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.


MR. 1939

mr 1939 crossroad

I published a literary magazine, Crossroad, in Cleveland in 1939. Ruth Seid (aka Jo Sinclair), the novelist, wrote for me, as did Chester Himes. Chester was just out of the Ohio Penitentiary. Sidney Vincent also wrote. Sid eventually worked at the Jewish Federation. I had a couple professors from Cleveland College, too.

Chester Himes is now best-known for If He Hollers Let Him Go, published in 1945. As for Ruth Seid, she was discovered in the 1980s by the lesbian literary scene. I didn’t know Ruth was gay. I didn’t know a lot in 1939.

When Hitler and Stalin signed the non-aggression pact, Chester left the Communist Party. I followed right after that. Then I was drafted and sent to the Pacific.

After the war, I sold plumbing supplies for my father-in-law in Cleveland. Chester moved to Paris, and Ruth became a gardener in Geauga County.

The Crossroad era is just between you and me, OK?



Every year I thank the major commenters to this blog. I could do Klezmer Guy without comments, but it wouldn’t be as interesting.

In no particular order, thanks to Marc Adler, Ken Goldberg, Gerald Ross, Ted, Bill Jones, Mark Schilling, Seth Marks . . .

David Korn, Dave Rowe, Irwin Weinberger, Mimi Harris and Don Friedman.

See your name here next year by writing in.

An extra gracias to Ken Goldberg and Mark Schilling. They crank out comments in bulk — always insightful, inciting and/or stupid.

Lastly, thanks to bloggie illustrator Ralph Solonitz, the best and cleverest drawer around. Here’s an old post about Ralph and his motorcycle.

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May 20, 2015   3 Comments


My son Ted parked his car at the Brookpark RTA lot and flew to Las Vegas. The RTA lot was cheaper than the airport lot. My son didn’t come back. I thought he was going on a vacation, but he got a job in Las Vegas and stayed for a while.

My son’s Ford Focus, a 2007, sat in the Brookpark lot for two months, until my wife, Alice, and I loaded our car with jumper cables and a generator air pump and drove to the RTA lot, which is next to Ford Engine Plant #1 and a couple strip bars.

I said to Alice, “Ted’s car is technically in Brook Park, not Cleveland. That’s good. If the car has been towed or stolen, we can deal with Brook Park red tape better than Cleveland red tape.”

But the car wasn’t towed or stolen. It was there. The doors were unlocked, and the tires were low, and there was a bottle of bourbon in the backseat.

The next day I drove Ted’s car to the Lusty Wrench in Cleveland Heights. Sam Bell, the repair-shop owner, said, “The car is basically in good shape, with 89,000 miles.  The battery will not make it, and as you know the side-view mirror is taped on.  But the tape actually is not a bad solution. The rear tires are round, black and hold air.” The car was serviceable, he proclaimed.

What I want to know, Is Greater Cleveland really this safe? I need more data. Please park your car for two months at a Rapid stop and tell me.

This post first appeared at 5/15/13.


Here’s something new . . .


You dislike yourself for several very good reasons:

    • You fist-bump too much. That is so childish. Shake hands!
    • You have tiny cracks in your fingers that irritate others. Try fist-bumping.
    • You are not 25, so act your age.
    • Your sexuality is questionable.
    • Cut back on the Facebook postings. Three a day is
      too many.
    • Don’t be so jittery.
    • Move to a log cabin. Or else go to an airport lounge with your laptop and iPhone, and live there for a week.
    • Doodle more.
    • Recalculating . . . ignore this.


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May 13, 2015   3 Comments


Always mark the date. Here is what I’ve learned from marking dates:

Jogging shoes last 6 months.

Bathing suits, 3 years.

Eyeglasses, 6 years.

Stoves, 25 years.

Dishwashers, 18 years (a good dishwasher). [Dang, my 5-year-old KitchenAid — a good brand — is out cold today. Won’t start.]

Refrigerators — a good one, 25 years. (Frigidaire brand, 10 years.)

how long things lastLeather gloves from Sam’s Store, Ann Arbor, 2 years.

Battery for a Shark vacuum cleaner, 8 months.

Screw-in fluorescent bulbs. They do not last anywhere near the claimed 5-to-7 years. Try 2 years.

I had a Hardwick gas stove at a rental property for 36 years. The stove was made in Cleveland, Tennessee, in 1974, junked in Cleveland, Ohio, in 2010. The broiler door fell apart. The stove top still worked.

P.S. I have information on the “useful life” of condensate pumps, hot water tanks and boilers, too. Spare me, you say. OK.

Irwin Weinberger and I play at Gigi’s on Fairmount, Cleveland Heights, 7-9 p.m. next Wed.,May 13. Be there! We’ll play jazz standards and some klezmer.

IR & B  B&W poster

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May 6, 2015   7 Comments


In a country-club locker room, an old man asked me, “How was it?”

“How was what? I survived — whatever it was,” I said.

“Good! What’s your field, chap?”

“My field? Real estate and writing.” For some reason I didn’t say music.

“I bet you like the writing best.”

“You got that right. My name is Bert Stratton. What’s yours?”

“Tom Stratton-Crooke.”

“We’re relatives,” I said.

“I could tell by the cut of your jib.”

“What’s your field?” I asked.



“Where did you go to school?” he asked.

College? Michigan.”

“Ann Arbor?”

“Yes. What about you?”

“King’s Point, the Merchant Marine Academy. Then NYU. I was in Japan and Korea, and Iran, and then throughout the Middle East. The colonel like my loquacious manner.”

I turned to go. “Nice meeting you, Mr. Stratton-Crooke.”


“I’m Stratton, but I’m not a crook,” I said.

“Neither am I.”

stratton crooke

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April 29, 2015   5 Comments


1. Theory has nothing to do with Yiddishe Cup.

2.  Yiddishe Cup does not play it safe. We take chances and, yes, we occasionally screw up. Do you know how hard it is to make semi-decent music?

3. Musicians need encouragement, not criticism.

4. We don’t use fake books.

5. We listen, then lock in.

6. Pyrotechnics are OK with us.

8. Feelings are always appropriate. The down side is we often feel hurt and abused.

9. We are chatty.

10. Our X-axis is comedy; our Y, tragedy. Plot it.

yidd cup formula

Yiddishe Cup plays the community-wide Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel Independence Day) celebration 5:30-7:30 p.m. tomorrow (Thurs. April 23) at Park Synagogue, Cleveland Hts.

yiddishe cup photo by shane wynn BEST

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April 22, 2015   3 Comments


I play cards at the Horseshoe Casino downtown. I play poker, and I love it. Also, I get free parking and free food, and I have a free cruise lined up. It has to be on Norwegian. And I have a free trip to any Harrah’s in America. Where should I go? Vegas? San Diego?

I hang with others gamblers — guys I know from the tables. I do not hang out with old ladies who play slots all day. Last week I met two Serbian furniture dealers who can out-drink me. (Impressive.)

Here’s a gambling tip: the scared dollar is no dollar. If you’re scared, you’ll never make the play. I win, I lose, I play. Right now I’m down a couple thousand. I’m always down a couple thousand.

gamblerIf you want a free buffet meal, meet up with me. Any casino. I have rewards all over the country. If you’re a bitter gambler, don’t contact me. There are so many bitter gamblers. I’m not one of them. Your deal.

This is a fake profile. Another gambler post is here, side B, 1/15/14.

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April 15, 2015   1 Comment


Evelyn had the dirtiest apartment. Her bathtub was black, like she never used it. There were about 50 roaches in the tub. Lots of beer and liquor bottles around. Cigarette butts everywhere.

roach spray dirtiest apt everI told her to clean up, or I would call the health department on her. I had already dropped about $2,000 on an exterminator for the building, mostly because of her.

She cleaned up. Then I put her on month-to-month; I wanted the flexibility to end the lease if she got sloppy again.

She got cleaner. Not Martha Stewart clean, but no roaches either. She said she wanted to talk to me. I stood outside her door. She said, “How do I know it’s Bert Stratton?”

“I’m not sure. Take your chances.”

She let me in and immediately called me an asshole and said I had disrespected her with the month-to-month lease. She had been on a 12-month lease for 21 years. She also asked for a new refrigerator, plus a two-year lease with a discount for the first six months. She wanted a new kitchen sink cabinet, too. And she wanted her stove removed. “I don’t even use it,” she said. I looked at the stove.  “No,” she said, “Look at me. Look me in the eyes. You have disrespected me all these years. Think of all the money I’ve saved you by not having to redecorate every couple years. To you, I’m an asshole.”

Not true. I liked her spunk. But I shouldn’t have stopped in; I should have had let the building manager handle it, which is always cheaper for me. Evelyn said. “I was in a coma for a couple years. That’s why it’s so messy here. I was a little out of it.  If you come back in two weeks, it’ll look even cleaner. I’m opening a business here.  I’m bringing in customers here.”

I offered her a one-year lease with a $5 increase and a new refrigerator.

She said no thanks.  She said, “Just for shits and giggles, what do you want for this place?”

“The entire building?”


“Eight-hundred thousand.”

“You got it. I’m buying it from you.”

(Hasn’t happened.)

“Evelyn” is a pseudonym.  Here’s a pic of another dirty apartment — not Evelyn’s.  Top 5:

huebner b101 2_21_11

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April 8, 2015   3 Comments


deli for mlachak story deli on every corner1. Norman Mlachak was a Cleveland Press reporter.  I didn’t know him but knew of him.  He grew up over a deli at E. 140th Street and Aspinwall Avenue.  Every old-timer in Cleveland grew up over a deli, or near one. Nobody had a car, so there were a lot of delis.  You bought food almost daily.  Mlachak sometimes wrote nostalgic pieces for The Press. His neighborhood was Collinwood.  He wrote about Fisher Body, Eaton Axle, Kuhlman Car Co. and the Collinwood Railroad Yards.  He died in 1984.

2. I went to high school with Helene Mlotek, who is probably related to Zalmen Mlotek, the New York klezmer macher.  Aren’t all Jewish Mloteks related?  Helene and I weren’t in any of the same classes.

3. Mary Lou Hribar grew up in and around Fritz’s Tavern, a polka hangout on E. 185th Street.  Her father, Fritz, was inducted into the Cleveland Style Polka Hall of Fame, under the category “proprietors.”   I once met Mary Lou at a Shaker Heights party and haven’t seen her since.  Fritz died in 2001.

4. I was at Claudia Hlebcar’s wedding . . .

OK, enough. Thank you for your patience.

— Bert Ptacek

Irregular Passover Humor:

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April 1, 2015   5 Comments


I’m an architect who does mostly McDonald’s, TGIFridays and synagogues.  I was the first with the “fast-casual shul.”  You can get a nosh at my shuls.  If the worship service is too long, go to the rear of the sanctuary, to my built-in Frank Lloyd Wright snack bar.

My professional credo:

1. Put the bima (altar) on ground level, among the people.  Power to the people.

2. Never use stained glass.  That spells “rich guy” to the little guy.

4. Keep kosher on some level.  (I dine frequently at kosher-style delis.)

5.  Leave a stamp — a signature.  I always embed a tiny cross in the coatroom ceiling for the custodial staff.

I also do retrofits.  I put in a nosh bar at Park Synagogue, Cleveland Heights.  It caught fire, not literally, but you wouldn’t believe the crowds.. They hired an Israeli chef and a dump truck to maneuver the mounds of ersatz chopped liver.

I’m working on a mosque/falafel stand in Dearborn, Michigan.  Saalam alaykum, bros.  The old Semitic cousin routine.  Whatever.

Fake profile.

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March 25, 2015   No Comments



My younger son, Jack, got a certified letter from the IRS with a hand-written Post-it note on it.  What did the gobierno want?  The government usually sends unsigned computer-generated letters.   Maybe Jack the Drummer Boy owed another $15 from his Michigan Wolverines basketball band income.  (Jack was in college at the time.)

Why didn’t the IRS pick on me, instead? I wanted to be audited. I haven’t been audited since 1982. Thirty-three years of saving bills and income/expense statements and checks — and nobody wants to see it.  Yes, I throw the stuff out periodically, but I replenish.

irs and jackJack told the IRS he made money as a camp counselor and playing gigs.  He said his dad paid for college.  Jack later told me, “The auditor was impressed you were footing the out-of-state tuition.”

Thank you.  No penalty.  (Jack got a $68 credit.)

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March 18, 2015   6 Comments


I met
Yury, a Russian, only four days after he landed in Cleveland.  I met him at a park bench, 1990.  I sold him my 1978 Buick Regal for $500, and I suggested he change his name from Yury to Yuri.  Yury would be a hindrance to his assimilation, I said.  Yuri — as in “Yuri Gagarin” — worked better, at least for me.

Yury is now an engineer and lives in Beachwood.  Still with the y, 25 years later.

Yury lived in a subsidized apartment two blocks from my house. I helped him light the burners on his stove and lent him an old TV.  When he got the Buick Regal, I told him to check it out with the Russian mechanic down on Mayfield Road.  Yury said, “I do not trust Russians.”

Yiddishe Cup had a Russian drummer, Misha from Tashkent.  He was “the stinger man” because he put a stinger (a klezmer ending) on every tune. Which was annoying.  I went to Misha’s mother’s funeral — the smallest funeral of all time. There were maybe 10 people at the funeral home.  I can’t imagine what that woman lived through, what with the Nazis and Communists.  Misha was a pro drummer. That’s all he did in the Soviet Union.  Shelly Manne came through Tashkent in the 1950s and left a lot of drumsticks behind, which everybody prized.  (Might have been Buddy Rich.  I’m not sure now.)

Misha used to hit his wife and daughter, and admit it.  Misha would say, “Here the police listen to the children. In Russian, the parents.”

Misha moved to Boston to drive a cab.

Moishe, the owner of Davis Caterers, said food at Russian gigs is “out of control.”  He said, “The Russians eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner all at once. Fish and cold cuts. Then soup. Then blintzes. Then prime and salmon and desserts. Plus vodka.”

Yiddishe Cup played a few Russian weddings, but not lately.  I miss the food.  Russian immigrant musicians cornered the Russian wedding market.  Immigrant musicians know what the crowd wants and it’s not us.  Yiddishe Cup’s Russian skill-set is  “7-40,” “Hava Nagila,” and some waltzes like “Ershter Waltz” and “Tumbalalaika.”   Also, anything from Fiddler on the Roof  is a winner.

What if my grandparents hadn’t left Russia?

Yiddishe Cup had a second Russian drummer, Vladimir, who forgot his sticks and used dowel rods fashioned from a windowshade. That was his only gig with us.


Irwin Weinberger and I occasionally play gigs at a Russian senior drop-in center.  The Russians seem to like us.   We’ve learned “Kalinka” and “Katyusha.”

Russians, they remind me of what I could have been: dead (via Nazis, etc.) or a bigger partier.

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March 11, 2015   6 Comments


I had a show biz lunch at Corky & Lenny’s.  The lunch was Hollywood-style, not Hollywood.  Bert Dragin, the owner of a furniture store chain, was looking for a movie script.  (This was in 1980. C&L’s was still at Cedar Center.)  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 suggested I write a screenplay about a fire at a gay nightclub in Atlanta.  Not my thing, sorry.

Dragin sold his Name Brand Furniture stores and moved to Hollywood to make movies.  He produced Suburbia (1983), and directed Summer Camp Nightmare (1987) and Twice Dead (1988).

I wrote a screenplay, The Flamer, about a bar mitzvah party where several kids got burned to death by playing with sterno.  [This paragraph is fiction.  The rest is true.]

Dragin ran a tab at Corky & Lenny’s, which he probably paid monthly. He acted in his TV ads for the furniture store.  “You heard of Erotic Salad?” he said. “It’s got a soft-X rating.”

“No.”  That’s as close as I got to Hollywood.

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March 4, 2015   6 Comments


ski caps

If you need to lose something, lose a ski cap.

I retraced my steps on Taylor Road, looking for my ski cap.  Nobody picks up a used ski cap.  But somebody did.

My wife lost a ski cap the day before.

I like ski caps to be almost weightless.  I lost a lightweight ski cap on Taylor Road.

My next ski cap will be a bright color, in case I drop it in the snow again.  The biggest problem with a dropped ski cap: it makes no noise.

This one is longer: “Harvard and Cleveland” for Belt Magazine about my Harvard connections.

Alan Douglass (L), Bert Stratton and Tamar Gray

Alan Douglass (L), Bert Stratton and Tamar Gray

Locals, Nighttown tonight (7 p.m. Feb. 25) for the Schmotown Revue by the Klezmer Guy Trio.  This happens about every two years, so don’t miss this show.  $10.  216-795-0550.  Social commentary and plumbing tips, plus klezmer, soul and jazz standards.

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February 25, 2015   6 Comments


People say I’m a good businessman.  Why?  Because I’m not around.  Gone — outta here — is a sign of brilliance, particularly in Cleveland in February.

I’m not in Arizona, California or Florida.  I’m in Mexico.  I’m in a pueblo just south of Mexico City.  (I’d rather not say exactly where.)

I invest; that’s what I do, even on vacation.  I own a tube hotel/spa.  (I do excellent foot massages.)  My tube hotel is old sewer pipes:

And I analyze the Mexican market for fun.  Educated Mexicans are often snobs; when I raised the price on my tube hotel to $50 a night, the rich Mexicans came.  Lower than $50, nobody showed up.

I own half interest in a tortilla school, too.  Tourists make tortillas and tamales.  I freeze their products and sell the extra at the local market. Rule one: El que no transa, no avanza.  (If you don’t cheat, you don’t advance.)

My most successful business is WCs — bathrooms.  I charge 5 pesos (40 cents) a piss. Everybody urinates, am I right?  Am I right?  I keep my toilets USA tidy.  Everybody likes that.

When my friends in Cleveland write, I say, “You don’t want to come here.  This is Mexico: Montezuma’s revenge, stray dogs, narcotraficos.”  My friends stay away.  That’s good!

The locals seem to like me — or at least put up with me. I attend  the town hall meetings, and on fiesta days I pass out brooms, mops and small coins — piss money.

Stream it.

This is a fake profile.

Locals, come to Nighttown next Wednesday, Feb. 25.  7 p.m.  The Klezmer Guy Trio. $10.  One-stop shopping for Aretha’s “I Say a Little Prayer,” klezmer and prose blurts.  Make a reservation. It was pretty full the last time we did this show (2013). 216-795-0550.

Alan Douglass (L), Bert Stratton and Tamar Gray

Alan Douglass (L), Bert Stratton and Tamar Gray

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February 18, 2015   3 Comments


Howard Metzenbaum was the big name in my father’s generation.  Metzenbaum made millions in parking lots, and eventually became a U.S. senator.  My father and Metzenbaum were born the same year, 1917, in Cleveland.  My dad didn’t know Metzenbaum but enjoyed following his career.

Metzenbaum, in his later years, owned a condo at Three Village, the holy of holies for upscale living in Cleveland.  The building went up in 1978 near Cedar Road at I-271.  The Three Village condo development was wooded and secluded.  My parents lived nearby, at the Mark IV apartments (now called the Hamptons).  I don’t know why my mother went to apartment living from a colonial in South Euclid.  She was a gardener, and then suddenly she was  doing tomatoes in pots on her Mark IV balcony.  My parents liked brand-new housing; they weren’t keen on used.  Everything had to be shiny and new, maybe because they grew up in poverty.

Across from the Mark IV was Acacia on the Green — a step up, rent- and prestige-wise.  Next to Acacia was Sherri Park, a step down.  Across from Sherri Park was Point East, a step up from Acacia but down from Three Village.  These buildings all went up in the 1970s and were popular with my parents’ generation.

three village

My parents never went inside Metzenbaum’s building.  I did.  I visited a friend who bought a condo in Three Village.  Metzenbaum was long gone — dead as of 2008 — and this was 2014.  The building’s buzzer directory read Maltz, Mandel, Ratner, Risman, Weinberger and Wuliger (among others).  Some of the condos were 7,500 square feet.

Maltz, Mandel, Ratner . . . Maybe you have to be an old Cleveland Jew to appreciate that.  If you’re not an old Cleveland Jew, and have read this far, please explain.

Buzz.  Come in.

Alan Douglass (L), Bert Stratton and Tamar Gray

Alan Douglass (L), Bert Stratton and Tamar Gray

The Klezmer Guy Trio performs at Nighttown, 7 p.m. Wed., Feb. 25.  An evening of social commentary, plumbing tips and music. $10. 216-795-0550.   Alan Douglass, piano and vocals.  Tamar Gray, vocals.  Klezmer, soul and standards.  I’ll do prose blurts and play clarinet. 

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February 11, 2015   7 Comments


Trumpeter Kenny Terry and his band played for tourists on Jackson Square in New Orleans.  I went back to my hotel room, got my axe, and — heads-up, Kenny — here I come!

Kenny Terry, trumpet, 2014

Kenny Terry, trumpet, 2014

Kenny Terry said, “Where you from, Kansas?”  Then he announced to the crowd: “Ladies and gentlemen, we have a special guest from . . . Cleveland!”   We did a Bb blues.  I managed, but I didn’t project; I had a thin sound, at least for outdoors.  Kenny said to me, “You got to play with some balls!”  That hurt.  I said, “I have this cheap plastic reed!”

The word in New Orleans is, If you’re loud, you’re loved. (Phil Frazier, Rebirth.)

Kenny Terry called “What a Wonderful World” and “On the Sunny Side of the Street” — tunes I actually knew.  A man danced with me.  (I kept playing.)  He was Dr. Love, a street performer.  No, I don’t have a video or pic of any of this.  The photo above is from the internet.  My wife and family were off somewhere.  But I do have a video of me playing with a gospel singer down the street:

New Orleans was like KlezKamp, except it was trad jazz and funky brass bands everywhere.  I saw four terrific clarinetists in two blocks.  One was Doreen Ketchens.  I said to her, “I saw you on Treme in the airport scene.  I told my wife you weren’t playing in that.”  Doreen said she was playing.  I said, “The main actor — the trombone player — wasn’t playing.  He’s from The Wire.”  Doreen explained that a real trombonist played the music off-camera while the actor faked it.

By Central Grocery, New Orleans, clarinetist Ricky Paulin played, and even asked my musician son, Jack, to sit in on tambourine (after my prompting).  My son said no thanks. When is Jack going to learn?   Ricky Paulin’s dad played with Kid Ory, Jack!  I’m not afraid to talk to musicians.  That’s the thing about musicians, they’re all approachable.*

*Exception: Miles Davis.

Other busking stories are “Playing Rome” (9/3/14) and “Down on the Corner”  (5/5/10).  “Busking” is an American English word now.  Everybody in New Orleans uses it.

Also, please check out “Live, From the Nursing Home,” my op-ed in the New York Times (Monday, Feb. 2).  Illustration by Joao Fazenda:

nyt ill by joao fizenda  2_215

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February 4, 2015   6 Comments



Welcome, New York Times readers.

This blog is primarily an amusing word pile, with illustrations by Ralph Solonitz.  There are also videos and the occasional Yiddishe Cup tune.  No recipes!

The Times has published six of my op-eds lately.

bad gigMost of my stuff is about music and real estate.  But here’s one more about nursing homes — about when I almost got the hook at a nursing-home gig.  Click Bad Gig.

Here’s a previous NYT op-ed about my mom: “Love and Junk Food.”

If you subscribe to this blog, you’ll get a fresh post every Wednesday morning.  (Sign up in the right-hand column.)

My band, Yiddishe Cup, plays all over.  Not to put too fine a point on it, but we’ve played in 19 states and Canada.  Missouri plus Kansas, six times.  What?

This month some of us are doing shows in Cleveland Heights.  Convenient for us.  How about for you?  Where do you live?  Seriously, write in.  The person who lives the furthest from Cleveland wins an award.  Not sure what.

Gigi’s,  7 p.m. tomorrow (Tues. Feb. 3), Cleveland Hts.
Bert Stratton & Irwin Weinberger play standards and klezmer.

Nighttown,  7 p.m.Wed., Feb 25, Cleveland Hts.
An evening of social commentary, plumbing tips and music.
Klezmer Guy Trio (Tamar Gray, Alan Douglass and Bert.)  Prose, standards, Motown and klezmer.

Lastly, here’s a post about Yiddishe Cup’s show in New York City, in keeping with the thank-you-NYT theme . . .


Yiddishe Cup played New York. We rented a van at LaGuardia Airport and drove to a hotel in Elmhurst, Queens, which was like Cleveland except a lot more Asians. The hotel was between a transmission shop and a Burger King.


New York, New York

We played the Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts.  Who knows why. Maybe we got the gig because no East Coast band was doing klezmer comedy like us.

In Brooklyn — on our way to the gig — I saw a fender bender. The driver called out, “Would you be a witness?”

“No, I’m from Ohio,” I said.

My musician buddies wondered: Why the schmuck-itude and the ‘I’m from Ohio’?

Here’s why:  I was daydreaming about our imminent “Midwest Yids Blow NY Lids” headline in the New York Post.  Maybe a Post reporter was hiding in our van to write us up.  Also, I was preoccupied with not denting our ride — a 15-passenger rental van.  I was weaving through very dense borough traffic, and the last thing I wanted, right before showtime, was to talk about dents with cops and witnesses.

We did Catskill comedy tunes at the concert. The audience — primarily AKs — loved us.  I thought we were going to play for young people.  Aren’t there a lot of young people in Brooklyn?  Yes.  But they were not at our show.  And no reporter showed up, even though a New York Jewish Week critic had written: “Yiddishe Cup is a band that was made for a hip Jewish New York audience.  It’s a wildly funny amalgam of Mickey Katz, Spike Jones, PDQ Bach and straight-ahead klezmer.”


“Think of that — American Jews who have never been to Brooklyn.” — New York Jewish Week

The crowd was mostly elderly Flatbush residents.  I brought out some 1957 Brooklyn Dodgers baseball cards and gave the audience a quiz:

What was Duke Snider’s real first name?

pee-wee-reese-1957What was Pee Wee Reese’s real first name?

What was Al Walker’s nickname?

The audience got every answer right.  One man even guessed Duke Snider’s height correctly (6-1). [Answers: Edwin Snider, Harold Reese, Dixie Walker.]

I talked about Cleveland.  I told the crowd I had gone to high school with Eric Carmen of the Raspberries.  That’s what New Yorkers wanted to hear — who I went to high school with. New Yorkers like to say “I went to Sheepshead Bay with Larry David” or “I went to Eramus with Sedaka.”  If they don’t say that often, they feel like Midwesterners.

We did  New York our way. Next stop, Columbus, Ohio.

Listen here to the comedy tunes we played in New York.

This post, “Hick Yids Blow NY Lids,” originally ran 5/4/11.  The Brooklyn concert was in 2006.

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February 1, 2015   6 Comments


My French connection is Samy Hochmic, a Parisian Jew who mostly wears a French beret or English cap, but the last time I saw him he had on an American baseball cap.  All his berets were dirty, he said.  Besides, he wanted to display his fondness for America:

rock your world cap  samy

(“Rock Your World,” Rock Hall.)

Samy Hochmic, 2014, Paris. (Photo by Eric Schreiber)

Samy Hochmic, 2014, Paris
(Photo by Eric Schreiber)

He wore the “Rock Your World” cap to my daughter’s wedding (2013).  Major fashion faux pas — that hat.  When Samy left the wedding, he said, “Drop me a line.”

“What’s that mean?” I asked.  Did he want a postcard?  (Samy doesn’t do email.)

Samy and I go back to 1974, when he got my name off the ride board at Case Western Reserve, and we drove to New York.  Samy had interviewed Bellow in Chicago for his Sorbonne thesis.  Samy spoke an idiosyncratic English: “I don’t have a red cent” . . . “Shall we go?”  Samy liked the Midwest for its standard American accent.

Samy’s parents had been Polish Jewish immigrants, rounded up by the Nazis at the Paris Velodrome.  Samy was raised by farmers for money during the war.  He was a foster child after the war.  A distant cousin in Canada offered to adopt him, but Samy’s French foster parents wouldn’t let him go.  Samy trained as a tailor, then an English teacher. He made aliyah to Israel in 1975 and stayed five years.  The Israelis didn’t take to a Frenchman teaching English, he said.  Also, Samy didn’t like the brusqueness of the Israelis; he railed against the “Levantine mentality” — Israelis not lining up at bus stops and pushing too much.

If you visit Paris and want to meet Samy, let me know.  Your treat, s’il vous plait, but if he wears the “Rock Your World” cap, make him pay!

Last year in Paris, Samy was trapped in a synagogue for several hours while anti-Semites rampaged outside.

The Bert & Irwin Show: Irwin Weinberger and I play
7-9 p.m. Tuesday (Feb. 3)  at Gigi’s on Fairmount, Cleveland Heights.   We’ll play mostly American standards and some klezmer.  (Guitar/vocals + clarinet.)

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January 28, 2015   12 Comments


Billy the welder and I were at the same table at a friend’s daughter’s wedding.  We both wanted to eat; that’s what we had in common.  He smoked a lot.  Every time I turned around, he was out smoking.  Billy asked me about my job.  He himself repaired forklifts.  I said my dad started a landlord biz, and I also mentioned my band.

“So you inherited your father’s business?”

“I like to say I wasn’t born on third base.  I was born at shortstop.”

Billy, holding a beer and looking somewhat glassy-eyed, said, “My dad was a drug addict and felon.  He left me when I was six. He went to Florida.”

Another wedding guest — a truck driver — chimed in, “My dad paid the bills but wasn’t there for me.”

A woman walked by.  She said, “You guys having a man talk?”

“No,” I said, “we’re talking about our fathers. I’ve never had a conversation like this before.”

Billy said, “Let’s see your hands.” I held out my hands. “You ever work with your hands?”

“I play clarinet!”

soft hands

“I cook,” he said. “I’ll have you over and we’ll cook.”

“Sounds good.”

“Don’t put me on! I’m serious.”

“I’m not putting you on.”

He put his arm around my shoulder.  It was either that or punching me.  He didn’t like me.




A lot of bands wear all black. Yiddishe Cup doesn’t do that. It’s too East Coast trendy.

In Toronto I once saw the Flying Bulgars in what looked like clown suits.

Yiddishe Cup dresses somewhere between the Flying Bulgars and black.

We have five looks:

Steve Ostrow, Cleveland Heights, 2001

Steve Ostrow
Cleveland Heights, 2001

1. The tux with colorful hand-sewn lapels. The downside to this look is everybody knows when we’re shnorring at the hors d’oeuvres table at weddings because we don’t blend in.  All-black tuxes would make us invisible.

2. Blue undertaker suit. Keeps the focus off us and on the bar mitzvah boy.

3. Solid-colored shirt with colorful tie.  This is our middle-school art teacher look.

4. Hawaiian-style shirt. A costume designer made these shirts. A real show-biz shirt. When we played 13 gigs in six days in Florida, the quick-dry feature came in handy.

Irwin Weinberger (L), Bert Stratton and Don Friedman.  Boca, 2011.

Irwin Weinberger (L), Bert Stratton and Don Friedman
Boca Raton, 2011

Yes, Florida in January . . . I wish Yiddishe Cup would land another run like that. But the mega-condo booker in Florida won’t re-book us.

Was it our lyrics?

You judge.  Yiddishe Cup’s “Tumbalalaika”:

What can grow, grow without rain?
“This,” says our singer, grabbing his crotch.

What can burn, burn for many years?
“Hemorrhoids,” our singer says.

A comedian, Stu, was our last booker in Florida. I should have known he was bad news because his email address was Suntanstu@, and his website had photos of him with Engelbert Humperdinck.  Stu’s idea of a joke was not paying for our sound (speakers, mics) and backline (instrumental rental) after I bought airplane tickets to his showcase in Florida.

One final Yiddishe Cup look:

Alan Douglass. Middletown, Ohio 2008

Alan Douglass
Middletown, Ohio 2008

5. T-shirt with the Yiddishe Cup logo.  We wear these when we play summer park gigs.

Our singer, Irwin Weinberger, wears the Yiddishe Cup T-shirt around town too. The rest of us don’t wear our shirts much off stage. Do you see LeBron in a Cavs jersey at the grocery store?

The cool thing is to wear shirts from festivals you played. At KlezKamp I saw a Klezmer Conservatory Band musician in a Montreal Jazz Festival T-shirt.  I wear T-shirts from the Concert of Colors (Detroit) and CityFolk (Dayton, Ohio).

I saw Sklamberg, the Klezmactic’s singer, in a Klezmatics T-shirt at KlezKamp.

On second thought, maybe Irwin Weinberger is cool.

“Klez Clothes” is a rerun (from 1/13/10). There were no photos in the original post.

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January 21, 2015   3 Comments


I lived in Cleveland for 23 years, then left.  It was a great place to raise a family, and it had wonderful cultural attractions, but I couldn’t take the weather anymore.  When I wrecked my knee, I couldn’t even ski anymore.

dont be mad at me 2Now I sit on my patio, listen to the birds, and look at the blue sky every single day of the year.  The temple out here is about the size of a CVS.  Nothing fancy.  I’m in Wandering Jews — a group at my temple.  We go into the mountains and pray once a month.  I never could stand the mega-temples back in Cleveland.

My friends in Cleveland expected me to die there, I think.  No thanks!  I have no roots in that town.  I moved to Cleveland for a job in 1992 . Before that, we lived in Columbus.  Before that, Philadelphia.  I was born in Albany.

Please don’t be mad at me for leaving.  Visit me here.  We’ll sit on the patio and listen to the birds.  By the way, what’s the temperature there?

This is a fake profile.  If I fooled you, sorry.  I didn’t move.

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January 14, 2015   2 Comments