KLEZMER GUY: The Kid From Cleveland

By Bert Stratton

I played clarinet at a relative’s bat mitzvah in Atlanta. Afterward the DJ announced, “Give it up for Uncle Bert from Cleveland!”

A guest — a non-relative — complimented me.  He said he, too, was from Cleveland. He said, “People are always ragging on Cleveland. I defend it.  Everybody lives in developments here in Atlanta, and if you’re here two years, you’re considered an old-timer.”

He was Gady, a lawyer and Cleveland Heights High grad, ’81.  “The first snow of the winter in Cleveland, that’s pretty — that’s nice.  But come February — the slush, the gray, the cold. I couldn’t take it anymore,” he said.

Gady asked me the name of the corned beef place in downtown Cleveland. He had forgotten.

“Slyman’s,” I said.

He asked about the bar on Euclid Avenue, near University Circle, with live music.

“The Euclid Tavern.”

He asked about the club in The Flats where boats pull up.

“Shooters,” I said.

He did remember the name of the No Name bar at Cedar Center.  He said, “The No Name was like out of Fellini. I went there to people watch.   It was weird.  Like whores in wheelchairs, and priests from John Carroll who could drink me under the table.  They could drink!  They wanted to fight.  I wasn’t going to fight a guy in a priest’s collar.”

Gady grew up in University Heights and often walked to Campus Drug at Fairmount Circle. “That’s got to be a CVS,” he said.

“Yes,” I said.

I told Gady to read The Whore of Akron, about LeBron James.  “It’s not just about LeBron,” I said. “It’s about a self-described fat Jew — the author, Scott Raab — who now lives in New Jersey.  He’s from Cleveland and all he can think about is Cleveland.”

When I got back home from the bat mitzvah, I sent Gady the LeBron book and added a note, via Amazon: “From ‘Uncle Bert’ in Cleveland.”

I didn’t receive a thank you.  Nothing.  Maybe Gady wasn’t raised right. Gady is a weird name. [Israeli.] A proper Clevelander would send a thank-you note.

I had spent $14 on that book. I thought about emailing Gady: “You’re a disgrace to Cleveland.”  Instead I  wrote, “Did you get the LeBron book?”

“Yes!” Gady replied immediately.  “Thank you so much! I had no idea you were the one who sent me the book. I didn’t see the note. The book translates perfectly for me as to what it means to be both Jewish and a Cleveland sports fan. I will go back and read it during the next Cleveland sports heartbreak, to help me get through.”

Gady — the kid from Cleveland — is a good kid.


[Illustration by Ralph Solonitz]


Yiddishe Cup’s bandleader, Bert Stratton, is Klezmer Guy. He knows about the band biz and — check this out — the real estate biz too. So maybe he’s really Klez Landlord. You may not care about the real estate biz. Hey, you may not care about the band biz. His blog Klezmer Guy (http://YiddisheCup.com/blog) has a gamy twist. It features tenants with snakes and skunks, and musicians with smoked fish in their pockets. Klezmer Guy was a reporter for Sun Newspapers. He has written for Rolling Stone, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the New York Times. He won two Hopwood Awards.

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