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.


 
 

MORE BOCA

 
In the winter, Cleveland Jews retreated to gated landsmanshaft (hometown association) condo developments in Florida to kvetch about the New Yorkers who had cut them off in the deli line earlier that day

Toby Stratton, far left, 1983. (age 66)

Toby Stratton, far left, 1983, Boca. (age 66)

Boca Lago (where my parents lived) was reunion central for alums from John Adams High and Glenville High in Cleveland. My parents wouldn’t play golf with anybody they hadn’t gone to grade school with. Exception: Detroit people were OK. (Detroiters had their own deli, the Detroiter, featuring Motown hot dogs and Vernor’s.) Other acceptable landslayt (countrymen) were Jews from Columbus, Cincinnati, Dayton and Pittsburgh. Those people were OK. They wouldn’t say, “I’m on line. Get behind me!” (Although they might say, “I’m in line. Get behind me!”)

My dad owned a Florida deli. (Actually, he was the deli’s landlord.) Toby owned a shopping strip center in Sunrise, Florida, that had a tenant Tam Tov Deli. The parking lot was always jammed. Cars of old Jews smashed regularly. Above the deli, there was office space, mostly vacant. My dad lost a lot on that building.

My dad liked deli food. I’ve written enough on that subject, but for the record, halvah was a big thing with Toby and doesn’t get enough play in this blog.

Glades Road, Boca Raton, had a Bagel Nosh, which was not up to standards. I told my dad,”We have that in Cleveland and it’s crap.” He agreed.

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January 24, 2024   3 Comments

WEATHER KVETCHERS

 
I employed a building manager who loved the Weather Channel and thought the end of the world was coming daily via tornados or snowstorms. I don’t think she ever went outside in the winter. She said winter was too gray for her.

Bad weather is no excuse for a bad attitude. If you don’t like gray, move or get a sun lamp. More gets accomplished in gray weather. The Scots and New Englanders didn’t invent stuff sitting at the beach.

Another employee was fixated on the weather, too. He did a lot of  interior apartment painting and wanted it to be 74 degrees, like Costa Rica, so he wouldn’t sweat.

My parents had a condo in Florida. So did my in-laws. In fact, my folks and Alice’s parents lived in the same development (Boca Lago, Boca Raton) and got along better than Alice and I.

I’m not a Florida fan. Too hot. I know a klezmer musician — a bushy-haired baby-boomer — who moved to Florida and took up golf. Maybe he played a freylekhs (hora) by the water fountain on the 16th hole at Boca Lago. (Mickey Katz did that, although not at Boca Lago. His band got paid to surprise a golfer on his birthday at a golf course somewhere.)

Arizona versus Florida – that’s the question here in Cleveland in the winter. Alice and I went to a wedding in Florida, where a guest asked us, “Are you still in Cleveland?” That meant: “Are you nuts? Do you like snow, gray skies, slush and potholes?” Don’t mind those things. I went walking yesterday in very cold weather. As they say, there’s no bad weather, just bad clothes. I think a Scandinavian said that.

Lake Erie

Another Cleveland woman at that Florida wedding said, “The day I hit 62, I had to leave Cleveland.” She now spends her winters in Scottsdale. A third Clevelander — originally from South Africa — said she preferred Florida over Arizona because of the water. “I like the ocean,” she said.

Lake Erie is the “ocean.” Look it up. Cleveland is doable.

One last word: layers.

Here’s my op-ed from the 1/11/24 Wall Street Journal. (No paywall)  “Wait a Minute, Mr. Postman.” 

a blue-ish mailbox

P.S. re: mailbox story . . . Yesterday I got a FedEx gift of a carton (12 cans) of USPS spray paint from a mole deep in a paint factory. The mole’s note read, “Always paint with the correct color.” (If you need a can of Postal Blue, let me know. But I don’t ship.)

Please read my WSJ article if this is all Greek to you.

The real stuff

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January 17, 2024   3 Comments

SKI CAP BIZ

 
If you’re going to lose something, lose a ski cap. When I lost my ski cap, I retraced my steps along Taylor Road. I figured nobody would pick up a used ski cap. But some jerk did! The cap was gone. Coincidentally, my wife had lost a ski cap the day before.

I like a cap that isn’t too snug.

I always have a couple ski caps in storage. I need various weight caps. I reinspect my inventory every December for the impending winter. I like a ski cap with some color in it in case I drop it.

Discount Drug Mart has good ski caps for $2 each.

If this post is too Larry David, so be it. The guy is always ripping me off.

Stay warm.

(Illustration by Ralph Solonitz)

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January 10, 2024   3 Comments

A SENSITIVE GUY

 
Charlie Chaplin brings tears to my eyes. And I adore ’Trane and Beethoven. T.S. Eliot — yeah, I know he wasn’t thrilled about Jews, but who can deny him and his line “Humankind cannot bear too much reality.”

Yes, reality “blows” — as we used to say in junior high. For instance, I need to check with a welder right now. He’s supposed to pick up some ribbon sheets for a fire-escape repair job. That certainly blows. Fire escapes — they need to be painted almost every year in Cleveland, or they rust out. Don’t put salt on fire escapes. Calcium chloride is OK, but no salt.

I once was vainer, younger, shallower and more facetious. Now I’m all that, and older. I wake up, eat a bowl of prunes, brush my teeth and think about getting elevator shoes. A couple inches might change my life.

I’m all in on the slogan “Drive away loshn hora,” which is Jewish-talk for “Don’t repeat gossip.” I’ve got to work on that.

I don’t like ferrets. Who does? I know a ferret named Bubbles. I’m going to kill him. OK, indict me. And put me in jail for this, too: Anglophilia, Jewmania and prickliness. I loved The Crown, except the last part.

Are you Jewish? I spend a couple minutes a year discussing whether Brubeck was Jewish or not. And I spend a minute a decade on whether Chaplin was Jewish. (Chaplin and Brubeck weren’t.)

Yesterday I cut off a man at Dave’s supermarket, Shaker Square, and he went ballistic. It could have been a racial thing. I was the only white guy around. Or maybe I was simply a jerk. My cart was in front of his in line, and I went to another line (sans cart) to see if the second line was shorter. When I came back, the guy went nuts. “What you doing?”

”I’m ahead of you,” I said.

“No, you ain’t!”

I wouldn’t give in. Then I did. I’m mellow. I’m interested in love, but also rubble, swine, nudniks, landlords, klezmer musicians and Snickers.

The candy man, John Lokar (1981).

I don’t take criticism well. A klezmer violinist in California called my band “crappy,”  This was years ago, online. I need to to find out what part of California he lives in and do something.

A rabbi was disbarred (disrobed?) for soliciting a prostitute. I like gossip. Can’t help myself, Chabad.

I ruffle feathers. Ruffle, ruffle. People don’t like me. At least some people. I could name a couple but I don’t want to give them ink here.

I’m sensitive. Please don’t comment on any of this.

(fiction)

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January 3, 2024   1 Comment

A BRIDGE IN BROOKLYN

 
I held a party last month in a dumpy part of New York, at a winery/bar in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn, right near a pedestrian foot bridge. The Scott Avenue pedestrian foot bridge — a steel-and-concrete structure — was built by Republic Steel, circa 1952, so that steelworkers could safely cross the Long Island Rail Road tracks to get to the then-extant mill.

The Scott Avenue foot bridge.(Photo by Mitch Waxman)

My party was a Vulfpeck pre-concert “tailgate” for friends and relatives. After the party we were going to walk en masse over the bridge from the winery/bar to the concert venue, which was in a nearby Flats-like former warehouse/factory.

I was concerned my guests wouldn’t take to the bridge. For one thing, the bridge had a lot of graffiti and there was garbage all over. I thought my sister would bail and take an Uber from the winery/bar to the concert. My sister has never been big on filth. But she and everybody else didn’t complain about the hike or the bridge! It helped that it was dark out. The litter on the bridge was less apparent. On the far side of the bridge, several Latinos were finishing up a volleyball game. Other than that, nothing.

I had read stories in the Brooklyn Paper about crime in the neighborhood of the bridge. But those stories mostly had to do with concertgoers leaving rave shows at 2 am, drunk or stoned, and getting robbed or just plain dying of overdoses.

That Scott Avenue pedestrian foot bridge held its weight.

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December 27, 2023   1 Comment

DELI DEATH

 
My kids liked Corky’s. The blintzes, the pickles, the halvah, the phosphates. But I’m not here to write food nostalgia. Too cheesy.

C&L’s closed, for good, Tuesday. The word in the local press — Cleveland Jewish News and the Plain Dealer — is C&L’s had a problem getting good help. That ain’t news. I’m skeptical.

My dad was a chocolate-phosphate addict. So is my daughter, Lucy, who called the phosphates “chocolate frost feets.” Cleveland musician Mickey Katz, in his autobiography, called chocolate phosphates “Jew beers.” (Katz’s son is Joel Grey.) Katz drank “Jew beers” at Solomon’s Deli on East 105th Street in Glenville.

My father, Toby, was a “deli Jew.” That’s typically a putdown in the Jewish community, meaning my father knew more about corned beef than Torah. Toby’s favorite food was a “good piece of rye bread.”

My father probably drank no more than 100 real beers his whole life. He should have! In his retirement — when he drank more — he smiled a lot more. A bit shiker at one party, Toby teed off on a watermelon fruit bowl with a golf club. The golf club was a driver, a wood. Solid.

I grew up on chocolate phosphates, just like my dad and my kids. I drank many of mine at Solomon’s in the Cedar Center shopping strip in South Euclid, where Solomon’s had moved — from East 105th Street — in the 1950s.

For some Semitic, semantic reason, goys occasionally called Cedar Center the Gaza Strip. This has nothing to do with the present war. It’s just the word strip, as in Gaza Strip and shopping strip, made for an interesting juxtaposition. The north side of Cedar Center looked pretty bad, actually. In the early 2010s it was concrete chunks and gravel heaps, until a real estate developer knocked down the 1950s-era plaza and put up a Bob Evans and other national chains.

Bob Evans is good. Not knocking it.

The C&L’s at Cedar Center lasted until 1994. A second Corky’s opened further east in 1973. That one — the “new” one — just closed. Confused? Simply put, there are no more C&L’s in Cleveland.

At Cedar Center Corky’s, a couple small tough Jews hung out in the rear booth. One was Bobby (pseudonym.) Bobby did collections for a major landlord. Major, to me, meant more than 500 units. I knew Bobby from junior high. Bobby sued my mother. Mom, for health reasons, had moved from her Beachwood apartment, where Bobby collected rents, to an assisted living facility. She had a couple months left on her lease. She had lived in the  apartment 27 years. Bobby went after her. Bobby’s boss, by the way, loved my band. So what, my mother was collectable.

Delis have been going downhill for decades. In 2010 journalist David Sax wrote a book, Save the Deli, about the decline of the deli. Here’s something for your next edition, Mr. Sax; Delis went downhill when they added TVs. Why are we forced to watch sports while we eat?

I’m deli-famous. Listen to me. I once wrote a thank-you note which was posted in the entrance of Jack’s Deli on Green Road in Beachwood. My letter was about the terrific tray Jack’s had prepared for the bris of my first child, Teddy. (Jack’s Deli is still standing.) Oh yeah, my first bris as a dad . . . fatherhood was about buying huge quantities of smoked fish. In my letter I complimented Jack’s on their white fish, which my Aunt Bernice the Maven approved of. I used the expression “Aunt Bernice the Maven gives her seal of approval” in my letter. Bernice worked for a food broker and knew food.

Do you prefer Jack’s Deli or Corky & Lenny’s? I asked that question just last week at a gig. I queried a nursing-home crowd about their favorite deli.  Jack’s and Corky’s ran a dead heat. After my quiz, my keyboardist and I played the song “16 Tons (of hard salami),” which is  the Mickey Katz parody of Tennessee Ernie Ford’s “16 Tons” (of coal).”

Yikhes (lineage): My dad grew up in a deli on Kinsman Road. His mother had a candy store /deli at East 118th Street and Kinsman. The deli was called Seiger’s — my grandmother’s maiden name. She sold it to her half-brother, Itchy, when he came over from the Old Country. Something fishy about that deal. My grandmother went from being a candy store/deli owner to simply a candy-store owner.

I once played the “deli card” to establish my bonafides. In an odd place. I was working as a police reporter in Collinwood, and the cops at the police station on East 152nd Street considered me a Jewish hippie spy from the Heights. But when I told the cops I was a Seiger, as in “I’m from Seiger’s Restaurant, you know, on East 118th and Kinsman” — the older cops suddenly took a liking to me. The older cops—mostly high-ranking guys — knew Seiger’s Restaurant well. Seiger’s had been like a Damon Runyon casting hall; all manner of hustlers, cops, businessmen, and schnorrers had hung out there. (Seiger’s closed in 1968.) The schnorrers were Orthodox Jewish tzedakah (charity) solicitors; they had their own booth in the back. My great-aunt, Lil Seiger, served the schnorrers kosher food from her apartment, which was in back of the store, because the schnorrerwouldn’t eat the non-kosher food. The deli was kosher-style, not kosher. Cops ate well at Seiger’s, and nobody ever got a ticket for an expired meter, and sometimes cars were parked two lanes deep on the street, an old cop once told me. Itchie Seiger, my great uncle, was the restaurant’s maitre d’, a k a kibitzer (glad-handler). He was a former cloak maker from Galicia, a province in Austria-Hungary. My grandmother Anna Seiger Soltzberg was a Galitizianer, as well.

I personally didn’t see Itchie very often. My parents didn’t consider a drive from our house in South Euclid to Kinsman the right direction for a Sunday cruise. We usually wound up going east, toward the Chagrin River metro park.

My great-aunt, Lil, supposedly gave her recipe for mish mosh soup to Corky’s. All the deli owners knew each other. So I’m connected to Corky & Lenny’s. Pass the Jew beer. Slurp.

A lot of  this post originally appeared in Belt Mag in 2014. The graphic is by Ralph Solonitz.

I had an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal last week. “Maimonides Goes Wrong.” It has the word schnorrer in it, too. Link here. No paywall.

 

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December 12, 2023   1 Comment

SMASHED

 
I called Cody’s mother because he hadn’t paid his rent. Cody’s mom said, “I expected you to tell me he was dead. He’s been impossible since he was 15. I have two children. One is stellar and the other is Cody.” Cody was 27.

I knocked on Cody’s door but he wouldn’t answer. I filed on him in court. He eventually texted me, “You’re going to have to go thru eviction process while I work things out.”

I went to his apartment again. I said through the door, “I hear you’re still here. Your mother thought I was calling her to tell her you’re dead. Get it together, man.” He had no furniture and slept on the floor, surrounded by a bong and cigarette butts. I told him to call community services, which was passing out free rent money. His rental application said he was a painter with his uncle’s firm.

I had rented to Cody because, for one reason, his mom had accompanied him when he had come by to see the apartment. She and Cody put down the final month in advance.

Finally, the court evicted Cody. He was supposed to vacate within 10 days after the eviction hearing. I showed up at his door at 9 am on day 11. The chain lock was on. If you have the chain lock on, and you’re inside, I got a problem.

Later that day the chain was off. There was stuff in the apartment. I called his mom. I wondered where he had gone. It was freezing out. She said, “He may look like a druggie but he isn’t. He’s mentally ill.”

Cody’s uncle — the painting contractor — said, “I’m not sure if he’s ill or just lazy. He’s smart. He got in a couple scuffles with my guys but he was OK. I was going to help him buy a truck. He got a few paychecks to get the apartment, and then he quit. He’s not staying at my house tonight. So he messed you up with the lock — the coming and going — at the apartment? That might be breaking and entering. Maybe he’ll get a warm bed in a jail tonight.”

We stored six bags of garbage from Cody’s place for a while. That’s the state law. I asked my maintenance guy, “What about kitchen table?”

He said, “I basically stomped that and put it on the tree lawn. It’s smashed.”

Smashed.

“Cody” is a pseudonym. Drawing by Ralph Solonitz.

 

 

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December 6, 2023   1 Comment

HERBERT GOLD
OF HATHAWAY AVENUE

 
I wanted to be Herbert Gold, who wrote for Playboy and other mags. He also wrote novels about growing up in Cleveland. They weren’t good novels. They were too wordy, going in circles. He couldn’t do plot. (Not too many people can.)

Gold was one of a handful of Jews who grew up in Lakewood in the 1920s and 1930s. He lived on Hathaway Avenue. He died on Nov. 19 at 99 in San Francisco. His father ran a small grocery store in Lakewood, and the father — unlike most Cleveland Jews — didn’t settle on the East Side. (Lakewood, on Cleveland’s West Side, was beyond the pale for Jews back then, and still is to some extent.)

Herbert Gold. circa 2010.

I passed Gold’s house on Hathaway Avenue in the 1970s on my way to managing apartments in Lakewood. I had unpublished novels; I had a lit agent in New York. I wanted to be the “next Herbert Gold,” though slightly better. Instead, I became the “first Bert Stratton.”

The Prospect Before Us was Gold’s novel about managing a rundown hotel on Prospect Avenue in Cleveland. You’d think a book with such a good title would be good, but it never went anywhere. It wasn’t funny or tragic. Don Robertson, another local novelist, was better. Robertson could be funny, for one thing.

Gold’s memoir My Last Two Thousand Years — about his father and Herb’s relationship to Jewishness — was moving. He wrote, “My father came to America from Russia and lived in a basement on the Lower East Side. I came to America from Lakewood to live in a basement on the Lower East Side. I washed dishes, cleaned rooms, waited on tables and tried to learn a little Yiddish [1942, NYC].”

Gold moved to San Francisco in 1960 and stayed there. He visited Haiti often. I occasionally saw his brother Sid on Coventry Road in Cleveland Heights. Sid was a Coventry cowboy — a regular in Harvey Pekar’s comic books. Sid didn’t have a job and played a lot of chess.

In a 2021 interview, Gold said, “I’m very preoccupied with the fact that I’m not going to live forever. Death is inevitable and I have to accept it. I’m comforted by the fact that a few people, my children, will remember me or will inherit something from me, and I will be immortal in that sense.”

Herb Gold: a Jewish writer from Lakewood, Ohio. I gotta drive by his childhood house at 1229 Hathaway Avenue again.

I had an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on Nov. 16. “My Gaza Friend is Dead.” [No paywall]

Baraa Abu Elaish (L) and Alice Stratton. Fairfax Elementary School, Cleveland Heights, Ohio. 2014.

On a lighter subject, here’s my essay in today’s Cleveland Plain Dealer. “Pondering signs, borders and license plates.”

Yiddishe Cup plays a free concert 2-3 pm this Sun. (Dec. 3) at the Beachwood Community Center, 25225 Fairmount Blvd, Beachwood, Ohio. Be there!

Plain Dealer ad, 6/24/36

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November 29, 2023   3 Comments

HOW TO OUTLIVE YOUR PARENTS

 
Do everything right —  and if you’re lucky — you could make it to 94. (I’m not talking 100. That’s freak show.) Take Bob Gries, a prominent Clevelander who died last month at 94. He exercised two hours a day, according to his obit. I suppose one could subtract two-hours-per-day from his lifespan and conclude Gries “lived” a lot fewer than 94 years. Depends what you think of exercise. Bob Gries enjoyed exercise — a lot.

Here’s a funny bit from his obit:“[Bob] wrote a book called Aging with Attitude, which highlighted some of his 100+ adventures and the importance of a daily workout regimen. After reading this book, people told him they were inspired while others said they had to take a nap!” Gries was an endurance runner (100-mile races). He climbed mountains in Antarctica and the Arctic.

Gries was “Our Crowd,” old Jewish money (Cleveland chapter). He was a descendant of the first Jewish settler in Cleveland, a merchant who arrived from Germany in 1837. Gries’ grandfather was the rabbi at The Temple in the early 20th century. The Gries family — through Bob’s mother — owned the May Co. chain in Ohio. The Grieses also owned a minority share of the Cleveland Browns. I could go on.

Bob Gries

I will. Bob Gries’ father went to Yale in the 1920s. Bob went in the 1940s. In the Cleveland Jewish News obit, one of Gries’ sons said Bob served on so many some boards in Cleveland because Bob’s pop had not been welcomed on many boards because he was Jewish. Sound about right for back then.

In the early 1990s, I saw Gries — all farpitzed in a white linen suit — welcome approximately 2,000 proste yidn at a Yiddish concert at Cain Park, Cleveland Heights. Bob was repping the Jewish Federation of Cleveland. He was suave bolo and fit.

The last time I saw Gries was about three years ago on Public Square. He, along with a health aide, were checking out a fringe festival. The man got around.

Dead at 94. That’s good mileage, right? Lessons? He exercised a lot, had health aides, a lot of money and a big family, and he was very involved in the community. Genetics was probably a factor too.I haven’t considered that.

. . . Just did. I considered it — genetics. I just googled Gries’ parents. They died at 65. Dad in 1966 and Mom in 1968. Climb a mountain in Antarctica. You’ll outlive your parents.

Yiddishe Cup plays a free concert 2-3 pm Sunday, Dec. 3, at the Beachwood Community Center, 25225 Fairmount Blvd., Beachwood, Ohio.

 

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November 21, 2023   3 Comments

“SPOKEN WORD” SPOKE TO ME

 
Myers, an independent-living facility in Beachwood, Ohio, had a front awning that read Myers Apartments. Why the word Apartments? Myers was eight stories and was an apartment building. It didn’t look like a swimming pool. I had a bad attitude going into Myers. I was determined not to play my usual Yiddish music standards, like “Bay Mir Bistu Sheyn” and “Tumbalaika.” Instead, I would read blog entries about real estate. My pianist, Alan Douglass, would follow up by singing “Dear Landlord” by Bob Dylan.

One Myers resident, seated in the front row, got up to leave halfway through the show. I suggested she stick around for “Gentile on My Mind” — a Yiddishe Cup tune — but she left. Alan and I went into “Because of You,” a Tony Bennett classic. That placated some people, but not her. And then I read more bloggie stuff. My wife, Alice, followed with some “oy-robics” — Jewish chair exercises. (“Turn your neck to the right. Kvetch to your neighbor.” That sort of thing.)

Afterward, Alice and I went to a Chinese restaurant to recap the show. We went to Ho Wah, where my mother and I had often dined. If my mother were still alive, she would not have liked the Myers show. Alice said,  “Easy on the prose and Bob Dylan next time.”

I didn’t listen to Alice. I followed up with a similar program at the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage, where I melded real estate prose and klezmer. After the Schmaltz gig, I ran into poet Barry Zucker at Whole Foods. He was passing out ban-pesticides literature. Barry told me he often recited poetry to music at open readings. I thought the poetry-and-jazz combination had died out sixty years ago. (By the way, Barry looked like Allen Ginsberg.)

Dig this . . . Readings on the Beat Generation by Jack Kerouac, with Steve Allen on piano, produced by Bill Randle. That record hit me hard in college. Bill Randle — the Kerouac producer — had been a Cleveland DJ who moved to New York. [No, he traveled to NYC on weekends.] Randle used to play Yiddish Cup’s version of “Bay Mir Bistu Sheyn” on his Cleveland radio show in the 1990s. I was a fan of Randle mostly because of the Kerouac record. I even knew Randle’s favorite pants were Levi’s corduroys. (He mentioned that in a newspaper column he wrote.) Randle helped discover Elvis. Randle knew everybody. On his radio show, he would name-drop like crazy. Very big on Johnny Ray.

I borrowed the Readings on The Beat Generation record from the South Quad dorm library at Michigan. I didn’t live at South Quad and wasn’t allowed to borrow records; I snuck the LP out under my jacket, dubbed it onto a cassette, and returned the record. Kerouac read a story called “The History of Bop.” To repeat, Steve Allen on piano. Memorable.

“Spoken word” — I liked it. I did it again. I read prose with the Klezmer Guy Trio, which was pianist Alan Douglass, singer Tamar Gray, and me on prose (and clarinet). We performed at Nighttown, the premier  jazz club in Cleveland, a couple times in the 2010s. Jim Wadsworth, the Nighttown booker, said to me at our final performance, “You know why this place is full tonight? Because of Tamar, your singer.” Thanks, Jimbo.

Here’s a spoken-word clip from 2010, live from the Maltz Museum:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=38RXqfxYJr4

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November 15, 2023   3 Comments

TED BUDZOWSKI
FROM COW SHIT HILL

 
Ted Budzowski had two Stratoloungers in his living room. One for him and one for his wife. Also, Ted had a stuffed mongoose-and-cobra souvenir from Okinawa, and a tree-stump occasional table, which his son had made. The son lost $8,000 on tree stump tables, which never caught on big in Cleveland. The good news was the son also was a retired career soldier. (Note, I’m not knocking Stratoloungers. I have a La-Z-Boy.) My daughter says I shouldn’t discuss recliners, but I’m a fan of recliners.

Ted Budzowski, 1978, age 63.

Ted grew up in Youngstown, Ohio, near Cow Shit Hill (a real place). Ted and his kids made it out. Ted’s second son worked for the phone company.

Ted worked at Republic Steel. Ted and his wife, Sophie, managed a building for my family. When Ted retired to Texas in 1984 — to live near his soldier son — I hired a tougher hombre — a guy named Buck — who had grown up in a Tennessee orphanage. Buck didn’t like me and people like me (sons of bosses). Buck didn’t cotton to cleaning up after tradesmen and watering outdoor plants. Not part of his job. Buck often got “porky” with me. (That meant “argumentative.”)

Ted, on the other hand, had always treated me kindly. I had counted on Ted to tell me when my tire pressure was low, for instance. He had an eye for low tire pressure. (This was before cars had low- tire-pressure warning lights on the dash.) Ted knew cars; he said, “I might be a dumb Polack but I know when a nut on a steering column has been messed with.”

For his last 15 years, Ted’s Stratoloungers were in San Antonio, where he lived. He didn’t check back with me except for an annual holiday card. Meanwhile, Buck — who was working for me — raised prices on me unilaterally for odd jobs. He never asked what I thought a job was worth; he just charged me. Who was bossing whom?

I was young and had a hard time bossing old people. That eventually changed. One, I got old. I should  take a picture of me in my La-Z-Boy. Nah, Lucy, my daughter, wouldn’t approve. Just picture it. I look something like Ted in his photo.

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November 7, 2023   1 Comment

CAR AND SAX TALK

 
My 2019 Subaru Legacy is the safest car in the world. I know you don’t care, but bear with me. The car has many blinkers and warning signals, and that’s why I bought it. Five years ago I fell asleep at the wheel of my Ford Fusion and drifted across a two-lane road into an oncoming car. I was tired. It was 2:30. Two-thirty pm, not 2:30 am! I was going about 25 mph and hit a Greek immigrant’s car head on. The accident happened on Larchmere Boulevard, right on the Cleveland-Shaker Heights line. Efficient Shaker cops showed up. Nobody got hurt! The accident was in front of Shaker Auto Body. I just wheeled my wrecked car right into the shop. Beautiful.

My red Ford Fusion and a Greek man on his phone

I bought the 2019 Subaru with all the bells and whistles shortly after the accident. The car is good, but the battery not so good. The battery recently went dead for the second time in four months. There’s a class-action suit against Subaru for bad batteries. I’m taking the car to the dealer, or maybe I’ll pay my son Ted to take it. I can’t stand going to car dealerships.

More car talk (and some sax talk) . . .  Last month I was at a family wedding in a town halfway between San Diego and Los Angeles. (The wedding was at a winery. Nobody gets married at synagogue anymore, have you noticed? It’s always at a winery or a barn.) Uber — which my son Jack reserved ahead of time — didn’t show up at the hotel the morning after the wedding to take Alice and me to the airport. Instead, Uber sent us a message at 6 am: “Sorry.” Uber couldn’t find a driver. I should have hired a car service but I didn’t think of that. My daughter, Lucy, did, but too late, I guess. My son Ted booked Alice and me a flight out of Palm Springs because we couldn’t get to LAX on time. Ted drove us to Palm Springs and got a flat tire.  Can you believe we got a flat on the way to the airport? I lent Ted my AAA card; he hung around the  car; and Alice and I got an Uber.

Our flight out of Palm Springs was delayed, so I baggage-checked my saxophones. (My band had played the wedding. Terrific celebration, by the way.) The airlines could mangle my axes, but I didn’t care; I didn’t want to lug the heavy instruments around Palm Springs airport all afternoon.

My alto sax is student-level, so no big loss if it got destroyed. My tenor, however, is a classic, The Martin Tenor. I bought it around 1964 from a music teacher. When I first got that axe, it reeked of ciggy smoke, and its pads were brown from phlegm. That’s why I never took up smoking. At the Palm Springs airport, I plastered the tenor case with “Fragile” stickers. My clarinet, I kept in my backpack. It’s not heavy.

The saxes arrived in Cleveland about 11 hours later in fine shape. Better shape than me, actually. I’ve kept a couple “Fragile” stickers on the tenor case to remind me of my adventure.

By the way, the Subaru guys didn’t fix the “parasitic drainage” on my car battery. I might get a trickle charger. whatever that is.

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November 1, 2023   4 Comments

HEADS UP, BERT

 
Woody, a friend from high school, is coming in from California tonight and staying at my house, and he’s bringing his Spanish girlfriend. He’s staying for a week. A week. Give me a break. Woody wants to see the leaves change. He’s a sensitive guy and a bit strange.

Even in high school, Woody didn’t care what others thought of him. He was often blisteringly inappropriate. He still is. For instance, last week in our phone conversation, he said, “I don’t give a shit about Hamas or Israelis.” I didn’t appreciate that.

In 1997, Woody showed up at my house, muttering, “My old man just told me I’d better run while I can. My father just threatened to kill me!” I think his old man had a gun. Woody grew up in easternmost Lyndhurst (goy-land), on Ridgebury Road, where you could keep a horse. Woody had a horse. His father had worked for an American construction company in Venezuela. Woody knew a lot of Spanish because he spent some time down there in his youth.

Woody was the only kid at my high school who went off to California for college. Nobody considered California except Woody. You were going to fly five hours to college? Nope. Woody wanted to get as far away from his family as possible, he said. Ultimately he became a Spanish teacher at a high school in Santa Rosa, California, and has lived there for the duration, although he spends a lot of time in Spain, and he pops into Cleve for leaves.

Here’s the problem: Woody’s obliviousness toward Israel. Maybe he’s even anti-Israel. There are only 16 million Jews in the world, and almost half are in the line of fire right now. I will tell Woody — the minute he walks in tonight — if he says anything anti-Israel, or even semi-anti-Israel, and even in jest, he’s done for. I will tell him. I can’t have a guy making jokes about Israel in my house now.

Alice took this photo of Woody in 1980, when we were all 30 years old. Smiling, charming Woody. And he’s got a mouth. Heads up, Bert.

 

Postscript: Woody left. He wasn’t anti-Israel. I super-overreacted. (Probably been reading too many news reports.) We even attended a concert for Israel; members of the Cleveland Orchestra performed. The orchestra was supposed to be in Israel.

Woody knows a lot about language and said he might do a “codpiece” on language. (“Codpiece” as opposed to “podcast.” He’s funny.) He told me deber, the Spanish verb, comes from the same Latin root as debit, or owe. Good to know.

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November 1, 2023   No Comments

ODE TO A BASEMENT

 
Here’s my essay in today’s Cleveland Plain Dealer.

https://www.cleveland.com/opinion/2023/10/ode-to-a-basement-bert-stratton.html

If that link doesn’t work for you, here’s the text, pasted in:

ODE TO A BASEMENT

Cleveland Heights, Ohio — You don’t see the letter B for “basement” in elevators much anymore. It’s mostly LL for “lower level.” Classier, I guess. But I recently stumbled upon a B-level basement in Washington, D.C., that was truly top shelf. The basement was at the University Club, a 1920s mansion not too far from the White House. Several Brush High School buddies and I met up at the club. My childhood friends wouldn’t come to Cleveland, so I had to go to Washington. My Brush High friends are all members of the coastal elite now. I brought a sports jacket.

I spent a lot of time in the basement at the University Club because I wasn’t allowed in the club dining room on the main floor. I was wearing tennis shoes, which weren’t permitted in the dining room, but were OK in the basement. I’m all for dress standards, but those University Club regs were extreme. I jabbered in Spanish with the dining room hostess. She didn’t let me in. In hindsight, I don’t think she was Hispanic. She didn’t seem to know what I was talking about.

I was wearing tennis shoes because I planned to do a lot of sightseeing in Washington. In the lobby, outside the dining room, I noticed a visitor in a blue blazer and a blue oxford-cloth shirt. I asked him if he was going to eat breakfast in the restaurant. He said “yes,” and I pointed at him and said to the hostess, “This man has on tennis shoes!”

“These are Cole Haan,” the man said coolly. His Cole Haan shoes had white rubber trim around the soles, just like my New Balance tennis shoes. But his Cole Haans were not tennis shoes, apparently. I was perplexed. I had on a sports jacket and black tennis shoes. I wasn’t wearing Sen. John Fetterman cargo pants.

There was a snack bar in the basement, plus a Jacuzzi, two saunas (steam and dry), and a four-lane swimming pool. While I ate breakfast in the basement snack bar, I had a good view of the empty pool. John Kennedy, when he was a senator, swam laps at the pool. I had a swimsuit in my suitcase. I got the suit and swam where Kennedy swam. (By the way, there used to be a University Club in Cleveland on Euclid Avenue. It had tennis courts, but I don’t think a pool. The building morphed into the Children’s Museum of Cleveland in 2017.)

My friends and I reminisced about bygone Cleveland hangouts, like La Cave, the music club at East 105th Street and Euclid Avenue, Balaton Restaurant on Buckeye Road, and Publix Book Mart on Prospect Avenue. We covered a lot of intersections. Next time we should go deeper: Jean’s Funny House and the Roxy Burlesque.

I visited the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and considered checking out the National Portrait Gallery, but that was too far off my Mall-focused walking route. Besides, I needed to get back to my man cave — the basement at the University Club. I wanted to swim more laps in the Kennedy pool. That B-level basement in Washington was absolutely grade-A.

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October 18, 2023   4 Comments

WHO BY FIRE

 
Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver, pictured below, was the biggest Zionist to come out of Cleveland. If you know anything about American Jewish history, you know this guy. He and Rabbi Stephen Wise were the big Jews in the pre-WWII American rabbinate. Silver was the rabbi at The Temple –Tifereth Israel, a k a Silver’s Temple. He lobbied for the state of Israel back when many American Jews were not too sure that was a good idea.

My family belonged to Silver’s Temple. The temple’s official name was The Temple.
“Which temple do you belong to?”
“The.”
“The what?”
“The Temple. It’s The Temple.”

“The Temple” morphed into The Temple-Tifereth Israel after the rabbi and his son (also a rabbi) died. My family didn’t really fit in there in the 1960s, because many of the members were a lot richer, many from Shaker Heights. One Shaker kid arrived in a station wagon driven by a chauffeur with a shiny-visor cap.

Rabbi Silver was a chochem (wise man). He knew his stuff. And he hung with the guys from Telshe Yeshiva, too. The black-hat Orthos. He covered all the bases. What do I know? I was 13 when Rabbi Silver died.

My younger son went through religious high school at The Temple. The place had mellowed by then. It wasn’t as snobbish. Nobody cared anymore if you were Deutsche Yehudim — one of Cleveland’s original German Jewish settlers. When my parents left Silver’s, they went to Temple Emanu El, a middle-class temple in the ‘burbs. My mom taught macramé there and volunteered in the sisterhood gift shop. She collected “donor points” for volunteering — points that reduced her admission costs to the annual temple dance.

Yiddishe Cup has played some of these temple dances. Not so many lately because few people want to dance at temples. They’d rather stay home and watch people dance on TV. We played a “dance,” sort of, last Saturday night. Simchat Torah. That was very low key because of the war. The rabbi and I decided the band would play a few Israeli tunes and dances. Nothing too wild.

My parents joined the heymish synagogue, Emanu El, after I was confirmed. (Heymish — the word — should be banned, by the way. Too heymish.)

On the High Holidays, I went with my parents to Emanu El, or else with my friends to Hillel at Case Western Reserve. After Rosh Hashanah services, we’d eat at Tommy’s restaurant. I tried that again this year – the Tommy’s part. You couldn’t get into Tommy’s this year after Rosh; it was jammed with yidn.

Years ago an older woman told me, “I joined Fairmount Temple because I like the music there.” She had other reasons too: Brith Emeth didn’t have enough money to spend on carpet, she said, and she liked Fairmount Temple’s classic Reform music. That stuck with me: joining a temple for the music.

Nowadays Fairmount is contemporary guitar-centric Jewish music, and I like the cantor, Vlad Lapin. My band played there last Friday night. That was lively. That was pre-war. (And don’t worry, we’re going to kick out the jams the next time we play.)

I belong to Park Synagogue because, among other things, I like the music and the rabbi, who likes my band, which is scheduled to play Park Synagogue’s holiday celebrations until 5800. I once played a holiday gig at another shul, where the rabbi left early to attend a rock concert. He said he was seeing a famous band downtown. I wasn’t impressed. Hey, the rabbi was walking out on Yiddishe Cup! It’s impossible to be a rabbi.

Park Synagogue uses a choir once in a while. Some Jews think a choir is super-goyish. Not true. In Europe there were synagogue choirs as far back as the 1500s.

Some temples have rock bands. (I have subbed in several rockin’ shabbat bands.) Some congregants really enjoy that groove. My son the drummer got his start playing in a rockin’ shabbat band at The Temple. Rock on.

By the way, read Matti Friedman’s book about Leonard Cohen playing for the troops in the Sinai in 1973. Who By Fire.

I can see picking a shul for the music. Why not. I enjoy hearing my cantor, Misha Pisman, and I like the cantors my shul imports for the Rosh Hashanah overflow. Either way I’m OK — main sanctuary (with the regular cantor) or overflow with the sub.

I feel like playing music right now for the troops and the people of Israel. Am Yisrael Chai, for starters.

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October 10, 2023   2 Comments

A MEDICAL SITUATION?

 
I told Alice, “I have a certain medical condition, and you haven’t asked how it’s going?” We were at breakfast. She didn’t seem to understand what I was talking about. “My ear,” I said. “Remember?” My ear had water in it. My ear was clogged from swimming.

“Your ear is not a medical situation,” Alice said.

What was it then? A hardware store? My ear  had been clogged for more than a day. (Have you ever had a clogged ear for more than a day? I doubt it. A couple minutes, sure, but not a day-plus.) I called my niece, an E.N.T. in Atlanta. Naturally, she said I should visit an E.N.T.

“Can I just go to a doc in the box?” I asked.

No, I should go to an E.N.T., my niece said. “They have special tools,” she said. “Even a P.A. there in the office could do it.”

“How about if I wait a couple days?”

“If it was me, a blocked ear would drive me crazy.”

True. Everything sounded like an echo chamber. I couldn’t hear a lot of stuff, and my clarinet playing was off. But no pain. So maybe this wasn’t a medical situation?

The fixer. Alice Shustick, 1977

Alice is a registered nurse and fixes people. She doesn’t appreciate whiners, but she deals with them. She assigns stretches and remedies for a lot of things. (She’s also a retired gym teacher who teaches Pilates, yoga, after-school gym, spinning and senior fitness.) My ear, though  . . .

On Alice’s advice I jumped up and down on one foot, and I tugged on my earlobe. I bought alcohol ear drops at CVS, and even a homeopathic “natural active ingredients” remedy at Discount Drug Mart. No luck.

After the second night, I woke up unclogged. I think the alcohol drops helped. My niece said the water in my ear had probably been trapped behind earwax.

I’m hearing things better now. I should ask Alice about her pinched nerve this morning. I will. Everything is a “medical situation,” am I right?

Yiddishe Cup is celebrating Simchat Torah 6:15 pm Friday at Fairmount Temple, Beachwood, Ohio, and 7:15 pm Saturday at Park Synagogue, Pepper Pipes, Ohio. Free and open to the public.

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October 4, 2023   2 Comments

THINGS I HAVE STOLEN

 
1. The book Ten Authors and Their Novels by Somerset Maugham, from Libreria Buchholz in Bogota. I rationalized the theft because it was hard to find quality lit in English in Bogie in 1974. The bookstore carried quality English-language paperbacks, mostly Penguins from England. I justified my theft because I fantasied that Buchholz was an escaped Nazi on the lam in Latin America. I dealt with Buchholz’s son, who often showed me around. Nice guy. (I found out the other day, on the web, the father had been an art dealer for Hitler, specializing in unloading “degenerate” Jewish art for a profit. So there.)

2.In the late 1980s I bought a backyard jungle gym for my kids from Heights Furniture & Toy. The store failed to charge me for the tent portion — the multicolored fabric “treehouse” part. I never told Heights Furniture about the error. The treehouse tent was approximately $150. I disliked the owners at Heights Furniture because they sold bikes but didn’t know much about bikes. I bought a bike there –- and I still use it 45 years later. So Heights Furniture was probably OK people, and I was a schmuck.

3.Last week I was in Lucky’s (like a Whole Foods) at West 117 Street, and I walked out with $24 in free Faroe Island salmon. The fish was free to me because I went through the self-serve checkout and screwed up on the machine. When I asked for help, the store clerk double-voided my salmon purchase.

The salmon was in my bag. I was in the parking lot. Free fish. I felt guilty but not super guilty. Funny, I had been in Rosh Hashanah services just two days prior, where the rabbi had talked about regrets. The rabbi had regretted, for instance, not continuing to visit an elderly man in a nursing home. The rabbi had told the old man he would continue to visit but didn’t. (The rav was in college at the time.)

I went about my job in Lakewood. The fish was in my car trunk. I talked to a building manager about lease renewals, and then I talked about pecados (sins). She’s from Latin America. I said the High Holidays are kind of like what Catholics do every week – confess sins. I mentioned, in part, my situation at Lucky’s. She said, “You probably returned the fish.”

OK. I went back to Lucky’s. Three clerks thanked me for my “honesty.” I said, “Tell Saltzman.” (The Saltzman family owns the Lucky’s stores in Cleveland.)

. . . I stole the book. I stole the jungle-gym tent. I didn’t steal the fish. So I’m bragging here. Now I gotta cut back on the bragging. (Proverbs 11:2)

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September 27, 2023   3 Comments

A NO-NONSENSE
SENSE OF FASHION

 
I shopped at all the right stores and was somewhat stylish. But then, around ninth grade, I slipped up. I couldn’t keep up with the fads. A friend of my father was a rep for Farah pants. I liked Farah, but Farah wasn’t Lee and Lee wasn’t Levi’s. Farah was mostly the iridescent sharkskin look — the greaser look. I was not a greaser.

Greasers — at least at my school — clung to the Farah “Continental” greaser look for many years. “Collegiates” was  my crowd. Collegiates wore Lee jeans. Blue jeans weren’t permitted, but colored Lee jeans were. (Aside: greaser wasn’t a word when I was dealing with greasers. Greasers were “racks,” short for racketeers.)

I shopped at Cedar Center, at both Mister Jr. and Skall’s Men’s Wear. Ben Skall was dapper and ultimately became a state senator. I gave up white socks just so I could enter Skall’s. I bought black socks with gray rings around the top (Adler brand) at Skall’s. Cleveland Indians players Sam McDowell and Hawk Harrelson shopped at Skall’s.

I failed in fashion. I occasionally got “mocked out” at school for dressing wrong. I once wore a spread-collar shirt. That was strictly verboten. It had to be button down.

Wrong (L) / Right (R). Bert Stratton, early 1960s. junior high.

I also wore homemade clothes, such as a sweater my mom knitted. Homemade was also verboten, but a girl complimented me, so I kept wearing the sweater. The peak of my fashion phase was when I wore a shirt jac and light-blue denim pants. The shirt jac didn’t tuck in.

Sweaters, generally, weren’t my thing. Note: the alpaca sweater was the true Continental statement. Not for me. Alpaca was very itchy. A cashmere V-neck collegiate sweater suited me. I had a comfy one, the color was “summer wheat.”

I exited the fashion world about the time I started hanging out almost exclusively with grade-grubbing nerds. Tenth grade. (Nerds wasn’t a word yet. We were “dips,” probably short for dipshits.)

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September 20, 2023   2 Comments

VIOLET SPEVACK

 
Violet Spevack, the retired gossip columnist for the Cleveland Jewish News, died last week. She was 107! Born in 1916.

Violet mentioned my band, Yiddishe Cup, a lot. I had an “in” with her. Vi knew my parents from Temple Emanu El (Cleveland), which was originally an offshoot shul that Violet was a founding member of, and my parents had joined. Temple Emanu El was known for being heymish — not snooty. No old German Jewish money. The big money at Emanu El was Maurice Saltzman, the Bobbie Brooks founder. Saltzman grew up in an orphanage.

Violet would call my band “freyleky,” “toe-tapping,” “joyous,” “finger-snapping,” “multitalented,” and “may their cups runneth over.” I had my picture in that column almost as often as the presidents of the Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland.

Vi never said a bad word about anybody — in print. Off the record, she warned me not to tangle with certain heavy-hitters in the Jewish community. For instance, one heavy-hitter, who was bossy, dissed my band by saying “Your band is sounding better.”  That meant we weren’t up to her level. I was a bit sensitive back then! This disser ran a Jewish organization that wouldn’t hire us. Vi said, “That woman is very powerful. Steer clear.” I did — for decades. Funny, I eventually became friends with the disser, and she started to like my band. Violet loved all kinds of music. Her husband, David, played harmonica. He was a big fan, too, of Yiddishe Cup.

The only problem with Vi was she was from Glenville (a Cleveland neighborhood). The sheyne yidn (higher class Jews) lived in Glenville. Everything in her columns was Glenville this, Glenville that. You’d think Glenville was the center of the world. (She had been an editor of the Glenville High school paper in the 1930s.) Hey, my parents were from the more proste (working-class) part of  Jewish Cleveland, Kinsman. John Adams High. Vi tolerated John Adams rivals and their descendants!

Vi Spevack

Reunions in Florida for Glenville snowbirds — those were always newsworthy in Vi’s column. The Glenville diaspora ruled. If you had gone to Glenville High and moved to California, you could get ink in Vi’s column for having, say, a good round of golf in Palm Springs.

Violet was all about the phone. Never email. She would write out quotes (from me and other interviewees) longhand and then type them up. She usually called me before publication. Together, we fine-tuned copy. For instance, she would say, “How do you like ‘The heymishe Yiddishe Cup performed with spirit and ta’am (taste)?’” Violet, how about fewer Yiddish words? I couldn’t say that. Violet had her go-to Yiddish stable of well-known Yiddish words, and she worked it hard. She really liked freylach (happy).

Here’s another Yiddish word for you, Vi. Mentsh. As in, “Violet was a mentsh.”

[The photo of Vi is from when I was at her Sherri Park apartment in Lyndhurst in 2012. She was 96. We were talking about Mickey Katz, who she knew from . . . . drumroll,  Glenville.]

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September 13, 2023   2 Comments

A BAD DAY

 
The tenant in 304 was a slob, but still, he liked a spiffy-looking bathroom. My maintenance man said, “He ain’t did the dishes in years. I mean holy shit. And he’s bitching about his bathroom falling apart?” The maintenance man — Jim — repainted the entire bathroom. Jim also moved out a ratty couch and chair. The Salvation Army wouldn’t even take the stuff. It was all stained. I had to pay Jim extra for moving the furniture.

Generic messy suit and former tenant

A store tenant called and said Jim got dust on some of her stuff when he did a job there. “There was dust all over the place, and they didn’t cover my things.” I told the tenant to give me a price. Jim said he did cover her stuff. That was a bad day.

My plumber met me in the parking lot across from St. Ed’s High and showed me his monthly bills. He said, “This is the second highest amount I’ve ever given you.”

Thanks.

I got an email from a tenant saying he wanted a month’s free month because I was digging trenches through his apartment. We were putting in an underground condensate return line. Eighty-gauge black steel pipe. We were doing this because the entire building was sprouting leaks from the 90-year-old underground pipes. So we were digging a five-foot “grave” in the guy’s kitchen, dining room and living room. I told him he’d get the free rent.

The person in apartment 30 called and said he’s getting back with his girlfriend. Oh yeah? He’s out his deposit.

The worst was the letter taped to the storefront door at the Webb Road building: “Burt, it’s landlords like you that give all of us landlords a bad name. You should be ashamed of yourself. Signed, Tom Corrigan.”

Corrigan rented a store from me. He ran his rental property organization from my building. He had had a leak in his roof. We tried to fix it. I spent a few grand on it. Leaks are a tricky business.

It was a bad day.

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September 6, 2023   2 Comments