We've noticed, with some surprise, that Cleveland has begun to pop up more often on our radar. We've listened to the legends and admired the artifacts at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, cheered an Indians home stand and applauded Shakespeare at the Cleveland Playhouse. Recently we discovered another local attraction: Nicole Marie Lenz. Nikki picked us up one afternoon at Public Square and took us to a favorite restaurant -- her uncle's deli -- for corned beef. Then it was off to the lakeshore to view the setting sun, framed by iron ore unloaders and passing freight trains. Clearly, this is a city richly endowed with brawn and beauty.
Q: What's the reaction when folks learn you hail from Cleveland?
A: In Los Angeles people look at me and go, "How could that happen?" I laugh. Everything is better in this town now. I was here for the opening of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. There are nice restaurants, and people are taking business more seriously. We've built up our nightclub scene in the Flats and the Warehouse District. Little Italy has the best food, and its cool, especially if you like Italians as much as I do. All these things put us back on the map as cool people.
Q: There's a large lake in the neighborhood. Can you tell us a fish story?
A: Lake Erie is beautiful. I roller-skate right down to Edgewater Park and go swimming. I have my best times of summer at the beach. I've been swimming in California. You get a gulp of that salt water -- yuck! You can take a gulp of Lake Erie and you'll be fine.
Q: How deep do your Cleveland roots run?
A: My mom's grandfather had the honor of planting the flagpole on top of Terminal Tower when it was completed in 1930.
Q: Are you handy with a hammer or trowel?
A: When I was growing up I helped my dad, who's a contractor. I learned how to lay tile, hang drywall and nail floorboards. Grouting tile is my favorite. You need to know your math to get exact measurements. But I won't touch plumbing or electrical work.
Q: Are you going to pitch us some real estate?
A: I live in the Ohio City district. It's all original homes, some redone. My house is beautiful. It was built in the 1860s. It's got a winding staircase, 15-foot ceilings and a marble fireplace in every room. I'll have to move to LA or New York, where there are more modeling jobs, but I won't be able to leave Cleveland without knowing I can come back.
Q: Speaking of modeling, do you have a role model?
A: I have pictures of Marilyn Monroe all over my room. I've seen all of her movies and have a tape of her singing Happy Birthday to President Kennedy. That's one of my favorite performances of all time. What I would do for that dress!
Q: Can we bet you won't be laying tile anytime soon?
A: I doubt I'll go into contracting. I've only been modeling for a year, and I never thought I was good enough to pursue it as a career. Playboy has given me that confidence. It's an accomplishment. I guess there's a comparison to planting the flagpole on top of Terminal Tower.
---- Photography by Stephen Wayda and John R. Mourgos
Modeling is my passion, but if Paris and Milan don't call, I'll settle for a film career.
Italian men with curly hair -- if only I could compete with their Ferraris. Lake Erie sunsets.
Beards & mustaches, garlic breath, Cleveland drivers.
SHAKE ME! WAKE ME!
The clock is ticking. I can't be late.
WHEN YOU'RE YOUNG AND ON YOUR OWN
Learn from the birds, have no fear of flying and don't look back!
A HEALTHY SPRINGTIME BALANCE
Limit the cleaning, be sure to plant your garden and break out your Rollerblades.
Get lots of sleep (I'm good at that!). Stay alert and listen to directions.
Girls, protect your manicure; always wear gloves when mixing grout & spackle.