KLEZMER GUY: Freeway Outta Beachwood and The Family Biz


Freeway Outta Beachwood

By Bert Stratton

1973 . . .

I live with my parents at the Mark IV, a high-rise apartment at I-271 and Cedar Road, Beachwood.

I live 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.

Last night at a party — a parents’ party — Zoltan Rich, the Hungarian maven (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 for me to go. A guy from Case Western Reserve said he can give me a ride out west tomorrow. California or Mexico?  I won’t come back to Cleveland for at least six months.  My mother has a bridge game scheduled for tomorrow.  If I’m within 100 feet of that game, I die.

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

3 a.m. in Utah.  I’m under a lamppost, “sleeping” in a mummy 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.


The Family Biz

Toilets and radiator valves aren’t that much fun to talk about, except my dad thought they were. He rambled on about valves and ballcocks.  He owned apartment buildings in Lakewood.

I said to him, “I wouldn’t mind being the next Cannonball Adderley.”  Cannonball played alto sax.

“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.”

Ouch, I sustained a flesh wound there. All quiet on the father-son front.

My father took me to a real estate meeting at the Commerce Club on the second floor of the Theatrical Grill,  Short Vincent.  We met haulers, real estate brokers and boiler guys.  At 24, I was  the youngest guy in the room.

I heard jazz coming up from the bar downstairs.  Glenn Covington was on piano. A garbage hauler interrupted my listening reverie.  He said, “I’m Rasool Akar, Recycling Equipment Company.  Compactors, balers and individualized service.  What do you think of the music?”

“The dude sounds pretty hip,” I said.

“I like the dudes who play piano at the same time better. Ferrante and Teicher,” Rasool said.

You gotta be kidding! A Black Muslim — Rasool — into Ferrante and Teicher?

The maître d’ at the Theatrical announced the end of the cocktail hour by tapping a chime.  We ate dinner  while listening to a speech from an Ohio EPA speaker.

The main question at our table — directed to my dad mostly — was: “You buying?”  (Buying buildings, compactors, Flushmates, anything.)

My dad said, “Depends on the kid.”

That meant me.

No pressure. Hah.


[Illustrations 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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