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 hadn’t seen Bill in approximately 20 years. I  remembered he was a computer nut, but then I discovered, upon meeting him again, he was also a boiler nut. When he came over for dinner, he wanted to see the boiler in my basement just for fun. I have a low-pressure, two-pipe system. I said, “You should come to the West Side to look at boilers. I’ve got boilers over there as big as locomotives.”

Bill advised me not to set back the thermostat on my house every night. With a steam boiler system, you don’t save any money that way, he said. So for 21 years I’d been freezing my ass off every winter for nothing? I always set back my thermostat. Repeat (from Bill): don’t set the thermostat back. I asked a commercial boiler guy the next day, and he agreed with Bill.

This dinner meet-up with Bill was 10 years ago, and I still set my thermostat back. Maybe Bill is wrong.

Here’s “Blues for Horseshoe Lake,” my latest polemic about saving the lake. The essay is in today’s Plain Dealer.

Yiddishe Cup plays a free Mother’s Day concert 2-3 pm Sunday (May 14) at the Beachwood (Ohio) library. You need to register because there is limited seating. Approximately 30 seats left.

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May 9, 2023   1 Comment


I’m a German klezmer musician. Everyone thinks that fascinating. Everyone has questions for me.

Here are the answers:

I didn’t know any Jews. I just liked the music. My aunt told me, “Why do you play that silly music? You’re German!” I don’t think klezmer is silly music! I’ve studied Yiddish and I’ve been to klezmer conferences, and I have Jewish friends now.

Every year I play memorial programs, and each time at the Kristallnacht commemoration in my town there is always at least one Jewish tourist who comes up to me and says, “Are you Jewish?” And I say no, and he’s says, “You have to be!” Sometimes I tell him my grandfather is Romanian. It’s not true; I am German, but if a Jewish person insists I’m Jewish, who am I to disappoint him?

I am a klezmer musician, or a German klezmer musician. Your choice. I never wanted to be a Jew, and I never wanted to be not a Jew. Somebody once said, “You’re not really a Jew unless at one point in your life you didn’t want to be a Jew.” So maybe I am Jewish.

An American once called me a “poseur.” I had to look that word up. He claimed to be a klezmer musician from Cleveland, Ohio. He told me I shouldn’t play klezmer music because I’m not Jewish. He was emphatic about that. The middle of the United States is too red, I think.

Do I feel guilty about the Holocaust? Why should I? I don’t follow the tradition of my great-grandparents. If you think I’m a bad person for playing music from somewhere else, then you know damn little about music.

[fake profile]

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May 3, 2023   1 Comment


At various Yiddishe Cup gigs, I was often surprised how the crowd would ask for Israeli tunes more than klezmer (Eastern European) tunes. Jews in Cleveland wanted Israeli music, got that? OK, I gave it to them. (Aside: classic Israeli tunes are easier to play than klezmer, which is instrument-based and leans toward virtuosic. Also, klezmer rhythms are typically more complex than classic Israeli tunes.)

Yiddishe Cup learned a lot of Israeli tunes, enough that many Israelis assumed we could belt out contemporary (not “classic”) Israeli music.

Israeli music —  in the trade — is known as “Tel Aviv bus station music.” We had no clue how to play it. Luckily there was an Israeli singer in Cleveland, Shlomo Ziton, to cover that niche for 0ur town’s Israeli-American contingent.

On one Israel Independence Day (Yom Ha’atzmaut) I got in a dispute with a dance enthusiast who complained I wasn’t playing enough Israeli folk dances. “Too much klezmer,” he said. So I worked out a formula: play Israeli chalutzim (pioneer) classics, and for contemporary Israeli stuff plug in my iPhone or CD (depending on the decade). Very little klezmer.

Happy birthday, Israel!

And by the way, there was an article by Daniel Hoffman in Haaretz on Monday headlined “Why Do Israelis Still Hate Klezmer Music?” (Paywall.) “Secular Israelis have long rejected klezmer, an overt, emotional expression of Ashkenazi Jewish musical culture. Sometimes the strength of that opposition – and resistance to anything Yiddish, religious or associated with the Holocaust – knocks me flat.”

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April 26, 2023   1 Comment


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

Eve, a tenant, ran a beauty parlor and was a chronic check-bouncer. She once 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 now good, she claimed. And I had just gone to city hall and filed an eviction on her for $100. Now Eve owed me $100, plus the rent. I said, “OK, I’ll put the check in if it’s good.” I would eat the $100 filing fee.

“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.”

Unfair what-about-ism, Eve. 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 prosperity.

Then next month Eve was back in Bounce City. At the eviction hearing, she cried and walked out, wailing, “I’m crying just like a girl!” The bailiff red-tagged her; he taped a red writ of restitution to the door of her store. She had 10 days to move.

She didn’t. She paid her rent. She was legally evicted, but not real-life evicted.

The following month Eve didn’t pay her rent or show up at court. She called and told me her “baby daddy” wasn’t giving her kid enough money. Also, the store’s electric was off. She hadn’t paid the bill. She couldn’t cut hair without electricity.

That was her problem. The bailiff gave her a second red tag.

My locksmith picked the beauty salon’s front door lock, re-keyed the cylinder ($142 for the pick job), and I walked in. Everything was gone — the barber chairs, wash stations and wall cabinets. Ripped out. The red tag was still there.

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April 19, 2023   1 Comment


The storefront was vacant a couple years, and then suddenly two people wanted it. 1.) Jim, a tailor and dry cleaner  2.) Kim, who sold bridal gowns. Jim said he had 20 years experience running a dry cleaners down the street. The shop went out of business in the middle of the night. Twenty years was good, but closing in the middle of the night wasn’t. As for Kim, the bridal-gown woman, she was picky, like “this door isn’t secure” and “what’s with the stain in the ceiling?”

I said, “Stuff leaks. There are people living above.”

“How often does it leak?” she said.

“Maybe once a year. You should have insurance on your gowns.”

Jim, the dry cleaner, wanted month to month. And he wanted paint jobs — extra work. That was strange — the paint-job request. You need at least $10,000 to start a business, and Jim wanted odd jobs on the side? And what was with the month to month? “Month to month is common,” he said.

No, it’s not, not for commercial leases. I told him if he gave me a security deposit by Sunday, we’d do a  one-year lease. But he didn’t come up with the money. I called Kim. She wanted to look over the lease. I said, “Jim might want the store. I’m at the show-me-the-money phase.”

Jim needed more documents, whatever that meant. Kim said she’d be by at 3 p.m. with the money.

At noon, Ron, my maintenance guy, called and said there was a flood in the store. “Water is coming in from the ceiling. Two inches. Build an Ark. It’s just flooding like crazy.”

“Ron, she’s due in three hours. She won’t rent if she sees a flood. She’s picky. Make the ceiling white. I don’t care if you use toothpaste.”

“I can’t paint wet plaster.”

“Maybe I can get her to come tomorrow,” I said.

I got Kim to show at 8 a.m. the next morning, and she rented the place. (The leak was from a hole in the gutter in back, plus the downspout was out of alignment. We fixed all that.)

Kim rented for nine years. The dry cleaner, who knows what happened to him.

My latest essay in the Wall Street Journal is “My Dad Escaped Taxes, but Not Death.”

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April 12, 2023   1 Comment


I’m a whale. I get free parking and free food, and I even have a free cruise lined up. I can go anywhere in the world, but it’s gotta be on Norwegian. Also, I can stay at any Harrah’s for free. Where to? Vegas? Tahoe? San Diego?

I hang out with Serbian furniture dealers. I mostly play poker. I won’t tell you the details. Let’s just say poker is the best game in the house if you know what you’re doing.

I make money and I lose money. If you ever want a free casino buffet meal, see me. I have rewards.

[fake profile / fiction]

Happy Passover. Here’s my recent essay in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “Passed Over for a Grocery-Store Passover Gig.”

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April 5, 2023   2 Comments


At big bar mitzvah parties, the teens are sometimes in a room with a DJ, while the klezmer band plays in an adjacent room for the AKs. I’m OK with that. I don’t whine about sharing the bill. Frankly, it’s rare to see a klez band in any room at a bar mitzvah. It’s mostly a DJ scene.

Hadassah – the women’s organization — sponsored Simchapalooza, a bar mitzvah fair, where bar mitzvah moms shopped for DJs, balloon twisters, video guys and caterers. I had a booth. Nobody stopped by. Maybe I reeked of herring. The Bar Mitzvah King, DJ Terry Macklin, drew a crowd. He had three exhibition tables strung end to end. He offered full-service: invitations, catering, DJ services and photo booths.

Rock the House — mere youngsters — eventually encroached on Terry’s DJ turf. Rock the House wasn’t black like Macklin, but they worked on it. And they were a lot younger than Macklin.

There was a lower-rung DJ, Joey Gentile, who advertised “Mitzvah Services” in the Cleveland Jewish News. I sent his ad to Moment magazine, which held an ongoing contest highlighting funny real-life ads, like “Easter Challah $3.99 Special.” My submission read “Gentile Mitzvah Services.” Didn’t get in.

A man from the Bar Mitzvah Guide, published in New York, called and asked me to buy an ad. He was doing an Ohio version. The Bar Mitzvah Guide carried ads for everything from bottle dancers to personalized chocolate bars. The man called me way too often. The final time, I said, “I’ll place an ad but I bet you won’t take it.”

“Try me,” he said.

“I want the text to read ‘Yiddishe Cup. If the other ads in here aren’t your bag, we are.’”

He took the ad.

And we didn’t get any gigs.

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March 28, 2023   3 Comments


Mickey grew up on the street over from me. He had seven siblings. His dad was a Sealtest milkman. Mickey scored touchdowns. Who can forget his touchdown run against Wiley Junior High? And there was one against Memorial Junior High, too, I seem to recall.

We didn’t hang out that much in high school. So be it. Mostly grade school and junior high.

After Bowling Green U., Mickey moved to Texas and then to Washington state, and I only saw him at funerals and reunions in Cleveland.

A few months ago, he texted me: “I’m back in Ohio.”

What did that mean exactly?

Lake County. He moved there. Mickey moved back to northeast Ohio to retire. Nobody moves to Ohio to retire! He said he moved back here to be closer to his siblings. Ohio has always felt like home, he said. We met for lunch and talked about old times. He asked if I had ever lived outside of Cleveland, and I told him about my three weeks in New York City and three months in Latin America. Pathetic, I know. We talked about Cub Scouts and which neighbors had died.

Mickey’s move to Ohio is a nice change of pace. (Some of my recently retired friends are moving out of Cleveland.)

I had an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal last week about accosting random people and talking Spanish with them. “For a Language Lesson, Oprima el Dos.”


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March 22, 2023   2 Comments


I met Earl (of Earl Bananas and His Band With Appeal) in Kansas City. Earl’s band had been a minor sensation in St. Louis decades previously. Now Earl was a hotel developer with interests in trumpet, tennis, gardening and Orthodox Judaism. We talked about all that. We were at a Shabbat dinner.

Earl said it was difficult to achieve kavanah (a prayerful mindset) in synagogue. It was a easier in music or even tennis, he said. He could really zone out at music and tennis. My wife, Alice, a gym teacher, said zoning out is also known as “flow.”

“Flow” and kavanah are overrated. Face it, you can lose track of time at a casino or on Facebook.

Try to keep track of time. That’s the challenge. At a bar mitzvah party, Yiddishe Cup strolled, going table to table, taking requests. We heard a crash – a table collapsing. We kept on playing. Then a second table collapsed. A third table went down . . . there were salads on the floor; 10-person round tables buckling; ice water, silverware and bread rolls all over. People were jumping away from the tables. People were soaked. We kept playing. I said, “We’re on the Titanic, boys. Just keep playing.” Extreme concentration.

(The tables hadn’t been properly locked underneath.)

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March 8, 2023   1 Comment



1. What was the name of Yiddishe Cup before it was Yiddishe Cup?

A. Wild Horses 

B. It has always been Yiddishe Cup 

C. Kosher Spears

D. Funk A Deli


2. Who invented klezmer? 

A. The Jews 

B. The Klezmorim (Berkeley, Calif.)

C. Henry Sapoznik


3. What was Toby Stratton’s legal first name? 

A. Toby 

B. Wayne 

C. Theodore


4.  What did Toby want buried in his coffin? 

A. Chlortrimeton allergy pills 

B.  a .22 rifle 

C. The Wall Street Journal

D. None of above


5. How do musicians in Yiddishe Cup address their bandleader? 

A. Ding-a-ling 

B. Pissant 

C. Sir


6.  Yiddishe Cup has played

A. Brooklyn, New York

B. Brooklyn, Ohio 

C. Louisville, Kentucky


7. A landlord’s biggest problem is

A. water leaks 

B. bugs 

C. tenants in “the industry” (food-service business)


8. Clarinetists are 

A. cool 

B. not cool


9. Toby’s favorite sport was

A. tennis 

B. counting Jews in restaurants 

C. softball


10. A musician’s main interest is

A. music 

B. the food situation

C. the OT situation. (Is there overtime?)


11. (Tiebreaker) What was Toby’s blood type? 

A. O  

B. AB  

C. A

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February 28, 2023   2 Comments


I kicked a tenant out after 40 years. I didn’t renew him — to use real estate terminology. Jim ran a beauty salon. He was a good hairstylist and low maintenance as a commercial tenant. My family – first my dad, then me – collected Jim’s rent through the years. The only time I had a problem with Jim was six years ago when he started paying his water bill late. I wrote him: “If you think I like tracking your ‘past dues,’ think again.” This was the worst thing in 40 years.

Jim rented on a month-to-month basis, as opposed to being on a long-term lease. This was his idea. He chose month-t0-month in 2002. Maybe he never considered the flipside of his choice; I could quit on him, with little notice, just like he could quit on me. None of my other commercial tenants elected to go on month-to-month. Jim was 82 and keeping his options open — until I shut him down.

I said, “It’s simply a business decision on my end, Jim. I don’t think any other businessman in my position would make a different call.” A store owner next door wanted to expand, and she needed more space for her furniture and knick-knacks store. The furniture store — a k a home décor boutique — needed to take over the beauty-parlor space, or she would move. The furniture woman was ready to sign a five-year lease and agreed to pay the build-out (remodeling) on the beauty-salon space.

Jim’s security deposit was $300, which my dad had collected in 1982. That’s $910 today, in inflation-adjusted dollars. I planned to give Jim $910 back. Nice guy — me. In Ohio, landlords aren’t obligated to pay interest on security deposits. Jim said I was making a mistake, booting him. He said, “Beauty parlors and bars last forever. My salon and the bar across the street are the only old-timers on the block.”

Jim left the store keys and a lot of junk, including four beauty parlor chairs with hair dryers attached. I didn’t say anything about it. I said, “Thanks for all the years. My family and I appreciate it.”

I put one of the beauty-parlor chairs on the curb and said to the building manager, “I think somebody will want this. It might be a hipster thing.” Like out of Hairspray by John Waters.

The chair remained on the curb for a day. No takers. I rented a 20-yard dumpster for the junk. There was a broken refrigerator and three desks in the basement. It cost me a lot more than $910 to clean the store out. The dumpster alone was $600. A handyman and his son needed two days to fill the dumpster. I kept Jim’s $300 security deposit. On the other hand, I didn’t charge him $63.90 for his final water bill.

Nice guy — me.  Or schmuck? It’s sometimes hard to tell in the real estate business.

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February 22, 2023   7 Comments


I was staying at a Yucatecan restaurant called Zazil Ha. I didn’t know what “Zazil Ha” meant. (It’s the name of a 16th-century Mayan princess.) I was staying there a while, not just for dinner. I lived above the restaurant for six weeks, eating beans, beans, and more beans. I was 18. I didn’t really like beans. I didn’t like Mexican food, period. I went to KFC on occasion and lived off oatmeal and Pan Bimbo. Mexico City, 1968, the summer after I graduated high school.

I missed the shootings at the national university, and I missed the Olympics. But I caught Pan Bimbo, which is white bread. I lived with three college boys from Wisconsin and Minnesota who called me “a stop,” which meant I supposedly stopped them from getting laid.

I took a course, History of Mexico, at the Universidad Ibero-Americana. I got a couple credit hours at Michigan for that.

I still like KFC. I haven’t had any lately, but when I’m in hospice care I want some KFC. (And I like Mexican food now.)

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February 15, 2023   4 Comments


I went down a rabbi hole.

Here’s the hole:

1. I’m reading a New York Times article about Shaker Heights schools, about how some blacks at Shaker want out, moving to academically highly rated Solon. The NYT writer is Debra Kamin. [The story: “Could Black Flight Change a Model of Integration?” January 15, 2023.] I check out Debra’s bio because her last name sounds familiar. Yes, she is the daughter of Ben Kamin, who was head rabbi at The Temple Tifereth Israel, Cleveland, in the late 1990s. Rabbi Kamin was a heavyset ebullient man. He told the religious-school kids “wake up and smell the Torah!” He also wrote op-eds for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, often about growing up in Israel. And he said he wanted to be the commissioner of baseball. In 2000 Kamin got fired. Nobody said why. Simply fired. And he moved to San Diego, where he led a congregation.

2. In 2015 Kamin writes in the San Diego Jewish World how he got blindsided by The Temple in 2000 and was shit-canned via letter, read aloud by the the local Jewish funeral-parlor director. Rabbi Kamin boasts in the San Diego article:

The rabbi’s study of The Temple in Cleveland was a national seat of power and prestige. Everyone in town knew me, many sought me out. Sports franchise owners had confided to me in this office. The African-American mayor had sat across from me, asking for Jewish support and money as he sought reelection. I had spoken by telephone more than once from this office with the Commissioner of Baseball. The Governor of Ohio had called me to offer congratulations on the day I ascended to the position I was now about to lose.”

3. 2017. Kamin’s older daughter, Sari, writes in Medium that she was sexually harassed by James Toback, a well-known film director. Sari was trying to be an actor in New York City. Sari’s story gets some national attention. [Medium headline: “I am one of the countless women film maker James Toback has harassed.”]

4. Kamin jumps in with an essay in the San Diego Union Tribune, 2017, saying it’s bad what his daughter is going through, and bad for him too:

“What does a father feel when he reads and hears his daughter’s harrowing story in various media and watches her, through his tearful eyes, stand up on national television on behalf of her own dignity and that of so many incalculable victims of this plague-perversion?

“The first thing he does not feel is any celebratory sense that his daughter is suddenly the subject of national interest and scrutiny. Pain should not derive fame; it needs to be released in the private corners of one’s subconscious, it needs to be mended with and by the mindful. It unequivocally needs to be reported — I’m proud of my child. But her pain needs more so to be redeemed. She needs to fulfill herself more than she is obligated to service CNN, NBC, and the New York Times.”

5. In 2019 Kamin is expelled from the Central Conference of American Rabbis (the Reform Jewish conclave) for violation of “sexual boundaries.” [Cleveland Jewish News: “CCAR expels former Cleveland Rabbi Benjamin A. Kamin.”]

6. Kamin’s obit, 2021, dead at 68 from heart complications. Daughter Debra says her dad was “a charming and complicated person.” [Cleveland Jewish News: “Former TTTI Rabbi Kamin recalled for humor and speaking ability.”]

7. Debra again, in Conde Nast Traveler, 2021, reiterates her dad was complicated. [“Getting to Know My Late Father Through his Travel Journals”]:

“My father, Ben Kamin, was a brilliant enigma. He was a rabbi and an author, an occasional journalist, and a late-life social justice warrior whose narcissism choked his full potential. He was stymied, both as parent and professional, by a desperate need for adulation that sent him tilting at windmills when confronted with even a whiff of criticism. Safe in the shell of his ego, my father was gregarious, and generous. He was my confidante and steadfast cheerleader. But if that shell took a blow, he retaliated with searing cruelty. Like skin on the body, my memories of him are mottled with these scars.

“Though my dad lifted up thousands—he led congregations, and wrote a dozen books and countless sermons—he let me and my family down. When I was 16, he was fired from his rabbinical pulpit, a public, gossip-fodder ejection that he would spend decades refusing accountability for. This was the first crack that divided my relationship with him into poles of before and after.

“To escape his shame, he pushed away those who reminded him of it, first divorcing my mother, then alienating my sister and I. As an adult, my relationship with my father was one of low expectations and high boundaries. With those guardrails in place, we found a way to stay connected. After a childhood of closeness, I could only allow him in my life by keeping him at an arm’s length.”


I ran a draft of the above by my wife, who wasn’t interested. That’s for the best probably. I was just reading an article in the New York Times about Shaker schools and fell in a rabbi hole.

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February 7, 2023   2 Comments


Plantar fasciitis. Your heel feels like there’s a spike in it. I fear plantar fasciitis. My wife has had it. My friend Danny has had it. Nobody knows how you get it or how you cure it. Just walk around with a spike in your hell – uh, heel.

I did a lot of walking during the day, and then played a gig that night at Stone Gardens assisted living facility, and during “Tsena, Tsena,” I did some groovy hora dance steps, and I walked out of the gig with plantar fasciitis. I immediately knew I had it. I can’t spell it but I felt it. I popped a couple ibu and used Volteran and did some stretches. Went to bed. I read that plantar fasciitis is worse in the morning.

Got up. No pain. So I started worrying about something else, like why was my computer acting like a fool. Then the plantar fasciitis came back when I played tennis a couple days later. My opponent, Jimmy, told me about his cure for plantar fascistic. Jimmy said I should do some stairway stretches. My wife suggested a foot roller. I’m working on the cure. I don’t want plantar whatever.

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February 1, 2023   6 Comments


The architect didn’t show up, so I had some time to kill. I talked with Ram Lal, who was thinking of opening an Indian restaurant in the storefront. I said, “You have a pretty short name for an Indian.” I was making conversation. Give me a break. I said all sorts of dumb things. I said, “I’m Jewish. You ever met a Jew? Jewish, as in Hindu, Christian, Muslim.”

“Oh,” he said. “Jews are difficult.”

Yeah? Not me.

Ram said his uncle Chuck, a motel owner, was considering lending Ram money to start the restaurant. I said, “What’s Chuck’s legal name? I’ll need his name if he goes on the lease.””

“Chuck Patel,” Ram said.

“His legal name isn’t Chuck!” I said.

Ram pulled up a photo of Chuck’s driver’s license. Chuck’s legal name was Chnadrakantb Dhanji.

“How do you get Chuck Patel from that?” I said.

Ram never did tell me. Uncle Chuck died, and Ram rented the store. The restaurant is Vintage India on Detroit Avenue in Lakewood, Ohio. Ram is a terrific guy and his food is superb. My cousin George, who spent two years in India, says Vintage India is the best Indian restaurant in Cleveland. Tip: Don’t ask for higher than “2” [out of 10] on the hot scale unless you want to catch on fire.

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January 25, 2023   4 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 one last time. I was with my son, and Tim was with his 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 usually included a flower bouquet whenever he did. He knew 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 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, suggested by my dad. I wanted to be a blue-collar guy, and my father had said, “Go ahead, be a blue-collar guy and see how much fun it is.”

A plumber, watching 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 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 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.

The first time I met the gelato woman, I told her, “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 standard spiel, 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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January 18, 2023   1 Comment


My sophomore year at college I took Organic Chemistry (got a D), Physics (A), Intro to Poetry (A), and Psychology (Pass). I was in the process of transitioning from pre-med to no-med. The poetry-class teacher was Ted Berrigan, visiting Ann Arbor from the East Village. Ted was a big man with a beard who giggled like a little girl. He liked everything I wrote. He said young poets didn’t need criticism, they needed encouragement.

I visited him later on in New York. He was a player in the contemporary art/poetry scene in NYC. That’s how I once wound up in Allen Ginsberg’s apartment. (Ginsberg wasn’t there.) Berrigan lived on the edge, financially. He traipsed around to hip bookstores in NYC and collected money for his poetry books that had sold. And he also made real money on the burgeoning college poetry-reading circuit. He sometimes made $1000, adjusted for inflation, for a reading. [Got this  money info from a new book of Berrigan’s collected prose, Get the Money.] Writer/professor Donald Hall brought Berrigan to Michigan for the visiting-prof job.

Berrigan called poetry “work ” — as in “show me your work, Bert.” His poet friend Anne Waldman did a reading at the UGLI (undergrad library), and I handed her my work — a couple poems — and she published one in the St. Mark’s Poetry Project mag, The World. This was around 1972. I have to look that up. I think the poem was “Yellow Pages.” It’s a found poem, lifted from the page headings of the Yellow Pages. For example: “appraiser attorneys / automobile barbecue / bicycles burial / chaplains cigar / clubs cranes / day dentists / drapery engineer / . . . topsoil transmission / truck vacuum / washing water / womens zippers.” Definitely the best poem I ever wrote.

. . . Just back from my attic, home of dead poems. The World poem was not about the Yellow Pages. It was about Herbie Hancock, kind of. “Yellow Pages” — the poem — was published in a different East Village mag, Telephone. The mag was called Telephone. The poem was “Yellow Pages.” You following? If so, you get an A.

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January 10, 2023   4 Comments


I design vinyl records, mostly klezmer albums. I do everything, even the liner notes. Here are examples of bad liner notes — not by me. Just to show you what bad is:

A. “One [sic] the other side of the hall, a zedeh and bobe will spin in skeletal outlines the remembered steps of a tantz (dance) that their parents taught them . . .”

B. “This is what happens when Rumshinsky’s Theatre Bulgar is feed [sic] through Quincy Jones talking about Count Basie.”

C. “The drummer has appeared in duo and trip [sic] settings.”

Work with me. And when you do, adhere to the following guidelines:

1. Don’t name your tunes. I’ll name them. The first three tunes will be “Kick My Klezmer,” “Hymietown Races Here We Come” and “Romanian Shock #1.”

2. Don’t title your album. I will. The title will be either Intravenous Klezmer or 13 Jewish Hummingbirds, depending on my mood.

3. Use a pseudonym for one of the musicians in your band. This will make your recording more mysterious. Choose between M. Rogue Gemini, Danny Kay and Wayne “Der Nister” Carter.

4. To bulk up the bio note, you need to visit your sister — or somebody — in Brooklyn. We’ll make you a genuine New Yorker.

5. For the cover, we always use red. No silver, black or gray. We aren’t a car dealer.

Some of our clients have been somewhat satisfied with our results.


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January 3, 2023   No Comments


There are quite a few black Yiddishe Cup T-shirts out there. I made about 500 of them. I have a photo of Mount St. Helens, Wash., man in a Yiddishe Cup T-shirt. Maybe I played his wedding. I have a photo of a Missoula, Mont., man wearing a Yiddishe Cup T-shirt.

Newlyweds and bar mitzvah moms got the tees for free. Sometimes the bat mitzvah celebrant — the kid, herself — got the tee if I thought the girl was woman enough to handle the peer harassment.

I saw a hipster on Coventry Road, Cleveland Heights, in a Yiddishe Cup T-shirt. I asked him where he got the tee. He said at a thrift store for $1.

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December 28, 2022   3 Comments


My wife, Alice, went on a road trip with Yiddishe Cup to Buffalo, New York. That was her first one. She had always refused road trips. Alice made two beginner’s mistakes. She talked too much. Talking wears you out. Also, she did not catnap.

We played the gig in Buffalo. The whole undertaking was 13 hours (7 hours driving there and back, and two hours of set up and tear down. Oh, and we played music. Alice did the dance-leading. Alice aged a year that day, she said. She said she had been “hit by a truck.”

Pace yourself, Alice. Take catnaps. Drink a lot of fluids.  Eat an apple.

Same subject, sort of:

I used to blame Taco Bell for post-gig illnesses. T-Bell was poisoning me. T-Bell was slipping me spoiled tacos.

My migraines were always on Tuesdays after out-of-town gig weekends. I’d return the rental van on Monday morning and dispute fender dings; then go to my real estate job to talk about burst water pipes and late rents.  When I’d come home on Monday evenings, my sleep cycle would be all off.

I haven’t done a run-out (one-day road trip, no overnight) in a few years. I don’t miss it.

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December 21, 2022   6 Comments