Real Music & Real Estate . . .

Yiddishe Cup’s bandleader, Bert Stratton, is Klezmer Guy.
 

He knows about the band biz and – check this out – the real estate biz, too.
 

You may not care about the real estate biz. Hey, you may not care about the band biz. (See you.)
 

This is a blog with a gamy twist. It features tenants with snakes and skunks, and musicians with smoked fish in their pockets.
 

Stratton has written op-eds for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post.


 
 

Category — Toby

FAST FOOD WITH DAD

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 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 food). Toby had worked in his mother’s candy store. When I visited my father’s grave the first couple times, I brought along Mr. Goodbars. Once, a Planters Peanut.

Decades later, I sat at the West Side McDonald’s with my oldest son, Ted, then 28. I ordered the chicken Caesar salad. I was instructing my son on the watchword of our people: Don’t be a sucker. Lesson 1: The first generation (Grandpa) scrapes, the second (me) tries to keep things on keel, and the third (Ted) needs tutorials in toughness because they don’t remember the beginning.

During Toby’s final days, the Cleveland Clinic nurses called him “chief” because he was bossy. A doc said, “You’re a hard one.” Toby answered, “That’s right. It’s my life.”

I told my son not to forget the little things: (Lesson 2) pens, checks, Post-It notes. Lesson 3: “Write everything down. You don’t want to think about ‘cold water leak, bathroom sink, apartment 24,” I said. Lesson 4: Be wary of restaurant workers, particularly chefs and servers. They come home late, party hard, and wake up the solid-citizens in the building. Lesson 5: Always Be Closing. ABC. That’s from a David Mamet play and is a joke between my son and me. Ted, like every other young person, enjoys quoting movies verbatim. I thought of a non-movie line for him. I said, “If the tenant hasn’t mailed his rent, say, ‘Do not mail in your late rent. Hand it to the building manager. Hand it.'” 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 my son’s attention. “You make it interesting. It can take a while.”

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September 23, 2020   4 Comments

DON’T KOCK THE MONEY AWAY

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 the tremendous 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 Bagel Nosh in Cleveland too, Dad, and it’s crap! My parents watched the kids while my wife and I biked around the condo development, watching for golf cart X-ings. Toby said, “Whatever you do, don’t kock the money away.” Also, did I need a new car? And how about a bigger house? “You never ask for anything,” he said. My kids asked for stuff — swimming noodles. No problem. Every grandparent had a storage closet of noodles.

One grandpa — a friend of my dad — didn’t sleep well, so he did midnight bowling. The man owned a furniture store in Cleveland and worried a lot because his son was destroying the store, the man claimed. Another old-timer was Jackie Presser, who had a villa — a stand-alone house — unlike my folks’ pad which was an attached unit. Presser was the national president of the Teamsters and knew mobsters. In his later years, Presser moonlighted as a snitch for the FBI. His wife drove an antique car around the condo development.

My dad met Mel, a low-level municipal employee from the city of Sunrise, Florida. Mel needed a “few presents” for his inspectors. Mel inspected commercial properties for Sunrise, where my dad owned a small shopping-strip center. The shopping center was a just hobby for my dad — something to keep his brain cells firing between rounds of golf. Toby was always in let’s-make-a-deal mode.

Toby met Mel at Sambo’s, where Mel explained that presents meant $100 for each of his inspectors. Toby paid Mel — in a car, not in the restaurant. Mel said, “This is not for me. This is strictly for my inspectors.” Then Mel drove Toby to see vacant land. The city wanted a developer to put up a motel. 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 golf with his high school buddies, and marveling at electric orange juice squeezers.

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May 20, 2020   2 Comments

POOL, PING PONG
AND MARCHING BAND

My father’s father, Louis Soltzberg, was run over by a May Co. truck in 1924 and had a metal plate put in his head. After that he began hanging out at the pool hall a lot. My great aunt once told me, “If they had given out prize money for playing pool like they do now, he would have been a millionaire.”

My dad steered his kids toward ping pong, away from pool.  Ping pong was in our basement. To shoot pool, you had to go to Severance Center. There was a big sign at Severance: “No Hats.” That was because black customers liked to wear stingy brim hats while shooting, and the owners didn’t want too many blacks.

My dad entered a ping pong tournament at Danny Vegh’s club and got clobbered by a Hungarian. After that, Toby played only in our basement.

My father was good with racquets, and at sports in general. His brothers were good, too. His brother Milt was a fast-pitch softball player, and brother Sol played football at Western Reserve. My dad, Toby, took me to annual indoor track meets sponsored by the Knights of Columbus. I kept trying to find Ohio State and Michigan on the jerseys, but it was all Seton Hall, Holy Cross and Villanova. Were those colleges?

We lived three houses from the public tennis courts. My dad hit tennis balls with me after work. He would say, “Racquet back. Hit it now. Racquet back. Hit it now.” He was the color man without much color. I didn’t like his constant patter. To rile him, I’d mutter, “You stink.” You meant me. That drove my dad nuts. And I would say, “I quit!”

I liked music, too, and particularly the intersection of music and sports. Ohio State’s marching band had no woodwind section. It was all brass, and my parents wouldn’t buy me a trumpet. I had my Uncle Al’s hand-me-down clarinet. I stopped begging for a trumpet around ninth grade. I got used to the clarinet. In twelfth grade I dropped marching band altogether. I wasn’t marching anymore (to quote Phil Ochs, another South Euclid boy).

The marching band director at Cleveland Heights High – a nearby school — kept his “marching” band stationary in the end zone. That would have suited me, but I was at Charles F. Brush High, and we marched. I didn’t like learning the marching patterns.

My dad never saw me march, or play with my klezmer band, for that matter. He died before I got it going. I still play tennis. Ping pong, every three years. Pool, every six years.


Tomorrow night (7 p.m, Thurs., Aug. 15)
Funk A Deli / Yidd Cup
Free outdoor concert
Walter Stinson Community Park
2313 Fenwick Road
University Heights, Ohio
Be there!

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August 14, 2019   3 Comments

BIG NAMES

Howard Metzenbaum was a big name in my father’s generation. Metzenbaum made millions in parking lots, and eventually became a U.S. senator. My father and Metzenbaum were born the same year, 1917, in Cleveland. My dad didn’t know Metzenbaum but enjoyed following his career.

Metzenbaum, in his later years, owned a condo at Three Village, the holy of holies for upscale living on East Side Cleveland. The building went up in 1978 near Cedar Road at I-271. The Three Village condo development was wooded and secluded. My parents lived nearby, at the Mark IV apartments (now called the Hamptons). My parents liked brand-new housing; they weren’t keen on used. Everything had to be shiny and new, maybe because they grew up in poverty.

Across from the Mark IV was Acacia on the Green — a step up, rent- and prestige-wise, from the Mark IV. Next to Acacia was Sherri Park, a step down. Across from Sherri Park was Point East, a step up from Acacia but down from Three Village. These buildings all went up in the 1970s and were popular with my parents’ generation.

three village

My parents never went inside Metzenbaum’s building. I did. I visited a rich friend who bought a condo in Three Village. Metzenbaum was long gone — dead as of 2008. The building’s buzzer directory read Maltz, Mandel, Ratner, Risman, Weinberger and Wuliger.

Maybe you have to be an old Cleveland Jew to appreciate that. If you’re not an old Cleveland Jew and have read this far, please explain why.

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March 6, 2019   10 Comments

THE TAXMAN COMETH

Every January I spend a day filling out employer tax forms. My favorite is the Federal Unemployment Tax Act (FUTA) form. I did my first FUTA Form 940 in 1978, when my dad started going to Florida for the winter. He and his high school buddies golfed in Boca Raton, and I filled out FUTAs in Cleveland.

Toby Stratton (far L) w/ friends at Boca Lago CC, 1983

The treasurer of Ohio likes his W-2 reconciliations promptly. The state unemployment bureau also likes its money quickly. And don’t forget workers comp.

I used an IBM Selectric-style typewriter for tax forms until the machine died around 2011. The A key wouldn’t work. That was its main drawback. “ lbert Str tton” didn’t cut it with the government. I threw out the typewriter and several boxes of Ko-Rec-Type.  I spent a few hours behind this typer:

2011 RIP.( I wrote some unpublished novels on this baby.) It's an IBM knock-off, actually.

 It’s an IBM knock-off, actually.

Now I use IRS computer forms, except for my Yiddishe Cup 1099s, which I do by hand. I used black ink on Yiddishe Cup’s 1099s. One year I used blue, which is ill-advised. The gobierno prefers black ink. I got with the program.

What are you in jail for?

Blue ink.

No thanks.

 

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January 2, 2019   1 Comment

MY DAD HAD
A GOOD SHORT GAME

“Anything within 10 feet of the cup, Toby sank,” said Hy Birnbaum, a friend of my late father. I ran into Hy at the drugstore, where he worked part-time as a pharmacist. He was about 85 at the time. Hy said all his friends were dead. (My dad, Toby, had been dead about 25 years.)

I ran into John Kelly, who worked with my dad 30-plus years ago at the key company. John said one of the “big bosses” had slept in the key company office overnight because he had marital problems. This particular “big boss,” Sid, had a slew of problems. His kids were “real hippies,” said John. Sid was a loud-mouth, know-it-all, country-club Jew from Shaker Heights, I remember my dad saying. My dad kvetched about Sid frequently at dinner.

My dad disliked most “big bosses.” But the one “big boss” my dad liked, luckily, was the key company president, Manny Schor, who was a World Federalist, intelligent and not a show off.

Manny came to my gigs occasionally in his later years. (Most of the big bosses at the key company were Jewish. The company was owned by a Jew.) Manny said, “I can still picture your father sitting at his desk.”

So could I.

Why were these old guys still alive and my dad dead? That’s what I  wanted to know. My dad’s long game wasn’t so great.

—-

Toby Stratton 1917-1986, died just shy of 69; Manny Schor 1918-2009, 91; Sid 1921-2000, 79; Hy Birnbaum 1925-2016, 91; John Kelly 1931-2011, 80.

 

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September 12, 2018   3 Comments

NEEDLES WERE FAMILY

My father, Toby, handled pain better than most. For instance, bone marrow tests didn’t faze him, and he never used Novocain at the dentist’s office. But he wasn’t iron. He wanted to be buried with a bottle of Chlor-Trimeton, he said. He had allergies and often caught colds.

My dad and I went to the allergist together. The doc saw about 12  patients per hour.  He chatted with each patient for a few minutes, then poked. On family vacations, we took along syringes and bottled medicine, supplied by the doctor. My dad and I poked each other.

Needles were family to me.

Bert and Toby, 1957

My dad listened to his body before “listening to your body” was a thing. He drank Tiger shakes at the Old Arcade. He was a fitness buff. He had the Royal Canadian Air Force exercise booklet. He jogged in his underwear in the kitchen. Gross. Toby was a founding member of the Linus Pauling Church of Vitamin C.

Toby lay on the living room couch. This was during his final days. I said, “Your view would improve if you turned the other direction.”  He didn’t care what way he turned. He had a 104 temperature. We talked taxes.  That was our go-to subject when he was dying. I was in the 15 percent tax bracket, I said. Toby said I was in the 28 percent bracket. How was that possible? I didn’t understand marginal tax brackets  — the last-dollar-in concept. I had something to learn. Another question: How come, when interest rates go down, bond prices go up?

Toby went through chemo treatments and transfusions for leukemia. He got the shakes and was admitted to the Cleveland Clinic. When a nurse asked him how he was doing, he didn’t answer. She turned to me. “Maybe he turned off his hearing aid,” she said.

“He’s never done that before.” I said.

The nurse put ice under Toby’s legs to cool him down.  “I don’t want to hurt the old guy,” she said, putting ice between sheets.

That “old guy” was my father!  He was a jogger and exercise freak.

Theodore “Toby” Stratton, 66 (1983)

I got shingles. My uncle said, “What’s wrong with you, Bert?  Shingles are for old people!” I was feeling kind of old at that moment.  (I was 36. My dad was 68.)

The nurse called at 3 a.m. and said my dad was dead.  I went with my mother to the hospital.  The room was tidy — no bedpans, no chucks, no tubes. No more needles.

I have an op-ed in the New York Times about Chief Wahoo.

 

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January 31, 2018   4 Comments

STRATTON VS SOLTZBERG

My father, Toby, didn’t want an obituary. He thought that might tip off the IRS to his change in status. Nevertheless, when Toby died, an editor at the Cleveland Plain Dealer asked to write something. The editor was a friend of my dad’s.  My mother said no. The writer persisted, because years prior, Toby had gotten the editor a moonlighting job — editing the newsletter for the key company where my dad worked.

No again, my mother said.Toby wound up in the Cleveland Jewish News. That was OK.  Not too many IRS agents read that.

Theodore "Toby" Stratton (1917-1986) Photo 1984

Theodore “Toby” Stratton (1917-1986) Photo 1984

It wouldn’t have mattered; my dad lived his entire adult life under an alias: Stratton. He had gotten “Stratton” out of a phone book. His birth name was Soltzberg. How had he felt about all that? Fine, he often told me.

I had my doubts. (His two brothers stayed Soltzbergs, while Toby rode off to become Stratton of Judea.)

His only regret, which was momentary, he claimed, was when his then 21-year-old daughter dated a sheygets (gentile boy) from Parma who had no college degree. Back then Toby said, “If I hadn’t changed my name, this wouldn’t be going on!” He picked “Stratton” in a waiting room, waiting for a job interview.  He got the job and changed his name in 1941.

The story sounded like BS to me. I thought Toby might have been embarrassed and insecure about his Jewishness.  A lot of Jews back then jumped to the U.S.S. Wasp. I’ve read  half the Jews in the U.S. changed their names. [Commentary, August 1952,”Name-Changing — And What It Gets You,” by J. Alvin Kugelmass.]   Some of the impetus for the name-changing was anti-Semitism and a desire to “pass.”  (I’m not blaming anybody. Different times back then.)

When I was right out of college, I told my dad I was going to change my name to Soltzberg. He went nuts. He said, “You’re looking for trouble!  Don’t do it!”

Decades later I lectured on Mickey Katz at the International Association of Yiddish Clubs convention; I was wearing a “Stratton” nametag and an old man approached me, asking, “Are you related to Toby Stratton?”

“He was my father.”

“I left town in 1941,” the man said, his eyes on my nametag. “It was there, right there in my apartment, when he talked about changing his name. He had gotten turned down by three chemical companies.  He was one of  the smartest guys I ever met.  He changed his name and got a job right then.” Solid.

For years one of my Soltzberg uncles had told me Toby jumped ship because my mother had wanted to “pass.” I liked the right-in-my-apartment story better.

__

A version of this appeared here 9/16/09 and in the Jerusalem Post 1/16/12.

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June 14, 2017   7 Comments

OVATION OF CALIFORNIA

My dad had a cosmetics franchise similar to Mary Kay. It was Ovation of California. My mother went to Los Angeles to learn more about it, and when she returned, she dumped a box of cosmetics onto the dining room table. My sister got the cosmetics, and I got a shoehorn from the Beverly Hills Hilton Hotel.

My sister held up her diary. “Look what your darling son did to my diary while you were gone,” she said. I had cut the lock off her diary. Big deal.

diary kay

“I apologized,” I said.   (I was researching petting — as Ann Landers called making out. I was 13, my sister was 16. I thought she had some info.)

My mother said, “So you tore open your sister’s diary?”

“I’m sorry.” I bought my sister a new diary.

One more crime: my father put a bottle of Ovation cleansing cream in the bathroom and made me use it. I was supposed to rub the cleanser on my forehead with a cotton ball. “This is no gimmick,” he said. “Men use it.”  My dad tried to turn me into a metrosexual! The franchise went under in a year.

Yiddishe Cup plays 6:30 pm Sun. (July 12) in Granville, Ohio (near Columbus).  More info here.

band of 7

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July 8, 2015   7 Comments

LISTEN UP

My father wore a hearing aid from age 50-on. He went to a hearing expert, William Lippy in Warren, Ohio, for stapedectomy surgery, but the surgery didn’t help.

My dad missed nuances because of his poor hearing.  For instance, I would say, “Haney [a custodian] is burning some shit in the incinerator. The firemen told him not to.”

My dad would answer, “A lady is learning what?”

I repeated it slower. My dad would say, “Now you’re starting to tell me something!”

My father liked to give advice, maybe because he didn’t hear advice. He spoke very deliberately. He was like Sevareid. My dad’s main advice was “Look out for yourself, no one else will.” Bill, a tenant, ran a beauty parlor; my dad said to him, “I’m only looking out for myself, Bill.  You’re just giving me a two-percent CPI increase.”  (Bill was trying to low-ball a renewal figure on his beauty parlor lease.)

Bill said, “You don’t have to tell me about looking out for myself. I own a rental condo.” Store tenants frequently owned residential rental property on the side, like double houses or condos by the lake.

“There is nothing short of outright speculation that will equal real estate,” my dad  said.  “There are unmerciful and countless forces arrayed against us.”

Listen up.

—-

The quote “There is nothing short of outright speculation that will equal real estate . . .” is out of context here; my dad didn’t say it to Bill. My dad wrote it in an unpublished manuscript.  More on that some other time.

I wrote a good article about my father for the latest Belt Mag.

Theodore "Toby" Stratton, age 50, 1967

Theodore “Toby” Stratton, age 50, 1967

Come to  Cain Park (Cleveland Heights) Sunday (June 28) at  7 p.m. for a free klezmer concert. Evans Amphitheater. No tix necessary. Yiddishe Cup plays the second half of the show. The first half is Steven Greenman and Lori Cahan-Simon. The 37th Annual Workmen’s Circle Yiddish Concert.

band of 7

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June 24, 2015   1 Comment

OHIO STATE VS. MICHIGAN

I was at a brunch where all the men wore Ohio State apparel.  That in itself was not unusual; I know a lot of Ohio State fans who do brunch, but the host at this brunch was particularly Bucks-nuts; he would not let anybody into his house with Michigan gear on.

ohio state v michiganI didn’t have any on.

I’m not that big a football fan. I’m a Michigan graduate but I wish Ohio State all the best — most of the time. I like it when Michigan is winning, but this year the team is horrible, so let Ohio State go all the way.

Yiddishe Cup had a trumpet player — a sub — who played in the Ohio State marching band. He played a luncheon with Yiddishe Cup, and the OSU-Michigan game (originally scheduled for 3 pm) went on at noon, so I gave the musician leeway on the bandstand; I let him periodically watch the Bucks on a TV in a corner. The other guys in the band thought I was too accommodating. They didn’t
understand . . .

Take 1962: OSU versus Northwestern, homecoming.  Before the game, my dad and I went to a reunion luncheon.  My dad had on a Class of ’38 name tag. I don’t know what the name tag read; my father changed his name from Soltzberg to Stratton in 1941. The theme for the fraternity floats in 1962 may have been “Peanuts.”  My dad knew the words to “Carmen Ohio,” the OSU alma mater.  My dad never knew the words to any song!

My dad and I went to about a half dozen Ohio State homecomings. I liked Long’s Bookstore for sweatshirts.  Charbert’s for hamburgers.  We checked out the floats on fraternity row.  My dad wanted to show me the medical school.

The Bucks: Tom Matte, Warfield, Matt Snell and Bob Ferguson.

If Michigan doesn’t win it all (and it ain’t going to this year), let Ohio State.

Julia and Toby Stratton, Ohio Stadium.  (Julia came on our first homecoming outing -- 1959,)

Julia and Toby Stratton, Ohio Stadium. (My mother went on our first homecoming outing, 1959.)

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November 26, 2014   2 Comments

ADDRESS YOUR MESS

My mother, Julia, never saved anything. When she moved to assisted living, the only thing she kept was her dining room set and some clay pots my dad had made.

My dad was an amateur potter in his retirement. He didn’t use a wheel; he pinched the clay with his thumbs.  His work wasn’t too good; I threw most of his stuff in the garbage. My mother watched and said, “How could you!”

“Mom,” I said, “I’m saving some of  it– some representative pieces!”

Address Your Mess.

Address Your Mess is a woman in Cleveland who, for a fee, de-clutters your house. My mother didn’t need her.

Maybe I need AYM.  I have report cards from elementary school in my attic.  My mother said I could be president someday, so I’m holding on to the report cards.

Is my mess more important than your mess?

I gave the Address Your Mess phone number to a high school friend whose parents moved out of their bungalow after 50-plus years. They had stuff.
address your mess

I read about an elderly woman in southeast Ohio who had 36 boxes of cereal, GAR medals and a wooden fife from the battle of Chickamauga.

I have UN stamps too, besides the report cards.

Here’s a vid, “Square Mile,” about real estate and board games:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qYnabJr7esc

Yiddishe Cup is at Fairmount Temple, Beachwood, Ohio, tonight (Wed.) and Park Synagogue, Cleveland Hts., tomorrow night. 

 

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October 15, 2014   6 Comments

AMERICAN GREETINGS

“Cleveland is a hard town.  I came near committing suicide when I lived there.” — Robert Crumb, American Splendor intro, 1986.

Crumb worked for American Greetings. My dad, Toby, worked there too.

Toby was at American Greetings before Crumb.  My dad worked with Morry Stone, who eventually became a vice chairman.  My dad didn’t like working for anybody, including Morry, so Toby left in 1954.

Toby Stratton, 37, at American Greetings, 1954

Everybody in Cleveland has worked at American Greetings, I think.  Or tried to.  I applied for a job at American Greetings in 1981.

Plain Dealer, 1981

American Greetings had a Creative Building at West 78th Street.  I didn’t even get called in for an interview.  Maybe I wasn’t sick enough to write sick cards.

***

Robert Crumb again, 1996, Bob & Harv‘s Comics:  “Cleveland is a city that has been ravaged by financiers and industrialists . . . its population abandoned to their fate, left to freeze their ass off, standing in the dirty winter slush, waiting for a bus that is a long time coming.  Somehow they go on living.”

I haven’t lived anywhere else, so I can’t complain like Crumb.  I went to college in Ann Arbor (which doesn’t count) and spent a few months in Bogota, Colombia, in my twenties.

Bogota was tougher than Cleveland. That, I can testify to.  Bogota was rainy, gray, and headache-inducing from the high altitude.  Cleveland was simply rainy, gray and slushy.

***

A pilot stood in a grassy field by the Bogota airport and said, “Tell your friends to throw their packs in back and we’ll be off.”

They weren’t my friends.  They weren’t even Americans.

We climbed into the cargo section of the plane. “It smells like shit in here,” a Swiss girl said.

“This is Fish Airlines,” the pilot said.  (Aeropesca.)

We landed in the Amazon a few hours later.

I ran into a college friend in the Amazon! I knew him from my freshman dorm.  He said, “I scamp.”  That meant he sold gems, coke, pot or counterfeit bills.  “I’m going to reunite with my creators soon,” he said.

What?

“I’m going back to my parents.”

Adiós, amigo.

I tried to catch the ferry to Belem, Brazil. I waited several days in Leticia, Colombia, by the Amazon River dock, but the ferry didn’t arrive. I flew back to Bogota on the guppy/yuppie flight.  (Guppies to Bogota, yuppies to the Amazon.)

In Bogota, I froze — even indoors.  I wore two sweaters and socks-for-gloves in a small house I shared with a widow and her maid.  I taught English at a nearby private junior high.  For fun at night I read Cancer Ward .  I also looked at photos of beauty queens from El Espacio and El Bogotano — the tabloids. My bedroom had doggy pictures on the wall, a toy cannon on the windowsill, and a crucifix over the bed.

For mental exercise I tried to reconstruct my high school schedule: first and second periods, PSSC Physics.  What was third?  What was PSSC?  [Physical Science Study Committee.]  I didn’t know many people in Bogie.

I heard Charlie Byrd play “Bogota” in Bogota.  He was on a government-sponsored tour.  Byrd en guitarra, con bajo y batería. (Byrd on guitar, with bass and drums.)

I went back to Cleveland after three months.

American Greetings. I couldn’t take Bogie. The major bookstore in Bogota was run by a Nazi, I thought.  The owner was German, and I fabricated a fake bio, in my head,  about him. I went to the Peace Corps office to borrow more paperbacks.  I got Papillon, about a prisoner in Latin America.

I played blues harp for my English class.  The kids loved it but the administration didn’t.

I had to leave. Bogie was un frío horrible (a freezing cold).

Crumb should write about Bogota.  I want to hear his take on a real tough town.


Footnotes:
1.  My  Bogota adventure was  in 1974. 
2. I didn’t meet my college friend in the Amazon.  I met him in Bogota.   I remembered the encounter incorrectly. My friend straightened me out  in Cleveland in 2013. 

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February 12, 2014   5 Comments

LET ME PULL YOUR COAT,
MR. STRATTON

I served an eviction notice on an artist — a tenant — who was late with her rent.  When I handed her the eviction paper, she yelled at me, “I was going to pay the rent, but not now!”

My father had sent me.  She was a painter — a real artist.

Aubrey, another tenant, wrote for an alternative weekly.  Aubrey wrote my dad:

Allow me to pull your coat, Mr. Stratton, to something. Where do you get off raising my rent?  I had to spend last winter in my kitchen because the bedroom ceiling caved in.

Would you like my bill for cleaning up the plaster?  My services do not come cheaply, Mr. Stratton.

Aubrey was a meshugener — my dad’s take.

Let me pull your coat, Mr. Stratton.  My dad didn’t know what Aubrey was talking about. My dad wasn’t Miles Davis.

My dad told Aubrey to waive his privacy rights so we could get into his apartment to fix the problem.

Aubrey wrote back: “Quite bluntly, Mr. Stratton, keep out.”

But we got in and made the repairs, and Aubrey stayed another year.

I saw the painter at an artists’ party about a year later. I didn’t say hi. She didn’t recognize me.  Good.

I never saw the writer again. Also good.


“Aubrey” is a pseudonym.


SIDE B

180-degree turn . . .

THE GAMBLER

The Gambler

I’ve made millions in gambling. You probably know that because I’ve written about it a lot.

Nevertheless, some readers still believe I inherited my money.

Wrong!

I work hard for my money. I play video poker, and not at some tribal casino in Oregon. I play at Vegas casinos that offer the best margin. I demand a 99.5 JOB (jacks-or-better) edge.

I tip well and live well.

Do I play video poker all day?

Yes, and I love it.

My ex-wife didn’t love it. She tried to control my bankroll. Nobody controls my bankroll!

I’m a known quantity here in Vegas. For a while I had a radio show. I coughed so much on air, I got fired. What did the producer want? I’m in smoky casinos 12 hours a day;I’m lucky I can breathe, let alone cough.

I administer an online forum, Millionaire VP. No smoking on my site.

I used to play craps. If you play craps long enough, you lose everything. Which I did. Once was enough.

I’m filing w-2Gs totaling $400,000 for 2013. The ex-mayor of San Diego lost $13 million on video poker. Don’t be her. Be me.

Lots of royal flushes, everybody!

My website, VP Millionaire, is here.

(This post, Side B/The Gambler, is part of the fake-profile series.)

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January 15, 2014   4 Comments

TEMPLE IN THE ROUND

The former Brith Emeth temple in Pepper Pike, Ohio, looks like a clam shell or flying saucer.

My kids went to Hebrew school there. It was disorienting; I never knew which way to turn, right or left, to pick them up.

The acoustics in the social hall were bad.  Everything was boomy.

Brith Emeth folded in 1986, and Park Synagogue East took over.  Then Park Synagogue East sold the building to the Ratner School, a Montessori school.  Now Kol HaLev — a Reconstructionist shul — rents from the Ratner School, the owner, for shabbes services.

When my band plays Kol HaLev, I tell my musicians, “We’re playing the clam shell.”  I never say, “We’re playing Ratner Montessori School.” I also don’t say, “We’re playing the old Park East,” which would be confusing because there is a new Park East. I also don’t say, “27575 Shaker Boulevard,” because for a while, shrubs in front of the building obscured the address.

“We’re playing the clam shell, aka the flying saucer, guys.”

On October 17, 1969, Rabbi Philip Horowitz delivered the sermon “Is the Negro Equal?” at the clam shell.

The place still has a very sixties flare.  I travel back in time every time I  enter Brith Emeth. After-burners. The clam shell.  The launch pad.


More on Brith Emeth here.

Yiddishe cup plays First Night Akron (Ohio), 6-8 p.m. Tues., Dec. 31.

SIDE B

For the record . . .

JUST NUMBERS

If you get a 3 percent return, on top of the inflation rate, that’s solid, middle of the road. But right now you can only get 1 percent on a CD, with inflation around 1 percent. You can’t get 3 percent without significant risk. If you go for more than 3 percent real growth, you’re taking a risk.

Risk in business is integral, part of the equation. Can’t be avoided.

You’re a genius; the stock market is booming. You weren’t a genius in 2008.

I know a woman who lost with Madoff, and now she’s doing the 1 percent CDs. I talked to another Madoff investor who said she had found a short-term investment that paid 20 percent. But for only 90 days. Twenty percent is 20 percent, doesn’t matter how long a period. Twenty percent is crazy. “That’s a lot of risk!” I said.

I have a friend who went in for CDOs (Collaterized Debt Obligation) and lost. He said he was getting 15 percent on them. But it only lasted a month. Then the whole thing collapsed.

We are here today to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the Madoff debacle . . . Another Madoff investor I know — enough with the Madoff! — this Cleveland schoolteacher said she didn’t think she was greedy when she was pulling in 10-12 percent a year from Madoff. She just thought she had made a good investment. I would have thought likewise. Madoff returned the schoolteacher’s original investment minus the paper gains. A small-timer, she got national TV attention for being a salt-of-the-earth Madoff victim.

The stock market typically clocks 9 percent per year, but that’s meaningless because the figure doesn’t take into account human behavior, known in the biz as “investors returns.” Most people buy and sell at the wrong time.

My father went all in on real estate 1965, and that’s why I’m in real estate now. He went in at the right time, luckily, and leveraged himself to the hilt. Our house was leveraged; he had second mortgages. He was gutsy, smart and fortunate.  (He flopped at some other businesses.)

I’ve bought two buildings. The first building, I put down 25 percent and got a 10 ¾-percent mortgage. That was the going rate in 1987.

The second building, I put down 15 percent. I bought it from an old guy who was dying. I was dying too!  The old guy lived another 21 years.  The seller financed the deal; I didn’t have to go to the bank for a mortgage. I paid him off 17 years later. It worked out.

The first building — the one with the 10 ¾-percent mortgage —  I paid off as quickly as possible.  Took 7 1/2 years.

Win more than lose, hopefully.

And don’t chase 20 percent returns!

Hey, did my kids read this far?

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December 25, 2013   8 Comments

{TODAY I AM A MAN} X 2

My son Jack played his first professional gig with Yiddishe Cup at age 8, when I gave him five dollars to play “Wipe Out.” We were at a temple Chanukah party.  Before that gig, he had done pro bono work, sitting in frequently with the band and stealing the show. The senior citizens loved him.

Jack, age 4, 1992, Beachwood library, tambourines and drumsticks.

Years later, Shirley Guralnik, a fan of the band, would ask me, “How’s the little one?” And I would answer, “The little one is in college now and bigger than me.” Shirley died in 2011. She had followed  Jack’s career from the beginning.

Jack never got nervous.  A case of nerves was hard to develop if, like Groucho Marx, your stage-mom (or dad, in this case) put you on stage practically in diapers.

I told Jack I would pay him $75 — real money — for a real gig after his bar mitzvah.  He would be Yiddishe Cup’s drummer for some gigs. He wouldn’t just sit in.

He did great.

Jack got uptight only once.  It was at his own bar mitzvah — not the music, reading Torah.  The rabbi asked him, “How nervous are you on a scale of 1 to 10.”

“Eight.”

“That’s not bad,” the rabbi said.

Jack said, “I’ve never been an 8 before!”

***

Jack, 13, 2000, at his first "real money" gig

Jack’s $75 gig was at the Barrington Golf Club in Aurora, Ohio.  A country club staffer asked if she should light the Christmas tree for the bar mitzvah luncheon.  I said,  “Not a good idea.”

On the way home, we stopped by my dad’s grave on Aurora Road.   I told Jack to place an old clarinet reed on the grave marker.

My point? 1) I didn’t have any old drumsticks. 2) I was at my father’s grave with my youngest kid, who I had just paid to work, just like my father had paid me (to paint walls, argh). The cracked reed fit into the Jewish star on the grave marker.

My son got the $75.


Jack’s band, Vulfpeck, 2013. Jack on keys.

(Today I am a man)  X 2  =  Age 26, 2013

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October 9, 2013   2 Comments

MY DAD HAD A
GOOD SHORT GAME

“Anything within 10 feet of the cup, Toby sank,” said Hy Birnbaum, a friend of my late father.

I saw Hy at the drugstore, where he worked part-time as a pharmacist.  He was about 85 at the time. Hy said all his friends were dead.  (My dad, Toby, had been dead about 25 years.)

I ran into John Kelly, who worked with my dad 30-some years ago at the key company.  John said one of the “big bosses’” had slept overnight in the key-company office because he had marital problems. This big boss, Sid, had a slew of problems.  His kids were “real hippies,” said John. Sid was a loud-mouth, know-it-all, country-club Jew from Shaker Heights, I remember my dad saying. Toby liked to kvetch about Sid almost nightly at dinnertime.

My dad disliked most “big bosses.” Who didn’t. One “big boss” my dad tolerated, luckily, was the key company president, Manny Schor, who was a World Federalist, very intelligent and not a show off.

Manny came to my gigs occasionally in later years.  (Most of the big bosses at the key company were Jewish.  The company was owned by a Jew.) Manny said, “I can still picture your father sitting at his desk.”

So could I.

Why were these old guys still alive and my dad dead?  That’s what I  wanted to know. My dad’s long game wasn’t so great.

—-

Where are they now:
Toby Stratton  1917 – 1986
Sid  1921 – 2000
Manny Schor  1918 – 2009
John Kelly  1931 – 2011
Hy Birnbaum  1925 –

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October 2, 2013   6 Comments

PAPES

I feel bad for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. The PD is understaffed and demoralized. But I feel worse for myself. I want my local news, in print, on the breakfast table every morning.  (The paper is now home-delivered only four days a week.)

Yes, I’ve heard of the Internet and iPads.  I’m not going that way with my papes!

When John Gilligan, an ex-Ohio governor, died, I read about it two days late. That’s not right; I should have gotten that news sooner.

I’m signing up for Pony Express.

The Wall Street Journal stopped coming to my house the same day the Plain Dealer died (August 5).  All newspaper home-delivery got screwed up. A neighbor — nine houses away — still received the Wall Street Journal. I took hers. She didn’t need it!  (She has a different delivery guy, apparently.)

My cousin George, a big sports fan, is in a newspaper funk too, because he can’t read the Plain Dealer sports pages daily with his morning coffee.

Everybody over 50, please repeat with me: “Screw Newhouse!” (Newhouse owns the PD.)

My son Ted delivered the Sun Press, a weekly.  I was his sub.  My dad delivered the Cleveland News.  My grandfather delivered the Vilna Bugle (Shofar), maybe. My dad wouldn’t allow me to be a paperboy.  He wanted me to enjoy life more than he did.

I enjoy papes. Where are my papes?


SIDE B

This is a fake profile. The complete fake-profiles series is here.

WHATEVER IT TAKES

I’ve played Perchik and Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof.

Sometimes I get calls from small-town theater troupes to discuss Jewish stuff, like Fiddler. They ask about yarmulkes and the breaking of the glass, and chair lifting.

I make up stuff. I’ve been to enough Jewish weddings to know the rabbis make up stuff too — particularly about the glass breaking. There are many reasons why the glass is broken. All bobe mayses (old wives’ tales).

When I’m not acting, I do a one-man variety show. I play a little guitar, hand drum, even harmonica, and I sing. I know some Yiddish. I use backing tracks.

Here’s a promo pic from my glory days. I use it sparingly, now that I’m 59 . . . . . . . . . . . . .

I should advertise in the back of Hadassah mag like Ruth Kaye and Caryn Bark. Who are they?

Who am I? I hear you.  I live in Jersey and play the nursing home circuit in the tri-state region. And I work Florida in the winters.

I’ve played Tevye three times. I’ve also played the lead in Jesus Christ Superstar at summer stock in Ohio.

Whatever it takes.

L’shanah tova. (Happy New Year.)

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September 4, 2013   2 Comments

NEVER ON FRIDAY AFTERNOON

I had two hot water tanks go out in the same building on the same day,  a Friday afternoon.

Four guys can carry in a 92-gallon commercial hot water tank .  And I can pay $5,400 for their fun.

No plumbers were around.  They were all preparing their boats for Lake Erie weekend-cruising.

I reached Stack Heating.   Stack said he didn’t do commercial hot-water tanks.  Just boilers. I reached Royal Flush.  They said they couldn’t get it until Tuesday.  Dale at Madison Plumbing could do it Monday.  Pompeii said never. B & B Hot Water Tank said no thanks.

I started flipping through the Yellow Pages.  That is the end of the world.

I braced myself for calls, like “Mr. Landlord,  there is no hot water.  How am I supposed to go to work without showering? ” . . . “I have to stay at my parents’ house and it’s 60 miles from work . . . ”

It’s not pleasant, these scenes.

I  got Bill the plumber.  He came by and blow-torched the old tanks to dry them.  (The tanks had flooded because a sump pump had failed.)   The plumber gave the first tank a 50-50 chance of recovery.  The second tank had 40 percent chance, he said.  I liked his odds.

The first tank went on after six hours of pampering. We were good.

Still, it was no picnic.

 . . . Dear Landlord,  I have  deducted $275 from my rent payment because I  stayed in a hotel for three days due to the lack of hot water.

Didn’t happen!


SIDE B

In honor of the mildest summer ever . . .

WICKIN’ COOL

I threw out my dad’s wife-beater T-shirts. About time. My father died 27 years ago. The wife-beaters were balled up in my dresser drawer.

When it’s 90-plus degrees — which it isn’t often this summer — I think “wife-beaters.” I used to wear my dad’s wife-beaters around the house.

My wife bought me a wicking T-shirt with UV protection at Target. Only $11. It was cooler than the wife-beater.

I saved one of my father’s T-shirts for posterity and threw the rest out.

Underwear fashion is generational. My grown sons aren’t interested in my wife-beaters. My dad wore his wife-beaters under dress shirts for work, for his day job at the key company.

I’m going to buy a couple more ultra-light wicking T-shirts.

No doubt, my sons will pitch my ultra-lights when I’m either dead or not looking. By 2025, T-shirts will be spray-on from a can.

Meanwhile, I’m wickin’ cool.


A version of  “Wickin’ Cool” was on CoolCleveland.com 7/12/12.

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August 28, 2013   2 Comments

SHOES — MY DAD’S

I. PURCELLS  

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 . . .

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May 1, 2013   No Comments