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Santa's a Scab 

This Claus didn't come from the union hall.

It appears that cheap, non-union Santas have infiltrated Great Northern Mall.

Sears Portrait Studio recently conscripted one S. Claus to doll up its lobby. It's great work if you can get it: Just smile and make nice with the kiddies awaiting their turn to melt down before the camera. Job requirements: Be old and jolly.

Unfortunately, this Claus-for-hire was a mite short on Yuletide cheer. He was, in fact, a virtually comatose Gen-Xer whose idea of "ho ho ho" likely involves three installment payments to a pimp. With a slight frame and tattoos extending past his fluffy cuffs, he looked like a roadie in rehab, only with less interest in young children.

Throughout his two-day stint, Ain't Nick made no discernible effort to smile, wave, or otherwise be mirthful (unless leering at women qualifies). According to multiple accounts, he would doze frequently, then promptly check his cell-phone messages upon awakening. The throng of children maintained a safe distance.

"It was hideous," says one mother, whose two-year-old got the evil eye from Claus. "The guy just stared at him and didn't smile or anything. I can't think of a worse Santa experience for kids."

It wasn't much better for the store's manager, who pleaded unsuccessfully with her corporate office to have Kringle's ass bounced. The manager, who asked not to be named, referred Punch's Holiday Task Force to Corporate HQ, which offered only a faxed statement: "We are deeply sorry and apologize to our parents and their children that we did not have an appropriate Santa available for our customers, and clearly we did not."

Get out of jail free
The revolving door of justice is swinging a little too fast for Ohio City's tastes. Police caught a teenage burglar trying to break into a house on John Avenue November 14. The youth was arrested, then released to his parents to await a hearing, says Cleveland Police Lieutenant Frank Bolon.

Two days later, a neighbor saw the same kid rummaging through the home of a senior citizen on 52nd Street. After a long foot chase, police nabbed the punk.

Because the kid was caught committing two burglaries in three days, the cops wanted to hold him in the county's juvenile facility, says Bolon. Police think he might be part of a group responsible for a wave of burglaries in Ohio City over the last month.

But the county's Detention Home was built to house 87 people. These days, 115 to 125 make camp there every night, says Superintendent Len Munks. Which means there was no room for the Ohio City bandit.

"It's sad but true," says Bolon. "The DH is just overloaded. We get a good arrest that we can use to stop other crimes, and they just won't take them."

Neighbors plan to meet with county commissioners and juvenile court judges to demand that another facility be built. "People are angry, they're upset," says Magda Gomez of the Near West Development Corporation. "They're asking why a kid who has committed two robberies in three days can't be detained."

Look for the county to launch a study, which will be followed by approximately 17 years of bickering with city officials, at which point another study will be commissioned.

Stabbing for charity
To drum up publicity for the U.S. Fencing Junior Olympics, which will be held at the Convention Center February 13-16, Sara Kass, head of the local organizing committee, is offering to train reporters in the delicate art of stabbing people.

"I would personally like to invite you to come and participate in the second-largest fencing tournament hosted in the U.S.," writes Kass. "Participate, you say? How can you participate if you're not age 13-19 and a fencer, you say?"

Here's how: Kass will show reporters how to wear an all-white ninja suit and a beekeeper's mask while wielding a sword and saying cool things from black-and-white movies like "En garde!" and "Take that, Limey bastard!" Bonus round: The event is cosponsored by the March of Dimes. "In other words," says Kass, "we're not just fencing for medals; we're fencing to fight birth defects!"

Because nothing says "fight birth defects" like trying to stab a 13-year-old.

Wary of Collinwood
The battle over Whiskey Island has spilled into Collinwood. Councilman Mike Polensek says entrepreneur Dan Moore, who heads the island's ownership group, backed out of a "major deal" to consolidate his industrial operations and possibly bring new ones to an empty plant in Collinwood.

Moore, whose companies make everything from ceramics to safety helmets, walked away because he's irked by the city's handling of Whiskey Island and its manufacturing policy (or lack thereof), says Polensek.

"I didn't want to get involved in a 60-acre project in the ghetto, where I really am going to need help from the city, and still have this huge thing hanging out there," says Moore.

This huge thing is the lakefront peninsula that turned into a "we-know-best" contest between city and county. Moore welcomed the county as a bidder when talks with the city and the Port Authority did not go to his liking.

Moore sounds optimistic that a Whiskey Island deal will eventually come. But he says the city's Department of Economic Development has lost its bearings. "Instead of looking at what they're good at, they're looking at what they want to be," he says.

Development Director Steve Sims claims he hasn't been distracted by the pursuit of shiny, hi-tech baubles, as Moore and others seem to believe. "We have a full understanding of what our core is, and that is manufacturing."

Sims also suggests Moore's unhappiness has more to do with the city's "resource limitation" than its policies. Cleveland receives loads of requests for grants and loans, ranging from $100,000 to $5 million. Unfortunately, its finances resemble those of a four-year-old Pakistani boy. Sims did not know Moore's asking figure, but "I'm pretty sure it would have been a larger request."

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