Greg Stacy’s FAT LOT OF GOOD

October 29, 2006

IT’S A LIVING: Costumed character at Disneyland

Filed under: Humor,Interviews,It's a Living,OC Weekly,Weird — gregstacy @ 12:34 pm

(Originally printed in OC WEEKLY, Thursday, April 27, 2006)

Crystal Nettles recently left Disneyland after five years working in costume, playing such characters as Pluto and Eeyore.

Is there a social hierarchy at the park? Like, the princesses in the parade are cool, and they look down on people in Goofy costumes, or maybe the costume people are cooler?

Well, they had a problem with the face characters—people whose faces are showing, like the princesses—thinking they were better than the full costume characters. But now, when they start, the face characters do a full day in a character suit, so they can see what it’s like.

Do you choose what character you play?

When you audition, they take your measurements. Then you’re assigned a character based on your height, and what suit looks good on you.

Are any characters considered really lame, and everybody is like, “God, don’t make me play that guy”?

Well, some of the characters hurt. Like, Winnie the Pooh has a really big, heavy head. Smaller people play him, because of his stature, and that head can hurt after a while. Other characters aren’t safe to take into certain areas: you’ll get beaten up.

Beaten up, literally? Where would that happen? 

Well, like areas that are really crowded with kids. You take certain characters in there, and they’ll go crazy. Usually it’s just that they’re overzealous, they jump on you or push you down. And because you can’t see well—like with Princess Atta [from A Bug’s Life], you’ve got like a three-inch mouth hole to see through—you can run into people. Sometimes teenagers will get violent; they’ll kick you. It happens all the time, and it can get really bad. I’ve known people who were on disability because of injuries they got. Certain characters really get kicked around.

Which characters? 

Well, Winnie the Pooh, and especially Eeyore, for some reason.

Why would anybody beat up Eeyore?

I know! He’s so depressed already. People are evil. Wait, no, don’t say that I said that. I’ll sound mean.

No, you’re right. Beating up Eeyore is evil. Everybody says Minnie Mouse is played by a guy. Is that true?

Not usually. You need somebody with slim legs for that costume, and guys have bigger calves. It’s all about the height, so it’s more likely the female characters will be played by women and the taller male characters will be guys. But it varies.

You know about the “furry” subculture, right? People with a fetish for cartoon animals? 

[Laughs] Yeah.

Do any of them work at the park? 

Well . . . there was one guy who, uh, led people to assume he was into that.

How? 

Apparently he wore a dog collar, and a tail sometimes. But he wasn’t really blatant. He didn’t have, like, strategically placed holes in his costume or anything.

What about the guests? Did anybody ever try to pick you up? 

Well, when I did face work, sure. That was mostly just husbands, goofing around. But there are season-pass holders who will basically just come there and stalk you.

I’ve heard stories about the costumed characters pinching or groping people. Does that really happen?

We have very strict guidelines about when and how we can touch people. They have to approach us; we can’t just go up and hug them or whatever. There was a photograph where one of the face characters was tickling a kid, and because of the angle and because when you’re tickling, y’know, hands go everywhere, it looked bad. So now there’s no tickling. If they want a picture with us, we can put an arm around their shoulder, but—you can lose track of how far those giant fingers extend, and it can look like you’re touching the chest. A lot of times, people see us as a free ticket: they’ll tell the park we hit their kid, or did something else we didn’t do, and they think they can get a free ticket that way. Usually the park goes along with it, because they want good publicity.

How do you cope with the heat in those suits? 

There’s no cooling system or air conditioning in the suit, so . . . you learn to deal with it. Some suits are better, like the Buzz Lightyear suit has a big chest plate that acts as a vent. And with Eeyore, if you move up and down fast, you get a breeze that way. But on a 100-degree day, we’re roasting.

Do people faint?

Sure. Usually people know they’re dehydrated and they make it backstage in time. But once Frollo, the villain from Hunchback of Notre Dame, fainted in front of the guests. Everybody had to surround him with laundry bags from backstage—so the guests couldn’t see—and remove his costume.

I imagine you’d get a lot of rashes from those suits. Lots of fungus.

Well, I didn’t completely trust the detergent they use . . . if they were using detergent. And the costumes weren’t washed every day. So I didn’t take any chances. I wore the full under-dressing, padding and gloves. I didn’t want any part of the suit touching me. But I was breaking out all the time anyway. That’s why I finally left.

Do you miss the job? 

I loved my time there, honestly. I’d like to go back and maybe work seasonally. I do really miss the kids. But I don’t miss the drama. 

IT’S A LIVING: Mortuary makeup artist

Filed under: Humor,Interviews,It's a Living,OC Weekly,Weird — gregstacy @ 12:31 pm

This interview continues to get a lot of response, years after it was published. That’s gratifying, because I was really happy with how this one turned out. I liked Carrie a lot, and I think her job is fascinating. Unfortunately, a lot of the comments posted here and the emails that I get ask me for more info on how to become a mortuary makeup artist. Well, I’m sorry folks, but I really don’t know anything more about the profession than you’ll find in this article. I can’t tell you how to get started in this profession, but at least this article will give you one woman’s perspective on the realities of this unusual profession.

(Originally printed in OC WEEKLY, Thursday, April 13, 2006)

When your grandma died, it was somebody’s job to prepare her for that open-casket funeral. They painted her, powdered her and gave her one last makeover so she’d look her best for her date with eternity. Carrie Bayer, 36, makes corpses pretty at O’Connor Mortuary in Laguna Hills.

OC Weekly: Is this something you wanted to do, growing up?

Bayer: No, I thought it was a really odd profession. But then a few years ago, I had a bad experience with a relative’s funeral. I wasn’t impressed with the way it was handled, and I thought, “I could do this better.” My husband was really freaked out at first, when I left my job in the merchandise buying office at Disney to go back to school at 33 so I could learn to do this. But I’m so much happier now, and he loves it. I was working at the Happiest Place on Earth and I was miserable, and now I’m working at the saddest place on earth, and I’ve never been happier. Working with the decedents is really . . .

I’m sorry, the what?

“Decedents.” That’s what we call the deceased people. I enjoy spending the time with them, and getting to know them in a way. I feel like I’m the last person who will ever take care of them, you know? It’s a big responsibility.

What sort of training is involved?

You study anatomy, chemistry, law, pathology, ethics—everything you might encounter in a mortuary. Most of the class drops out after the first month. Makeup is part of the curriculum. You practice on plastic beauty shop heads, or yourselves. That part is really fun! You study color theory, and learn about non-thermogenic makeup . . . .

Non-thermogenic?

Thermogenic makeup is makeup for live skin; body heat breaks it down so it applies properly. But on dead skin, it just crumbles or blots. Non-thermogenic is what we use for the decedents; it’s specially made.

I’d imagine doing makeup on a dead person, there’s a lot of, uh, reconstruction involved.

Oh, yeah. We use plaster of Paris, wire mesh, cardboard . . .

Cardboard?

Yeah. If there’s been an autopsy, and they removed the trachea, we’ll put in a cardboard tube, like a paper towel roll, to reconstruct the trachea and give men back their Adam’s apple.

I delivered flowers years ago, and the mortuary visits were really heartbreaking. Does the sadness ever get to you?

It can be hard not to take the sorrow home with you. Sometimes we’re dealing with trauma, with suicides, with kids who have died. We had a rash of suicides, three young girls, from 16 to 21, who all hung themselves. There was no connection, but they all died within a month. Suicides are really hard. But I feel like I’m doing something right in this world. We’re there to help the families through the grieving process.

Is it ever scary? When you’re working on somebody, do you ever feel a “presence”?

Absolutely. I always feel the presence. Hey, it’s creepy working late at night, alone, locked in with corpses. A while back I was working late, all alone, and somebody coughed. I just about peed my pants. We have a walk-in refrigerator, and once I heard a thump in there, like somebody was knocking. There have been times when I’ve wanted to make absolutely sure the decedent was really dead. We have tests for that, like we hold a mirror under their nose to check for breath, or we give them an ammonia test, where we inject it just under the skin, and if it turns red you know the immune system’s responding.

Has anybody turned out to be alive?Not so far.

 

I’ve heard trapped air can make corpses sit up, or sigh . . .

They don’t sit up. That’s an urban myth. But they do make sounds. And they’ll void their bowels, or their bladders. They’ll throw up.

Did you ever think, I’m making this corpse look too good? That they looked better than they did alive?

Sure. One time, the family thought we put the wrong person in the casket. I think what often happens is they’re used to the person being sick all the time—they’ve stopped wearing makeup and they’re in pajamas all day. So seeing them looking nice again can be a shock. We work from photographs, and we talk with the family so we get exactly the right shade of mascara and everything. If they wore a hairpiece, we’ll put it on like they would’ve wanted. But no matter how careful you try to be, they’re never going to look quite right. The person just isn’t there anymore, you know? It’s just their body.

Is there anything you’d like to say to the makeup artist who’ll work on you when you pass away?

Give me a nice smile. And lots of mascara. Let my freckles show!

IT’S A LIVING: Taxidermist

Filed under: Interviews,It's a Living,OC Weekly,Weird — gregstacy @ 12:20 pm

(Originally printed by OC WEEKLY, Thursday, May 11, 2006)

Keith Hopkins’ Trophy Room taxidermy studio (www.trophyroomtaxidermy.net) recently moved to Riverside after 37 years in Garden Grove.

I can appreciate the art of taxidermy, but the idea of actually doing it sounds pretty grim. Do you ever feel sad for the animal? Or guilty?

I wouldn’t say guilty, no. Sad, maybe, sometimes. I think there’s something genetic, either you have the hunting gene or you don’t. If you don’t, there’s no explaining it to you. Everything dies, y’know? If you had bugs in your house, you’d get a can of Raid. Those are living creatures. You’re killing them. Just because something has six legs and wings, instead of four legs and fur, does that make it better to kill it? I call it the “cuteness quotient”: if something’s cute, suddenly people have a problem with killing it.

How did you start doing this?

I’m second-generation. I learned from my dad, after school. I started with one of my dad’s birds—one of the less fortunate cockatiels. But I didn’t start doing it professionally until I was 30. I was a financial planner for years, but finally I gave it up and went into the business. My dad’s retired now, and I’m running the studio.

What drew you to taxidermy?

Well, it’s really become an art form nowadays; it’s much more creative than people think. Most people still think of it as a barroom novelty, like it was back in the Victorian days. Back then people were putting frogs in little suits, making dogs shave cats in little barbershop chairs, putting them in human poses, making them smile—pretty spooky stuff. The field has changed so much, just in the last 20 years, even. Now the animals look so much more natural. We’re sculpting the animal’s form and then casting it in foam. There are beautiful glass eyes with individual veins. People are making really artistic bases with grass and rocks. It’s like the natural history museum or something.

Do most people want their animal stuffed in a threatening pose, like it was attacking them when they shot it?

That used to be how it was always done. Now with a bear, we’d probably stand it up; a mountain lion, maybe we’d put it in a threatening pose, with the arched back. But usually we’re trying to capture the beauty of the animal as it was in the wild. I tell people, “This is something you might be looking at for 30 years.” That’s as true for a good pose as it is for a bad pose, so you really wanna get it right.

You’ve done bears. Were those the largest animals you’ve done? No, we did a giraffe. We’ve done elephant heads, hippo heads.

How does somebody get a giraffe or a hippo all the way to you? Do they ship it frozen from Africa?

They don’t ship the whole animal. They’ll skin it themselves, then just ship us the head, with the skin hanging off the back. Then we’ll, uh, decapitate it, for lack of a better word, and get to work.

How long does it take to do all this?

It varies. The skinning doesn’t take long, but then we salt dry it for a week or two, and ship it to the tanners, and they keep it for months. The whole process can take a year. I have a lot of work lined up too. I work 10 hours a day, six days a week. Outside California there will be two or three taxidermists in every small town, but California has a different sensibility and there aren’t so many of us. The demand is pretty constant. People get impatient.

Are there dangers in what you do?

Well, we’re working with scalpels and sharp knives. And deer do carry ticks, so there’s the risk of Lyme disease; you learn to watch for the telltale rash. I’ve never had a problem. If avian flu ever takes root here, I imagine that could be a serious burp in the industry.

Do you stuff a lot of pets?

We used to. I don’t like it. It’s such a tricky thing; people are so close to a pet, it’s like another person. We can create accurate anatomy, and a stranger would say, “That looks just like a cat.” But for the owner, it’s different. We can’t capture the idiosyncrasies.

Has anybody approached you about stuffing a person?

No. It’s illegal. I get calls sometimes, but I’m college-educated, and I know when somebody’s pulling my leg.

How do people react when you say what you do?

Well, my profession isn’t very well thought of by some people. People make jokes. In horror movies, as soon as you see a taxidermist, you know he’s the killer. I think that’s one of the things that caused my divorce, frankly.

How so?

Well . . . she just wasn’t into the whole thing. Understand, as a financial planner, I was making very good money. She couldn’t understand why I’d give it up to do this. I’ve remarried since, and fortunately this wife is great about it. She’s a stockbroker, but she gets it.

Wow. To give up your first marriage for this, you must be really passionate about it.

Well, in some ways I’m still trying to make up my mind about this job. It’s high-stress, people don’t understand why it takes so long, the pricing. I wish people understood the demands of this profession.

Does it hurt when people make the Norman Bates jokes and stuff like that?

I try to have a sense of humor about it. I know I’m pretty low on the food chain, career-wise.

IT’S A LIVING: Tanning salon worker

Filed under: Humor,Interviews,It's a Living,OC Weekly,Weird — gregstacy @ 12:07 pm

(Originally printed in OC WEEKLY, Thursday, July 26, 2006)

“Dana” works at a chain tanning salon in OC. She spoke to us by phone during her evening shift.

I’ve had the hardest time getting anybody to talk to me. People would agree to talk and then hang up two questions in. Even you would only speak anonymously. Why is everybody so skittish?

Lately, there’s been a lot of bad stuff about tanning in the media. Everybody’s afraid of getting attacked. Personally, I don’t wanna get fired. If my manager comes in, I’ll have to hang up.

Fair enough. What sort of training is involved to do this?

Well, it’s mostly hands-on. Basic sales and cleaning the beds.

You don’t need to learn how to run the equipment?

The beds themselves are computer-controlled. It’s all automated. We need to learn to input the computer codes, but we’re not actually operating the beds.

Tanning is a fairly controversial thing, and a lot of people say it’s unsafe. Do you worry about getting cancer from being around those tanning beds all day?

No, we’re completely safe outside the beds. The customers are in their own, private rooms. You only get cancer from direct exposure, in the beds or in the sun. We use two kinds of machines. The UVB has a 20-minute limit, those are older and have stronger intensity, so you’re more prone to burn. We also use the UVA. Those are [in] European stand-up machines. They have a 12-minute limit and they give you more of a bronzing or browning. They’re less intense, and they aren’t so cancerous, but they’re still bad for you. But it’s still better for you than tanning in the sun. In the sun, you can’t control the intensity. You can get a sunburn even on an overcast day. Here, at least it’s tightly controlled.

To work there, you probably have to stay pretty tan yourself. Is it mandatory for you to tan every week?

We can get free tans here on our off days, but lately I’ve been going to the beach more, because it’s been sunny. We do like to keep a nice glow, to promote our services.

I saw a thing on one of the local news shows about teenagers with “tanorexia,” a condition where they’ll tan compulsively. Have you encountered kids like that? [Chuckles.]

Tanorexia and tan-o-holics and all these other things, I think they’re just words the media makes up to scare people. We don’t tan anybody under 18, unless their parents sign a consent form. Maybe if there’s a dance or something, people will come in a few times before that and get extra tan so they’ll be nice and bronzed for the event. But most of the people we see are between 20 and 40.

But there is a new study, published in the April issue of The Archives of Dermatology, that says tanning can actually become physically addictive. Have you encountered people who seem genuinely hooked?

We do see people like that. There’s a lady who comes in here almost every day. She’ll miss a day sometimes, but she’s been coming in constantly since 2001.

Wow. Does she look like a Shar-Pei, now?

Well, she’s pretty wrinkly, as you’d imagine. She looks pretty bad. I don’t know how she hasn’t gotten cancer yet, to be honest. There was a guy who was coming in all the time, and he was really dark. Eventually the manager had to take him aside and suggest he try a lower intensity bed. There are people who are tanning twice per day. They’ll go out and get a suntan, then come in here and get an indoor tan the same day. Yeah . . . tanning is addictive.

IT’S A LIVING: Topless Maid

Filed under: Uncategorized — gregstacy @ 9:14 am

(Originally printed in OC WEEKLY, Thursday, May 4, 2006)

‘Crystal Clean’ operates Topless Cleaners (motto: ‘Dust to Lust’), serving all of Southern California.

Do you arrive just wearing a coat, or do you change in the bathroom? How does it work?

Well, it depends what part of town it is, and what time of day. We arrive dressed discreetly. We don’t want to embarrass anybody.

Do you have a bodyguard with you when you do this?

No. We’re usually going to pretty nice parts of town, often during the day. If it’s somebody we’ve never seen before, we’re not gonna go there after midnight. If we have any reason to be concerned, we might send two girls together.

Do you have self-defense training?

Well, sure, every girl needs her Mace, you know? We’ve never had an issue.

Do you give customers a list of rules before you do this? Like, no kids in the house, no pets allowed, whatever?

Well, nobody’s ever had their kids there when we showed up; they know better than that. Pets are fine. I know one girl who’s a little nervous around large dogs. But that’s no problem: you just put the dog in another room. We’re fine with cats.

Do guys ever have their wives there?

Sure, we do shows for couples all the time. And just women too.

Is that weird?

It’s fun! We do shows for women a couple of times a week. Women call to have girls come and do a show, but they call asking about guys too. We’ve hired a few guys, but it didn’t work out.

Why not?

Well, I don’t think men are really used to cleaning a lot. [Giggles.] That’s what women are for.

So what sort of rules do you have about what people can and can’t do?

We don’t have rules, exactly. We feel out the situation when we’re there. We won’t do toilets—that’s something we specify on our website, toplesscleaners.com. But otherwise, we’ll wash dishes, we’ll vacuum. We do it all. We wash cars too.

You wash cars . . . topless? Where? In the garage? You couldn’t do that out on the street.

No, we usually wear T-shirts for that.

Oh, right. But by rules, I meant . . . well, can people, like, jerk off while you’re working? Is that allowed?

Our policy is, “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” It’s behind closed doors. People can do what they like with their own bodies. [Sultry.] You know, if they’re watching us, while we’re bent over, working . . .

Right. Okay. I’ve noticed you refer to these sessions as “shows.” Do you consider this more of a performance, or more of a house cleaning?

It’s entertainment, but we’re always very thorough. Like, I went to this guy’s place, down by the beach. He had all these construction workers there renovating the place, and it was filthy. We don’t bring our own cleaning supplies, and he was really hippie about the whole thing. He was like, “Just use what’s under the sink.” All he had were organic cleaning supplies, stuff he’d gotten at Trader Joe’s, so there was no bleach or anything. He should’ve called in an exterminator . . . there were silverfish everywhere! It was pretty disgusting, but we always get the job done.

And you had to clean all that up topless? Do you wear gloves or an apron or anything? It would seem like you’d get a lot of rashes, getting splashed with bleach and stuff.

We wear gloves and use a lot of Soft Scrub. That’s my favorite. It has bleach in it, but it doesn’t splash.

What does your family think about what you do?

I didn’t tell them at first. I was worried about my mom; she’s very religious. She only found out by accident, when I was visiting at Christmastime. She found a piece of paper with some ideas on it for cleaning shows.

I wanna get back to your mom’s reaction, but what sort of ideas were these? You don’t just show up and, like, clean? Do you do role-playing or juggle or something?

Well, there is a fantasy element. And there are different props. There are a lot of things you can do with a feather duster. And there’s more than one way to fluff a pillow. You can fluff it like your grandmama would fluff it, or you can do it in a sexy way.

I’m honestly not sure how somebody would fluff a pillow in a sexy way.

[Sultry again.] Well, there are things girls do with pillows . . . behind closed doors.

Oh! I see. I think.

Right.

So . . . uh, your mom found the paper.

She found the paper. Fortunately, she was much more accepting than I maybe would’ve expected.

Do you tell strangers what you do?

Sometimes I just say I clean houses, or that I’m an entertainer. Other times I come out and say it.

How do they react?

They ask a lot of the questions you’re asking. They want to know what we do with the guys, if we do windows . . .

Do you do windows?

We do. With our nipples pressed up against the glass.

IT’S A LIVING: Colon Hydrotherapist

Filed under: Uncategorized — gregstacy @ 9:11 am

(Originally printed in OC WEEKLY, Thursday, May 18, 2006)

Jeannie Martin is a colon hydrotherapist at Body Health in Irvine.

Is this job as gross as it sounds? 

Well, my husband always says it takes a special kind of person to do this. You can’t be queasy. It’s not gross for me. It’s a job. It’s easy. We use a tube for the colonic, everything goes out through the tube and it’s all contained in there, so there’s no smell. If I open my wrist and see a lot of blood—like when I was opening a door one time, and the wood was splintered and I got caught on it—that’s gross to me. Or like I cut my finger recently, and all the guts came out, and I felt a little faint seeing that. But with this job, no, not at all. I always say that I’m not seeing anything I don’t see every time I go to the bathroom, y’know? I see it all the time, so how could that be gross to me? A lot of times people are really nervous when they come in here, they don’t want to see what comes out. But then once we get started they look behind them, at all the stuff flowing out through the tube, all the junk that was impacted and is flowing out now, and they’re like, “Ooh, neat!”

I’ve heard urban legends about people having this done, and it flushes out old doll shoes and pennies they ate when they were kids. Is that possible, and have you seen it?

I’ve never seen anything like that, so I don’t know. But I’ve seen some pretty bad stuff.

Like what?

Like worms. Really big roundworms, tapeworms. I’ve got a big one on the counter in front of me right now. He’s in a jar.

How big is it?

Well, he’s all coiled up, you know. It’s hard to say.

You can approximate.

Hmm. He’s only about four inches, actually. He’s not that big.

That sounds big enough.

They come in all different lengths. I’ve seen, like, a foot-long worm.

Are they ever alive?

Well, we don’t normally see worms from just the colonic; that’s more something that happens from a cleansing. So when they come out from that, they’re already dead.

A cleansing?

Yeah, people do things to cleanse their system—like they’ll fast, or use herbal products to get rid of parasites. Wormwood is good for that. And if they do that, we can see some worms.

Your profession is very controversial with mainstream doctors, and some of them even say it’s dangerous to get a colonic, that the colon could rupture. What do you say to that?

Well, you read things online where they make it sound like we pump in 20 gallons of water all at once. We only pump in 15 gallons of water, and it’s not all at the same time. We really take our time, and we’re very careful.

So you’ve never had an emergency?

Never. I’ve never known anybody who did.

What sort of safety precautions do you use? Do you wear a mask? Do you have immunizations?

There’s no need for the mask, because, like I said, it’s all going through the tube. And there are no immunizations. But we do wear the gloves. Everything is disposable. It’s all very sanitary.

What inspired you to get into this profession?

Most of the people who get into this had some kind of health problems that led them to seek it out. That’s what happened to me. I was working in the garment industry, and I had a lot of toxins in my system. I had bronchitis, sinus problems, a lot of skin irritations. My parents learned about colonic hydrotherapy in 1958, from Victor Irons, one of the pioneers in the field, so I knew about this growing up. But my own health problems inspired me to pursue it. Obviously, I’m glad I did.

You had colonics growing up?

No, we didn’t need it then, but our parents really watched our diets. We couldn’t have white flour, white sugar or preservatives. Of course, we’d sneak off and eat junk food with our friends, you know.

Do you come right out and tell strangers what you do for a living, or do you use some sort of euphemism?

I don’t come right out and say, but my husband does. [Laughs.] Whenever he’s talking to somebody and they say they’re having some kind of stomach problem, he’ll say, “You’re talking to the right person! You should talk to my wife.” I don’t just spring it on people. Like if we’re at a wedding and people ask what I do for a living, I’ll just laugh and say, “Well, we’ll talk about it after dinner.” And then, of course, all through dinner, they’re dying to know.

How do people react?

Actually, they’re really eager to talk about it. Nobody ever talks about this stuff, you know, so everybody has a lot of questions. I went on a retreat a while ago. We were driving up to the mountains, and the woman next to me asked what I did. I told her, and then for the next few hours, that was all anybody wanted to talk about. They had a million questions. A lot of women I talk to, they go to the bathroom like once a week. Some of them, it’s once a month! There’s way too much constipation out there. People are dying to talk about it.

IT’S A LIVING: Robin Leach Impersonator

Filed under: Humor,Interviews,It's a Living,OC Weekly,Uncategorized — gregstacy @ 9:00 am

(Originally printed by OC WEEKLY, Thursday, June 1, 2006)

Tom Tully travels OC, LA and the USA impersonating former Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous host Robin Leach.

Do enough people still know who Robin Leach is to make this a viable career?

Well, the people I’m dealing with usually have a lot of money, so they tend to be over 30. Maybe younger people haven’t heard of him as much [laughs], but that’s not really my problem. Even if people don’t know his name, they know that voice. I don’t look exactly like Leach—I look like his son, maybe—but the voice is the important thing, and the tuxedo. I was a lawyer for three years in Chicago, mostly because of a promise to my dad, but I really wanted to be a performer. Now I do voice work in Hollywood and Sunday shows as part of the Off the Wall improv troupe at the Eclectic Theatre in Santa Monica. The demand for the Leach impersonation is seasonal. I’ll do three events in a row, then I won’t get hired for three months. It’s impossible to build a career around just this.

What sort of events are these? What do you do?

I do private parties, night clubs, a lot of corporate events, and I get flown all around the country. I’m there to make your party rich and famous. As people are coming in, I’ll be there to shake their hands. [Leach voice] “Hell-o! I haven’t seen you since that night in Montevid-yow! We’re going to have a whopping good time!” I have to get people talking, get people dancing, and then at a certain point I know when to back off. I’ve done bus tours for groups, boat tours, showing them all the glamorous local spots … or the most glamorous local spots I can find, which can be a real challenge sometimes. A while ago I was booked for a boat tour and I got to the dock and the pilot hadn’t shown up. I grew up around boats, so I took them out there on this little putt-putt myself and gave them the tour.

Wow. I thought maybe you’d stand there all night saying, “Champagne wishes and caviar dreams!” 

No, you really have to think on your feet. Sometimes I’ll get there and people will say, “You’re our entertainment for the night!” I’m not really a standup comedian, but I’ll have 20 minutes to come up with a whole routine. I’ll find out as much as I can about the guests, and I’ll present nefarious awards based on their quirks. Like, if somebody was caught sleeping at their desk, or if they got a double bogie golfing, I’ll give them some silly award for that. One time I did an event for a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon who’d just been on TV; he was frantic to get everybody to watch the tape, but he couldn’t get their attention. Finally I told them all [Leach voice], “We’re going to need your attention over here, or the doctor is going to show all of your ‘before’ pictures!” Got a huge laugh. I’ll tease people, but you have to use kid gloves—no jokes about somebody being fat or whatever. Y’know, Leach never says a bad word about anybody.

Did anybody ever take offense? 

I worked an event a while ago, a post-election thing, after a run-off—I won’t say where. I made a joke about them settling the election in the parking lot with mud wrestling. The mayor was a lady, and apparently she didn’t take too kindly to that. It’s a fine line.

Does doing that loud, high Leach voice all night blow out your vocal chords? 

I’m also a singer, and I keep my voice in good shape. I practice an hour a day. You get into the routine so you can practice anywhere. I’ll practice while I’m driving, while I’m paying bills.

Are there stresses to this job that people wouldn’t imagine?

It can be a grind. You’re dealing with new people constantly, and you never know what to expect. People give you vague directions—“Oh, it’s right by the San Diego ballpark, you can’t miss it!” You have to be very clear about how long you’ll be there, or there can be issues when your time is up and they want more. I’ve had to be very insistent about when a gig was over. Sometimes there’s no place to get dressed before the show. I’ve had to change in the parking lot.

You couldn’t put on the tux before you got there? 

No, you have to look immaculate, and the tux would get wrinkled while you were driving. Like Dean Martin said, always put on your tuxedo pants right before you go onstage! But y’know, I’ll tell you about the best gig I ever worked. It was an event in Palm Springs, me and a Marilyn Monroe impersonator. We had to get the crowd dancing, so we got out there, and she really did look just like the young Marilyn. She had a fiancée, nothing happened between us, and I’ve never worked with her again. But I’ll never forget that night. I thought, “Wow, y’know, I’ve been flown out here to Palm Springs so I can dance with Marilyn Monroe . . . I have the best job in the world!”

IT’S A LIVING: Sandcastle Builder

Filed under: Uncategorized — gregstacy @ 8:57 am
(Originally printed by OC WEEKLY, Thursday, July 13, 2006)

 

Ray Karch is a pro sandcastle builder in Laguna Beach

You really do this full-time?

Mostly in the summer months, but I can work from April through November, weather permitting. I was an attorney for years, and still am in the winter. But . . . I’m not sure you should mention that.

Why not?

People might not want to imagine their attorney building sandcastles the rest of the year. It sounds flaky.

This is California. A sandcastle-building lawyer is cool.

Well . . . I guess. I do team-building corporate events on the beach. I’ll show a group how to play nice in the sand. I also do parties and beach weddings. I did a wedding proposal a while ago, in San Diego. It was a big heart in the sand, with two porpoises. What a country, huh? Getting paid to play in the sand!

Do you enter a lot of competitions?

I’ll go, but mostly for exposure. Unless you win some cash, it’s usually not worth it. Like in San Clemente, the sand’s gritty, you’re by the railroad track, and you’re always running to feed the meter. I was like, “Y’know, I don’t care anymore!” I did a fun event out in Barstow, in a dry riverbed. They ran a hose from a hydrant so we’d have some water. Great sand!

Are there stresses to your job people wouldn’t expect?

I’ve had sunstroke; it’s an occupational hazard—you get really sick to your stomach, then you get the chills. You think you’re freezing in the middle of the summer. Now I know to wear [an SPF] 30 to 35 sunblock, a wide-brimmed hat, and a sweat suit, if I can stand it. This can be hard work. Your shoulder muscles will kill you.

So why do it? I’ve never understood why people put so much work into something that lasts only a few hours.

Well, when you go to a great concert, you can’t keep the song. This is performance art; people can watch the creation of a masterpiece. And it’s cheap therapy for me. I forgot to mention, I’m also a magician. I perform at the Magic Castle. My real dream is to combine the magic and the sandcastle building—like if I was working at a resort. So, uh, if anybody wants to hire me for something like that, my website is http://www.castlesbykarch.com/.

Wow. You’re a magician/lawyer/sandcastle builder?

I always say, “What law and magic have in common is that deception is highly prized in both.”

IT’S A LIVING: Exterminator

Filed under: Uncategorized — gregstacy @ 8:55 am

(Originally printed in OC WEEKLY, Thursday, July 27, 2006)

Dwayne Hartzell works at Total Exterminating in Anaheim.

Have you been stung a lot?

Yeah. I’m allergic to bees now. I wasn’t before, but your body chemistry changes every seven years, and now I am. I got stung and my system came unglued. My face was all swelled up. I know a guy who got stung, and it hurt so bad he said he’d rather jump off a bridge with a bungee cord tied to his nuts. I fought a raccoon on a roof a while ago. It can be a dangerous business.

What’s the worst infestation you’ve ever seen?

I went to this one-bedroom condo, and a manic-depressive lady lived there with her son. Western had been there, Terminex had been there, but those guys, they’re nothing. The place was covered with German roaches—the floors were black with them, you could hardly walk. They were all over the VCR even, because it’d been running and it was warm. There was a cage with a dead animal in the bedroom. I think it’d been a rabbit. When we’re facing a job that overwhelming we give them an extra high bid so if we end up having to do it, it’s worth our while. She eventually found some guy, a one-man show, and he did the whole thing for like $900, $1200.

Sounds like a bargain.

I called my old manager out to see that place. He couldn’t believe it. People will have mazes made from piles of old newspapers. They’ll have rooms full of milk cartons. Crazy.

I’ve heard exterminators sometimes get hate mail from hippies.

We don’t get that, but we have to be very discreet when we work at UC Irvine.

The students will confront you?

They’ll steal our traps. They think we kill the possums, but we release them into the wild. Possums are protected in California.

How do people generally react to what you do?

A while ago I was talking to a girl at a party, and when she found out what I do, she lost interest. I’m living with a lady now who is very touchy. She figures I’m around pesticides all day, and she doesn’t wanna get exposed. She makes me take off my shoes when I get home. I’m not even going on calls anymore. I’m just here in the office . . . and she still does that!

Damn Right, It’s Better Than Yours: Kelis’ “Milkshake” deconstructed

Filed under: Humor,Music,OC Weekly,Weird — gregstacy @ 8:48 am

(Originally printed by OC WEEKLY, January 29, 2004)

Kelis’ “Milkshake” has been stuck in my head for weeks. It is a masterpiece of awfulness, so completely, weirdly bad that my mind refuses to let it go. In a sadly futile effort to purge “Milkshake” from my brain, I have dissected the lyrics line by line in hopes of making some sense of them. Assuming you’ve been similarly harassed by the song, we run the following analysis as a public service:

My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard

(Err . . . okay. Presumably, Kelis is not referring to a literal milkshake. From what follows, it would seem most likely that she is singing about her breasts. So, she is saying the way she shakes her breasts draws boys from far and wide, and they all stand around in her front yard. It’s a very strange concept, but we’ll run with it.)

And they’re like, it’s better than yours

(Wait . . . better than whose? Did the boys bring their girlfriends along to stand in the yard, and these boys are comparing their girlfriends’ breasts to Kelis’? That’s just plain rude!)

Damn right, it’s better than yours

(Kelis apparently agrees that her breast-shaking is better than the girlfriends’ of the boys standing in her yard.)

I can teach you, but I have to charge

(Curiouser and curiouser. Perhaps Kelis is now telling the girls that she will instruct them in the art of breast-shakeage for a small fee. Kelis lives in a very strange world. The entire first verse now repeats, and it only becomes more confusing on the second go-round.)

I know you want it

The thing that makes me

What the guys go crazy for

(Kelis asserts that because her breast-shaking technique is better than the girlfriends’ of the boys standing in her yard, these poor girls can never hope to sexually arouse their boyfriends the way Kelis can. Kelis is apparently kind of a bitch.)

They lose their minds

The way I whine

(While most men would not put whininess high on the list of characteristics they find attractive in a woman, apparently the strange boys who gather in Kelis’ yard find it irresistible.)

I think it’s time

(Ummm . . . time for what? For Kelis to shake her breasts? Does it happen each day at a designated time? No wonder the boys are gathering in her yard, if they’re guaranteed a show like that every day at a specified hour!)

La, la , la, la, la

Warm it up

(A warm milkshake? The prospect is faintly nauseating, frankly. This would seem to confirm that Kelis is not referring to a literal milkshake. Perhaps her breasts are cold from all that time in her yard, and she is shaking them to warm them up.)

La, la , la, la, la

The boys are waiting

(Apparently, it is indeed the designated hour for Kelis to do her breast-shaking show for the boys gathered in her yard. With a scene like that going on, I wonder how long it will be before some neighbor calls the cops? The first verse now repeats again, twice.)

I see you’re on it

You want me to teach thee

Techniques that freaks these boys

(Kelis is apparently once again plugging the instructional courses she offers in breast-shaking.)

It can’t be bought

(Hang on! Kelis, did you not say just a few verses ago that, for a nominal fee, you would teach these poor girls how to shake their breasts? And now you’re rescinding the offer! What the hell, girl?!?)

Just know things get caught

Watch if you’re smart

(Well, at least Kelis is taking the time to warn these girls about the dangers of STDs. And judging by the asshole boyfriends they’ve apparently hooked up with, I’d say it’s a very real possibility they could contract some scary diseases.)

La, la , la, la, la

Warm it up

La, la , la, la, la

The boys are waiting

(Know what, Kelis? You are just plain not nice, and the girlfriends of the terrible boys in your yard are going to need some serious counseling.)

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