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.



Tim Stanton, the owner of Stanton’s Flower Shoppe, didn’t need retail any more. His walk-in trade wasn’t walking in. He was moving to a warehouse, to work the internet and crank out $400-$500 funeral home packages.

I saw Tim once more. I was with my oldest son, and Tim was with his oldest son. I said, “It’s been a good run.”

Tim agreed. He had entered the flower shop at 22 (in 1976) and walked out 33 years later. Tim often paid his rent late but included a flower bouquet whenever he did. He had known my dad. Not too many tenants went that far back. Tim said, “Your dad gave me a start. I always appreciated that.” I was glad my son got to hear that.

In the mid-1970s, I used to take lunch breaks in back of the flower shop in the alley. Probably the coolest place — temperature-wise — on the West Side. Always shady and usually with a lake breeze. I was pointing up bricks in the building basement. That was a make-work project, proposed by my dad. I wanted to be a blue-collar guy, and my father said, “Go ahead, be a blue-collar guy and see how much fun it is.”

A plumber, who saw me pointing bricks, said, “These walls are going to be standing long after you and I are both dead. Why are you doing this?”

Because my father said so. I didn’t actually say that. I didn’t say anything.

Tim Stanton — in his heyday — employed his mother, sister, brother and several others. I re-rented the flower store to a 26-year-old woman who started up a gelato shop. I hoped she would walk out 33 years later. She lasted nine years. Not bad. Now the place is a coffee shop.

About the gelato woman. The first time I met her I said, “You don’t want to be on your death bed thinking you didn’t give it a chance. People regret not having done things much more than they regret things they did.” That was my shpiel, lifted almost verbatim from Stumbling on Happiness by psychologist Daniel Gilbert. “If you don’t give it a try, you’ll never know,” I said.

Gilbert also wrote: “Because we do not realize that our psychological immune systems can rationalize an excess of courage more easily than an excess of cowardice, we hedge our bets when we should blunder forward.”

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May 18, 2022   2 Comments


Philip Roth was envious of Primo Levi. Levi was a chemist and had something to write about. Roth had nothing. Levi dealt with businessmen and scientists, plus he had his concentration-camp experiences. All Roth had was the occasional lecture at colleges, like Bard or Penn, where he interacted with young women.

Solution for Roth: He decided to do research. He would approach taxidermists and say, “I’m a novelist. You’ve probably heard of Portnoy’s Complaint. Maybe not. Can I watch you skin that cat?” Roth learned about taxidermy for I Married a Communist.

Roth and Levi and me. (It’s my blog) . . .

I used to write about nothing. No research. Sometimes I wrote about my parents or asthma. I wrote a whole novel about wheezing. I also wrote a detective novel (unpublished — like my wheezing book) about a Slovenian cop. I did the Slovenian-cop thing before novelist Les Roberts did. I once saw Roberts at a lecture at a temple. (Roberts is a lantsman.) I told him I had written a Slovenian-cop book, which had failed miserably. Roberts said, “I’m glad.” Funny. Roberts was a producer for Hollywood Squares before he moved to Cleveland. He should have stayed in California. (Roberts wrote novels about a Cleveland Slovenian cop, in case you’re lost here.)

I recently booted a tenant for nonpayment of rent, plus he was scaring other tenants by banging on the walls and swearing loudly. He said to me, “I don’t have to tell you this, because of HIPAA, but I’m bipolar and I don’t have any place to live but my car.”

I patiently listened to his story and finally said, “I wish you the best.”

“Don’t wish me anything, man. I’ve worked three jobs and now nobody will hire me. I don’t want your wishes.” He moved. More real than Roth? Less real than Levi? It is what it is, to quote somebody.

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May 11, 2022   2 Comments


Because I play happy music (i.e. klezmer), people think I know about happiness. And I do. Here are some guidelines for more happiness:

  1. Wear shorts to a wedding. You’ll draw attention to yourself and away from the bride. Perfect.
  2. Invent a new colonoscopy flavor. Don’t do pineapple, cherry, lemon-lime or orange. These flavors have been taken.  I’ll write up a story about you and submit it to the Wall Street Journal.
  3. Convert to Christianity (or Judaism). Why spend your life in one religion?
  4. Drop in on your neighbor and see what kinds of Smucker’s jelly they have. If they have Sugar Free Apricot, call the police.
  5. If you feel really bad, grip a pen horizontally in your mouth and bite down until the ink cartridge explodes. This activates the happy muscles in your face — the ones that make you smile.

I had an essay in the Cleveland Plain Dealer on Sunday, “Strike up the (klezmer) bands for Ukraine.”

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May 4, 2022   1 Comment


I wrote something about the Midwest — how cool and tough and underappreciated the Rust Belt is. The question: how much BS on the Rust Belt can the world absorb? A lot. My piece, “My Rust Belt Doesn’t Rust,” didn’t even mention Ukraine. Didn’t need that crutch.

The New York Times ran it. Then everybody copied the Times. The Plain Dealer picked it up. Then everybody else. I got in the International New York Times. All this because I love the Midwest. Readers in Circleville and Marquette and Muncie loved the piece.

We have better manners in the Midwest. We don’t raise our voices. We don’t care about college credentials. We resent the term “flyover country.” Right now I’m googling myself to see where my story has popped up. It’s in the Anchorage Daily News.

I live and die for the Browns, Guardians/Indians and Cavs. I miss the steel mills. I like to work hard with my hands. I play clarinet. That counts.

Google “Stratton + Rust Belt.” Amazing.

[fake profile]

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April 27, 2022   1 Comment


I’m an expert on the Jewish hora. How it goes down or doesn’t go down. I’ve analyzed horas at simchas where I’m playing, and simchas where I’m not playing — like at family functions, where I’m just another regular Joe Jew guest. Usually I get out on the dance floor at these family celebrations and roll with the lame DJ.

One time I banged up my knee the afternoon before the relative’s bat mitzvah party. I tripped on steps while fetching earplugs for the party. I asked the bartender at the party, “Unusual request here, but can you get me a bag of ice for my knee?” No problem. I sat out the hora. It went on about 10 minutes. It was the standard DJ crap: “Now circle right, now left. Everybody into the center.”

I would have danced; I’m not a hora snob, but I was freaking out about my knee. I thought my knee might go south for months. You never know, particularly when you reach my age.

Yiddishe Cup occasionally does some simchas where we play the hora and then are replaced by a DJ. One thing  the DJ does that Yiddishe Cup can’t compete with: the DJ gets his “dance facilitators” to carry the bat mitzvah girl in on their shoulders. (At Yidd Cup gigs, we have the kids carry us in.)

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April 20, 2022   1 Comment


Roll it . . . I buy a slice of pizza on Broadway and walk by the Cooper Union, then down St. Mark’s Place. I notice the Fillmore East is going to reopen as a circus. I go up Second Avenue and see bus ads that say Prisoner of Second Avenue on them. That’s a Neil Simon play. (When Simon was on Dick Cavett, Simon said his problem was he couldn’t stop writing.)

I arrive at 215 Second Avenue, my destination. I’m thinking of renting a room here, but the sublet guy isn’t home. A friend of his is in. He’s Joel. Another guy is here, too. He’s Joe. The guy I’m looking for is Joey. The place is a dump. All these guys are crashing here. Joel has a hacking cough and a pornographer’s beard. The windows are dirty and have iron gratings. I’ll take the place.

I use Spic and Span to clean the refrigerator and kitchen table. Joel says, “Don’t be so middle-class about it.” Joel is a graduate of Queens College, as are Joe and Joey. Joel spits blood in the toilet and doesn’t flush it. He floats his pink toilet paper! The cat shit is encrusted all over the bathroom. Joe is the editor of Monster Times.

I head over to Greenwich Village. I know a recent Brandeis graduate there who has enrolled in NYU law school. He lives on Waverly Place and is seemingly normal. He’s not in. I go to Fifth Avenue and look up a girl whose father I know from Cleveland. The doorman says I can buzz her. “I’m Bert,” I say on the intercom.


“Bert like in Bert Parks.”

This girl is a buyer for Bloomingdale’s. She’s heading out to New Jersey for a grand opening. I head over to the 34th Street YMCA, where I’ll spend the night, I think. A girl there — at the Y — asks me, “Where are you from?”

“Michigan.” (Michigan is cooler than Ohio.)

“I’m from Minnesota!” she says. She says she’s going to be an actress. Her boyfriend shows up.


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April 13, 2022   3 Comments


My wife, Alice, said the sore on my nose wasn’t healing, so I went to the dermatologist. He said, “I’m pretty sure this is cancer. Basel cell carcinoma. If it’s benign, we won’t call you back.”

Three weeks passed. No call back. Good. Nevertheless, I told Alice, “Maybe I should call the doctor. He said he was pretty sure it was cancerous.”

I called. The skin doctor’s receptionist put me on hold for five minutes. Then a nurse said, “We’re waiting for a fax.” I waited a long time.

The doctor got on the line: “I have to apologize. We are using a new lab, and they failed to send a report to us. I take the blame. I should have followed up. It’s basil cell carcinoma, just like I expected.”

Skin cancer. I hate that — when you beg for a diagnosis and get a bad one. Suddenly my world revolved around appointments and follow-ups. I went to a specialist who did Mohs surgery — deep-dish nose drilling.

What if I hadn’t called the dermatologist? Nobody nose.

I wrote an op-ed about baby-naming for the WSJ last week. “Who’ll Win the Baby Name Game.”

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April 6, 2022   5 Comments


I never report my music income. I’m a musician, not an accountant. I don’t give a shit about taxes. I play music eight hours a day, and in between I wait for the phone to ring for gigs. I have no life except music, and I’m proud of it.

I owe people money. Big deal. That’s standard in the music biz. My standard line is “Can you lend me five bucks to get home from the gig? What’s five bucks?”

One musician yelled at me, “Five bucks is pathetic! At least ask for a twenty!” He gave me a twenty. Nice.

I occasionally hock my instruments and show up at gigs with student-level gear. This, too, annoys bandleaders. Charlie Parker hocked his horn; I’m in good company! A bandleader once told me, “Tools, man, where are your tools?” I have tools — cheesy student tools, which I play better than you. I once asked a rabbi for gas money and he gave it to me. I have bad habits. I’m flawed.

What about you? Are you perfect?

[fake profile]

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March 30, 2022   1 Comment


I remember lillies in the alley, humming.

I remember cheese that yelped.

I remember South Euclid Home Days where Andrea Carroll sang “Please Don’t Talk to the Lifeguard.”

I remember soldiers surfing on toothbrushes.

I remember horse manure that was supposed to stink but didn’t.

I remember horses without names that cut themselves on glass.

I remember four people without names: Boris, Patty, Jake and Mona.

I remember bath towels that cried out for redemption and got it.

I remember throwing a rock through a window at Gino’s restaurant in Ann Arbor.

I remember destroying my thesis on glue because I knew I’d flunk.

I remember being on edge. Years later, I learned it wasn’t all about me.

It was about you. This is about you.

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March 23, 2022   1 Comment


Yiddishe Cup’s most religiously scrupulous gig was for the get (divorce decree) rabbi. We played a Purim tish (gathering) at his house in Cleveland Heights. All black hats and beards. The rabbi’s drosh (speech on a liturgical text) was in Yiddish. I thought I was in a Chagall painting.

My Conservative rabbi, when he heard about the get gig, couldn’t believe I’d been in the get rabbi’s house. My rabbi had never been in there.

I knew all the rabbis in town. In Cleveland, Jewish denominations typically don’t party and pray together, so the rabbis don’t all know each other. If you want a mishmash of Jews all in the same room, go to a smaller town, like Akron, Ohio. In Akron, the Orthodox and non-Orthodox will mix it up. It’s a matter of survival. Small numbers.

Musicians, take note of this: Don’t play “Hava Nagila” for the Orthodox. They usually don’t want it. Too goyish. Nevertheless, at one Orthodox wedding, the bride’s aunt repeatedly requested the band play “Hava Nagila.” I said no. Then some New York yeshiva buchers asked me for the song. I said, “Are you trying to embarrass the band?”

“No, we heard you’re a klezmer band and we’d like to hear it.” Yeah, right.

Still, the mom didn’t want it. Again, the mom’s sister said play it. And again, the buchers said play it. The mom finally relented. We played it. The world ended.

Coda: The buchers danced with ruach to the tune. “Hava Nagila” is originally a Hasidic nign from Hungary. Look these Jewish words up. Don’t have time to translate. Gotta find my funny hat for Purim.

I had an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on Monday. “We Are All Ukrainians Now.”

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March 16, 2022   3 Comments


I used to sell klezmer. I traveled to arts booking conferences in Chicago, Kansas City, and Pittsburgh. The conferences were trade shows. I hung up a Yiddishe Cup banner in a booth and smiled at people I didn’t want to smile at. The people I smiled at were bookers, also known as presenters. They represented Carnegie Hall, the Oshkosh (Wis.) Opera House and points in between. In show-biz lang, these places are called “soft-seat auditoriums.”

My booth was sandwiched between a puppeteer, a classical pianist, and a “mentalist” — a guy who bent spoons. I was with the self-represented artists. The booths that got the most traffic were manned by talent agencies. For instance, if  a presenter wanted to hire the Klezmatics or the Klezmer Conservatory Band, the presenter would find the talent-agency booth that repped, say, klez, Irish music, jazz and dance.

This, just in . . . there are too many artists. At one Midwest Arts Conference, a portion of the exhibit hall was devoted specifically to “New Music.” I saw bookers hanging out there. I was getting no action; nobody was hanging out at my booth. And I even gave out candy! I said to the convention administrator, “Yiddishe Cup does new music.”

She said, “Klezmer isn’t new music!”

“We do nude music,” I said. I was giddy, having done nothing for two days. Still, she wouldn’t let Yiddishe Cup in to the special section.

One time, in Pittsburgh, I got sick of the whole conference schtick and went home a day early. I left a bunch of flyers at my booth. A couple weeks later I got a call from the Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts. We played NYC. Note that. We got that gig without me being at the booth. Lesson?

Kansas City: a Beloit College student ran up to my booth and declared his love of klezmer — klezmer in general, not necessarily Yiddishe Cup. We got that gig. Our first airplane outing. We flew to Midway, rented a van, and drove up to Beloit to play for student bodies in the college chapel.

By the way, right after we landed at Midway, we  ate at Pepe’s, a Mexican restaurant on Cicero Avenue. I still pass that place somewhat regularly, because my daughter, Lucy, lives in Chicago. The restaurant isn’t Pepe’s anymore. But it’s still Mexican. I digress.

Yiddishe Cup plays nude music.
nude music

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March 9, 2022   2 Comments


Arvids Jansons. I got his desk when he left.

Argero Vassileros. Nickname: Argie.

Michael Bielemuk,  a k a The Professor. He had floor-to-ceiling bookshelves.

Maria Malfundido. A kleptomaniac. She stole light bulbs from the hall so we glued the bulbs into the sockets.

Saram Carmichael. A transvestite who solicited customers from her second floor window. The johns waited at the bus stop outside her window.

Stan Hershfield. One of the few Jews at the time on the West Side. He was raised in an orphanage and loved the word bubkes (beans), as in: “Stratton, I have bubkes so don’t hondle me about the rent.”  [Hondle is haggle.] When Hershfield painted the natural wood floor in the kitchen, he beamed, “Only the best, Stratton, Benjamin Moore!”

Malfalda Bedrossian. She was never late with her rent.

Chris Andrews. He had a regular name but slept in a coffin.

Merjeme Haxhiraj. She talked me down $10 every year on her rent.

Patience Osuma. She wasn’t patient. She had multiple beefs. She thought she was living in the Ritz.

John “Chip” Stephens. He played jazz piano all day and was so good he landed a tenure track job at a university in Missouri.

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March 2, 2022   3 Comments


Congregation Beth Am’s social hall smelled. The stained drop-ceiling tiles were caked with decades of latke grease. And where did Beth Am get that gefilte fish air freshener it used in the back entrance? My bubbe’s place on Kinsman Road circa 1960 smelled better. My klezmer band, Yiddishe Cup, played the last wedding at Beth Am in 1999. The Beth Am building is now the New Community Bible Fellowship, with crowds like for Yom Kippur.

Beth Am had approximately 400 adult members on closing day. The temple membership – Conservative affiliation — debated downsizing, closing, or possibly merging with a bigger temple out east. One-fifth of the congregation voted to stay. Four-fifths said, “Let’s go.” The rabbi, Michael Hecht, said “Let’s go,” and his vote counted disproportionately. Like most congregants, I respected Rabbi Hecht. He liked opera and classical music, and he put musicians in the same category as physicians. That alone was worth paying full dues. Rabbi Hecht knew some Greek and said “musician” meant “healer by Muse,” and “physician” meant “healer by physics /nature.” I don’t know if that’s right, but it sounded good. He also said any congregant, no matter how poor, can give tzedakkah. If you’re broke, give blood, he said. That has always stuck with me.

Rabbi Hecht was not warm and fuzzy. He wouldn’t wear a full-out costume on Purim. Maybe a crazy hat, at most. He was a Yekkie (German Jew) who sermonized on how life is not fair. He said improve the planet. He said distribute “artificial justice.” Rabbi Hecht was born in Germany in 1936, came to America as a child, and started Johns Hopkins at 16. He wrote articles for Good Housekeeping, Conservative Judaism and the Cleveland Jewish News. Nothing terribly prestigious there, but still, copy. When Rabbi Hecht died at 80 in 2017, the funeral service lasted more than an hour. It was at the newer synagogue by the outerbelt – the congregation that Beth Am merged with. Many eulogizers hammered on about Rabbi Hecht’s love of music. He used to go regularly to the Cleveland Heights Library to take out classical CDs to duplicate. According to one eulogizer, Rabbi Hecht liked the Beatles. The eulogizer said “In his [Rabbi Hecht’s] collection he also had some Led Zeppelin and even Metallica.” Rabbi Hecht had three adult children. They must have been the rockers. Rabbi Hecht hated rock. It was always too loud. At a Chanukah party he told Yiddishe Cup to turn its speakers down — twice. Our sound guy finally said, “I can’t turn it down. Our sound system is completely off.”

Whenever I drive by the New Community Bible Fellowship, I think about the smelly Beth Am social hall and Rabbi Hecht, and the congregants who sniffed around.

I had an essay in the Wall Street Journal last week about playing clarinet for Holocaust survivors. “Holocaust Remembrance at Cafe Europa.”

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February 23, 2022   2 Comments


Most every Jewish baby boomer in Cleveland grew up around Holocaust survivors, unless he lived in Shaker Heights, and even in Shaker there were probably a few DPs in the double houses.

I had a classmate at Brush High who retold his parents’ Nazi horrors to the local newspaper in the 1960s — pre-Holocaust (before the word Holocaust went big-time). Joe was a super Jew. Joe’s father worked at a kosher poultry market. Joe often stayed home for obscure (to me) Jewish holidays. Some of the Jewish kids teased him when he came back. (The goys didn’t notice.)

I copied Joe’s style. I wrote a letter to the Cleveland Press protesting the U.S. Christmas stamp, which had a religious symbol (Madonna and child), 1966. I said the new stamp violated the separation of church and state. I got letters back. One reader wrote, “Go to Vietnam where men are men and not homosexual like you.” That got me to write more letters. I wrote about Poland expelling its last Jews in 1968. I vied with Joe for champion of Jewish teenage letter writers. All I had to do was write Jew, and I would get half-baked, vitriolic feedback. I enjoyed that. I had been through so little. I wanted to experience World War II. Then I’d go home and eat some Jell-O.

Alex Kozak sold record albums and sewing machines. Appliance store owners used to sell records; I got Bechet of New Orleans and Be Bop Era (RCA Vintage Series) from Mr. Kozak. He was a World War II red army bootsRed Army veteran — a Hungarian Jew who escaped the Nazis and fought with the Russians. I borrowed his cavalry boots for my high school Canterbury Tales presentation. Mr. Kozak was big — about one-and-a-half Isaac Babels.

I knew Mr. Kozak through my parents, who often socialized with Holocaust survivors. My dad liked the men; many were into baseball and were for the most part no-nonsense. What was there to talk about — the good old days? Keep it short. My dad liked that.

At a Yiddishe Cup gig in Detroit, I ran into Mr. Kozak’s daughter. She said her nephew had the cavalry boots now — the ones Mr. Kozak had worn into Prague with the Soviets in 1945.

Lime Jell-O. That was the best.

“Joe” is a pseudonym, re: my high school friend.

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February 16, 2022   5 Comments


I’ve been into computers since the punch-card days. I can talk RAM and bytes, and byte me. But I won’t tech-talk here.

I had a baby-boomer friend who cried whenever he had computer problems. He would call me in tears. He literally would be rolling on the floor in pain. I was his fix-it guy. Sometimes it was just a matter of rebooting the computer.

In the 1970s I had a cellphone as big as a shoebox. I golfed a lot and schlepped that James Bond cellphone. Blew people’s minds. I worked for Motorola for a year. My kids call me for computer help.

Let me know if you have any problems.

[fake profile]

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February 9, 2022   4 Comments


The Greensboro Furniture Mart
is happening

There are no beds for Yidd Cup
except at a hotel across from the Executive Club
which in Cleveland is a catering hall
but in NC is a strip joint

Continental breakfast
Corn Flakes in a Styrofoam bowl
needs milk
for weight
too late
Where’s the broom?

Two bands
are at the Delta Airlines counter
“Our gig was colder than a motherfucker,”
the drummer says.
”You played outside?” our guy says
“Damn, right,” their drummer says.

“Who you with?”
“The Neville Brothers.”
Our singer flips. He’s a big Neville Brothers fan

the one and only Yiddishe Cup.

(We’re home now. Been home for 16 years.)

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February 2, 2022   2 Comments


We sprayed the tenant’s suite for cockroaches. It didn’t work. The tenant wrote a letter demanding we do it again, and if we didn’t, she would put her rent in escrow. She worked at a law office. We sprayed again. Then we sprayed the whole building — approximately one-thousand dollars’ worth of spray.

She still had bugs. She called the city building department, which sent out its most gung-ho inspector, who decided we needed to point the chimney and plane the boiler-room door in the basement, and fix up everything in between.

We did all that. And we brought in our cockroach “bomber,” a guy who zapped her apartment, including a direct hit on her coffee maker. A dozen cockroaches scampered out. She had gotten the used coffee maker from her boyfriend. That roach-infested coffee maker set me back thousands.

I planned not to renew her lease, but she told me she was moving before I told her I was not renewing her. That bugged me.

So did her 20-pound bond, legal stationery. She wasn’t even a lawyer.

Here’s my op-ed from last Friday’s Wall Street Journal: My Deadbeat Tenant Insisted on Eviction.

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January 26, 2022   7 Comments


  • Don’t rent to anybody for less than a year. How about six months? Nope. You’ll attract unstable — in all ways — tenants.
  • Don’t go long-term on a natural gas contract. Anything can happen with natural gas prices.
  • Don’t assume store tenants will do preventive maintenance. I once hired Roto-Rooter to jet a restaurant’s drain. The bill was $925. The restaurant owner didn’t reimburse me. He said, “How do you know it was my grease?” Well, was it grease from the flower shop next door?
  • Roofers are gonifs. It’s hard work and you can’t easily check their work.
  • When the temperature goes below 20 degrees, everything fails: pipes, downspouts, boilers, walls, roofs, snowplow guys, concrete.
  • Miller is a good all-purpose name. Miller can be Amish, African-American, Jewish, German, English, Gypsy. I once rented to Gypsy Millers. The cops wanted their license plate number but I didn’t get the number fast enough. The Millers left suddenly. They had New York plates.
  • There aren’t enough Elvis lovers in the trades anymore.
  • Real estate brokers wear expensive suits even though they’re not all rich. They go into boiler rooms and climb roofs. They have significant dry-cleaning bills.
  • Make sure there aren’t any Q-tips — even new ones — in the bathroom when showing vacant suites.
  • Wear a tie to court. The defendant usually will not. You win.

  • WSJ readers, here are more real estate stories.

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    January 19, 2022   3 Comments


    This is a guest post by Mark Schilling. It’s an edited excerpt from an unpublished novel Mark wrote in 1973. (The character “Bruce” is based on yo.)

    Bruce answered my questions about his trip to Puerto Rico in a monotone, with that dry humor of his, never looking at me and seldom saying more than the minimum. Wanting to cheer him up, I suggested we go to The Scene — the bar famed for having the only psychedelically lighted dance floor in Ann Arbor. I said, “Maybe we can pick up some secretaries from Ypsilanti and tell them we’re pre-med students.”

    Bruce agreed to go. “But no junior high school shit,” he said. “No standing around for an hour to get the feel of things. We walk up to the first two hip-looking girls we see and ask to sit down with them.”

    “You take the lead, man.”

    “Don’t try to bring me down, I’ll need all the help I can get,” Bruce said.

    “I’m not going to bring you down,” I said, feeling pissed. But I let it ride.

    The Scene was packed. It was Saturday night. The drummer and keyboard player, who accompanied the records, were taking a break. Bruce and I stood at the bar surveying the crowd. “See the two chicks in back?” Bruce asked. “I’ll go over and see if it’s cool. Just stay here.” One, with her back to us, was wearing a red bandana. The other, a blonde, looked fantastic.

    What was Bruce going to say? Hi, my friend and I would like to sit with you? I hoped it would be something better than that, but what? Bruce waved me over.

    Now it was my turn to feel the butterflies. Bruce was sitting next to the blonde. The girl with the red bandana had a friendly, intelligent smile, which made me wonder what she was doing at The Scene. We covered everyone’s name, occupation and place of residence. The bandana girl, Jane, was a natural resources student at the U of M; the blonde, Marie, was a drop-out from Wayne State, now working as a check-out clerk at a Kroger’s in Detroit.

    Bruce asked Marie who her favorite authors were, as a ploy for recounting his own poetic and journalistic exploits (he wrote music reviews for the college newspaper). When she told him she had read On the Road, he looked as though he was going to hug her. “You know Kerouac! What else have you read?” All interesting, but with the music blasting away it was hard to hear half of what they were saying.

    So I quizzed Jane about her major. She was very concerned about the environment. “We’re running out of time,” she told me. “We’ve got to make changes now. In twenty years it will be too late.” She didn’t know what to do about it and neither did I. We danced, talked some more, and then Jane and Marie had to leave. Bruce wrote Marie’s number down on a napkin.

    Walking back to campus, Bruce said, “Her name is Marie Verdoux. She’s a Frog — a Canuck!” Bruce had wanted to meet a French girl ever since becoming a fan of Kerouac, that son of Canucks. “She’s a genius, no doubt about it.”

    A couple days later I dropped by Bruce’s place, a rooming house just off State Street. He was sitting on his bed listening to records. He’d been at it for hours. Bruce told me he had called Marie. “She was surprised but I think she dug it,” he said.

    “What did you talk about?”

    “Bullshit. I was just doing it to keep my edge. I don’t want her to forget who I am, you know.” Then Bruce rambled on more about Marie — what a good time they would have together. Bruce liked to make every encounter with a girl into a big moment of truth, a matter of make or break. We could endlessly analyze the nuances of these meetings. Bruce said, “I tape-recorded the call. She has an incredible voice, like an airline stewardess or something.”

    Bruce tape-recorded nearly everyone who walked into his room or talked to him on the phone. It bugged me at first to see him flipping that thing on at the start of a conversation, but I’d gotten used to it. Bruce said he was making the tapes for posterity. He liked to quote Ed Sanders’ adage “this is the age of investigation and every citizen must investigate.”

    This tape — this blog post, label it “The Scene, 1973.”

    Mark Schilling, 1977

    Mark Schilling, 1977

    —  Mark Schilling has lived in Japan for decades and writes regularly for The Japan Times and Variety. His books include Sumo, A Fan’s Guide; Tokyo After Dark; The Encyclopedia of Japanese Pop Culture; and most recently Art, Cult and Commerce: Japanese Cinema Since 2000.


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    January 12, 2022   9 Comments


    Mark Schilling was my beat-est buddy. He moved to Los Angeles, quite possibly to live out a Charles Bukowski fantasy. Before L.A., Mark was in Ann Arbor, where he did some cool things (can’t remember any of them) and some cloddish things, like going out on a first date and taking one dollar with him, and the girl said, “Do you think I’m paying for myself.”

    “Yes,” Mark said.

    Mark showed up at my place. “Just blew another one!” he said. We played the Best of the Beach Boys, Vol 2, and Mark sang along. He had a good voice. We hopped into Mark’s Chevy and made the scene — The Scene bar in downtown Ann Arbor. The bar had flashing colored lights, nude photos of women on the ceiling, and peace and love posters. The Scene was cheesy, an ersatz European discotheque. Stupid. The more philosophical heads in town were at Flick’s Bar or Mr. Flood’s Party. But Mark and I preferred the drama of The Scene, because at The Scene there was dancing, which could lead to . . . whatever. The Scene had a contingent from Ypsilanti that could go nuts at any moment.

    I approached a girl called Pinball Annie, who was next to the speakers. She refused to budge, and I didn’t feel like going deaf, so Mark and I retreated to the loft, above the dance floor. The viewing was good up there, and Mark and I were above-average voyeurs. (Below-average players.) Mark talked about his student teaching and what he’d been reading lately. Mark worshipped Henry Miller. Mark was all about Hen (Miller) and Buk (Bukowski). Mark also admired Anais Nin, who lectured once at U-M. She defended Henry Miler before a crowd of Miller-hating women. She said Miller’s writing was picaresque.

    Mark was picaresque, too. (Picaresque: “relating to an episodic style of fiction dealing with the adventures of a rough and dishonest but appealing hero.”) Mark was all that, but honest.

    Mark sold Christmas trees in L.A., then moved to Tokyo to teach English at Sony. He quit the Sony ESL gig after a few years and wrote books and articles about Japanese culture. One of Mark’s first books was a guide to nightlife, Tokyo After Dark. Figures.

    mark schilling BEST PHOTO(R) & bert stratton, 1971, ann arbor

    Bert Stratton (L) and Mark Schilling. 1971. A2.

    P.S. Mark is still my beat-est buddy.

    I recently wrote a book review of Donald Hall’s Old Poets for City Journal. The review is titled “A Viking Cruise for Old English Majors.”

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    January 5, 2022   7 Comments