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.


 
 

A DEAL IS A DEAL

At his 90th birthday party, Mort Gross talked about real estate. (Yiddishe Cup played Mort’s party.) Mort sounded like my dad, except Mort was a lot richer, lived a lot longer than my dad, and was more outgoing and more philanthropic than my dad. Mort developed properties; my dad never did that. Mort had a yacht in Florida and a Rolls Royce. My dad never got beyond Buick.

a deal is a deal mort gross

Mort had three favorite expressions: 1) A deal is a deal  2) Wait a minute [to kill a deal], and  3) Don’t do paperwork twice.  I learned this at the party.

I didn’t understand item #3, and I forgot to ask the person who did the roast for an explanation of item #3 — “Don’t do paperwork twice.”  I said to  one of Mort’s son, “Those were very good toasts, and I’ve heard hundreds.”

Maybe the toasts were sappy, and I was just thinking about my dad a lot. A second son toasted, “Our parents instilled in all of us a love of Judaism, and we all married Jewish girls. In fact I did it twice.”

I’m telling you, they were good toasts.

I had a piece in the New York Times 3/12/16. “I’m not Evil.  I’m a Landlord.”  Check out the comments in the post below, “For NYT Readers.”  The comments are good!

 

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March 16, 2016   1 Comment

FOR NYT READERS

I’m a musician-landlord from Cleveland — a curiosity to New York Times editors, no doubt. Definitely not a Harvard professor. You want more real estate stories? Here’s one.  Heads-up: it’s long, but it’s my best and is the basis for my Dear Landlord memoir.mr 1939 crossroad

I post a new story to this blog every Wednesday.

The Times didn’t activate the “comments” button on “I’m Not Evil. I’m a Landlord.” If you want to comment on the piece, you can fire away here.

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March 11, 2016   17 Comments

TWO UNITS

1.  A slob tenant wanted a spiffed-up bathroom. My drywall man said to me, “The guy ain’t did his dishes in years, I mean holy shit, and he’s bitching about his bathroom falling apart?”  We fixed up the tenant’s bathroom and hauled away a couch and chair too.

2. A tenant wanted free rent because we were digging a trench in his apartment. In order to install a condensate return line to the boiler, our plumber dug a four-foot trench through the tenant’s kitchen, dining room and living room.  It looked like WWI. That was a bad scene and it lasted  a month. The tenant got the free month’s rent.

two bad units

Here’s a top-quality article I wrote for  City Journal.  “Gotta Serve Somebody.”

lolly gag

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March 9, 2016   3 Comments

THE FUNERAL STRATEGIST

I’m a funeral strategist. I advise mourners, like my wife, who occasionally gets disoriented at funerals. I don’t.

funeral strategistThe Jewish funeral parlor in Cleveland is BK Broiler (aka Berkowitz Kumin). Many funeral services are only 15 minutes. Others go way too long. It’s bad when too many relatives speak. Three relatives is plenty.  On the other hand, I once attended a funeral where nobody spoke. That was 12 minutes. The sweet spot is 25 minutes, with two to three personal eulogies.

I arrive at the funeral parlor 20 minutes before, to work the family room, where only relatives sit. I want to reminisce, catch up with friends.

A tip to eulogists, don’t say, “She enjoyed traveling in her later years.” That’s so boring. Talk about the person’s youth, instead.

BK Broiler employees wear dark suits and act polite. They never say anything off script. They say, “This ends our service here. Please go to your cars and turn on your lights.” The satin black, throw-away yarmulkes are always new, never recycled.

Why does B-K  have no windows, at least in the chapel? Are windows against Jewish law?  (Shuls must have windows, my rabbi told me.) Maybe mourners don’t want to see bums walk by.  Non-Jewish funeral parlors don’t have windows either, I’ve noticed. Think about it. Or don’t think about. It’s my job to think about it.

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March 2, 2016   6 Comments

NO HARD FEELINGS,
SAYS COUNCILMAN POLENSEK

Nobody out-talks Cleveland Councilman Mike Polensek. He’s the quote machine. He once said, “I’m old-school Collinwood. You mess with me or my property, and I mess with you.” He called former councilman Jay Westbook a “weasel,” and former mayor Mike White a “son of a bitch, but our son of a bitch.”

Polensek, 2002

Polensek, 2002

Before Polensek was a councilman, he was a machinist at White Motors. I saw Polensek frequently in 1981 and 1982, when I was a reporter for the Sun Scoop Journal. Polensek ran for city council against Dave Trenton — a fellow incumbent Slovenian — in 1981. The city wards had been redrawn, and Polensek or Trenton was going to be out of a job. Trenton was “shanty Slovenian,” said my editor, another Slovenian.   Trenton was slightly rougher-edged than Polensek. For instance, Trenton smoked a cigar in public.

polensekThe editor endorsed Trenton, maybe because he and Trenton played softball together. The editor told me to survey the 14,000 registered voters in the ward. I talked to 75 people. Trenton received 32 votes in my poll. He had a plurality. The paper ran this headline: “Trenton called favorite in Ward 11 race.”  And the endorsement stated: “As council’s majority leader, Trenton can serve the community from a position of strength . . . [He has] invaluable connections downtown.”

But Polensek, the underdog, won! When I walked into Polensek’s victory party at the Italian Cooperative Association Hall on St. Clair Avenue, a Polensek supporter announced, “Your paper endorsed Trenton!” Another man said, “You’re in the wrong place. You’re going to eat crow when you write up your shit. You’re one of the worst writers ever! What are you doing here?” A woman, somewhat calmer than the men, said, “I don’t think you’re going to find what you’re looking for here.”

They didn’t like me. (I was a curly-haired hippie Jew from the Heights. That didn’t help.) But Polensek liked me — liked me enough. He liked media people, period. He said, “Oh well, you’re here. Like I told your boss, I knew we’d win.”  I said I would have voted for Polensek if I lived in Ward 11. Polensek wasn’t impressed. He said, “You’re disrespecting your boss.”

Polensek is still a councilman 35 years later. I ran into him a couple years ago and said, “You remember the ICA Hall,  when some of your supporters wanted to kill me?”

He was foggy on it. I wasn’t. He said, “No hard feelings.”

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February 24, 2016   5 Comments

I’M COLD

I don’t help with the shopping, cooking, or bill-paying. I never cut the grass or wash the dishes. Self-medication — mostly alcohol — works best.

brain freeze alcohol

Brain Freeze

I had a miserable childhood. That’s part of it. And I botch up my adulthood daily. For instance, I screamed at my wife today for moving the rinse glass in the bathroom. Where is it? I have to stop blaming her — and others — for everything.

Bottom line, I have wronged a lot of people. Maybe I should disappear. Where to? Hawaii? Canada? I’m thinking Canada. I’m cold.

This is a fake profile — the part about the booze.

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February 17, 2016   8 Comments

1-800-KLEZART

I have a closet full of unsold Yiddishe Cup CDs. Maybe I should get Irwin Weinberger from Yiddishe Cup to hand-paint covers for the CDs. I’ll sell them as art. (Irwin is a painter and musico.)

art not so much(4). . . Done.

Thanks, Irwin!

I’ve already sent out some of Irwin’s art-laden CDs for review, and I’ve gotten back these blurbs:

1. Rabbi Albert Trattons: “You nailed it, Yiddishe Cup. This is better than my shalom plaque. However, the music is so-so.”

2. Treb Nottarts, Cleveland Plain Dealer art critic: “This is grand theft–art from the Jewish Museum. I’m talking New York Jewish Museum. Tremendous. Just one quibble, why so few rollicking tunes on this CD?”

3. Albie Sattront, A&R, Capitol Records: “Love the Chagall cover. Music is kind of  fun too.  Caught half of  track 1 — a personal best for me and klez.”

4. Albert Ratnotts, real estate developer: “I’m buying your band! These CDs would make excellent tiles for the kitchen floors at my downtown apartments.”

To order your art-enhanced Yiddishe Cup CD, call 1-888-KLEZART.  $49.50. Includes shipping.

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February 10, 2016   2 Comments

WE HAVE OUR STANDARDS

Bill, the building manager, said a prospect for apartment 24 was a rapist.

“We don’t rent to rapists,” I said.

standards we have standards  rapist“It’s an open case,” Bill said. “He’s innocent until proven guilty, right? He’s got a DUI from 20 years ago. He makes $5,000 month on disability.”

“Five grand? Wow.”

“He wants something cheap. I guess he has legal fees.”

”What’s his name?”

”Kevin Barrett.”

“That’s the name of a building inspector!”

“Different guy. He has a new car too. Makes his payments.”

“We’re not renting to a rapist. I did that once before. I didn’t know the guy was a rapist, and he got picked up on a parole violation, and I found out he was a murderer, too. We have our standards.”

“Bill” and “Kevin Barrett” are pseudonyms.  By the way, I rented to the rapist/murderer back when it was hard to run criminal checks — pre-Internet.

Yiddishe Cup plays The Ark, Ann Arbor, Mich., 8 p.m. Sat. (Feb. 6).  Schmotown Revue: klezmer and soul music. $20.

klez dogs

 

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February 3, 2016   3 Comments

FATHER-SON TECH TEAM

THE DAD:

My son has a knack for writing, which he got from me. I’m a tech writer.

I have a friend my age who cries whenever his computer crashes. I’ve seen him roll on the floor crying. It’s usually a matter of rebooting the damn thing. If I’m not home, I send my son over.

My first cell phone was a Motorola.

 

THE SON:

I fix computers my dad can’t fix. My customers are old hippies like my dad. They don’t know a web browser from a server. I fix their gear, and then haul their shit to the tree lawn. I have hauled couches and other heavy stuff.

I got the writing bug from my dad. I need to raise $15,000 on Kickstarter to publish a book.  Here are some chapter titles: ‘My Dog Browser,’  ‘I’m Updating Your Mother’ and ‘Router in the Hole.’

I like going into people’s houses and watching the customers shout with joy when I fix their stupid problems.

Consider my Kickstarter. I don’t want to live with my dad any longer. This photo from our kitchen says it all:

phone push button  shelburne 2015

This is a fake profile.

Yiddishe Cup plays The Ark,  Ann Arbor, Mich., 8 p.m. Sat., Feb. 6.  $20.  Our Schmotown Revue — mixing klezmer and Motown.

yiddishe cup 12_15_15 300 dpi maybe

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January 27, 2016   4 Comments

I HAVE A FOLLOWING

I make goodie bags for guys. Most goodie bags are made by women for women. (Goodie bags are handed out at hotel desks to out-of-towners checking into bar mitzvahs and weddings.)

party favorsI don’t put in mandarin oranges, Tic Tacs, or sparkling water. I shop at Walmart at Steelyard Commons — next to the steel mill. I load up on Reese’s Cups and Hershey bars in aisle 4 — bagged candy. I sometimes go with gummy bears. Snacks are in aisle 12: rod pretzels, chips.

Walmart has lime green and pink gift bags on display. I ask for dark bags, which aren’t on display.

I deliver the bags to the hotel. I have a following.

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January 20, 2016   3 Comments

WHO YOU GOING TO BLAME?

Tom, a friend, said he got food poisoning at an upscale Mexican restaurant. But maybe he didn’t. I got food poisoning about four times, and always blamed it on Taco Bell. I once called The Bell and asked if other people had gotten sick there. Of course not, the manager said.

What about Chipotle? Who you going blame? You can’t tell your friends, “I have a non-specific 24-hour flu.”  That’s not newsworthy. Food poisoning is.

Somebody yanked a shrub from my yard. My wife wondered if I had hit it with  the car. No, I hadn’t.  Maybe one of our adult kids hit it, I said. But they weren’t even around.

Who you going to blame? Never yourself!

The snowplow guy. Blame him.

I’m thinking of Chipotle stock, but it’s still overpriced. Let’s eat there today, OK?

eating utensils

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January 13, 2016   2 Comments

ACCOUNTING AND KOREAN

 A 52-second video about when my dad, Toby, told me to take a business course at Cleveland State:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8q2m3Yu6I60

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January 6, 2016   No Comments

THE WHEEZER

I was allergic to everything from buckwheat pancakes to peaches. I went to the Asthma and Hay Fever Clinic for shots with my dad. He got shots too.  The treatment for asthma and allergies back then was shots, which didn’t work too well — at least for me.

wheezer

My mother said, “Sit up. I’ll get your pills.” The pills were red tabs I put under my tongue in the middle of the night. This was before albuterol and steroids. This was when there were leeches and cupping. I had a difficult time breathing.  I’m not saying I was going to die, but I had some bad nights as a kid. My mother said, “Stick another pill under your tongue and press it down, and try to keep your mouth closed.” I couldn’t keep my mouth closed; I had to breathe.  “Get on your bathrobe and stand up,” my mother said. So I walked around.

I was 13, and I was the wheezer.

The asthma attacks tapered off in my teenage years.  Breakthrough: at 31 I participated in a drug trial at the VA hospital and got Cromolyn and started jogging. Everything worked out for the best, except I’m probably more morbid than the average person.

Yiddishe Cup plays First Night Akron tomorrow night, New Year’s Eve, 10-11:30 p.m, John S. Knight Convention Center, Goodyear Ballroom.

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December 30, 2015   2 Comments

MY BOOK TOUR

Stefan Kanfer, a biographer of Humphrey Bogart, wrote an article about the “misery called the Book Tour.” He wrote, “I had planned to have dinner at my hotel, but the plane was three hours late . . .”  [City Journal, Summer 2011.]  Also a limo driver talked too much.

book tourI can handle plane delays and limo issues. I wouldn’t mind a book tour. I would bring extra cough drops because I might strain my throat from talking so much about myself.

Where’s my book? Where’s my book?  (Friends, don’t bring up my coming-of-age lost manuscripts.)

I saw Jon Fine at a book reading recently. He wrote Your Band Sucks, a memoir about his bands that toured extensively in the 1990s. The book was about the quintessential non-famous band.

I could do that.

My limo is here!

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December 23, 2015   3 Comments

THE TOP 10 KLEZMER RECORDS
OF 2015

Notso Kosher Records

My desk is piled high with free CDs: Ezekiel’s Wheels, Golem, Vulfpeck, Winograd, all kinds of Dutch and Polish bands, and the old standbys like Klezmer Conservatory Band and the Klezmatics.

Drum roll . . . Here are the best klezmer recordings of 2015:

1. Orlando. Frank London’s Klezmer Brass All-Stars take us on a tour of Disney World. “Mickey’s Philharmonic” features London on electric toothbrush (pulse position). “Whistle While You Work” is about short people — Jewish short people: Billy Crystal, Abe Beame and Menachem Begin, and that’s just the first 30 seconds.

2. I Believe in Cod. Andy Statman flips out. Sample lyrics: “May cod bless you and guide you. Praise cod in the high heaven and in the deep sea. Teeming oceans, fire and hail, snow and mist, storm and wind, obey cod’s will.”

3. The Room Where I Was Born. Steven Greenman recreates the sonic architecture of his Pittsburgh childhood bedroom, complete with Steelers pennants and Fiddler on the Roof LPs. Sweaty and no A/C.

Alan Douglass, Yiddishe Cup enforcer, 2011

4. This Can’t Be Klezmer by Yiddishe Cup. A musical jail complete with corporal punishment. Perfect for the heartbroken, horny and dead. Yiddishe Cup mixes barely adequate musicianship with a touch of humor. It doesn’t sound like klezmer, but then what did you expect with a title like This Can’t Be Klezmer?

5. Strung Out by Pete Rushefsky. Nothing on the 1 and 3; it’s all off-beats. Drives you crazy, but in a good way. There is an after-party. You have to be in New York.

6. Anti Semit by Michael Wex. Sixty LOL minutes from Wex’s KlezKanada emceeing. Can anybody top Wex’s Walter Brennan-is-a-Jew sketch? No.

7. Odorous by Shtreiml. Jason Rosenblatt spent years in the lab on this one. This smells like sulfur.  Le jazz hot — and funky — from Montreal.

Jack Stratton, about 2008

8. Without a Net. Vulfpeck’s Jack Stratton uses metal parts from surgeries gone bad — mostly hip replacements — to perform Meron drum licks. Particularly good cuts: “Bodies Thrown Back” and “Clarity.”  The rest of the album is pretty conventional.

9. In the Klezmer Aisle by Yiddish Princess. Sarah Gordon does freestyle rapping about Kashi Autumn Wheat and Island Vanilla cereals, which leads to kishke, which leads to ka-ka. Juvenile and fun.

10. Blackout. Henry Sapoznik gives us a wake-up call, smashing his banjo, then picking up a clarinet. Tons of squeaks. Sapoznik whines like a fourth-grader at the end: “I quit! I quit!”

This post first appeared 12/5/12 in slightly different form.

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December 16, 2015   9 Comments

BIO NOTE

My mother taught me the cha-cha, not the hora. We were very assimilated. We hung stockings at Christmas. No tree though!

klezmer eggs  easter

I got into klezmer in 1980, when I first heard the record Mickey Katz Plays Music for Weddings, Bar Mitzvahs and Brisses. (Reissued in 1994 as Simcha Time.) My mother was from Yazoo City, Mississippi, but we weren’t blues people — for sure. We didn’t listen to much music around the house. My sister had a handful of 45s. I bought one record growing up: “Small Sad Sam,” a parody of “Big Bad John.” The lyrics were “Here’s a tale of a man who was puny and weak, stood four-foot-six in his stocking feet.” (Phil McLean, 1961).  I’ve always favored comedy.

My freshman year at college, I bought The Greatest Hits of Miles Davis, The Greatest Hits of Thelonius Monk, The Bebop Era, and Bechet of New Orleans. I bought the records from a sewing-machine store owner — a friend of my father. I bought the albums after reading Blues People and Black Music by Leroi Jones.  I wrote music reviews for the Michigan Daily my sophomore year, and I was a macher at the first Ann Arbor Blues Festival.

At college I heard Texas blues man Mance Lipscomb  and was overwhelmed by his  down-home, salt-of-the-earth presence and his music. Mickey Katz became my Jewish Mance Lipscomb. Bonus points for Katz; he was funny. Katz: “My kugel is hot for Xavier Cugat.”

In South Euclid, Ohio, at Jack Saul’s house, I heard many Katz parody records. Jack lent out his recordings to the Kleveland Klezmorim in the early ’80s, when klez recordings were hard to come by. Jack had Lee Tully’s Seltzer on the Rocks, the Barton Brothers, Belle Barth, Leo Fuchs and Eli Basse. Jack had multiple copies of most albums. He even had a record by Sam Liberman, a klezmer musician from Argentina.

Yiddishe Cup started in 1988. Enough.

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December 9, 2015   2 Comments

BANK ERROR

I caught the bank in a $505 error. The bank had debited my account instead of crediting it. I said to the bank clerk, “I’ve never caught the bank in an error before. This is great!” The clerk, on the phone, didn’t react. I’ve been checking my bank balance my whole life, and it paid off at last.

My friend Carl never checks his balance. He says the bank never screws up. How would he know? My adult kids never balance their checkbooks. They laugh that I do. Stop laughing! That was a $1010 swing, kids (-$505 instead of +$505).

bank error

————

I wrote “Punk rock guitarist versus the St. Edward High band” for the Cleveland Plain Dealer Friday (11/27/15). About noise wars.

st eds marching_band

St Edward High marching band

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December 2, 2015   4 Comments

ASHAMED

Tom Corrigan, a store tenant, said he wouldn’t pay the rent because his ceiling had been leaking for months. Corrigan, who owned single-family houses, used my storefront as an HQ for his rental biz. He said he wanted out of his lease with me. He had just a couple months to go. He would not pay the rent, he said. “You can sue me,” he said. “I don’t care. The leak has been going on far too long.”

“I’ve had two roofing companies look at it,” I said.

“So what. I’m not paying  the rent. That’s how we’re going to part.”

“I hear you, you’re not paying your rent.”

“See you, buddy. You should be ashamed of yourself.”

I was ashamed.

We fixed the leak about a week after he left. We found a couple holes in the porch deck right above the rear door jamb to his store, and nobody could find the leak until a week after the guy moved.

leak

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November 25, 2015   2 Comments

BROKEN GLASS

A tenant broke a window in the entrance door to the building; maybe he forgot his keys and broke the glass to get in. (It helps to be drunk to do that.) The cops interviewed Larry, a Russian tenant. Maybe he broke the window. broken windowLarry, aka Valery, was peeved because I had just raised his rent $35 — a lot. He had asked for a discount: “Mr. Albert, can you lower the rent?” He got a parking space for only $5. I jacked up his rent because he invariably countered with a lowball figure, and I always met him halfway.

I don’t think it was Larry. It might have been Newell, another tenant, also a drunk.

What’s with all this glass breaking?  The panes break every couple months.  And not always at the same building.  It happens late at night, around bar-closing time.

Enter this in the broken glass log.

—-
“Newell” is a pseudonym.
—-
Vulfpeck is on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” Friday (Nov. 20).  CBS  11:35 pm ET  / 10:35 CT.  Vulfpeck will sit in with the house band, Jon Batiste & Stay Human. The musicians will play snippets of Vulfpeck tunes before and after the commercial breaks.

band of 7

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November 18, 2015   3 Comments

I’M OUT OF THE MUSIC BUSINESS

I used to play a lot of gigs and nobody listened. I once did a gig where pillows were strewn on the floor, and the audience literally nodded out. They went in and out of consciousness. One guy, awakening after an hour, yelled, “You suck!” That was it.

nodding out  pillows

Now I play for myself. I write a lot of lyrics. The downside to lyric-writing is the English language is so limited — all that moon/spoon/June kind of shit. Another problem: everybody thinks they can write, so everybody is so quick to judge.

I’m amazed how many musicians are still gigging — what, with nobody listening. I used to play weddings. I was in a klezmer wedding band for years. I was embattled, mostly with myself. I made latkes with that band, but “Hava Nagila” every weekend nearly killed me. Throw my instruments on the curb, where tourists can play them — if tourists are around here. Throw my axes out the window. Throw my suitcase out there too. 

Are you listening? 

No, I didn’t think so.


This is a fake profile. Yiddishe Cup is around — in its 28th year! (Nineteen percent of this post is stolen from a Clark Coolidge interview from the Poetry Project Newsletter, Feb/March 2013.) 

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November 11, 2015   5 Comments