Category — Toby
My father, Toby, had about 15 pairs of shoes when he died. I didn’t take any of his shoes, even though he and I wore the same size. He had a foot fungus, and my mother told me to pass.
My dad had wingtips, golf shoes and tennis shoes. I never saw him in sandals, work boots or hiking boots. White shoes, definitely.
I’m more sensible about shoes — a habit picked up from my mom. I like SAS shoes, which my mother told me about. She needed solid shoes when she got Parkinson’s disease. “SAS” stands for San Antonio Shoes.
When my then-20-year-old, fashionable daughter studied abroad in Barcelona, she said I couldn’t visit her if I wore tennis shoes or a fanny pack. My SAS shoes were an excellent substitute for tennis shoes in Europe.
I never did figure out a good way around the “no fanny pack” rule.
My dad wore Purcells abroad. He didn’t let his children tell him what to wear.
II. PURCELLS AGAIN
My grandfather was hit by a May Co. truck in 1924. The doctors put a metal plate in his head. After that, he just hung around the pool hall on Kinsman Road.
Years later, my great aunt told me, “If they had given out prize money for playing pool, like they do now, Louie would have been a millionaire.”
Louis “Louie” Soltzberg — my father’s dad.
My dad, Toby, didn’t play pool. He played ping pong. My dad wasn’t a pool hall–type guy. My dad once entered a ping-pong tournament at Danny Vegh’s club and got creamed by a Hungarian. After that, my father played only in our basement with friends.
My father was pretty good at several sports. For one thing, he was a fast runner. He took me to the Arena for the annual Knights of Columbus track meet. I looked for “Ohio State” and “Michigan” jerseys and came up with “Seton Hall,” “Holy Cross” and “Villanova.” Were those real colleges?
My dad and I often played tennis together. No pool.
My dad would hit balls with me after work. He would say, “Racquet back. Hit it now. Racquet back, hit it now.” He was a color man with no color. He wore Bermuda shorts and Jack Purcells, and often no shirt. That was appropriate attire for tennis in the 1960s, at least at the public courts in South Euclid, Ohio.
I didn’t appreciate the tennis instruction from my dad. I moped on the court. I should have hustled.
There were no other dads out there.
I should have hustled more.
Part I (above ) is also a Klezmer Guy movie, originally posted July 11, 2011.
Here’s a new Jack Stratton vid . . .
May 1, 2013 No Comments
A tenant called my father, Toby, and said, “It’s 54 degrees in this apartment. I’m cold. I can’t even take a bath.”
“We’ll get you some heat,” my dad said. Old buildings are hard to heat; some suites boil while others freeze. Hopefully, the sun would come out tomorrow and raise all apts.
A second tenant called. She said her rent would be late. I answered that call. I said OK, basically.
Toby said to me, “You’ve got to get on them sometimes.”
“I quit,” I said.
“Go ahead and quit. If you want to get temperamental on me, quit.” Toby didn’t raise his voice. I wasn’t worth histrionics.
“I’m out of here,” I said.
I went to the Cleveland Clinic to a headache specialist. He said I should drink more alcohol, and if that didn’t work, try biofeedback.
Benny — a building manager — said I should put a cold potato on my head. He said, “Put the potato in a refrigerator, cut the potato into pieces, and put them in a cloth around your head. It sucks the swelling right out.”
I went to the JCC for a massage and tried the whirlpool.
My dad died from leukemia. My then-5-year-old son said, “You won’t see Grandpa Toby again. Never! He’s dead.”
My headache suddenly went away.
Now I had a real headache — running the business.
This happened last month . . .
CLEVELAND’S FUNNIEST RABBI CONTEST
I was a judge at Cleveland’s Funniest Rabbi contest at the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage. I knew three of the five rabbis. One rabbi had hired Yiddishe Cup for various temple functions. Another recently hired Yiddishe Cup for a simcha. A third rabbi religiously books Yiddishe Cup for Chanukah.
Was I biased? Was I on the take?
The rabbis told jokes in front of 250 paying customers. The judges — three of us — made public comments and rated the rabbis. Afterward, an audience member said to me, “You were very nice.”
Why not be nice? It’s petrifying to tell jokes in front of 250 people. Besides, the rabbis were raising money — for the Maltz Museum? (For me?)
I stocked-piled interesting adjectives in advance. My arsenal: droll, gut-busting (didn’t use that one), cheery, sharp, zany, wacky, witty and perturbing.
Nobody was perturbing, unfortunately.
I gave the highest rating — a 10 — to the rabbi who eventually won. Turns out he wasn’t even a rabbi. And I didn’t know him. (He owes me a gig.) The winner was Kiva Shtull, a retired ER doctor, a mohel and the spiritual leader of Congregation Shir Shalom, Bainbridge Township. He got wry, droll and zany.
He’s a mohel with a sharp sense of humor. Worth watching:
More funny. Benyamin Bresky cornered Yiddishe Cup for an interview on Israel National Radio. The interview begins with Yiddishe Cup’s version of “Essen,” which Ben declares “the funniest thing I’ve ever heard.” Click here.
March 6, 2013 2 Comments
My cousin David owned a GMC tractor-trailer, which he parked in the May Co. lot in University Heights. David may have been the only Jewish long-distance trucker in the Heights. Maybe the only long-distance trucker, period, in the Heights.
In 1975 David borrowed several thousand dollars from my father, Toby, for the truck. David had a contract with International Truck of Rock, Minnesota.
David moved to Pennsylvania and never repaid my dad.
In high school David had stolen hubcaps. He had been a Shaker Heights juvenile delinquent.
David even looked like James Dean. My cousin Danny once said, “David’s dad was the most handsome man you ever met.” David’s dad drifted around Cleveland, playing pool. David’s dad and mother divorced in the 1950s.
When David’s mother heard David hadn’t repaid my dad, she made payments, but she never fully repaid the loan.
My father’s attitude was “win some, lose some.” Toby believed in lending money to family. My dad had borrowed from his Uncle Itchy to buy his first house.
Last year I called David’s sister. This was a big deal; David and his sister were out of the cousins’ loop. David is now in his seventies and has had several heart attacks, his sister said. He is living in a hotel that his son runs in Florida.
No more truckin’.
No more David as family black sheep. Stolen hubcaps and an unpaid loan, is that the worst of it in my family? I think so.
Now, my wife has an estranged cousin who stole sterling silver . . . Stop.
“David” is a pseudonym.
I became bionic. My daughter, Lucy, gave me a pedometer.
I can count my daily steps. I can even monitor my sleep patterns, but that’s too much data — even for a guy like me who likes data.
I gave up jogging last year. My right knee wasn’t into it anymore. I miss the “sweat” of jogging.
Should I post my step count here? Dieters post their calories online. Bicyclists post their heart rates.
My step count today is _____. (Will post up at 11:59 p.m for maximum effect.)
For a couple new illustrations by Ralph Solonitz, please scroll down to “KlezKamp 2012,” which went up last week.
Yiddishe Cup plays at First Night Akron on New Year’s Eve.
December 26, 2012 1 Comment
My dad, Toby, and I hired Charles Tuncle for kitchen-floor lino jobs. Tunkl means dark in Yiddish, which my dad never failed to point out. Tuncle — the man — was black. Also, he was a killer. He shot a man in a bar.
When Tuncle was sent to prison, my dad wrote the parole board about Tuncle’s quality vinyl-floor work, and Tuncle got out early. My father never told the tenants — or our building managers — about Tuncle’s record. My dad never said: “You see that guy over there with the utility knife? He’s a killer.”
My dad called our business Reliable Management Co.
We should have hauled garbage with a name like that.
When I started an offshoot company, Acorn Management Co., my dad said, “What the hell does ‘Acorn’ have to do with anything?”
“Dad, I live on Oak Road. That’s why.” It was 1976. Environmentalism was the next big thing.
“Nobody is going to understand ‘Acorn,’” he said.
I sometimes call my company “Reliable + Acorn Management companies” now. That makes me feel like a Danish architecture firm.
I hired Standard Roofing for a roof tear-off. Standard Roofing went under. Too standard?
My electrician is Jack Kuhl, pronounced “Jack Cool.”
I knew Emin Lyutfalibekov, a handyman. I told him to shorten his name, and he said no way; he was offended. He said he was royalty back in Azerbaijan.
Napoli Construction is a bricklaying firm. Art Gallo, chief mason.
I use Donnelly Heating once in a while. Dan Donnelly. There are four Donnelly heating companies on the West Side: Dan, Tom, William and Original. They must have large Seders.
Lawrence Christopher Construction — that was Larry Vesely. He filled a hole for me for $9,000 — a coal bin that had collapsed beneath a parking lot. The city wouldn’t allow me to fill the hole with plain gravel. The city wanted a reconstructed coal bin that could practically double as a bomb shelter, complete with beams and concrete. Larry said the job would cost $3,000 and take several weeks.
The final bill was $9,000 and the job took nine months. One delay and complication after another.
I could not charge higher rents just because I had a nice coal bin. No tenant cared I had a bomb shelter.
I paid Larry back in nine monthly installments, just to get slightly back at him.
Tuncle the floor guy — I miss him. He died at 84 in 2008. A nice guy, except for that night in the bar. He didn’t have any other criminal record.
I was at a gathering of Jewish landed gentry — a landlords’ shabbat — in Pepper Pike.
Landlord A — to my right — owned a 17-suiter which her late father had bought in 1955.
Landlord B owned a building his father bought in 1936.
Buy and hold, chaverim. Shabbat shalom.
I owned (with my sister) a building my dad bought in 1965.
In real estate — as in many fields — it’s good to pick the right father.
In college Donald Trump bought his first building, using his father’s money: a 1,200-unit apartment complex in Cincinnati. Trump’s dad owned property in New York’s outer boroughs. Trump’s net worth upon graduating college in 1965 was $1.4 million, in today’s dollars. [Trump, The Art of the Deal.]
Suites, a local real estate mag, did a profile on Marty Cohen, a Cleveland landlord. The article said Marty “couldn’t shake his interest in property management.” Marty worked at a bank for a while, but that wasn’t a good fit. His family owned a 150-unit Parma apartment complex. Maybe that had something to do with Marty finding a good fit in real estate.
Buy and hold, brothers and sisters. Pass the strudel.
Griffith, the state boiler inspector, called.
I said to him, “You’ve been around as long as me!”
“Yes, sir,” he said. “I was around even when your dad was still around! You know, your father was a kinda guy. A good dude. I miss your dad. He was hoping you’d take over the business. And you did!” (My father died in 1986.)
“How long you been around, Griffith?”
“Since 1972. You were just a kid. You were in high school.” (I was in college, Griffith!) “Your dad was a little worried about you, I’ll be honest with you. I hope you don’t take this personally, he thought you didn’t have the fire. You know, he had went through some things that weren’t easy, and he wanted to leave the buildings to somebody who would appreciate them.”
“I gave my father some things to think about, I guess.”
“I’m proud of you. You come around. If he was around, I’d tell him how good you’re doing.”
I didn’t run the family biz totally into the ground.
My epitaph — if I’m lucky: I’m in the Ground But My Business Ain’t.
Next week’s post will be on Thursday, not Wednesday, due to Yom Kippur.
Here’s an op-ed I wrote for the Sunday Cleveland Plain Dealer (9/16/12). “High Holidays beckon twice-a-year worshipers.”
September 19, 2012 6 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
I remember Fail-Safe by Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler. Who wrote the Fail part?
I remember Ted Williams could read the label on the ball.
I remember the Cream-O-Freeze.
I remember when the Air Force Academy sent me an application. I was only 10. I wanted a catalog.
I remember Larry and Norm Sherry of the Dodgers.
I remember Summit, the board game.
I remember Burger Chef.
I remember crepe dreidels hanging in the dining room.
I remember the biography of Robert E. Lee.
I remember my mother’s apple sauce. Always lumpy.
I remember the CTS 45 bus to the JCC.
I remember the Boy Scouts’ Life badge.
I remember my dad “hitting them out” to me in the park.
I remember playing “Exodus” on the clarinet at the sixth grade assembly. I remember playing “Margie.”
I remember the shofar player missing every single note on Rosh Hashanah.
I remember 1950-D nickels.
I remember U.N. stamp souvenir sheets.
I remember the H-bomb.
I remember Continental pants, Pedwin loafers and
I remember Chemical Bond Approach Chemistry.
I remember Charlene Cohen, homecoming
I remember “Hands Off Cuba” graffiti by the Rapid.
I remember Saturday Night at the Movies on TV.
I remember slow-dancing to “Moon River” with a
I remember the Roxy.
I remember the JCC’s vending room and how the pop machine was always broken. The milk machine worked. I got a lot of chocolate milk. Was that a parents’ plot?
I remember Walter Lippmann.
I remember my mother writing: “Bert was absent from school yesterday due to religious observances.”
I remember T.A. Davis tennis rackets.
I remember How to Play Better Tennis by Bill Tilden.
I remember Rich Greenberg lost to Bobby McKinley (Chuck’s younger brother) in the National 16-and-unders.
I remember the bell at 3:30.
I remember Harvey Greenberg got a 799 Math
and 785 Verbal.
I remember more Greenbergs.
I remember Madden Football. No, I don’t.
I remember Chap’s GTO.
I remember Geronimo, a Landmark book.
I remember Bruno Bornino’s “Big Beat” music column in the Cleveland Press. (He also wrote “Pit Stop” about cars.)
I remember when I was 21 and remembering all this and feeling old.
This post is a riff on poet Joe Brainard’s I Remember.
You may not have seen the post below. It went up this weekend. The cartoon at the end is super.
March 21, 2012 17 Comments
Every January I spend a day filling out employer tax forms.
My favorite is the Federal Unemployment Tax Act (FUTA) form.
I did my first FUTA Form 940 in 1978, when my dad went to Florida for the winter. He and his high school buddies golfed in Boca Raton, and I filled out FUTAs in Cleveland.
Not bad. I like tax forms better than golf.
The treasurer of Ohio likes his W-2 reconciliations promptly. The Ohio Bureau of Employment Services also likes its money quickly. The Ohio Workers Compensation bureau has rachmones (pity) and bugs me only twice a year, not quarterly like everybody else.
I used an IBM Selectric-style typewriter for tax forms until the machine died last year. The A key wouldn’t work. That was its main drawback.
Str tton” didn’t cut it with the government. I threw out the typewriter and several boxes of Ko-Rec-Type.
Now I use IRS computer forms, except for my Yiddishe Cup 1099s, which I do by hand.
Last year I used blue ink on Yiddishe Cup’s 1099s.
The gobierno prefers black ink, I’ve learned. I’ll get with the program this year.
What are you in jail for?
I wore a camping headlamp and crawled around the attic, culling old manila folders, making room for new files.
The old files weren’t read by anybody.
Why did I save all this stuff?
Because the government wanted me to.
I got insulation flecks on my fleece jacket. It was freezing up there. And there were mouse droppings and desiccated rubber bands.
My dad used to recycle manila folders. For instance, he would reuse the file “1975 Plumbing” in 1981.
I threw out 30 pounds of paid invoices, checks and rent rolls. I do this every January.
Should I feel nostalgic?
Here’s an op-ed, “From Soltzberg to Stratton,” from last week’s Jerusalem Post (Jan. 17).
January 25, 2012 10 Comments
I rented to a commercial photographer who moved out after 23 years and left a store full of manila folders, invoices, developing trays and chemicals. Three dumpsters’ worth. He shouldn’t have done that. I had never hassled him about late fees.
Down the street, the Armed Forces Recruiting Center moved out after 40 years and left a punching bag, three couches, 27 chairs, a lot of “Army of One” promotional material and a 1970s stereo system. That wasn’t the half of it.
I’m sitting on about 3,000 perfume bottles. I’m not totally sure they are perfume bottles. Martha’s Beauty Salon left the bottles in the basement. The bottles are packed in cartons with zone numbers on them, not zip codes. (Pre-1963.)
Every month I serve an eviction notice on a lawyer. Every single month. Then I file an eviction on him.
The lawyer rents a storefront office. I pay the $85 eviction filing fee and get a court date.
The day before the court hearing, the lawyer pays the rent, including the legal fees. Like clockwork.
Until he doesn’t.
At eviction court he said to me, “I’m broke.” No tears, no dough. “You’re in business. You understand,” he said. “I don’t have the money. I’m moving out.”
He turned in the keys and cleaned the place.
He stole money from his clients. He was disbarred in April and convicted of grand theft in June. Sentencing is next month.
Note to the probation department: he left the store clean.
As my dad used to say . . .
Meaning: Pay the rent. We aren’t a loan company.
August 10, 2011 5 Comments
Barry Weinberg, the owner of Mayfield Music in Cleveland Heights, rented PA systems and sold amps, guitars and drums. He died at 55. He was a rocker who lived hard. The sign at the back of his store read Give Me the Dough and You Can Go.
He carried a quality line of blues harps.
Before Barry, Mayfield Music was Chick Chaikin’s store. Chick lived pretty hard too, but in a middle-class way: Chick golfed, raised a family and played thousands of cocktail-
Chick was a big-band leader and solo pianist for decades. He played six nights a week at the Colony Restaurant, and knew just about every pop song written, according to trumpeter Bob Dreifort, who I talked to recently.
Chick’s brother Bill went out to Hollywood and eventually ran a movie studio, Avco Embassy. Bill was involved in The Graduate and more.
“I could have gone to the Coast too,” Chick said. “But my life is here, and I have my work, although every winter I say this is it. But I’m still here.” (Plain Dealer interview, 1977)
Chick’s store was Currier-Chaikin Music. Chick’s business partner, John Currier, was even older than Chick. John Currier had played piano at Euclid Beach Park in the 1920s.
Chick called me “Toby’s son.” Chick didn’t know my name. Chick and my father, Toby, were Kinsman Road boys.
Most of my father’s friends and acquaintances were businessmen: shoe store owners, insurance men, pawn shop owners.
How did my dad know a full-time musician? I guess Toby had no choice. Toby and Chick grew up almost next door to each other.
How did Chick wind up a full-time musician? I didn’t ask questions about old people when I was in my twenties.
Chick’s life was all about family and music, his daughter, Jeri, told me this year. For a while Chick had a side job giving private music lessons through Cleveland public schools.
I didn’t have the chutzpah to ask Jeri if there was more to Chick’s headstone than Leonard ‘Chick’ Chaikin 1915-2000.
Here are three fitting epitaphs:
a) “Here lies a man who made a living at music.”
b) “Chick a la King. He tickled the ivories.”
c) “I’m here 7 nights a week.”
When commenting, please check the new “I am not a spammer” box right below the “submit” button.
July 6, 2011 8 Comments
Toilets and radiator valves aren’t that much fun to talk about.
Except my dad, Toby, thought they were.
He rambled on about radiator valves and vents. I said, “I wouldn’t mind being the next Cannonball Adderley.”
“Are you pulling my leg, son? Tell me, so I won’t get mad!”
I was half-pulling his leg. I liked to upset him — not drive him crazy, just rile him.
Toby said, “The arts are one big ego trip.”
All quiet on the father-son front. I had a flesh wound.
Toby took me to a garbage meeting at the Commerce Club on the second floor of the Theatrical Grill in downtown Cleveland. I was about 24. We met haulers, real estate brokers, boiler guys and bankers.
I heard jazz wafting up from the piano bar downstairs. Glenn Covington was on keys.
A black man — a garbage hauler — interrupted my listening reverie. He said, “I’m Rasool Akar, Recycling Equipment Company. Compactors, balers and individualized service. You like the music?”
“Yeah, the dude sounds pretty hip,” I said.
“I like the dudes who play piano at the same time better. Ferrante and Teicher,” Rasool said.
Dude, you’ve got to be kidding! A Black Muslim into Ferrante and Teicher.
The maître d’ announced the end of the cocktail hour with a chime, and we ate dinner, listening to a speech from the head man of Ohio EPA.
The main question at our table — directed to my dad mostly — was: “You buying?” (Buying buildings, compactors, Flushmates, anything.)
Toby said, “Depends on the kid.” Meaning: Depends if Mr. Luftmentsh — Mr. Head-in-the-clouds Son — goes into the real estate biz.
I went into the real estate biz.
My best business moment: opening a checking account for Yiddishe Cup in 1994. My late father would have been proud I had started a biz from scratch.
My banker was Ervin, a black man who knew all about Don Byron and klezmer. Ervin was my banker for about a year. Then he moved to another branch. I tried to follow him. Then he moved again. Screw it.
Ervin printed my checks wrong. They came out “Yiddishe Cup Klezmer Bank.” Those were keepers.
My dad loved banks. “Banking is the absolute best business,” Toby had said. “Bankers use other people’s money to make money.”
I started a bank, Dad. The Yiddishe Cup Klezmer Bank offers several enjoyable CDs and free kvetching.
April 27, 2011 No Comments
My father, Toby, was a lot like his mother. One of Toby’s mother’s favorite expressions was “Geven-zhe nit a yold.” (Don’t you be a chump.) Toby’s mother owned a candy store, raised four kids almost singlehandedly, buried a three-year-old daughter, and during her retirement years, owned a four-suite apartment building. She was nobody’s sucker.
Anna Soltzberg (née Seiger) occasionally called her grandchildren — like me — foyl (lazy). She lived at our house for a while. I called her Bub — short for bubbe (grandmother). I wasn’t going to call her Bubby. Too effeminate.
Bub was not into baseball; she was into casino (a card game), the television show Queen for a Day; borscht, boiled chicken and cows’ feet. She could eat. She had sugar diabetes. Bub wore bubbe shoes.
I couldn’t figure out where Bub was from. I couldn’t even find her hometown on a map.
Bub said she was from Galicia, a province in Austria-Hungary. She was from the shtetl (village) of Grodzisko. She came to America at 20.
In junior high I told my friends, “My grandmother is from Austria.” That was dead wrong, but it made sense.
In her old age, Bub lived at my aunt’s house before she moved in with us. At my aunt’s, Bub complained about the level of kashrut (kosher observance). Bub wanted my aunt to not keep kosher. Keeping kosher was too expensive. Bub was an apikoros (non-believer), socialist and cheap.
At Bub’s funeral — at the shiva (mourning) meal — the question of kashrut came up again. My two aunt Lils (Lil from Delaware and Lil from Washington), plus my Uncle Itchy, were at our dining room table.
Uncle Itchy, sitting next to Delaware Lil, asked, “You keep a kosher house?”
“Yes,” said Delaware Lil.
Itchy, slapping his hand down on the table, said, “Then why are you eating this meat? It’s not kosher!”
Washington Lil, also slapping her hand down, said, “Ain’t that a hypocrite!”
“In other words, it’s either everything or nothing?” said Delaware Lil.
“Yes,” said Washington Lil.
“That’s a very simple philosophy,” said Delaware Lil.
“Yes, it is,” said Washington Lil.
My mother, Julia, interrupted with: “Pass the treyf meat.” (Non-kosher meat.) Mild laughter. My mom was the peace-maker.
And the Lils didn’t talk to each other for a long time. Years.
. . . Grodzisko, Galicia, Austria-Hungary. I found it about 20 years later, in the mid-1980s, on the Shtetl Finder map. The village’s Yiddish name was Grodzisk (pronounced GRUD-zhisk), about 60 miles west of Przemysl. The various shtetls (villages) had so many different names. That was the trick. And there were several Grodziskos.
During my research, I came across a family postcard, postmarked “May 1, 1939, Grodzisko.” It was from cousin Rachela Seiger. It was in Polish and said, in brief, “How are you?” On the flip side was a photo of Rachela’s sister Mili.
The Germans invaded Poland four months after the postcard was mailed.
I looked up “Mili Seiger” and “Rachela Seiger” on the Yad Vashem (Israeli Holocaust museum) online archives. There were so many Seigers, Siegers, Zygers, Zaygers and Zeigers, I couldn’t find Mili or Rachela.
There are three types of Jews. Not Reform, Conservative and Orthodox. Try American, Israeli and victims of the Holocaust. Each about a third. These are my people.
This story was cross-posted on The Forward, online, last month.
Thanks to Yiddishist Lori Cahan-Simon for help on the expression “Geven-zhe nit a yold.”
Footnote . . . Plotting Grodzisko by Teddy Stratton, 1998:
March 23, 2011 10 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
1. My father had a game idea Let’s Blow Up the World. I apportioned the megaton bomb ratings to various countries. What kind of bomb did Paraguay deserve? An M-80 firecracker? Let’s Blow Up the World never made it past “high concept.”
2. Alan Douglass, Yiddishe Cup’s keyboard player, was a klezmer-revival pioneer. He could have called klezmer “anchovy pear music” in Cleveland in the 1980s and people would have believed him. Alan let other musicians start the klez bands. These others musicians got the extra money for being bandleaders. What can a gentile do? It wouldn’t have looked right for a goy — Alan — to lead a klez band.
3. Len Gold, a Cleveland ad man, wanted to make a Yiddishe Cup exercise video, Stretch ‘n’ Kvetch, to sell at temple gift shops. Never happened.
4. Don Friedman, Yiddishe Cup’s drummer, was on What’s My Line in 1966. Don’s line (job) was testing drums for the Rogers Drum Co. in Cleveland. (He was a drum tester, not a rum tester.) Don probably could have had several more minutes of fame if he had asked Bennett Cerf to explain his name.
5. Yiddishe Cup had a gig lined up for Fuerth, Germany, but the klezmer festival organizers there changed directors, or something, and we got canned. I heard years later, through the klez grapevine, that Yiddishe Cup will never play Fuerth. “They don’t like you!” That’s the word on K Street.
Why don’t they like us? Maybe because I wrote the festival committee: “For three years we think — with good reason — we will be playing a concert in Germany. Then, boom, it all goes kaput!” I ended with a string of rage: “unscrupulous,” “shameful” and “dirty.” I did not play the race card. I did not call the klez-festival organizers anti-Semites.
March 4, 2011 6 Comments
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
My father’s triumvirate of sports heroes was Bob Feller, Harrison Dillard and Jesse Owens.
My father, Toby, went to Ohio State during the Owens era. My dad lived in the stadium where Owens ran. (The stadium had a dorm in it.)
Who was Dillard? I think he won gold medals in track in the 1952 and 1956 Olympics. [No, it was the 1948 and 1952 Olympics.]
Toby bought an insurance policy from Bob Feller. Toby bought the insurance mostly so he could say, “Bob Feller was in my house.” Feller inscribed How to Pitch to me. I was 12. “To my friend Albert.” Ouch.
Last week’s obituaries on Bob Feller mentioned Feller’s father’s influence on young Bob’s pitching.
Ditto: my dad and my pitching. My father taught me the big-kick windup like Feller (or Marichal) in our driveway.
I didn’t pitch my first year in Little League. I played outfield.
I ran into my Little League manager, Mr. Feldman, at a Yiddishe Cup gig. I didn’t recognize him, but he knew me. Mr. Feldman mentioned his sports triumvirate: Zuckerman, Hyatt and Stone.* Zuckerman, shortstop, became a successful real estate developer in Atlanta; Hyatt (formerly Zylberberg), infield, had been a U.S. Senate candidate and was now a multi-millionaire macher in California; and Stone, first base, was a doctor. “You were good boys,” Mr. Feldman said.
My dad became manager the next year. One of Toby’s lessons to the boys was about nepotism. I pitched.
I didn’t throw the “very small ball,” as Casey Stengel described Feller’s ball. I threw the large beach ball. Luckily, I was a lefty, which rattled a few batters.
The big lesson from Bob Feller’s How to Pitch: Pitch balls. Pitch insurance. Keep pitching.
* “Stone, first base” — in Mr. Feldman’s triumvirate — is made up. I can’t remember who the third player Mr. Feldman mentioned, but the player was definitely a doctor or lawyer.
December 24, 2010 3 Comments
Yiddishe Cup’s dance leader, Daniel Ducoff, flies frequently for his day job as university fundraiser. He knows which security lines are fastest. Even if he’s flying Continental, he’ll often switch to the quicker Southwest line at Cleveland airport.
Man against the machine . . .
My Uncle Al griped about tour bus drivers in Israel who turned the air conditioning too high.
My parents had travel stories about drunken Russians on cruise ships. And I heard about haggling for a gold wine bottle in Italy. I saw the slides.
I threw out the slides. I have one left: my parents at The Wall in Jerusalem. My dad had on Jack Purcells. He was always in a hurry.
My dad kept a list of his purchases abroad. Here it is, abbreviated:
Rosewood carving of temple dog. Bangkok
Ceramic bells. Israel
Porcelain-in-pewter bowl. Hong Kong
Brass circular dish. Morocco
Wool flokati rug. Athens
My parents didn’t buy all that much. No jewelry and not much clothes. My dad left me plenty, but very little clothing. I’m not complaining. I got buildings.
Daniel Ducoff — Yiddishe Cup’s Sir Dance-a-lot — collects refrigerator magnets of states Yiddishe Cup has played. Sometimes I give Daniel magnet investment advice. For instance, 10 years ago I told him to buy “Kentucky.”
It was getting on my nerves — not playing Kentucky. Kentucky is ridiculously, abuttingly close, to Ohio.
The conductor of the Cleveland Pops Orchestra has played in 10 foreign countries and 29 states. Who’s counting.
Next month Yiddishe Cup plays Connecticut — a state which isn’t even on our screen. Is Connecticut a legitimate state? Does it have a state bird? Connecticut seems more a township or shire than a state.
Yiddishe Cup has played Ohio, Indiana, New York, Texas, Illinois, Missouri, Wisconsin, Georgia, Virginia, North Carolina, West Virginia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska, Florida, Canada and, shortly, Connecticut.
Connecticut but no Kentucky. Why?
Yiddishe Cup plays in Lakeville, Conn., on 10/10/10 for a wedding. Klezmer bandleaders from the Northeast will not be happy to read this.
Or maybe they won’t care. Maybe they’ll all be in Kentucky that day.
3. NORTH CAROLINA HAIKU
The Greensboro Furniture Mart
No beds except at the seedy hotel
across from the Executive Club
which in Cleveland is a catering hall
but in NC is a strip joint
Are we in Amsterdam?
The Corn Flakes in the Styrofoam bowl
Where’s the broom?
Musicians with instruments
at the Delta counter
“Our gig was colder than an MF,” their drummer says
“You played outside?” our singer says
The Neville Brothers’ drummer
Even the big boys freeze their pupiks.
1 of 2 posts for 9/29/10. Please see the post below too.
September 29, 2010 4 Comments
My parents stopped hanging around with friends who were getting rich. One of my dad’s childhood buddies was building shopping centers. That man was off the list. Toby, my father, was not going to eat out at fancy restaurants.
My parents mostly socialized with self-employed business people: the hardware store owner, the sewing machine guy and the shoe store guy.
The sewing machine guy, Alex Kozak, sold record albums as well as sewing machines. (Appliance store owners used to sell records.) He was a World War II Red Army veteran — a Hungarian Jew who escaped the Nazis and fought with the Russians. I borrowed his huge cavalry boots for my high school Canterbury Tales presentation. Mr. Kozak was big — about one and a half Isaac Babels. When I was in college, Mr. Kozak sold me Bechet of New Orleans and Be-Bop Era, RCA Victor Vintage Series.
My parents often socialized with Holocaust survivors. My dad liked the men; many knew baseball and were for the most part no-nonsense. What was there to talk about — the good old days? Keep it short. My dad liked that.
The hardest Yiddishe Cup gigs were the Holocaust survivors’ luncheons. (Those luncheons are rare now.) The crowd wouldn’t pay attention. They would kibitz through the music.
The gigs weren’t supposed to be wallpaper (background music). We were doing a show. Pay attention, please!
Another thing: we got paid peanuts. “Just a short program for the survivors.” You couldn’t say no, and you couldn’t get mad at the kibitzers either. What exactly was a “program”? Whatever the hostess said.
Most every Jewish baby boomer in Cleveland grew up with Holocaust survivors, unless he lived in Shaker Heights. And even in Shaker, there were probably a few DPs (Displaced Persons) in the double houses.
I had a classmate, Gary (not his real name), who re-told his parents’ Nazi horrors to the local newspaper. This was in the 1960s — pre-”Holocaust,” the term. Gary’s father worked at a kosher poultry market. Gary was a super Jew. He often stayed home for obscure (to me) Jewish holidays. Some of the Jewish kids teased him when he came back. (The goys were oblivious.)
I copied Gary’s style. I wrote a letter to the Cleveland Press protesting the first U.S. Christmas stamp with a religious symbol (Madonna and child), 1966. I said the new stamp violated the separation of church and state. I got letters back. One reader said, “Go to Vietnam where men are men and not homosexual like you.” That got me to write more letters.
I wrote about Poland expelling its last Jews in 1968 . . . What would the Poles do when they ran out of Jews? That, too, got some play.
I vied with Gary for champion of Jewish teenage letter writers. All I had to do was write “Jew,” and I would get half-baked, vitriolic feedback. I enjoyed yelling “Jew” in the newspaper. I had been through so little. I wanted to experience World War II. Then go home and eat Jell-O.
Coda: At a recent Yiddishe Cup concert in Detroit, I saw Sewing Machine Guy’s daughter Veronica for the first time in about 40 years. She said her nephew had the cavalry boots now — the ones Mr. Kozak, an officer, wore as he rode into Prague with the Soviets in 1945.
Yiddishe Cup plays 7 p.m. Wed., Sept 29, Fairmount Temple, and 7:15 p.m. Thurs., Sept. 30, Park Synagogue, for Simchat Torah. Cleveland.
September 22, 2010 4 Comments
Pittsburgh is where terrific walk-on musicians play with Yiddishe Cup. We had a Duquesne University guitar teacher, Kenny Karsh, sit in at wedding. How many jazz musicians know “Yossel, Yossel” and “Chusen Kale Mazel Tov”? He did.
At another Pittsburgh gig, the bride’s uncle sang. He requested the key of Ab. Nobody but a pro asks for Ab. He sang “Unchained Melody,” a slow song, even though the bride had emailed “NO SLOW SONGS.” But what could she do, the singer was her uncle. He was a hit. (Brides don’t know what they want.) He was in a Chicago society band.
Pittsburgh’s JCC has an outdoor clock with Hebrew letters on it. Pittsburghers rebuilt their JCC in Squirrel Hill, where it had previously been. In Cleveland, no Jewish institution would rebuild in the same place. Twenty-five years and out. That’s the rule in Cleveland. Move it.
When the Cleveland Heights JCC moved to Beachwood in 1985, my dad, Toby, bought a plaque for the new cloakroom. The plaque, which was no bigger than a business envelope, cost several thousand dollars.
Nobody noticed the plaque.
Several years later, the Beachwood JCC expanded, and Toby’s cloakroom was in the heart of the action, right next to the new auditorium.
My dad could always pick property.
Except in New Mexico. That was out of Toby’s wheelhouse. Toby foundered whenever he left Ohio. He bought a piece of land near Albuquerque that went nowhere.
He also did a deal on a shopping strip center in Sunrise, Fla., and lost money because he wouldn’t — or didn’t know how to — play ball with the crooked city administrators.
A relative, Lefty, sold my father the New Mexico land in 1965. Lefty was a Jew with a tattoo. Lefty lost a lot of money for a lot of people.
Toby didn’t hold the deal against Lefty. The land is still there. It’s not going anywhere.
I saw Lefty at gigs over the years. He didn’t go by Lefty any more. He got into basement waterproofing business and made a lot of money.
Forget the Land of Enchantment . . .
Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh is Yiddishe Cup’s San Francisco — hilly, terrific neighborhoods, great museums and a lot of culture. “I Left My Heart in Pittsburgh.” Write it.
Something important happens at weddings, unlike at bar mitzvah parties, where you’re just attending a family reunion. Pass the family reunion T-shirts.
The ultimate low-stress gig: a 50th wedding anniversary party. Play whatever you want. Everybody is glad to be there, period.
For weddings, the bandleader sometimes gets mounds of emails and communiqués beforehand. The bride doesn’t want the band to play anything slow, nothing from Broadway, and she wants to hear her Bollywood MP3s at break. Also, don’t announce the newlyweds’ names, but if you must, say “Jen and Zach.”
“I’m NOT taking his last name!!” the bride emails.
Not every bride is hands-on, though. Some say, “We know Yiddishe Cup has done this many, many times. You know what works. We trust you.” These are the best brides.
Here’s what works: skipping the Bollywood music, strolling table-to-table, varying the musical styles and inviting guests to sit in with the band. Toasts work too — in chunks. No more than three toasts in a row.
And having the wedding in Pittsburgh. Preferably at the downtown Westin. The staff there feeds Yiddishe Cup before the guests. Maybe because we’re important out-of-town musicians.
Yiddishe Cup plays 7 p.m. Wed., Sept 29, Fairmount Temple, and 7:15 p.m. Thurs, Sept. 30, Park Synagogue, for Simchat Torah. Cleveland.
September 15, 2010 5 Comments
Ted Budzowski was my dad’s favorite building manager. Maybe because they were both Teds.
My dad was “Ted” at work and “Toby” at home. Ted Budzowski was “Ski” at his day job (crane operator at Republic Steel) and “Ted” around the building.
Ted Budzowski could have treated me like a silver-spoon son of a boss, but instead he invited me down to the mill on family day. I didn’t make it to the mill for some reason. Everything was air-conditioned at the mill now, Ted said, including his crane cab.
I eventually caught a tour of the mill with the Society for Industrial Archeology. The slabs of molten steel coming from the furnace looked like creamsicles. Big red melting blocks.
My dad and Ted talked in a clipped cadence, like telegrams. Ted would say, “The kid [tenant] is hanging on by the grace of God.” That meant pay up.
“That tenant is a troublemaker,” my dad answered.
“The kid better not raise a rumpus.”
“He’s thinks he’s cute.” Toby said.
“Yeah, tell it to the judge,” Ted said.
“Give him an eviction notice.”
Ted had two Stratoloungers in his living room, an Okinawan mongoose-and- cobra souvenir, and a tree-stump occasional table, which his son had made. The son lost $8,000 on tree stump tables, which never caught on big in Cleveland. The good news was the son also was a retired career solider.
Toby and Ted were about the same age. Toby was from Kinsman Road, and Ted had grown up in Youngstown, Ohio, near Cowshit Hill (a real place). Ted’s kids had made it out, just like Toby’s. Ted’s second son worked for the phone company.
When Ted retired to Texas to live near his military son, I hired Buck, a hard case who had grown up in a Tennessee orphanage. Buck didn’t like certain people, particularly sons of bosses. Buck thought many routine tasks — cleaning up after tradesmen, watering outdoor plants — were not part of the job.
Buck frequently got “porky” with me. (That was West Side talk for “argumentative.”) Ted, on the other hand, had always been helpful. Ted would tell me when my tire pressure was low. He could sense low tire pressure. He thought about tire pressure.
For his last 15 years, Ted’s HQ was probably his Stratolounger in San Antonio. He didn’t check back with me, except for an annual holiday card.
Meanwhile, Buck was raising prices unilaterally on odd jobs. He never asked what I thought the job was worth. Who was bossing whom?
I had a hard time bossing around people older than myself.
That changed. I got older.
1 of 2 posts for 8/25/10. Please see the post below too.
August 25, 2010 3 Comments
My father, Toby, ate his last meal out at Wendy’s on his way to Columbus, Ohio, for experimental leukemia treatments.
He checked in to the hospital, then checked out, so to speak.
My father liked Wendy’s (headquartered in Columbus) because he had a quasi-business relationship with the company. Toby had almost invested in Wendy’s before it went national. Almost. Toby’s near-miss with Wendy’s stock topped any of my uncles’ near-miss sagas at Seder.
Toby liked fast food. He and I often ate at McDonald’s on the West Side. I got the Filet-O-Fish. I thought it was good for me.
Toby explained franchising: the franchisor took a percentage of the action for eternity. Toby had been a franchisee/sucker with a cosmetics company – and he knew something about the food business too. He especially knew about chazerai (junk). Toby had worked in his mother’s candy store, dipping ice cream bars into vats of chocolate, and writing “free” on a few wooden ice cream sticks. Very few.
When I visited my father’s grave the first couple times, I brought along Mr. Goodbars. Once, a Planters Peanut. (The bars were for me, by the way.)
I raised the rent on the flower-shop guy a mere $10 per month. Toby smiled and said, “You’re a nice guy.” I think Toby’s smile — a rarity — meant he was glad I wasn’t a total hardass like him. We had arrived.
Decades later, I sat at the West Side McDonald’s with my oldest son, Ted, 28. I now knew the Filet-O-Fish was a calorie bomb, so I ordered the chicken Caesar salad. Ted, like his late grandfather Toby, ordered a huge burger.
I was instructing my son on the watchword of our people: Don’t be a sucker.
Lesson one: The first generation (Grandpa) scrapes, the second (Dad) tries to keep things on keel, and the third (Ted) needs tutorials in toughness because he doesn’t remember his grandfather.
During Toby’s final days, the Cleveland Clinic nurses called him “chief” because he was so bossy. A doc said, “You’re a hard one.” Toby answered, “That’s right. It’s my life.” A nurse wondered if Toby was in the medical field because he had a stack of homemade medical folders.
Toby was flattered. The closest Toby had come to the medical field was a dental school acceptance in the 1950s, but he couldn’t afford to go because he had kids.
I told my son not to forget the little things: pens, checks, camera, Post-It notes. Lesson one: “Write everything down. You don’t want to think about ‘cold water leak, Webb #24 bathroom sink,’” I said.
Lesson two: Be wary of restaurant workers, particularly chefs and servers. They come home late, party hard, and wake up the solid-citizen tenants in the building.
Lesson three: Always Be Closing. ABC. That was from a David Mamet play/movie, and was a joke between my son and me. My son, like every other young person, enjoyed quoting movies verbatim.
I thought of a non-movie line for Ted. I said, “If the tenant hasn’t mailed his rent, say, ‘Do not mail in your late rent. Hand it to the custodian. Hand it.’ We don’t want to wonder if the post office has lost the check.”
Ted seemed more interested in his burger. I wasn’t up to Mamet’s standards.
“The job sucks on some level!” I said. That got the boy’s attention. “You make it interesting. It took me a while.”
My father dragged me to a lightning-round tutorial with Cousin Gershy. (Gershy is short for Gershon.) Gershy looked horrible — three strokes and two heart attacks. My dad didn’t look much better.
Gershy had shotguns over the mantle, plus a longhorn steer horn and shalom plaques. ”You wouldn’t believe it, but I used to be a shtarker,” Gershy said. (Strong guy/bully.)
I believed it.
Gershy said, “You’ve got that little curl in the tail — that little something different — that something the new treatment doesn’t cure. You’re in trouble. They say, ‘We can’t straighten out your tail. You’re dead.’ That’s what the doctors tell me.”
Gershy’s steer horn cost $50. A gun dealer, who had sold the horn to Gershy, wanted it back. “Gun dealers is a funny ballpark,” Gershy said. “He could shoot me, but a deal is a deal. That’s the way it is.”
Gershy owned a shopping strip center on Mayfield Road in Cleveland Heights.
His price was too high, Toby said.
“If the kid is interested,” Gershy said, looking at me. “I’d come down.”
“It’s up to the kid,” Toby said.
“I’ll work with him,” Gershy said.
Driving home, Toby said, “Gershy has mellowed.”
Mellowed? Gershy would not pass for mellow in my Donovan world.
“And he’s a gonif,” Toby said. “Don’t buy anything from him.”
At McDonald’s, I told my son, “If a real estate broker claims operating expenses are forty-five percent, he’s delusional. Building operating ratios are higher than that.” I slid a Wall Street Journal across the table. “Take it. Take the paper.” The Journal was the best I could offer. I didn’t see any Gershys or Tobys around. Unless you count me.
June 16, 2010 6 Comments