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 Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Washington Post.


 
 

Category — Toby

MY DAD WAS A NUMBERS GUY

This post is for everybody who read my Wall Street Journal article about my dad and wants more info on him. (The article, which was in Monday’s WSJ, is linked here.)

My father, Toby, got a letter from a Piney Woods Arkansas man, extolling my dad’s homemade foot powder: “Mr. Lesbert: Do NOT stop making the powdor! Do NOT stop!!” Toby used to make the foot powder in the basement. The company was Lesbert Drug Co., named after my sister, Leslie, and me. My dad stopped making the powder. The Arkansas man was about his only customer.

Then Toby started selling cosmetics. Then he starting buying buildings . . . on and on. He was the Jewish Willy Loman. (Kind of like how Dave Tarras — the klezmer clarinetist — was the Jewish Benny Goodman.)

My dad schlepped me to banks. I remember a banker who called my dad “Teddy.” That was weird. My father’s given name was Theodore and his Jewish nickname was Toby. This banker liked to talk Tribe (baseball) and his wife’s spaghetti recipes. The banker was a “people’s person,” he said. (Maybe he was a dogs’ person too.)

My father was not a people’s person. He was the Lone Ranger. He got the mortgage and we got out of there.

My dad owned one LP record, of the Ohio State marching band. My dad owned stock records. Toby bought his first stock, Seaboard Air Line, when he was at Ohio State. Air line meant train line back then. Air line was the shortest distance between two points — the way the crow flies. My dad never made money on stocks. He was too busy buying and selling and not holding. Toby was a stockbroker —  a “customer’s man” — for about six months in 1955 at Bache & Co.

He liked numbers. He was totally a numbers guy.

Confidential report (1958): “On the basis of an analysis of the personal history and psychological test results, we believe that Mr. Stratton has the experience and ability to successfully handle his present position [at Curtis Industries, a car-key manufacturer]. He has shown personality characteristics, however, which may cause him to be difficult to get along with and, therefore, a supervisory problem.”

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September 20, 2021   4 Comments

SHOES — MY DAD’S

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 I 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. But I’m too lazy to go to the specialty shoestore to replenish. So lately I’m rocking Rockports.

When my then-20-year-old 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.

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August 4, 2021   4 Comments

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

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   11 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

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

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

TRUCKIN’

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.


SIDE B

FITBIT

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.

Brisk walking. If you do it, ipso facto, you’re a dork.

I gave up jogging last year. My right knee wasn’t into it anymore. I miss the “sweat” of jogging.

I walk.

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.)

Your count?

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.

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December 26, 2012   1 Comment

KILLER FLOORING

1.

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.

Armstrong no-wax. Tuncle, 1984. (2010 photo)

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.

 

2.

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.

 

3.

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.”

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September 19, 2012   6 Comments

GOLF OR TAXES

 

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.

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

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.
“ lbert
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?

Blue ink.

No thanks.

***

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?

I don’t.

—-
Here’s an op-ed, “From Soltzberg to Stratton,” from last week’s Jerusalem Post (Jan. 17).

Theodore “Toby” Stratton (ne Soltzberg), 1938, age 21

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January 25, 2012   10 Comments

TOSSED OUT

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.

The good news: the government — unlike the photographer — paid for the clean-up.  Also, I got $75 for the Armed Forces sign on Craigslist.  (I thought the sign would go for more.)

Perfume bottle doubling as a pen holder

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.

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August 10, 2011   5 Comments