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.



I’m an official old guy. An arts agency made a documentary about roots music in Ohio, and a bunch of baby-boomers, including me, was the subject. We were the old fogies on the porch, picking away at authentic instruments. The guys in my “old guy” pantheon are all dead: Muddy Waters, Dave Tarras, Mickey Katz.

I saw a 92-year-old piano player. He isn’t dead.

I still get nervous when I play. I’m not dead.

I once played an “old guy” record-release party at Nighttown, a local club. Something like my 1,028th Yiddishe Cup gig. I played a Moldovan folk piece in 7/16 and stopped halfway through. Man, I must have been playing it in 9/16 or 10/16. I was so ahead of the game. I was freaked out by my fellow musicians in the room.

Me and nervous go way back. My first recitals at Victory Park School in South Euclid, Ohio, were debacles. I had memorized my tunes and then forgot them. Let’s take it from the top again, shall we, Bert? Worse, a violin prodigy always followed me. Philip Setzer. He wound up in the Emerson String Quartet.

I just bought a ticket to see Setzer next month at the Cleveland Institute of Music. I also wrote him a fan letter, including the tag “you want to meet for coffee?” I’d say there’s a 50-50 chance that’ll happen.

I really botched “Theme of Exodus” one year at Victory Park. Phil probably followed that with some slick Mozart concerto. Both Setzer’s parents were violinists in the Cleveland Orchestra. I have no idea why they lived in South Euclid. They were total Heights profile, right? If I meet up with Phil, I’ll ask him, “Why did your parents live in South Euclid?”

Yiddishe Cup plays a free concert tomorrow (7 p.m. Thurs. Aug. 18) at Walter Stinson Community Park, 2301 Fenwick Road, University Heights, Ohio. Bring a chair or blanket.

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August 17, 2022   1 Comment


Last week I lost my credit card and went around town looking for it. (Been there, done that, you say.) I retraced my steps to On the Rise, the neighborhood bakery, and the clerk there had about 20 cards in a drawer. One card belonged to a friend of mine. My card wasn’t there.

It had to be there! I had  just done an in-depth regression analysis of every place I had been in the past three days. You know how hard it is to recall everything you’ve done in the past three days? Particularly when you’re 72.

My friend — the guy whose card I had found in the pile at On the Rise — texted me, “Crikey!!!!! That is so weird. Thank you for the heads up.”

I wish store clerks called when they found cards.

I monitored my online statement. I didn’t freak out. Yippee. Nobody was charging anything. If my card didn’t show up soon, I’d call Visa and ask for another one. My son Ted said, “Don’t say you lost it. They’ll cancel your card.” Right-o, Ted. I don’t want to spent two hours online changing all my auto-pays.

Yesterday I was at CVS to pick up a prescription and asked if by chance they had my card. I had also been there the week before to pick up some generic Lipitor. But I had paid cash then. The pharmacist held up my card and said, “I’ve been on a spending spree!” That was funny.

To repeat, I think stores should call when they find cards. (I suspect many stores do.) I didn’t ask the pharmacist why she didn’t call. I didn’t want to wreck my good mood. I love finding things I’ve lost.

[A Harvey Pekar tribute post.]

Yiddishe Cup plays 7 p.m. Thurs., Aug. 18, at Walter Stinson Park, University Heights. Bring a chair or blanket.

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August 10, 2022   5 Comments


Losing Horseshoe Lake in Shaker Heights means losing an important piece of history, along with priceless water views and the dam’s role as a public living room for dog walkers, bird-watchers, and parents pushing strollers.

I didn’t write that. and Plain Dealer reporter Steven Litt did. [“Removing Horseshoe Lake Dam releases a torrent of potential,” July 29.] In 2019, before the lake was drained, Horseshoe Lake was a “living room.” It was homey — a throwback to an era when people walked around a lot and bumped into each other. Like what we still do at the grocery store. Say, Zagara’s grocery store in Cleveland Heights, except no Cheerios and soy milk at Horseshoe Lake. Only warblers, herons, ducks and sunsets. Free, too.

horseshoe lake. lucy photo

Litt wants to demolish this living room. Litt favors the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District’s plan to turn the lake into two streams. We already have miles of streams! We have the Nature Center at Shaker Lake right next door, with its boardwalk, gazebo and illustrative signs.

The other day I was at Cumberland Pool, Cleveland Heights. Johnny Weissmuller once swam there. The pool is a treasure. Why? Because it looks like it did when Johnny Weissmuller swam there. Some things of beauty should stay the same. Want to knock down the Cleveland Museum of Art’s 1916 main building and give it a re-make? Would we sell the museum’s painting “Stag at Sharkey’s” by George Bellows?

Nobody ever lost his life in a flood at Shaker Lakes. Why are we going nanny-state to make sure the dam is 110% safe? Again, nobody ever — in the Heights or University Circle – lost her life in a flood in the 170-year history of the man-made Shaker Lakes and dam. There is this Talmudic precept “whoever saves one life, saves the entire world.” But come on, this coddling is ridiculous. The sewer district fears flooding under the Rapid Transit bridge in University Circle, where there is one apartment building – one – that might get flooded. Somebody should buy that old University Circle brick apartment building and vacate the ground floor; pour concrete in it; and call it a day. (I’m doing that tomorrow! joke) Then the old building will look like the science fortresses around that part of University Circle. We’ll be fine.

The sewer board hired a landscape architect from Cambridge, Mass. One of the firm’s owners is Lauren Stimson, who according to the website, “has a deep love for New England, where she was raised, and an interest in the overlap between the built environment and the rural landscape.” Gotta love New England. And here in Cleveland, we have locals with a deep love of Cleveland — locals with the common sense to realize we have a beautiful lake, and it should stay that way.

The Friends of Horseshoe Lake has hired an engineering firm, public-relations firm, and a law firm to fight for the preservation of Horseshoe Lake. Don’t be misled by the sewer people and the Plain Dealer. Check out

Here’s my recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal: “Finding a Good Plumber is a Heavy Lift.” Read the comments — a lot of ranting about how young people should go into plumbing instead of film studies.

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August 3, 2022   1 Comment


Why do eyeglass-frame adjusters have so much power over us? Did they all attend I.U.?

How come newspaper columnists don’t write about pet peeves anymore?

What about those phone solicitors who ask for money for your kids’ colleges? We have our own alma maters not to give to.

Why do sensitive people insist on telling everybody they’re sensitive?

Why are we so nostalgic for mimeo machines? The smell, I guess.

Why do so many Clevelanders brag about not reading the Plain Dealer? The paper is on life-support, yes, but still, it’s all we have. “I’ve lived in Cleveland 20 years and never subscribed to the PD.” Go back to New York.

If you want to talk about cars, first ask: “Do you want to talk about cars?” Same goes for sports and politics.

What is preferable: “He passed away” or “He passed”?  Neither. “He died.”

Don’t let signs like THE SMITH’S get you down.

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August 3, 2022   No Comments


I’ve been to approximately 60 Cleveland Indians games and seen three no-hitters. What are the odds on that? Call the Freakonomics guy.

I am a fair-weather fan! For two of the three no-hitters, I didn’t even know who the players were. Like now, I can’t name any of the Guardians players.

I saw Toronto’s Dave Stieb no-hit the Tribe in 1990. I didn’t know any of the Cleveland players then. I saw Cleveland’s Dick Bosman throw a no-hitter in 1974; again, I didn’t know any of the Cleveland players except Buddy Bell, who I recognized as Gus Bell’s son.

1966 — my first no-hitter. Sonny Siebert, 2-0, against the Senators. I knew the players. I was in high school: Azcue, Alvis, Davalillo, Wagner, Colavito.

francona 1960 topps

Francona batted .363 in 1959 but was 34 at-bats shy of the minimum needed, so the batting title went to Harvey Kuenn.

I used to get free tickets to the games in high school for straight A’s. I didn’t get straight A’s but the Cleveland Press (which gave out the free tix) didn’t care about a B or two, as long as if you provided a written explanation. “This class is AP,” etc.

By the way, I’m uneasy with the fine-print mention of “Harvey Kuenn” in the photo caption above. April 19, 1960. What a dark day. Frankie  Lane unloaded The Rock for Kuenn. That was the day I learned life isn’t fair. Still adjusting.

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July 27, 2022   4 Comments


I turned down a gig. I rarely do that. Try new things, blah, blah. I was asked to play clarinet for the play “Di Yiddishe Vayb” (The Jewish Wife) at the BorderLight International Theatre + Fringe Festival, Cleveland.

The money stunk: $180 for six services (meaning two rehearsals and four shows). Plus, I wasn’t too keen on the play’s description — something about “anti-fascism,” Brecht and Chelm. But Bertolt (me) said yes, initially.

Then, a couple weeks later, the start times of the gig(s)  and the venue changed. We went from the Hermit Club — a cool place — to a hill on Public Square (not so unique). I emailed the play people, “Somebody changed the ground rules on me!” I couldn’t make the new times, which was true.

An actor emailed me, “Yeah, the scheduling for a fringe show is kind of wacky; thanks for bearing with us while you could. We’ll look into other options, and please do let us know if anything changes on your end!”

Then, the other day, I got a generic sort of email, requesting a klez-oriented clarinet player for the play, for $450. The price of poker had gone up! I texted the playwright and said I’d do the gigs for $450; I would rearrange my schedule, which wouldn’t be easy. But the play people had already found somebody else.

The first show is tomorrow. If you attend, please let me know how the hill it is, and who’s on clarinet?

I should have done it. Or maybe not. Some FOMO here.

Edit / update:

I went to the play last night and it stunk. Yippee! I would have died if I had had to sit through that show six times. The actor was great, but the script was not-too-funny Chelm stories spiced with references to Nazis. Experimental, and a failure. The clarinet player had a boring part, and she didn’t play loud enough. You’ve got to blast when you’re outdoors. When I was in New Orleans a few years ago, I sat in with local jazz heroes on the main square there; afterward, the bandleader said to me, “Play with some balls!” So I went home to Cleveland and got a louder clarinet barrel. I’m glad I went to “Di Yiddishe Vayb” last night. No mo’ FOMO.

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July 20, 2022   No Comments


I like virgin olive oil. It costs more, but it does make a difference, at least on salads. I’ve made trips to various import shops in Cleveland for the quality juice. Sometimes I buy the huge XL can. A can is your best buy because you don’t want to expose the oil to light, or worse, plastic.

I drizzle olive oil on everything. I don’t want to sound like a snob here, but you really can’t live a full life without extra virgin olive oil. I flew once to Rome and traveled in a rental car four hours due-east to get my favorite olive oil, I-77. No lie. Not the freeway. I went to the I-77 headquarters in Vasto, Abruzzo, and bought a couple cans there and shipped them home. That trip was the highlight of my life (that, plus being captain of the tennis team at Brush High).

Everybody is going to Italy right now. Rich people, at least. Italy is the number-one tourist destination, I think. If you go, please stop by the I-77 place and pick up a couple cans. Gotta be cans.


(This post is partially true. The true part: I have been to the I-77 HQ in Abruzzo.)

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July 13, 2022   1 Comment


(This is a good one. It was originally published in City Journal 12/24/15).

“I don’t like rich people,” said Irwin, the singer in my klezmer band, as we loaded in our sound equipment at the country club. The club manager as usual made us go through the kitchen door. At the luncheon—a bar mitzvah—she wouldn’t let us eat the chicken fingers at the kids’ table and would only serve us lemonade, not soda pop. Definitely no beer. We were service-industry workers.

Didn’t the club manager realize Irwin and I are middle class? Irwin is a retired middle-school art teacher. I’m a landlord. We dabble as working class several hours a weekend, period. Forty-four percent of Americans self-identify as middle class, according to a 2014 Pew Research Center survey. “Upper middle class and upper class” account for 15 percent. “Lower middle and lower” is 40 percent. Nobody says rich.

At my apartment buildings, many of the tenants are food-service industry workers, and some don’t like me on principle; I’m the landlord. These tenants all lived rent-free as children, and now, in their twenties and thirties, they have to pay for walls and a roof. About 5 percent of the tenants don’t pay on time. Many of the servers and bartenders come home late and begin partying at 3 AM. When I ask for the rent, the tenants sometimes get sassy: “You want the rent? Let me pull your coat to this—my bathroom ceiling is still leaking.” Luckily I know some jazz slang.

My older son said I seem miserable in my real estate job. I said to him, “Nobody said the job was supposed to be fun. It’s a way to raise a family and hopefully provide decent housing.” Real estate is not music.

In the music biz, weddings are the Rolls Royce of gigs. Nobody wants to be a wedding singer except real musicians. They die for wedding gigs. The money is good and there’s often salmon. One musician in my band brought baggies to gigs. That was particularly useful at buffets. Was he middle class, working class, or just hungry? I seem to go through a couple social classes a day. I suspect most poor people don’t.

I’m a part owner of a medical office building. There, some of the tenants play golf on Wednesdays. The doctor-tenants complain unhesitatingly and often. Irwin—the artist in my band—put up six original paintings in the medical building lobby. A doctor texted me: “If you’ve got money for pictures, then paint my door.” So we painted the door. The door painter said to me, “If you gave that doctor a gold-plated key to heaven, he’d complain the lock was broke. He’s Dr. No.”

The medical building was a house of pain and uneven temperatures. Very few patients were in a good mood there, unlike at bar mitzvahs and weddings, where everybody is happy (except the club manager). I visit neighboring office buildings and say to receptionists, “I have a general question for you. How’s the temperature in here?” Everybody is too hot or too cold. I read how women and men react differently to air conditioning and heat. Apparently everybody needs their own personal bubble. I’ll probably never get the temperature right.

Irwin has memorized all of Bob Dylan’s “list songs.” Driving to a gig, Irwin sang this for me: “You might be somebody’s landlord, you might even own banks. But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed.” When we got to the country club, we went through the kitchen door.

Dr. No was late with his rent, on purpose. He was punishing me. I was in his corner office, the area with the family pics and diplomas. Dr. No said, “Take a seat.” I sat, he stood, and he lectured me on climate control. He was hot, and I was sweating the rent. Eventually he handed me the check.

At weddings, I work with a photographer who writes “no wraps” in his contract, meaning no sandwich wraps for him. He insists on a hot meal. But sometimes you get it cold. If my food-industry tenants could have seen me in Dr. No’s office, they would have loved it.

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July 6, 2022   1 Comment


I’m a funeral strategist. I advise mourners on funerals. No charge, by the way. The big Jewish funeral parlor in Cleveland is BK Broiler (Berkowitz Kumin). Some funeral services last only 15 minutes. Others go way too long. It’s bad when too many relatives speak, but I once attended a funeral where nobody spoke. That’s worse. The entire funeral was 12 minutes. Come on! The sweet spot is 25 minutes with two or three eulogies.

A tip to eulogists: don’t say, “She enjoyed traveling in her later years.” Talk about her upbringing and prime time.

I try to arrive at the funeral parlor 20 minutes beforehand, to work the family room, where relatives sit. I like to say hi, catch up, and offer my condolences.

The employees at BK Broiler wear dark suits and are very proper. They never say anything off script. They say, “This ends our service here. Please go to your cars and turn on your lights.”

Why doesn’t the chapel at B-K Broiler have windows? Are funeral-home windows forbidden in Jewish law? (Shuls must have windows, my rabbi once told me.) Maybe it’s because mourners at funeral homes don’t want to see passersby laughing and joking.

Think about it. Or don’t think about. I’ll think about it for you.

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June 29, 2022   1 Comment


I got a fan letter yesterday.

Dear Bert,
My bucket list is to see you perform again. I’ve had serious medical challenges for 10 years & I want to see you perform & I want to replace my CDs, as they are worn out from overuse. Are you still writing? Are you still touring? Please let me know what your schedule is. I want to see you perform at least one more time. You have brought so much joy to so many & still do thru your CDs. God bless you.

Dianne attached a photo of me and her together. “Me” was this guy:

b stratton cruise pianist pic

Bert Stratton — the guy above — is a pianist and singer on the Caribbean Princess cruise ship.

I wrote Diane back: “wrong bert stratton.”

Caribbean Princess Bert Stratton is my Googleganger.

A few years ago a man phoned me and said, “Bert, this is Joe. I’m upstairs.” I was in my basement. Joe was upstairs in my house? Creepy. Turned out, Joe was upstairs at the other Bert Stratton’s house.

The other Bert Stratton knows me. A Cleveland acquaintance ran into him on the ship and asked if he knew me. He did. He knew of me.

Bert has all my fan mail.

There’s a klezmer concert at Cain Park, Cleveland Hts., this Sunday (7 p.m. June 26), featuring  Jack Stratton, drums; Michael Winograd, clarinet; and Josh “Socalled” Dolgin, keyboard and vocals. Free. No tix necessary. Just show up.

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June 22, 2022   2 Comments


The fitting room at the orthotics store had a small stage, fit for one person. I sat on the stage, and the orthotics guy sat in front of me, in the front row so to speak, and looked at my feet. He had a box with foam in it. He said, “Step in it.” I wondered what this had to do with my sore knee.

Afterward his assistant said, “That’ll be two eighty.”



My wife didn’t like my outing to the orthotics store. She thought orthotics weren’t worth it — at least for me. My issue was more of a head case, she said.

The orthotics man gave me plaster of Paris casts of my feet. I have the casts in my closet in case I ever need more orthotics.

. . . More orthotics, please!

Big Bert Stratton and his klez group Yiddishe Cup perform 2 pm Sun., June 19 at the Beachwood Library, Beachwood, Ohio. The show is free and indoors. You’re supposed to make reservations ahead of time, but if you don’t, just show up and ask for “Hedy.” You’ll get in.

Li’l Jack Stratton and his klez group Yiddishe Pirat perform 7 p.m. Sun., June 26, at the Cain Park amphitheater, Cleveland Hts. The show is free and no tix necessary.

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June 15, 2022   1 Comment


When a rent check bounces, the bank charges me a fee. I didn’t bounce the check. Am I supposed to ask the tenant beforehand, “Is your check good or is it tissue paper?”

Eve, a tenant, ran a beauty parlor and was a chronic check-bouncer. She screamed at me: “My freaking check is good! Why don’t you put it in! I hand-delivered it to the manager yesterday.”

“The bank charges me!” I said. “I just called the bank. The teller said it was no good.”

Eve was at the bank. The check was good now, she claimed. And I had just gone to city hall and filed an eviction on her for $100.

I said, “OK, I’ll put the check in if it’s good.”

“The check is good!” she said. “I pay my rent and I intend to pay it until the end of my lease, at which point I’m out of here. And you haven’t fixed the back screen door.”

I said, “I’m evil, I know that. You don’t like me, and I don’t like you.” I hung up and called the bank.  The check was good.

Peace and love.

Yiddishe Cup plays a free outdoor concert tomorrow (6:30-8:30 pm Thurs., June 9) at the Cedar-Fairmount, Cleveland Heights. The show is in a secret location — the parking lot in back of Firestone, 12420 Cedar Rd. (The parking lot’s entrance is on Grandview Road.) Bring a chair.

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June 8, 2022   3 Comments


Henry Polatsek, an elderly man in my neighborhood, gave me postage stamps. My first stamp was the 4-cent Wisconsin Worker’s Compensation (1961). Mr. Polatsek also periodically visited my elementary school and passed out stamps to all the kids. He once took me to a stamp show at the Manger Hotel. The show was just old guys and me.

I ran into Mr. Polatsek years later — when I was in my 20s — and asked him about his collection. He said it had been stolen. “Now I only collect pictures of my grandchildren,” he said.

My mother sent stamps to me when I went off to college. I told her to stop. She sent me W.C. Handy (1968) and Leif Erikson (1968). It was embarrassing — a hip college kid getting collectibles from his mom.

I gave up stamp collecting. Still, I like the idea of stamps, and I use them.

Alfred F. Stern. He was a stamp dealer on Superior Road, Cleveland Heights. I went to his apartment. He had all the American stamps, plus Israeli, U.N. and new countries. I got the first stamps from Malaysia. I still have a U.N. souvenir sheet. I got it for my Confirmation.

The U.N. and Israeli stamp markets crashed. I should use my 4-cent stamps for postage. I had a tenant who plastered her rent envelopes with low-denomination stamps. She was old and apparently a former stamp collector.

Yiddishe Cup plays a free outdoor concert next week — 6:30-8:30 pm Thurs., June 9. It’s in the parking lot in back of Firestone, 12420 Cedar Rd., Cleveland Heights. Bring a chair.

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June 1, 2022   1 Comment


In my 30s I kvetched about not living in New York, or someplace else equally glamorous. And I judged people by their tastes in music and their bumper stickers, and where they lived. I’ve given up on all that.

In my 20s I was bad, too. I hung around with Harvey Pekar, who said to me: “I’m hateful. I’d like to have a cool way to slip my George Ade article [published in a local magazine] to my ex-wife [an academic]. She’s small-minded.” Pekar had a lot of bitterness. Worse than me. It was cool to be cynical and pissed off.

I’m still working on that — the opposite. Not being cynical and pissed off.

Getting married and staying married was my best move. Starting the klezmer band was another good move. Having kids was a terrific move. The rest is commentary, and I don’t mean Commentary.

Yiddishe Cup plays a free outdoor concert at the Cedar Fairmount district, Cleveland Hts. 6:30-8:30 pm Thurs., June 9, in the parking lot in back of Firestone, 12420 Cedar Rd. Bring a tire iron and be ready to rumble. We’ll play klezmer and soul music.

yiddishe cup 5_22_22

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May 25, 2022   No Comments


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