I like roofs more than most people. I married a roofer’s daughter. My father-in-law, Cecil Shustick, had a roofing company in Columbus, Ohio. He was an orthodontist before being a roofer. (Look it up. It’s true.) He was an orthodontist in the early 1950s. His father owned a roofing company. Cecil had a wartime neck injury, so he didn’t relish standing all day at a dental chair, so he became a roofer. Also, orthodontia wasn’t, as yet, a big moneymaker in central Ohio in the fifties. Cecil did mostly estimating. He ran a 27-man, 9-truck company.
Gutters are interesting: copper, galvanized (the worst) and coated. Cecil didn’t offer me the biz. He should have, my father always said. My dad swore Cecil should have at least given me the opportunity to say no.
Dad, I ain’t moving to Cow-lumbus to run a roofing company!
When Cecil retired, he sold the business to Don The Goy, who ran the biz into the ground. Cecil lost a lot of money on that, and so did I, indirectly.
If I had taken over the business, I probably would now be in a nice house in Bexley, Ohio, with a stack of workers’ comp claims in front of me. (A lot of roofers are overweight drinkers with back problems.) That wouldn’t be much different than the way I did wind up!
Cecil was a bon vivant, who kept a quart of piña colada by his bed for dry throat, due to antihistamine overuse, he claimed. He liked top-shelf goods: Chrysler Imperials and Chivas Regal. And he didn’t like sweating. Cecil said, “If man was meant for jogging, he’d have hooves.” Golf was his game.
I didn’t know the early Cecil. I knew the retired Cecil — the guy in the velour warm-up suit with the Marlboros.
Don Whitehead, an A.P. correspondent, filed a dispatch, Dec. 3, 1943, with the Fifth Army south of Rome:
In one large, roomy cave Capt. Cecil Shustick, Columbus, Ohio, and Lt. Samuel Clarkson, Lebanon, Ky., set up a medical detachment station. On the little ledge, a charcoal fire was burning to take the damp chill from the air . . .
The Italians had used the caves as storage places for vegetables, fruit and grain. When the Americans came along, they moved into them and used them as command posts, medical stations and billets.
This is a valley of hell – a man-made hell of thunder and lightning . . . The guns never cease their striking. Whole batteries of them roar in unison with a concussion that shakes the earth.
Cecil Shustick came home a major with a Bronze Star. He fought at the Battle of Monte Cassino, Italy. Cecil kept things light and bright. You’d never know about Italy.
A version of this first appeared 1/12/11. This one is for the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor Day.
December 7, 2016 4 Comments
I grew up about 10 blocks from the Long Island Sound, but for the past 42 years I’ve lived by Lake Erie — no salt. I make do. You can’t see the other side of Lake Erie. It’s a real lake. I don’t swim in the lake too long because I don’t want to catch a disease. I often walk on the beach, and I’m a member of the Edgewater Yacht Club.
After walking on the beach, I like to make a cup of tea. Then I garden or cook, and think back to my childhood by the Long Island Sound. I have come a long way — or not.
November 30, 2016 4 Comments
I negotiated a Thanksgiving Day wedding. The mom thought Thanksgiving was the perfect wedding day because nobody would come. The groom’s side was from New York, so flights to Cleveland would be expensive. Beautiful. And the locals would skip the wedding to eat Thanksgiving dinner at home with their kids, who wouldn’t be invited to the wedding. Again, beautiful.
I listened to this craziness for three phone calls. Then the mom hired Yiddishe Cup. Yes! The band members rescheduled their own Thanksgiving dinners. Not an easy task.
The mom called a fourth time and said the bride wanted a different band. I didn’t ask who. I was so mad. I usually ask who is the other band, but I was so mad, mostly at myself because I had forgotten rule number-one: it’s all about the bride. [Exception: A mom once booked us for a wedding, and the bride, from Seattle, ran up to the bandstand and said, “I hate klezmer music! How could my mother do this to me!”]
After the Thanksgiving turkey hung up, I called a second customer — a bat mitzvah mom — who was late with her contract and deposit. She said she wanted to talk more. I had already talked enough. I dislike phones. I said, “Yiddishe Cup has been around over twenty years. You’ve seen us. Everybody has seen us.”
She said her husband was sick. Pause. Sick could mean very ill. It sometimes even means dying. I’ve played simchas where dads roll down the aisle in wheelchairs. Dads who can’t talk because of strokes. Guys with half a brain left.
Yiddishe Cup has even played for dead people; we played a bat mitzvah luncheon where the bat mitzvah girl’s mom died the day before. We played in the family room instead of at the party center. Two or three people tried a hora.
Anyway, the customer with the sick husband came to my house for further discussion. I asked what her husband’s illness was. She said he was depressed. She said her husband, a doctor, had lost a patient that week. Doctors lose patients all the time, right? It turns out she wanted to change the date, the number of musicians, and a few other things. Which she did. The gig — on a new date, with fewer musicians — was surprisingly decent; everybody was upbeat and nobody bugged the band, except for Grandpa, who said to our pianist, “Do you know your fly is down?”
Our pianist — who has been around — answered, “No, can you hum a few bars?”
And nobody was sick.
A version of this post first appeared 11/24/10.
November 23, 2016 3 Comments
At the apartment owners trade show, I talked to a salesman about toilets. I talked to Sears about refrigerators. I talked to AT&T about the high bills for intercom service. Another subject: halogen lighting for my parking lots.
My wife encouraged me to attend the trade show. I hadn’t been to one in years. She said, “You’ll have fun.” I ran into Marty Cohen, who owns about 900 rental units and “a dumpy shopping center in Amherst. You want to buy it?” He said he had previously owned five or six other shopping centers. Landlords tell you what they used to own, as well as what they own. Another landlord, Lou Powers, has some doubles in the Heights and wouldn’t mind selling them, he said. John Marcus – whose wife is a rabbi — was there. He has something to do with real estate, not sure what.
So the trade show was good, people-wise. But I’m sick of toilets.
November 16, 2016 1 Comment
When a relative of mine ran for school board and lost, my father said, “Don’t run again. You don’t want to get a loser’s reputation.” My relative didn’t run again. I, too, play by my dad’s rules. I might run for president in 2020. Not saying yet.
First, a little background: I was a Kennedy man. I had a button as a big as a dinner plate.
I started my own country (on paper) in sixth grade and elected presidents and representatives. My country was a solace, because in the real world I couldn’t run for president because a) I wasn’t 35 and b) I was Jewish.
My mother said I could run and win. She duped me! Mom, my man, Abe Ribicoff of Connecticut, couldn’t even run. Newsweek said the country wasn’t ready for the Ribman, even for veep.
Now presumably a Jew could win. But let me be clear: I won’t start out at school-board level or even vice president. Trump taught me to go big or go home. My Little League teammate Joel Hyatt (Cleveland Heights High ’68) ran for U.S. Senate and got clobbered, maybe because he hadn’t paid his dues; he hadn’t run for lesser offices.
Lee Fisher (Shaker Heights High ’69) paid dues. I saw him at a civic club meeting in Collinwood in 1982: six neighbors, Lee and me. (I was a Sun Newspaper reporter.) Fisher eventually climbed to lieutenant governor. Then he got clobbered for the U.S. Senate. He paid dues, though. Give him that. [What’s he up to now? . . . Interim dean of Cleveland State law school.]
I’m willing to pay no dues. Again, the Trump influence.
My American history teacher at Brush High said Stratton is a good political name. (My teacher’s name was Americo Betori. He should have run for mayor of Cleveland, about 1950, against Celebreeze. Battle of the vowels.)
Remember that name. No, not Americo Betori. Stratton! (Mr. Betori died three years ago. I could identify 98 capitals and states on a blank map — my strong suit. My weak suit: being personable. Mr. Betori wrote on my final report card, “Cheer up, Bert, and give the world a chance!” Good advice. I try to follow it. I might give the world a chance to vote for Stratton in 2020. No experience necessary.
A version of this appeared here 10/31/12.
November 9, 2016 4 Comments
The Jazz Temple was a former Packard showroom at Mayfield Road and Euclid Avenue. Coltrane and Dinah Washington played there. The Jazz Temple was in business from 1960 to 1963. I passed the Jazz Temple weekly on my way to Sunday school at The Temple, the gold-domed Reform temple in University Circle.
Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver was the head rabbi at The Temple. He once spoke at the United Nations, advocating for the founding of the State of Israel. Rabbi Silver’s son, Dan, was the assistant rabbi. Dan played football at Harvard and occasionally wrote for the Cleveland Edition.
At Sunday school, kids were mostly from Shaker Heights. One kid got a ride in a limo to temple. The driver wore a chauffeur’s cap. The limo wasn’t a Rolls; it was a Buick station wagon.
I couldn’t grasp how temple — the word — fit into the Jazz Temple. Was Jazz a religion too? Many years later, I met former beatniks who had actually gone to shows at the Jazz Temple.
The Jazz Temple was blown up in 1963. Somebody didn’t like the club or the owner, Winston Willis, a controversial black businessman. At The Temple religious school, we students attended services every Sunday morning to hear Rabbi Silver. (Services were on Sunday, not Saturday, in the 1950s at Silver’s.) Rabbi Silver looked like God. Nowadays, at The Temple East in Beachwood, there is a Abba Hillel Silver memorial study. The rabbi’s desk is laid out like he just stepped out for lunch. He died in 1963, just six days after Kennedy got murdered.
A slightly different version of this appeared 9/5/12. If you need baseball stuff, see my story at City Journal.
November 2, 2016 5 Comments
Hi, Cubs Fans.
I’ve got one word for you: Go Tribe.
I post here every Wednesday.
I had an essay in the Chicago Tribune,“Don’t Be Greedy, Chicago . . . “, the other day.
October 26, 2016 1 Comment
After college I returned to Cleveland and hung around Case Western Reserve University to keep my sanity. I wanted the college bubble. I was at Case every chance I got. At a Case party a medical illustrator asked me what I did, and I said, “I manage apartment buildings.” She walked away. Marcy — a friend at the party — said, “It’s not in her experience — apartment building management.” Marcy was a grad student in organizational behavior. I couldn’t see grad school.
A woman asked me, “Are you in OB?”
“No, I’m not in medical school.”
“OB is organizational behavior.”
“I’m not in that either.”
Apartment building management. What more could I say — want to hear my harmonica? I shut up. Docs, nutritionists, organizational behaviorists, and medical students. I went up to another medical illustrator. Illustrators are arty. She wouldn’t talk to me. (Could have been other factors — not going there.)
Marcy wrote her OB thesis on the “event of play in a closed group.” For a while, I was in her closed group. Marcy’s parents had a mansion outside of New York City with a quarter-mile driveway. I never saw the house but I heard about it. Her dad was on the board of trustees of a major foreign university. I blew it.
“So many Harvard people here!” a woman said, walking past Marcy and me. Three Harvard people: 1) The host, an OB grad student 2) my friend Marcy 3) a man who was on his way to D.C. to be a lobbyist. Harvard people were on their way, and I was in Cleveland, maybe forever. Tenants called about low water pressure and no heat. Tenants mailed in flecks of peeling paint with notes like “I”m taking $10 off my rent because of this.”
I’m in real estate. I say that now. It’s OK when you’re over 30. The night my father died, my mother and I spent hours sorting business checks on the dining room table, waiting to go to the funeral home. I’ve been dealing with bills ever since.
I Googled Marcy. She’s a professor at a college in Massachusetts. (Not Harvard.) I should message her. I won’t. Too awkward. Remembering this — also awkward.
A version of this post appeared in Belt Magazine 2/19/15.
I had another op-ed in the New York Times, on Monday, about Trump, taxes and me. Hundreds of comments.
I own the Times. Sulzberger > Stratton. My dad did that name change.
October 19, 2016 3 Comments
I post up here every Wednesday. Subscribe if you want a weekly dose.
By the way, the “drummer in the Michigan Wolverines women’s basketball pep band” has a new record out today: The Beautiful Game. The band, Vulfpeck, has been on Colbert and appeared at Bonnaroo. (The album is available on Bandcamp.)
If you’re a book editor and want to read my non-fiction book proposal, Landlord, contact Eric Myers at Dystal & Goderich Literary Management.
October 16, 2016 5 Comments
I like to tour all kinds of buildings: retail space, offices, apartments, warehouses. I get a kick from them all. I know — not everybody gets this high. At 21 I bough my first double, on Eddington Road in Cleveland Heights. Now I own hundreds of units. My phone number is everywhere — all my lobbies. I have nothing to hide. The calls: “My tub overflowed. I need an ark” . . . “My ceiling fell on my bed. Lucky I wasn’t sleeping” . . . “My stove smells like carbon monoxide” . . . “My cat is dying from black mold.”
I love it. When I see a building that throws a nice bottom line, my heart skips a beat. If you hear of anything, give me a call.
October 11, 2016 1 Comment
1. Theory has nothing to do with Vulfpeck.
2. Vulfpeck takes chances and, yes, they occasionally screw up.
3. Vulfpeck locks, loads and listens.
4. Pyrotechnics are OK with Vulfpeck.
5. Be chatty, then shut up, then be chatty.
6. Feelings are always appropriate.
7. Vulfpeck’s X-axis is tragedy, its Y-axis is comedy. Plot it.
8. and 9. are proprietary. (Hint: “8” involves blood and “9” is about horse-race handicapping.)
10. To get Vulfpeck’s upcoming album on opening day (Oct 16), sign up here:
October 5, 2016 1 Comment
There was mold on the window sill and black spots on the bathroom ceiling, probably because the tenant never opened the window to her bathroom. She called the Cuyahoga County Board of Health, and the county called the city, and the city told me to get rid of the mold, preferably by knocking down every wall in the bathroom and replacing them with drywall. Destroy a village. I called a back-up drywall guy, who said he’d there Monday. “What if you’re not there?” I said.
“Then I’ll be in the morgue,” he said.
He didn’t show. I called McNeeley, who said he could be there in 10 days. No thanks. (My main guy was busy.) I found Dirk on Craigslist. Not such a great name, but he showed.
“You seem like a nice guy,” I said, “but you never know with Craigslist.”
“You never know,” he said.
He painted over the mold. No new drywall. I used Dirk a season then he disappeared. I never got entirely comfortable with his name.
September 28, 2016 3 Comments
Welcome to my sound. Right now I’m at the corner bar making a lot of noise. I can knock over beer bottles with my booming voice. I sweep a room, no question.
I see blood droplets and people screaming. I’m going to broadcast this mess.
Don’t talk to me about tinnitus! We’re not living in an abbey, folks. Wake up. Hang some string from your ears. Make some noise!
[Some of this was stolen from the Poetry Project Newsletter Feb/March ’14.]
Oh, to be in England
September 21, 2016 No Comments
I write a lot about women. My metier is feelings. I once did a piece on Erma La Douce, who I saw at the Roxy in 1965. My wife didn’t like the article, so I’m not linking to it here. I also wrote a good essay about Dorothy Stratten, the Playboy playmate who was killed. My wife didn’t like that one either. No link. Lately I’ve been writing a lot about real estate and klezmer.
My high school friend Dave just stopped in. Dave likes to talk about how he schtupped his next-door neighbor — this was 40 years ago — at the Pink Motel on Lake Shore Boulevard. The Pink Motel barmaid, Jan, had a tattoo on her left ankle — Greek letters from her Kent State sorority.
Enough. The Mazeltones, a now-defunct Seattle klezmer band, played a few Sephardic tunes because many early Seattle Jewish settlers were from Rhodes, Greece . . .
September 14, 2016 4 Comments
A Protestant church hired Yiddishe Cup. About time. Ninety-eight percent of America isn’t Jewish, so that’s a market. The church music director asked if I wanted the communion table moved. For one, I didn’t know Protestants do communion. But this church did — twice a month. The music director moved the communion table to the narthex. Interesting word. Also, there was a goodwill offering. The minister is called “pastor,” not “minister.”
Please check out my essay “Papa Won’t Preach” at City Journal today. It’s about how “a love of music unites a father and son,” and specifically about the Vulfpeck show in Central Park tonight (Wed. Sept 7). Alice Stratton will be at that concert, and will no doubt jump on stage and do the “Funky Duck” with the band, so if you’re in NYC, be at the show!
September 7, 2016 4 Comments
I grew up in New York and never liked it there. I went to college in Ohio. I’m never going back east. To do what? Live in Williamsburg and write a blog about beer?
My roommate at Kenyon College took me to his hometown, Shaker Heights, a couple times. Cleveland has lawns and you don’t pay $2000/month for a one-bedroom apartment. I moved there. I have a one-bedroom for $850. Tricked out too — marble counter tops and a dishwasher. My dad thinks I’m crazy. He said I should enroll in accounting school at NYU.
I work in property management in Cleveland. I’ve gone back to New York once. I can’t stand it. Going to the deli for a sandwich is a major deal — the crowds, the lines, the elevator. People say I’m going the wrong way. Wrong! I am Jay Gatz in reverse. For a million dollars I could buy almost all of Cleveland. And I will.
August 31, 2016 6 Comments
1. Eat your fist once a week.
2. Sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” every morning. It aligns you. It starts with a major triad, 5-3-1.
3. If you’re blood isn’t bright red, eat cheese immediately.
4. Eat sardines. Chicken of the Sea, lightly smoked in oil, is your best good bet.
5. Avoid fad diets.
6. Drink a shot glass of olive oil once a day.
7. Don’t knock Miller Lite.
8. Exercise at least two minutes an hour.
9. Catholics: carry smartphones. Sainthood is difficult to prove if you don’t have evidence.
10. Eat a lot of marshmallows. They aid your stomach in absorbing the flavonoids.
11. Arby’s Horsy Sauce is better for you than tomato sauce.
A slightly different version of this post appeared here 11/27/13.
Vulfpeck’s Kickstarter for its new album, The Beautiful Game, is up. Click on this link to contribute.
August 24, 2016 5 Comments
Nobody cares about jazz except me and a couple random Berklee freshmen. I’ve played with Frank Sinatra, Jr. That was the darkest year of my life. Vegas wasn’t meant for a 20 year old. I gigged with Chick Corea. His drummer quit and I got the call. I was only 22.
I’ve been a music professor for about 10 years. That’s the best gig for jazzers these days. I want to enroll in the creative writing class at the college here, but the English chairman says all the writing classes are full. Let me in! I want to write a book on how we reverse-engineer musicians. We teach kids technique but none of the spiritual aspects of music. Think about folk musicians. They don’t get nervous and take beta-blockers. They grew up with their music. It’s part of their culture, like food.
There are maybe two people who give a shit about jazz — me and a kid at Berklee. I hope he buys my book.
August 17, 2016 2 Comments
We played a 90th birthday party, where the celebrant’s daughter, age 65, sat about a foot from the band and requested tune after tune. She liked Mickey Katz parodies and knew a lot of other Jewish classics. For instance, she knew the “Russian Sher.” She said she had grown up on Hello Solly, an album by Mickey Katz.
And she had never heard of Yiddishe Cup! This daughter had lived in Cleveland her entire adult life. Yiddishe Cup has played everywhere on Cleveland’s East Side — every temple, park, club, every inch. Was she house-bound?
I Googled the daughter. Facebook said she “studied at The Ohio State University, lives in Cleveland, Ohio, and listens to Yiddishe Cup.” I told her to add that last part. I bet she’ll take it down.
August 10, 2016 2 Comments
Courtlin passed out in the apartment lobby, so a cop called me: “He [Courtlin] set up a picnic on your landing with some 24-ouncers,” the cop said.
“To his credit, Courtlin has his socks on,” the cop said.
A tenant discovered Courtlin an hour earlier in the lobby. I told the tenant the trespasser was fairly harmless — no felony convictions, just criminal trespassing and disorderly conducts. She was OK with that; she didn’t say “I’m moving,” which would have been in line.
The cop said, “He goes to the well — apartment lobbies — for a while until he’s arrested, then he goes someplace else.”
The criminal hearing is in a couple weeks.
. . . Done. He got three days in jail. He’ll be back.
Yiddishe Cup plays 7 p.m. tomorrow (Thurs., Aug. 4) on the lawn at John Carroll U., University Hts., Ohio. Free. Indoors if raining. Free ice cream, kids!
August 3, 2016 4 Comments