Songs And Stories

Wait. THAT Janice?

This girl, Janice, and I watched the Beatles’ American debut on "The Ed Sullivan Show," on Feb. 9, 1964. We were on Belmar Road in Cleveland Heights. I mean, we weren’t together in the same place—we were watching the show in our own houses, both on Belmar.

I didn’t really know Janice. She was a year older than I, and she hadn’t been living on Belmar very long. But my friend Phil down the street talked about Janice all the time. He had a big crush on her. I’d met her and, through hearing about her from Phil, I was beginning to feel a little like I knew her.

She seemed quiet, unassuming, maybe kind of shy, not very outgoing, kind of reserved. She didn’t seem to leave her house much, except to go to school. One day, Phil mentioned that she had tickets for the Beatles’ first Cleveland concert, coming up in September 1964 at Public Hall. I was surprised and impressed.

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Volume 14, Issue 11, Posted 10:27 AM, 10.29.2021

A long road

I used to walk up my street, Belmar Road, to where it ends at Mayfield Road; illegally run across Mayfield; go to the opening in the old stone wall; and walk up a long flight of old stone steps. At the top, a gravel path led between two houses to the top of Hampshire hill, above Coventry Road. Across the street, just south of Cadwell Avenue, was the entrance to the mysterious Rock Court. 

The dark walk up that dirt road, through a tiny forest and past a few spooky houses, led to a big hill that, toward the bottom, passed the back of a Pick-N-Pay supermarket (now Marc’s); a loud, foul-smelling kosher chicken market (wait—I mean fowl-smelling); and a few not-so-scary houses. The road ended at Euclid Heights Boulevard, across the street from the original Coventry Elementary School.

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Volume 14, Issue 10, Posted 11:16 AM, 10.01.2021

Growing together

When I was 3, my grandfather built a house on a new street. The houses were kind of small, but, at least at his end of the street, there was lots of land behind them. (Behind those properties now are the houses on Belvoir Boulevard, north of Cedar Road.) In that big backyard he created a garden for my older brother and me.

He bought us overalls, straw hats and little gardening tools. We planted vegetables and took care of them (to a degree, anyway; my grandfather did most of it). Then we harvested and ate the vegetables.

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Volume 14, Issue 9, Posted 8:27 AM, 09.03.2021

Close proximity

You can’t really see it, but one of the houses my father grew up in is just out of view in the picture of two kids swinging at Coventry PEACE Park this summer. The house is technically in the upper left corner. Some of it might be visible, if not for a tree or large bush in front. It’s a few houses back from the Coventry library, on Washington Boulevard.

My father moved there with his family when he was about 4 years old. The next year he started kindergarten at Coventry school, right across the street, the site of the PEACE Park now. My father went all the way through Coventry school, Roosevelt Junior High and Heights High, as I and my brothers did, and as my kids did. (Well, our younger brother went almost all the way through Roosevelt, but they tore the building down when he was halfway through ninth grade. Though they let him get out first. Of course.)

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Volume 14, Issue 8, Posted 9:00 AM, 07.30.2021

The shoppe on the corner

My birthday is in May, and I’m thinking of one birthday in particular—my fourth. On that day, my uncle happened to be visiting his mother, my great aunt, who lived downstairs from my family, in the duplex she owned on Belmar. I was playing in the front yard when my uncle found out it was my birthday and said to me, “Let’s take a ride.” I climbed into his big black Cadillac and we drove about four blocks east to Snedeker’s Toy Shoppe, on the southwest corner of Mayfield and Superior roads.

Snedeker’s was not a huge place, but it had every kind of kids toy, game and trick you could want. My uncle, Danny Budin, who owned the then-famous Budin’s Delicatessen, was known for his generosity. Uncle Danny told me to pick out anything I wanted, for my birthday. I looked around and picked a teddy bear. He said, “Is that all you want? Get something else.” So, I got something else.

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Volume 14, Issue 5, Posted 11:04 AM, 04.30.2021

Some things do change

Our next-door neighbor was going to be singing on the Gene Carroll Show on a Sunday morning in 1958. We were excited because the teenager would be competing for some kind of prize and the opportunity to perform on the program again. So, my mother bought 100 postcards—printed with postage worth 3 cents each—and made us all fill them out with the kid’s name on them and address them to WEWS Channel 5 to vote for him.

Our 100 postcards weren’t enough. The next-door neighbor kid lost, though he had performed well. But he had sung “I Believe,” an inspirational ballad. “I believe for every drop of rain that falls, a flower grows,” it begins. The song had been a hit in 1953 for Frankie Laine, and then covered by Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Pat Boone, and many others.

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Volume 14, Issue 4, Posted 10:24 AM, 03.31.2021

Like one big family

A friend from the West Side once told me it seemed to him that growing up in Cleveland Heights must be like being a member of Kiwanis or the Elks, because you meet other Heights natives anywhere you go. And that has been my experience.

In March 1968, I had just joined a band in New York and New Jersey when we went to New London, Conn., to play a gig. I had started to let my hair grow a couple of months before I left Heights High the previous spring. (Up to that point I had gotten a haircut every two weeks, for just about my whole life, at Fana’s Barber Shop on Coventry Road. And my last year at Heights High, 1966–67, was the last time the school maintained its strict dress code, which had required boys to keep their hair short.) By March 1968, I still hadn’t cut my hair. However, I was still combing my hair in the same way I had always done, even after a year of letting it grow, which was kind of a ridiculous thing to do.

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Volume 14, Issue 3, Posted 4:14 PM, 02.25.2021

You may be forgetting something

There is something that I think a lot of us are not thinking about this February. We are thinking about the pandemic, the economy, the change in U.S. presidents and administrations, the possibility of insurrection, if and when we can get vaccinated, and other issues that may be weighing heavily on us. Here in Cleveland Heights, we’re also thinking—because it’s normally the worst part of winter—about the ever-present potential for unlivable temperatures and massive snowfalls. And, for those with kids, if and when public schools are going to open for in-person learning, and whether that will be totally safe when they do.

What many of us are not thinking about is Valentine’s Day. And, I mean, what’s more February than Valentine’s Day? Other than Lincoln’s birthday. And my anniversary. Three good opportunities to eat candy. Why candy? Well, Valentine’s Day is self-explanatory. The other two . . . because it’s February and, around here, it’s dark and cold, and that calls for candy. In my opinion.

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Volume 14, Issue 2, Posted 11:51 AM, 01.28.2021

Might as well jump

By the time you read this, you probably will have missed seeing me jump off the couch. If I do that this year. And if anyone actually sees it happen. I’m writing this before Jan. 1, naturally, because this is the January edition, and it gets printed, so it’s not instant like an online-only publication is, and everything is written in advance. So, I don’t know if I’ll really jump off the couch. But the couch is lower than a chair, if you know what I mean. And I’m fairly certain you don’t.

A few weeks ago I read an essay online, written by my younger brother, Noah, that included this paragraph:

“When I was a child, probably around 8 or 9 years old, my mother read about a Danish New Year’s Eve tradition. The Danes, she discovered, jump off of chairs at the stroke of midnight, propelling themselves into the new year and leaving the Evil Spirits of the past year behind. Who knew that Evil Spirits couldn’t jump off of chairs? We did this in my house for several years, if you can picture it: my mother, my father, and me, all standing on furniture, watching our large, boxy TV set as the ball dropped in New York City, and the three of us clumsily leaping into our unknown future as Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians struck up ‘Auld Lang Syne’.”

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Volume 14, Issue 1, Posted 8:39 PM, 12.21.2020

Business as unusual

December is normally all about holidays—Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, New Year’s Eve—and feeling good and spending time with family and friends. This year, maybe not. Except for non-believers. I mean, those who don’t believe that the coronavirus is real. They’ll still get together with other people. Though, according to the implications of the 2020 election demographic statistics, the vast majority of Heights denizens do believe.

Further implied is that those believers will not be gathering in groups this year. That’s sad for many people. Though it’s a relief for some. But, either way, it’s only temporary. Next year—or one of these years—life will get back to normal, in most ways.

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Volume 13, Issue 12, Posted 11:40 AM, 12.02.2020

Back on the streets again

One of Ellen DeGeneres’s first jokes was: “My grandmother started walking five miles a day when she was 60. She's 97 now, and we don't know where the heck she is.”

I was older than 60 when I started walking. That was six months ago, and, as I wrote in this column in September, I really hadn’t walked with any regularity, for any more than a couple of blocks (to the store), in about 40 years. But after doing nothing but sitting at my desk for the first two months of the pandemic—plus most of the past two years, since I developed a hearing problem; or, really, for much of the previous 38-or-so years—I knew I had to do something.

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Volume 13, Issue 11, Posted 6:53 PM, 10.29.2020

I want(ed) candy

I had a friend, John, who took so much LSD and other drugs that he kind of fried his brains. I met him in the late ’60s, in the Cleveland Heights folk music club Farragher’s, where he sometimes performed. 

I lost track of him for a while, but then I started running into him all over Cleveland Heights during the ’80s and ’90s. Conversations always began pleasantly, but quickly deteriorated into either paranoia (his, not mine) or just plain madness (again, his . . . I think). I saw him once near the Cedar Lee Theatre, and our conversation seemed innocuous enough, until he suddenly said, “So. You’re one of them?” I knew where that was headed, so I said, “Woah—look at the time. Gotta go.”

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Volume 13, Issue 10, Posted 10:58 AM, 09.30.2020

The summer smell of Cleveland Heights

I’m not ready to let go of summer. I would have been last September, and for the previous 40 Septembers. But that’s because I stopped caring about summer. I no longer embraced it as I used to when I was younger—and as I did again this year.

One positive thing that has come from this pandemic—for me, and, I think, many others—has been walking. For a while, everything was closed; there was nowhere to go and nothing to do. We’d been in our homes for weeks. And gyms were closed. Then the weather got nice, and we needed to move, and walking was something to do, with something different to look at.

Walking is not a big deal to many people. It is to me, because I haven’t done it for about 40 years. In that time I tried to stay inside as much is possible. I wasn’t an introvert—I got together with people (inside), I performed for audiences (usually inside), I went to restaurants (almost always sitting inside). But my day-to-day jobs have been writing books and articles (sitting inside), practicing or arranging music (sitting inside), and, sometimes, cooking (standing inside).

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Volume 13, Issue 9, Posted 8:16 AM, 09.01.2020

An almost immoveable feast

I didn’t live in the Cleveland area from 1968 to 1973, so those were the five years I didn’t go to the Feast of the Assumption festivities in Little Italy in mid-August. I’ve attended that event every year since I was 15, except for those years.

I grew up not far from Little Italy, in the Coventry-Mayfield area, and I used to walk down there as a teenager. I wanted to be a tough guy, like the kids who lived there and hung out in front of the stores on the Mayfield Road part of it. I’m not Italian, though I can cook like one. But I wasn’t cooking very much as a teen, and I wanted the Murray Hill guys to think I was Italian.

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Volume 13, Issue 8, Posted 10:40 AM, 07.30.2020

Black and white summer

See that apartment building? It’s on the north side of Overlook Road, about halfway between Kenilworth Road, to the east, and where Overlook meets up with Edgehill Road and goes down the hill to Little Italy/University Circle, to the west.

It’s big for a Cleveland Heights apartment building. It’s all one building, but it has three separate entrances, with a total of 37 apartments.

During the summer of 1966, when I was between 11th and 12th grades, I spent some time in every one of those apartments. It wasn’t because I was that popular; it was because I had the job of painting every one of their ceilings.

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Volume 13, Issue 7, Posted 10:39 AM, 07.03.2020

The fruits of my labor

They built CoventrYard, the then-arty indoor mini-mall, out of an old apartment building, on Coventry Road, just as it’s starting to turn the corner and become Euclid Heights Boulevard. Then my friend Eugene Rocco, a builder and designer who loves good food, took over what had been the apartment’s garage and transformed it into a beautiful gourmet shop, Rocco’s Market, directly across the courtyard from the original Mad Greek Restaurant.

Rocco, at around that same time, the mid ’70s, also designed the Grum’s Sub Shoppe on Coventry, near Mayfield. It’s still there. The next time you’re in the area, look at it, starting on the outside and following your eyes inside. It’s very cleverly designed. As was Rocco’s Market.

Rocco’s sold unusual fruits, for its time; Amish cheeses and baked goods from Middlefield, Ohio; fresh fish and seafood; dairy products; and all kinds of deli meats—even cow’s tongue (it tastes sort of like corned beef)—which you could buy in bulk or get on sandwiches, which were made with bagels from Bialy’s.

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Volume 13, Issue 6, Posted 10:04 AM, 06.02.2020

Psyching the school psychologist

One day, in May of my 11th-grade year at Heights High, the unit principal calls me in and sends me to the school psychologist because of something I had written on a vocational preference test that they couldn’t comprehend. (Cleveland Heights was more conservative then than it is now.) The psychologist is waiting for me in, of all places, one of the instrumental music department’s little practice rooms.

He tells me to sit down opposite him at this little table. He ruffles through the papers and says he’s going to give me a bunch of words and that I should tell him the opposite of each word. We start that, but it gets boring right away, so after about the 12th word, when he says, “ineffable,” I say, “That doesn’t have an opposite.”

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Volume 13, Issue 5, Posted 12:01 PM, 04.30.2020

We've got a no-hitter going, so far

I remember April 17, 1960. Part of it, anyway. I was standing in the tiny front yard of my house on Belmar Road when someone told me that the Cleveland Indians had traded Rocky Colavito to the Detroit Tigers.

It’s not quite accurate to say the Cleveland Indians traded him; the Indians’ general manager, Frank Lane, traded him. He traded everyone. He was obsessed with trading players. And even managers, once. And he was despised by everyone, all the time.

Rocky Colavito was by far the most popular player in Cleveland, and one of the best. There was no real reason to trade him, and everyone knew that.

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Volume 13, Issue 4, Posted 2:23 PM, 03.16.2020

Start right here

When my daughter was in the eighth grade at Roxboro Middle School, about 18 years ago, she came home one day and said to me, “You have to come in and talk to my social studies class.”

I said, “Really? You want me to come and talk to your class?”

She said, “No. But Mr. Swaggard said we have to bring in a relic from the Sixties.”

I said, “Uh . . . Do you know what ‘relic’ means?”

She said, “Uh . . . yeah.”

I said, “[sigh] Okay. As long as you know . . .” 

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Volume 13, Issue 3, Posted 9:09 AM, 02.28.2020

"They say it's your birthday . . . "

This month would have been my father’s 99th birthday. But he didn’t quite make it. He died at the age of 68. But, you know . . . nice try.

At the time of his death, when I was 31 years younger than I am now, I told myself, “Well, he lived a good, long life.” Now I tell my younger self, “Whoa—not so fast, there. Sixty-eight is . . . young.”

My father was born in the city of Cleveland, on Columbia Road, near E.105th Street, but his family moved to Cleveland Heights when he was 3 years old, in 1924, when the population of Cleveland Heights was only about 15,000. In 1903, Cleveland Heights was incorporated as a village; the year my father was born, 1921, it was incorporated as a city.

The Budins moved into a house on Washington Boulevard, three houses behind the plot of land on which the Coventry Library was being constructed. The first Cleveland Heights library was located across the street, inside Coventry School, starting in 1911.

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Volume 13, Issue 2, Posted 4:33 PM, 01.31.2020

January's cold reminder of school

I write fairly often, in this column, about how much I disliked school. Some people may think I overdo it. Because how could anyone hate school that much? It might make you feel better to know that, well . . . I really did hate school that much—because, I mean, at least you know I’m being sincere. And some may think I’m setting a bad example for kids who read this column. Well, it might make you feel better to know that, well . . . kids don’t read this column.

So, having gotten that out of the way, it’s that time again. Because whenever it’s January, which, for me, happens approximately once a year, I remember more than ever how much I hated school. That time frame spans the very first day of kindergarten to the day before the day I quit high school, on June 1 of my so-called “12th-grade” year (so-called because I didn’t have enough credits to graduate that year, anyway).

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Volume 13, Issue 1, Posted 11:08 AM, 01.03.2020

Christmas Carols

When I was 4 years old, I started going to nursery school in a big house on Taylor Road, between Shannon and Bendemeer roads. The women who ran it were nice, but I hated going there, just like I hated going to every other school I attended. However, I did look forward to being there every day for a few weeks in December, when we started learning Christmas carols.

I loved the music. I didn’t understand the words. Having been raised in a Jewish family, and being only 4 years old, I had no background in the Christmas story, no reference points. But I had never heard these songs before and I thought they were beautiful. I still do—even now, when I understand the words.

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Volume 12, Issue 12, Posted 12:09 PM, 12.03.2019

All-night walk and talks

I grew up in houses on Belmar Road, near Mayfield. It seems like one house, but there were two. I spent my first 15 years in half of a two-family up-and-down duplex; the first house after the apartment building on Mayfield, on the east side of the street. Then, in the summer between my 9th- and 10th-grade years, 1964, we moved next door, to a house with the exact same layout. So it seems like I lived in one house. Until I picture the main difference.

In the second house—where I stayed until I was 18—we lived downstairs. That was a big change. No more 20-stair climb (four steps from the ground to the front porch, then 16 more steps to our half of the house). What I also discovered, that first summer in the new place, was that the land it was built on sloped toward the street. So while there were a few steps up to the front porch, the windows in the back bedroom, where I lived, were only four to five feet off the ground.

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Volume 12, Issue 11, Posted 2:38 PM, 11.01.2019

My awesome sports career

Most of the way through Coventry Elementary School, I was a chubby kid who hated sports (except for baseball, though I wasn’t very good at it). And I always hated running—except to first base, after hitting the ball in a baseball game, though, fortunately, I guess, that situation was pretty rare.

But then, around the fifth grade, I started getting taller. By the sixth grade, I was among the tallest kids in the school. I didn’t realize that I was never going to grow any taller. But it was nice for a few years. Then, starting in, maybe, the ninth grade, I got shorter every year. (Not literally, of course. That’s happening now.) Then, when I got to Heights High, I had to try to remember which kids I might have bullied during my tall years.

But, going back to sixth grade and my sudden tallness, and its resultant thinness, another unexpected result was speediness. I suddenly became a really fast runner.

In the summer, between seventh and eighth grades, my second summer playing for Cumberland Park’s softball team and hanging out at Cumberland every day—mostly playing tether ball, which I still think should be an Olympic sport—this man, Mr. Tupta, Roosevelt Junior High’s guidance counselor, came around and started timing kids in the 50-yard dash, in search of participants for the upcoming Junior Olympics. I did well, and he wanted me to run in that event, but I declined (I don’t remember why). But he strongly suggested that I try out for the Roosevelt football team in the fall, because I was fast and big. He thought I could be a ball carrier.

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Volume 12, Issue 10, Posted 1:06 PM, 10.02.2019

Singing in tune—again

I’ve noticed that when I hear groups of people singing, for instance, the “Happy Birthday” song, in restaurants and in videos, that almost everyone in the group is singing in a key that’s different than everyone else’s. And they don’t notice. Or care. That’s not the way it was when I was a kid. It was unusual when one person sang out of key.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I remember, and almost everyone I’ve asked who went to Cleveland Heights elementary schools from the 1930s through the ‘60s remembers, that there was a piano in every elementary school classroom, and that every teacher knew how to play it.

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Volume 12, Issue 9, Posted 2:18 PM, 09.02.2019

The water's fine, or so I hear

I was sitting at Cumberland Pool recently, under a big umbrella, so it was cool (in the shade). I hang out at Cumberland sometimes, not to swim, but to watch my grandchildren. I used to go there to swim, but it’s been a while . . . like, since I was 9.

My mother took me to Cumberland’s baby pool (which was located in a different part of the park then) for my first six years, and then I started hanging out at the big pool with friends. I always felt as though something was wrong, though, and it took me a couple of years to figure out what it was. I finally realized: It was that I hated swimming. Everything about it.

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Volume 12, Issue 8, Posted 10:47 AM, 07.23.2019

Where did we go?

I’ve lived in my current house for 33 years. Our street has a block party every summer. The first time I attended one, I asked several people how long they had lived on the street. A few of them said they’d been here for 30-some years, and I thought, “What a loser.” Now younger new neighbors come up to me at the block party and ask how long I’ve lived here, and I say, “Oh . . . a while. . . .”

After I’d lived in this house for about 10 years, I ran into an old friend from junior high and high school at a Little League game at Forest Hill Park, where our kids were playing on opposing teams. I hadn’t seen him since high school. I asked where he lived and it turned out he’d been living one block east of me. For 10 years.

Two years ago, I attended my high school reunion at Nighttown and ran into another old friend from junior high and high school, whom I hadn’t seen in about 40 years. I asked him where he lived and it turned out he’d been living one block west of me. For 10 years.

And I’ve run into many other old friends who also live in the area, but whom I rarely see.

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Volume 12, Issue 7, Posted 10:37 AM, 06.28.2019

'I lived there'

I once opened a Long Road show at Nighttown by saying, “Thank you. It’s great to be back in Cleveland Heights. Well . . . I was in South Euclid this afternoon . . .”

I have lived in 30 places in Cleveland Heights. I have also lived outside of Cleveland Heights, of course—in the Cleveland area, I’ve lived in a total of 31 places. For about a year, mostly in 1972, I lived in a house on Magnolia Drive, in University Circle. But while I lived there, I spent almost all of my time in Cleveland Heights, mainly on Coventry, eating at Tommy’s every day.

When I was born, my family lived on Belmar, two streets east of Coventry, in the first house after the apartment building on the corner of Mayfield. When I was 15, we moved to the house next door. When people asked my father why, he said, “It’s just the gypsy in us.”

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Volume 12, Issue 6, Posted 10:15 AM, 06.03.2019

Birthday presence—food, music and baseball

My birthday has always been in May. Every year of my life. All 54 of them. I’m not totally sure of that number, but I know it’s been at least 54.

I have eaten dinner at Tommy’s on Coventry on my birthday for, I believe, 42 of the past 46 years.

One birthday that really stands out in my memory was the one in 1978, when a woman I was dating at the time convinced Tommy Fello to sell her an entire restaurant-size Cherry Cheese Pie—my favorite dessert for many years—which she presented to me for a birthday present. I took it home and didn’t share it with anyone, not even that kind, thoughtful woman (I lived alone, which made that easier), and I ate the entire, enormous Cherry Cheese Pie. In two sittings, in a two-day period. I kept thinking, while I was indulging in that exercise of gluttony, that I would really regret consuming so much of it in such a short amount of time. But I was wrong. I didn’t. I felt great afterward. And back then, in an era during which I was super-skinny, I remained so, even after ingesting so many calories, carbs, fat grams and whatever else.

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Volume 12, Issue 5, Posted 1:13 PM, 05.01.2019

What I got from her

I have written a lot about my mother in this column, because she grew up in Cleveland Heights. I’ve told about the time, when she was a teenager, living with her mother and baby brother during the Great Depression in an apartment two stories above Uberstine Drugs on Coventry Road (now the site of Hunan Coventry), when the building caught on fire and their only remaining pre-Depression valuables—a Steinway grand piano and her late father’s Stradivarius violin—burned up, and my mother ran back into the burning building to retrieve the box with all of their money in it.

My mother and father both attended Roosevelt Junior High and Heights High. But they actually met at Euclid Avenue Temple. They were both members of the temple’s junior choir. My father wrote some music that he thought the choir might sing. The director asked if someone in the group could write lyrics for it and my mother volunteered, because, she told me a few years ago, she thought my father was cute. Interesting that two of their sons—me and my brother Noah—became professional singer-songwriters.

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Volume 12, Issue 4, Posted 1:03 PM, 04.01.2019

Remembering Norman Tischler

Norman Tischler lived in Cleveland Heights for decades. He moved to the area in 1969, three or four years out of college, when he was a VISTA volunteer, assigned to the Karamu House in Cleveland, where he taught kids music and also taught them about music.

He was an extraordinary musician, who played with just about every other musician in the region, and with some nationally known ones. No, really—just about every one in this region. It sounds implausible, but he was always everywhere, it seemed, and never without his instruments. And he knew everyone. Some percentage of them—about 500 people, and, it appeared, about half of them musicians—showed up for his memorial service last month at The Temple-Tifereth Israel in Beachwood.

Norm died on Jan. 21, at the age of 72, soon after a sudden diagnosis of cancer. During his final week, his hospital room constantly overflowed with musicians and other friends, and, much of the time, with music.

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Volume 12, Issue 3, Posted 10:08 AM, 02.19.2019

An evolving city

Before the advent of streetcars—in this area that was in the 1910s—people had to live close to where they worked. And anything else you might want to do had to be within walking distance, too. That’s why there are so many churches everywhere around here. And there were more bars than churches, but the churches lasted because they’re a lot bigger, better constructed, more expensive to replace, and harder to convert into coffee shops and clothing stores (though at least one old Cleveland Heights church has been converted to condominiums).

The area that is now Cleveland Heights was mostly farms and quarries in the early 1800s, with only about 2,000 residents. By the time the streetcars came in, about 100 years later, there were 5,000 people living here. But streetcars enabled people from Cleveland to get up the big hills, on what are now Cedar and Mayfield roads, and population started increasing. Especially when developers promoted the western end of the area to wealthy Clevelanders as the place to build their big mansions.

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Volume 12, Issue 2, Posted 5:02 PM, 02.01.2019

The old neighborhood

My mother was born in Pittsburgh. Her mother died when my mother was 11 months old. Her father married a woman from Cleveland when my mother was 2 or 3. But when my mother was 10, and right before her stepmother gave birth to my mother’s brother, my mother’s father died. Within a couple of years, her stepmother brought my mother and her baby brother to live in Cleveland Heights. My mother’s older sister stayed in Pittsburgh to finish high school.

That was during the Great Depression. They lived in an apartment on Coventry Road, where most of the buildings are the same ones that stand there today. My mother attended Roosevelt Junior High. When the interior of their apartment building (above what is now the Hunan Coventry Restaurant) was destroyed by fire, they moved in with relatives nearby.

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Volume 12, Issue 1, Posted 1:00 PM, 01.03.2019

Remember when Coventry wasn't cool?

Some guy, in a Facebook group about growing up in Cleveland Heights, posted the comment “Remember when Coventry used to be cool?”

That drew dozens of responses, almost all of them saying that Coventry still is cool.

The guy who posted that was referring to Coventry in the early 2000s—a time, he’d be surprised to learn, when people were also saying “remember when Coventry used to be cool,” referring to the 1990s. The fact is people have been saying this since about 1971 (referring to 1968). Really. It’s a thing. People who hang around Coventry for a few years eventually see changes happening and decide that the whole place is ruined—from whenever their first experience was in the area.

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Volume 11, Issue 12, Posted 10:34 AM, 12.03.2018

Again, what has changed?

There it is again. It won’t go away—that tired old “I’ve heard Cleveland Heights has really changed” thing that people say, people who no longer live here. I’ve written about this before, but it keeps coming back.

Just recently, someone in a Cleveland Heights-related Facebook group posted a photo of kids sledding down the hill at Cain Park in the 1970s. One of the first comments was “Those were the good old days.” I figured the commenter must have moved out of state and has assumed that kids no longer go sledding there. So I said to him, “It’s also the present. It’s exactly the same today.”

He responded, “I’ve heard that it changed.” I said, “Not at all. I’ve lived in Cleveland Heights for my whole life. I used to go sledding at Cain Park when I was a kid. Then I took my kids there when they were little. And now my son takes his kids there. And I also go to many concerts there during the summer.”

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Volume 11, Issue 11, Posted 7:33 PM, 10.31.2018

The World Series and other connections

October 1953 was the first time I heard the term “World Series.” I was 4 years old, and I heard it at my grandfather’s house a few days after my grandmother died.

My father, who had grown up in Cleveland Heights, joined the Navy shortly after the United States entered World War II. He was stationed in San Francisco. My parents got married during the war. After the war, my parents stayed in San Francisco. My father got a good job selling records in a big department store, which was the only place you could buy records then. The record department was next to the furniture department, because that was the only place you could buy record players, which, in those days, were pieces of furniture.

My parents were happy out there. Then, in 1948, my father’s brother, David, died. My father came back to Cleveland for the funeral, while my mother stayed in California with my older brother, who was still a toddler. During my father’s visit to Cleveland, my grandfather convinced him to move the family back here. He told him there was a good job for him, and that they were building a nice house for them. He told my father a lot of great things that would happen. He was, as my family sometimes said, exaggerating—or, as I call it, lying.

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Volume 11, Issue 10, Posted 12:19 PM, 10.01.2018

It's a night on the town

Last September, I attended the first public meeting for the Top of the Hill Project, the development of the plot of land where Cedar Road and Euclid Heights Boulevard come to a point, at the apex of Cedar Glen Parkway, which we all call Cedar Hill. The meeting took place at the Community Center. About 150 people attended and expressed about 237 ideas and opinions. One thing that everyone seemed to be in agreement on, however, was that Nighttown should be left alone. No one wanted to see it go.

But why? What’s the big deal? It’s just a restaurant, and Cleveland Heights is home to tons of restaurants. Well, it’s also a nightclub. But, again, there are a lot of places here that offer live entertainment.

But . . . it’s also the biggest restaurant in Cleveland Heights, and probably on the whole East Side of Cleveland, which must mean it’s good, if it has needed to expand so much—seven times, so far—to accommodate so many people.

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Volume 11, Issue 9, Posted 2:02 PM, 09.01.2018

The summer of '68

In the summer of 1968, 50 years ago, a great milestone came to pass in my life, and even though I was homeless, among other issues, I still recognized it as a powerful and meaningful moment. I was actually homeless for most of a couple of years. That started here in Cleveland Heights, and then went to Boston and then to New York City.

It was an offshoot of mental health issues, which were exacerbated by drug problems, both of which started when I was in my teens. But one night, in the summer of 1967, when I was 18 and had recently quit high school, I knocked on the door of a fellow folk musician, who lived in an apartment above the Heights Art Theater (which later became the Centrum) at Coventry Road and Euclid Heights Boulevard.

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Volume 11, Issue 7, Posted 5:38 PM, 06.28.2018

Old friends

It was June 1961. I had just been released from Coventry School, for the summer and forever. I would be starting Roosevelt Junior High in the fall. Roosevelt stood on the land where Boulevard Elementary School is located now. Boulevard was there then, too, but in a different building. Roosevelt drew students who had gone to Coventry, Boulevard and Taylor schools.

On the first day of summer vacation that year, after sixth grade, I headed to Cumberland Park, correctly figuring it was populated mostly by Boulevard school kids, hoping to meet some who would also be going to Roosevelt in the fall.

Cumberland Park was very much the same then as it is now. One difference was that where the playground is now, and was then, there were many organized activities for kids of all ages, directed by a couple of college guys.

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Volume 11, Issue 6, Posted 10:03 AM, 06.04.2018

Standing my ground

I learned the Pledge of Allegiance early in elementary school. I learned it, but I never felt comfortable saying it, even as a little kid. I probably couldn’t have articulated this back then, but it seemed like something that shouldn’t have to be forced. That’s the way I felt about prayers in religious services, too: Either they should be natural and sincere, or you shouldn’t say them, because, I mean, what’s the point?

But during an assembly near the beginning of second grade at Coventry School, when we were supposed to be reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, an older kid standing next to me said, “All you have to do is say ‘watermelon, watermelon,’ and no one will know the difference.” So that’s what I did, for years, for the Pledge and for prayers.

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Volume 11, Issue 5, Posted 9:13 AM, 05.01.2018

The Second Sunday Brunch

Someone recently asked my wife and me how we met, and my wife and I both answered, in unison, “Over food.”

It’s true. It was at a Sunday brunch at the home of mutual friends in the spring of 1978. If that sounds like it was a long time ago, that’s because it was. Forty years. I did that math in my head—with the aid of four fingers. The 8 on the end helped.

A couple whom we both knew had bought a house in Cleveland Heights. They were the first of our friends to buy a house. They had a house-warming potluck brunch, to which they invited family and friends. As the day wore on, their family members left, but a group of friends stayed, and continued eating all the food that everyone had brought.

At some point, toward the end of the day, someone suggested doing this again, and everyone agreed. The next Sunday that everyone would be available was one month away, the second Sunday of the following month. So, we met again for a potluck brunch.

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Volume 11, Issue 4, Posted 11:22 AM, 03.31.2018

Some things that matter

I’m the administrator of a Facebook group called Growing Up in Cleveland Heights. I didn’t start the group. I joined the group. And my friend Jim and I used to complain, to each other, about things that people were posting. Then Jim started complaining to the founder and administrator of the group. After a while she asked him if he would take over as administrator. He did. Then he asked me to be co-administrator with him. I did. After several years, Jim died, unexpectedly. So now I’m the sole administrator. But I’ll be handing that off in the near future.

One thing that has been fascinating—and frustrating—is that the same topics keep coming up, over and over. Before people join, we ask them to look through past posts, to avoid bringing up topics that have been discussed a lot already. They don’t. Someone joins and immediately posts, “Does anyone remember Cumberland pool?”

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Volume 11, Issue 3, Posted 1:23 PM, 03.02.2018

A taste of Coventry

I was a real “Coventry” kid: I was born and grew up on a street nearby, and my mother started taking me shopping on Coventry from the time I was born (well, maybe a few weeks later . . . ). I walked up and down that street to and from Coventry Elementary School every day for seven years. Then I hung out on Coventry during my early teens, before the place was cool. And then, when it became a hippie haven, I was just the right age for that, so there I was.

Then I worked on the committee for those giant Coventry Street Fairs of the late ‘70s (I booked all the musical artists for a few years). I lived in seven or eight apartments on or around the corner from Coventry. And I worked at Rocco’s Market.

Rocco’s was situated in the courtyard of the former CoventryYard building, for a couple of years, starting in 1976, when it opened. CoventryYard, the building that now houses the Grog Shop and Inn on Coventry, was home to Tommy’s, the Light of Yoga Society restaurant, the original Mad Greek restaurant and the original Arabica coffee store—a tiny space from which Carl Jones only sold roasted coffee beans, before he moved the business to a much larger space upstairs and turned it into a sit-down coffee shop. There were also boutiques and art galleries in the building, before the 1978 fire that forced most of the businesses to either close or reopen elsewhere.

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Volume 11, Issue 2, Posted 10:56 AM, 02.01.2018

If music be the food of love . . .

I ate a stranger’s dinner—on purpose—when he wasn’t looking. It was around 1975 and I was playing music at earth by april, the vegetarian restaurant at the corner of Cedar and Lee, a space into which the Cedar Lee Theatre eventually expanded. They spelled earth by april in all-lower-case letters because the name came from an E.E. Cummings poem, and that’s what he did.
I played and sang my songs at that place, by myself, many weekend evenings in the ’70s, when I was in between rock bands. I sat on a high stool against the long wall of the main dining room, about three-fourths of the way back.
This one freezing-cold January night, there were few diners and by about 10 p.m. there was only one customer there. He sat in the front of the room, the Lee Road end of it, as far away from me as possible. He ordered his dinner and waited for it, ignoring me (he wasn’t the only one who did that back then).

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Volume 11, Issue 1, Posted 10:05 AM, 01.03.2018

Guns, records and charities

I got a gun. It was holiday present. It was plastic. And it was pink. And it shot rubber bands. I was 7 years old. The gun came with a target and I had fun shooting at it. Neither the gun nor the act of shooting it reminded me of the dozens of cowboy TV shows and films that had taken over the airwaves and the movie theaters at that time, the mid-1950s.

Many people who grew up back then are fond of saying, “Well, our generation played with toy guns and we didn’t grow up to be murderers.” Except for a couple of things they seem to have missed: Number one, yes we did, a lot of us; and number two, unlike today, until we were much older, there weren’t real guns everywhere and easily accessible to us.

But this isn’t about guns. It’s about Christmas and Hanukkah presents.

In this column one year ago, which was not about presents, I mentioned my favorite present ever, from Hanukkah 1957—a stack of about 35 records, the big hit singles of that time.

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Volume 10, Issue 12, Posted 11:25 AM, 12.04.2017

The Heights: training ground, for better or worse

November 1965. I had just started 11th grade at Heights High, though I wasn’t involved or engaged in school very much. I just showed up in the morning and left in the afternoon. In the morning I smoked a cigarette right up to the school’s property line; in the afternoon, I lit up a cigarette the second I hit Lee Road. In the morning I hitched a ride to school from Mayfield and Superior roads. After school, I walked down Washington Boulevard to Coventry Road and stopped at one of the three bakeries there to get a sweet roll to eat on the rest of the way to my house on Belmar, just off of Mayfield. I skipped school a lot, and often cut classes on days I did show up.

So, in other words, I spent that formative time learning bad habits—and I haven’t mentioned several others.

One particular early-November weekend that year, my friend, whom I’ll call Stuart, and I started out Friday evening at his mother’s apartment on Hampshire Road, writing a song—a fairly weak pretend-Beatles song—sitting on two beds in his room, each with a guitar, facing each other and hammering out the music and lyrics.

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Volume 10, Issue 11, Posted 9:46 AM, 11.02.2017

Two teachers

School always started in September when I was a kid—usually the Wednesday following Labor Day. But it was October, every year, when I established whom I was going to be that year. I was a different person just about every school year, from the sixth grade onward.

I was a guitar-playing misfit, then a greaser, a preppie, a Mod, a hippie, a (faux-)intellectual druggie. Each one brought with it a new set of friends, and clothes. And hairstyle. Through it all, some things remained constant: I was always a joker (usually for some sort of pre-emptive self-defense purposes), a musician and music lover, and a writer.

I went to Heights schools—Coventry, Roosevelt and Heights High—from kindergarten to almost the end of 12th grade, and in all that time, I had exactly two teachers who encouraged me. I guess I can’t blame the rest of them, though, because I always made it clear that I didn’t want to be there and didn’t care about anything that was happening there. Of course, on the other hand, that’s the kind of kid a teacher should try a little harder with, rather than just giving up, by October, and ignoring for the rest of the year.

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Volume 10, Issue 10, Posted 4:27 PM, 10.01.2017

Old friends, every 10 years

There’s something strange about being in a room with 200 people and knowing exactly how old every one of them is. That’s how it is at a class reunion. Some of the people look 10 years younger than that age; some look 10 years older than you’d expect; most look approximately how you think they should at this age. And you? You look exactly the way you did in high school. Exactly. No—middle school.

Being at a class reunion is not like going back in time; it’s like stepping into the future. Because you haven’t changed at all, when you see everyone else, it’s sort of like you’re thinking, “Oh—that’s how they’re going to look when they grow up.”

I attended two of the three parts of my 50th-year Heights High class reunion in August.

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Volume 10, Issue 9, Posted 12:17 PM, 08.22.2017

Every 10 years . . .

I don’t know if this is unusual or not these days, but when my class graduated from Heights High, there were at least 15 kids who had been there since we were in kindergarten. And that was just from my kindergarten class at Coventry School. The Cleveland Heights-University Heights system had 11 elementary schools at that time, so there may have been somewhere around 165 “lifers” in the senior class. And there were others, too, who moved into the system in first, second and third grade and then stayed for the whole ride.

So I don’t know if that would be out of the ordinary today. But what I do believe is unusual is that my parents both went through the Heights school system, and my kids did as well. Three generations is a lot, these days. And if plans don’t change, the fourth generation will attend Heights schools, too.

I’m thinking about this because my 50th high school reunion takes place this month.

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Volume 10, Issue 8, Posted 5:54 PM, 08.01.2017

The Summer of Love

It seems that 50 years ago should feel like a long time, but it doesn’t. Not to me. I guess if you’re 30, it would. But I’m not. I mean, I feel like I’m 30, but I’m twice that. At least. Actually, I still feel like I’m 18. Which I was 50 years ago.

If you are a longtime Cleveland Heights resident and are older than I am, and you remember when the hippies descended upon Cleveland Heights—specifically Coventry Road, between Mayfield Road and Euclid Heights Boulevard—and you recall being annoyed by them . . . well, I was one of those kids. And I knew you were annoyed. And I didn’t care. None of us did.

We moved into all the apartments and rental houses on Coventry, Euclid Heights, Hampshire and Lancashire.

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Volume 10, Issue 7, Posted 5:08 PM, 06.30.2017

'It was 50 years ago today . . . '

Two things happened on Friday, June 2, 1967, that made me really happy: The Beatles released their album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in America, and I quit high school.

I had been planning to quit school on the first day I was legally allowed to—May 21, my 18th birthday—but there were still a few Heights Choir events, like our spring concert, our album recording, and our annual dinner and awards night. And since the choir was the one and only reason I ever went to high school, I stayed enrolled to finish all of the choir activities.

I had been trying to quit school since the ninth grade. I often tried to reason with my parents, especially my father, that since I knew I was going to have a career in music, it would make more sense for me to get started on it, instead of wasting time in school. Looking back, more than 50 years later, I know I was actually correct about that.

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Volume 10, Issue 6, Posted 10:27 AM, 05.30.2017

'You know what's happening'

This is my photo of a storefront, a hair salon, on Mayfield Road. Recently, a guy I know posted a picture of the same place on Facebook, saying, “What is happening to my beloved city? Cleveland Heights.”

He received about 75 responses. People made comments like these: “Soon to be a slum.” “Not the Cleveland Heights that I remember!!!” “Next come the tumbleweaves.” “From what I hear, crime is becoming rampant.” “Wow . . . looks like it should be in a ghetto somewhere !!! What an eyesore !!!” “On a steady downturn and it's been happening for at least 40 years.” “It's not the Cleveland Hts we all grew up with.” “Now entering East Cleveland Heights. Get used to it.” “Looks like Noble Road.” “You know what's happening.”

There it is: “You know what’s happening.”

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Volume 10, Issue 5, Posted 9:42 AM, 05.02.2017

Don't stop believing

The April of when my daughter was 5, in 1992, we walked into our neighborhood supermarket, the Cedar-Fairmount Russo’s—or maybe it was Giant Eagle already, but I don’t think it was Dave’s yet—and her eyes immediately locked onto a giant stuffed Easter bunny that was sitting on a table near the entrance. She asked me why it was there. I explained that the store was holding a kids coloring contest for which the prize was that very toy, and that if she wanted to enter the contest, we’d pick up the form—a coloring-book-type line drawing of an Easter bunny—on our way out.

A couple of days later, we went back to the store and submitted her entry. I shopped at that store every two or three days back then, usually with my daughter. Starting the day we returned her entry, every time we arrived at the store and saw more and more of the contestants’ pictures on the walls, she became increasingly anxious and started telling me, every time, how much she hoped she’d win and how sad she would feel if she didn’t.

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Volume 10, Issue 4, Posted 5:45 PM, 03.30.2017

March-ing order

March in Cleveland can bring some of the worst winter weather of the year. But March also offers some major harbingers of spring.

Like the Cleveland International Film Festival. The festival itself has nothing to do with spring—I mean, it’s not like they screen 150 movies about nice weather—but it takes place at what is supposed to be the end of winter, and sometimes is the end of winter, but sometimes isn’t. A few years ago, the biggest snowstorm of the year took place on a Saturday in the middle of the film festival.

I decided to chance it—I had tickets to three CIFF films that day—so I drove down to Tower City from the top of Cedar Hill. I kept to the major roads all the way there, but none had been plowed. Luckily, I was able to follow a big truck and drove in its tracks. I didn’t see any other cars along the way, and I figured I was going to be the only one there. I thought they might give me a prize—maybe a pass for the rest of the festival—for being so loyal.

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Volume 10, Issue 3, Posted 6:35 PM, 02.28.2017

Maybe you heard me

In February 1980 I was working at WBBG-1260 AM. Nicknamed “Super Gold,” it was the AM sister to the rock station WWWM-FM, better known as M105. WBBG played oldies and employed popular Cleveland radio personalities from earlier eras, like Lou “King” Kirby and the legendary Bill Randle.

During the year prior to my working there, I had been an occasional comedy guest on two shows at the station—Willio & Phillio’s morning show on WBBG, and M105’s morning show, “Benson’s Bozo Breakfast Club,” hosted by Joe Benson (now a popular radio personality in Los Angeles).

Willio and Phillio left town toward the end of 1979, and at the beginning of 1980 I was hired to handle WBBG’s promotions and public relations. But my job immediately expanded.

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Volume 10, Issue 2, Posted 6:10 PM, 01.30.2017

The good January

January has always seemed like a kind of lonely month. All of the holiday stuff is over. It gets a lot quieter. People, in this climate, stay inside as much as possible. We don’t run into as many friends and acquaintances in stores or at parties (because there are no parties) as we did in December. It’s terribly cold outside (and sometimes inside), and it’s dark and bleak. College and professional football is over and baseball is still three months down the road. TV networks run miniseries at this time of year—from "Roots" to "Downton Abbey"—because people are stuck inside and bored. And reading is not a group activity.

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Volume 10, Issue 1, Posted 10:29 AM, 01.03.2017

Escaping December

I’m writing this in the middle of November. The weather here in Cleveland Heights has been warm and sunny. Most of the trees’ leaves are still green, as are all of the lawns around here. The predictions I’ve seen for December’s weather say the average temperature will be in the relatively warm 40s.

I work at an actual job three mornings a week. Almost everyone I work with there is a liberal, with one conservative. A few days ago, he came in marveling about how warm and nice the weather was for November, and how he couldn’t figure it out. He said several times, “I don’t understand what’s going on.” Finally, a few people said, "Global warming." He laughed and mockingly repeated, "Global warming."

I can’t say for sure if that's what is causing this weather, but I also don't want to simply dismiss the idea and laugh at it. I remember that when I was growing up, Decembers were always cold and snowy. And I've always hated cold and snowy.

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Volume 9, Issue 12, Posted 12:00 PM, 11.30.2016

Euclid Heights Boulevard freeze-out

I grew up near Coventry Road, on Belmar. In the 1950s, my family would often walk up to one of the delis on Coventry for dinner—especially Benky’s, which later became Irv’s. Irv’s is a story unto itself, but not for right now. At Benky’s, and then Irv’s, I usually ordered a chopped liver sandwich. I know, I know. But I grew up on that and I liked it.

In November 1967, when I was 18, I stopped eating chopped liver, because I became what I still am today, which I describe as a “non-practicing vegetarian.” Because I was (and am) a hippie. I lived in a series of crash pads with other young hippies, in the Coventry area. Though all of us hippies knew each other (whether we actually knew each other or not), and we all helped each other in any way we could, no other people treated us kindly, and the area was not hospitable to us.

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Volume 9, Issue 11, Posted 7:50 PM, 11.01.2016

The little, old man in 1954

When I was a kid, there was a little, old man who lived on my street, Belmar. When I say “little, old, man,” I mean all those words: He was a man, he was old, and he was little. And when I say “little,” I mean he stood about 4 feet tall. He wasn’t a Little Person; he was just a little person. Let’s call him Mr. Fink. By the time I was 5 years old, I was as tall as Mr. Fink. In October of the year I was 5, the Cleveland Indians were playing in the World Series. Well, for two days in October. There were no playoffs back then. There were only 16 MLB teams, eight in each league. The Indians had set the record that year for the most wins in a regular season—111, in a shorter season than the current ones—and then they got swept in the Series, 4-0, by the New York Giants, led by Willie Mays.

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Volume 9, Issue 10, Posted 2:40 PM, 09.30.2016

Finding Mawby's

The school year has begun, but the Cedar Lee area is devoid of high school students. They’re in their temporary quarters at the former Wiley Middle School, due to the massive renovation of the original Heights High building. From the 1920s till last year, this area has always been packed with high school kids before and after school. My parents went to Heights, as did my brothers and I, and then my kids. So my family has frequented the Cedar Lee district since the mid-1930s.

The other big difference is the dining scene at this intersection. Over there, where Royal Castle used to be is a non-place called Fresh & Meaty Burgers. The sign went up months ago, but nothing seems to have happened, and it looks like that restaurant is not going to materialize there.

I used to hang out there with friends and we would each order six of Royal Castle’s tiny hamburgers and a birch beer in, as they said, a frosty mug. There were no tables and chairs in that small space, just a counter with stools.

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Volume 9, Issue 9, Posted 2:46 PM, 09.01.2016