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.



The Intakes, a boys club, was a throwback to a Depression-era, settlement-house group. The Intakes met at the Mayfield Road JCC, a successor institution to the Depression-era Council Education Alliance. The Intakes’ purpose was to keep teenage boys off the streets, which wasn’t too hard because, in our case, we studied so hard we rarely went out.

The Intakes president had a regular excuse for not partying on Saturday night: “I’ve got too much homework.” One summer he got a grant to study the crystal structure of molecules at a university. He did his undergrad at MIT, then went on to med school.

The Intakes didn’t “intake” girls. We played poker, miniature golf, bowled and held meetings. Our advisor was a social worker from New York. He often called us schmucks, which we found endearing. We talked about where to spend our money, earned by selling salamis and Passover macaroons. Should we go to New York or Washington?

We rode the Hound to New York and visited the Statue of Liberty, saw Jeopardy live, and ate at Katz’s Deli. I bought Existentialism Versus Marxism in a Greenwich Village bookstore. I haven’t finished it yet.

The Intakes folded after twelfth grade. There are some other ancient-history Jewish boys clubs around town. I heard of one the other day, the Regals. They were from Kinsman. They were a generation older than my guys. The Regals are truly out of business.

intakes 1967

Intakes, 1967. Poker game.

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April 28, 2021   5 Comments


I had a part-time job dealing with my back pain. I enrolled in a three-month Cleveland Clinic program for back-pain sufferers. It was a group class. Rule #1 of the class: Nobody wants to hear about your back pain. #2: Never say “pain,” it’s “discomfort.”

To get rid of back pain, I would have paid 400K.  I would have walked down Euclid Avenue naked. I would have . . . [fill in the blank]. Philosopher Viktor Frankl said how you deal with your suffering is one way to define your life. I would have bribed and cheated — for starters.

My back-class classmates were mostly whiners (like me). One woman said she lay in bed all day, using ice packs. Another used a heating pad and lay in bed all day. The group psychologist said, “What do you do to get out of your stupor?” Classmates said they lie in bed.

After class, I met a friend for lunch and said, “What a great day. It’s sunny out.” I was just doing my cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), circumventing my usual glass-half-empty M.O.

My back doctor said, “Back pain is truly one of the medical conditions that can rate a 10 on a pain level.” I told him I was at 8. He said back pain typically went away within a year, often less. I said my pain was like a hundred cell phones vibrating in my thigh all at once. (My back pain was in my thigh. Uh.) Or a thousand red ants scurrying. I had a couple CAT scans.

A woman in my class said her mantra was “I’ve got this!” Nice mantra. When she moved out of town, I took her mantra. I meditated and tried new exercises, developing new neural pathways!

“Motion is the lotion” was a sign in the physical therapy department. A couple verbal catch phrases were “Exercise to the pain but not through the pain” and “Sore but safe.” I saw a lot of PTs.

The pain ended in 10 months. Two shots in the back helped. I think about back pain a lot. Even when I don’t have it.

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April 21, 2021   1 Comment


Esther Isenstadt, a bassist, ran classified ads in the Cleveland Jewish News in the 1970s-80s: “Sophisticated music for discriminating people” . . . “Leave your records at home and bring LIFE to your party” . . . “From ‘The Hora’ to ‘Beat It.'”

I didn’t see her much around town. She worked the senior-adult circuit while Yiddishe Cup played the glam jobs: bar mitzvahs and weddings. Seriously, that’s where the money was. Esther played classical and pop, and some Jewish.

Many years later (2003), I ran into Esther at The Weils, an assisted living facility. She was 86. I told her I had one of her recycled Tara Publications Israeli songbooks. I had bought it used at the Cleveland Music School Settlement. She smiled. Then she didn’t smile, and said, “I never thought I’d end up here!”

Esther had played in four suburban orchestras, raised a family, taught elementary school, led party bands and taught ESL in “retirement.” I had learned “Shir Lashalom” (“A Song of Peace”) from Esther’s book. That tune was a must-play in 1995 — the year Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated.

Esther had rubber-stamped Esther Isenstadt Orchestras in her songbooks. A Jewish bandleader with a rubber stamp. I got a rubber stamp.

Maybe I’ll follow her into The Weils. But I doubt it. I’m more a Menorah Park guy. Closer to town. (Esther died in 2010.)

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April 14, 2021   4 Comments


When Yiddishe Cup played in New York in 2006, we rented a van at LaGuardia Airport and drove to our hotel in Elmhurst, Queens, which was like Cleveland except for more Asians. The hotel was between a transmission shop and a Burger King. We played the Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts.

On our way from Queens to the gig in Brooklyn, I saw a fender bender. The driver called out, “Would you be a witness?”

“No, I’m from Ohio,” I said. Hey, I was preoccupied with our rapidly approaching gig and not denting our ride — a 15-passenger rental van. I was weaving through very dense borough traffic, and the last thing I needed was an hour wait for the police before the gig.

We played for old people, not hipsters, in Brooklyn. I had my 1957 Brooklyn Dodgers baseball cards with me, and gave the audience a quiz: What was Duke Snider’s real first name? Edwin. What was Pee Wee Reese’s real name? Harold. What was Al Walker’s nickname? Dixie. The audience got every answer right. One man even knew Duke Snider’s height (6-1).


We played New York. Don’t forget that.

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April 7, 2021   4 Comments


I was a rock star of sorts in the 1990s. My band, The Crushin’, was on MTV and charted #53 on the Billboard Hot 100. But I had a problem; nobody wanted to be a sideman in my band. Everyone wanted to be the star. I wrote the songs but everybody else thought they were the star.

Now I do mostly solo gigs and give piano lessons. I don’t play klezmer. I knew you’d ask that. I like klezmer but I don’t play it. I don’t mind listening to klezmer — in small doses.

Last shabbes my rabbi’s Zoom sermon was “What I Learned at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.” The rabbi must have recently seen 20 Feet from Stardom. He said you’ve got to balance your sideman role with your star-tripping persona. Joseph was a star-tripper and his brother Judah was a sideman in the band.

The rabbi asked for comments from the congregation. (He likes to work the room.) I chimed in about my old band. Most people didn’t even know I had been a rocker. I talked about my record-label deals and my A-hole manager. I actually said “A-hole.”

I’m a sideman. I accept that now. We’re all sidemen. But don’t forget this: I hit #53 on the Billboard Hot 100 (June 21, 1995) with The Crushin’s “I Hope My Afterlife is After Yours.”


[fake profile]

Here’s my recent op-ed in the Cleveland Plain Dealer about a lake with no water in it. “Rescue Horseshoe Lake. Dam It.”

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March 31, 2021   5 Comments


Ashkenazi Jews are the same everywhere. My Mississippi mishpocha are lawyers. My relatives in Israel are lawyers. My relatives in Arizona are lawyers. I have relatives, through marriage, in West Virginia. Some are lawyers. (By the way, West Virginia Jews request “Country Roads” at banquets; I’ve played several West Virginia Jewish Reunions at the Marriott in Charleston.)

Philip Roth wrote about New Jersey Jews. Joseph Epstein wrote about Chicago Jews. Mordecai Richler wrote about Montreal Jews. Stories populated with pickles and old guys named Herman. (By the way, there’s a Don Hermann’s Pickles in Cleveland.)

I played a wedding for a Canadian Jew and an American Jew. Under the chuppah the rabbi talked about choosing between “about” and “aboot.” That’s the big difference between an American Yid and a Canadian Yid.

Happy Passover.

Here’s an article I just wrote for City Journal. “Hanging in There.”

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March 24, 2021   2 Comments


My grandfather owned a record label in Cleveland, like the Chess brothers’ thing in Chicago, except smaller. Gramps’ label churned out everything from Slovenian polkas to gospel. It was a labor of love. Gramps’ parnassah (livelihood), all along, was a shopping strip center he owned on Mayfield Road — the main drag in Cleveland Heights. Gramps rented to a print shop, beauty parlor, locksmith and bar. I hung around the bar in grade school for the pretzel rods.

Gramps used a storefront for his record label. The place had no sign. My grandfather said to me, “I’ve got this little curl in my tail — this little something different — this something the new treatment doesn’t cure. I’m in trouble. The doctors tell me, ‘We can’t straighten out your tail.’ You’re dead. That’s what. I’ve got one or two more records in me.”

Gramps liked a Slovenian-style polka group out of Wickliffe called Terri and the Soup Nuts, a popular all-girls band. Gramps said to me, “There are a lot of Slovenians in this town. A lot. Money will be made.”

Money was not made. Terri and the Soup Nuts didn’t sell many records. Johnny Pecon did better. Yonkee, way better.

Gramps had a soft spot for Terri and the Soup Nuts. He told me, “That stupid name sticks! Sticks like a burr.” He put a pic of the girls on the side of a CTS bus. No traction. Only one DJ ever spun the girls’ records — Tony Petkovsek, the “nationalities hour” honcho. That was limited.

At Gramps’ funeral, Terri asked to sing a hymn. An ecumenical, no-Jesus thing. Hey, Terri, no music at Jewish funerals. She handled the rabbi’s rejection well.

This is all history.

Terri and the Soup Nuts’ records and memorabilia are in storage at the National Cleveland-Style Polka Hall of Fame. All the musicians are dead. The building on Mayfield Road is still there. Somebody should put up a Cleveland Heights heritage plaque there, right next to Subway.

[fake profile]


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March 17, 2021   3 Comments


My dad, Toby, admired Linus Pauling, the Nobel Prize-winning Vitamin-C taker. Toby was very health-conscious; he did the Royal Canadian Air Force exercises in the early 1960s. He used to jog in his underwear in the kitchen. Didn’t anybody make running shorts back then? My dad could beat me in a foot race up through my college years. Toby, in retirement, told me his best years were the Boca years: financial security and grandchildren.

Even though Toby was an exercise nut, he had lousy health. His big problem was polycythemia vera, a blood disease. He got it in his fifties. The disease kept him focused on his muni bonds and real estate investments. He wasn’t sure he’d be around the next day. He donated blood every month or two. He had to lower his red-blood count. He died in 1986, just shy of 69, from leukemia, which evolved from polycythemia vera.

My mother kept the Florida condo another 11 years after my dad died. The condo association owes my sister and me $8,160.82. That’s the golf membership dinero. The condo association has had that money since 1997. Many elderly Jews decamped from the condos (their bodies went north) in the late 1990s, and the condo association was short on cash.

Who’s playing golf at the Boca Lago Country Club these days? Is it still Jews or is it some new genre, like Latin Americans? Any cash floating around?

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March 3, 2021   2 Comments


When my parents spent winters in Florida, I represented them at their friends’ funerals in Cleveland. I didn’t like the work. My mother would call from Boca Raton and say, “Edith was such a good friend of ours. Please go, son.” Screw Edith.

But I went. The hardest part was the walk from my car to the shiva house. I always imagined the homeowner would open the door and say: “We don’t want any! Who are you? Have you no decency?”

It never happened that way. I was often the youngest non-relative at the shiva. I eavesdropped a lot because I didn’t know anybody. An old woman said, “When I feel sick, I want to die. Then I get better and want to live.” OK with me.

A rabbi talked about the Cleveland Browns a lot. Rabbis usually weren’t sports nuts back then, but this rav was young and a major Browns fan. A food broker said to me, “I sell Heinen’s.” What was I selling? Not sure.

My parents made me do it.

While shiva repping, I met a  California man who produced Joel Grey’s shows for 27 years. I said, “I’ll send you my band’s CD and you can show it to Joel. Wait, I won’t send it. Joel might sue me for ripping off Mickey Katz tunes.”

“Don’t worry,” the producer said. “Lebedeff’s people tried to hit Joel up for royalties on ‘Romania, Romania’ for years. No luck.”

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February 24, 2021   1 Comment


I’ve managed a lot of bands. So I know a lot about marketing, booking and touring. I won’t tell you everything I know here, but I will say this much: the key to success is publicity stunts, cameo appearances at strip joints, and surreptitious holographic projections of your band’s PR photo onto billboards at midnight.

The bands I manage make money — large money. And you’ve probably never heard of them. Most Klezmer Guy blog readers think music ended in 1975.

OK, you’ve heard of Vulfpeck. That’s because I bang on about that band so much here. I made Vulfpeck what they are today. The Vulf boys don’t know what a newspaper is, or a press release. I’m old school, they’re New School. They’re about social media. I’m about being social: Hello, my name is ____________.  I make many calls a day for Vulf. (Granted, half are to WE1-1212. More snow?)

Right now two Vulfpeck musicians are in Los Angeles, one is in Ann Arbor, and two are at a Bibibop in Carmel, Indiana. I monitor the boys’ moves and temperatures. I know how much water and booze they’ve drunk today, down to the cc.

Ask me anything. (AMA, as we say on Reddit.)

[fake profile]

Check out this op-ed I wrote last week, “Stayin’ Alive — the Covid-19-shot Hustle,” for the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Guitarist Irwin Weinberger at Discount Drug Mart

Guitarist Irwin Weinberger at Discount Drug Mart

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February 17, 2021   4 Comments


I’m out of the pre-med game. I lost my University of  Michigan Zoo-Bot 106 frog-dissection scissors. I used the scissors for the past five decades to cut my fingernails. I took the scissors to an athletic club and lost them. The scissors said “Made in Italy” on them, in case you find them.

I bought some German scissors on Amazon the other day. Not as good. (By the way, my professor at Michigan, poet Donald Hall, said scissors is the longest word in the English language.)

There were about 30 pre-meds on my dorm floor,  and I think one or two made it to doctorhood. I took inorganic and math my freshman year, and organic and physics my sophomore year. Organic did me in.

Those dissection scissors were my main connection to the U. of Michigan. For some people, it’s football. For me, it was the scissors. Now I’m a free man.

Go Bucks.

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February 10, 2021   4 Comments


This is Bert Stratton. Is there a market for a book with that title? There’s a book This is Larry Morrow . . . My Life On and Off the Air: Stories from Four Decades in Cleveland Radio. There’s a new book by Paul Orlousky: Punched, Kicked, Spat On, and Sometimes Thanked: Memoirs of a Cleveland TV News Reporter.

Is there a market for Bert? Yes, I know I’d have to expand the title. How about This is Bert Stratton . . . Stories About Strippers, Mobsters and Klezmorim.

Every Sunday my family gathered around the piano. Neighbors stood on the sidewalk and listened. We played klezmer music, which we simply called “Jewish music” in the 1960s. Neighbors didn’t listen for too long. By age 13 I was supporting my family, playing at the Roxy Burlesque, where I saw naked women. I knew Tarzana and Morganna, who were at my bar mitzvah party at the Shaker House Motel. Nobody could top that.

I knew mobsters. An acquaintance, gangster Shondor Birns, was blown up by a car bomb on the West Side. Then Danny Greene, a fellow mobster, was blown up by a car bomb in Lyndhurst. By default I became head of the Cleveland Mob. My gangster income, plus my music, was a living. My high school grades suffered, but so what.

I have a couple questions for you. Would people in, say, Peoria, Illinois, buy a book about Cleveland mobsters, strippers and klezmer musicians? Or should I cut the part about mobsters and strippers, and go pure klez?

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February 3, 2021   8 Comments


I joined the South Euclid Facebook page after I saw a recipe for the 3-cent toffee bars we used to get in the junior high cafeteria.

I recently listened to an interview with klez trumpeter Frank London, who grew up in Plainview, Long Island. Frank said Plainview in his day was all Jews and Italians. Just like my old neighborhood. My high school was 25-percent Italian, 25-percent Jewish, and the rest white-bread American, who didn’t count.

On the South Euclid Facebook group, Bruce Udelf, a classmate, remembered all. Bruce could tell you the recipe for the toffee bar, which he got from a retired cafeteria worker. I have one thing over Udelf: I still live in Cleveland, and he’s in California. I biked by Udelf’s house the other day. It looks the same.

Right now I’m snoozing a bit on the South Euclid FB group. I need a slightly slower nostalgia drip. I can’t deal with three South Euclid flashbacks a day — about Mr. Lane (our sixth grade teacher), Chuckles candy, or the Kiwanis Club Ox Roast. I could probably handle two.

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January 27, 2021   4 Comments


Bill DeArango played guitar with Dizzy Gillespie on 52nd Street and was the music guy in Cleveland. I was at DeArango’s University Heights music store, playing charts from New Sounds in Modern Music (edited by Bugs Bower, 1949). DeArango had randomly picked the New Sounds in Modern Music book from his sheet-music rack. A kid with a horn (alto) in 1970. Back then it was all guitars and drums. I didn’t tell DeArango I had bought the New Sounds book a couple years before and knew it cold.

DeArango introduced me to Jimmy Emery, a guitar player who could pick out all the Charlie Parker solos. (Emery moved to New York three years later and went on to record with all the big names.) Emery and I had jazz to ourselves in 1970, at least among 20-year-old white kids in Cleveland.

I visited Berklee in Boston. It had no campus, just one building. The founder was Lawrence Berk. The lee in Berklee is for Lawrence’s son, Lee. Berklee — the name — reminded me of my dad’s failed foot-powder company, Lesbert Drug Co., named for my sister, Leslie, and me. Maybe not a real college — Berklee? I went home to Cleveland, then back to Ann Arbor to reactivate my authentic college life.

I was not near Jimmy Emery’s level. Emery could mimic any sound he heard, and do it quickly. I bought play-along records and got into the Michigan jazz band. Dave Brubeck’s son was in that band. I got the second alto seat by playing a blues in F, or something like that. Few kids knew how to improvise back then. Music students came from high school stage bands, not jazz bands.

I borrowed recordings of Hank Crawford, Lou Donaldson and Rufus Harley from a black Detroit kid I knew from the dorms. I went to Baker’s Keyboard Lounge in Detroit to see Gene Ammons, Sonny Stitt and Roland Kirk. I bought how-to-play-jazz books. I read Leroi Jones for cultural background. My how-to-play-jazz books were mostly by David Baker, Indiana University. These books were boring chord patterns and scales. Not as dry as Organic Chemistry, but not a pleasure.

I eventually quit playing and dropped out of college for a few months. These days I play some Dixieland clarinet, and not too well. Hurray for klezmer!

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January 20, 2021   5 Comments


I thought I had shingles again. My first shingles was when my dad died. My dad was stressed, and so was I. This time around I was stressed about a building, not even a human. I had sold an apartment building and was annoyed with the gas company. The temperature outside was zero, and a meter man was at the building with a huge wrench, threatening to turn the gas off. I didn’t even own the building. I had sold it the day before! “You have two choices,” the gas man said to me. “Turn the gas off or leave it on.” I don’t own the place!

The new owner hadn’t called in for an initial reading. The temperature was supposed to drop to – 7. “Keep it on,” I said.

I went swimming to relax. I would chase the new landlord the next day for the bill. When I finished my laps, I noticed a red streak across my stomach. Shingles again?

My wife, a registered nurse, checked out my stomach when I got home. She said I had scratched myself.

Paranoid? No. Shingles is bad.

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January 13, 2021   2 Comments


I saw Wilma Salisbury, the former Cleveland Plain Dealer dance critic. She was a tough critic. Used to be a tough critic. She was retired, so she was simply Wilma Salisbury now. I saw PD columnist Eleanor Mallet — also retired. She was simply Eleanor now. Winsor French — a long-dead Cleveland Press columnist — used to arrive at work in a Rolls. He was independently wealthy. He went all over the world during the Depression, reporting on glamorous parties.

Have you made it through a book-length compilation of newspaper columns? I have. One book: Eric Broder’s very funny The Great Indoors. Would you read 45 Dick Feagler columns in a row? Good stuff but you might die from an overdose.

Here are some other former Cleveland columnists: Don Robertson, Alfred Lubrano, Jim Parker, Jim Neff, Mary Strassmyer, Tom Green . . . and I’m just getting started. I was once a columnist. I wrote about candy, sheepshead and the public library for Sun Newspapers. I could see both sides to everything, even sheepshead. Not a good thing for a columnist.

Terry Pluto, Plain Dealer columnist, writes about religion and sports. Pluto phones clergy and asks (my guess): “Can you tell me and my readers how to live — and preferably in three or fewer sentences. And how about them Browns!” I like Pluto on both religion and sports. It’s all coming together for Pluto, what with the Browns in the playoffs and the plague (Covid) hitting the head coach and several key players. In one religion column, Pluto quoted a rabbi who cited Pirke Avot: “The one who is wealthy is satisfied with what he has.”

I am satisfied with not writing a newspaper column.

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January 6, 2021   3 Comments


How come documentaries about California musicians — Hal Blaine, the Sherman brothers — have poolside shots, but no outdoor ping-pong shots? The musicians are sunbathing poolside. Are they embarrassed to show their ping-pong moves? (The Kids Are All Right, a comedy-drama set in California, had an outdoor ping-pong table. No musicians, though.)

My father, Toby, had an old friend in Los Angeles, Irv Drooyan, who taught high school, wrote math textbooks and played outdoor ping-pong. Toby kept in touch with Irv and another Kinsman Road old-timer — Sol of San Diego. In the 1950 and 1960s, California was just an extension of Cleveland. My dad’s friends switched their first names to sound more American. Irv was Red. Sol was Al. Toby was Ted.

My introduction to outdoor ping-pong was on Red Drooyan’s patio in Woodland Hills, California, in 1962. Unforgettable because A) it was outdoors, and B) I didn’t know my dad had any friends. In Cleveland my father hung out exclusively with my mom’s friends and their husbands.

I’ve got to get back. To 1962? Cleveland? California?

To the ping-pong table. Your serve.

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December 30, 2020   5 Comments


Cholent was the vehicle for my return to cooking. In the 1970s I took a Chinese cooking class at the Pearl of the Orient. But no cooking classes since. My rabbi’s son hosted a Zoom class on cholent last month.

There were about 50 people at the Zoom meeting. (It’s a big synagogue.) I tried to hide; I muted; I didn’t scream, “I’m a novice!” I dumped beans, barley, kishke, flankn, potatoes and onions into my slow cooker. The instructor, Jared, said the Crock Pot was invented by an Orthodox Jew to slow-cook cholent on shabbat. (Lookin’ that up . . . Yep, the Crock Pot was invented by one Irving Nachumsohn for cholent cooking.)

Most Jews — and everybody else —  don’t know what cholent is. It’s mostly an Ortho thing. Cholent is a stew you slowly cook for 12 hours or more, so as not to light a fire on shabbat.

My cholent cooked too long. My stuff came out like a big cow pie. No definition to it. The meat melded into the beans. Just one massive turd.

I had people coming over for dinner and was going to serve it! My wife, Alice, who’s a good cook, turned the cow pies into sliders. She served cholent sliders, without buns, as an appetizer. I didn’t apologize, or say to my guests: “This is my first time!” (Cooks should never apologize. Neither should musicians.)

My friends liked it. Alice added extra pepper and salt, and some soy sauce. And luckily I had picked out the plastic  kishke casing prior. I didn’t realize the kishke was wrapped in plastic when I sliced it and dumped it in the stew. The next day I ate huevos cholent — a fried egg on top of a cholent slider. That was good, too. Alice came up with that.

Need cholent?

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December 23, 2020   4 Comments


The guys who are eight to 10 years older than you, they’re your idols. You’re not in competition with them. They’re different: wiser, polished, cooler.

Dennis Ralston died last week at 78 from brain cancer. He was on the Davis Cup team in the 1960s. I wasn’t a huge fan of him, because he was tall and I was short. Ralston was 6-2. His teammate, Chuck McKinley, was my guy, 5-8. McKinley died of brain cancer, too, at 46 in 1986. I didn’t know that until a minute ago. I don’t follow tennis that closely.

Here’s a great 1:56-minute video of McKinley playing Roy Emerson at Roxboro Middle School. Technically, Harold T. Clark Courts, Cleveland Heights, 1964:

My mother bought me a ticket. She wouldn’t buy an extra one for herself or my father because tickets were expensive — $10 a day ($84 in today’s money). The setting: a 7,500-seat bleacher rig where the Roxboro running track is. The U.S. lost to Australia.

OK, you never heard of Ralston. Try Bob Dylan. I hope to outlive Dylan, born in 1941. I idolized him. I hope I don’t croak before he does. That wouldn’t be right. Heroes dies first.

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December 16, 2020   3 Comments


Max Burstyn lived in the Jewish highlands on the other side of the public park from me. No flooding in the highlands, and 99-percent yidlach. Max spoke English, Yiddish and German. Max was born in Munich and came to America as a baby in the 1950s. His dad was a Galitzianer from Krakow.

Max Burstyn, 1969

Max Burstyn, 1969

I played tennis with Max in the park. That’s where we met. Max still rants about my neighborhood — the lowlands, the other side of park. He says, “You lived with the goys — like Stropki. I played Pony League with him. There were about eight Stropkis. What about Bobrowski? He was a Catholic too. Went to St. Joe’s. He played third-string for the Browns. He was from your street. There was Mastrobuono. He had a funny walk.”

Max was a mischling ersten grades, self-described. (First-degree mixed race.) That’s a Nazi term, but Max used it — at least around me. Max’s mother was a German gentile. Max’s father and mother met in Germany after the war. Max was halachically converted as a baby.

Max knows some strange Yiddish words. He mentions kudraychik — a swindler. I can’t find that in the dictionary. It’s probably Slavic, not Yiddish. Max says, “There was a kudraychik, a Jewish barber, in the occupied zone after the war . . .”

You don’t hear that kind of language, except around Max.

A groysn dank, Max.

Check out my essay, “Some Acts of God Are Better Than Others,” in the Wall Street Journal (12/3/20). The link, here, takes you over the WSJ paywall.

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December 9, 2020   2 Comments