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. So maybe he’s really Klezmer Landlord.
 

You may not care about the real estate biz. Hey, you may not care about the band biz. (See you.)
 

This is a blog with a gamy twist. It features tenants with snakes and skunks, and musicians with smoked fish in their pockets.
 

Stratton has written op-eds for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post.


 
 

THE HARSHEST REVIEW OF YIDDISHE CUP

Yiddishe Cup calls its act “neo-Borscht Belt klezmer comedy.” That’s been done before — the Borscht Belt schtick. For starters, about 60 years ago.

Yiddishe Cup can half-fill a golden age center in Miami. Then what? They’re not getting any younger. Has Yiddishe Cup ever toured for weeks, developing a solid groove, establishing decent ensemble chops? On weekends the band passes out inflatable guitars at bar mitzvahs, eats baked salmon, and watches “reflections” videos.

Does Yiddishe Cup research Yiddish tunes at YIVO? Does anybody in Yiddishe Cup even know what YIVO is?

One more thing: dynamics. Try it, Yiddishe Cup.

–I can’t remember who wrote this. I’m blocking.

Glowing reviews — so far — for Funk a Deli (formerly Yiddishe Cup), performing 8 p.m. Sat., March 3, at the Bop Stop, Cleveland.

funk a deli

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February 21, 2018   2 Comments

ON TOUR

Yiddishe Cup did a month-long tour. We had the bus, the lighting guy, the sound guy and a tour manager. We even had a masseuse. We had hot meals. We had screaming fans. But it wasn’t about us. We weren’t even billed as “Yiddishe Cup.” We were just “Cup”  — a somewhat amorphous, competent band of old Jews.

I jogged a lot during that tour to keep my sanity. The young fans drove me nuts. We sold just 10 Yiddishe Cup CDs, total. Not our crowd, I’ll admit.

We were the “support” band, and we supported the star well. The idea of a pop icon touring with a bunch of old Jews was novel, and it worked. But I wouldn’t do it again.

Funk a Deli (formerly Yiddishe Cup) is at the Bop Stop 8 p.m. Sat., March 3. $20.

funk a deli


And please check out my essay about Cleveland real estate at Belt Mag. The essay was posted the other day.

 

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February 14, 2018   1 Comment

BIG IN TENNIS

My mother drove me to tennis tournaments, like at Denison Park on the West Side and even to Youngstown. I would invariably lose my matches. I was good at my local park but not at USTA events. The first guy I  played in a USTA tournament was Kevin Senich, who was two years younger than me and about a foot taller. I was afraid he’d hit me in the face with his fast serve. He beat me 6-0, 6-0. Maybe 6-0, 6-1. Hard to remember. My mother took me to Isley’s ice cream afterwards. Senich won the state doubles in his sophomore year, and a lot of other stuff.

I was at the Cleveland Racquet Club last year and asked my present tennis partner, “Where’s Senich?” Because I knew Senich was a Racquet Club member. My partner said, “I think he died.”

I looked Senich up. He died at 62. I remember his mother was from Ireland. Senich never knew me, but I knew him.

After I wrote this, I realized Senich didn’t beat me. It was Jim Bright, a state singles runner-up from Lima High. Bright, too, was a big guy.

Senich beat me later.

Kevin Senich, Parma High

n 1968, Kevin was undefeated in singles play for the Redmen. Teaming with his brother Mike, they won both the district and OHSAA state championship in doubles play. In college, Kevin earned four varsity letters at the University of Michigan, earning All-Big Ten honors twice. He won 5 individual Big Ten championships as a member of the four-time Big Ten championship team. As a team captain of the 1974 Michigan team, he was ranked 3rd in the NCAA.

In 1968, Kevin Senich was undefeated in singles play for the Parma Redmen. Teaming with his brother Mike, they won both the district and OHSAA state championship in doubles play. In college, Kevin earned four varsity letters at the University of Michigan, earning All-Big Ten honors twice. He won 5 individual Big Ten championships as a member of the four-time Big Ten championship team. As a team captain of the 1974 Michigan team, he was ranked 3rd in the NCAA.

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February 7, 2018   2 Comments

NEEDLES WERE FAMILY

My father, Toby, handled pain better than most. For instance, bone marrow tests didn’t faze him, and he never used Novocain at the dentist’s office. But he wasn’t iron. He wanted to be buried with a bottle of Chlor-Trimeton, he said. He had allergies and often caught colds.

My dad and I went to the allergist together. The doc saw about 12  patients per hour.  He chatted with each patient for a few minutes, then poked. On family vacations, we took along syringes and bottled medicine, supplied by the doctor. My dad and I poked each other.

Needles were family to me.

Bert and Toby, 1957

My dad listened to his body before “listening to your body” was a thing. He drank Tiger shakes at the Old Arcade. He was a fitness buff. He had the Royal Canadian Air Force exercise booklet. He jogged in his underwear in the kitchen. Gross. Toby was a founding member of the Linus Pauling Church of Vitamin C.

Toby lay on the living room couch. This was during his final days. I said, “Your view would improve if you turned the other direction.”  He didn’t care what way he turned. He had a 104 temperature. We talked taxes.  That was our go-to subject when he was dying. I was in the 15 percent tax bracket, I said. Toby said I was in the 28 percent bracket. How was that possible? I didn’t understand marginal tax brackets  — the last-dollar-in concept. I had something to learn. Another question: How come, when interest rates go down, bond prices go up?

Toby went through chemo treatments and transfusions for leukemia. He got the shakes and was admitted to the Cleveland Clinic. When a nurse asked him how he was doing, he didn’t answer. She turned to me. “Maybe he turned off his hearing aid,” she said.

“He’s never done that before.” I said.

The nurse put ice under Toby’s legs to cool him down.  “I don’t want to hurt the old guy,” she said, putting ice between sheets.

That “old guy” was my father!  He was a jogger and exercise freak.

Theodore “Toby” Stratton, 66 (1983)

I got shingles. My uncle said, “What’s wrong with you, Bert?  Shingles are for old people!” I was feeling kind of old at that moment.  (I was 36. My dad was 68.)

The nurse called at 3 a.m. and said my dad was dead.  I went with my mother to the hospital.  The room was tidy — no bedpans, no chucks, no tubes. No more needles.

I have an op-ed in the New York Times about Chief Wahoo.

 

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January 31, 2018   4 Comments

PURE JAZZ AND
MY COLLEGE ROOMMATE

Pure jazz was my thing. Blues, too. My roommate, John, was an inner-city kid who didn’t know a clarinet from an oboe, or anything about music. I visited John at his Chicago house decades later (1995); he lived in his childhood neighborhood, Wrigleyville. His teenage kid was jamming to Jamey Aebersold jazz play-along records.

John had started U. of Michigan as a pre-med, like me and everybody else, but he came out a railroad brakeman. Sophomore year he chalked “Take Drugs” and “Only Fools Stay in School” on the sidewalk in front of our co-op house, and he dropped out.

In 1995 he said he was sweating his monthly urine test with the railroad. His house, which he had bought in 1975 for $30,000, was worth more than a half million. “I’m a capitalist now,” he said. “And I have two renters.” But he still subscribed to The Militant, the Socialist Workers newspaper. His son played “Watermelon Man” on tenor sax. This was familiar to me, except for The Militant part. My parents had subscribed to Newsweek.

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January 17, 2018   2 Comments

AT THE PAWN SHOP

The pawn shop had a lot of flat-screen TVs, fishing poles, amps, guitars and power drills. The store was a man cave, basically, and it was in the inner city. I went there to pick up my band’s sound equipment. I gave the cashier $774.25 cash. No credit cards or checks accepted. The cashier was behind a bulletproof window. I wore a tie and jacket to impress the shop owner, who I ran into. I said, “I knew your brother. Sorry to hear he passed away.”

“My brother is alive,” the owner said. Oops.

I said, “Could you make it so I don’t have to pay interest on my band equipment? It was brought here without my permission.” The owner said no.

The owner disappeared into the backroom but then waved me back to the counter. Reconsidering? “I just read your blog,” he said. “I want that shit down in three hours or I’m fucking suing you.”

moneyHe had read my blog? In a pawn shop in inner-city Cleveland! Apparently he was doing due diligence on his fellow Jew — me. I had written about pawnshops and cops a couple years ago and said some pawn shops kept sloppy records. This pawn shop owner was thorough. Maybe he would sue me. I deleted the pawn-shop reference as soon as I got home.

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January 10, 2018   1 Comment

FOLLOW ME

I’ve been blogging for almost nine years. I sometimes get cranky letters: “You ain’t shit . . . Honestly, why don’t you take your blog and . . . Glorified Larry David.” [I made those up. I think I received two cranky letters, but I forgot what they said.]

Follow me @Klezmerguy. I tweet every five years. I try to be cool but I need help from the Urban Dictionary. I fire myself and rehire myself.

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January 3, 2018   1 Comment

MY SHOW BIZ LUNCH
IN CLEVELAND

I had a show biz lunch at Corky & Lenny’s. This was in 1980, when C&L’s was still at Cedar Center. The lunch was Hollywood-style, not Hollywood kosher. Bert Dragin, the owner of a local furniture store chain, was looking for a movie script. Dragin said to me, “I’ve got money. Everybody will talk to me in L.A. Right now I have something in the Best of the New York Erotic Film Festival.” He wondered if I would write a screenplay about a fire at a gay nightclub in Atlanta. Not my thing, I told him.

Dragin sold his business and moved to Hollywood. He produced Suburbia (1983) and directed Summer Camp Nightmare (1987) and Twice Dead (1988).

Dragin said, “You heard of Erotic Salad? It’s got a soft-X rating.” I said no. That’s as close as I got to Hollywood.

erotic salad movie

This post is a rerun.

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December 27, 2017   1 Comment

NEED A LIFT?

I have eight heel lifts. Each is 5/8 inches. I’ve alternated between lift and no lift. I first got a lift in my thirties. The physical therapist said I was leaning too much. Then a doc said forget it — the lift.

A PT said put the lift back in. I did recently. My lift is like a security blanket; it makes me feel better, even though it  doesn’t do anything. I’m reluctant to even walk to the bathroom without a lift.heel lift

A different doc just said forget the lift.

I have these extra lifts . . .

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December 20, 2017   3 Comments

YIDDISHE CUP AND ROUTE 66

A Yiddishe cup fan called and said he had gotten my phone number off a Yiddishe Cup CD.

I asked, “Which album do you have?”

Yiddfellas.”

yiddfellas CD cover

“Where’d you get the CD?”

“At a swap meet in Kingman.”

“A swap meet where?

“A swap meet in Kingman, Arizona. I like the record. It’s kind of cool.”

“You like klezmer?”

“This is my first record.”

“How much did you pay?”

“Twenty-five cents.”

“Nice. Fifty cents would have been too much.”

If this is too short for you, read my essay in Belt Mag. “On Being ‘In Real Estate’ in Cleveland, OH”

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December 13, 2017   5 Comments

PHIL HART

Phil Hart, a resident at Wiggins Place assisted living, sometimes wears a Navy baseball cap. I know another WWII Navy veteran, Al Gray, who lives at Stone Gardens assisted living. Phil used to teach aerobics/calisthenics-of-some-kind at the JCC. For decades. He also was an architect, city councilman and photographer. Now he says he’s an “inmate.” I hear “inmate” occasionally from other nursing home residents. (I don’t think I’d mind a top-quality nursing home. We’ll see.)

I remember seeing Phil kneeling, shooting photos, at an Elderhostel about five years ago. I was jealous because at the time I couldn’t kneel due to meniscus surgery.

One thing about hanging around nursing homes, I’m under no illusion anybody gets out of this painlessly. Phil is doing pretty well, I think, for 95. His mind is all there.

phil hart, about 2014

Phil Hart, about 2014

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December 6, 2017   4 Comments

I’LL PAY THIS TENANT’S
MOVING EXPENSES

I’ll give Caleb $200 to move out. I’ll give him his security deposit back, too. Maybe I should offer more. He kicked out a radiator vent in the hallway. He’s always breaking blinds in the hallway. His buddies kicked out the windowpanes in the front door. He has a 10-year-old conviction for drugs. From now on, no felonies, period; I don’t care how old the crimes are.
bad gig

He’s got a disorderly and is on probation. The cops are coming out regularly. I gave Caleb a letter saying I wouldn’t renew his lease. He’s mentally unhinged, but not so much I won’t call the cops on him. He has threatened to steal the building manager’s car and “drive it to California.” He also called the manager a “fucking Jew,” which he’s not. (He’s not Jewish.) Caleb said he’s going to smash every window in his apartment.

I’ve been on the cops just about daily, but they aren’t as gung-ho as I’d like because everything is “hearsay,” according to one dispatcher. We don’t have video cameras everywhere.
Maybe $200 isn’t enough. Maybe I should go $400.

Caleb is a pseudonym.

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November 29, 2017   3 Comments

JEOPARDY!

At a Detroit wedding, the bride came down the aisle to Barbra Streisand recordings. She paused several times to read from her childhood diaries. She had 109 journals. She didn’t read from them all. Eight years later, the bride emailed me and asked if I remembered her. Yes, and I remembered the bridal dance, too, and how we were followed by a soul band, and how I announced the bridal party participants by name. One groomsman was Billy Wisse.

I pronounced it correctly, like Billy Weiss. I said to him, “There’s a Ruth Wisse, a Yiddishist and professor at Harvard. I’ve heard the name pronounced before.”

“That’s my mother,” Billy said.

I asked if he was a professor. I knew his uncle, David Roskies, was a prof as well. Billy said he wrote questions for Jeopardy.

“That’s a job?” I said, taking out a pen and jotting down Billy’s email address. My son Teddy –then a college student — would love a job at Jeopardy on graduation. Teddy was on Brandeis’ Quiz Bowl team.

Two years later, Brandeis Quiz Bowl team played in Los Angeles for the national championship, and I handed Billy’s email to Ted. It turned out Ted and his Brandeis teammates met Billy Wisse for breakfast at Canter’s Deli.

Two years after that, 2004, Ted got a call from Sony, which owns Jeopardy. Sony offered Ted a slot on Jeopardy and sent him a contract via FedEx. One paragraph read something like “Do you know anybody from Sony or Jeopardy? If so, you cannot be on the show.” Teddy did not know anybody on Jeopardy. Teddy and Billy Wisse ate breakfast together two years ago.

Alex Trebek, the Jeopardy host, wore a cast on his wrist. I was in the peanut gallery. Trebek told the studio audience he had fallen off a ladder. Billy Wisse stood by a computer at the edge of the Jeopardy set. This was in Culver City, a suburb of Los Angeles.

Ted did particularly well in the category of “Our Lady,” about Catholic shrines. He knew Our Lady of Czestochowa (Poland), Our Lady of Gethsemane (Kentucky) and several others. A Brandeis education! The Final Jeopardy category was Fictional Children, and answer was “This boy, introduced in a 1902 book, flew away from his mother when he was 7 days old.” I felt like I was watching my kid line up a 50-yard field goal at the Ohio State-Michigan game with one second left on the clock. This is the weird part about being a parent — all that collateral joy and pain.

A player, an editor from Boston, answered, “Who is Peter Pan?”

Right. She went up to $10,900.

Teddy said, “Who is Peter Pan?” He went up to $13,399.

The champ, from Tennessee, said, “Who is the Little Prince?” He went down to $7,900.

Alex Trebek said, “The new champion, Ted Stratton, a reporter from Cleveland Heights, Ohio!”

Look it up.

jeopardy

Rerun

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November 22, 2017   3 Comments

FLORIDA CONDO CIRCUIT

Yiddishe Cup played four Century Village retirement communities in Florida in 2002. Each Century Village had a theater about the size of a basketball arena. Other acts on the boards were Debby Boone, Dr. Ruth, Jack Jones, “Jim Bailey as Judy Garland,” Joel Grey, and Larry Storch — “the lovable Corporal Agarn from F-Troop.”

One emcee told us he had opened, as a comedian, for the Righteous Brothers, and had worked in Las Vegas, on the cruise ships, and been married nine times. He said, “Only Mickey Rooney has me beat.” He told us two “inside” Century Village jokes:

What’s 25-feet long and smells like urine?

The conga line at Century Village.

century village conga line

What’s an 80-year-old man smell like?

Depends.

The band wasn’t allowed to mingle with the audience. That was a Century Village rule. Another rule was Do not walk off stage for an encore because the audience will leave. Also, don’t take an intermission because the lines at the restroom will be so long the intermission will never end. Also, do not sell CDs. Why not sell CDs? I don’t know.

We broke some rules. And we never got asked back — and the crowd liked our comedy stuff! I would like to return to Florida, but I don’t think it’s going to happen unless I buy a condo at Century Village.


Rerun

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November 15, 2017   3 Comments

BOOKS TO GO

books 2 colored

Here are some books I’m throwing out. I refuse to take these mediocrities to the library; these clunkers are going right on my treelawn:

Cobbler, Mend my Shoe!
by Thom McAn

My Favorite Car Sales
by Del Spitzer

Fungo Batting
by Woody Held

Selfies
by Jeff “The Body” Sugarman

The Wiener in Bavarian Folk Arts
by Nathan Famoso

photo by Eric Broder

100 Years in an RV
by Irv Weinberger

Puzzles, Wrinkles and Twisters
by Albert Einstein

Sexism at the Battle of Waterloo
by “Jilly”

Chillicothe: Ohio’s First Capital
by George Becker

Jesus in My Glove
by Mac “Octopus” Vouty

How to Identify a Child Molester
by Frederick M. Rogers

I Broke My Knee and Ran 10 Miles
by Mark Schilling

The History of the Electric Toothbrush
by Ralph Solonitz DDS

An Appreciation of Aluminum Siding
by Ken Goldberg

Regular Guy: The Life of Nelson Rockefeller
by Jim Sollisch

Lieder and its Influence on Mick Jagger
by Tricia Springstubb

My .38 Special is Special
by Stan Urankar

Fracking Jews
by Theodore S. Stratton

Guess Your Neighbor’s Net Worth
by James Kerson

Life on the Outskirts of Beer
by Isaac Miller

A hat tip to Gilbert Sorrentino. Ten percent of the book titles are from Sorrentino’s novel Mulligan Stew (1979).

The German wiener photo is by Eric Broder

File this under Fake Profiles. And it’s a rerun.

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November 8, 2017   5 Comments

THE SCHVITZ

If you’re a Cleveland Jewish male and have never been to The Schvitz, you are a disgrace. Real Cleveland Jewish men will malign you, impugning your Jewish bona fides. The Schvitz is at East 116th Street and Luke Avenue, off Kinsman Road, in a lousy neighborhood. The Schvitz has no sign. The Schvitz’s official name is the Mt. Pleasant Russian-Turkish Baths, which nobody uses. Some people call it the Bathhouse. Some people call it the Temple of the Holy Steam. (Lawyer Harvey Kugelman does.) Most people call it The Schvitz. It has photos of Mussolini, Dayan and Patton on the walls. That’s it for decorations. (Plus a photo of Clint “Dirty Harry” Eastwood, reports Mike Madorsky.)

There are three acceptable responses to “Have you ever been to The Schvitz?”
a) I held my stag there.
b) I was there with my father.
c) My grandfather took me there.

The Big Five in Russian-Turkish–style schvitzes are in New York, Los Angeles, Detroit, Chicago and Cleveland. I got this list from Billy Buckholtz, the pleytse guy at the Cleveland schvitz. Billy’s grandfather was the original pleytse guy. Pleytse is the rubdown, traditionally done with a broom of soaked oak leaves. Billy uses a seaweed broom and horsehair brush.
schvitzers

Cleveland’s schvitz isn’t coed. Most of the other schvitzes are. The Detroit schvitz even used to have an orgy night. The Cleveland schvitz never went coed, aside from a short experiment in the 1970s, because the neighborhood is so bad. Why encourage women to come to Kinsman?

In The Schvitz’s heyday, it catered to immigrant factory workers who dropped by after work “to get the creosote off their skin, knock down a few shots and get a pleytse,” Billy said. “The immigrants didn’t want to wait in line with their eight kids for the only bathtub at their house.” Billy told me all this at a Yiddishe Cup gig at an art gallery, not at The Schvitz.

I’m not crazy about steam. I get periodic Schvitz invitations from the Brothers in Perspiration, an ad-hoc group of Cleveland Heights Jews. The email subject-line reads: “Have a serious jones for the stench of sweat, mildew, steak, cigar, garlic?” That sounds good, except for the cigar, sweat, mildew and steam.


Rerun

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November 1, 2017   3 Comments

THE UNKNOWNS

Here’s a short video about the power of the internet.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WAAQ_qtgp78

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October 25, 2017   4 Comments

OLD THIEVES

mr 1939 crossroad

I got a rental application from Joe, a retired 71-year-old factory worker who made $1600/month. Welcome, Joe. But then I ran a criminal search and came up with aggravated arson, forgery and sexual battery. Pre-internet, I would have rented to him because it was hard to run background checks back then. I once rented to a rapist/murderer because I didn’t want to schlep to county records to check him out. The man got picked up on a parole violation and moved out before killing or raping anybody in my building.

I once rented to an elderly nurse who was a felon. Her previous landlord followed her to my place and told me she was a forger and thief. She didn’t look it. She already had the keys to my building; the building manager had given her the keys in exchange for a dime store ring. We moved the nurse’s belongings into the basement and locked the stuff up.  She said, “Give me my meds!” Good point. I gave her meds, plus her toothbrush.

This cost me. I’ve learned two things: a) Don’t do a “self-help” eviction. Lawyers love self-help evictions. b) Screen all tenants like crazy on the way in.


Rerun

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October 18, 2017   1 Comment

I NEVER REPORT
MY MUSIC INCOME

I never report my music income. I’m a klezmer clarinetist and blues harmonica player, not a tax guy. I don’t give a shit about taxes. I play music eight hours a day, and in between I wait for the phone to ring for gigs. I have no life except music, and I’m proud of it.

I owe some people money. Big deal. That’s standard in the music biz. My go-to line is “Can you lend me five dollars to get home from the gig?  What’s five bucks?” (I often get paid by check for gigging.)

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

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

I have bad habits. I’m flawed. What about you?  Are you perfect?

 

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October 4, 2017   3 Comments

THE MEANING OF LIFE

What is the meaning of life? Viktor Frankl says it has to do with 1) good works 2) loving somebody 3) responding well to your suffering.

When I first read Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, I was just taking over my dad’s business and wondering if I would acclimate to life in real estate. I figured I would, for my family, but I wasn’t going to make “real estate” my meaning.

hypno klezFrankl talks about “Sunday neurosis” — “that kind of depression which afflicts people who become aware of the lack of control in their lives when the rush of the business week is over and the void within themselves becomes manifest.” I’ve had that Sunday void off and on for years. I’ve tried the arts. I have some friends in the arts. We talk about commerce versus art. We’re mostly in Cleveland, so we talk about commerce and the arts a lot. We sometimes talk about fame and success. At Heinen’ grocery store, a neighbor  said to me,  “We’re still talking about the bar mitzvah you played for us eight years ago.” I think that’s important. I’ve provided quality music to the Cleveland Jewish community. I’m not that great of a musician (I’m a better writer!) but I’m envisioning a drawing of a clarinet on my tombstone. And an apartment building?

What is the meaning of life?

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September 27, 2017   4 Comments