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Panhandler Paydirt 

Pro jocks aren't always the scum they seem to be.

Mike Vorhees isn't known for his good luck. He spent much of the late '90s homeless, sleeping under the West Third Street bridge, with addictions that included heroin, alcohol, and the Cleveland Indians.

Vorhees has since kicked heroin, he's moderated his drinking, and he shares a small Fairview Park apartment with his buddy, Bob Kasarcik. But both men are still dirt-poor, and panhandling instincts die hard.

January 24 was their lucky day. Kasarcik noticed a guy at the Tower City Rapid station carrying an Indians gym bag emblazoned with number 37. He nudged Vorhees. "That's Jake Westbrook, pitcher for the Indians," said Kasarcik.

"Bullshit," said Vorhees.

"Tell him who you are," Kasarcik told Westbrook.

The men chatted on their ride out to the airport, with Vorhees and Kasarcik regaling the Tribe reliever and his wife with stories from their days as drifters.

Just before the pair arrived at their stop, Vorhees informed Westbrook that, really, they were still broke. In fact, "We could sure use some money, if you can spare it . . ." he began.

Westbrook's wife promptly fished $50 from her purse and handed it to Vorhees.

Only Shaquille O'Neal, who once gave Vorhees a $100 bill outside Metropolitan Café, has ever scored higher in Vorhees's generosity rankings.

Vorhees wants Westbrook to know the money wasn't squandered. He and Kasarcik bought a $20 ham for a Super Bowl feast. And Kasarcik swears on his mother's eyes: Not a drop of liquor was purchased with the pitcher's money. No, really.

Fox 8 exclusive!

"Find a local angle!" To TV news reporters, there is no more dreaded order. It means that if there's a hurricane in Miami, you need vacation pics from the Solon family who fled Florida just in time. If cruise ships are teeming with sick passengers, you need that live feed from Beachwood Place featuring trembling bluehairs terrified to take their anniversary cruise.

But what happens when your job requires milking every last drop from a national tragedy, and there's no new news? Suffice to say, local TV hacks were scrambling last week as the Columbia story edged into its third day.

NewsNet5 reported that NASA Glenn was selling out its shuttle memorabilia. WKYC's Michael O'Mara interviewed the first black guy in space. Fox 8 traveled to Akron's Firestone High School, where Challenger astronaut Judy Resnick graduated. Students there, after all, were especially bummed.

But Fox 8 also held the ultimate trump card: Reporter Kevin Freeman was "the only local reporter" live at the debris site, boasted anchors Wilma Smith and Tim Taylor. And Freeman had landed a riveting exclusive: an interview with someone who knew someone who'd seen shuttle debris.

No doubt heads rolled at the other stations beaten to this incredible story.

Mating call

Yes, that was Mike Polk on The Caroline Rhea Show. The same Mike Polk who stars in the budding Cleveland comedy troupe Last Call.

Rhea, who hosts a daytime-TV talk show, made Polk's acquaintance while scouting for talent in Cleveland. He then mailed her a tape in which he confessed to stalking her. Naturally, she invited him to her New York studio.

On a recent episode, our homeboy appeared from behind the curtain with a bouquet and a box of chocolates, then employed the traditional North Coast mating ritual by attempting to dry-hump Rhea on national TV. Five minutes later, he was serenading her with "It Had to Be You."

"She's thrown some subtle hints my way," says the ever-modest Polk. "I'll be writing and producing that show by next week."

Fun & lawlessness

Cleveland police say the Puerto Rican Cultural Festival and Parade has outgrown Tremont. In a memo to his bosses, Second District Commander Hector Cuevas cited gridlocked streets, inadequate parking, and a "general sense of lawlessness." An estimated 25,000 people attended last year's festival, and boys and their muscular toys have turned the tail end of the parade into a drag race, Cuevas claims.

Councilman Joe Cimperman agrees. At last year's parade, he watched a kid's leg get trapped under a float. The ambulance had trouble getting through traffic.

Cimperman supports the idea of moving the festival downtown (the Flats, the Muni Lot, Burke, etc.), since Tremont can't handle the load. "You wouldn't think about having the St. Patrick's Day Parade in the middle of Ohio City," he says.

But Councilman Nelson Cintron, a native of Puerto Rico, says the festival is safe, though he may want to leave this stat out of his argument: "The Puerto Rican Parade has been held for 35 years, but not once has there been a killing."

Besides, Cintron notes, no one talks about removing the Feast of the Assumption from Little Italy. "Imagine putting that festival downtown. That's the flavor of that community, and we have to respect the flavor of this community."

Good to be gringo

The French hate us. The Germans hate us. Even the Canadians are pissed off (something about us bombing their soldiers).

For Roger Cudney, this spells career opportunity.

The Cleveland native has spent 30 years playing the ugly American in Mexican TV and movies, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article. Fans south of the border know him for his scintillating roles as The Plunderer of Archaeological Treasures and The Union-Busting Sweatshop Manager. In one soap opera, he starred as The Racist South Texas Rancher, uttering such fabulous lines as "Git off my land. Thousands of Americans have just died in New York. They shouldn't let anyone enter my country anymore."

So it's not exactly Shakespeare, but how much money are you making off the world's disdain for us?

"Roger Cudney is the epitome of the bad gringo, a blending of all the worst American stereotypes," says David Wilt, who compiled the Biographical Dictionary of Mexican Film Performers.

Look for the sequel to Wilt's book, tentatively titled Encyclopedia of Shit Nobody Cares About.

Money-making ideas

The Cleveland Museum of Art, whose endowment has lost more than $150 million since 1999, announced that it will cut back annual spending by 5 percent. So Scene, which cares way more about the community than the other media do, convened a blue-ribbon panel to find ways to bolster revenues. Its recommendations:

" Revise museum addition to include "Vegas Room."

Extend happy-hour prices at CMA cafeteria.

Equip Garden Court Wishing Well to accept major credit cards.

eBay a Pollock ("They all look the same anyway," said one panelist).

Cancel Gilded Age show in favor of more fiscally responsible Great Moments of Funky Winkerbean retrospective.

More kiss-ass Peter Lewis exhibits.

Add spray-paint concessions to the contemporary art gallery.

Reconsider Mahoning County Game Club mixer on Wade Park Lagoon.

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