The Professional Bridesmaid

Here’s an alternate ending for 27 Dresses: Katherine Heigl is fed up with the bridesmaid schtick. But instead of letting that take her down a vulnerable path to love, it takes her down a path to a self-sufficient business plan.

Perhaps that’s not a recipe for box office success. But it’s Jen Glantz’s story. She started her own company, Bridesmaid for Hire, after she realized just how much time and energy it took to help plan her friends’ weddings. Why not get paid for it?

The normal boundaries of business don’t apply. Often, because she’s an unbiased party and not a close friend, brides feel more comfortable telling her things, like doubts about their weddings. Then it’s her job to coach them through it (that is, once she learns the fiancé’s name) and handle any dirty work on the big day. “It’s like a friendship on an accelerated time frame,” Glantz explains. She travels to weddings across the U.S. — all expenses paid by the bride, of course, who will often keep Glantz’s true identity a secret — and racks up a lot of dresses in the process, which she stows in her tiny New York City apartment.

Jen Glantz at a wedding dress store.

In her element at a wedding dress store.

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The Man With His Head in the Clouds (Quite Literally)

Gavin Pretor-Pinney distinctly remembers the time he traveled halfway across the world to the middle of nowhere.

To see a cloud.

A few years ago, he trekked from his home in the English countryside to the Australian outback to see a Morning Glory cloud, which stretches horizontally across the sky like tubes, a rather rare phenomenon. They look like elongated cotton balls, if you pulled a bunch of them apart and placed them next to each other, rising and sinking like ocean waves along the horizon.

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A Morning Glory cloud approaching Kangaroo Point in Australia, 1993. (Photo: Russell White)

“It’s a mecca for glider pilots who go there to surf this cloud,” Pretor-Pinney explained. They form in different parts of the world, but this one stretched hundreds of miles in length. “When I first got there, it was looking dicey. I was worried I would have to go home and say I just saw a blue sky.”

For Prettor-Pinney, clouds aren’t just a hobby anymore; they’re his business. The Cloud Appreciation Society operates from an office adjacent to his barn in Somerset, UK, which is covered in cloud posters and has a big etched hand pointing up toward the sky.

It doesn’t take much prompting for Prettor-Pinney to begin waxing poetic: “Clouds don’t just get in the way of the sun, they are the most dynamic and poetic aspect of nature.” His idea for the society arose as a joke in 2004, and has since taken on a life — and membership base — of its own. In fact, it’s given quite a meteoric jolt to how we classify the wispy white stuff above us.

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The Costume Wizard for ‘Hamilton’

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Jennifer Raskopf, in the room where it all happens.

There’s a little show on Broadway right now that you may have heard of — it’s a musical about the life of a Founding Father.

Yes, that’s the one.

Jennifer Raskopf is an assistant costume designer for Hamilton, the show that picked up 11 Tony Awards last night (no biggie). She’s seen the show about a dozen times — or two dozen, if you count shows that weren’t fully staged — has cried every time.

Raskopf helped shop for and do swatching and fitting for costumes for the 28 members of the current cast, from bras to buttons to the king’s cape. Like most typical theater-goers, she has about 30 Playbills sitting around her apartment; unlike most typical theater-goers, she can casually reminisce about the time Lin-Manuel Miranda, who created and stars in the show, started singing DuckTales while everyone was waiting for lighting onstage.

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The Snake Milker Who Doesn’t Wear Any Gloves

DSC_0027Only three or four people in the United States extract snake venom — the real deals, that is. Jim Harrison is one of them.

He typically “milks” about 150 snakes in two hours, or approximately a minute per snake; it’s kind of like an assembly line of venom. He doesn’t wear gloves — they hinder his dexterity — and while he’s “only” been bitten nine times in almost four decades on the job, his shortened right forefinger is due to a kickboxing mishap, not a snake bite.

There’s a lot that people get wrong about the job, Harrison explains. Plenty of people call him up, wanting to learn how to extract snake venom as a get-rich-quick scheme. But in reality, it’s a limited market, and the hardest part comes after the venom has been funneled into tubes and shipped out.

Harrison runs the Kentucky Reptile Zoo, where about 2,000 snakes reside, along with his wife Kristen. He proposed in 2004 while filming for the National Geographic show Snake Handlers in St. Lucia. “People think of venom and they think of death,” he says. “I think of venom and I think of life. It saves more lives than it will ever take.”

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The Architect Teaching Dogs to Surf

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Dog surfing tends to draw a crowd, Noll says.

“The salt water of the ocean is my therapy, my church,” Peter Noll says.

A decade ago, Noll may have scoffed at the idea of his dog accompanying him to that church-slash-therapy, but not anymore. Along with a group of other volunteers, he teaches dog surfing clinics over the summer, but hems and haws at that term: dog surfing. “It’s a misnomer,” he explains. “We teach humans how to surf with their dogs. Owners put their dogs on the board, paddle them out, ease them into a wave, and then grab them afterward.”

Noll, who started the group SoCal Surf Dogs, volunteers with the Helen Woodward Animal Center in California to help raise money and awareness by teaching people how to surf with their dogs. His Bernese mountain dog, Nani, is almost 12, and Noll says surfing has helped extend her life. But his other dog, 10-year-old Kiki, wants nothing to do with the water.

Nani’s kind of a big deal. She’s a world champion and a Surf Dog Hall-of-Famer (yes, that’s a thing) who started surfing nine years ago, but Noll has since retired her. Back in her heydey, she appeared in the movie Marmaduke as one of the dogs in the background; she made more money that week than “any of us did,” Noll laughs.

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The Real-Life Willy Wonka Behind Those Classic Candy Hearts

geoff-bloomThe magic happens in a room with a giant tub that looks like Play-Doh, in a 810,000-square-foot factory, in a small city named after Paul Revere.

The New England Candy Company, better known as Necco, produces 100,000 pounds of Sweethearts — those colorful conversation hearts you got from everyone in your third-grade class on Valentine’s Day — each day for nearly the entire year, even though they’re only sold for several weeks in January and February. They’ve been around for decades — 150 years, to be exact — but Geoff Bloom, the creative director at Necco, is tasked with finding ways to keep them fresh. (“On Fleek” is one of the phrases you’ll find on the hearts this year.)

Valentine’s Day, a one-day holiday to you but a six-week one to Necco, is the company’s biggest moneymaker; about 2 billion Sweethearts are eaten each year. But none of that would be possible without Bloom’s careful touch.

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The Food Stylist

lAfCRGvyItUxgIuXO5AYmekE389gQj-Fb4gMd4i1oU8A box of instant mashed potatoes.

That’s the one thing every food stylist always walks around with, says Charlotte Omnès. If you have a giant bowl and only four shrimp to fill it with, you pad the bowl with mashed potatoes underneath to make it appear full.

“What I do is like hair and makeup for a model, but for food,” Omnès, who has more than a decade of styling food under belt, says. “People think we’re evil sorcerers doing something awful to make food look good, but stylists love making things look real and authentic so you’re not duped when you buy a product.”

Food can be a temperamental beast; lettuce wilts, ice cream melts. But it’s Omnès’ job to make that part invisible to you — and instead to leave your mouth watering.

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