Greg Stacy’s FAT LOT OF GOOD

February 6, 2007

IT’S A LIVING – online exclusive!

Filed under: It's a Living,OC Weekly — gregstacy @ 10:09 pm

I turned in the following It’s a Living column just before Christmas, but it didn’t reach the right editor in time and never ran.

It’s a Living: Santa Claus
Joe Bays is a seasonal Santa and W.C. Fields impersonator
By Greg Stacy

Do you mostly appear at malls or kid’s parties, or what?

Mostly private parties, for adults and children. I haven’t done a mall in I don’t know how long, maybe a decade. I just did a Chamber of Commerce this last Wednesday – in Artesia, I believe it was.

How are the kid parties different from the adult ones?

Well, you give out nicer presents (at the adult ones), I’ll tell you that! Mostly you’re there to take pictures… it serves as a kind of yardstick to measure kids as they’re growing up. You can look back, year by year, at the child with Santa, and you see the attitudes change, as the child goes from total belief, to not believing or being skeptical and somewhat standoffish, to then, when they’re older, they want to sit on your lap so they can be a child again, and pretend they believe, even if it’s only for a moment.

Do you get a lot of smart-aleck questions? “How can Santa visit every house in one night?”

Well, the obvious answer to that question is that it’s magic. Kids will ask, “If you know everything, what’s my name?” Kids can ask some very difficult questions. One time, a child asked if I could bring his dad back to life.

What did you say?

I told him there are some things Santa can’t do. I said, “Always value yourself, and take care of yourself, and do the right thing, because as long as you’re alive, a part of your dad is alive.”

Wow. That’s amazing.

Well, it wasn’t what he wanted to hear. But there are no stock answers.

What about when a kid asks if you know their name?

You look at the child for cues, to see if they’re actually testing you, or if it’s a game you can both play. They have such a short shelf life of belief, and you never want to do anything to break the magic of the moment. In modern life, I think we’ve lost the ability to believe in something yet not believe in it. The ancient Greeks didn’t think Zeus literally existed, but they believed in the power of him, as an idea. Santa is one of the last myths like that, where we know he doesn’t literally exist… but we want our picture taken with him anyway! He appeals to the better angels of our natures, and we look for a part of him in ourselves. I’ve had everybody on my lap from 10 days to 80 years, and I’ll tell you, an octogenarian’s giggle sound a lot like a 5-year-old’s!

December 19, 2006

Thankyuhverymuch: Kavee Thongprecha’s journey from Thailand to Graceland

Filed under: Humor,Interviews,It's a Living,Movies,Music,OC Weekly,Weird — gregstacy @ 12:38 pm

(Printed in OC WEEKLY, September 25, 2003)

For far too long, those lucky hound dogs in LA have had Kavee Thongprecha, the Thai Elvis impersonator, all to themselves. Well into his 60s, Thongprecha still performs nightly at Hollywood’s Palms Thai Restaurant, and he is sometimes glimpsed cruising the streets in a spectacular automobile adorned with Elvis gewgaws and a license plate reading, T ELVIS. But next Thursday, the humble people of Orange County will at last be graced with the presence of this singular entertainer, as he performs at the UC Irvine screening of the Elvis Presley film Flaming Star. Our conversation was complicated by Thongprecha’s somewhat uncertain English and a phone line that sounded more like he was calling from Thailand than LA, but I’ll always treasure our brief encounter for the sheer, wonderful strangeness of it all.

 

OC Weekly: Have you seen Flaming Star, the film that’s going to be screening at UC Irvine the night you perform?

Kavee Thongprecha: It’s . . . I’m sorry, there is a film?

Yes. Flaming Star.

I . . . no. I don’t know this.

Oh. Well, do you remember when you first discovered Elvis?

Nineteen fifty-seven, I think. Yes.

This was back in Thailand? How is Elvis regarded over there?

Oh, people love him, I think. He is very popular, of course.

When did you come to America, and when did you start performing as Elvis?

In 1957. I came to America in 1972. My mother was living here. I started performing then.

Wait . . . you started performing in 1957? Or in 1972?

[Very long pause indeed.]

Hello? Mr. Thongprecha?

[Otherworldly, echoing sounds on phone line, until the voice of Thongprecha returns, forlorn and far away.] Yes? . . . Hello?

Uh, okay, let’s move on. How often do you perform, and how would you describe a typical performance for those who’ve never seen one?

Five nights a week. From 7 p.m. to 2 a.m.

Wow! That’s a long performance!

Oh, I don’t perform the whole time, no. They have other things there, too.

Still, five nights a week is impressive. How long do you see yourself doing this?

[Very long pause.]

How long do you think you’ll keep performing . . . ?

[Another long pause.]

. . . Before you retire?

Oh. Well, it depends on my health. I am getting older, and I have some health problems now, you know. But I say, as long as I can still do, I will do.

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: 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!”

October 27, 2006

IT’S A LIVING: Traveling caricaturist

Filed under: Humor,Interviews,It's a Living,OC Weekly,Weird — gregstacy @ 2:57 am
(Originally printed in OC WEEKLY, Thursday, August 3, 2006)

 

“Simon” is a caricaturist who works in OC and Long Beach.

How long have you done this?

Two years. Two miserable freaking years. Well, it hasn’t all been miserable. [Laughs.] I’ve met some hot girls. Sometimes it can be kinda fun. But mostly, it’s a lot of stress.

What’s stressful about it?

Well, just getting the jobs, for one thing. I run a lot of ads on Craigslist and stuff like that, but I don’t get many calls. When I do get calls, it’s usually for high school reunions, for some reason. That’s an ugly scene.

Why?

Well, everybody there wants to look good, you know? They don’t want you drawing pictures where they look stupid. So you sit there all night watching old people dance, and every now and then some drunk lady stumbles into your chair. And they’ll hit on you. It’s pathetic. I had a gig doing caricatures in a nightclub for a while, and again, nobody wanted me to draw them, they were trying to get laid. So I just sat there all night with my pens and my chalks, looking like a fool. I don’t know why people hire me for jobs like that.

How do you get by—if you don’t work that often?

I also work for a company, and they send me out to various places, boardwalks and beaches and stuff like that. You get a lot more people that way, but you’re in the sun all day. It’s kinda fun, but it’s really brutal, too. It gets real busy. You can make damn good money on a summer day, but you only get to keep your tips. They pay you an hourly wage. Everybody else skims a lot from the take. I try not to, but you can’t help it. You’re sitting there with a pouch full of $600, and you’re supposed to take home $45 bucks? I don’t think so!

Are people ever insulted by your drawings?

Sometimes, yeah. I’m like, “Why did you sit down in the fucking chair, man? You know what I do.” But it’s almost worse when they like it too much, when they want me to sign it and stuff. That’s embarrassing. The very worst part is when somebody puts like a retarded kid in my chair, and they want me to make them look “funny.” I mean, your kid’s got, like, an eye on the side of his head, and you want him caricatured? I don’t understand people at all.

But you’ve met some hot girls?

Unbelievable. Girls in bikinis, flirting with an ugly fucker like me. That makes it all worth it!

IT’S A LIVING: Traveling ice cream man

Filed under: Humor,Interviews,It's a Living,Music,OC Weekly,Weird — gregstacy @ 2:50 am
(Originally published in OC WEEKLY, Thursday, August 17, 2006)

See me coming, you ain’t got no change
Don’t worry baby, it can be arranged
Show me you can smile, baby just for me
Fix you with a Drumstick, I’ll do it for free

—Tom Waits, Ice Cream Man

It sounds like the ultimate summertime daydream: buy yourself an ice cream truck and drive around America giving away free ice cream, getting by mostly on good karma and stopping off at concerts to hang out backstage with rock stars. But that daydream is all in a day’s work for Matt Allen, the Ice Cream Man.

Show Allen a smile, and he’ll fix you with a Drumstick, or a Good Humor Bar, or a Choco Taco, and he’ll always do it for free. Since 2004, Allen says he’s handed out 35,000 ice cream treats at concerts, festivals and other events across the USA. He hopes to give away a million before he’s through.

On a muggy Sunday in early June, Allen pulled over on his way to Kansas and spoke to me by phone. He was beginning a three-month tour. He already sounded exhausted, and while we chatted, an angry wasp was pestering him inside his truck. Allen has spent this summer driving through the desert in a 1969 Chevy truck without air-conditioning or cruise control, sleeping on a thin mattress spread atop the freezer in the back, and waking with the sunrise. Ice cream trucks are notoriously unreliable, and Allen takes it as a given that his—which he has christened Bessie—will break down at some point.

“Yeah, Bessie hasn’t been too friendly lately,” Allen says. “Just about everything in her is brand-new. I’ve had to replace it all. They’re not made for trips like this, so you have to do endless preventative maintenance for all the things that could go wrong. It’s been unbelievably horrible.”

Allen has just about the most fun job ever, but having this much fun is damn hard work. He’s put in 100-hour weeks as the Ice Cream Man, sometimes traveling 15 hours per day.

The Ice Cream Man arrives at a concert, hands out free treats to the crowd and the crew backstage, then he’s at leisure to enjoy the show as the sun goes down. At icecreamman.com, Allen and a small team of volunteers write concert reviews and post photos of folks happily scarfing down their complimentary treats. Allen relies on corporate sponsorship to underwrite his tasty brand of philanthropy, and he’s worked out deals with sponsors ranging from Mochi Ice Cream to WESC clothing.

“I’ve always kinda had a hatred for advertising,” Allen says. “But if we do it right, this is a win-win for everybody. I always say, they can run a quarter-page ad someplace, or for the same money, they can use us. For them it’s a cool way to integrate their product into the event, and we need their money to keep Bessie running and to keep the freezers full.”

The operation is headquartered in Long Beach, Allen’s hometown, but it reaches all over the nation and Allen plans to take it international soon. He’s working on a sponsorship deal with Toyota that would see a fleet of Yaris cars transformed into roving mini-Bessies, or “Bessitas,” as Allen calls them. But until then, he’ll continue to saddle up Bessie and together they’ll travel the nation doing God’s work.

Allen has always been a free spirit, planning his life around the kind of wild ideas that come to you when you’re staring out your office window during a joyless lunch hour. He and a buddy once made a roller coaster trip across America, riding 100 coasters in a month. Another time, Allen rode a bicycle from Long Beach to Maine, raising $17,000 for breast cancer research. He’s hiked the Appalachian Trail. Most of us give up our lunch-hour fantasies, finish our coffee, and go back to poking around on eBay and pretending we’re working. But Allen just isn’t a life-of-quiet-desperation kinda guy.

“It’s the doing it that gets it done,” Allen says, “not the planning.”

Allen started selling ice cream in college. He bought a three-wheeled bike, attached a cooler, and rode around Denver with a boom box playing instrumental jazz. After he bought Bessie for $1,200, he had an epiphany: Why not roam the Earth, giving ice cream away? He makes it sound like the most natural thing in the world.

Allen says he’ll give this operation five to seven years, and if it doesn’t work out, he’ll be ready to give it up.

“I’ll disappear,” he says, “then appear someplace new. I’ll start over. With a new adventure.”

Blog at WordPress.com.