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El Sucker 

Parma couple learns there's no Spanish rainbow.

Ever wonder who falls for those foreign lottery scams? So did Anthony LoPresti. (Note the past tense.)

The retired security guard and Italian immigrant from Parma was always getting letters informing him of lottery victories. All he need do was wire $59 to collect his millions. But LoPresti was no sucker.

Then a letter arrived that was different from all the rest. A Spanish finance company told him he'd won almost $1 million in the Spanish lottery. Unlike the other low-rent scammers that fill up his mailbox, this one didn't ask for money. All LoPresti had to do was fly to Spain -- which is apparently east of Pittsburgh -- to collect his winnings. And all the company wanted in return was an $8,150 commission -- which LoPresti could pay after the fortune was in his hands.

"If you would have seen this letter, you would have believed it too," he says.

Rather than ask why, say, the Spanish couldn't just send it Western Union, he decided to go for it. A man from the company was supposed to meet LoPresti at the airport, but he never showed up. When LoPresti called him from a hotel, the man demanded the $8,150 up front.

"I smelled a rat right there," says LoPresti. Disheartened, he told the man to forget it.

Back in America, he and wife Mary still chuckle about it. "We should know better than chase the rainbow," Mary says in a thick Sicilian accent. "There was no rainbow."

Lakewood: Not cool after all
In November, we ran a cover story about the flood of Albanian immigrants arriving in Lakewood to escape the economic hardship and political chaos of their homeland ("Destination Lakewood," November 29). Though Ohio is known for the same conditions -- Motto: Just like the Eastern Bloc, But With $1 Labatts! -- it still seemed a good move at the time.

That was before The New York Times officially declared Albania hip. Ten years after Albanians started migrating to Lakewood, Americans are apparently clamoring to get to Albania. The newspaper says the country's the new Amsterdam of the yuppie set, a cheap destination spot "ripe for tourists."

Now some Lakewoodites are feeling a bit screwed in the deal. Anila Nicklos came to America for the glamour and glitz, only to find that her own country is officially cooler. "I can't say it's funny," she says. "It hurts a little bit."

But she'll be pleased to discover that American fads play shorter than a Ramones song. By the time you're done reading this, The Times will have already announced that "Enchanting Sadr City" has become "the holiday destination spot" for "Manhattan's most exclusive necrophiliacs."

A very Nazi Christmas
When Charlie Palmer allowed Keith McGuckin to create a Christmas display in his Oberlin hardware storefront three years ago, he knew McGuckin was a "little on the edge."

"His idea was a boy would be getting a chemistry set for Christmas, and he was gonna make a meth lab with it," says Palmer.

The next year, McGuckin followed up with a "caroler-bashing" snowman. For a college town that embraces controversy (and generally disdains all mainstream traditions, i.e. Christianity), McGuckin's displays seemed to fit right in -- until this year.

That's when Palmer started getting calls from friends dismayed with McGuckin's latest creation. When he arrived at his store, he found a display of Nazi gingerbread men sieg heiling a Hitler cookie. The piece was titled "The Secret Life of Gingerbread Men." "I didn't anticipate it at all and didn't like it at all," Palmer says. "I covered it up with a blanket."

After all, Oberlin College may be the name in lefty-appropriate daring -- but it also grants time off for Yom Kippur, not Good Friday.

McGuckin, however, wasn't about to be censored. He found a new home for his fascist cookies 10 minutes away in Wellington, the antithesis of granola-eating Oberlin. His display went up on December 14 -- the day before Hanukkah started.

But it appears that not even the down-home folks of Wellington enjoyed McGuckin's art. It came down two days later when residents complained. "I think it's horrible," says a waitress at the Wellington Inn, who didn't want her name printed. "It was really bad. The guy should be ashamed of himself."

But when a guy can't even put up a festive Nazi holiday display, call it Reason No. 72,381 why this country's going to hell.

Clevelanders go pro
If you're like Punch, you tend to receive a lot of books for Christmas from people who really don't understand how amazingly deep you are. So the day after, you head to the bookstore to exchange the unworthy for weightier fare, usually something by Jackie Collins.

But this year, you may notice a new tome in the classics section -- Look at My Striped Shirt!: Confessions of the People You Love to Hate. The book tackles the most pressing issues of the day with first-person essays like "This Gang-Bang Is So Awkward," "I WILL Get Off This Plane Before You," and "This Hot Chick Bartender Wants Me." The $12.95 collection is the first by the writers of, a group of mostly local comics.

The website was started by Kent native Charlie DeMarco and was launched to stardom by Mike Polk's Warehouse District diatribe "Look at My Striped Shirt!"

The anthology, which reads like a cross between Proust and Dickens, only way different, is "going to be a good book for the shitter," says Polk. "Some of the essays are one page -- good for a normal, everyday deuce. Some of them are IHOP-friendly, because they're, like, three pages long."

Random House is equally confident in the book, as evidenced by the decision to release it on December 26. "We were told that it's a primo date," Polk says. "They said it's huge because of gift certificates."

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