Rat Bastards

It's just so hard to be Cool in Cleveland.

Thomas Mulready, proprietor of CoolCleveland.com, likes to tout his website as the place for all that's "edgy, innovative and eye-opening in Cleveland." But this description apparently doesn't include giant rats.

At a Cool Cleveland bash on Coventry last Thursday, wannabe hipsters flocked to the neighborhood anchored by the venerable Cedar Lee Theater, which shows movies with no explosions or car chases, which means they're art.

But there are problems afoot at the Cedar Lee. Owner Jon Forman fired all his union employees in April. He claimed he no longer had any employees, since everyone who works for him is now officially a "manager." The punk selling you popcorn? He's a "concessions manager." The pimply kid taking tickets? That's the "floor manager."

Forman's company, Cleveland Cinemas, also manages the theaters at Tower City and Shaker Square, as well as Chagrin Cinemas, where all the unionized projectionists were fired, too. The move allowed Forman to cut wages from $15 an hour to between $7 and $10, says John Galinac, business agent for Local 160.

The union has filed two complaints with the National Labor Relations Board, and the case looks pretty open-and-shut. "You cannot fire people for being in a union," says Patricia Gilbert, spokeswoman for the board.

But as the cases languish in the federal bureaucracy, the union decided to run a little street protest. So they broke out the giant inflatable rat, a key accessory to any stylish labor action.

Alas, it seems that Cool Clevelanders aren't big on livable wages -- at least for anybody but themselves. They told Galinac they were offended by the presence of a 12-foot rodent parked in the middle of their party, which was soooo inappropriate.

"Some people thought it was over the top," Galinac says. "It looked like Godzilla. It was taller than the marquee."

Even business owners on the block thought the Cool Clevelanders were getting upset over nothing. "It didn't bother me," says Kevin Needham, owner of the Pub on Lee.

More balls than brains
It took the brain trust at FirstEnergy a little over a week to realize that, no, they really can't afford to swindle Northeast Ohioans for another $2 billion. What they really need is $3 billion!

The company's contract with the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) will expire on December 31, 2005. That's a bummer for FirstEnergy, since it's allowed the company to bilk its customers for $12.4 billion in surcharges. The extra fee goes to pay for nuclear power plants, which send most of their electricity to the East Coast. Thanks to your generosity, New Jersey shines brightly.

So the PUCO asked FirstEnergy to propose a new three-year contract. When the company responded, gone were the billion dollars in additional fees. Instead, FirstEnergy now claimed it should receive billions in welfare for "rate stabilization." Essentially, it wants customers to pay extra for the privilege of having among the highest electricity rates in the country. But hey, at least it would be a stabilized screwing.

"We've compared it to an insurance policy," says company spokeswoman Ellen Raines. "Should the marketplace produce prices that are higher than the prices under the plan, customers would be insured of having the plan price."

Even the PUCO, nine-time winner of the American Canine Association's Lap Dog of the Year Award, found the new plan stupid. Chairman Alan Schriber criticized the company for providing "no evidence, studies, or analysis to support this charge."

But though the PUCO found FirstEnergy's claims baseless, it still voted to let the company keep an extra $2 billion. That, friends, is Ohio government working for you.

Nonetheless, FirstEnergy has decided to appeal the decision. It wants $3 billion. Though company officials have yet to say why its customers should be gouged further, it probably has something to do with their own mismanagement, which has left FirstEnergy with a towering $13.8 billion debt.

Spokeswoman Raines doesn't exactly admit this, but you can read between the lines: "Our rates are a reflection of our costs."

Civic distress
Men's Health, the official magazine for people suffering from Small Penis Complex, just released its list of the most stressed-out cities in America. With language so familiar it might as well be our civic motto, it announced: "And the loser is . . . Cleveland."

Our humble burg was given an F, though the magazine notes that it should have been "an F-minus if there were such a thing." Grading was based on such factors as commute time, smoking rates, housing density, and number of suicides.

Something that should have been factored in is the stress produced by having every national magazine shit on your city every time they do a bogus list like this.

San Francisco East
On a more positive note, the Riverfront Times of St. Louis recently praised Cleveland. Sort of.

When the New York Times ran a travel story on the bounty that is St. Louis, writer Shirley Christian called it "the Boston of the Midwest."

Unfortunately, if you've ever been to St. Louis, you'll understand that Ms. Christian could only reach this conclusion by blowing her entire expense account on Jim Beam and crack.

"If the Gray Lady's travel editors are of a mind to be consistent," said the Riverfront Times, "in coming weeks we can expect to see Cleveland feted as 'the San Francisco of the Erie Peninsula' and Birmingham held aloft as 'the Seattle of the Sun Belt.'"

Doing our part
At least Cleveland is doing its part to contribute to the national treasure that is reality TV.

A production crew for the soon-to-be-launched ABC show State v. was in town last week to film the trial of Mark Ducic. You may remember him from our April 14 story "The Lies That Bind." He's the criminal mastermind accused of murdering Barb Davis and Donald Ehrke by giving them lethal overdoses.

But the case was wrought with allegations of serial weirdness. Ducic, who claims to be a Vietnam hero, mob hitman, and contract killer for the Hell's Angels, is in reality a pathetic dope addict and pathological liar, as even his attorney admits. Not to be outdone, he was ensnared by another pathological liar turned police informant, Brad Weiss.

The key evidence was a tape in which Ducic bragged of clipping Davis and Ehrke. Just before he made the admission, Weiss, who turned rat to avoid prison for his own misadventures in heroin and crack, boasted of working as an assassin in the Israeli army. Ducic then upped the ante by bragging of his own killings, and later agreed to whack Weiss's ex-girlfriend for good measure.

It was the kind of barstool conversation you might find anywhere in Cleveland where the finer drunks convene. But here's the weirdest part: The jury actually found Ducic guilty.

It should be fascinating to see how the sausage of justice is made when State v. begins airing in August. The format taps into jury deliberations, rather than the trial itself, for its drama.

John Luskin, Ducic's attorney, was convinced he'd earned his client an acquittal. He admits that he'll be glued to the tube. "This is going to be the most compelling thing to watch . . . ever."

Sex, crimes, & videotape
The home video shows Youngstown punks attacking about half a dozen homeless guys in Cleveland. They use a stun gun to shock their genitals. They kick people in the head. They urinate on a sleeping man.

Joshua Langenheim, 19 -- the only one old enough to be charged as an adult -- was given three months in jail. But last month Mathew McBride, Joseph Campbell, and Brian Koeppen got off easy in Cuyahoga Juvenile Court. Found guilty of delinquency by assault, they were given just six months of weekend community service.

That would have been the end of it -- if not for Chesterland attorney David Malik. When he saw the videotape -- which also features projectile vomiting and public defecation -- Malik says he was "heartbroken." He offered to represent the victims pro bono.

Only one man, Ziggy Muro, was stable enough to follow through with a civil suit against Langenheim and the parents of the other three. A few weeks ago they settled; Muro got $5,000. He'll use the money to move closer to relatives in Arizona.

Incidentally, a National Coalition for the Homeless study names Cleveland as the second-worst city in the nation for violence against the homeless. For once, someone else finished first. Chicago took the No. 1 slot.

Scene cleans up
For the third year in a row, Scene took home more than 20 honors in the Ohio Excellence in Journalism Awards, announced last Friday by the Press Club of Cleveland. Among the first-place winners:

· Thomas Francis, for best features/personality profile.

· Sarah Fenske, for best investigative reporting and best medical-health writing.

· Martin Kuz, for best sports writing.

· James Renner, for best arts and entertainment writing.

· Aina Hunter, for best community/local coverage.

· Chris Sickels, for best illustration.

· Young Min Yoon, for best cover art.

· Pete Kotz, for best general-news column and best business column.

Theater critic Christine Howey was named the best critic in Ohio, and Pete Kotz was named the state's best columnist.

Second place awards went to Jimi Izrael for investigative reporting, Jason Bracelin for arts and entertainment writing, Walter Novak for feature photography, Christine Howey for review and criticism, and Meredith Pangrace for multiple page design. Novak also received an honorable mention for portrait photography.