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.


Category — Miscellaneous


When Trombone Shorty played last month at Cain Park, in Cleveland Heights, he was loud. I didn’t take out a decibel reader but the show was ear-splitting. And I was wearing earplugs. Trombone Shorty frenetically ran around saying, “Let’s get crazy!” and “How you feeling? Feeling Good!” He played mostly super-loud funk and not much New Orleans brass-band music.

Trombone Shorty

Why did I go? Because I like the name “Trombone Shorty.”  If Shorty had been Joe Smith, I probably wouldn’t have gone. [What’s Shorty’s real name? . . . Troy Andrews.] I like New Orleans brass-band jazz. I don’t like rock-level blasting. Two guitars, electric bass, loud drums, no sousaphone.

Eleven years ago I was in New Orleans on vacation,  and I sat in with some pro musicians on Jackson Square. Trumpeter Kenny Terry had a slick ensemble which entertained tourists on the square. I went back to my hotel room, got my axe, and — heads-up, Kenny — here I am!

Terry said, “Where you from — Kansas?” Close enough. He announced to the crowd: “Ladies and gentlemen, we have a special guest from Cleveland!”

Cleveland was good business for Terry; eyeballs focused on the white guy with the clarinet. Tip-jar activity increased. There were about 100 people.

We did a Bb blues. I didn’t project enough; I had a thin sound, at least for outdoors. Kenny said, “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, of Rebirth, said that.)

Back home in Cleveland, I bought a new, louder clarinet barrel so I could played with “some balls.” Trombone Shorty, at Cain Park, played with a lot of balls. He should have stuck with two.

I’ve disliked loud music for a long time — way before I became an old crank. My freshman roommate at college was into the MC5. I convinced him to move out of our room. Then I got a roommate who liked Jefferson Airplane. That didn’t work out well, either. Pure jazz — that was my thing. The blues, too. My third — and final — roommate was into nothing musically, and we got along fine.

So I had three roommates my freshman year. Does that say anything about me? Nothing! (Screeched at a high decibel.)

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July 17, 2024   4 Comments


I was in for 46 days — 30 at county and 16 in Grafton. Handcuff this, handcuff that. My wife said I did some bad stuff. She told the judge I did 100 bad things. I did a bad thing, and I apologized. I told my wife I had an affair three years ago, and she wasn’t cool with that. If I hadn’t told her, she never would have known. She said there would be consequences. There were. She divorced me.

And she told the judge I was coming on to her like ISIS for years. I admitted to a bad thing.

I’m not going out to bars or drinking anymore. Too many bad things happen when I do that. I’m just going to my job and the gym now. That’s it. I’m on five years’ probation.


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July 10, 2024   1 Comment


I’m back in Cleveland. I’m thinking about Boston and New York. I know you are, too.

Here’s the title of my next book: Horseman Jake Rides the Syrup.

Nostalgia is a drag. Jack Kerouac is an inspiration. How about reading My Friend Henry Miller by Alfred Perles?

The dinosaur was the most successful specie that ever lived.

I left my heart in Sandusky.

My friend Chap owns a Corvette. He rendezvoused with 11 other Corvette owners at Eastgate. He’s got a 350 hp with headers, minus emission controls.

I saw Sleeper. I resented the nebbish-Jewish stereotypes.

Dad: “If you get a car, what are you going to do to support it?” Me: “I’ll get some money somewhere. I’ll rob a bank.” Dad: “You do that and I’ll wipe my hands of you — finished!”

Anybody who talks Lit in this town is talking $.

Stan Smith vs. John Newcombe.

Nelson Algren’s tough-guy first-person stories are obnoxious. Bukowski can pull it off because he really is a fuck-up.

To Martha Winston at the Curtis Brown Agency: “This is my latest novel. I’d appreciate it if you’d take a look at it. The book is mostly about a junior-high-school boy. I haven’t sent this manuscript to anybody else.”

Terry Southern, Erje Ayden, Buk, Dreiser and McMurtry ought to form a horny men’s club. I’d join.

Never write about a place you haven’t done time in — at least a year.

Here’s a simile. Not sure where it’s from:  He looked like a chalkboard eraser floating in a pool of beer.

High school is something I’m trying to forget — not remember!

I dig Bob Newhart because his humor is so low-key, and he’s so shy. Richard Price said, “I used to think writing was like being a stand-up comedian.”

Anthony Burgess doesn’t crack a joke in the first 60 pages of his novel M/F.

Detail for detail’s sake is useless.

My dad said I should apologize to my friend Dennis for calling him a “swine” on the phone.

Horse sit.

Anwar Sadat. Answer Sadat.

Erza, from the Bible, lived in Babylonia.

I’m buying my dad’s Plymouth Valiant, and he’s  buying a new Dodge Dart Swinger. I’ll need plates, a title, and insurance.

Dad says, “You don’t know what rough times are.” He knows. His mother wouldn’t allow him to go out for track in high school because he had to work in the store after school.

Authors have two jobs: writing stuff and learning stuff. You need to know something. What do I know?

Music is easier than Lit. In music — at least instrumental music — you can play scales all day if you’re uninspired. In Lit you can pick your nose and flip out.

Zawinul. Hank Crawford. Adderley. The Nude Wave is on Impulse.

Bert Stratton, U-M Hopwood photo, 1974.

Characters in novels go to Chapel Hill (Thomas Wolfe), Harvard (Wolfe again), U. of Chicago (Roth), or Columbia (Kerouac). Where is the great A2 novel?

Blue and maize will make a purple Hayes.

Tickle University, Philadelphia, Pa.

This Book Closes at 10 pm.

The Bar Mitzvah Goer by Walker Pearl.

Never again — Meir Kahane.

I’m thinking of getting married. To whom? You!

The Time-Life building is right here. I’m living in it — the Mark IV apartments, Beachwood, Ohio. (So are my parents.)

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July 3, 2024   4 Comments


My son Ted specializes in extracting parents and relatives from travel crises. He never gets lost. He always knows where he is. Ted has been like that since he was age 9, when he rode the Lee Road bus for the fun of it.

Ted, Alice, and I recently got delayed at LaGuardia Airport. Delayed big-time. Our flight was canceled. It was canceled just as I pointed out to Alice, “This weekend has been seamless.” We had  traveled to a family wedding a couple hours north of NYC. When our LaGuardia flight was canceled, Ted immediately got on Priceline and booked us a hotel at a nearby dump in Queens. But a nice dump.

New York’s outer boroughs — I like them, in theory. But when I go to NYC, I rarely leave Manhattan. How often do I ride the bus in Queens? Just this once. With Ted’s assistance, we caught a city bus outside our hotel and went to Flushing and wound up at a noodle house. I hocked the Chinese-American guy next to me in the restaurant. He said Chinatown in Manhattan is bigger than the Chinatown in Flushing. But Flushing’s Chinatown felt bigger to me. Flushing was like a total-immersion Asian experience. (Manhattan’s Chinatown is more like a neighborhood touristy thing, next to another colorful neighborhood, Little Italy.)

Ted [pink shirt], England, 2016 bike tour.

The next morning we caught the first flight out of LaGuardia. Ted arranged all that. (Also — on our way to the wedding — Ted had done a magic trick with Turo, the car rental company, which delivered a rental car right to our exit door at LGA. No shuttle bus to a rental-car area.)

Koffi, an African clerk at the Delta Airlines counter, said to me, “Your son is in charge now. He has a good demeanor.”

Right. Glad.

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June 26, 2024   1 Comment


I talk a lot at nursing-home gigs. I like to get the audience talking, too. I ask the audience about their favorite delis and where they went to high school. One guy always heckles me – “Again with the high schools?” Yes, again with the high schools. And this guy is not even a resident; he visits a friend who lives in the nursing home.

I often ask listeners their names. At my last gig, there was a woman, Ona, who said she was named for the actress Ona Munson. Never heard of Ona Munson. I didn’t ask Ona where she went to high school because she’s from New Jersey and nobody in Cleveland knows about New Jersey high schools.

An elderly husky black man had some musical requests. He was a visitor. He wanted “One O’Clock Jump.” I didn’t know it. Then he said, “Anything by Glenn Miller?” I played “I Got Rhythm.” Close enough. He rocked-and-rolled to every song – clapping and singing along. Alan Douglass (my piano accompanist) and I played all kinds of music: klezmer, American pop, Israeli. The man grooved to everything. He said his name was Roland Hanna.

“Roland Hanna! I guess Alan and I better go home now,” I said. Alan and I would leave and let Roland take over. Roland smiled. Roland Hanna, the renowned pianist. Roland told us to continue.

Roland Hanna

Alan asked Roland if he liked “sweet soul,” a favorite genre of Alan’s. Roland was cool with that. Alan did “Stone in Love With You” by the Stylistics. Roland knew every word. Then Roland requested Billy Joel. It’s affecting when black musicians request songs by white artists. Roland said, “You can do Billy Joel! You’ve got a harmonica player.” I did have a harp. We played “Piano Man,” featuring harp.

Alan did a country tune, “Behind Closed Doors” by Charlie Rich, and  we did the soul tune “My Girl,” and Alan did a funk tune, “Will It Go Round in Circles.” All for Roland Hanna.

Before the final tune of the set, I asked Roland if he wanted to play something with us. He passed. After the gig, we schmoozed. I asked if he still played. He said he had never played. He said he was Rollin Hannah, Cleveland Heights High class of ’69. He said, “It’s Rollin like in Sonny Rollins, and Hannah, spelled the same backwards and forward.”

Pianist Roland Hanna was a Detroit musician who played in the Thad Jones –Mel Lewis Big Band in New York in the 1970s. “Roland Hanna” — the name — stuck with me all these years. Stuck a bit too hard.

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June 19, 2024   1 Comment


From today’s Cleveland Plain Dealer . . .

It’s not about the racket

by Bert Stratton

CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio — When I trounced my friend Jimmy in tennis, he blamed it on his racket. His racket — his good racket — was in the shop for restringing. Jimmy said he was hitting the ball longer than usual with his back-up racket, and he didn’t have his usual deft touch on drop shots. I was surprised by the kvetching; Jimmy is usually stoical about his game and has never been an equipment freak.

Lance Armstrong said it best: “It’s not about the bike.” Or, it’s not about the racket. For example, I have a childhood friend who is a tennis pro in Israel, and he occasionally comes back to Cleveland to visit relatives and beat me in tennis. My friend, Shelly Gordon, doesn’t even bring a racket with him from Israel; he borrows one of mine. Shelly and I grew up playing tennis on the public courts at Bexley Park in South Euclid. The dress code then, in the 1960s, was Bermuda shorts, Jack Purcell tennis shoes and T-shirt (optional). Shelly never took private tennis lessons; nevertheless, he made the Ohio State University tennis team.

I took about 10 private lessons at the Cleveland Skating Club in Shaker Heights. My dad paid a nonmembers’ rate for the lessons. The club pro called me “Tiger.” I think he called all nonmembers “Tiger” because he didn’t want to learn their names.

At a recent high school reunion, a former Brush High tennis player was still mad at me — and envious of me for my private lessons. Hotshot players like him, from all over the East Side, would schlep down to Cain Park in Cleveland Heights, where the best public-court players hung out. There was a Cleveland Heights High player, Rich Greenberg, who was so into tennis he would shovel snow off the courts in the winter. He eventually played for the University of California at Santa Barbara.

Bert Stratton, age 16, 1967, Brush High courts

Rich taught me an important life lesson: how to wait. Every winter, I had to wait six months for good weather to come around again, so I could play tennis. I wasn’t going to shovel courts. Think about it: No snow blowers in the 1960s, and the courts had to be perfectly dry. And right after you shoveled, it would snow again. (And we didn’t have access to indoor courts.)

When I played my friend Kvetchin’ Jimmy — the man with the bad racket — he muttered unintelligible things to himself and fiddled with his strings. I beat him 6-2, 6-2. He usually beats me. Funny, I, too, had a handicap. But did I complain? No, I didn’t. My left hand (my dominant hand) tingled from having played a steel-string acoustic guitar the night before. I didn’t mention that to Jimmy. Probably because I won.

In tennis, it’s all on you. There’s usually nobody else to blame. Here’s a useful rule: If you lose, blame the wind. That’s less offensive than blaming your racket.

Yiddishe Cup performs 2-3 pm this Sun. (June 16). Father’s Day. Free. Beachwood Branch, Cuyahoga County Library, 25501 Shaker Blvd. (corner of Shaker Boulevard and Richmond Road). Indoors.

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June 12, 2024   3 Comments



Toby Stratton (1917-1986). Photo 1984.

My father, Toby, took me to a lightning-round tutorial with Cousin Gershy. (Gershy is short for Gershon.) Gershy looked horrible — three strokes and two heart attacks. My dad didn’t look any better. My dad died of leukemia two months later.

Gershy had shotguns, a steer horn and a shalom plaque over the mantle. Gershy said, “You wouldn’t believe it, but I used to be a shtarker (strong guy/bully). Now I’ve got this little curl in the tail — that little something different — that something the new treatment doesn’t cure. You’re in trouble, they say. They say, ‘We can’t straighten out your tail. You’re dead.’ That’s what the doctors tell me.”

My dad didn’t chime in. (The docs guessed my dad had another two years.)

A gun dealer had sold Gershy the steer horn for $50, and now the gun dealer wanted the steer horn back. “Gun dealers is a funny ballpark,” Gershy said. “He could shoot me, but a deal is a deal. That’s the way it is.”

Gershy owned a shopping strip center on Mayfield Road in Cleveland Heights. (The building had Gable Pharmacy and Bass Lock & Key.)

Gershy’s price was too high, Toby said.

“If the kid is interested,” Gershy said, looking at me. “I’d come down.”

“It’s up to the kid,” Toby said.

“I’ll work with him,” Gershy said.

On the drive home from Gershy’s, Toby said to me, “Gershy has mellowed.”

Mellowed?  Gershy did not seem mellow to me — not part of the Donovan, mellow-yellow ethos.

“And he’s a gonif,” Toby said. “Don’t buy anything from him.”

I didn’t. Instead I bought an apartment building in Lakewood a year later. I bought the Lakewood building because I wanted to prove to myself I could pull the trigger — buy a piece of investment property — without my dad telling me what to do. My dad was dead. I was 36. I bought the apartment building from a man named Chisling. Odd name, right? My dad’s advice would have come in handy.

Yiddishe Cup is part of the Shavuot celebration 7:15-8 pm Tues. (June 11), Park Synagogue, Pepper Pipes, Ohio. We’re doing a 45-minute concert. For more info, click here.

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June 5, 2024   1 Comment


I live two miles from where I was born. Every 60 years or so, I bike back to Kinsman – the area my parents lived pre-1951. St. Luke’s Hospital — where I was born — abuts Kinsman. Kinsman used to be a mix of Italians, Jews and Slovaks.

The first time I left home on my own steam was when I biked to Cermak Drug at East 93rd Street and Union Avenue. This was about 1962. I went with Cermak himself — the son of Cermak, actually. The Cermak family lived across the street from us in South Euclid. John Cermak (around age 12 at the time) and I used red city map books to navigate to the city. What were those books called? Street Atlases. Cermak and I made it to the drugstore and back.

Last fall I biked to a different Kinsman drugstore to get a Covid booster. I couldn’t get it in my neighborhood, so I found a CVS at East 108th Street and Kinsman Road. I mapped out my route. It was like I was going to a foreign land. I biked by Benedictine High and boarded-up Audubon School and Woodland Hills Park, which is now Luke Easter Park. (Easter was a Cleveland Indians player.) The pharmacist at CVS said, “You’re the third person today who said he came from Shaker or the Heights.”

I’ve been through Kinsman many times in a car, but my recent bike thing was the most memorable excursion. I doubt I’ll bike through Kinsman again. I’ll go to Europe.

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May 29, 2024   3 Comments


Last week Ms. Seif, a tenant of mine, claimed she needed to move out because she’s allergic to the smell of Indian food, which was coming from the restaurant below her apartment. She is on the second floor, above the restaurant. Her text to me read: “I am allergic to the Indian restaurant spices. I keep smell it everywhere especially in the toilet.” She also said she went to her doctor, “and he asked me if I can leave my apartment.”

She phoned me:,“I’ve been stuck in bed for a month. It smells in the toilet.” She’s a foreigner and her English is a bit peculiar.

I said, “There are a billion Indians in India and they’re not allergic. One-eighth of the world! You were aware there was a restaurant when you moved in. We have a good venting system here.”

Ms. Seif has been a tenant for only three months, and she has been late with her rent twice, and she tried to install a bidet herself and ruined the coupling, so the toilet leaked into the Indian restaurant.

Four years ago, when the Indian restaurant opened, I was concerned about possible odors coming from the restaurant. That’s why we have a good exhaust fan. Nobody else has complained so far. Just her.

How can you be allergic to a smell? Don’t you have to eat something to be allergic to something? Or at least have particles in the air, like hay fever. Strange: Indian spices make you sneeze and put you in bed for a month.

Ms. Seif is 27. I’m probably going to let her out of her lease, but she definitely is not getting her security deposit back, and I’ll try to get an extra month’s rent from her. She’s got nine months to go on her lease!

. . . A relative of hers just called. He said she is recently divorced and has a kid, and he feels sorry for her.

I just stopped by her apartment. She seems friendly enough. I said, “Ms. Seif, to change the subject, you sound like you have a Spanish accent but have an Arabic name.” I was hoping she was Lebanese from South America, so I could practice Spanish with her. She’s Egyptian.

 . . . She moved. She left the place “pristine,” says the on-site building manager. She left the bidet. Our new rental ad will read “toilet has bidet attachment.” Maybe that’ll help rent the apartment.

I didn’t get the extra month’s rent.

What smells?

Seif is a pseudonym.

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May 22, 2024   1 Comment

I GOT A GIG . . .

I landed a gig. Other musicians wanted in on it. We played for a Russian immigrants’ club at the Mayfield Road JCC, in 1988. The Russians liked the waltzes. Screw klezmer. I had hired two musicians who played with the Kleveland Klezmorim, Alan Douglass and Joel O’Sickey; and a Swiss jazz bass player, Francois Roland.

For the next gig, I hired a black jazz guitarist. All his Dm chords came out like Dm7’s (jazz chords). His name was Jewish though: Larry Ross.

Those were the first two paying Yiddishe Cup gigs. The very first Yiddishe Cup gig was non-paying. We played on John Carroll University’s Jewish hour. The radio show host — a cantor, my cantor — couldn’t turn down a fellow congregant. Also, he often requested Jewish musicians stop by John Carroll to play on his show, and few did. John Carroll is a Jesuit school. Does Yeshiva University have a Catholic hour? The line-up for the John Carroll radio gig was Sandy Starr, fiddler from Indiana U.; Francois the Swiss; and me.

The rest is  . . . whatever.

Here’s my essay that was in the Cleveland Plain Dealer on Friday:

Keeping Faith with Israel

CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio — I’ve been hearing bad things about Zionism since at least 1975. That was the year I wore a sticker which read “I Am a Zionist.” I got the sticker at the El Al ticket counter at Ben Gurion Airport. The United Nations had just passed the Soviet-sponsored “Zionism is racism” resolution. (The U.N. revoked that conclusion in 1991.) I wore the sticker in Greece — my next stop after Israel. I was 25. In Greece, a slightly drunk Greek man kissed the sticker, mistaking it for the blue-and-white Greek flag.

Back home, several of my friends were into edgier causes than Zionism. One friend said he was going to Cuba to harvest sugar cane. He didn’t go to Cuba, but he talked about it. I took a Hebrew class at Hillel at Case Western Reserve University to pick up basic Hebrew expressions, which I then used in Israel. I had grown up attending The Temple (also known as The Temple-Tifereth Israel and Silver’s Temple) in University Circle, and hadn’t learned much conversational Hebrew. (The Temple in University Circle is now the Maltz Performing Arts Center.)

”The Temple” — the name — sounded snobby, and it was. One Shaker Heights boy got a ride to temple in a limo. The driver wore a chauffeur’s cap. The limo wasn’t a Rolls; it was a Buick station wagon. The Temple was founded in 1850 by German Jews. The Temple moved to Beachwood 25 years ago. The Temple is not snobby these days.

Last century, The Temple wore its Zionism elegantly, in a Theodor Herzl, well-bred, top-hat way. Abba Hillel Silver was the senior rabbi. He was God-like –or at least Moses-esque –with a mane of silver hair and a booming voice. Rabbi Silver — along with Rabbi Stephen Wise of New York — were the two most prominent rabbis in post-war America. In 1947, Silver addressed the U.N. General Assembly. Silver said, “We are an ancient people and though we have often on the long, hard road which we have traveled been disillusioned, we have never been disheartened. We have never lost faith in the sovereignty and the ultimate triumph of great moral principles.”

The Temple, in the 1950s, sometimes held Sabbath services on Sundays instead of Saturdays, in a nod to their congregants’ acculturation into mainstream Christian-dominated America. My family put out Easter eggs, and I got Christmas presents. (No Christmas tree, though.) On the Jewish High Holidays, my mother wrote to my teachers: “Please excuse Bert’s absence from school due to religious observances.”

In the run-up to the 1967 Six-Day War, my parents attended an Israel Bond rally for the first time. They, and a lot of other Jews, thought there might be a second Holocaust. But after the quick Israeli victory, my parents began to utter “Jew” — the word — in public places in, for instance, restaurants, not caring whether other diners overheard them. In 1967, several of my high school friends wore “Jewish Power” buttons, purchased via mail order from a hippie button shop in Greenwich Village. I didn’t wear the button. The button-wearing kids had grown up in the Jewish section of South Euclid, near Cedar Center, not with the Italians like I had, closer to Mayfield Road. That Italian bread at Alesci’s, on Mayfield Road, was my go-to purchase on my walks home from elementary school.

My “I Am a Zionist” sticker is long gone, but I recently picked up a Jewish-star pin at a benefit for the American Friends of Magen David Adom (Israel Red Cross). I have played klezmer music at many community events and dozens of Israeli Independence Day celebrations. This year’s Israeli Independence Day celebration is Tuesday, and my band will be there.

Non-Jews, intrigued by the music, sometimes come up to me after performances and ask me some tough questions: “Do Jews believe in Jesus?” “How do you say c-h-a-l-l-a-h?” “Is Israel going to make it?”

My answers are: a) Jesus was a great man, but Jews don’t consider him the son of God; b) “Challah” is pronounced with a guttural “ch,” like you’re clearing your throat; c) It’s always a bad bet to count the Jews out. We’ve been around a long time.

The Jewish community in Cleveland numbers about 80,600. A Cleveland State University professor, Samantha Baskind, recently wrote an essay about Cleveland’s Jewish community for Tablet, an online magazine. She mentioned how Cleveland sent 1,700 Jews to Washington on buses for a pro-Israel rally in Washington last year. The headline of the article was “Cleveland’s Jewish Community Punches Above Its Weight Class.”

Here in Cleveland, we hope and pray that Israel punches above its weight, too. On Tuesday, my band will play the tune “Am Yisrael Chai” for Israeli Independence Day. “Am” means “people” in Hebrew. “Yisrael” means “Israel,” but in a biblical sense, as in “children of Israel,” meaning the Jews of Israel, Cleveland, and everywhere else. “Chai” means “lives.” Put it all together and you get: The Jewish People Lives.

Bert Stratton, a frequent contributor, lives in Cleveland Heights and has also written for The Wall Street Journal and New York Times. He writes the blog “Klezmer Guy: Real Music & Real Estate.”

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May 15, 2024   2 Comments


Dick Feagler, the late Cleveland newspaper columnist, wrote about World War II, the Korean War and similar good-old-days topics. When he ran out of material, he made stuff up. He invented a fictitious West Side coffee shop where he and his buddies would hang out and reminisce. He didn’t tell his readers the coffee shop wasn’t real. The coffee shop’s non-existence was revealed on Feagler’s last day of work, in 2008, via the Cleveland Plain Dealer ombudsman.

Dick Feagler

I wrote the ombudsman: “Dick Feagler has been writing fiction all these years about characters in a made-up coffee shop on the far West Side? Hey, is there a real Heinen’s in Bay Village, or did Feagler make that up, too? I’m an East Sider. I need to know.”

The omsbudsman wrote back: “No matter what you think of the way he handled the boys in the coffee shop, Feagler has been the Mike Royko of Cleveland for longer than Royko was the Dick Feagler of Chicago, and we have been lucky to have him.”


Royko, in Chicago, telegraphed his made-up columns with character names like Slats Grobnik and Dr. I.M. Kookie. Feagler’s coffee-shop people were Jim, Frank, and Loraine — a waitress. Funny, those names weren’t funny. Feagler should have asked one of his made-up character, Mrs. Figment, to nickname the gang in the coffee shop.

This major criticism aside (about Feagler making stuff up), he was very readable, good at nostalgia, and amusing. I miss the man’s writing. He died in 2018 at 79.

I ran into an alter kocker former journalist the other day who started name-dropping PD writers like they were old car models. (DeSoto, Packard, Studebaker) . . . Mary Strassmyer, Karen Sandstrom, Dick Feagler, Doug Clarke.

Here’s my addendum: Tom Green, Alfred Lubrano and Jim Parker. These guys weren’t around long but they could write. Terry Pluto is my favorite these days.

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May 8, 2024   3 Comments


Uncle Bob sat in his backyard in Athens, Georgia, and talked about Cleveland. He told me he had had dreams about long-gone Cleveland streetcars. And he said he periodically checked out the Cleveland obits to see who died. (Bob was born in Cleveland in 1924 and died in Atlanta in 2011.)

Bob Kent, 1962, Mill Valley

Bob said he had wanted to join the Haganah. But for some reason that never happened. He did, however, serve during World War II and Korea. Bob was an artist and one of the first gringos to head down to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico — around 1949. San Miguel was an artists’ colony packed with former GIs. Then Bob taught art at Tamalpais High School (Mill Valley, California) in the 1950s and early 1960s. He said he saw Kesey in the Haight but never saw Kerouac in North Beach.

In his youth, Bob was a bit of a brawler and had a broken nose to prove it. He said he had regularly crashed Jewish weddings at the Cleveland Jewish Center on East 105th Street and the Temple on the Heights on Mayfield Road. High-class shuls. Bob grew up in Kinsman — working class. He married my mother’s sister Celeste Zalk, also of Kinsman.

Bob got a PhD while teaching high school in California and wound up as an art-education professor at the University of  Georgia. Athens — in the mid-1960s — was no San Francisco, but it was a job. Bob was adept at slinging the prof lingo: “existential,” “seminal,” and “cognitive.”

Bob changed his last name from Katz to Kent. I don’t know when. I think my father had something to do with the name change. Speaking of Kent, I knew a Winston who had previously been a Weinstein. Are there other Jews named after ciggies? Old Gold? (Herb Gold.) I miss cigarettes — the names. Tareyton, Benson & Hedges.

This isn’t the whole story of Bob. Bob’s children — my first cousins — know more, and they ain’t going to tell it!

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May 1, 2024   3 Comments


My parents stopped hanging around with  rich people because my parents couldn’t afford to. One of my dad’s childhood buddies built shopping centers. My father was not going to spend money at fancy restaurants with him for no good reason. My parents socialized mostly with self-employed business people — a hardware store owner, the sewing machine guy and a shoe store guy.

(R) Alex Kozak, 1962. Stratton backyard.

The sewing machine person, Alex Kozak, sold record albums to me. Appliance store owners used to sell records. Mr. Kozak was a World War II Red Army veteran — a Hungarian Jew who escaped the Nazis and fought with the Russians. I borrowed his cavalry boots for my high school Canterbury Tales presentation. Mr. Kozak was a big man — one-and-a-half Isaac Babels. Mr. Kozak sold me Bechet of New Orleans and Be-Bop Era., both RCA Vintage Series LPs.

My dad liked hanging around with the Holocaust survivors; many of the men knew baseball, and they were for the most part no-nonsense. What was there to talk about — the good old days?

Yiddishe Cup gigs for Holocaust survivors’ luncheons were difficult. The crowds often wouldn’t pay attention. They would kibitz during the music. Another thing, the organizers would sometimes say “just a short program for the survivors.”  How long was a “short program” exactly?

I had a classmate, Gary (not his real name), who re-told his parents’ Nazi horror stories for the Cleveland Press. This was in the 1960s — pre-“Holocaust,” the term. Gary’s father worked at a kosher poultry market. Gary was religious. He often stayed home for obscure (to me) Jewish holidays, like Succot. Some of the Jewish kids teased him when he came back. The non-Jews were oblivious.

I emulated Gary’s “Let’s go, Jews!” writing style. I wrote a letter to the Cleveland Press protesting the first U.S. Christmas stamp with a religious symbol (Madonna and child), 1966. I said the stamp violated the separation of church and state. I got letters. One reader said, “Go to Vietnam where men are men and not homosexual like you.” That motivated me — not to go to Nam but to write more letters. I wrote about Poland expelling its last Jews in 1968. What would the Poles do when they ran out of Jews? That letter, too, got some play. I vied with Gary for champion Jewish teenage letter writer. All I had to do was write “Jew” and I would get half-baked, vitriolic feedback. I had been through so little and wanted to experience World War II (without the pain). Then go home and eat some Jell-O.

Sewing machine guy:  About 20 years ago, at a klezmer concert in Detroit, I ran into Mr. Kozak’s older daughter for the first time in decades. She told me her nephew had the cavalry boots now — the ones Mr. Kozak had worn as he rode through Prague with the Soviets in 1945, and the ones I had worn in high school English class.

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April 24, 2024   4 Comments


Alan Douglass and I played for six people in the memory loss unit. I asked for names and nobody gave one, except Bobbie. And nobody clapped.

“God Bless America.” Alan knocked that one out of the park. And maybe we did “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” Can’t remember.

Alan Douglass. Yiddishe Cup gig, 2011.

Something funky? Alan did “Will It Go Round in Circles.” He told me to add a C harp, crossed position.

I didn’t know it was a memory loss unit. It only dawned on me a couple tunes in; there was absolutely no applause, except one aide clapped for “My Girl.” Usually people will clap for everything even if it’s bad.

A couple people sang along to “Tumbalalaika.” Bobbie was the most enthusiastic. She got up frequently, but the aide told her to sit. Bobbie was shaky. So were Alan and I. We did shaky tunes. It’s enervating playing for people who don’t respond much. But who knows, maybe they did respond deep-down. And don’t forget, “Tumbalalaika” kind of hit.

(Bobbie a pseudonym.)

Here’s an essay I had in the Cleveland Plain Dealer last Wednesday:

I Like Refrigerators

CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio — The plumbing-supply rep tried to sell me water-savings toilets. And another guy tried to sell me small refrigerators (less than 12 cubic feet) to fit in tiny apartment kitchens. There was a door-buzzer salesperson, too. This was downtown at a trade show for landlords. My wife had encouraged me to go. She had said, “You’ll have fun.”

I didn’t have fun, but it wasn’t painful. I ran into some fellow landlords I hadn’t seen much of. Landlords don’t meet up at the office; we’re out looking for late rent payers and plumbers who will actually show up. There were a lot of middle-class guys in sweaters and slacks. Some had on work boots. They probably owned duplex houses. Many of the landlords were mom-and-pop, owning a few buildings, like me. Some landlords wore bomber jackets and T-shirts. They were the big-time operators.

One landlord said he owned 900 units and “a dumpy shopping center in Amherst. You want to buy it?”

“No thanks,” I said.

He also said he owned five or six other shopping centers. Landlords will tell you what they own, as well as what they used to own. The bigger the number, the better. Lou owned doubles in Cleveland Heights and said he wouldn’t mind selling some. John managed and owned apartment buildings in Lakewood. I said to him, “I haven’t been to a trade show in years.” “You haven’t missed much,” John said. But I had missed him – slightly. And I had missed refrigerators.

I like refrigerators, in real life and in brochures. Refrigerators don’t often screw up, and you can occasionally get a few beers and pops from a refrigerator after a tenant moves out. Definitely some half-open ketchup.

Hotpoint is the value brand of General Electric Appliances / Haier. A Hotpoint refrigerator can last 20 years. That’s what you want in a refrigerator: 15-to-20 years. I once bought a refrigerator made in Spain. It was a Welbilt. The spelling said it all. It was good for only nine years. Now I buy appliances from a small-time distributor out of Stow. I could go with Lowe’s or Home Depot, but Josh — my refrigerator man in Stow – is very reachable and friendly. He even quotes Bible verses in his invoices.

I attended my first trade show, back in the 1970s, with my dad. He would ramble on about radiator valves and radiator air vents. He had started the family investment-property business. I said to him: “I wouldn’t mind being the next Cannonball Adderley.” I was in my 20s.

“Are you pulling my leg, son? Tell me, so I won’t get mad!”

I was half-pulling his leg. I liked to upset him — not drive him crazy, just rile him.

My dad said, “The arts are one big ego trip.”

That was a flesh wound. All quiet on the father-son front. I had played alto sax in the college jazz band.

My dad insisted I go to a landlord association get-together at the Theatrical Grill on Vincent Avenue, aka Short Vincent. This was the mid-1970s. My father and I met garbage haulers, real estate brokers, boiler guys and bankers. I heard jazz wafting into the dining room from the piano bar. Instrumental jazz was the background track for random dinnertime conversation about real estate. The big question — directed mostly at my dad — was: “You buying?” (Buying buildings? Compactors? Flushmates?)

My dad said, “Depends on the kid.” That meant me.

Now, to this day, I carry water-saving showerheads. You never know when a tenant might rip out a water-saving showerhead and replace it with an Old Faithful, water-guzzling gusher. (I pay for the water at my buildings.)

And I still play the sax (and clarinet). That doesn’t pay the rent.

Bert Stratton, a frequent contributor, lives in Cleveland Heights and has also written for The Wall Street Journal and New York Times. He writes the blog “Klezmer Guy: Real Music & Real Estate.”


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April 16, 2024   No Comments


Musicians probably get more ego satisfaction in one night than most people get in a year. When I don’t have a gig, I mope around the house like a guy in rehab. Where are my gigs? My cigs? My booze? Where’s my heroin? Do I want to see a movie? No, I don’t.

Music is a different than than writing and painting; music is the laying on o’ hands. Have you tried laying on o’ hands with writing or painting? You’re in a room by yourself. That’s called solitary confinement.

Street festivals, parties, simchas, nursing-home soirees, concerts — all feel-good situations. Humans like hubbub. Noise is life. Deaf people like music; they like the vibrations.

In writing and painting, it’s a shush scene. America needs about 100 decent novelists and 100 painters. There is no minor league for writers and painters (except academia). Musicians — they’re playing in every city.

I’m in the Ohio Musicians League. That’s a minor league operation, but still, satisfying.

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April 9, 2024   1 Comment


Pop-rocker Eric Carmen graduated a year ahead of me at Brush High in Lyndhurst, Ohio. He was the leader of The Raspberries (post-high school). Here’s why I didn’t know Eric:

  1. I was a tennis guy in high school, not a music guy.
  2. Carmen lived in Lyndhurst — super-goy land. I lived in South Euclid. I knew a handful of kids from Lyndhurst. My friend Ron, who grew up in Lyndhurst, said it was no picnic being a Jew in Lyndhurst in the 1960s.

Carmen was Jewish. Carmen, the name –vaguely Italian.  Lyndhurst was vaguely Italian, too. This, just in: carmen is Latin for song. [Thanks to Ted Stratton for the Latin lore.] Eric Carmen attended a Jesuit college, John Carroll University. Strange.

There’s a Facebook page called “I Grew Up in South Euclid/Lyndhurst Club,” which saw a lot of action when Carmen died last month. Nobody on the FB page talked about where Eric Carmen went to temple. I bet he went nowhere. Maybe Eric was “unaffiliated,” as the Jewish-continuity surveyors say. Some press obits said Carmen was the son of Russian Jewish immigrants. The New York Times wrote: “[Carmen was] from a family of Jewish immigrants from Russia.” Yeah, so am I. So is nearly every Jew in Cleveland. Enough with the Jewish stuff. Or not . . .

Carmen’s grandfather was Hector Camingkovich, according to The Cleveland Jewish News, 20 years ago, mentioned that Carmen’s father worked at Gould Ocean Systems, and his name was Elmer Carmen. Eric’s mother was Ruth (nee Berns). Do the names Elmer and Ruth sound immigrant to you? They shouldn’t. A 2007 CJN obit said Elmer “enjoyed golf and travel, and was a graduate of Glenville High School and Western Reserve University.” Elmer wound up in a gentile cemetery.

Eric Carmen played sock hops at Brush High. I didn’t cotton to sock hops. (I liked bowling and miniature golf.) Alan Douglass, from Yiddishe Cup, saw Carmen a couple times. I’ll ask Alan about that.

Several commenters on the South Euclid/Lyndhurst FB site segued into naming other well-known Brush grads. For example, there was Steve Stone, a Major League pitcher who won the Cy Young Award while playing for the White Sox, or was it the Cubs? (I gotta look that up . . . Orioles.) Stone’s sister was in my homeroom. Does that count for anything? It better, because I’m sorry I (Brush’68) have no Eric Carmen reminiscences for you. (**please see addendum, under photo)

Brush High yearbook, 1966. Carmen’s junior year. (Photo courtesy of Ken Goldberg)

** Alan Douglass, of Yiddishe Cup, ran into Carmen many times at a convenience store in Mayfield Heights in the early 1980s. Alan worked there; Carmen shopped there. Alan said, “He was a ‘has been’ at that point — pre-Top Gun.” Alan had a 45 rpm record of “All By Myself,” which he brought to work for Carmen to sign, but for some reason, the “All By Myself” record and Carmen were never in the store at the same time. Alan said, “I liked everything by The Raspberries and all his solo stuff. He was power pop before there was power pop.”

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April 3, 2024   2 Comments


I give musician-tenants a little slack. One musician — he specialized in electronic music, and when he moved out didn’t leave a forwarding address. I wrote “please forward” on his security-deposit refund envelope. I sent it about two months after he moved. Some tenants plain forget to claim their deposits. (About 1 tenant in 200.) I never got a thank you from the guy. He should have sent a thank-you.

I once rented to a blues guy who didn’t pay a couple months’ rent. He should have known that a 12-month lease means 12 months, not six months. Youngsters (22-to-30 year olds) — they don’t know what 12 months means, but the blues guy was over 30. Young people — they try to weasel out of their leases. They say they need to move back home to help Grandpa, who broke his hip. They need to help Grandpa drink his beer and watch The Three Stooges! That’s the real story.

Musicians are sensitive to noise; I get that. If they want to move out, I sometimes let them out early. (I once lived in an apartment building and barely survived.) Several years ago I rented to a musician in the heavy-metal band Mushroomhead. I thought he might wreck the place. No, he was clean, stayed a couple years, and was never a problem. He left behind some band merch or band paraphernalia (not sure which) for the next tenant, who was a Mushroomhead head. That worked out well. The Mushroomhead head is still a tenant.


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March 27, 2024   3 Comments


Yiddishe Cup got its first paying gig in 1988, at the old Jewish Community Center on Mayfield Road in Cleveland Heights. After that, we started playing Booksellers at the Pavilion Mall in Beachwood. We did well at Booksellers. So well, in fact, the store manager kicked us out. He said, “We sometimes don’t ask back popular groups. The books are the main attraction, not the music.”

I didn’t grasp that; we were drawing a crowd of book-buying Jews. But the manager booted us. He said book browsers were dancing in the aisles, knocking down books. I suggested he put the band in the mall’s atrium. He did that once. Then he re-booted us.

Yiddishe Cup got in a book, not just a bookstore — Merging Traditions, Jewish Life in Cleveland, a coffee table book (2002). The book has a photo of the band leading a Torah procession up Taylor Road to a new shul. In the book’s index, “Yiddishe Cup” is next to “Yiddishe Stimme” (a newspaper) and Young Israel (a synagogue).

I hope Booksellers — the long-defunct bookstore — gets in a history book, because Booksellers was one of the first mall bookstores to have a café and live music. This was in the mid-1980s. It was unusual back then to walk into a mall bookstore and get a muffin and music. I remember the store was written up on the front page of the Wall Street Journal in the quirky column.

Alan Douglass (L) and Bert Stratton. 2022. (Photo by Lloyd Wolf)

There are two original members, still, in Yiddishe Cup: Alan Douglass (keys, vocals) and me. We’ve seen it all. Wait, here’s something we hadn’t seen until last month. Alan and I — and the rest of the band — played a Yekkie Orthodox Jewish wedding in Beachwood. Yekkie is Yiddish for  “German Jew.” The groom’s family was originally from Frankfurt. The Yekkies held two back-to-back wedding ceremonies. The first was a German ceremony, called chuppa main. Then an hour later, we did the standard-issue OJ (Orthodox Jewish) ceremony. Even the OJ caterer said he had never seen a Yekkie doubleheader before. Also, there were no shouts of “mazel tov” after the smashing of the glass. The cantor sang Psalm 128 after the glass-smash, at which point the Yekkies shouted “mazel tov,” and we escorted the bride and groom out.

Booksellers, again . . . The Kleveland Klezmorim played Booksellers before Yiddishe Cup did. The Kleveland Klezmorim pioneered klez-jazz fusion.  The Kleveland Klezmorim were in founded in 1983 by marimba player Greg Selker. The Kleveland Klezmorim wouldn’t play “Hava Nagilah.” We would, so we got a lot of their gigs. The Kleveland Klezmorim disbanded in 1990. (Footnote: Alan Douglass was a founding member of the Kleveland Klezmorim.)

Yiddishe Cup’s next free, public gig is Purim at Park Synagogue, Pepper Pipes, Ohio, this Sat. (March 23). 7:45 pm. Still kickin’ out the jams.

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March 20, 2024   1 Comment


I auditioned for a soul band at East 91 Street and Union Avenue. I had on red Adidas tennis shoes. The bandleader, Amos, liked the colors: the red shoes and my white skin. He said, “Ain’t no Holiday Inn going to hire no band without a white guy, and right now there ain’t nary a grain of salt in this room.”

I wasn’t too good on sax but I could play harmonica. Amos was intrigued by the harp; he considered the harmonica “country” — not a respectable axe for a black man but OK for a white guy. He said, “We can use that harp. You hip to Tower of Power? They got a bad white dude on harp. You hip to War? Another bad brother of yours on harp.”

The keyboard player had doubts, not about me so much, but about pot. He was exasperated by Amos’ marijuana smoking. The keyboard guy had qualms about playing in bars where customers might be high on marijuana. “Weed is communicating with the demon,” he said.

Amos said, “What you think? What you going to do when we play cabarets and shit? It ain’t no motherfucking church!”

“I quit,” the keyboardist said.

Things fell apart. Amos’ young son sat in on drums the next rehearsal, and then we had a mediocre female drummer. A horn player – an old guy (about 40) – had no teeth. He said, “Man, I can’t play without my choppers.”

Amos said we should move in a different direction: “gutbucket blues” or “even country western.” (I didn’t bring up klezmer because I hadn’t heard of it in 1975.) Amos said, “I’m unemployed! I’ll try anything.”

One night I stopped by the Hibachi Lounge at Union Avenue and East 103 Street. That venue was supposed to be our first gig. The Hibachi bouncer, wearing a red jumpsuit and red wide-brim hat, hung out at the pay phone, talking and shuckling (davening) like he was listening to Dial-A-Jewish-Concept. Several women line-danced to disco music from the jukebox. A couple women stared at me. Was it my red tennis shoes?

We never did play a gig.

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March 13, 2024   1 Comment


I employed a building manager who loved the Weather Channel and thought the end of the world was coming daily via tornados or snowstorms. I don’t think she ever went outside in the winter. She said winter was too gray for her.

Bad weather is no excuse for a bad attitude. If you don’t like gray, move or get a sun lamp. More gets accomplished in gray weather. The Scots and New Englanders didn’t invent stuff sitting at the beach.

Another employee was fixated on the weather, too. He did a lot of  interior apartment painting and wanted it to be 74 degrees, like Costa Rica, so he wouldn’t sweat.

My parents had a condo in Florida. So did my in-laws. In fact, my folks and Alice’s parents lived in the same development (Boca Lago, Boca Raton) and got along better than Alice and I.

I’m not a Florida fan. Too hot. I know a klezmer musician — a bushy-haired baby-boomer — who moved to Florida and took up golf. Maybe he played a freylekhs (hora) by the water fountain on the 16th hole at Boca Lago. (Mickey Katz did that, although not at Boca Lago. His band got paid to surprise a golfer on his birthday at a golf course somewhere.)

Arizona versus Florida – that’s the question here in Cleveland in the winter. Alice and I went to a wedding in Florida, where a guest asked us, “Are you still in Cleveland?” That meant: “Are you nuts? Do you like snow, gray skies, slush and potholes?” Don’t mind those things. I went walking yesterday in very cold weather. As they say, there’s no bad weather, just bad clothes. I think a Scandinavian said that.

Lake Erie

Another Cleveland woman at that Florida wedding said, “The day I hit 62, I had to leave Cleveland.” She now spends her winters in Scottsdale. A third Clevelander — originally from South Africa — said she preferred Florida over Arizona because of the water. “I like the ocean,” she said.

Lake Erie is the “ocean.” Look it up. Cleveland is doable.

One last word: layers.

Here’s my op-ed from the 1/11/24 Wall Street Journal. (No paywall)  “Wait a Minute, Mr. Postman.” 

a blue-ish mailbox

P.S. re: mailbox story . . . Yesterday I got a FedEx gift of a carton (12 cans) of USPS spray paint from a mole deep in a paint factory. The mole’s note read, “Always paint with the correct color.” (If you need a can of Postal Blue, let me know. But I don’t ship.)

Please read my WSJ article if this is all Greek to you.

The real stuff

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January 17, 2024   3 Comments