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 — On the Road


Poet Robert Bly’s worst nightmare was visiting his family in Minnesota and attending hockey games.  Maybe not as bad as Vietnam, but up there pain-wise, he said. Bly’s anti-Midwest rap was a big hit in Ann Arbor in the 1970s. Bly’s main message: your parents are middle-class stiffs; your real family is elsewhere.

Robert Bly, 1970

Bly was a 44-year-old Harvard man in a serape. He had a lot of chutzpah dispensing life advice in that shmate.

I was a mama’s boy. Whenever I went home for vacation, I received the treatment due a future Dr. Stratton. I did the occasional minor chore, like emptying the dishwasher and dusting. Some of my college buddies didn’t go home. They were scared of becoming middle-class, even for a weekend.

At home I hung around with old pals from my street. My friend John was installing tanning booths. My friend Frank (not his real name) owned shares in a racehorse. Frank worked as a mutuel clerk at the day-time Thoroughbred track and at the trotters’ track at night. When Frank wasn’t working, he was  firing his .357 magnum at beer cans in the woods.

Bly knew about guns, too, and Midwestern culture.  But it wasn’t his thing.

For my American English class at the U. of Michigan, I traveled with a friend — and classmate — Mark Schilling to southwest Ohio to research dialects. We asked the southwest Buckeyes to choose between

belly whopper/belly slam
lightning bug/firefly 


Mark Schilling, 1977

Mark’s parents said “warsh” instead of “wash.” They lived in Troy, Ohio, just north of Dayton. (This was North Midland dialect country.) Mark didn’t return to Troy after college. He wasn’t interested in becoming a J.C. Penney store manager like his dad. Mark went to L.A., then on to Japan. He’s still in Japan, 48 years later. Beat the drum for Mark Schilling, Bly.

Bly, you only spent a year — maybe two — in Norway! And then you wound up back in Minnesota and died there.

Check out the trailer for Mark’s movie  Convenience Story, recently released.

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August 30, 2023   3 Comments


I run a bar mitzvah party think tank. I supply clients — mostly DJs — with explosives, lyrics and games. Some of my games are free, just to build web traffic. For instance, take my humiliation game; the bar mitzvah boy stands on the dance floor surrounded by searing sterno cans. We throw napkins at him.

My top-selling games are Twine Fun, Narcissism Express, Beach Sand Saturation, Toxic Candy, Enjambment and Trunk-like Bodies. I have Jewish-themed stuff, too. The kids wear bottle caps on their heads, and the last kid to lose his “yarmulke,” wins. Lots of body contact.

My best-selling game is Trash Floating in the Punch. We throw chicken bones, children’s books from the centerpieces, and lipstick-smeared plastic cups into the punch bowl. Kids reach in and fish for prizes. It’s ecological.

I strained my back at a gig. Bingo, a new game — the Grandpa Shuffle. Kids walk around like oldsters and mutter creative Yiddish curses. It’s shameful and stunning to see teenagers limp and spew “Zol er krenken un gedenken.” (Let him suffer and remember.)

I carry the classics, too: laughing gas, toilet slime kits, photo booths, giant inflatables and partisans.

Call me or my guy Irwin:

Irwin Weinberger

Super-salesman Irwin Weinberger with Toilet Slime

[fake profile]

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June 30, 2021   2 Comments


The Jazz Temple was a former Packard showroom at Mayfield Road and Euclid Avenue. Coltrane and Dinah Washington  played there. The Jazz Temple was in business from 1960 to 1963. I passed the Jazz Temple weekly on my way to Sunday school at The Temple, the gold-domed Reform temple in University Circle.

Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver was the head rabbi at The Temple. He once spoke at the United Nations, advocating for the founding of the State of Israel. Rabbi Silver’s son, Dan, was the assistant rabbi. Dan  played football at Harvard and occasionally wrote for the Cleveland Edition.

At Sunday school, kids were mostly from Shaker Heights. One kid got a ride in a limo to temple. The driver wore a chauffeur’s cap. The limo wasn’t a Rolls; it was a Buick station wagon.

I couldn’t grasp how temple — the word — fit into the Jazz Temple. Was Jazz a religion too? Many years later, I met former beatniks who had actually gone to shows at the Jazz Temple.

abba-hillel-silverThe Jazz Temple was blown up in 1963. Somebody didn’t like the club or the owner, Winston Willis, a controversial black businessman. At The Temple religious school, we students attended services every Sunday morning to hear Rabbi Silver. (Services were on Sunday, not Saturday, in the 1950s at Silver’s.) Rabbi Silver looked like God. Nowadays, at The Temple East in Beachwood, there is a Abba Hillel Silver memorial study. The rabbi’s desk is laid out like he just stepped out for lunch. He died in 1963, just six days after Kennedy got murdered.

A slightly different version of this appeared 9/5/12. If you need baseball stuff, see my story at City Journal.


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November 2, 2016   5 Comments


My son Ted was interested in ice cream.  One summer he worked the night shift at Pierre’s, loading ice cream onto trucks.  One summer he worked at East Coast Custard on Mayfield Road, making shakes.

He owned a shake mixer and concocted date shakes at home, using date crystals from California.  He had a following (his mother).

After his junior year of high school, Ted and I drove through the Upper Midwest, hitting A&Ws and assorted other chazerai shops, while looking at colleges .  (He wound up at Brandeis. Oops.)

We rode the amphibious Ducks in The Dells, Wisconsin, and saw The House on the Rock, which Teddy described as an “affront to Frank Lloyd Wright.”  Ted was good with words, even back in high school.

We visited the mustard museum in Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin.  Then we hit the A&W, where Ted asked for a “mama burger, papa burger and a rooty tooty.”  He knew that terminology from a junk-food guide.

That trip to the Upper Midwest was one of my favorites — l0oking for A&Ws and colleges with my son.

Root beer!  (I’m still good for a Diet Hank’s or Diet IBC at Tommy’s in Cleveland.)

“Root beer,” to rhyme with “put beer.”  That’s how we say it here.

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April 9, 2014   9 Comments


“Cleveland is a hard town.  I came near committing suicide when I lived there.” — Robert Crumb, American Splendor intro, 1986.

Crumb worked for American Greetings. My dad, Toby, worked there too.

Toby was at American Greetings before Crumb.  My dad worked with Morry Stone, who eventually became a vice chairman.  My dad didn’t like working for anybody, including Morry, so Toby left in 1954.

Toby Stratton, 37, at American Greetings, 1954

Everybody in Cleveland has worked at American Greetings, I think.  Or tried to.  I applied for a job at American Greetings in 1981.

Plain Dealer, 1981

American Greetings had a Creative Building at West 78th Street.  I didn’t even get called in for an interview.  Maybe I wasn’t sick enough to write sick cards.


Robert Crumb again, 1996, Bob & Harv‘s Comics:  “Cleveland is a city that has been ravaged by financiers and industrialists . . . its population abandoned to their fate, left to freeze their ass off, standing in the dirty winter slush, waiting for a bus that is a long time coming.  Somehow they go on living.”

I haven’t lived anywhere else, so I can’t complain like Crumb.  I went to college in Ann Arbor (which doesn’t count) and spent a few months in Bogota, Colombia, in my twenties.

Bogota was tougher than Cleveland. That, I can testify to.  Bogota was rainy, gray, and headache-inducing from the high altitude.  Cleveland was simply rainy, gray and slushy.


A pilot stood in a grassy field by the Bogota airport and said, “Tell your friends to throw their packs in back and we’ll be off.”

They weren’t my friends.  They weren’t even Americans.

We climbed into the cargo section of the plane. “It smells like shit in here,” a Swiss girl said.

“This is Fish Airlines,” the pilot said.  (Aeropesca.)

We landed in the Amazon a few hours later.

I ran into a college friend in the Amazon! I knew him from my freshman dorm.  He said, “I scamp.”  That meant he sold gems, coke, pot or counterfeit bills.  “I’m going to reunite with my creators soon,” he said.


“I’m going back to my parents.”

Adiós, amigo.

I tried to catch the ferry to Belem, Brazil. I waited several days in Leticia, Colombia, by the Amazon River dock, but the ferry didn’t arrive. I flew back to Bogota on the guppy/yuppie flight.  (Guppies to Bogota, yuppies to the Amazon.)

In Bogota, I froze — even indoors.  I wore two sweaters and socks-for-gloves in a small house I shared with a widow and her maid.  I taught English at a nearby private junior high.  For fun at night I read Cancer Ward .  I also looked at photos of beauty queens from El Espacio and El Bogotano — the tabloids. My bedroom had doggy pictures on the wall, a toy cannon on the windowsill, and a crucifix over the bed.

For mental exercise I tried to reconstruct my high school schedule: first and second periods, PSSC Physics.  What was third?  What was PSSC?  [Physical Science Study Committee.]  I didn’t know many people in Bogie.

I heard Charlie Byrd play “Bogota” in Bogota.  He was on a government-sponsored tour.  Byrd en guitarra, con bajo y batería. (Byrd on guitar, with bass and drums.)

I went back to Cleveland after three months.

American Greetings. I couldn’t take Bogie. The major bookstore in Bogota was run by a Nazi, I thought.  The owner was German, and I fabricated a fake bio, in my head,  about him. I went to the Peace Corps office to borrow more paperbacks.  I got Papillon, about a prisoner in Latin America.

I played blues harp for my English class.  The kids loved it but the administration didn’t.

I had to leave. Bogie was un frío horrible (a freezing cold).

Crumb should write about Bogota.  I want to hear his take on a real tough town.

1.  My  Bogota adventure was  in 1974. 
2. I didn’t meet my college friend in the Amazon.  I met him in Bogota.   I remembered the encounter incorrectly. My friend straightened me out  in Cleveland in 2013. 

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February 12, 2014   5 Comments


The place: Brooklyn

The venue: the Barclays Center.

The show: Jay-Z on the mic.

The kingpin: Cousin Brucie Ratner, owner of the Barclays Center.

Brucie isn’t  my cousin, and I don’t know Jay-Z’s music.  But I felt part of the Barclays Center’s grand opening.  I walked around the outside of the arena.

Furthermore, I occasionally play gigs for the Ratner family in Cleveland. The Ratner patriarch — Albert — likes “Oyfn Pripetchik” (At the Hearth).  Albert doesn’t even have to ask.

Bruce Ratner told the New York Times he used to be embarrassed he was a developer. He was an anti–war protestor back in the day, he told the Times.

Brucie is me x 1 billion dollars.

I was at a wedding in Brooklyn.  Beyoncé’s sister was there.  I sat across from Beyoncé’s marketing agent. (Jay-Z is married to Beyoncé.)

The music at the wedding was arena quality. A gospel singer from the Blind Boys of Alabama sang the ceremony. A doo-wop group did the cocktail hour.  An eight-piece New Orleans brass band walked  into the wedding through an industrial garage door and wailed for hours.

Where was I — other than two miles from Jay-Z?  I was in a former brass foundry, close to a toxic site, the Gowanus Canal.

I saw guys in Brooklyn Nets T-shirts.

My band, Yiddishe Cup, once played the Brooklyn Center for the Performing the Arts in Flatbush.  Not too cool, apparently.  (My band or Flatbush?)

I think the wedding venue was in Red Hook, a section of Brooklyn.  Not sure.  Maybe Carroll Gardens (another Brooklyn neighborhood).  I like to know where I am.

Boys, hit ’em with “Oyfn Prip.”  Cousin Brucie might drop by.  Just like back home.  (There is a Brooklyn, Ohio.)   Jay-Z in the house?   Strike up “Money, Cash, Hoes.”



I sat on a bench at Horseshoe Lake and read the Cleveland Jewish News.   I felt like Isaac Bashevis Singer with the Yiddish Forverts.  (Typical Singer opening: “While I was sitting on a park bench I noticed that my left shoelace was untied.”)

I had a letter to the editor in the CJN and wanted to make sure the paper got it right.

The park bench at Horseshoe Lake had a plaque: “In loving memory of Arthur Lipton. He played at Carnegie Hall.” My question: Did Arthur Lipton get paid, or was he in a youth orchestra? Did they — the orchestra — rent Carnegie Hall?

The CJN got my letter right.

The “wombs and tomb” section of the CJN is the crux of the paper: the births, bar mitzvahs, weddings and deaths. Deaths are always a good read. Who owned what business. Who fought in Japan. In the weddings, there is usually a U. of Michigan grad. Does every Jewish family in Cleveland have a Michigan connection? I skip the bar mitzvah and birth announcements; I’m too old for those, or not old enough.

On returning from the park, I saw a dog crapping on my front lawn. I paused at a distance, to see if the owner would clean up. She did.

Great day.

Snack time: I opened a new jar of peanut butter.

It was creamy! I bought creamy by mistake!

Heinen’s should be more distinctive with its labels:

My (future) park-bench epitaph: “Albert Stratton preferred crunchy peanut butter.”

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November 21, 2012   4 Comments


Yiddishe Cup has played in 19 states and Ontario.

Our most recent state is Massachusetts.

I didn’t tell anybody about our Massachusetts gig, except Ari Davidow, the dictator of Klezmershack, a Boston-based website.

I didn’t shout, “We’re playing Boston!”  Wouldn’t be right.   I didn’t want to drive the Mass. bands crazy. There are so many good Jewish wedding bands in Massachusetts.

How did Yiddishe Cup get the Massachusetts gig?   Connections.  My cousin Margie.  She hired us for a wedding.

Mass. football huddle

The band stayed at the Marriott near the Natick mall.  The food court at the mall had take-out Indian food; you don’t see that very often in Cleveland.

Yid Map

Notice, we haven’t played Kentucky.  That irks me!

Daniel Ducoff — Yiddishe Cup’s Sir Dance-a-lot — collects refrigerator magnets of states Yiddishe Cup has played.   Twelve years ago, I gave Daniel magnet-investment advice.  I told him to buy “Kentucky.”

Kentucky is ridiculously, abuttingly close to Ohio.

What’s with Texas?  We’ve played Texas three times.  Once at Temple Emanu El in Dallas, and twice at the Chamizal National Memorial park in El Paso.

Some people think Yiddishe Cup plays only in Cleveland.  I hope this map straightens them out.

Buckeyes and fellow travelers, here are the Ohio towns we have played. (Obama and Romney have nothing on Yiddishe Cup.):

Elyria, Akron, Lorain, Warren, Youngstown, Oberlin, Wooster, Lakeside, Toledo, Springfield, Alliance . . .

Kent, Canton, Granville, Gambier, Lancaster, Findlay, Columbus, Delaware, Hiram, Cincinnati, Dayton, Oxford, Celina, Urbana.

You can find good Arabic food in Toledo.

Gambier is not a real town.  It has a post office, bookstore, pizza parlor and Kenyon College.   Mount Vernon — an authentic town –- is just a few miles from Kenyon.   Hey, we played a wedding in Mount Vernon.  Please add “Mount Vernon” to the list.

Yiddishe Cup probably won’t play on the West Coast unless one of my sons marries a West Coaster and the wedding is out there.  That’s our best hope.  Boychicks, you can use a DJ for the breaks.  No problem.

Yiddishe Cup’s number-two hang-out state is Michigan . . . Ann Arbor, Detroit, Flint, Kalamazoo, Calumet, East Lansing, Evert and Grand Rapids.

Calumet is in the Upper Peninsula.  We  flew there via Minneapolis.  We should have played for change in the Minnie airport so we could color in Minnesota on the map.

Michigan has so few cities.  What percentage of Michiganders live in Metro Detroit?  My guess is 33 percent.  [42 percent –- Google.]

Mappin’ . . . Have you looked at a map today?  (Electoral College maps don’t count.)

My op-ed “It’s Campaign Season; Ohio is Swingin was in the Sunday Cleveland Plain Dealer.  (Similar to post below.)

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November 6, 2012   2 Comments

Egos Bruised, Teeth Jarred

Yiddishe Cup played a wedding in a backyard in Connecticut where the floor partially collapsed.  The ground became soggy underneath the tent, which was built into the side of a hill.  The tent grid work — which supported the plywood floor — sunk.  About 50 semi-drunken partygoers did athletic hora steps and pogo-ing, and the floor buckled.

The groom’s mom told me to stop the music.

I  didn’t. You can’t stop the hora at a wedding; it’s bad luck for the marriage.  I said, “Two more minutes.”  She said no, and jumped onto the bandstand and yanked the saxophone from my mouth. Luckily, I wasn’t playing clarinet (different embouchure, more likely to damage my teeth). I said, “Don’t ever do that again!”  She was oblivious to me.   She frantically dialed her phone for a repairman.

The tent-repair crew arrived shortly, and during a break the crew crawled under the tent and put in extra supports.  The mom had the band playing only background music. We sounded like a string quartet at a funeral.  We didn’t want anybody to dance, because the floor would collapse even more.   We had traveled 500 miles to play tepid tunes like “Jerusalem of Gold” and “Tumbalalaika,” and have my ax yanked.  What a letdown.

The dancing picked up after the repair crew fixed the support grid work.  Lots of ruach (spirit), and no more assaults on my teeth.



Watch out,  literature here . . .



13 Jews are in line
for omelets


A woman says
“Do I want the mushroom omelet?”
Is she talking to me?
To herself


The beauty of the East Coast
Red maples in Connecticut
We’ve come a long way


Why do I imagine everybody at this wedding
is thin and wearing black?
Because everybody is thin and wearing black


“You’re from somewhere near Hungary,” I say
“Finland,” the woman says
“Don’t they share a language bond?”
I’m on a losing streak with accents


Where is the euphony?
This band is loud
This band is Yiddishe Cup
Turn it down, guys!


We are in the Berkshires
The leaves are falling
So are we

The tent and Yiddishe Cup, Lakeville, Conn., 2010

I wrote this op-ed, “Main Street’s Landlord,” for the New York Times, 9/30/12. (Illustration by
Rebecca Mock.)

Yiddishe Cup plays for Simchat Torah 7 p.m. Sun., Oct. 7, Fairmount Temple, and 7:15 p.m. Mon., Oct. 8, Park Synagogue. Cleveland.

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October 3, 2012   3 Comments


The Jazz Temple was a music club in a former Packard showroom at Mayfield Road and Euclid Avenue.   Coltrane played there.  Dinah Washington tooEverybody played there.  The Jazz Temple was in business from 1960 to 1963.

I passed the Jazz Temple weekly on my way to Sunday school at The Temple, a Reform synagogue in University Circle, Cleveland.

Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver was the head rabbi at The Temple.  Rabbi Silver was  very prominent; he spoke at the United Nations, advocating for the establishment of the state of Israel.  Rabbi Silver’s son, Danny, was the assistant rabbi.  He played football at Harvard and blocked hard for his dad.

The Sunday school kids at The Temple were mostly from Shaker Heights.  One kid got a ride in a limo to shul.  The driver wore a chauffeur’s cap.

I couldn’t grasp how temple — the word — fit into a non-Jewish setting, like in “Jazz Temple.”  Was Jazz a religion too?  (Give me a break. I was 10.)

Years later, I met a couple ex-beatniks who had been old enough to go to the Jazz Temple in the early 1960s.  They had heard Trane and Ella.

The Jazz Temple was blown up in 1963.  Somebody didn’t like the club, or the owner, Winston Willis, a controversial black businessman.

At The Temple, the religious-school kids would attend the last part of the service and hear the sermon.  Rabbi Silver looked like God and talked like Him.

Today, at The Temple East in Beachwood, there is an Abba Hillel Silver memorial study.  The rabbi’s desk is laid out like he just stepped out for lunch. He died in 1963.

Rabbi Silver: Live at the Jazz Temple.  Interesting.

John Coltrane: Live at The Temple.  Another possibility.

A love supreme . . .

A love supreme . . .



In the arts, if you’re precious, you’re bad. Precious is the worst thing. Precious means you’re dainty and overly refined.

A friend (a former music critic) called all college a cappella music precious.

Harvey Pekar called Willio and Phillio — the Cleveland music-comedy duo — precious. (Willio and Phillio was around in the 1980s.) Willio and Phillio was precious — their stage name for sure. Willio (Will Ryan) went out to Los Angeles to work for Disney, and Phillio (Phil Baron) became a cantor in L.A. They were good, and probably still are.

Yiddishe Cup is precious occasionally. The musicians say “oy vey” too much on stage. I’ve tried to get my guys to stop. I can’t.

Peter Laughner, a Cleveland rocker, died from drug abuse and alcoholism at 24. He killed himself, basically. (This was in 1977.) He was not precious. He was dead — and funny — about art. He was in the Pere Ubu underground before Pere Ubu was famous.

Suicide doesn’t appeal to me for two reasons: 1) My wife would kill me if I tried it. 2) I want to attend my kids’ weddings and eventually meet my grandkids-to-be.

“Precious” is OK for grandkids. (“Grandkids” is precious.)


New construction — Side C — for Michiganders. . .


Chester Ave., Cleveland, 2011

I drove to Rochester, Michigan, which is not as cool as Rochester, New York, but it does have a small-town charm.

I’ve seen Father Coughlin’s former church in Royal Oak, Michigan.

I’ve been to Detroit many times.

My wife, Alice, said, “Detroit has very long roads.”

She probably meant Woodward, Gratiot and Telegraph.

Detroit also has the Lodge. Elmore Leonard mentions the Lodge in his books, like, “The gambling casino, Mutt, you can’t fucking miss it, over by the Lodge freeway.”

A couple Cleveland freeways and bridges have names, like the Bob Hope Memorial Bridge, but nobody ever uses the names.

I stayed at a hotel near the Silverdome, which looked like a big pillow. (The stadium did.) A Detroiter told me the Silverdome sold for about $200,000. A stadium for the price of a California carport.

Who was John C. Lodge? Probably a labor leader. [No, the mayor of Detroit in the 1920s.]

Detroit is like Cleveland. Detroit has the Eastern Market; Cleveland has the West Side Market. Detroit has downtown casinos. Now Cleveland has a downtown casino.

Metro Detroit has a few more Jews than Cleveland. And probably more Arabs, Poles and Ukrainians. And more blacks.

People who wear Tiger caps are cool, as are Indians cap wearers.

What about Berkley, Michigan? Is that worth a visit?

Elmore Leonard eats at the Beverly Hills Café. I wonder if that’s part of the Beverly Hills Café chain, or an independent restaurant in Beverly Hills, Michigan.

I wonder if Elmore Leonard spends his winters in Detroit. I bet he doesn’t. He writes a lot about Florida.

I have some Elmore Leonard junk mail.

City Primeval: High Noon in Detroit. That’s worth reading.

Maple means 15 Mile. Big Beaver is 16 Mile.

What about Oakland University? Does the university have Bobby Seale barbecue sauce in the cafeteria?

I live only three and a half hours from Berkley, Beverly Hills and Oakland.

Yiddishe Cup pulls into Motown Sunday. See us at Cong. Beth Shalom, Oak Park, Mich.,
2 p.m., Sept. 9. Open to the public. Concert info here.

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September 5, 2012   7 Comments


“Forty years ago, the news media were filled with reports of a generation gap.  Let’s be grateful that we’ve finally solved that problem.” —  Karen  Fingerman and Frank Furstenberg, op-ed, New York Times, 5/31/12.

Beachwood, Ohio, 1973 

I live with my parents at the Mark IV, a high-rise apartment by the freeway.

I’m living with my parents at age 23!  My life is so unexciting it couldn’t get published in a mortuary journal.

Chekhov said, “People do not go to the North Pole and fall off icebergs.  They go to offices, quarrel with their wives and eat cabbage soup.”

I want to go to the North Pole.

My dad almost clobbered me because I didn’t want to save five dollars on traveler’s checks by comparison shopping at banks.  “You aren’t a millionaire yet,” he said, scratching himself.  He was wearing just underwear.

Tonight at a party — a parents’ party — Zoltan Rich, the Hungarian know-it-all, said, “The students protest for entirely selfish reasons.  You know what the chief word is we’re missing — the key to the whole discussion?  It’s obligation.  Parents have abrogated their responsibility.”

It’s time to go.

A guy from Case Western Reserve said he might give me a ride out west tomorrow.

California or Mexico?

I won’t come back here for at least six months.  My mother has a bridge game here tomorrow.  If I’m within 100 feet of that game, I die.

Move along.  Try the Rand McNally approach to self-discovery . . .

It’s 3 a.m. in Utah.  I’m under a lamppost, “sleeping” in a sleeping bag.  I hear deer.  Or is it bears?  I’m afraid of nature!  I hear semis shifting.

I wonder if I like “freak” America.  Deep down I’m straighter than a library science major.  I could wind up back in Cleveland.  You can go home again.

Or maybe I’ll settle out in California.

My dad says, “I’m sure you’ll be a success some day.”

At what?  Whatever it is, I should do a good job of it.  My father never says, “What are your plans? What do you see yourself doing in ten years?”  That would be cruel.


My last month in Cleveland was a hell.  But not a bad hell.  My mother lined up dates for me.  The dates were daughters of my mom’s friends.  I took  girls to bars and ordered 7&7s.  That was my booze repertoire: 7&7s.

I got feedback about the dates from my mother through back channels.  She picked up tidbits at bridge games.  Some of the girls liked me, some didn’t.  One girl thought I was “a little weird.”

She was weird.  She had no business dragging me through her dad’s kangaroo court (his living room was plastered with World War II medals) for interrogation. What are my plans?  What do I do?

What’s an apricot sour?  That’s what I want to know.  She ordered that.

I’m sitting on the dock of the bay in Bodega Bay, California.  I’m eating squid.  Or maybe it’s a big snail.  I’m not sure.  I’m at a marine lab.  Wastin’ time?  I don’t know yet.

Part of this post was on, 10/12/11, called “Mom’s Dating Service.”

Yiddishe Cup plays a tribute to Mickey Katz  7 p.m. Thurs., Aug. 9, at Cain Park, Alma Theater, Cleveland Heights.  For tickets: or 216-371-3000.

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July 25, 2012   5 Comments


1. DARBY CREEK, south of Columbus, Ohio

My wife, Alice, and I hit a tree stump in Darby Creek, and I flipped our canoe.  I  became entangled in branches and logs.  The current felt like nine bathtubs pouring over me at once.  Alice perched herself on a log in the creek, trying to save her iPod.

Tippecanoe and Bert too

The canoe ride was billed as a languid 12-mile paddle downstream with no white water.  But we canoed right after a major storm and a wet spring (last year).  I was rescued by two kayakers, who found my paddle and extricated my leg.  The canoeing outfitter did not want to talk about my adventure.  He was having a slow season and didn’t want anybody to overhear us.

During my flip, I kept repeating, “Do not panic.”  But I panicked some.

“Life is a very narrow bridge, and the important thing is to not be afraid.”  — Rabbi Nachman.   Be afraid, but not longer than, say, a minute.

Alice’s iPod made it.  My cell phone died.  Mother Nature made it.



I don’t go to Waffle House that often.  The closest Waffle House is in Medina, Ohio, and that’s the South.

What are grits?  Cream of wheat? What are you supposed to do with grits?  Pour syrup on them?

At Waffle House I order hash browns with onions.  That’s called “scattered and smothered.”

My son Teddy suggested I try Huddle House.  I went to one in South Carolina on vacation.  Pretty much the same as Waffle House.  (I can’t go to Waffle House — or Huddle House — with my band, because two guys in Yiddishe Cup don’t like “Awful House.”  They like baked potatoes at Wendy’s.)

My wife bought a two-pound bag of stone-ground grits at a gift shop in Charleston, South Carolina.   The label read, “Food for the Southern Soul.”

If that’s true, the South is in trouble.



The sports teams at Shaker Heights High are called the Red Raiders.  Why aren’t they the Shakers?  It would be class, similar to the University of Pennsylvania Quakers.

There are three real Shakers in Maine. That’s it.  Would these elderly women be offended if Shaker’s teams became the Shakers?  I doubt it.

Red Raiders.  What does that mean?

Shaker — the religion — is the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing.  Shaker central in Cleveland was the intersection of Coventry Road and North Park Boulevard.  The Shakers had a grist mill there.  They had buildings — dairies, farms, woodshops, who knows.

I live nine houses from Shaker, in Cleveland Heights.  I have a friend who lives in Shaker and Cleveland Heights.  Her living room is in Cleveland Heights and her bedroom is in Shaker.  Her house straddles the border.  I wonder how this affects her outlook.  She moved to the Heights from the West Coast and may not yet understand what “Shaker” connotes locally.  Harvey Pekar always played down his Shaker High diploma.  Reduced his street cred.

Go Shakers.  Classy name.  Lower Ivy League cachet.

Yiddishe Cup plays 7:30 p.m. Thurs., July 5,  on the lawn at Wiley Middle School, 2181 Miramar Blvd., University Heights, Ohio.  (Indoors if raining.) Free.  It’s “Family Fun Night” with games and free ice cream one-half hour before the show.

Next week’s blog post will go up Tues. July 3 instead of  July 4.

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June 27, 2012   6 Comments


When I got rid of my LP record abums, my friend Carl said, “How can you do that?”

The LPs were heavy, for one thing.  And I hadn’t listened to them in 20 years.  “Carl, in 10 years I might not be  able to physically pitch them, ” I  said.  “I’ll be pointing at each one from my La-Z-Boy and making my kids choose between Bob Dylan and Charlie Parker.  So I’m doing it now for my kids’ sake.”

I could have put my records on the treelawn (Cleveland-
speak for the grass strip by the curb).   I could have taken the LPs to a record store.  Or a record store could come to me.

A record store came to me.   Pete the Record Guy showed up at my house.

Just prior to Pete, Carl took five LPs for a wall montage.  He liked Coltrane Plays the Blues, Volunteers by Jefferson Airplane, and Archie Shlepp’s Four for Trane — all good cover art.  Carl, a roots-music maven, said I was in the top 5 percent of respectable record collections.

My record collection was my former identity.  It was my Facebook persona, circa 1975.

I found a receipt in a Stuff Smith Black Violin album — $1.50 from Mole’s.   Where was Mole’s?  I don’t remember.  [It was on Coventry Road in Cleveland Heights.]

Harvey Pekar

Harvey Pekar used to rifle through my albums.  The only album he ever wanted was my Charlie Parker Memorial Album, Vogue Records, England, 1956.  I didn’t sell it to Harvey.  I figured, If Pekar wants the record that badly, it must be worth something.

I checked on the Charlie Parker Memorial on the Internet.  Today it’s worth £5.40 to an Englishman on eBay.  That’s about $9.  Nothing.  Pekar was always into small numbers.

My kids didn’t want my albums.

I wanted to play Lenny Bruce’s “Lima, Ohio” bit (from The Best of Lenny Bruce) for Carl, but I didn’t have a record player handy.  Carl said, “It’s probably on YouTube.”

Right.  That’s why I got rid of my records.

Pete the Record Guy went through my albums three times.  Adiós Aretha Live at the Fillmore West, John Handy’s Carnival, Paul Butterfield . . .

Let it go.

Three-hundred dollars from Pete for 100 records.  Not bad.  Pete didn’t care about the condition of the records.   Pete said young kids –- his main customers — “won’t buy the reissue LPs, they want the originals, like yours.”

I said, “What jumped out at you? Is there any album worth 90 percent of what you paid me?”

He said, “I like your two Fred Neil’s, Everybody’s Talkin’ and Sessions.  You don’t see those often.”

“Let me take a photo.  Don’t worry, Pete, I’m not taking the records back.”

(This flip side is a little something extra for readers arriving on the A train from
New York Times Square. Northerners, let’s trash the Sun Belt . . .)


Atlanta is not far enough south for some Atlantans. Right next to the Atlanta airport is a billboard “Beach Bummed?” Meaning, go to Florida.

Atlanta isn’t very good for sunbathing unless you want to tan your left elbow in traffic for several hours.

I was at Atlanta airport, going through nine time zones to get to my gate.  The TSA clerk, glancing at my ticket, said, “So you’re going back to beautiful Cleveland?”

Yes, sir, and it’s a lot better than Atlanta.  (I didn’t say anything.)  Cleveland is not Paris — or Pittsburgh, for that matter — but it’s a step up from a Southern-sprawl traffic crawl.

I’m going to Atlanta this month for a family bat mitzvah, and I have a summer gig there with Yiddishe Cup.  I’ve been to the Coke Museum twice.  Is there a rum-and-Coke museum in Atlanta?  If so, where?

Atlanta relatives, nothing personal!

My best writing is “The Landlord’s Tale” in the latest City Journal.  Please check it out.   Must read long amusing essay about real estate now!

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March 7, 2012   9 Comments


I was back from Las Vegas, attending a Shaker Heights brunch.  Several people asked, “Did you play?”

Did Yiddishe Cup play Vegas?

I wish Yiddishe Cup had played Vegas.

I had been in Las Vegas on vacation with my wife, Alice, and older son, Teddy.   I had played blackjack.

Monaco Motel, Vegas, 1962.  Stayed there w/ my parents and sister.  Caught Red Skelton's show at the Sands.

Monaco Motel. The Strattons stayed here in '62. Caught Red Skelton at the Sands nearby.

That was my second trip to Vegas. My first trip was in 1962, when a Vegas waitress predicted I (then-12 years old) would return to Nevada for my honeymoon.  That waitress was very wrong.

I prefer outdoorsy vacations.

On my latest trip I won $7.50 at blackjack at the Jokers Wild, then quit.  I could hardly breathe in the Jokers Wild –- or in any other Nevada casino — because of the cigarette smoke.  I hung around the casino parking lot, waiting for Teddy and Alice to finish up.

My favorite Las Vegas attraction is the Red Rock Canyon, which is similar to Zion National Park, but only 17 miles from Vegas.

The Red Rock performs daily in an original revue that is F’n Crazy!   Be a Part of  It!  Best Show in Vegas for the Past 900 Years!


Scouting locations for a Las Vegas School of Klezmer

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December 28, 2011   5 Comments


My wife, Alice, and I were bumped from a plane at the Phoenix airport. We got free tickets, a hotel room and food vouchers.  Our son Teddy — who wasn’t with us — thought it was the greatest deal of all time.

I didn’t.  I wasn’t young.  I was not looking forward to a free night at the Phoenix Embassy Suites.   I had stuff to do at home.

Stop.  Maybe you do not like airport-travel horror stories.

Restart.  Maybe you do . . .

The Embassy Suites van driver was from Cleveland and had wrestled at John Marshall High.  We talked about the Milkovich family, the 1960s Maple Heights wrestling dynasty.  The driver took Alice and me to the Heard, the American Indian museum.  Any place within five miles of the hotel was a free ride.

I jogged along a canal by the hotel.  I didn’t have any clean clothes (my suitcase was on the plane to Cleveland), so I jogged shirtless, with long pants and brown leather shoes.  The Mexican-Americans along the canal gave me the once-over.

"Oye, Curly!"

Alice and I arrived at the Phoenix airport the next morning at 7 a.m. and didn’t get on the early flight.  I was ready to kill.

We paced the airport for a couple more hours.  There was no fresh air.

We got on a mid-morning flight and had to connect via Houston.

That’s my  story.

Your airport travel story is no doubt worse.

Don’t tell me.
Irwin Weinberger, Jack Stratton and Bert Stratton are doing a klezmer show 2 p.m. Sun. (Nov. 20) at Shaker Heights Library, 16500 Van Aken Blvd.  Free.
And here’s an original Klezmer Guy video:

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November 16, 2011   8 Comments


In Patti Smith’s memoir, Just Kids, she hangs around with famous people on almost every page, even when she isn’t famous yet.

Patti needed 10 more cents for a sandwich at an automat.  Allen Ginsberg appeared in back of her with a dime.  Ginsberg mistook her for a “pretty boy.”  Ginsberg bought her a coffee too.

Smith dated drummer Slim Shadow.  After a few meetings, Slim told Patti he was really Sam Shepard, the playwright.

Patti ran into Janis Joplin a lot.

Ted Berrigan, the poet, lived on St. Mark’s Place.  Berrigan’s tenement had a clawfoot bathtub in the kitchen.    That was how tenements were built.  Berrigan was in bed.  It was the middle of the day.  His wife, poet Alice Notley, said, “When Ted gets dressed, you two should go to Allen’s to get the mail.”

Ted Berrgian, 1971. (Photo by Gerard Malanga)

Alice Notley was addressing Berrigan and me.  (I was in Berrigan’s apartment, not Just Kids.)  Berrigan collected Allen Ginsberg’s mail when Ginsberg was out of town.  Ginsberg’s place — on East 13th Street — was neat.  It wasn’t messy like I had expected.


I played harmonica at Grand Central Station to assure myself I wasn’t just another commuter.  I checked my bags in a Grand Central locker, then talked to a staffer at the outdoor convention-bureau kiosk.  She directed me to the 34th Street YMCA.

French tourists at the Y asked me why the street was smoking.  Smoke was wafting out of sidewalk vents.  I figured it had something to do with the subway.  (Am I right?)

A roommate service — Two for the Money — charged $40 to match you with a roommate in New York in 1972.  I met Nathan outside the agency, so we didn’t pay the finder’s fee.  We wound up on Waverly Place in Greenwich Village.

There were a lot of old people in Greenwich Village.  Not the best of scenes — old people.

So I called Webfoot — his phone number was W-E-B-F-O-O-T — in the East Village.  Webfoot said come over.  He lived on Second Avenue and was asking only $100/month.  ($539 in today’s dollars.)  I spent a night there.  He spit blood into the toilet and didn’t flush.

I checked out the NYU bulletin board and found an apartment in SoHo, across from where Ornette Coleman had played a loft concert. $100 for my share.  A mature woman (30-something) answered the door and said, “Let me make this perfectly clear, you aren’t going to score with me if you move in here.”

Score?  Only swingers said score.  Was this woman getting her news from Playboy?  Had she missed the whole hippie thing?

I wound up in a studio apartment sublet on East 13th Street in the East Village for $150/month.  The tenant upstairs was lifting weights, it seemed.  I knocked on his door and said, “Can you tell me if you stay home all day and lift weights?  I’m laying down $450 for a deposit and rent, and I don’t want to make a mistake.”

“I don’t lift weights.”  He had a weightlifter’s build.  “And you don’t knock on your neighbor’s door in New York.  Where are you from?”


“That’s in Chicago, isn’t it?”

He also said his apartment had been broken into twice, and he had been mugged outside the apartment.

Maybe the wiser choice was the apartment on Waverly Place in the West Village.  I called Nathan.

Too late.  Nathan had rented the extra room to a law student.

I saw Patti Smith.

I saw her in Cleveland.  It was her first show in Cleveland.

Is that worth anything?

Footnote: Ted Berrigan was a visiting professor at Michigan in the fall of 1969.    Here’s the syllabus from a class I took:

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September 21, 2011   6 Comments


A “run-out” is when a band plays out of town and doesn’t stay overnight.  The group drives back the same day.

Cleveland is within 200 miles of Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Columbus and Detroit.  That’s a lot of “run out” possibilities.


Running-out is similar to the regional airline pilot’s life. You sleep in a semi-reclining seat, eat junk food and hope you don’t crash.

My wife, Alice, went on a road trip with Yiddishe Cup to Buffalo, New York.   That was her first one — after what, 20 years?  She had always refused road trips.  (She’s a dance leader.  Daniel Ducoff, our other dance leader, couldn’t make the Buffalo gig.)

The whole undertaking was 13 hours: four hours of playing, seven hours of driving, and two hours of  setting up and tearing down.

Alice aged a year that day, she said.  She had been “hit by a truck,” she said.

Pace yourself, Alice.  Take catnaps.  Drink a lot of fluids.  Eat an apple every day at 4 p.m.; if you do, you will be on Yiddishe Cup’s 2025 gig in Buffalo.

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March 18, 2011   3 Comments



The ping-pong season started several months ago, when violinist Steve Greenman called and said “I want to play ping-pong tonight.” He got tilapia out of it.  Not a bad night for a single guy (soon to be married).  My wife, Alice, cooked.

Ping-pong is predominately a winter sport in Cleveland. The Jewish ping-pong dean here is Valeriy Elnatanov.  He’s a Russian pro who used to teach ping-pong and pilpul at Green Road Synagogue, an Orthodox shul.  [Not sure about pilpul (a Talmudic study method) but he did teach Hebrew to Russians.]


Valeriy moved on to other training facilities.  I saw him at the Shaker Heights community building playing top-notch Asians.

Valeriy said the best way to develop a top-spin forehand is to turn a bicycle upside-down and swat repeatedly at the spinning tire with your paddle.  I never did that, but I thought about it.practicing-spin

When Valeriy practiced, he used dozens of balls.  That’s the way to go.  You bend down less.

My wife, Alice, has a good forehand slam.  Steve Greenman has a steady backhand.  Neither cheats.  Many ping-pong players don’t toss the ball up high enough on the serve.


How come documentaries about California musicians — Hal Blaine, the Sherman brothers — have poolside shots, but no outdoor ping-pong shots?

I played ping-pong on a patio in Los Angeles. You don’t forget that if you’re from the Midwest.

In the Cal movies, the musicians are sunbathing poolside.  Are they embarrassed to show their ping-pong moves?  (The Kids Are All Right, set in California, had an outdoor ping-pong table.  No musicians playing, though.)

My father, Toby, had a childhood friend in Los Angeles, Irv Drooyan, who taught school, wrote math textbooks and played outdoor ping-pong.  Toby kept in touch with Irv and one other Clevelander in California, Sol of San Diego.  In the 1950s, California was just an extension of Cleveland.

These friends of my dad occasionally switched their first names — maybe to dodge anti-Semitism.  Irv was Red.  Sol was Al.  Toby was Ted.

My introduction to outdoor ping-pong was on Red Drooyan’s patio in Woodland Hills, California, in 1962.  Unforgettable because a) it was outdoors, and b) I didn’t know my dad had any friends.  In Cleveland, my father had hung around exclusively with my mom’s friends and their husbands.

California was about a) stippled paddles — with a woody sound, and b) my dad with friends.

Good vibrations. Got to get back there.

To 1962 or California?

To the ping-pong table.

Your serve.


[For goys only.  In Ralph Solonitz‘s ping-pong table illustration,  “milchidike” refers to dairy and “fleishidike” means meat.  The two major divisions in the Kosher League.]


Please see the post below too.  It’s raunchy and new.

Yiddishe Cup celebrates Purim this Sat. (March 19), 7:45- 9 p.m., Park Synagogue, Cleveland Heights.  Open to all.  Free.

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March 16, 2011   9 Comments



I had a custodian who enjoyed the Weather Channel and thought the end of the world was coming every day, via hurricanes or snowstorms. I don’t think she ever went outside.

74-degrees1Another employee was also fixated on the weather. He did a lot of indoor apartment painting and wanted every day to be 74 degrees like Costa Rica, so he wouldn’t sweat.

A neighbor of mine asked if I had a winter place in Florida.

I was surprised. I’m not there yet — retirement in Florida.

But I know a klezmer musician — a bushy-haired baby-boomer clarinetist — who is moving to Florida and taking up golf.  So anything is possible.

Maybe my friend will play a freylekhs (hora) by the water fountain on the 16th hole.  (Mickey Katz did that.  His band got paid to surprise a golfer on his birthday.)

Some Clevelanders complain about the cold. Arizona versus Florida.  That is the discussion.

My wife, Alice, and I went to a wedding in Florida last spring, and a guest asked Alice, “Are you still in Cleveland?” Meaning “Are you nuts?  Do you like gray skies, slush and potholes?”

Another Cleveland woman at the wedding said, “The day I hit sixty-two I had to leave.”  She spends the winters in Scottsdale, Ariz.  A third Clevelander, originally from South Africa, preferred Florida over Arizona.  “I like the ocean,” she said.

Last month at a gig in Florida, I ran into a waiter who had lived in Florida and Arizona.  He said summer in Arizona is unbearable. Florida is bearable.

What about Ohio?  Ohio-with-layers in the winter and pleasant the rest of the year.

Please see the post below too.  It’s new.   And check out this  video, “Albert Stratton Practicing his Comeback.” The clip is  an Ann Arbor song, taped at The Ark this month.

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February 16, 2011   2 Comments


I wrote “Berkowitz-Kumin,” a song about the local funeral home:

I went down to Berkowitz-Kumin
To see my baby there
They said I could not view her
No open casket
It’s a Jewish affair.

[Please click on the video to continue.]

Please see the post below too. It’s probably new to you.

Yiddishe Cup plays at The Ark, Ann Arbor, Mich. 8 pm Sat., Feb. 4.

CLOSED CAPTION.  Here is what the man in the video is saying, more or less, prior to playing “Berkowitz-Kumin”:

I took up singing. That injured me.  Anybody can sing, but I got a sore throat.  I wanted to perform the song “Berkowitz-Kumin,”  about the local Jewish funeral home.  It was a parody on “St. James Infirmary.”

The song bombed when I sang it at a nursing home.  Worse, I strained my vocal cords.

I could hardly talk for three weeks.  My wife, Alice, thought I was stonewalling her. About the only thing I said was “I don’t want to hose down the garage.”

She insisted I make a doctor’s appointment, which I did and cancelled. I bought mounds of cough drops.

Alice said the cough drops would clog my throat.  They helped. Tea worked too.  The Internet advised me not to talk at all for two full days.

The first day I sat through two family breakfasts. The first breakfast was at an Ann Arbor restaurant with my younger son, an undergrad, and the second was at a pancake house in Toledo with my older son, a law student. My sons didn’t talk.  They never do.  My wife carried the ball. (First down, Alice.  The Ann Arbor restaurant, Benny’s, was near the stadium.)

I went to a party.  I brought a bag of cough drops and a bottle of water.  I said, “What are you up to?”  That’s all I had to say.

And if anybody asked, How’s the band?, I said, “Still Playing. What else are you up to?”

That was my vocal rest.

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February 2, 2011   1 Comment


My mother went deep-sea fishing off the coast of Miami Beach and caught a sailfish in 1965.  She had the fish mounted, and over the years, the trophy fish moved around like Waldo.  It’s in a garage now at my nephew’s in Arizona.

Cleveland Press

Cleveland Press

When I was young, my family went to Florida just that once.  I’m not saying we were deprived.  I’m saying I didn’t go to Florida regularly like my wife did!

My wife, Alice, went every single year.  Her family stayed at the Deauville. Even Alice’s mother (a small-town Jew from West Virginia) went to Florida annually in her childhood.   That was in the 1930s, to a kosher hotel in Miami Beach.

I married into money.  Or so I thought.    [See the post “Major Roofer.”]


In the mid-1980s, I took my parents’ car and drove from Boca Raton (where my parents had a condo) to Miami Beach, looking for extremely old Jews.  The Boca Raton Jews weren’t old enough for me; I wanted to see Isaac Bashevis Singer and similar alter kockers in Collins Avenue cafeterias.

Philip Roth’s father had stayed at the Hotel Singapore. So had Meyer Lansky.  Mickey Katz patronized the Delano.  (I didn’t see these men. That would have involved time-traveling.)

The Clevelander Hotel at 10th and Ocean Avenue featured a horrible restaurant, Harpoon Mickey’s.  I saw plenty old Jews on that trip.

A piece fish, plus Toby and Julia Stratton.  Florida, 1983

A piece fish, plus Toby and Julia Stratton. Florida, 1983

Last winter I returned to Miami Beach and saw very few old Jews.  I saw a lot of jet-setters speaking foreign languages and wearing nearly nothing.

I noticed the Clevelander Hotel was spiffed up; the bedroom floors had a silicon seal to keep the guests’ puke from seeping to the rooms below. The Clevelander was now rocking.  I looked for T-shirts in the hotel gift shop and read about the silicon seal in a local newspaper article.

At the Fontainebleau Hotel, Max Weinberg’s swing band was playing in the lobby.  The horn players — studio musicians from California — were wailing.  What a treat, and it was free.

I phoned the cultural arts director at the Boca Raton JCC.  She was on vacation.  I wondered, Where does a Miamian go for winter vacation?  I left a voice mail: “Yiddishe Cup wants to play in Boca again!”

Success. We landed the Boca fish.   Yiddishe Cup plays the Boca Raton  JCC this Sun. (Jan 23), 3 p.m.


Please see the post below too.  It’s fresh fish.

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January 19, 2011   4 Comments