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Stoned Talent 

Here's your chance to pay $4,000 for a five-second shot at fame.

There's not much work for high school sophomores who've mastered the fine art of shaping animals from balloons. So Jared Markowitz, a magician-actor from Orange High School, figured Stone Model & Talent Agency might be the ticket.

Stone offered to help him find auditions for television and film work. All he had to do was pay for a few acting classes. More than $7,000 later, Jared wised up and told his agent that he would not take any more classes until he landed some gigs. Naturally, Stone canned him.

So last week the high schooler called Stone out by broadcasting his experience on NEOhioPal, a list-serve that e-mails job postings to 3,000 members of the Cleveland arts community. After telling his agent he wouldn't be paying for more classes, Jared wrote, "Stone told me that they would call me when they have auditions for me, since I was 'such a star' and that I should reconsider taking their classes."

Stone responded on NEOhioPal with a list of its credentials, including past clients that have starred in . . . local independent movies and soap operas.

Unfortunately, reports from other unhappy (and now much poorer) clients poured into NEOhioPal until its director, Fred Sternfeld, shut the discussion down.

"Just like any other business, there are people who are not happy," says Stone agent Harold Hafner, noting that the agency just took "46 people to a convention in Los Angeles."

Glad you mentioned that, Harold.

Stephen Black is the director of The Talent Group, a top talent agency in Ohio and Pennsylvania. His agents work on commission, only getting paid when their actors or models get paid. And he's well aware of these "conventions."

"A lot of agencies out there make an awful lot of money by having talent and parents pay $1,000 to $4,000 to go to a convention where maybe 500 or 1,000 kids walk in front of an agent from New York or L.A. for literally five seconds," says Black. "In fact, most times, the agents are paid to be there by the convention. Some of them get kickbacks from the hotels, too."

Jeepers, where can we sign up?

A sporting debate
For thoughtful discourse on high school sports, many fans turn to Cleveland.com, The Plain Dealer's internet partner. In popular online forums, fans offer witty observations ranging from "You have no life, are probably a Tri-C student, and you suck at life in general," to the ever popular "Stop being an anal intruder."

Okay, so "witty" might be overstating it. Either way, the forums have started to wear on coaches and athletic directors.

Recent entries -- all anonymous -- have called one coach a tyrant, another a drunk, and yet another a racist. One post, from an apparently disgruntled ex-player, accuses a coach of molesting his star basketballer.

That entry quickly disappeared, but the site's editors did not respond to interview requests.

"I would like to think that they would have a little more control over what is said," says Kent Morgan, athletic director at Brunswick High. The coach of his boys basketball team, Joe Mackey, has been subjected to several posts calling for his firing. But it just so happens that Mackey is in his ninth year and has nailed back-to-back 15-win seasons, Morgan says. He isn't going anywhere.

Players sometimes show up at practice devastated by something they read about themselves, their team, or their coach, says Morgan, who calls the posts "cowardly gossip." He's had to tell players to just stay out of the forums.

Probably good advice.

Cardiac kids
President Bush made an appearance at the Cleveland Clinic last week to tout new health technologies. At least, that was the official reason. But Clayton Hallmark has another suspicion: The president was at the No. 1 heart hospital to have his ticker checked.

Hallmark, of Twinsburg, is a leading proponent of the internet theory that Bush wears a cardiodefibrillator. The rumor made the rounds during the presidential race after some people noticed an odd, box-like device protruding from Bush's back during one of the debates.

An electronics engineer by trade, Hallmark worries that he'll come off as a crackpot. Still, the story is so important that he's willing to take the risk. "It means that you have the cardiac kids on the ticker ticket," he says. "Two guys with bad hearts that may need to be replaced before four years."

The clinic referred all press calls to the White House, which laughed off the story. "That's ridiculous," says spokesman Jim Morrell. "The president actually did undergo a complete physical since the election, and his doctors reported his health to be good."

Waaaaaaa!
After 20 years of stalling, the Cuyahoga County Commissioners finally voted to build a new juvenile-detention center and courthouse at East 93rd Street and Quincy Avenue. The crowd responded with a standing O.

But some juvenile-court judges don't feel much like partying. Putting the detention center out there was fine, but they aren't particularly happy about working on East 93rd themselves. They're so ticked, in fact, that they're prepared to sue.

The East 93rd location would be inconvenient for lawyers to get to from downtown, says Judge Joseph Russo. [Editor's note: Waaaa!] He further argues that a downtown courthouse wouldn't cost any more than putting it on 93rd.

But Deputy County Administrator Lee Trotter notes that $8.7 million has already been invested in prepping the Fairfax location. And when transportation costs for shuttling kids back and forth are factored in, "it's clearly less expensive to build a courthouse on East 93rd and Quincy," says Commissioner Peter Lawson Jones. It's also a better location for visitors, since most kids in the juvenile system come from the East Side.

Russo says it's a "travesty" that it has taken so long to build a new detention center. That's true. And it will be another travesty if judges delay the courthouse another 20 years just because it's inconvenient for them to drive to East 93rd.

Get your free liver cancer!
As the U.S. Army awaits the EPA's approval to torch the Ravenna Army Ammunition Plant, nearby residents agonize over perishing with it.

According to tests by the Ohio EPA, the site is contaminated with up to 280 times the permissible amount of polychlorinated biphenyls (just call them PCBs). The burning of PCBs can lead to such pleasant side effects as cancer and liver damage.

Yet Army spokesman Mark Patterson says the burning won't pose any health threats to Ravenna residents . . . though he's not really sure.

See, the Army has never actually burned a building with this kind of PCB contamination. The Ravenna "test burn," as the Army terrifyingly calls it, will be the first of its kind. Still, Patterson's got a hunch that things'll be just fine.

The plant, which was closed in 1971, was used to make mortar and artillery shells during WWII, as well as the Korean and Vietnam wars. The only way locals can avoid the burning is by proving to the Army that they don't want the buildings torn down, Patterson says.

And here we thought the risk of dying a painful death was a valid reason.

It's not easy being Greene
Free Times writer Josh Greene's fake soldier story just won't go away.

For those who missed it, Greene wrote a cover story on an anonymous soldier named "Babe," who claimed to have jumped out of an airplane more than 4,400 times, had a porcelain plate inserted into his head, and participated in every military action ever described in Soldier of Fortune. Greene bought it hook, line, and sinker -- and never bothered to verify any part of it.

The story has since been thoroughly debunked. The Free Times printed an editor's note last week comparing its plight to The New York Times' Jayson Blair scandal and CBS's fake National Guard memos flap. The note claimed the newspaper is conducting an investigation into the incident, but neither Greene nor Managing Editor Pamela Zoslov responded to interview requests.

Now others are looking into the story. One website, Soldiers for the Truth, is doing an investigation of its own. It's calling on readers to "out" the soldier known as "Babe." Anyone who has seen him or knows his whereabouts is invited to write in.

Another website, Democracy Guy, wonders why Greene is still writing for the paper.

"When Jayson Blair's fiction was uncovered, he was immediately suspended," writes Democracy Guy. "Mr. Greene's fiction was not only uncovered, but uncovered by readers, not the paper, a paper which continues to print Mr. Greene's writing, including his opinion. Why on earth would anyone ever believe a single thing they read in the Free Times ever again?"

Dainty Guys Rip Us
Men's Health, "The Official Magazine of Insecure Men With Very Small Penises," doesn't think Clevelanders are very smart. In a recent survey of the 100 smartest cities in America, Akron ranked 53rd, while C-Town came in at a lowly 74th.

But worry not, fair Clevelanders. This is the same magazine that runs such poignant stories as "Eat like a cover model." In other words, these guys are so dainty they take dining tips from women who live off grass and dandelions.

Besides, not all national magazines are so anti-Ohio. The New Yorker recently published an essay by Ian Frazier extolling the greatness of his hometown, Hudson, Ohio. And with the number of Northeast Ohio writers Esquire employs, it might be best described as the true Cleveland magazine. Consider:

Chuck Klosterman, the former music critic for the Akron Beacon Journal, now writes a monthly humor column for Esquire. Literary editor Adrienne Miller, an Akron native, recently finished her first novel, The Coast of Akron. (Yes, she's aware there's no actual coast in Akron. Irony, people, irony!)

Then there's Scott Raab, the self-referential auteur from Mayfield Heights, who's so proud of his Clevelandocity that he rarely misses a chance to mention it in his stories.

"All I have to say is that the editors of Men's Health have definitely never been to Northeast Ohio," says Miller. "I embrace my Akron roots. I'm ridiculously proud of it."

As for Men's Health, it might want to stop squealing like a lawyer with a scraped knee and set up recruiting booths at Cleveland State.

Hide and Seeking publicity
Three days before the new thriller Hide and Seek opened last week, Twentieth Century Fox revealed that each print of the film would be delivered to theaters without its final reel, which would later be hand-delivered by armed security guards. The stunt was intended to hype the alleged shocker at the movie's end.

"I love the idea of weapons at our screenings," says a rep at Allied Advertising, which promoted the movie in Cleveland.

Of course, it's occasionally more fruitful to stage publicity stunts so that the public is actually aware of them. Since moviegoers tend not to swarm the parking lot to see what the FedEx guy is delivering, the armed guards elicited slightly less than a shrug from local audiences.

But the Loews theater at Richmond Town Square did Fox one better: Two minutes into last week's sneak-preview, the theater lost all power, leaving the packed house in darkness. Everyone was sent home, and thus the film's climactic finish -- as well as the 100 or so minutes leading up to it -- remained a secret.

"Now my curiosity's killing me, I have to be honest about that," says Debbie Frinizia of Chesterland, who attended the near-screening.

Mission accomplished, Fox.

All in the family?
Last month, Sister Cynthia Meyer, the provincial supervisor of the Holy Family of Nazareth, announced to a gymful of St. Augustine parents, students, and alumni that the Pittsburgh-based order no longer had the money to keep the Lakewood school open. Her words were greeted with tears.

But the decision was not nearly as spontaneous as most believed. It turns out that Sister Cynthia and Sister Pat Lenard, the headmistress, both knew on September 1 that the school would close in June, but chose to keep this information to themselves. "I didn't want to ruin the whole year," Sister Pat says.

Or didn't want St. Augustine parents to withhold tuition money.

Now parents of freshmen are furious that they were not given this nugget of information before enrolling their daughters. "If I had known the school was going to close in June, there's no way I would have enrolled my daughter here," says one parent.

Citizen Ricky
Encouraged by his 468 votes in Cleveland's last mayoral election, Ricky Pittman threw his fuzzy brown hat back into the ring at a City Hall press conference last week.

The dashing, 43-year-old Collinwood resident was accompanied by his wife/press secretary Bonita and their brood of adorable small children. The press corps consisted of Punch and Marty the Camera Guy from Action News. As campaign launches go, it was a tastefully understated affair.

Pittman boasts a résumé that includes athletic-training and home-remodeling, but no political accomplishments -- which gives him the same credentials as frontrunners Jane Campbell and Frank Jackson. His platform is built around "200 pages of solutions that apply to any big city."

If Cleveland voters don't give him the job this time, Pittman hinted, he may take his 200 pages elsewhere. "That's how other cities get ahead of Cleveland," he said. "We've got brain drain."

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