The Only Female Pro Skywriter in America

Asbury-Oliver, several decades ago while working as Pepsi’s skywriter. Look closely for the “Suzanne” painted on the plane’s side. Image: airandspace.si.edu

The first time Suzanne Asbury-Oliver flew a plane, she was 14 years old. That was the easy stuff, in a sailplane, back when she could actually see in front of her.

As a skywriter for Pepsi, Asbury-Oliver spent 25 years crafting messages with smoke in the sky, frequently taking her dog along for the ride in the front seat. She flew an antique biplane, which completely obscures one’s line of vision. That means she’s writing the mirror image of words at 10,000 feet above Earth, effectively with her eyes closed. “It’s seat-of-the-pants-type flying,” she says.

Now, without a corporate sponsor, she and her husband own their own plane and skywriting business called Olivers Flying Circus. They received plenty of requests in the leadup and aftermath of Nov. 8 — yes, just like the ones you’re imagining — but Asbury-Oliver refused, on a no-negativity principle.

Since letters only last in the sky about 10 minutes, the beginning of a word will sometimes disappear by the time that word is finished, but Asbury-Oliver doesn’t worry about that. “It’s like a ticker tape; you know what it says even if the first letters are gone,” she says. Or, more fittingly, like an original Snapchat — except, of course, that anyone within a 20-mile radius can see it if they simply look up.

The most crucial lesson Asbury-Oliver has learned from a career in skywriting is survival. “Never fly straight over a swamp,” she advises sagely. “If you have an engine failure and end up going down, nobody will find you, except the alligators.”

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Hollywood’s Go-To Prosthetics Makeup Artist

“How are we gonna kill that person this week?” is a question that Matthew Mungle would periodically ask himself when working on the set of The X-Files in the late 90s. “I couldn’t wait to get the script to see what monster we had to create next.”

That might seem strange for a man with a terrible phobia of blood, but Mungle’s job is hardly within the realm of normal. Though you may not recognize his face, you’ve surely seen the prosthetic makeup Mungle has done in more than 200 film and TV projects, including Bram Stoker’s Dracula, for which he won an Academy Award. And it’s not just faces: He’s also designs prosthetic pensises, breasts, and pregnancy bellies. “We’re known for realistic-looking work,” Mungle says. “We don’t do too many aliens.”

But the work is Frankenstein-esque in the sense that Mungle hatches new creatures from scratch. He and his team may spend an entire month on one effect, like someone’s hand getting cut off in CSI. That work could be edited together so it’s only on screen for four seconds. But hey, those are still pretty impressive bragging rights.

Special Effects Makeup
Mungle at work on an autopsy body for CSI.

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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 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 Sword Swallower

Dan Meyer at a Renaissance Festival swallowing two swords at once. (Photo: Kirk Hughes)
Dan Meyer at a Renaissance Festival swallowing two swords at once. (Photo: Kirk Hughes)

Swallowing a sword is one of the most uncomfortable sensations the human body can possibly experience. A 24-inch metal blade is wedging its way down your esophagus, between your lungs and nudging aside your heart.

Your body constantly wants to gag as saliva is trying to trickle down your lungs. The sword could impale your heart, killing you instantly. And because no nerve endings exist beyond your upper throat, you can’t actually feel the blade once it gets down to the bottom of your stomach. And you’ll have “sword throat” afterward from the abrasions and scrapes.

So who would actually choose to make this his or her career? For good reason, there’s only about a dozen professional sword swallowers today.

Dan Meyer, once a scrawny, soft-spoken kid who was endlessly tormented at school, is now a seven-time Guinness World Record holder and president of the Sword Swallowers Association. It took him several years and 13,000 unsuccessful attempts, but now, he can swallow swords underwater; he can swallow 21 swords at once; he can swallow a red-hot sword, heated to 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit. And he has no plans to quit.

“If you can take everything I love to do and put it into one job, this would be it,” Meyer says. “I’m living the dream.”

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