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.



In 1938, when my father graduated college, he wanted a job — any job. When I graduated college in 1973, I wanted meaningful work. Meaningful work — the expression — I first heard from Lawrence Kasdan, The Big Chill director. (By the way, The Big Chill was a total ripoff of Return of the Secaucus 7.)

I tried bricklaying. I got a joiner, mortar and a mason’s trowel. I knew a Jewish bricklayer who talked up the profession, and he showed me a few things. This was before YouTube.

My father said, “You want to work with your hands?”

It turns out, I didn’t. I’m more of a desk guy. I like to keep records. I have records on most everything. I know how long ink rollers last in my adding machine. One year, almost to the date. I wrote dates on lightbulbs. That, I’ve given up. Life is short. Life, itself, lasts . . . uh, varies.

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September 2, 2020   1 Comment


An employee showed a lot of butt cleft when he waxed floors, alienating some of the more fastidious tenants.

I hired a building manager who drove too often to Detroit. This was before cell phones. I couldn’t reach him half the time.

Another building manager grew up in Hough, back when that neighborhood was classy. Her family had boarded Nap Lajoie, the Hall of Fame baseball player. She said to me, “We had the elite in my neighborhood. No mongrels, like from PA.” Her husband was from PA.

There was a manager who rarely cleaned the building. A tenant taped a note up in the vestibule: “This building is a mess.” Other tenants added to the note: “Vacuum the halls” . . . “Take the tree down, Christmas is over!” . . . “Trim the shrubs.”

There was a building manager whose vacuum sweeper was always outside her door but she never vacuumed.

An employee threatened to kill me. He dated a tenant, a problem tenant — a transvestite prostitute. When I fired him, he said he would hunt me down. Luckily, he didn’t know his way around the East Side, where I live. (The East Side has curved streets.)

One employee regularly asked for loans because her husband took her money and blew it at the racetrack. He was a hard worker, but a gambler.

There was a building manager whose kids were thieves. One day I asked the manager where her son was, and she said, “He stepped out to shop.”

“Where to?”

“Marion.” The Marion (Ohio) Correctional Institution. When her son returned from Marion, he burglarized an apartment in the building.

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August 26, 2020   5 Comments


My aunt Bernice said, “The young rabbi thinks the Young People’s Congregation gives out the lifetime tenures.” My uncle Al said, “That rabbi isn’t too smart.” My relatives liked to talk about rabbis — who got fired and why, who moved, who did what to whom, and in what room. AKs talk about rabbis.

Now I’m an AK and I talk about rabbis, even cantors — who’s too political, who’s stuffy, who’s friendly (which basically means they like my band).

Rabbis are celebrities around here. It’s what  we do on the East Side of Cleveland — rabbis and Geraldo Rivera. One major-congregation rabbi “pulls down six figures,” my cousin said. I hope so. More like 300K, cuz. Just a guess.

Rabbis need to get out of town occasionally. If they stay in town, they’ll be badgered. If a rabbi goes to, say, Little Rock, Arkansas, the rabbi can do his or her thing. Not saying what that is. But what I am saying is I started this Rabbi Shack, a retreat in Little Rock. There are a few openings.

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August 19, 2020   1 Comment


My diet was sesame and poppy seed bagels. I thought it was a smart way to lose weight. Bialy’s Bagels in University Heights was my go-to place. My back-up was Amster’s at Cedar Center. The counter woman at Amster’s, Marilyn Weiss, volunteered for school levies and racial integration projects, and did a ton of schlep work at my shul. (She died in 2000 and Amster’s closed a few years later.)

I also shopped at Better, as in “Better Bagel,” on Taylor Road. The owners were New Yorkers who wore yarmulkes and Brooklyn Dodgers shirts. I figured they knew bagels. They didn’t. Their bagels were too doughy and not crispy enough on the outside. Better Bagel eventually changed its name to Brooklyn Bagel. No better.

I never buy bagels now. (My bagel diet didn’t work.) I hear Cleveland Bagel is pretty good. I have a friend who swears by Bruegger’s. Pathetic. I’d go back to Bialy’s if I ever go back.

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August 12, 2020   2 Comments


I attended a Zoom klez conference last week out of London, of all places. The presentations were at odd times, Cleveland-zone, so I missed a lot. I’ve put together an Eastern Time Zoom conference. It’s happening right now. Check it out . . .

How do I stop this thing?  Steven Greenman
Greenman asks, “Should a klezmer song end with a squirt or a pop? Or should the bandleader just scream, ‘It was all a mistake!'”

Praised be klezmer!  Don Friedman
Rev. Friedman is the spiritual leader of the Church-a-gogue, Twinsburg, Ohio. Friedman invented the Jewish freewill offering. It isn’t free. Friedman delivers his powerful “Klezmer!” sermon today.

Old shul  Alice Stratton
Stratton rewinds to when freylekhs tempos were T-120. She shows us her latest interpretive dance, “BlintzUh.” This mixed-genre dance involves cream cheese and two clarinets.

The 2020 Klezmer Manifesto  Michael Winograd
Wino from Wilno delivers the first klez manifesto since Alicia Svigals wailed “Against Nostalgia” at the 1996 Wesleyan University Klezmer Conference.

Here are some of Winograd’s key points:

1. It’s a lonely world. Hi, everybody.
2. I’ve done some bad things. Sorry.
3. I get paid to eat at weddings.
4. A scrap of paper in my wallet says I owe you. Shut up, scrap!

Music that repels Alan Douglass
Douglass discusses the bar mitzvah repertoire of the late 20th century. Followed by a limbo contest.

Aqua-klezmer Irwin Weinberger
Mystical, glorious and powerful mayim (water). Heartbreaking too. Bring a bathing suit and a doctor’s permission slip. There will be a baby pool and high board.

Breakout rooms:
Pretzel logic  Eric Broder
Rold Gold, Dan Dee, Snyder’s of Berlin, or Snyder’s of Hanover?

Be normal now  Nancy 3. Hoffman
Watch some movies, eat some burgers, go to bars, and don’t change your middle name from Arlene to 3.

Bark mitzvah  Mark Freiman
What’s your take on bark mitzvahs? (Bar mitzvahs for dogs.) Are they for real? What’s Jewish about your hunt?

Audiophilia  Moon Stevens
Is your sound system good enough for klezmer? If you were to sit in Moon Stevens’ L.A. living room, on his couch, it would be like you’re in the front row at Shelly’s Manne-Hole. The speakers are mounted on maple. What you got?

Klezmer abroad  Hans Filber
In his eBook memoir, clarinetist Hans Filber wrote: “My aunt once told me — she was drunk — ‘Why do you play that silly music? You’re German.’ But other than, nobody thinks it’s odd.” Discuss.

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August 5, 2020   3 Comments


I remember my mother’s apple sauce. Always lumpy.

I remember the 45 CTS bus to the Mayfield Road JCC.

I remember the shofar player missing every single note on Rosh Hashanah. He needed a trumpet mouthpiece.

I remember U.N. stamp souvenir sheets.

I remember the H-bomb.

I remember Pedwin loafers.

Ron Yarian (Brush chem teaacher) and Bert 7-21-19 Cleveland

Bert Stratton and Ron Yarian (R), 2019 photo

I remember CBA (Chemical Bond Approach) Chemistry. I remember the teacher, Mr. Yarian. I saw him last year. He’s 84 and doing well.

I remember Charlene Cohen, the homecoming queen runner-up. I didn’t know her, by the way.

I remember the Cream-O-Freeze. You do, too. You don’t forget your childhood ice cream hangout. (My daughter’s favorite place was Draeger’s at Van Aken.)

I remember my mother writing: “Bert was absent from school yesterday due to religious observances.”

I remember How to Play Better Tennis by Bill Tilden.


These days there are Facebook groups specializing in South Euclid nostalgia. One site listed our dads’ occupations: plumber, insurance man, tailor, aerospace engineer, cop. One contributor to the list, Sal, said he was a barber and his dad and grandfather had been barbers, and his son was a barber. One guy wrote, “[We had] a family business on 89th and Hough until about a year or so after the riots. After that and an injury he sustained to the head from a robbery, he never was the same.” A woman wrote, “My father rented a building on 88th and Buckeye for his tools and supplies for his plumbing business.” I don’t remember.

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July 29, 2020   6 Comments


My dad owned an “apartment community” in North Olmsted. The apartment community was garden-style, three-story buildings grouped around a parking lot and pool. The buildings had mansard roofs and looked like 1970s McDonald’s. The community was Jamestown Village. Should have been Jonestown. One tenant peed in the heating ducts and poured aquarium gravel in the toilet on his way out. Another resident seemed to use the hollow-core doors for karate practice.

A high school wrestling coach — who was also a multi-millionaire — bought the complex from my dad and turned it into condos in 1977. Worked out well for both my dad and the coach. The banker said to my dad, “You made your money, and Howard [the coach] made his.”

The coach was Howard Ferguson, who took St. Edward High to 11 state championships. Remember him?  He died in 1989.  Remember my dad? (I write about him frequently so you probably think you do.) Anybody remember the banker — Pete Shimrak? I quoted Pete in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed. The Wall Street Journal editor said to me, “Shimrak is dead, right? Because if he’s not, we can’t use your direct quotes [from Shimrak] without his approval.” Of course Shimrak was dead.

Uh, no, the editor said. Shimrak is 88. We tracked him down, via his son, and I got Pete’s OK for the direct quotes. In a voicemail Pete said nice things about my dad and called me “the Stratton boy.” Anybody who remembers my father can call me whatever they want.

Jamestown Village. Many auto workers lived there, and some of them liked to bang on things.

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July 22, 2020   1 Comment


I’m not Kenneth. I was supposed to be Kenneth, but my mother’s father, Albert Zalk, died four days before I was born. So I got “Albert.”

My grandfather died unexpectedly of a heart attack on a Saturday night (July 9, 1950); was buried the next Monday; and I was born three days later. Over the years I asked my mother how she made it through that week in July 1950. She always brushed me off with “I’m wasn’t even thinking.”

Albert Zalk. Cleveland, 1940s.

Albert Zalk. Cleveland, 1940s.

Here’s a parallel between my grandfather and me: Albert Zalk spent the last 18 years of his life collecting money for the Jewish Orthodox Old Home, and I’ve spent the last 20 years playing music at Menorah Park, the successor to the Jewish Orthodox Old Home. My grandfather wasn’t a big-time fundraiser for the home. He was not a macher. He was an edel (gentle) man and part-time Hebrew teacher. He lived in an apartment on East 140 Street and had little savings. His three daughters slept in one bedroom. Maybe he was a schnorer — a derogatory term for a tzedakah collector. I bought a membership to the Plain Dealer archives the other day and read Albert Zalk’s obit: “[Albert Zalk] known to thousands of persons in the Cleveland Jewish community for his activities in behalf of the Jewish Orthodox Old Home . . . was a familiar figure in all parts of the community.” So Albert took care of business, and for a good cause, besides.

Albert Zalk arrived in New York from Eishyshok, Lithuania, on the President Lincoln, via Hamburg, in 1909 at the age of 24. He made his way to the Mississippi Delta. His older sister was already there, married to a former-peddler merchant. Albert eventually owned two dry-goods stores, in Yazoo City and Louise, Mississippi. Albert had financial success. My mom said her childhood house in Yazoo City had a maid, cook and “yard boy.”

yazoo record label

My mother bought me a harmonica for my bar mitzvah. A chromatic harp — not a blues harp — but still, give her credit. I played harmonica a lot on the Diag at the U. of Michigan. Yazoo Records was a blues-reissue label that started in the 1960s. I liked the company logo.

Julia Zalk Stratton, 1953, with her kids, Leslie (front) and Bert (rear). South Euclid, Ohio.

Julia Zalk Stratton, 1953, with her kids, Leslie (front) and Bert (rear). South Euclid, Ohio

The Depression walloped my grandfather’s Mississippi stores, and he moved to Cleveland in 1930. Also, he wanted his three daughters to find Jewish boys to marry, and there weren’t many in Mississippi. Two years after arriving in Cleveland, Albert was traveling through Cleveland Jewish neighborhoods collecting money for the old folks home.

A relevant relative: Ann Sklar of Mississippi. She never married and lavished extra attention on her extended family. My mom said Annie didn’t marry her longtime sweetheart because he wasn’t Jewish, and she didn’t want to hurt her parents. Annie graduated from Mississippi State College for Women (The “W”). That was a somewhat unusual thing — a female college grad back then. (My mom was accepted to Flora Stone Mather, the women’s college at Western Reserve, but didn’t go because she couldn’t afford it. She saved her acceptance letter and attended secretarial school.) Ann Sklar became a secretary and office manager at W. P. Brown farm (Drew, Mississippi) — the largest individually owned cotton plantation in the South. When I was born, Annie sent me an engraved kiddush cup, along with her handwritten card that began “Dear Little Albert . . .”

On Monday I’m playing at Menorah Park for the first time in four months, because of Covid. Outdoors. Little Albert on the bandstand. (For the record, I’m 5-8, and have been avoiding “Albert” for most of my life.)

kiddish cup albert stratton albert zalk

The engraving on this kiddush cup reads “And it was evening, Albert M. Zalk, 1880-1950. And it was morning, Albert Stratton, July 13, 1950.” [1880 is wrong. Should read 1885.]

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July 15, 2020   6 Comments


I was out of my skull when I broke into boxcars, unloading Cutty Sark, golf balls and tires. I used tin snips that cut right through corrugated steel. This was a while ago. Now I’m retired and just watch TV. I have an intense appetite for the Indians — or whatever they’re called — and sausage and hash browns.

I’m lonely now with Corona-time. I never got married. A mistake. There was this chick in the 1970s who loved me, but I wasn’t ready. Schmuck — me. I joined the Marines and was in for six months. Semper Fidelis was plain bullshit to me. Latin bullshit. I quit.

You ever notice how Italians swear so much? It’s very big with them. If you’re Italian, you’re better than everybody else. You can be the biggest, dumbest fuck on two feet, but if you’re Italian, you’re it. I have enough spaghetti and wine in my veins to be Italian. The goddamn hot peppers, I can eat a mason jar full. But I’m not Italian, not by a long shot.

My family disowned me after Marion. A Jewish boy in the joint — me. Not kosher. I did three years there, then two in Chillicothe. I haven’t talked to my relatives in, I bet, 30 years. When I got out the last time, I made a clean slate of things. I sold stained glass to restaurants. Completely legit. But I didn’t like it, so I went back to stealing. The hardest part was carrying the loot. I was that good.

My biggest mistake? Quitting high school. I thought I knew more than the teachers. Schmuck — me, again. I hung out with the delinquents who stole cars. An old fat Jew — we called him the Eggman — ran the show.

I don’t have a dime to my name. I blew it all on cards, broads and racehorses. After a while, I couldn’t deal with the thickheaded Italians at the racetrack, so I got out. But not before I was broke. I love wieners and Coke. Love that combo. My best heist was when I pinched three cases of sausage from Red Barn. I didn’t fence it. I ate it all! I’m in menopause now — male menopause. The docs talk about it on TV. I love my flat-screen. Almost perfect. Just me and my TV.

Here’s my record:

DOB: 12-11-1953
WT: 325
HGT: 5-8

[fake profile]

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July 8, 2020   5 Comments


My clarinet teacher, Harry Golub, was nicknamed the Bald Eagle. Harry was hairless. Howard Zuckerman, a student, gave Mr. Golub the nickname. Mr. Golub taught out of a South Euclid storefront. His dad ran a kosher butcher shop next door. Harry Golub owned the building. One of his better moves.

Zuckerman, like many junior high clarinetists, dropped out of private lessons around bar mitzvah time. I hung in through eleventh grade. During my high school years, Mr. Golub asked me how the clarinet dropouts were doing. I gave him some updates — so-and-so got straight A’s, so-and-so was on the tennis team.

Mr. Golub was often cranky because, for one thing, he didn’t get along with the music department at the high school. They wouldn’t buy instruments and sheet music from him, he claimed. Mr. Golub said the high school was in cahoots with another music store, the one out in goy land — Lyndhurst.

I occasionally ran into Mr. Golub years later at Yiddishe Cup gigs, and he was still railing against the school system. He said, “Those mumzers! Those anti-semits!” He had a point. It was a city (yidn) versus country (gentile) thing. Those gentiles in Lyndhurst were probably taken aback by the several thousand post-War Jews who moved into their farmland, built bungalows, studied hard (my friends did), and ate smelly salami. Mr. Golub, himself, ate Hebrew National sandwiches (from his dad’s kosher meat market) while giving lessons.

Here’s a story I wrote for today’s Cleveland Plain Dealer: “Peaceful enjoyment of the premises.”

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July 1, 2020   6 Comments


I grew up with a pair of binos around my neck. I lived near a park and saw vireos, cardinals and hawks. I got good at ID-ing birds by songs and calls. These days I tell my bandmates to check out birds on our road trips. Funk a Deli’s guitarist is always spotting hawks.


I’ve never been on a birding vacation. Nobody wants to go with me. My wife doesn’t like the idea of walking slowly and craning her neck.

Another confession:

I like fracking. I’ve spent a lot of time in southeast Ohio, mostly around Marietta. There’s good birding and fracking there. The Ohio Valley is a micro-tropical climate. I rent a Hefner-style bachelor condo in Marietta. The condo has a big-screen TV, huge white couch and a ton of wine. The place comes furnished. I’m not too far from the marsh in back of Kroger, where I go for all my birding and grocery needs. Here’s a photo of me at rig 383 in northern Washington County, Ohio:

gas rig bert 5_25_14 rig 383 washington county ohio

[fake profile / real photo]

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June 24, 2020   2 Comments


I told my dad I couldn’t do pre-med because of the Revolution. How could I do eight years, minimum, of science and medicine during a revolution? My dad did not think I was nuts. (This was 1969.) He believed a revolution was coming, too. He read the papers and Newsweek, and followed Cronkite.

In Ann Arbor, the extremely radical Jesse James Gang splintered from the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). The Jesse James Gang leaders were Diana Oughton, Bill Ayers and Jim Mellon. These gedolim wore work boots (J.C. Penney), wire rims, and were Hollywood handsome. These leaders were several years older than undergrads like me. These radical kids’ “maturity” made them seem a lot more worldly. Seven years older is a big deal when you’re 19. Wire rims, plus long hair, and you got some looks, at least outside of Ann Arbor. You could get “hassled.”

The leader of the U. of Michigan student government was Marty McLaughlin, who wore Oxford-cloth shirts and was handsome too, but high school-y.  (I should have been a fashion writer.) Meanwhile, the Jesse James Gang met in U. buildings and encouraged us to take it to the streets. Protestors threw rocks through store windows and carried NLF flags. An acquaintance, John Gettel, threw a rock through the Ann Arbor Bank. I was next to him. I was always “next to” somebody. I was Zelig, curious about revolution.  I was at Kent State the night before. I didn’t want a revolution — and still don’t — and I knew it wasn’t going to be televised, so I tried to be there.

A couple years after college I saw Gettel on a street corner in Cleveland, passing out leaflets for Lyndon LaRouche. Gettel and his girlfriend were in Cleveland on assignment, mingling with the working class. I was on my way to my job managing apartments. I honked, said hi, and got out of there, and went to my job with the working class, who by the way hated the hippies.

Donald “Ducks” Wirtanen, a Finn from the U.P. and a college acquaintance of mine, got his jaw broken in a fight outside Hill Auditorium. I don’t remember why. I went to Cobo Hall to protest George Wallace. The funny thing, George Wallace was a good speaker, other than he was a racist.

In 1968 the Michigan Daily endorsed Hubert Humphrey and was criticized by Morris R., another acquaintance, for not endorsing Eldridge Cleaver of the Peace and Freedom Party.

The revolution was over by the end of 1970. Diana Oughton got blown up in her bomb factory in Greenwich Village. All politics were personal . . . “But the Man Can’t Bust our Music!” (Columbia Records). Marketing schemes and inner peace. Co-opt me, baby. Ecology was the next big thing. Back to the land. I didn’t do very well in Organic Chemistry. I blame it on the Revolution.

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June 17, 2020   6 Comments


The small tough Jews at my high school were wrestlers, except for Reed Klein the gymnast. The school had no gymnastics team. Reed was a one-man team. He went on to the Ohio State gymnastics team. The other small tough Jews were Harry Kramer and Steve Gold. They wrestled in low weight classes, like 93 pounds and 103 pounds.

My wife dated a wrestler in high school. My younger son wrestled in middle school. Jack was small and, at most, semi-tough. The matches were primal — two or three minutes of animal behavior in a stinky windowless wrestling room. The matches were scary and scarring. And I was just watching.

I never wrestled, except in gym. I didn’t like singlets or other guys’ armpits. I didn’t like headlocks either, unless Bobo Brazil was giving one to Lord Layton and it was 1960.

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June 10, 2020   6 Comments


I have a cottage by Lake Erie. Before coronavirus, I’d invite everybody over — friends from high school, musicians, my wife’s schoolteacher friends. People liked the lake.

Funny thing, in Cleveland few people live by the lake. For instance, Cleveland Heights is six miles from the lake. One guy came to my parties from Indiana. Jeff left Cleveland twenty years ago and returned just to see the lake. He liked to toke down on pot. Am I saying that right — “toke down on pot”? It’s been a while for me.

The water on the lake is rarely blue. It’s usually green. We drink beer until the lake turns blue. Then we play klezmer, “Louie Louie” and “Mustang Sally.” One guy, Dave, always wants to sing “Mustang Sally.” He’s in Thailand most of the time, thankfully. He goes over there for the girls, I think.

I wonder if anybody would show up at my parties if not for the beer and lake. I’m not a big draw. I’m taciturn to the extreme. I talk in a monotone like a depressive. Maybe they like my hot dogs. I get the best: Vienna. Also, I serve some veggie stuff. I wonder: What if I threw my next party in the Heights? Would anybody show up? I’m afraid to think about it.

[fake profile]

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June 3, 2020   3 Comments


Steve, an apartment painter, had more words for white than Jews have for fool. Steve talked about antique white, Navajo white, pearl white, bone white and white. [Fool in Yiddish: nar, shlemiel, shmendrik, shmegege, yold.]

“Oil or latex?” — that was the first question at Lakewood Paint and Wallpaper back in the day. Also: “Is Dutch Standard the same as Dutch Boy?” No, Dutch Standard was from Canton, Ohio. Dutch Boy is the nationally known subsidiary from Sherwin-Williams, Cleveland.

Bill, a paint salesman, made regular stops at Lakewood Paint. He told me to use an “alkyd” (oil). He cornered me and asked, “Are you a Yehudi?”


“What are you doing over here?

“I’m working for my old man.”

“Four years of fun and games at college. Now look!” Bill said. “There are only two Yehudis at Dutch Standard. Me and another guy.”

Bill wandered the aisles of Cleveland paint stores in the 1970s. I traveled a similar circuit. Still do. The other day I paid a man for painting a stairway camel white, which is a Behr color from Home Depot. Lakewood Paint and Wallpaper is long gone.

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May 27, 2020   1 Comment


The minute I landed at Palm Beach airport, my dad, Toby, hocked me about investments. On the drive from the airport to his condo, Toby would expound on the tremendous real estate growth in Florida. “This was a two-lane dirt road when we got here. Now it’s six lane.” Glades Road, Boca Raton, 1980s. With a bagel store on every other block.

We have Bagel Nosh in Cleveland too, Dad, and it’s crap! My parents watched the kids while my wife and I biked around the condo development, watching for golf cart X-ings. Toby said, “Whatever you do, don’t kock the money away.” Also, did I need a new car? And how about a bigger house? “You never ask for anything,” he said. My kids asked for stuff — swimming noodles. No problem. Every grandparent had a storage closet of noodles.

One grandpa — a friend of my dad — didn’t sleep well, so he did midnight bowling. The man owned a furniture store in Cleveland and worried a lot because his son was destroying the store, the man claimed. Another old-timer was Jackie Presser, who had a villa — a stand-alone house — unlike my folks’ pad which was an attached unit. Presser was the national president of the Teamsters and knew mobsters. In his later years, Presser moonlighted as a snitch for the FBI. His wife drove an antique car around the condo development.

My dad met Mel, a low-level municipal employee from the city of Sunrise, Florida. Mel needed a “few presents” for his inspectors. Mel inspected commercial properties for Sunrise, where my dad owned a small shopping-strip center. The shopping center was a just hobby for my dad — something to keep his brain cells firing between rounds of golf. Toby was always in let’s-make-a-deal mode.

Toby met Mel at Sambo’s, where Mel explained that presents meant $100 for each of his inspectors. Toby paid Mel — in a car, not in the restaurant. Mel said, “This is not for me. This is strictly for my inspectors.” Then Mel drove Toby to see vacant land. The city wanted a developer to put up a motel. The city would take a cut.

Toby sold his Sunrise strip center shortly after that. He didn’t cotton to the Florida heat, so to speak. He returned to golf with his high school buddies, and marveling at electric orange juice squeezers.

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May 20, 2020   2 Comments


I used to box. I listened to Johansson-Patterson fights on the radio. I boxed at the Ukrainian Club, AAU and Junior Golden Gloves. My parents were all for it. Weird: everybody was into tennis and golf and bowling, and I boxed. My father encouraged boxing. In my dad’s day, Jewish fighters sometimes hit the top: Jackie Davis, Benny Leonard. Locally, Harry Levine was a good light heavyweight. Levine fought with his face out front. If he got hit, his head would shake like a bobblehead. He kept hitting though.

My last fight was in 1972. Very old school: the Italian versus the Jew. Johnny Montello had been a cook in ‘Nam. He was punchy and foggy-headed. Maybe he boxed too much in the Pacific. Johnny got into my face verbally, Ali-style, saying: “You’re always talking about Jewish shit.” Johnny pointed at the Star of David on my trunks.

I said, “You should know one thing about me, Montello. Being Jewish is who I am. Everything I do is a part of that.” I had just graduated college. I used to box in Waterman Gym at Michigan — with myself mostly. Existential stuff.

Everybody came to the Montello fight. My friends looked like Hair extras. Montello’s friends were like from Grease. Montello broke my nose and gave me a concussion, and I was done. I got a real job right after that.

I miss the ring. I play tennis now, and contrary to what Agassi says, tennis is not boxing. I still dream about boxing: Babe Triscaro, Jimmy Bivins, Tony Mulia, Herbie Becker. Unfortunately the Senior Olympics is not happening this year.

[fake profile]

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May 13, 2020   6 Comments


Lakewood International News carried the Paris Review, Partisan Review, Kenyon Review and Bustin’ Out. About half the store was porn. The proprietor, Gil, was a part-time railroader. He manned the elevated counter, which was a lookout tower for nailing shoplifters and pervs. I went there.

When Gil lost his lease, I told him about a store I had for rent. A Plain Dealer reporter called me about all this. How’d he hear about it? Who knows. Possible PD headline: “Stratton, New Porn Czar.” The old Cleveland porn czar was Reuben Sturman. I got scared. I hand-delivered a media package to the Plain Dealer reporter. I did a Q&A with myself. I wrote: “I believe in the First Amendment and the bookstore would be an asset. It isn’t just porn. Ever heard of the Paris Review? I’ll rent to the magazine store.”

The deal didn’t happen. Lakewood News moved to a different location, about a mile south, then folded. I rented my vacant store to a bank, and I figured the bank would stay for 20 years. That’s what their lease said. But the bank bailed in a couple years. Banks were merging and consolidating like crazy in the 1980s.

I miss the bank. I miss the porn-and-lit store, too.

On Monday I had an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. “The Rent Collector’s Dilemma.”

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May 6, 2020   6 Comments


Holy grail level? Yes. You are about to see vintage footage of Mickey Katz playing klezmer clarinet on TV in 1973. (Details below.)

For newbies: Katz — besides playing terrific clarinet — wrote and sang comedic songs like “Duvid Crockett,” “How Much is that Herring in the Window?” and “16 Tons (of Hard Salami).” He was a huge success. OK, make that “a moderate success,” but big with yids in the 1950s and 1960s. Katz played on the Goodtime boat in Cleveland. He played at the gambling casinos in suburban Cleveland in the 1930s and at the Alpine Village — Herman Pirchner’s downtown club — during the World War II. Katz moved from Cleveland to Los Angeles after the war. Joel Grey is Mickey Katz’s son.

Katz melded klezmer music with Jewish comedy. He almost single-handedly popularized that shlub-genre. My band, Yiddishe Cup, is, in a way, a Mickey Katz tribute band. Mickey Katz is my Mickey Mantle.

The 3:27-minute video, below, is the totality of all Katz klezmer footage on the internet. There ain’t none else. It’s as if somebody suddenly came up with film of Naftule Brandwein. (Ah, forget it — unless you’re a klezmer musician.) Ladies and gentlemen, this is the missing link. This clip is a musical and cultural lodestone. It’s the visual link between pre-war klez and the klez revival of the late 20th century.

This vid was sequestered in my closet for 17 years. It escaped today!

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April 29, 2020   10 Comments


I used to go to Haber the Dermatologist. He didn’t like small talk. He carried a mole-zapping heat gun. He sizzled me a couple times and collected his check. Then I switched docs because Haber wasn’t taking my insurance anymore.

I wound up with a doctor who was very, very cautious. She saw a cyst on my head, which she wanted to get rid of — my cyst, not my head. She scheduled me for a seven-stitch deep dig. Not a quicky zap job. This was a “procedure” in hospital jargon, but “surgery” to me.

The surgeon  — a specialist — didn’t look too seasoned. I said, “How old are you?” She answered, “Old enough to be your doctor.” I liked that. She offered a discount package: three stitches, and she’d go back in for more only if warranted down the road. A deal.

It was a benign cyst. I didn’t need any more work.

How’s that for an upbeat medical story?

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April 22, 2020   6 Comments