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Scab 101 

Toledo Blade workers provide old-school instruction on labor strife

When reporters at Youngstown's daily newspaper went on strike a while back, Punch was concerned. Though the strike lasted eight months and plenty of scabs crossed the picket line, nary a tale of strife came out of the old steel city. Punch waited and waited to hear something -- a rock through a windshield, some viciously inventive late-night threats -- anything to make us believe Ohio's newspaper business hadn't turned dainty. It never happened.

Luckily, some fine folks in Toledo are easing our fears. At the city's daily, The Blade, 200 workers have been locked out since August and replaced by scabs. Fortunately, things are getting wonderfully tense: Tires have been slashed, nails dumped in the street, and verbal grenades launched daily. "I feel like I'm in 1960," scab paper handler Peter Thayer reports. "It's ridiculous."

Last week, as Thayer emerged from a Blade plant, he noticed something about his car. The way the word "SCAB" glistened from the side of his Chrysler made him think he was no longer welcome. Also tipping him off was the cinder block that had been tossed through his window.

"They haven't been exactly the nicest," he says.

You're getting sleepy . . .
Losing $50 bucks has never been this easy.

Next month a group of "master hypnotists" will give seminars at Holiday Inns across Northeast Ohio to help you lose weight and quit smoking. All you have to do is pay the price of admission, and they'll do the rest. What could be better than that?

"Jump all the way to success, and skip all the hard work, stress, and tension," hypnotist Rob Gray, from Changes International in Dallas, says to the crowd on a video of one of the seminars. "This will be the easiest thing you've ever done."

"I just threw my cigarettes away," a blond woman exclaims to the camera after a session.

But don't try squeezing into those jeans from high school just yet. The Dallas Better Business Bureau suspended the company's membership in January because it couldn't substantiate its claims. The BBB also has a folder full of consumer complaints regarding the company's 10-year money-back guarantee, which also comes with the 10-year Rob Gray Will Be Selling Knife Sets By Then Guarantee.

Gray calls himself a "master practitioner" in neuro-linguistic programming, a credential he apparently picked up attending three weeks of "team challenges" in the woods of the U.K., where he mastered the fine arts of rope-climbing, raft-building, and canoeing. Yet it's not clear at what point during the training they teach you how to scam fat people who smoke.

Gray never returned a call from Scene -- but trust him, as he says at his seminars, snapping his fingers: "It happens that fast." Losing your money, that is.

Taking Larry's house
Home-improvement scams are as synonymous with Cleveland as pierogi and poverty. Still, some folks do it with a certain panache and evil that really sets them apart. Take mortgage broker Tony Sava Jr. and his home-improvement partner, Tony Defario.

In 2003, the two men found the perfect victim in Larry Wiggins -- an elderly stroke victim suffering from severe memory loss.

Defario, owner of Quality Remodelers, offered Wiggins a chance to fix up his East Side home, which needed new porches and a driveway. Wiggins agreed, but there was a small problem: He couldn't afford the repairs.

That's where Sava came in. The Southeast Financial Services broker offered to refinance Wiggins' home for around $74,000. Defario got to work. Kinda.

Though he built Wiggins a back porch, he never bothered to treat the wood, which is now rotting. He also never repaved the driveway. But Wiggins, who struggles to remember what he did two days ago, didn't get on Defario. In fact, he completely forgot he'd agreed to the deal and quickly fell behind on his loan payments.

"When he came to us, he could barely remember who his lender was," says Samantha Williams, a caseworker for the East Side Organizing Project, a nonprofit that fights predatory lending. "I can't imagine that you could sit there and talk with him and not understand that he's not all there."

On March 19, Wiggins lost his home in a sheriff's sale.

But Sava and Defario feel no remorse. They too are suffering from severe memory loss. "I don't even remember the guy's name," says Defario, who now works in Las Vegas. "I don't know how much money he got. I didn't get it -- I just did a good clean job for the guy."

Sava says much the same: "We didn't do anything wrong. He wasn't senile."

Yuppies rejoice!
The long-awaited Whole Foods Market in University Heights opened last week to throngs of highbrow shoppers. It was the first appearance by the famed natural grocer in Cleveland, and boy were people excited.

"I lived in California and shopped at it, and I'm very happy it's here," said one woman hovering near the soup bar.

Aside from the tofu meat loaf and mountains of stinky cheeses, the Cedar Center store offers a small city's worth of extra attractions. Row upon row of wines from across the globe greet you at the front door, which leads to a small in-store café that serves fancy Italian favorites such as prosciutto-wrapped asparagus and artichoke ravioli.

There's an industrial-sized salad bar, offering everything from Asian tofu to wheat-berry and barley salad with smoked mozzarella, all for a mere $8.99 a pound. There's also a seafood bar, a sushi counter, kosher desserts, a cosmetics section, and enough gourmet food to fill a very tasteful bomb shelter.

It may take Clevelanders a while to adjust to some of the offerings -- "What in the world is this?" asks a befuddled employee, holding up a mysterious potato-like vegetable -- but many are eager for the challenge.

"The waiter at the restaurant here said you don't even have to cook anymore," gushed one East Cleveland customer.

And that, dear friends, may be all the convincing we need.

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