Songs And Stories

The band I've planned for half a century

When I was 3, I decided I wanted to grow up to become a musician and comedian. So, I did. But I started early, with all kinds of music lessons, beginning at age 6 and continuing through high school; reading books about comedy by comedians, starting at age 10; playing in my first “band” at age 9; and starting to play professionally in my teens.

I was always in at least one rock band; plus, I was in the same folk group from sixth grade till the end of high school. I left Heights High in the spring of 1967, and soon after, in December, I got an idea for a different kind of group: one with guitars and singers, but also including a flute and cello. And then I started that group—a few months ago, or, in other words, 56 years later.

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Volume 17, Issue 7, Posted 7:25 AM, 06.26.2024

You're living in a small town

I’ve joined the ranks of school volunteers (which I highly recommend). I did it at every school my kids attended (I was even a “room mother”), and this past semester I started at Fairfax Elementary School, where my grandchildren, Westin and Baxter, attend school. I was working with a class of fourth- and fifth-graders on a writing project. 

A few weeks ago, I was at my son and daughter-in-law’s house, looking at the pictures of that class in my grandchildren’s Fairfax yearbook. I was pointing out various kids and asking my son if he knew them. He had connections to several of them or their parents.

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Volume 17, Issue 6, Posted 10:42 AM, 05.29.2024

Murder in the Heights

“What about the murders?” 

Several people have said those, or similar, words to me since reading my column in the April Heights Observer, about interesting factoids of Cleveland Heights history.

And, yes, there have been some murders in Cleveland Heights. Most of them have been mundane, but a few have had a little historical significance.

The first big one was that of Willian Lowe Rice, in 1910, when Cleveland Heights wasn’t quite a village yet, but mainly a collection of giant mansions, plus a huge golf course, at the top of Cedar Hill. The developing area was still known as Euclid Heights.

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Volume 17, Issue 5, Posted 10:35 AM, 04.29.2024

Things you didn't know about where you live

I’ve given two talks on Coventry, on Coventry. Last November, and in December of the previous year, I spoke at the Coventry library about the history of Coventry. The presentation was about how Coventry Village came to be what it was and is. 

A lot of people showed up for those talks, but even more didn’t. In fact, most of the world did not. As a result, I’m always running into people who say, “Sorry I couldn’t make it to your Coventry thing. . . . So, how DID Coventry become what it was?” 

I can’t tell them the whole thing, because the story starts with the beginning of the city of Cleveland—and I mean with Moses Cleaveland. So, I usually tell them some things that I’m fairly certain they didn’t know about the history of their city. Like, first of all, if they know where I live, I point out that my house is approximately on the 9th hole of the golf course that used to cover a large part of the Cedar-Fairmount area. You’ve seen signs designating the area as “Euclid Golf,” right? That’s why.

And I tell them the course’s clubhouse, which was near where Derbyshire Road and Euclid Heights Boulevard are now, cost $50,000—at a time when average houses cost a few hundred dollars to build—and from it, you could see Lake Erie.

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Volume 17, Issue 4, Posted 10:27 AM, 03.28.2024

Remember when Hendrix didn't play La Cave?

I won’t see you at the B-Side on March 16, when Mac’s Backs presents a book discussion and signing with Steve Traina, celebrating the release of his book La Cave: Cleveland’s Legendary Music Club and the ‘60s Folk-to-Rock Revolution. I’ll be out of town that day. But I’m in the book. So, it will almost be as if I’m there. Kind of.

Anyway, I’m mentioned and quoted a few times in Traina’s book. I spent a lot of time at La Cave, Cleveland’s major venue for presenting national and local folk musicians, and then also folk-rock musicians, and then also rock musicians, from 1962 to 1969. I performed there a few times and attended hundreds of shows there. For about the last eight months before I left Cleveland, in February 1968, I hung out at La Cave almost every night.

I usually walked from Coventry to La Cave, which was at E. 107th Street and Euclid Avenue, just west of University Circle. It was kind of a long walk, especially in the winter, but it was always worth the effort.

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Volume 17, Issue 3, Posted 2:48 PM, 02.28.2024

Who else is there?

On a Cleveland Heights-themed Facebook group, someone asked what kind of strange things people found after moving into their Cleveland Heights homes. People named a lot of weird things. One of them was a ghost. I know those people. Let’s call them the Burtons. I’ve been in their house. It has never seemed haunted, but they have some stories.

The house, in the Cedar-Fairmount area, was built in about 1921. It had only one owner until the Burtons moved there, in 1986. Well, there was another owner, briefly, who bought the house to make some repairs and sell it, but never lived there.

When the Burtons moved in, the wife kept telling the husband that she heard footsteps on the third floor, which was an unfinished, unheated attic. He kept telling her that old houses make noises—expanding and contracting due to temperature fluctuations. She kept saying that it sounded like footsteps.

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Volume 17, Issue 2, Posted 1:02 PM, 01.30.2024

Full circle

My son, Dan’s, fourth birthday party was all about games and, sort of, sports. For instance, I remember sitting in our kitchen, across from one of Dan’s pre-school friends, Jared, playing a game where we tried to blow a ping-pong ball across the table into the other guy’s goal. Jared won just about every match—because he really wanted to win, and I wanted him to win, too.

After pre-school, Dan Budin attended Roxboro Elementary and Jared Lavender headed to Fairfax. Jared then went to Roxboro Middle, and Dan switched to Ruffing Montessori for a few years. But they met up again at Heights High, where they both were members of the class of 2002, from ninth through 12th grades.

Jared played on Heights High’s lacrosse team all four years, and Dan joined the team for his last two. But that wasn’t either guy’s main sport: Dan was on the swimming team and Jared played hockey.

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Volume 17, Issue 1, Posted 11:21 AM, 12.28.2023

The future history of music here

I take my grandson, Baxter, to his piano lessons. He wants me to watch his lessons. I wouldn’t if he didn’t. But when he started, nine months ago, when he was 5, he wanted me in there, and that hasn’t changed yet.

He’s always been very musical, and I thought he might start music lessons when he was 6, which is when I started. But he began asking if he could take piano lessons when he was 5, and though I thought he might be too young, I also believe that the time to start kids on music lessons is when they want to. So, I asked his parents if I could start taking him to piano lessons and that was fine with them. Also, kids are older now than they were when I was a kid; so at 5, he was probably where I was at 6.

Baxter’s taking lessons at Musicologie—on Fairmount Boulevard, just east of Taylor Road—which used to be the Fairmount School of Music, started, 35 years ago, by my former bandmate Kevin Richards.

Like most kids, Baxter doesn’t love practicing. But what scares me, a little, is that he usually plays MUCH better in his lessons than he ever does when practicing.

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Volume 16, Issue 12, Posted 4:27 PM, 11.29.2023

I'm talking about Coventryóagain

I was talking to a guy at a party, a couple of weeks ago, a guy who owns a business on Coventry Road. Someone else walked over to us, and the guy I was talking to introduced me to them, and said about me, “He writes for the Heights Observer about Coventry.”

I know that’s the perception some readers have, because I do write about some aspect of Coventry’s history (usually as it relates to my own) fairly often. And I guess that’s why the Heights Libraries’ Coventry branch asked me to speak about the history of Coventry last year, around this time.

Library staff originally thought that as many as 25 people would show up for my talk, so they planned to use a meeting room downstairs. Then, when reservations started coming in, they added a few more chairs.

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Volume 16, Issue 11, Posted 11:46 AM, 10.30.2023

What we love about Cleveland Heights (according to you)

There are at least three Facebook groups focused on Cleveland Heights, and of which I’m a member. In one of the groups, another member asked, “What do you love about Cleveland Heights?” And, answering her own question: “I'll start: I love my neighborhood. The people are great, the housing is interesting to look at, and I can walk for so many errands!”

Then, more than 75 other people commented. I’m simply going to present some of the comments, with all names omitted, to remind us of what we like about the city. (I know there are people who have some less-positive opinions about certain aspects, too—but that wasn’t the question.)

“Cleveland Heights is a wonderful mix of people and variety of housing. It’s interesting to walk around and see the bustle of Coventry, Cedar/Lee, but then also see the beautiful residential areas tucked between. We have lots of parks near us and it’s close to downtown. I love Cleveland Heights.”

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Volume 16, Issue 10, Posted 10:00 AM, 09.29.2023

School. Again

School has already started here in Cleveland Heights and University Heights. I think I might write this every September, but, if so, here it comes again: I hated the opening of the school year. Every year. Right from the start. I didn’t want to go to kindergarten. Or any grade thereafter, in all my years at Coventry Elementary, Roosevelt Junior High and Heights High.

My granddaughter, who’s starting third grade in a CH-UH school, loved kindergarten, and first and second grade. Which is wonderful. Her brother did kindergarten last year. I think he thought it was okay. Tolerable, at least. Which is better than my situation. I just wanted out.

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Volume 16, Issue 9, Posted 2:26 PM, 09.01.2023

Baseball kidsóit runs in the family

I watched some of my granddaughter’s Heights Youth Baseball League (7- and 8-year-olds) games this summer. This was the first baseball team experience for these kids. There were more girls than boys on the team, the Purple People Eaters, with their uniforms of purple jerseys, caps and socks, and white pants. My daughter-in-law was the coach and my son was one of the assistant coaches. All of the coaches were volunteers.

At this level, the teams’ coaches pitch to their own teams. They play with a regular baseball, a hardball. Three or four of the coaches go onto the field when their team is playing defense, to guide the kids, but the coaches don’t do any fielding; for that matter, neither do the kids, much; though that did improve by the end of the season. Games were played in early evening, and parents, and others, came to watch and cheer the teams on.

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Volume 16, Issue 8, Posted 11:23 AM, 07.31.2023

The other Internet

I’ve been using the Internet since 1991, when I started my job as the editor of Cleveland Magazine. Then I got a personal computer for home use in 1992. But, really, I was using a different form of it in the mid-’70s. It was called “Coventry.”

Coventry Road, between Mayfield Road and Euclid Heights Boulevard, was Facebook at least 10 years before Mark Zuckerberg was born. It was also e-mail. And Google. And Twitter—though with way more than 40 characters.

It's  1976. I’m walking up Coventry. Local musician Linn Roath stops me and says, “Someone told me I could find you here. My band, Flatbush, is recording a couple of songs at Cleveland Recording next week. Can you do horn arrangements for them?”

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Volume 16, Issue 7, Posted 3:39 PM, 06.29.2023

A small circle of friends

June of 1967 meant the end of many things for me, and also new beginnings. For one thing, it was the end of school. The rest of my Heights High class graduated that June, but I left two or three weeks earlier. I was done. 

I had been trying to quit since, well . . . kindergarten—literally—but I started my campaign in earnest when I was in ninth grade at Roosevelt Junior High. Of course, it didn’t happen till I turned 18, in late May of my 12th-grade year (though I waited another week, till all Heights Choir activities were completed).

It also meant the end of one of the main music groups I had been in since sixth grade, a folk trio with two friends, Steve and Marty (I’m leaving out all last names, and some first names, here). We had performed together for all those years. Steve had gone to college a year earlier, but the group didn’t officially end till we all left town. Marty went off to college. I took off for New York. 

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Volume 16, Issue 6, Posted 11:48 AM, 06.01.2023

'Deer Karen, I'm writing in response to . . .'

Just to be sure, I looked up the term “Karen.” A slang dictionary said: “Karen is a pejorative slang term for an obnoxious, entitled middle-aged woman who uses her privilege to get her way.” I’ll get back to that.

I’m a member of a Facebook group about Cleveland Heights. A few weeks ago, a woman posted on it that she was getting worried that the deer had disappeared and weren’t going to come to her yard anymore, and that she was planning to plant a garden that would attract them.

I could tell from the photo she included that she lived on the next street, approximately behind my house. I said that we get three to five deer every day, usually from behind our garage (in other words, from the direction of her house), and that, as with all of my neighbors’ yards, the deer are extremely destructive and eat much of the stuff we’ve spent a lot of time and money on, and which we are then not able to enjoy in the few months we have in which to do that.

She told me to put up a fence behind my house. I pointed out that they come up my street, too, and approach my house, and all of my neighbors’ houses, from the front as well. She said that she liked looking at deer. I said I like to look at them, too, but they don’t belong in the city, especially where they’re so destructive.

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Volume 16, Issue 5, Posted 9:47 AM, 05.02.2023

'The world is a stage; the stage is a world'

So, the first kid says, “Did you hear about the actor who fell through the floorboards?” And the other kid says, “Yeah. He was just going through a stage.”

That’s what they said, these two fifth-graders, on the stage of the Heights High auditorium a few weeks ago.

When I attended Cleveland Heights High School, I performed on that stage about a dozen times, mostly as a member of the Heights Choir, and as a soloist or part of small groups from within the choir. Then, decades later, my kids, Dan and Lauren, were in the orchestra and choir, respectively, and they performed many times on that stage. And, I should add, Dan’s wife, Cassie, also played in the Symphonic Winds and other ensembles at Heights High, and served as the marching band’s drum major (student leader).

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Volume 16, Issue 4, Posted 10:55 AM, 04.02.2023

Missed perceptions

I’m writing this a few days before the 2023 Super Bowl. But this isn’t about the Super Bowl. I only mentioned it because of the Kelce brothers, Jason and Travis. Though this isn’t really about them, either. This is really about the perception of Cleveland Heights and University Heights, expressed by people who moved away years ago.

I’m a member of at least three Cleveland Heights-related Facebook groups, one dealing with the past, one with the present, and one about Heights High. During this run-up to the Super Bowl, I’ve seen quite a few comments, in those groups and on individual people’s pages, wondering why Cleveland Heights, in general, is making such a big deal about a football game, and making it clear that they don’t think it’s worth that much of our attention.

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Volume 16, Issue 3, Posted 10:18 AM, 02.28.2023

She might have been an angel

In February 1968, I wasnít exactly aimless; I had goals. I wasnít hopeless; I had dreams and wishes. I wasnít totally homeless; there were a few places where I could stay. But I certainly wasnít grounded, or focused, or even very motivated. Too much had gone wrong.

I was only 18, but my music career had actually shown more promise when I was 16 and 17. It was stalled. I was stalled.

I was staying with a high school friendóone of just two who were still in townóa guy who really†was†aimless and hopeless, and had even less motivation than I did. But his wife had a job. And they had an apartment right above Heights Hardware on Coventry.

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Volume 16, Issue 2, Posted 10:55 AM, 01.31.2023

'Are you the writer?' Yes. WaitóI mean, why?

Because of some of the things I do—like performing and writing—IĀfve always come into contact with a lot of people. And living in Cleveland Heights, where I grew up and went to school, and where my parents did, too, I especially know lots of people in this city.

It used to be that when my kids were teenagers, and weĀfd go to a concert at Cain Park, at intermission they would jump up and ask me to give them a head start to get to the Terrace for food, because theyĀfd learned that if they stayed with me, weĀfd never make it there before the house lights started flashing.

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Volume 16, Issue 1, Posted 10:24 AM, 12.29.2022

I'm talking about Coventry

I tend to write about Coventry Village fairly often in these columns. I guess thatís why the Heights Librariesí Coventry Village Branch has invited me to speak on that topic on Thursday, Dec. 8, at 7 p.m. Itís free and open to the public.

When I was first asked to do that, my immediate thought was:†Iím†not a Coventry expert. But then I thought: Well, actually, I grew up there. And so did my parents. And I have always spent time there, my entire life (so far). My family and I have spanned most of Coventryís history. Plus, Iíve written about it and, in the process, researched its history. So, if Iím not an expert, who is?

My family and I can check most of the significant boxes: Jews migrated there from the 1920s to the 1950s. Thatís my parents, whose families moved to the neighborhood in the early í20s (my father) and mid í30s (my mother). I was there through the í50s. Then it became a counter-culture haven in the middle and late í60s. I was right there, right then, and just the right age. And Iíve lived nearby ever since.

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Volume 15, Issue 12, Posted 9:16 AM, 12.05.2022

The happy kind of blues

Raymond DeForest was inducted into the Cleveland Blues Society Hall of Fame on Oct. 30. The longtime Cleveland Heights resident has been playing music professionally for 50 years.

The Cleveland Blues Society is a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving blues music in this region. It sponsors jam sessions, and holds an annual Blues Cruise on the Goodtime III as a benefit to raise funds, with which it provides scholarships to high school students who are interested in blues performance or related fields.

I had a ‘60s-style folk music group, Long Road, for about 10 years, from 2007 till 2017. Ray was our bass player. He was the rock-solid foundation of the group. We didn’t have a percussionist, and if any of us ever lost the beat—which happens sometimes to every musician—we’d just listen to Ray playing and pick it right back up. 

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Volume 15, Issue 11, Posted 2:41 PM, 10.31.2022

Long flowery dresses and big clunky shoes

Almost all of my grandchildren’s teachers, in their as-yet brief scholastic careers at Fairfax Elementary School, are people who were born 20- or 30-some years ago. Think back on the past 30-some years. Life really hasn’t changed very much in that time. These teachers are young. The kids love them, and they love school. I believe there’s a connection between those things. That foundation is important.

Almost all of my teachers at Coventry Elementary School were born in the 1890s. Some of my Roosevelt Junior High teachers were, too. So, that was my foundation: teachers who were born in the 1800s.

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Volume 15, Issue 10, Posted 10:13 AM, 10.01.2022

School days—for 12 more years

Ninety-six years ago, Joe Budin walked into Coventry School as a new kindergartner. It was 1926. He was 5 years old, and Coventry School was only one year older. In fact, though the first part opened in 1919, the whole school wasn’t actually completed until 1922.

Joe Budin, my father, went all the way through Coventry, then Roosevelt Junior High, and then Heights High. My brothers and I went all the way through all those schools, too. Then my son attended kindergarten in the new Coventry School building. He then went to Roxboro Elementary School, switched to Ruffing Montessori for a few years, and went to Heights High for all of high school.

Now my grandson is a little Heights Tiger, too, attending kindergarten at Fairfax, along with his sister, Westin, who’s a second-grader.

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Volume 15, Issue 9, Posted 3:37 PM, 09.01.2022

Soul brothers: Antoine Dunn (and his brother; and me and mine)

Here’s a story I didn’t tell Antoine Dunn when I talked to him on the phone recently:

When I was about 8, there was a kid, Mike, who was a year older, living a few houses from mine, in Cleveland Heights. I already knew I wanted to be a musician and performer. He already knew that he wanted to be a disc jockey and announcer. His house had a screened-in first-floor back porch. He would be up there on the porch, playing Elvis Presley and Ricky Nelson records on his little portable turntable, and I’d be on the lawn just below, lip-synching the records and mimicking each singer’s movements. After every song, Mike would pick up a toy microphone and back-announce the record, and give other relevant information, like the typical AM DJs of the day. We did that all one summer.

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Volume 15, Issue 8, Posted 9:32 PM, 07.27.2022

Hidden gems

I was talking with Susanna Niermann O’Neil before her May 2 retirement from the city of Cleveland Heights, where she had served for 45 years, most recently as city manager. We talked about some of the hidden gems in Cleveland Heights.

I mentioned that when I was involved with the Friends of Cain Park, we used to sell raffle tickets before most Cain Park concerts. When I did that, I talked to as many people as I could about the park. I was always surprised by how many of them—people who had come to hear Lyle Lovett or Sheryl Crowe or Arlo Guthrie, for instance—had never heard of Cain Park before, even though it’s been here since the 1930s and has presented concerts and musicals almost the entire time. Even some people who had lived in Cleveland Heights for their whole lives said they'd never heard of it.

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Volume 15, Issue 7, Posted 10:38 AM, 07.01.2022

The 2nd, 3rd and 4th house on the left

There are these three houses in a row on a street in Cleveland Heights. I drive past them all the time. I walk past them often. I always look at them.

The first house, the one on the left when you’re facing them, my parents used to point out every time we drove past when I was a kid. They’d say, “That’s Dorothy Fuldheim’s house. You know who she is, don’t you?” I’d say yes, and then they’d tell me, anyway, that she was the first woman in the country to anchor a TV news broadcast—right here in Cleveland—and she was now a news commentator, and that she’d started as a newspaper and radio reporter who had interviewed Adolph Hitler in the 1930s, and that she was the co-host of "The One O’Clock Club" on Channel 5. Every time we went by. So, I thought the house was famous, and I was always proud to, well . . . pass it.

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Volume 15, Issue 6, Posted 10:17 AM, 05.26.2022

Gustió'a force of nature'

The dean of Cleveland’s folk music community, Gusti Krauss—known by most only as Gusti—wrote in a March 21 Facebook post, “I am not dead! Still singing after all these years,” displaying her always irreverant sense of humor.

Then, in a sadly ironic twist, 10 days later, she died.

The rest of her March 21 message read: “I'll be singing a concert on May 14th for Folknet at Church of The Good Shepherd, 7-9 p.m. More news to follow!”

Well, more news did follow. Bad news. On April 1, her husband, Serge Krauss, wrote to her Facebook friends and followers, as part of a much longer post: “Today [Gusti] died at our pantry door of a fractured skull. She apparently fell from the back steps as she returned from a short, mid-day dental appointment, where she was so happy to finally get her new teeth back on track. She had been so happy that split second before eternity.”

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Volume 15, Issue 5, Posted 5:53 PM, 05.01.2022

I see a brown door and I want to paint it red

Cleveland Heights has more colorful painted doors than anywhere else in this region.

That’s not a scientific fact. And I don’t know if it’s really true. But I’m sure it is. I mean, I drive all around everywhere and I don’t see anywhere near the number, or percentage, of houses and apartment buildings with colorful front and/or side and/or back doors as I do here in Cleveland Heights.

When I was growing up here, I didn’t see quite as many. I think the number was actually zero. When my wife and I moved into the house we live in now, in 1986, we painted our front door purple. I think most of our neighbors didn’t like it. Most of them refused to acknowledge it at all. Only a few people complimented us on it.

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Volume 15, Issue 4, Posted 11:59 AM, 04.02.2022

And then I went Kaboom!

Kaboom! That’s “Kaboom” on a few different levels. The most immediate one is Kaboom Collective. But we’ll get back to that.

The Kaboom story—wait, not the Kaboom story, my Kaboom story—starts in the late '60s. I was a 20-year-old singer-songwriter signed to Sire Records in New York. I became friends with the company’s publishing director, Bart Friedman, and we became roommates and business partners. Among other things, we managed a magician named Ricky Jay and got him booked on "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson." Jay became one of the top magicians in the world, plus a movie and TV actor and an author. And he wrote and performed a one-man show on Broadway, directed by David Mamet, which he then took to a theater in L.A., where it was taped for an HBO special.

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Volume 15, Issue 3, Posted 10:54 AM, 03.01.2022

Willio ó anything but vanillio

These four guys walk into this little Cleveland Heights recording studio where I’m working in the autumn of 1967, and they record about six of the most unusual—in a good way—rock songs I’ve ever heard. Then, a couple of months later, I leave for New York City, get myself into a rock band, and start playing around that area.

A few months after that, in between music projects, I’m homeless in NYC, walking around midtown one night and I run into those four guys. They’re in the city to record an album for Epic Records, which had signed them, based on those demos we recorded in Cleveland Heights.

Meeting up with them kind of saves my life, but to spare you a bunch of pathetic stories that typify life in the music business, let’s say that three years later, we’re all back in Cleveland. I start hanging out with one of those guys, Bill Ryan, a singer, songwriter, joke writer and cartoonist.

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Volume 15, Issue 2, Posted 8:22 AM, 02.01.2022

What am I, chopped liver? Maybe

I mentioned here, once, long ago, a part of a conversation I had with my father when I was in 10th grade at Heights High. I was eating dinner with him at Irv’s deli on Coventry Road. That was unusual on at least a couple of levels: First, by that age, I rarely did anything with my father, especially including talking. Also, it was shortly before the era when Irv’s changed from a bona fide restaurant, a family place, to a hangout for hippies, a clubhouse for misfits. I spent a lot of time there then, too—often in deep discussion, but not with my father.

The conversation with my father began with him opening the menu and exclaiming, “A dollar-thirty-five for a corned beef sandwich!? I remember when they cost fifteen cents.” I said, “Fifteen cents? Why did they even bother to charge anything, at that rate?” But then, about 10 years later, I was looking at the menu at the Carnegie Deli in Midtown Manhattan, and I found myself saying, “Seven-fifty for a corned beef sandwich? I remember when they cost a dollar-thirty-five.”

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Volume 15, Issue 1, Posted 11:32 AM, 01.03.2022

Born in the '50s, we went to school in the '30s

Heights High was overcrowded when I attended classes there—3,000 kids in just three grades cramming into the hallways and everywhere. That was one problem. Another was that in the mid-to-late ’60s the administrators were still clinging desperately to the institutions of the 1940's and ’50s. It was an era of great change in terms of such things as the concept of free speech. And in free expression, which included clothing and hair styles, music and other arts. The school’s administration was pretty repressive to begin with, but that magnified mightily with its reaction to the new thinking that swept into society in the mid-’60s.

The school still employed a ridiculously strict, detailed and long-winded dress code. No pants for girls, skirts and dresses had to come to a girl’s knees or lower (often demonstrated by a girl having to kneel on the floor to prove that the hem of her skirt went all the way down), no shorts for anyone, no T-shirts for anyone, no jeans, boys’ shirts had to have a collar, leather shoes only (no “gym” shoes, except in gym class, where they were the only shoes permitted).

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Volume 14, Issue 12, Posted 7:20 AM, 12.02.2021

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 tuneóagain

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