on CoolCleveland.com, 10/12/11, called “Mom’s Dating Service.”
Yiddishe Cup plays a tribute to Mickey Katz 7 p.m. Thurs., Aug. 9, at Cain Park, Alma Theater, Cleveland Heights. For tickets: www.cainpark.com or 216-371-3000.
July 25, 2012 5 Comments
The minute I landed at Palm Beach airport, my dad, Toby, hocked me about investments.
On the drive from the airport to his condo, Toby would expound on real estate growth in Florida. “This was a two-lane dirt road when we got here. Now it’s six lane.”
Glades Road, Boca Raton, 1980s. With a bagel store on every other block.
We have a Bagel Nosh in Cleveland too, Dad. And it’s crap.
My parents watched the kids for a week, while my wife and I zoned out and watched for golf cart X-ings.
Toby said, “Whatever you do, don’t kock the money away.” Also, did I need a new car? How about a bigger house? “You never ask for anything,” he said.
My kids asked for something: noodles — swimming noodles. No problem. Every grandparent had a storage closet full of flotation devices.
One grandpa – my dad’s friend — didn’t sleep very well, so he went midnight bowling. The man owned a furniture store in Cleveland and was into municipal bonds big-time, particularly since his son was destroying the store, the man claimed.
Another old-timer was Jackie Presser, who had a villa — a stand-alone house. Presser had been the national president of the Teamsters and tied in with the Mob. In his later years, he moonlighted as a snitch for the FBI. His wife drove an antique car around the condo development.
Toby met Mel, a low-level city employee who needed a “few presents” — as Mel put it — for his inspectors. Mel inspected commercial properties for the city of Sunrise, Florida, where my dad owned a small shopping-strip center. The shopping strip was a hobby of Toby’s — a little something to keep him occupied in retirement in Florida. Toby was always in let’s-make-a-deal mode.
Mel met Toby at Sambo’s, where Mel explained “presents” meant $100 for each of his inspectors. [$220 in today’s dollars.] Toby paid off Mel — in a car, not in the restaurant. Mel said, “This is not for me. This is strictly for my inspectors.”
Mel drove Toby to see vacant land. The city wanted a developer to put up a motel, and the city would take a cut.
Toby sold his Sunrise strip center shortly after that. He didn’t cotton to the Florida heat, so to speak. He returned to the simpler pleasures of golf and electric orange juice squeezers.
Toby told me his best years were his most recent, in Florida. He had financial security, grandchildren and decent health.
My dad died of leukemia three years later, in 1986, just shy of 69. My mother kept the Florida condo another 11 years, until she came down with Parkinson’s disease.
The condo association owes my sister and me $8,160.82. The association is slow in repaying the golf membership fee. Fifteen years slow.
I would like that 8K to glide in today from Glades Road. I’d knock 5K off the tab if the association included a round of golf with my dad. And I don’t even play golf.
A version of this post — called “A Bagel Store on Every Other Block” — ran on the Times of Israel website 7/5/12.
This video is about my dad’s shoes, among other things.
July 11, 2012 3 Comments
1. DARBY CREEK, south of Columbus, Ohio
My wife, Alice, and I hit a tree stump in Darby Creek, and I flipped our canoe. I became entangled in branches and logs. The current felt like nine bathtubs pouring over me at once. Alice perched herself on a log in the creek, trying to save her iPod.
The canoe ride was billed as a languid 12-mile paddle downstream with no white water. But we canoed right after a major storm and a wet spring (last year). I was rescued by two kayakers, who found my paddle and extricated my leg. The canoeing outfitter did not want to talk about my adventure. He was having a slow season and didn’t want anybody to overhear us.
During my flip, I kept repeating, “Do not panic.” But I panicked some.
“Life is a very narrow bridge, and the important thing is to not be afraid.” — Rabbi Nachman. Be afraid, but not longer than, say, a minute.
Alice’s iPod made it. My cell phone died. Mother Nature made it.
2. THE SOUTH
I don’t go to Waffle House that often. The closest Waffle House is in Medina, Ohio, and that’s the South.
What are grits? Cream of wheat? What are you supposed to do with grits? Pour syrup on them?
At Waffle House I order hash browns with onions. That’s called “scattered and smothered.”
My son Teddy suggested I try Huddle House. I went to one in South Carolina on vacation. Pretty much the same as Waffle House. (I can’t go to Waffle House — or Huddle House — with my band, because two guys in Yiddishe Cup don’t like “Awful House.” They like baked potatoes at Wendy’s.)
My wife bought a two-pound bag of stone-ground grits at a gift shop in Charleston, South Carolina. The label read, “Food for the Southern Soul.”
If that’s true, the South is in trouble.
3. SHAKER HEIGHTS, OHIO
The sports teams at Shaker Heights High are called the Red Raiders. Why aren’t they the Shakers? It would be class, similar to the University of Pennsylvania Quakers.
There are three real Shakers in Maine. That’s it. Would these elderly women be offended if Shaker’s teams became the Shakers? I doubt it.
Red Raiders. What does that mean?
Shaker – the religion — is the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing. Shaker central in Cleveland was the intersection of Coventry Road and North Park Boulevard. The Shakers had a grist mill there. They had buildings — dairies, farms, woodshops, who knows.
I live nine houses from Shaker, in Cleveland Heights. I have a friend who lives in Shaker and Cleveland Heights. Her living room is in Cleveland Heights and her bedroom is in Shaker. Her house straddles the border. I wonder how this affects her outlook. She moved to the Heights from the West Coast and may not yet understand what “Shaker” connotes locally. Harvey Pekar always played down his Shaker High diploma. Reduced his street cred.
Go Shakers. Classy name. Lower Ivy League cachet.
Yiddishe Cup plays 7:30 p.m. Thurs., July 5, on the lawn at Wiley Middle School, 2181 Miramar Blvd., University Heights, Ohio. (Indoors if raining.) Free. It’s “Family Fun Night” with games and free ice cream one-half hour before the show.
Next week’s blog post will go up Tues. July 3 instead of July 4.
June 27, 2012 6 Comments
After my mother died, I put her furniture in storage in the basement of one of my apartment buildings on the West Side.
The furniture sat there for five years. My older son, Teddy, took the furniture when he went off to law school. The furniture was mildewed, but usable.
When I visited Teddy, I saw my mom’s furniture and suffered post-mom stress disorder. My mother’s sectional sofa meant nothing to me, but her yellow kitchen table was like a punch to my solar plexus. I had eaten at that table for my first 18 years, and now it was in marginal student-housing in Toledo, Ohio!
Unacceptable. My mother’s table belonged in the Cleveland Museum of Art. The table was worth something. It was Formica. It was 1950s. I hope my son doesn’t sell it on eBay or Craigslist.
During high school, I was historically laconic at that table. How’s school? Forget it, I ain’t talking.
My dad, for that matter, didn’t talk much either.
My entire family didn’t talk much. We didn’t watch TV during dinner either. We ate a lot of fish. Fish was cheap. Halibut was very cheap, believe it or not.
For breakfast, we ate pink grapefruit quietly.
Hitchhiking story . . . Ple-ease, no!
THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE
I occasionally meet young people who lament they didn’t live through the hippie era.
They lived through nothing.
I know that feeling — living through nothing. I missed World War II and felt bad about that.
Skip Heller, a rockabilly musician, posted a video “Reflections of a 44-Year-Old Middle-aged Jewboy.” It was his reminiscence.
Heller was born in 1965; he missed not only World War II but the hippie era. What could he possibly reminisce about? Transformers?
I hitchhiked across America four times, I think. That’s worth talking about for a minute. One minute . . .
I spent eight hours at the on-ramp in Needles, California, in 100-degree heat. I counted so many Roadway trucks and “Humpin’ to Please” trucks and Consolidated Freightways trucks and Winnebagos . . . it was forgettable.
Worse, no driver ever told me the secret of life. Drivers often asked me my college major and if I knew anybody in Flint, Michigan. (I told drivers I was from Ann Arbor, close by. That got a better response than “Cleveland.”)
A man in Arkansas said he was the youngest person to ever have a heart attack. I gave him a $10 traveler’s check. That was a lot of money in 1970. You could hitchhike cross-country on $5 in the 1970s. (Five dollars equals $29 in today’s money.)
The hippies — aka freaks — had the worst cars. Alternator troubles, steering problems.
The city of Flagstaff, Arizona, didn’t allow hitchhiking. You had to walk through Flagstaff.
Jim Mandich, a Miami Dolphins star, gave me a ride out of Toledo, Ohio. He had been a standout player at Michigan. He was coming from Ann Arbor, where he had partied with former Michigan players — “studs,” he called them. (Studs die. Mandich died of cancer last year at 62.)
I hitchhiked across country with an English girl. She was cute and Jewish. The problem: she was meeting her boyfriend in California.
In Nebraska I stayed at the house of a future congressman, Mezvinsky. No, that was in Iowa. Mez got busted a decade or so later. For what, I can’t remember.
I hitchhiked too much. I should have done something more productive. My knowledge of trucking companies has yet to come in handy.
May 9, 2012 6 Comments
I run a bar mitzvah-party think tank. It’s the only one in the world.
I have clients — mostly DJs. I supply them with explosives, lyrics and games.
Some of my games are free, just to build up website traffic. For instance, take my humiliation game: the bar mitzvah boy stands on the dance floor surrounded by searing sterno cans. We throw napkins at him.
My best-selling games: Twine Fun, Narcissism Express, Beach Sand Saturation, Toxic Candy, Enjambment and Trunk-like Bodies, which is shooting darts at kids hiding in potted plants.
I have very few klez-band clients. Wake up, Jews, I have Jewish-themed stuff! Bottle caps are cool. The kids wear bottle caps on their heads, and the last kid to lose his “yarmulke,” wins. Lots of body contact.
My best-selling game is Trash Floating in Punch. We throw chicken bones, children’s books from the centerpieces, and empty plastic wine glasses into the punch bowl. Kids reach in and fish for prizes. Nobody loses. And it’s ecological.
I strained my back. Bingo, new game . . . The Grandpa Shuffle. Kids walk like old men and mutter creative Yiddish curses. It’s shameful, yet stunning to see teenagers limp and spew: “Zol er krenken un gedenken.” (Let him suffer and remember.)
Of course, I have normal games. I have laughing gas, toilet slime kits, photo booths, giant inflatables and partisans.
We’re full service.
Does the KlezFiction piece, above, bug you? A reader dismissed my previous KlezFiction pieces as “avant-garde.” Here is something more concrete . . .
BORDERS AND BOUNDARIES
My rabbi criticized me for mispronouncing a word — not a Hebrew word either. I mispronounced “Route 66.” I said Rout 66. My rabbi is from St. Louis and takes Root 66 personally. The road and the song.
I like roads, borders and boundaries. In Ohio it’s Rout.
In college I honked whenever I crossed the Michigan line into Ohio on U.S. 23. All hail The Buckeye State.
Michigan was The Water-Winter Wonderland for many lame years. The Great Lake State is better.
I was in Seligman, Arizona — on Route 66 — last week. (The road sign says “Historic Route 66.”) Every tchotchke shop in Seligman had Route 66 gear. Thirty Japanese motorcyclists in black leather pulled into the tchotchke shop. (I wasn’t there. I heard about it.) Seligman is named after a Jew. I just learned that. So two tchotchkes in this paragraph is OK.
I would like to see 30 Japanese guys on Harleys pull into Cleveland Heights.
Suburban boundaries are locatable by checking street-sign colors. For instance, Cleveland Heights signs are green; Cleveland, blue; and Shaker Heights, white.
Northern South Euclid — the area — perplexed me as a kid.
Cormere Avenue in Cleveland is a street to ponder. It’s near Shaker Square. Carl Stokes lived there. Many locals mistake Cormere for Shaker Heights. Shaker Square is in Cleveland too, not Shaker Heights.
Last week, when I was at the Grand Canyon, a Californian called me “Iowa.” He called me “Iowa” even after I said “Go Bucks” to him.
He was from Anaheim. Just say “I’m from L.A.,” please. Same for Orange County. Say “L.A.” I saw a lot of Californians in the Grand Canyon. One was from Atascadero. What? I’m weak on California.
Ohio is my strong suit. I built a plaster of Paris model of the Ohio Turnpike for my 8th-grade Ohio History project. My wife built the Terminal Tower in 4th-grade Ohio History. (She’s from Columbus, Ohio.) Ohio has 88 counties. Not many states have that many counties. [Wrong. Twelve states have more counties than Ohio. Texas leads with 254; Georgia, 159; Virginia, 134.]
Nobody cares there are only 3 people left in the city of Cleveland. The question is, How big is the metro region? Cleveland-Akron is the 17th biggest TV market. I mistakenly told several Grand Canyon hikers that Cleveland is the 30th largest market. I didn’t know Cleveland is that big.
I like rankings and a certain amount of order. I like boundaries. I like to know where I am.
April 18, 2012 10 Comments
I was back from Las Vegas, attending a Shaker Heights brunch. Several people asked, “Did you play?”
Did Yiddishe Cup play Vegas?
I wish Yiddishe Cup had played Vegas.
I had been in Las Vegas on vacation with my wife, Alice, and older son, Teddy. I had played blackjack.
That was my second trip to Vegas. My first trip was in 1962, when a Vegas waitress predicted I (then-12 years old) would return to Nevada for my honeymoon. That waitress was very wrong.
I prefer outdoorsy vacations.
On my latest trip I won $7.50 at blackjack at the Jokers Wild, then quit. I could hardly breathe in the Jokers Wild –- or in any other Nevada casino — because of the cigarette smoke. I hung around the casino parking lot, waiting for Teddy and Alice to finish up.
My favorite Las Vegas attraction is the Red Rock Canyon, which is similar to Zion National Park, but only 17 miles from Vegas.
The Red Rock performs daily in an original revue that is F’n Crazy! Be a Part of It! Best Show in Vegas for the Past 900 Years!
December 28, 2011 5 Comments
My wife, Alice, and I were bumped from a plane at the Phoenix airport. We got free tickets, a hotel room and food vouchers. Our son Teddy — who wasn’t with us — thought it was the greatest deal of all time.
I didn’t. I wasn’t young. I was not looking forward to a free night at the Phoenix Embassy Suites. I had stuff to do at home.
Stop. Maybe you do not like airport-travel horror stories.
Restart. Maybe you do . . .
The Embassy Suites van driver was from Cleveland and had wrestled at John Marshall High. We talked about the Milkovich family, the 1960s Maple Heights wrestling dynasty. The driver took Alice and me to the Heard, the American Indian museum. Any place within five miles of the hotel was a free ride.
I jogged along a canal by the hotel. I didn’t have any clean clothes (my suitcase was on the plane to Cleveland), so I jogged shirtless, with long pants and brown leather shoes. The Mexican-Americans along the canal gave me the once-over.
Alice and I arrived at the Phoenix airport the next morning at 7 a.m. and didn’t get on the early flight. I was ready to kill.
We paced the airport for a couple more hours. There was no fresh air.
We got on a mid-morning flight and had to connect via Houston.
That’s my story.
Your airport travel story is no doubt worse.
Don’t tell me.
Irwin Weinberger, Jack Stratton and Bert Stratton are doing a klezmer show 2 p.m. Sun. (Nov. 20) at Shaker Heights Library, 16500 Van Aken Blvd. Free.
And here’s an original Klezmer Guy video:
November 16, 2011 8 Comments
In Patti Smith’s memoir, Just Kids, she hangs around with famous people on almost every page, even when she isn’t famous yet.
Patti needed 10 more cents for a sandwich at an automat. Allen Ginsberg appeared in back of her with a dime. Ginsberg mistook her for a “pretty boy.” Ginsberg bought her a coffee too.
Smith dated drummer Slim Shadow. After a few meetings, Slim told Patti he was really Sam Shepard, the playwright.
Patti ran into Janis Joplin a lot.
Ted Berrigan, the poet, lived on St. Mark’s Place. Berrigan’s tenement had a clawfoot bathtub in the kitchen. That was how tenements were built. Berrigan was in bed. It was the middle of the day. His wife, poet Alice Notley, said, “When Ted gets dressed, you two should go to Allen’s to get the mail.”
Alice Notley was addressing Berrigan and me. (I was in Berrigan’s apartment, not Just Kids.) Berrigan collected Allen Ginsberg’s mail when Ginsberg was out of town. Ginsberg’s place — on East 13th Street — was neat. It wasn’t messy like I had expected.
I played harmonica at Grand Central Station to assure myself I wasn’t just another commuter. I checked my bags in a Grand Central locker, then talked to a staffer at the outdoor convention-bureau kiosk. She directed me to the 34th Street YMCA.
French tourists at the Y asked me why the street was smoking. Smoke was wafting out of sidewalk vents. I figured it had something to do with the subway. (Am I right?)
A roommate service — Two for the Money — charged $40 to match you with a roommate in New York in 1972. I met Nathan outside the agency, so we didn’t pay the finder’s fee. We wound up on Waverly Place in Greenwich Village.
There were a lot of old people in Greenwich Village. Not the best of scenes — old people.
So I called Webfoot — his phone number was W-E-B-F-O-O-T — in the East Village. Webfoot said come over. He lived on Second Avenue and was asking only $100/month. ($539 in today’s dollars.) I spent a night there. He spit blood into the toilet and didn’t flush.
I checked out the NYU bulletin board and found an apartment in SoHo, across from where Ornette Coleman had played a loft concert. $100 for my share. A mature woman (30-something) answered the door and said, “Let me make this perfectly clear, you aren’t going to score with me if you move in here.”
Score? Only swingers said score. Was this woman getting her news from Playboy? Had she missed the whole hippie thing?
I wound up in a studio apartment sublet on East 13th Street in the East Village for $150/month. The tenant upstairs was lifting weights, it seemed. I knocked on his door and said, “Can you tell me if you stay home all day and lift weights? I’m laying down $450 for a deposit and rent, and I don’t want to make a mistake.”
“I don’t lift weights.” He had a weightlifter’s build. “And you don’t knock on your neighbor’s door in New York. Where are you from?”
“That’s in Chicago, isn’t it?”
He also said his apartment had been broken into twice, and he had been mugged outside the apartment.
Maybe the wiser choice was the apartment on Waverly Place in the West Village. I called Nathan.
Too late. Nathan had rented the extra room to a law student.
I saw Patti Smith.
I saw her in Cleveland. It was her first show in Cleveland.
Is that worth anything?
Footnote: Ted Berrigan was a visiting professor at Michigan in the fall of 1969. Here’s the syllabus from a class I took:
September 21, 2011 6 Comments
Poet Robert Bly’s worst nightmare was visiting his family in Minnesota and attending hockey games. Maybe not as bad as Vietnam, but up there pain-wise, he said.
Bly’s anti-Midwest rap was a big hit in Ann Arbor in the 1970s. Bly’s main message: your parents are middle-class stiffs; your real family is elsewhere. Try the counterculture.
Bly was a 44-year-old Harvard man in a ridiculous serape. He had a lot of chutzpah dispensing life advice in that shmate.
I was a mama’s boy and proud of it. My family was out of sight. Whenever I went home for vacation, I received the treatment due the future Dr. Stratton. I did the occasional minor chore, like emptying the dishwasher and dusting.
Some of my college buddies didn’t go home. They were scared of becoming middle-class, even for a single weekend.
At home I hung around with old neighborhood pals. My friend John was installing tanning booths. My other neighbor, Frank (not his real name), owned shares in a racehorse. Frank worked as a mutuel clerk at the day-time Thoroughbred track and at the trotters’ track at night. When Frank wasn’t working, he was firing his .357 magnum at beer cans in the woods.
I was an American Jew who knew something about guns. Not a lot, but enough to turn a burglar into Swiss cheese with a 12-gauge shotgun.
Bly knew about guns, too, and Midwestern culture. But it wasn’t his thing.
For my college American English class, I traveled with my friend (and classmate) Mark Schilling to southwest Ohio to research dialects. We asked the Buckeye hicks to choose between bag/sack,
eaves trough /gutter,
belly whopper/belly slam,
lightning bug/firefly and warsh/wash.
Mark’s parents said “warsh” instead of “wash.” They lived in Troy, Ohio, just north of Dayton. (This was North Midland dialect country.)
Mark didn’t return to Troy after college. He wasn’t interested in becoming a J.C. Penney store manager like his dad.
Mark went to L.A. , then on to Japan.
He’s still in Japan 36 years later.
Beat the drum for Mark Schilling, Bly.
Bly, you only spent a year or two in Norway!
Mark Schilling, 2010:
July 27, 2011 3 Comments
Yiddishe Cup played New York. We rented a van at LaGuardia Airport and drove to a hotel in Elmhurst, Queens, which was like Cleveland except a lot more Asians. The hotel was between a transmission shop and a Burger King.
We played the Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts in 2006. Who knows why. Who was the program director at the center. Janet Who. (Joke.) Maybe we got the gig because no East Coast band was doing klezmer comedy like us. I don’t know.
In Brooklyn — on our way to the gig — I saw a fender bender. The driver called out, “Would you be a witness?”
“No, I’m from Ohio,” I said. Shades of Kitty Genovese.
The Yiddishe Cup musicians wondered: Why my schmuck-itude, and why the ‘I’m from Ohio’?
The Ohio remark was because I was daydreaming about our imminent “Midwest Yids Blow NY Lids” headline. Maybe a New York Post reporter was hiding in our van. Also, I was preoccupied with not denting our ride — a 15-passenger rental van. I was weaving through very dense borough traffic, and the last thing I wanted was to get involved with another driver’s dents. I wasn’t going to wait around 30 minutes for the police, just prior to our New York debut.
We did Catskill comedy tunes at the concert. The audience — primarily AKs (old people) — loved us. I thought we were going to play for some young people. Aren’t there a lot of young people in Brooklyn? Yes. But they were not at our show. No reporters showed up either, even though the New York Jewish Week music critic, George Robinson, had written: “Yiddishe Cup is a band that was made for a hip Jewish New York audience. It’s a wildly funny amalgam of Mickey Katz, Spike Jones, PDQ Bach and straight-ahead klezmer.”
The crowd was mostly elderly Flatbush residents. I brought out some 1957 Brooklyn Dodgers baseball cards and gave the audience a quiz:
What was Duke Snider’s real first name?
What was Pee Wee Reese’s real name?
What was Al Walker’s nickname?
The audience got every answer right. And one man even guessed Duke Snider’s height correctly (6-1).
I talked about Cleveland. I told the crowd I had gone to high school with Eric Carmen of the Raspberries. That’s what New Yorkers wanted to hear — who I had gone to high school with. New Yorkers like to say “I went to Sheepshead Bay with Larry David” or “I went to Eramus with Sedaka.” If they don’t repeat that often, they feel like Midwesterners.
Yiddishe Cup felt like New Yorkers.
We did it our way. We flew to New York, got paid and got out of there. Next stop, Columbus, Ohio.
Listen here to the comedy tunes we played in New York.
Yiddishe Cup plays the community-wide Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel Independence Day) celebration 6:30 p.m. Mon. (May 10) at Park Synagogue, Cleveland Heights.
May 4, 2011 3 Comments
A “run-out” is when a band plays out of town and doesn’t stay overnight. The group drives back the same day.
Cleveland is within 200 miles of Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Columbus and Detroit. That’s a lot of “run out” possibilities.
Running-out is similar to the regional airline pilot’s life. You sleep in a semi-reclining seat, eat junk food and hope you don’t crash.
My wife, Alice, went on a road trip with Yiddishe Cup to Buffalo, New York. That was her first one — after what, 20 years? She had always refused road trips. (She’s a dance leader. Daniel Ducoff, our other dance leader, couldn’t make the Buffalo gig.)
The whole undertaking was 13 hours: four hours of playing, seven hours of driving, and two hours of setting up and tearing down.
Alice aged a year that day, she said. She had been “hit by a truck,” she said.
Pace yourself, Alice. Take catnaps. Drink a lot of fluids. Eat an apple every day at 4 p.m.; if you do, you will be on Yiddishe Cup’s 2025 gig in Buffalo.
March 18, 2011 3 Comments
1. EAST DIVISION
The ping-pong season started several months ago, when violinist Steve Greenman called and said “I want to play ping-pong tonight.” He got tilapia out of it. Not a bad night for a single guy (soon to be married). My wife, Alice, cooked.
Ping-pong is predominately a winter sport in Cleveland. The Jewish ping-pong dean here is Valeriy Elnatanov. He’s a Russian pro who used to teach ping-pong and pilpul at Green Road Synagogue, an Orthodox shul. [Not sure about pilpul (a Talmudic study method) but he did teach Hebrew to Russians.]
Valeriy moved on to other training facilities. I saw him at the Shaker Heights community building playing top-notch Asians.
Valeriy said the best way to develop a top-spin forehand is to turn a bicycle upside-down and swat repeatedly at the spinning tire with your paddle. I never did that, but I thought about it.
When Valeriy practiced, he used dozens of balls. That’s the way to go. You bend down less.
My wife, Alice, has a good forehand slam. Steve Greenman has a steady backhand. Neither cheats. Many ping-pong players don’t toss the ball up high enough on the serve.
2. WEST DIVISION
How come documentaries about California musicians — Hal Blaine, the Sherman brothers — have poolside shots, but no outdoor ping-pong shots?
I played ping-pong on a patio in Los Angeles. You don’t forget that if you’re from the Midwest.
In the Cal movies, the musicians are sunbathing poolside. Are they embarrassed to show their ping-pong moves? (The Kids Are All Right, set in California, had an outdoor ping-pong table. No musicians playing, though.)
My father, Toby, had a childhood friend in Los Angeles, Irv Drooyan, who taught school, wrote math textbooks and played outdoor ping-pong. Toby kept in touch with Irv and one other Clevelander in California, Sol of San Diego. In the 1950s, California was just an extension of Cleveland.
These friends of my dad occasionally switched their first names — maybe to dodge anti-Semitism. Irv was Red. Sol was Al. Toby was Ted.
My introduction to outdoor ping-pong was on Red Drooyan’s patio in Woodland Hills, California, in 1962. Unforgettable because a) it was outdoors, and b) I didn’t know my dad had any friends. In Cleveland, my father had hung around exclusively with my mom’s friends and their husbands.
California was about a) stippled paddles — with a woody sound, and b) my dad with friends.
Good vibrations. Got to get back there.
To 1962 or California?
To the ping-pong table.
[For goys only. In Ralph Solonitz's ping-pong table illustration, "milchidike" refers to dairy and "fleishidike" means meat. The two major divisions in the Kosher League.]
Please see the post below too. It’s raunchy and new.
Yiddishe Cup celebrates Purim this Sat. (March 19), 7:45- 9 p.m., Park Synagogue, Cleveland Heights. Open to all. Free.
March 16, 2011 9 Comments
I had a custodian who enjoyed the Weather Channel and thought the end of the world was coming every day, via hurricanes or snowstorms. I don’t think she ever went outside.
Another employee was also fixated on the weather. He did a lot of indoor apartment painting and wanted every day to be 74 degrees like Costa Rica, so he wouldn’t sweat.
A neighbor of mine asked if I had a winter place in Florida.
I was surprised. I’m not there yet — retirement in Florida.
But I know a klezmer musician — a bushy-haired baby-boomer clarinetist — who is moving to Florida and taking up golf. So anything is possible.
Maybe my friend will play a freylekhs (hora) by the water fountain on the 16th hole. (Mickey Katz did that. His band got paid to surprise a golfer on his birthday.)
Some Clevelanders complain about the cold. Arizona versus Florida. That is the discussion.
My wife, Alice, and I went to a wedding in Florida last spring, and a guest asked Alice, “Are you still in Cleveland?” Meaning “Are you nuts? Do you like gray skies, slush and potholes?”
Another Cleveland woman at the wedding said, “The day I hit sixty-two I had to leave.” She spends the winters in Scottsdale, Ariz. A third Clevelander, originally from South Africa, preferred Florida over Arizona. “I like the ocean,” she said.
Last month at a gig in Florida, I ran into a waiter who had lived in Florida and Arizona. He said summer in Arizona is unbearable. Florida is bearable.
What about Ohio? Ohio-with-layers in the winter and pleasant the rest of the year.
Please see the post below too. It’s new. And check out this video, “Albert Stratton Practicing his Comeback.” The clip is an Ann Arbor song, taped at The Ark this month.
February 16, 2011 2 Comments
I wrote “Berkowitz-Kumin,” a song 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.
[Please click on the video to continue.]
Please see the post below too. It’s probably new to you.
Yiddishe Cup plays at The Ark, Ann Arbor, Mich. 8 pm Sat., Feb. 4.
CLOSED CAPTION. Here is what the man in the video is saying, more or less, prior to playing “Berkowitz-Kumin”:
I took up singing. That injured me. Anybody can sing, but I got a sore throat. I wanted to perform the song “Berkowitz-Kumin,” about the local Jewish funeral home. It was a parody on “St. James Infirmary.”
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, Alice, thought I was stonewalling her. About the only thing I said was “I don’t want to hose down the garage.”
She insisted I make a doctor’s appointment, which I did and cancelled. I bought mounds of cough drops.
Alice said the cough drops would clog my throat. They helped. Tea worked too. The Internet advised me not to talk at all 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, an undergrad, and the second was at a pancake house in Toledo with my older son, a law student. My sons didn’t talk. They never do. My wife carried the ball. (First down, Alice. The Ann Arbor restaurant, Benny’s, was near the stadium.)
I went to a party. I 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.
And if anybody asked, How’s the band?, I said, “Still Playing. What else are you up to?”
That was my vocal rest.
February 2, 2011 1 Comment
My mother went deep-sea fishing off the coast of Miami Beach and caught a sailfish in 1965. She had the fish mounted, and over the years, the trophy fish moved around like Waldo. It’s in a garage now at my nephew’s in Arizona.
When I was young, my family went to Florida just that once. I’m not saying we were deprived. I’m saying I didn’t go to Florida regularly like my wife did!
My wife, Alice, went every single year. Her family stayed at the Deauville. Even Alice’s mother (a small-town Jew from West Virginia) went to Florida annually in her childhood. That was in the 1930s, to a kosher hotel in Miami Beach.
I married into money. Or so I thought. [See the post "Major Roofer."]
In the mid-1980s, I took my parents’ car and drove from Boca Raton (where my parents had a condo) to Miami Beach, looking for extremely old Jews. The Boca Raton Jews weren’t old enough for me; I wanted to see Isaac Bashevis Singer and similar alter kockers in Collins Avenue cafeterias.
Philip Roth’s father had stayed at the Hotel Singapore. So had Meyer Lansky. Mickey Katz patronized the Delano. (I didn’t see these men. That would have involved time-traveling.)
The Clevelander Hotel at 10th and Ocean Avenue featured a horrible restaurant, Harpoon Mickey’s. I saw plenty old Jews on that trip.
Last winter I returned to Miami Beach and saw very few old Jews. I saw a lot of jet-setters speaking foreign languages and wearing nearly nothing.
I noticed the Clevelander Hotel was spiffed up; the bedroom floors had a silicon seal to keep the guests’ puke from seeping to the rooms below. The Clevelander was now rocking. I looked for T-shirts in the hotel gift shop and read about the silicon seal in a local newspaper article.
At the Fontainebleau Hotel, Max Weinberg’s swing band was playing in the lobby. The horn players — studio musicians from California — were wailing. What a treat, and it was free.
I phoned the cultural arts director at the Boca Raton JCC. She was on vacation. I wondered, Where does a Miamian go for winter vacation? I left a voice mail: “Yiddishe Cup wants to play in Boca again!”
Success. We landed the Boca fish. Yiddishe Cup plays the Boca Raton JCC this Sun. (Jan 23), 3 p.m.
Please see the post below too. It’s fresh fish.
January 19, 2011 4 Comments
I was down and out in a Marriott hotel in Troy, Mich. The bride, several hours earlier, had told me, “I can’t dance in these shoes. Can I just watch the hora?”
She watched. I asked her three times if she wanted to be lifted on the chair. No, she said three times. The bride and groom stood in the middle of the hora circle like statuettes on a wedding cake.
There was no place to walk at the Marriott, which was in a large shopping development.
I wrote notes to myself on the hotel stationery to justify my existence. My truest observation: “Yiddishe Cup is providing a valuable service for the Jewish communities of the Midwest.”
The Marriott room had 8 pillows, 10 towels, 2 beds and 2 bathroom mirrors that showed everything.
I couldn’t justify 8 pillows, 10 towels, etc. I just couldn’t. That bride should have danced.
Luckily the hotel windows didn’t open.
Yiddishe Cup plays this Sunday (Nov. 7, 4 p.m.) at the Brecksville United Church of Christ, Brecksville, Ohio. www.brecksvilleucc.org
REMINDER: This blog now updates twice a week: Wednesday and Friday.
November 5, 2010 1 Comment