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Toth is unraveling this story from a leather couch in his living room, between sips of an after-work Labatt. It's not exactly the pad you'd expect of a Super Pimp: The house is modest and clean, a split level on a quiet side street in Mentor, where he's lived for four years with his teenage daughter Kelley. A miniature Maltese motors around the carpeted floor. And in T-shirt and jeans, Toth looks less the downtown dandy than what he actually is: a single dad with a 9-to-5 at Progressive Insurance.
The suits — dozens of them — are all on hangers, scattered throughout four closets. But it becomes clear as he polishes up old memories that clothes alone don't make the man.
A postwar glow emanates from his recollections of growing up. Dad, a postman who worked two side jobs to keep the family afloat, wasn't around a lot. Mom, an extrovert with no family of her own on this hemisphere, raised Toth and his younger sister and brother. The neighborhood was stocked with buddies. "It was a better time, I think, in our country's history."
Toth's sister Carole took jazz dance lessons, and the teacher wanted him to join in. After resisting, he spotted all the pretty girls in the class — and that familiar tingle struck again. Soon, he was ducking out early from freshman football at Admiral King High School to learn new moves. When his teammates found out, merciless ribbing followed — until the night of Toth's first recital, when the team sat in the first row, ogling his fellow dancers.
The siblings performed for elderly homes and charities through their teens. The show-biz interest took a professional turn when Toth appeared in a local production of West Side Story that netted an invitation to perform at Cleveland's Hanna Theatre. He didn't wilt in the spotlight, but grew hooked to the stage — to the way the energy he put out for the crowd boomeranged back to him.
"I think it's because I always had confidence to do and be who I am, and I think that's because I always had a sense of myself through my family," he says. "We were always close, had a sense of family, a sense of where you belonged and who you were. And as long as you know who you are, you have the confidence in whatever situation you go into."
Four pieces of mail were waiting for Mike Toth on a sunny Saturday morning in '68: three letters from his girlfriend and one draft notice from the U.S. Army. Eleven days later, he was on a bus to boot camp.
Though it had raged on for years, Vietnam had yet to crack Toth's world, which basically consisted of chasing girls around Lorain after a failed stint at Bowling Green. He knew zero about the conflict and less about the growing protest movement. He just wanted to get this army business off his plate and get back to the ladies.
Which is why when he was told during basic training that he qualified for officer candidate school, Toth said no. But then one afternoon, he came across a sergeant beating the hell out of an out-of-shape private, inflicting brain damage in the process.
For guys training to bushwhack the jungle, bucking the chain of command was all but unthinkable. But Toth reported what he saw, and word quickly spread around the base. In the meantime, his dad was on the phone explaining the situation to a local congressman. Soon enough, Washington called the base and said if there was a hair out of place on Private Toth, there'd be problems.
After all was settled, Toth reconsidered officer school. He wanted to command his own unit, have some power to make sure things were done straight and fair. Eventually, he found himself in charge of a 300-man intelligence company in Okinawa. Later he became an aide to a general. When secret messages needed to be delivered, Toth was entrusted with a locked briefcase shackled to his wrist. He would jet around the Pacific, drop off the briefcase, then sit back on a beach somewhere waiting for the molasses bureaucracy to find him a flight home.
He climbed the ranks. By age 24, Toth was a captain, working back in the states for the National Security Agency. He planned to stay in for the long haul and walk away with a hefty pension.
"I loved the army. It was one of the few jobs where there was a strict code," he says. "It's not like the outside. It was fair. You did your job, you did what you were supposed to do, and you got promoted."
But by 1973, the army had different plans. Winding down after Vietnam, the military cut loose officers who didn't have college degrees. And so Toth was back in Lorain, without a next move in mind.
Don't I know you from somewhere?" asks the woman, a high-heeled blonde fading into her late thirties.
"Depends," Super Pimp responds. "You ever been in jail in Mexico?"
She poses for a photo, then skips back to a table of giggling friends. It's the third picture request he's fielded since grabbing a bourbon and settling in near the door at the swank burger joint Bar Louie. The crowd is mostly middle aged — Toth's peer group on paper, but not in partying disposition. Despite the low-key atmosphere, he likes to spend the early evening here — the better to mingle with out-of-towners who come from downtown hotels.