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.



My family came across two ticks in Connecticut. The ticks got on my wife and daughter. We were in CT for a friend’s wedding, and after the wedding we spent some time at a resort on the CT/New York State border. My wife asked the concierge at the resort for a hiking trail. He sent us to a nearby nature reserve; he didn’t warn us about ticks.

The only tick I’d ever seen — before that  — was Tik Krieger, the late aunt of my friend Shelly Gordon. (Theresa “Tikvah” Krieger.)

My family ran in a meadow in CT, like in a Wyeth painting. We lay in a field. It was idyllic. We were dumb about ticks. When we got back to the resort, Alice noticed a tick on her hip. She pulled the tick out with tweezers. (Let’s hear it for tweezers — the word.) Then Alice found a tick in our daughter’s hair. Alice got it out and accidentally dropped it back into Lucy’s hair. Lucy wasn’t happy about that. Lucy’s husband got out his iPhone flashlight, and he and Alice re-found the tick.

We googled ticks. Everybody in CT knows a lot about ticks. CT is Tick World. On our way home — on the drive to LaGuardia — I read a front-page story about ticks in the Wall Street Journal. Ticks are very numerous this summer.

I have a problem with CT. I don’t like its size (too small), its spelling (too complicated), or its wildlife.

btw, we’re OK.

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July 5, 2023   3 Comments


I bought a white linen sports coat in Colombia that has a very 1950s Cuban look to it. I needed it for my daughter’s destination wedding in Colombia. I got a Panama hat, too. Made in Colombia, not China. I have the Meyer Lansky-in-Cuba look down.

I’m not a shopper. So buying the white jacket at a fancy shop in Cartagena, Colombia, was memorable. There were a lot of pastels. Photo, please . . .

I didn’t think I’d get much use out of the jacket after the wedding, but I’ve worn it a couple times since. I wore it to a friend’s wedding this month. I was the only person in a white jacket, which was cool. At least I thought so. The coat is not a polyester Cleveland Pops rag. It’s a nice-looking piece of cloth. Then I wore it to a gig. As bandleader I can wear whatever I want.

Tonight [June 24] I’m going to the summer solstice bash at the Cleveland Museum of Art. I just bought the ticket. I’m going solo. And if I don’t go, the money goes to the art museum. All good. Three Latin bands will play outside the museum. I’m thinking of wearing the white linen jacket. Why not?

. . . I went. Two friends came along, as it turned out. My outfit was a hit. I am officially a fashionista. A random partygoer complimented me on my “linen.” Another said I looked like I was in Jurassic Park. A Colombian musician dug my hat.

I’m looking for more opportunities for my white linen sports coat.

Yo, at the summer solstice party, Cleveland Museo de Arte, June 24, 2023

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June 27, 2023   8 Comments


When Sweeney moved out, he left a huge pile of empty beer cartons. The apartment was a mess. I was surprised, because Sweeney was always so polite, so I figured he’d be clean, too. He called me whenever he was late with the rent. His final call was “I tried like hell to come up with the rent but couldn’t.” Sweeney said he was moving to Cedar Point to work.

Sweeney’s kitchen

He was very polite. I already said that, but it bears repeating. Most tenants, when they’re late with their rent, they don’t call you. Sweeney said, “Don’t bother with an eviction. I turned in the keys. I didn’t have time to clean. I’d be happy to stay in touch. If you have any concerns, please feel free to reach me.” He said his security deposit would probably cover the cleanup.

No way. Should I call Sweeney and spell out “P-I-G” on his voicemail? He was such a polite guy. If you have any concerns? Yes, I do.

I had an essay in Belt Magazine on Father’s Day about the one and only Toby Stratton. Check the article out here.

Toby Stratton at American Greetings, 1954. Age 37

I wrote an essay on how I got scammed.  The article was in the Cleveland Plain Dealer last week and was paywalled. So here’s the article, pasted in:

June 16, 2023


CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio — I used to scoff at “AARP Bulletin” articles about scams targeting the elderly. How could my fellow AARP members be so gullible? Do they walk around with credit-card numbers taped to their foreheads? Do they give out personal information to random callers from India?

I used to scoff. I got scammed last month. Here was the setup. Say, your grandchild had a sporting event, school play, or concert in North Carolina and you live in Cleveland, and the scammer informed you there was a free livestream of the event. You could watch the event from your La-Z-Boy in Cleveland Heights. Nice.

Not so nice. For instance, my son, who lives in Los Angeles, has a band which played a show in Illinois last month. Every Memorial Day weekend, approximately 20,000 people attend the Summer Camp Music Festival outside of Peoria, Illinois. I was not in summer-camp mode last month. For one thing, I didn’t relish standing in a field with several thousand young people, some of whom are colloquially known as wooks. According to the Urban Dictionary, a wook is “a dirty, vagrant variety of hippie. Almost always unemployed, following around jam bands or festivals, and ripping people off.” The Urban Dictionary definition is probably extreme, but still, I didn’t feel like doing the field research to find out.

I would gladly live-stream my son’s show from home. I clicked the live-stream link on the festival’s Facebook page and gave them my credit card info. Slightly Stoopid. That’s the name of a well-known jam band on the festival circuit. And it’s me. The phony live-stream link was posted by a commenter on the festival’s Facebook page. My son had told me the festival wouldn’t be live-streamed, but who was I going to believe — my son or the internet?

Apparently other parents, grandparents and friends give credit-card information to fake live-streamers for bogus concerts and sporting events. The Better Business Bureau and various state athletic associations have issued warnings. The North Carolina High School Athletic Association cautioned: “There are hundreds of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube events being promoted, sometimes within prominent online groups, that appear to be real live streams, but are phishing for your personal information, and sometimes trying to install malware on your device.”

Was I just slightly stupid or 100-percent? My son’s band, Vulfpeck, is legit. They’re playing the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in Manchester, Tennessee, tonight, and that festival is being live-streamed — for real — on Hulu. Vulfpeck’s slot on the bill is after midnight – Saturday, at 1:45 am Eastern time — following Kendrick Lamar.

Shortly after I disclosed my credit-card information, I noticed a char​​ge on my card for $1.08 from Toned Glutes. Toned glutes? I asked my wife if it was her charge, and she said no. And I knew — from reading AARP articles– that phishers often start with small charges, hope you don’t notice, and then hit you with a major credit-card charge.

Allison, at Chase Bank, confirmed I had been scammed. “Toned Glutes” aligned, she said, with spurious foreign phone numbers and links on her computer. So I jettisoned my Chase card. Now comes my punishment: changing all my autopays. AARP knows best. Lesson learned.

Jack Stratton on a Yiddishe Cup gig, 2017.

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June 20, 2023   2 Comments


I wrote four novels in my 20s and 30s and had a topnotch agent. The agent handled Merle Miller, John Knowles, Garrison Keillor and me. I got rejected by high-quality publishing houses, like E.P. Dutton, Doubleday, Viking, Random House and Simon & Schuster. (How many of these publishing houses still exist?) I knew I’d get rejected a lot, but every three months for about 14 years? I developed the skin of a rhino.

My friend Harvey Pekar could kvetch. Then bingo, Dec. 31, 1979, The Village Voice ran a rave about Harvey’s comic books, and everybody suddenly liked Harvey’s stuff. Pekar walked to the post office almost daily to check his P.O. box for fan mail. He said, “Two or three of these [fan letters] a month keeps me going.”

Back to me . . . (Check out what I’ve written about Pekar here.) My final novel was about a Slovenian cop in Collinwood. I think Pekar would have appreciated. Not sure, because by then Pekar was married to his third wife, who didn’t let him hang around with his old friends. My novel had  a weak plot. I wish I could do plots but I can’t. Whenever I hear “let me tell you a story,” I want to scram. Some rabbis like to tell stories. That’s their shtick: “Hey, here’s a parable.” Storytelling, that’s a buzzword. (Buzzword is a buzzword.)

A Viking editor wrote me: “You have a nice way with words, your dialogues are good, and your characters emerge as individuals.” That was probably my best rejection. My worst one was from my dad, who told me I was on “one big ego trip.” But my dad never abandoned me. He even wrote my literary agent to try to boost my stock. In 1973, when I was “on the road” in Latin America, my dad opened my mail in Cleveland and corresponded with my agent. He wrote her: “I have no quick way to contact Bert as he is traveling in Mexico.” My dad became my literary secretary.

Thirteen years later. 1986. My dad died fairly suddenly of leukemia and as soon as he was in the ground, I started searching for the letter he had written my agent. I looked through all my father’s paperwork, but his writings were mostly about toilets, radiators and insurance. He owned apartment buildings in Lakewood. He wrote, “Light incinerators from the top so they burn down . . . Thermocouples are our biggest problem. Kick in manually if necessary.”

I tried reaching the literary agent in New York; I wanted her to dig up the letter. But she was retired. A younger agent wrote back, “We were touched and wish we could produce your father’s letter but, alas, it is among the missing. The back files of the agency are at the Columbia University library. We thin our files from time and time, and I have to assume that your father’s letter fell victim to the thinning process.”

John Knowles visited my agent’s office twice a month to chat. My agent submitted A Separate Peace to 27 publishers before Macmillan picked it up in 1960. Why didn’t the agent get me  27 rejections-per-book? (Aside: My friend and op-ed writer Jimmy Sollisch says he’s going to write a piece about near misses. He says everybody has a good near-miss story. True.)

Toby Stratton, 1967. Age 50.

Toby Straton, 1967. Age 50

My dad urged me to get more involved in the family business, like point up some bricks, paint some walls, and get my hands dirty. He thought I should back off the typing and deal with real characters — plumbers, painters, bankers, insurance men.

I went into the real estate business, oh yeah. I stopped writing books and worked on a new long-term project —  becoming worthy of the tombstone epitaph: “This guy didn’t screw up the family business.”

I found my dad’s correspondence with my agent a couple years ago. The letter was in the attic among some rejections. Here’s the letter . . .

“As Bert’s father, I’m sure you will understand my taking this opportunity, though I know Bert will shoot me the first chance he gets, to add that coupled with his talent he is a very dedicated, hard-working and disciplined writer. His heart, soul and efforts are all wrapped up in his work. And he started another book before he went off to Mexico to travel. On Bert’s behalf, I want to thank you for your encouraging letter, your interest in his book and everything you will do to try to get it published. Please do not hesitate to write me if I can be of further help during Bert’s absence. Thanks you so much and good luck.”

Is that an acceptance letter?

[This essay appeared, in slightly different form, in Belt Magazine in 2015. “My Acceptance Letter.”]

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June 14, 2023   2 Comments


I got a poem published in The World. The problem was my then-girlfriend, Nora, didn’t know what the The World was. Probably four people in all of Ann Arbor knew what The World was. It was a poetry magazine from the St. Mark’s Poetry Project, New York City. My poem was alongside  poems by Peter Orlovsky, Ed Sanders, Frank O’Hara, Ted Berrigan.

Nora knew Ed Sanders from The Fugs, and I reminded her Orlovsky was Ginsberg’s boyfriend. Also, she knew about Berrigan because I talked about him so much. He had taught at Michigan three years earlier, and I’d taken his course.

Now, 1972, Berrigan passed through Ann Arbor again, and he gave me the news I was in The World. Berrigan was at the U. for a poetry reading (better, “to read poems”) in the Multipurpose Room at the UGLI (Undergraduate Library). After his reading, I asked Ted if he remembered me from 1969, and he said yes, and he said, “I see you’re in the latest World. Me and you both!” He pulled out a copy. I flipped.

Later I celebrated with Nora at Gino’s, a fast-food hamburger joint on North State Street. (Gino’s was founded by Gino Marchetti of the Baltimore Colts). At Gino’s, in walked Steve Rosen. He had been in Donald Hall’s creative writing class with me. “Hey, Rosen, I got in The World!”

Steve flipped. Steve knew the names of almost all the small lit mags in the country, and he’d sent out poems to some crazy places, like to Stevens College in Columbia, Missouri. Steve pointed out to Nora that I was now in the majors. Thank you, Steve.

Still, I didn’t have a copy of the mag. Berrigan had possibly the only copy of The World in the Midwest. Berrigan said he’d meet me after the poetry reading to go drinking. He would meet up with me and a handful of other Berrigan acolytes. The meet-up didn’t happen. Berrigan went off to Detroit, I think. I spent the evening calling a somewhat-random number and asking, “Is Ted Berrigan there?”

The World was on sale at New Morning Books, St. Mark’s Bookshop and Gotham Book Mart in New York City. The World wasn’t in the real world, but it was my world.

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June 7, 2023   5 Comments


I’m experiencing flashbacks. Not unusual. I get these South Euclid flashbacks frequently. I remember when my uncle Bob got old and started dreaming about the Kinsman Road streetcar of his youth. At least that’s what he told me. He was decades out of Cleveland, too, living in Georgia.

The first two periods (classes) of high school, we practiced marching-band routines in the church parking next to the school. The parking lot had first-down markers and was the size of a football field. I stayed only one period. I could get away with that because I wasn’t a regular. I was an alternate. Every game, I marched in a different position. I spent more time remembering where to turn than actually playing music.

The band was fronted by the Golden Girl and the Silver Twins — baton-twirlers modeled after the Purdue University system. There were also flag-waving majorettes and a drum major. I joined marching band because I couldn’t be in concert band if I wasn’t in marching band. Was I a highbrow music snob? No. Mozart — never heard of the guy.

Concert band, for me, was a social thing. It was like gym because it was a mix of the entire student body. In concert band we annoyed the band director by chatting instead of listening. A couple times he got so mad he threw pencils at us. He never connected because the pencils hit the music stands.

The concert-band room had four white fiberglass sousaphones. Each sousaphone had a letter in the bell.  One sousaphone had A,  one R, one C, and one S. ARCS was the school nickname. Charles F Brush High in Lyndhurst, Ohio. Charles Brush — a contemporary of Edison — invented the arc light. That was a quality name — Arcs. Much better than Wildcats or Tigers. The school colors were brown and gold. Also quality.

We played Shaker Heights High. It was an afternoon game. Shaker didn’t have lights. Didn’t want to attract rowdies with Friday-night lights, I think. There were no fire-twirling baton-twirlers at the afternoon game. One of our band members walked across the entire football field on his hands. That was part of a Mary Poppins halftime show. We formed a kite and played “Let’s Go Fly a Kite.”

After the game I jumped on the band bus and watched the majorettes put away their flags and batons. We drove back to Lyndhurst, singing “Brush High Varsity” and “We’re From Brush High, Couldn’t Be Prouder.” We lost all our games.

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May 31, 2023   3 Comments


“You really want to stay here?” my friend Mark Schilling said. “Back to the womb? The Cuyahoga River as the umbilical cord. There are so many others ways to go, and why stay in a place that stinks in so many ways.”

“Yeah, well.”

“This place is a nuthouse, right? Admit it. Even if you do have all the comforts of home. Why kid yourself. You know the signs. You should fuck James A. Rhodes and all the assholes who voted for him. Christ, you wait any longer, you’ll be left with just Hal Lebovitz’s sports columns and Mom’s pastrami sandwiches.”

“Yeah, well.”

“Kerouac, Buk and all the other guys aren’t great because they sat on their asses and made a lot of neat excuses. They’ve done it; begged for pennies in the street, licked spit off the floor. All that good shit. They’ve done it. The whole fucking tour. What have you done? You can’t sit on your ass in the library and expect salvation. I’m just saying.”

[circa 1972.]

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May 23, 2023   1 Comment


I get a kick looking at buildings for sale. Any kind of building: office, commercial, multi-family. I feel like I’m going out on a date. My heart races. Not everybody is a deal junkie, I know. Deals are stressful and there’s a lot of posturing. Most people don’t go for it. There’s risk — enormous risk.

I know brokers. They all work on commission. Nobody is on salary. They eat what they kill. There’s a lot of BS, as you can imagine.

When I  see a property that throws a nice bottom line, I skip around my living room like a kid. I do a deal or two a year. My dad owned a shoe store in Willowick. His landlord was Albert Ratner. When I first started, I called Ratner. I cold-called him. He agreed to meet me at his Terminal Tower office. I said, “My dad used to have the shoe store in Willowick. Remember him?” Of course Ratner remembered my dad. We talked about Arnold’s Shoes. Ratner said, “I take it you don’t want to sell shoes. You want to learn about real estate. Then do it. Buy a building and learn it.”

I did. I like it. I like almost every facet of real estate. I even like bankers.

Granted, there are always holes to patch. Asphalt, concrete. Nothing lasts forever. Office buildings — the worst. Medical-office space – the absolute worst. Medical is very painful. Doctor as tenants, they think they’re God.

Multi-family . . . I’ve made a fortune there. I’ve got a crew that’s on top of everything. Still, I handle some of the mishigas myself. A tenant calls and says, “Hey, my bathroom ceiling is falling in.” Ever heard of humidity, buddy? Open a window. “Hey, my stove smells like carbon monoxide.” Bullshit. Carbon monoxide is odorless. “Hey, my cat is dying from the black mold in the bathroom.” Black mold is not Black Plague, deary. Get some Clorox and a scrub brush.

I like foreclosures; I like straight-cash deals; I like leverage. I’m a deal animal. For me, there’s nothing better than hanging around old people at Jewish Federation events and asking if they own property. Some sell, some don’t. No broker. Sweet.

I have holdings in Ohio, Utah, Florida and Texas. I’m not only Rust Belt. I learned that from Ratner.

Please call my assistant if you’ve got something for me to look at. Thank you.


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May 16, 2023   1 Comment


I hadn’t seen Bill in approximately 20 years. I  remembered he was a computer nut, but then I discovered, upon meeting him again, he was also a boiler nut. When he came over for dinner, he wanted to see the boiler in my basement just for fun. I have a low-pressure, two-pipe system. I said, “You should come to the West Side to look at boilers. I’ve got boilers over there as big as locomotives.”

Bill advised me not to set back the thermostat on my house every night. With a steam boiler system, you don’t save any money that way, he said. So for 21 years I’d been freezing my ass off every winter for nothing? I always set back my thermostat. Repeat (from Bill): don’t set the thermostat back. I asked a commercial boiler guy the next day, and he agreed with Bill.

This dinner meet-up with Bill was 10 years ago, and I still set my thermostat back. Maybe Bill is wrong.

Here’s “Blues for Horseshoe Lake,” my latest polemic about saving the lake. The essay is in today’s Plain Dealer.

Yiddishe Cup plays a free Mother’s Day concert 2-3 pm Sunday (May 14) at the Beachwood (Ohio) library. You need to register because there is limited seating. Approximately 30 seats left.

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May 9, 2023   1 Comment


I’m a German klezmer musician. Everyone thinks that fascinating. Everyone has questions for me.

Here are the answers:

I didn’t know any Jews. I just liked the music. My aunt told me, “Why do you play that silly music? You’re German!” I don’t think klezmer is silly music! I’ve studied Yiddish and I’ve been to klezmer conferences, and I have Jewish friends now.

Every year I play memorial programs, and each time at the Kristallnacht commemoration in my town there is always at least one Jewish tourist who comes up to me and says, “Are you Jewish?” And I say no, and he’s says, “You have to be!” Sometimes I tell him my grandfather is Romanian. It’s not true; I am German, but if a Jewish person insists I’m Jewish, who am I to disappoint him?

I am a klezmer musician, or a German klezmer musician. Your choice. I never wanted to be a Jew, and I never wanted to be not a Jew. Somebody once said, “You’re not really a Jew unless at one point in your life you didn’t want to be a Jew.” So maybe I am Jewish.

An American once called me a “poseur.” I had to look that word up. He claimed to be a klezmer musician from Cleveland, Ohio. He told me I shouldn’t play klezmer music because I’m not Jewish. He was emphatic about that. The middle of the United States is too red, I think.

Do I feel guilty about the Holocaust? Why should I? I don’t follow the tradition of my great-grandparents. If you think I’m a bad person for playing music from somewhere else, then you know damn little about music.

[fake profile]

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May 3, 2023   1 Comment


At various Yiddishe Cup gigs, I was often surprised how the crowd would ask for Israeli tunes more than klezmer (Eastern European) tunes. Jews in Cleveland wanted Israeli music, got that? OK, I gave it to them. (Aside: classic Israeli tunes are easier to play than klezmer, which is instrument-based and leans toward virtuosic. Also, klezmer rhythms are typically more complex than classic Israeli tunes.)

Yiddishe Cup learned a lot of Israeli tunes, enough that many Israelis assumed we could belt out contemporary (not “classic”) Israeli music.

Israeli music —  in the trade — is known as “Tel Aviv bus station music.” We had no clue how to play it. Luckily there was an Israeli singer in Cleveland, Shlomo Ziton, to cover that niche for 0ur town’s Israeli-American contingent.

On one Israel Independence Day (Yom Ha’atzmaut) I got in a dispute with a dance enthusiast who complained I wasn’t playing enough Israeli folk dances. “Too much klezmer,” he said. So I worked out a formula: play Israeli chalutzim (pioneer) classics, and for contemporary Israeli stuff plug in my iPhone or CD (depending on the decade). Very little klezmer.

Happy birthday, Israel!

And by the way, there was an article by Daniel Hoffman in Haaretz on Monday headlined “Why Do Israelis Still Hate Klezmer Music?” (Paywall.) “Secular Israelis have long rejected klezmer, an overt, emotional expression of Ashkenazi Jewish musical culture. Sometimes the strength of that opposition – and resistance to anything Yiddish, religious or associated with the Holocaust – knocks me flat.”

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April 26, 2023   1 Comment


When a rent check bounces, the bank charges me. I didn’t bounce the check. Am I supposed to ask my tenants, “Is your check good, or is it tissue paper?”

Eve, a tenant, ran a beauty parlor and was a chronic check-bouncer. She once screamed at me: “My freaking check is good! Why don’t you put it in! I hand-delivered it to the manager yesterday.”

“The bank charges me!” I said. “I just called the bank. The teller said it was no good.”

Eve was at the bank. The check was now good, she claimed. And I had just gone to city hall and filed an eviction on her for $100. Now Eve owed me $100, plus the rent. I said, “OK, I’ll put the check in if it’s good.” I would eat the $100 filing fee.

“The check is good!” she said. “I pay my rent and I intend to pay it until the end of my lease, at which point I’m out of here! And you haven’t fixed the back screen door.”

Unfair what-about-ism, Eve. I said, “I’m evil, I know that. You don’t like me, and I don’t like you.” I hung up and called the bank. The check was good.

Peace and prosperity.

Then next month Eve was back in Bounce City. At the eviction hearing, she cried and walked out, wailing, “I’m crying just like a girl!” The bailiff red-tagged her; he taped a red writ of restitution to the door of her store. She had 10 days to move.

She didn’t. She paid her rent. She was legally evicted, but not real-life evicted.

The following month Eve didn’t pay her rent or show up at court. She called and told me her “baby daddy” wasn’t giving her kid enough money. Also, the store’s electric was off. She hadn’t paid the bill. She couldn’t cut hair without electricity.

That was her problem. The bailiff gave her a second red tag.

My locksmith picked the beauty salon’s front door lock, re-keyed the cylinder ($142 for the pick job), and I walked in. Everything was gone — the barber chairs, wash stations and wall cabinets. Ripped out. The red tag was still there.

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April 19, 2023   1 Comment


The storefront was vacant a couple years, and then suddenly two people wanted it. 1.) Jim, a tailor and dry cleaner  2.) Kim, who sold bridal gowns. Jim said he had 20 years experience running a dry cleaners down the street. The shop went out of business in the middle of the night. Twenty years was good, but closing in the middle of the night wasn’t. As for Kim, the bridal-gown woman, she was picky, like “this door isn’t secure” and “what’s with the stain in the ceiling?”

I said, “Stuff leaks. There are people living above.”

“How often does it leak?” she said.

“Maybe once a year. You should have insurance on your gowns.”

Jim, the dry cleaner, wanted month to month. And he wanted paint jobs — extra work. That was strange — the paint-job request. You need at least $10,000 to start a business, and Jim wanted odd jobs on the side? And what was with the month to month? “Month to month is common,” he said.

No, it’s not, not for commercial leases. I told him if he gave me a security deposit by Sunday, we’d do a  one-year lease. But he didn’t come up with the money. I called Kim. She wanted to look over the lease. I said, “Jim might want the store. I’m at the show-me-the-money phase.”

Jim needed more documents, whatever that meant. Kim said she’d be by at 3 p.m. with the money.

At noon, Ron, my maintenance guy, called and said there was a flood in the store. “Water is coming in from the ceiling. Two inches. Build an Ark. It’s just flooding like crazy.”

“Ron, she’s due in three hours. She won’t rent if she sees a flood. She’s picky. Make the ceiling white. I don’t care if you use toothpaste.”

“I can’t paint wet plaster.”

“Maybe I can get her to come tomorrow,” I said.

I got Kim to show at 8 a.m. the next morning, and she rented the place. (The leak was from a hole in the gutter in back, plus the downspout was out of alignment. We fixed all that.)

Kim rented for nine years. The dry cleaner, who knows what happened to him.

My latest essay in the Wall Street Journal is “My Dad Escaped Taxes, but Not Death.”

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April 12, 2023   1 Comment


I’m a whale. I get free parking and free food, and I even have a free cruise lined up. I can go anywhere in the world, but it’s gotta be on Norwegian. Also, I can stay at any Harrah’s for free. Where to? Vegas? Tahoe? San Diego?

I hang out with Serbian furniture dealers. I mostly play poker. I won’t tell you the details. Let’s just say poker is the best game in the house if you know what you’re doing.

I make money and I lose money. If you ever want a free casino buffet meal, see me. I have rewards.

[fake profile / fiction]

Happy Passover. Here’s my recent essay in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “Passed Over for a Grocery-Store Passover Gig.”

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April 5, 2023   2 Comments


At big bar mitzvah parties, the teens are sometimes in a room with a DJ, while the klezmer band plays in an adjacent room for the AKs. I’m OK with that. I don’t whine about sharing the bill. Frankly, it’s rare to see a klez band in any room at a bar mitzvah. It’s mostly a DJ scene.

Hadassah – the women’s organization — sponsored Simchapalooza, a bar mitzvah fair, where bar mitzvah moms shopped for DJs, balloon twisters, video guys and caterers. I had a booth. Nobody stopped by. Maybe I reeked of herring. The Bar Mitzvah King, DJ Terry Macklin, drew a crowd. He had three exhibition tables strung end to end. He offered full-service: invitations, catering, DJ services and photo booths.

Rock the House — mere youngsters — eventually encroached on Terry’s DJ turf. Rock the House wasn’t black like Macklin, but they worked on it. And they were a lot younger than Macklin.

There was a lower-rung DJ, Joey Gentile, who advertised “Mitzvah Services” in the Cleveland Jewish News. I sent his ad to Moment magazine, which held an ongoing contest highlighting funny real-life ads, like “Easter Challah $3.99 Special.” My submission read “Gentile Mitzvah Services.” Didn’t get in.

A man from the Bar Mitzvah Guide, published in New York, called and asked me to buy an ad. He was doing an Ohio version. The Bar Mitzvah Guide carried ads for everything from bottle dancers to personalized chocolate bars. The man called me way too often. The final time, I said, “I’ll place an ad but I bet you won’t take it.”

“Try me,” he said.

“I want the text to read ‘Yiddishe Cup. If the other ads in here aren’t your bag, we are.’”

He took the ad.

And we didn’t get any gigs.

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March 28, 2023   3 Comments


Mickey grew up on the street over from me. He had seven siblings. His dad was a Sealtest milkman. Mickey scored touchdowns. Who can forget his touchdown run against Wiley Junior High? And there was one against Memorial Junior High, too, I seem to recall.

We didn’t hang out that much in high school. So be it. Mostly grade school and junior high.

After Bowling Green U., Mickey moved to Texas and then to Washington state, and I only saw him at funerals and reunions in Cleveland.

A few months ago, he texted me: “I’m back in Ohio.”

What did that mean exactly?

Lake County. He moved there. Mickey moved back to northeast Ohio to retire. Nobody moves to Ohio to retire! He said he moved back here to be closer to his siblings. Ohio has always felt like home, he said. We met for lunch and talked about old times. He asked if I had ever lived outside of Cleveland, and I told him about my three weeks in New York City and three months in Latin America. Pathetic, I know. We talked about Cub Scouts and which neighbors had died.

Mickey’s move to Ohio is a nice change of pace. (Some of my recently retired friends are moving out of Cleveland.)

I had an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal last week about accosting random people and talking Spanish with them. “For a Language Lesson, Oprima el Dos.”


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March 22, 2023   2 Comments


Downtown Detroit has many detour signs. When you think you’re heading back to Ohio, you’re not. You’re on your way to Detroit Metro airport. Don’t play for peanuts in Detroit. You’ll feel like a fool when you’re lost on a Michigan freeway at 2 a.m.

In the Yiddishe Cup van, each musician has an assigned role. The drummer is in charge of windshield fluid. Our dance leader supplies the bottled water. Our keyboard player loads the van; he knows the secret order of packing the gear.

Van life smells. Think about it: six guys in a metal box, topped with cherry scent courtesy of the van-rental company. The icing: Krispy Kremes. Our driver eats that stuff like he’s on death row.

By the way, this blog post is a flashback. Haven’t been on a van trip in a while.

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March 14, 2023   1 Comment


I met Earl (of Earl Bananas and His Band With Appeal) in Kansas City. Earl’s band had been a minor sensation in St. Louis decades previously. Now Earl was a hotel developer with interests in trumpet, tennis, gardening and Orthodox Judaism. We talked about all that. We were at a Shabbat dinner.

Earl said it was difficult to achieve kavanah (a prayerful mindset) in synagogue. It was a easier in music or even tennis, he said. He could really zone out at music and tennis. My wife, Alice, a gym teacher, said zoning out is also known as “flow.”

“Flow” and kavanah are overrated. Face it, you can lose track of time at a casino or on Facebook.

Try to keep track of time. That’s the challenge. At a bar mitzvah party, Yiddishe Cup strolled, going table to table, taking requests. We heard a crash – a table collapsing. We kept on playing. Then a second table collapsed. A third table went down . . . there were salads on the floor; 10-person round tables buckling; ice water, silverware and bread rolls all over. People were jumping away from the tables. People were soaked. We kept playing. I said, “We’re on the Titanic, boys. Just keep playing.” Extreme concentration.

(The tables hadn’t been properly locked underneath.)

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March 8, 2023   1 Comment



1. What was the name of Yiddishe Cup before it was Yiddishe Cup?

A. Wild Horses 

B. It has always been Yiddishe Cup 

C. Kosher Spears

D. Funk A Deli


2. Who invented klezmer? 

A. The Jews 

B. The Klezmorim (Berkeley, Calif.)

C. Henry Sapoznik


3. What was Toby Stratton’s legal first name? 

A. Toby 

B. Wayne 

C. Theodore


4.  What did Toby want buried in his coffin? 

A. Chlortrimeton allergy pills 

B.  a .22 rifle 

C. The Wall Street Journal

D. None of above


5. How do musicians in Yiddishe Cup address their bandleader? 

A. Ding-a-ling 

B. Pissant 

C. Sir


6.  Yiddishe Cup has played

A. Brooklyn, New York

B. Brooklyn, Ohio 

C. Louisville, Kentucky


7. A landlord’s biggest problem is

A. water leaks 

B. bugs 

C. tenants in “the industry” (food-service business)


8. Clarinetists are 

A. cool 

B. not cool


9. Toby’s favorite sport was

A. tennis 

B. counting Jews in restaurants 

C. softball


10. A musician’s main interest is

A. music 

B. the food situation

C. the OT situation. (Is there overtime?)


11. (Tiebreaker) What was Toby’s blood type? 

A. O  

B. AB  

C. A

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February 28, 2023   2 Comments


I kicked a tenant out after 40 years. I didn’t renew him — to use real estate terminology. Jim ran a beauty salon. He was a good hairstylist and low maintenance as a commercial tenant. My family – first my dad, then me – collected Jim’s rent through the years. The only time I had a problem with Jim was six years ago when he started paying his water bill late. I wrote him: “If you think I like tracking your ‘past dues,’ think again.” This was the worst thing in 40 years.

Jim rented on a month-to-month basis, as opposed to being on a long-term lease. This was his idea. He chose month-t0-month in 2002. Maybe he never considered the flipside of his choice; I could quit on him, with little notice, just like he could quit on me. None of my other commercial tenants elected to go on month-to-month. Jim was 82 and keeping his options open — until I shut him down.

I said, “It’s simply a business decision on my end, Jim. I don’t think any other businessman in my position would make a different call.” A store owner next door wanted to expand, and she needed more space for her furniture and knick-knacks store. The furniture store — a k a home décor boutique — needed to take over the beauty-parlor space, or she would move. The furniture woman was ready to sign a five-year lease and agreed to pay the build-out (remodeling) on the beauty-salon space.

Jim’s security deposit was $300, which my dad had collected in 1982. That’s $910 today, in inflation-adjusted dollars. I planned to give Jim $910 back. Nice guy — me. In Ohio, landlords aren’t obligated to pay interest on security deposits. Jim said I was making a mistake, booting him. He said, “Beauty parlors and bars last forever. My salon and the bar across the street are the only old-timers on the block.”

Jim left the store keys and a lot of junk, including four beauty parlor chairs with hair dryers attached. I didn’t say anything about it. I said, “Thanks for all the years. My family and I appreciate it.”

I put one of the beauty-parlor chairs on the curb and said to the building manager, “I think somebody will want this. It might be a hipster thing.” Like out of Hairspray by John Waters.

The chair remained on the curb for a day. No takers. I rented a 20-yard dumpster for the junk. There was a broken refrigerator and three desks in the basement. It cost me a lot more than $910 to clean the store out. The dumpster alone was $600. A handyman and his son needed two days to fill the dumpster. I kept Jim’s $300 security deposit. On the other hand, I didn’t charge him $63.90 for his final water bill.

Nice guy — me.  Or schmuck? It’s sometimes hard to tell in the real estate business.

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February 22, 2023   7 Comments