10 People Who Provide Incredibly Unusual Services
Need a green lawn? A savory snack? Or perhaps a cure for asthma? Hey, everybody needs something, and these people are more than happy to oblige. From eccentric chefs to psychic protectors, the 10 folks on this list provide incredibly unusual services for people across the globe. Some are out to make a few bucks, and others are working out of the goodness of their hearts, but they’re all providing wild services that you probably won’t find anywhere else.
Xtreme Green Grass
Things are pretty dry in California at the moment. The Golden State is currently experiencing one of the worst droughts on record, a natural disaster that’s lasted four long years. In fact, things are getting so bad that earlier this year, Gov. Jerry Brown issued mandatory water cutbacks of 25 percent. And that’s pretty bad news if you’re a blade of grass. Thanks to the shortage, Californians can only water their lawns two or three times a week (down from the usual four or five), and lawns across the state are now a nasty brown.
Hoping to keep things nice and tidy, some Californians have torn up their lawns, replacing the grass with rocks, native plants, or artificial substitutes. But if people aren’t willing to tear up their yards, there is one inventive solution. Enter David Bartlett, the brains behind Xtreme Green Grass. Give Bartlett a phone call, and he’ll show up at your home armed with a sprayer and plenty of paint. That’s right. For 25 cents per square foot, Bartlett and his crew will paint your grass green.
“It’s just like hair dye,” Bartlett explained to The Sacramento Bee. He also says his paint is all-natural and won’t harm the environment in any way. And according to Bartlett, his method is a whole lot cheaper than replacing your entire lawn with native plants. Xtreme Green Grass also offers a special service around Christmastime. If you want that winter wonderland look, Bartlett will paint your lawn white to give it that festive feel. True, David might find himself out of a job once it starts raining again, but at the moment, business is booming.
The Umpire Pastor
When most people think about baseball, they usually think about the pitchers and the catchers, the fielders and the batters. They think about the players. Nobody ever really considers the umpire . . . unless he makes a bad call. And then fans tear him apart, the media rips him to shreds, and psychos start sending death threats his way. Life as an umpire can be pretty difficult, and that’s why they’re glad to have Dean Esskew around.
A 40-something pastor from Oklahoma, Esskew heads up Calling for Christ, a ministry that provides spiritual guidance for major and minor league umpires. For over 10 years, Pastor Dean has traveled across the country, attending ball games and meeting in locker rooms with his flock, listening to their problems and offering advice. He shows up at hospitals for deaths and births, leads weekly prayer services over the phone, and offers disciple programs over Skype. And while he’s attending to the men, his wife Debrah is busy helping their significant others.
During the off-season, Pastor Dean leads a religious retreat for around 60 umpires who want a closer walk with God, and over the years, he’s baptized nearly 70 baseball officials. But Pastor Dean isn’t your stereotypical fire-and-brimstone preacher. The man likes to keep things upbeat, and he’s something of a notorious prankster. According to writer Jon Mooallem, he once stashed a donkey inside an umpire’s home, and once, he preached a locker room sermon while wearing only a speedo (which is all the more humorous as Pastor Dean kind of resembles Oliver Platt).
Weirder still, Pastor Dean actually hates baseball, but even though he’s not a fan of the game, he watches out of respect for the umps. Pastor Dean isn’t in this business because he loves the American pastime. He’s in this business because he cares about the men in blue.
Trader Joe’s Smuggler
If you’re a fan of Trader Joe’s—of their Speculoos Cookie Butter or their dark chocolate–covered caramels—then you should probably stay out of Canada. Sadly, Trader Joe’s doesn’t service the Great White North. If you live in Canada and want a bag full of rosemary marcona almonds, then you’ll need to visit the US. Unless you live in Vancouver, of course. Then you can just head over to Pirate Joe’s, a quirky little shop run by Michael Hallatt, the world’s most famous snack smuggler.
Hallatt opened his shop in 2012, initially stocking his shelves with goods purchased at the Trader Joe’s in Bellingham, Washington. When the store’s senior manager discovered why Hallatt was buying so many items, the Canadian was permanently banned from the store. The smuggler then set his sights on Seattle, and soon, he was employing a group of American shoppers (whom he affectionately refers to as “cats”) to visit stores across the nation, snatching up armloads of Trader Joe’s goods.
Purchasing massive amounts of snacks and driving them across the border naturally poses a few problems. For example, Hallatt had to design his own nutrition labels to satisfy the Canadian government. He also had to figure out how much he should charge for each item. Fortunately, Canadians are willing to fork over a pretty penny for all those snacks, sometimes paying $1.50 or more above the retail value. And then there’s the company itself. The folks at Trader Joe’s aren’t crazy about Hallatt’s scheme, and they’ve tried to shut him down. But since he isn’t stealing or counterfeiting their goods, and since they can’t prove he’s harming their business, a US court dismissed the company’s lawsuit.
If anything, Hallatt is actually helping Trader Joe’s. The man spends $25,000 per month at their stores, plus he’s building a loyal fan base in case Trader Joe’s decides to move up north. And ultimately, that’s really Hallatt’s end game. If Trader Joe’s ever opens a store in Canada, he’ll gladly take down his “Pirate” sign and move onto other business opportunities. But until that happens, he’ll keep the people of Vancouver well stocked with chocolate orange sticks and wild king salmon jerky.
The Human Mermaid
If you’ve seen Disney’s The Little Mermaid, then you know it’s the story of a mermaid who swaps her tail for two legs so she can join her Prince Charming on dry land. Melissa Dawn’s story, on the other hand, is the exact opposite. She started off bipedal and earthbound, but then one day, she took to the water and launched one of the weirdest enterprises imaginable. You see, Melissa Dawn is a professional mermaid, and for enough money, she’ll perform at your birthday party or corporate event, complete with a clamshell top and a 25-kilogram (60 lb) tail.
Originally a free diver at SeaWorld Orlando (she’s since spoken against the theme park), Dawn was billed as “Mermaid Melissa,” and she could hold her breath for a whopping five minutes. At first, the whole “mermaid” thing was just a nickname. There weren’t any actual fish fins involved . . . not until she hit upon a particularly inventive business plan.
After starting a YouTube channel in 2006, Melissa opened her very own company, “Mermaid Aquatic Entertainment.” Along with a group of professional mermaids and mermen, Melissa travels the globe—showing up in places like Japan, Dubai, and England—and entertains at resorts, festivals, and charities. For enough clams, Melissa and friends will put on their fishy appendages, dive into one of their rentable performance tanks, and dazzle audiences with their impressive underwater acrobatics.
In addition to wowing guests with her amazing swimming skills, Melissa wants to promote “ocean education through underwater entertainment,” hoping her company will inspire people to “save the oceans before all creatures become mythical.” Of course, if you ever decide to hire Ms. Dawn, you should probably call her “Mermaid Melissa.” That’s her real name. That’s right. This free diver is so in love with her job that she legally changed her name to “Mermaid.” Talk about dedication.
Adopting Dead Babies
In April 2003, something horrible happened in the Chilean town of Puerto Montt. While sifting through garbage in the local junkyard, someone found a lumpy black bag . . . and inside was a dead baby girl. The discovery made headlines in the Puerto Montt newspaper, but while most would’ve shaken their heads in sadness and turned to the next page, Bernarda Gallardo decided something had to be done.
Bernarda knew how this baby had ended up in the dump. Some single mother—probably young and impoverished, possibly a rape victim—had given birth and didn’t know what to do. Scared out of her mind, she’d left the baby to die, and that was a fear Bernarda understood all too well. In 1976, when she was 16, she’d found herself pregnant after she was raped. Fortunately, she was supported by friends and family, but she knew what that poor mother had probably felt like.
Of course, Bernarda was also heartbroken for the baby, and she decided to give this little girl a proper funeral. But that proved to be kind of complicated. In addition to all sorts of paperwork and medical tests, only a family member could claim the body, so Bernarda would have to adopt the baby. When she approached a local judge with her odd request, he observed this was the first time in Chilean history that anyone ever adopted a dead child. With the government’s approval, Bernarda named her new daughter Aurora, and on the day of the funeral, 500 people showed up to honor the little girl.
Once Aurora was laid to rest, Bernarda discovered her new mission in life. Since that day in 2003, she’s become a one-woman adoption agency. After Aurora, she adopted three more dead babies (Manuel, Victor, and Cristobal), and as of April 2015, she’s currently working on adopting another little girl by the name of Margarita, hoping to give this child a peaceful place to rest for eternity.
5The Psychics Of Silicon Valley
San Francisco is one of the most psychic cities on the planet. In fact, there are so many mediums running around that in 2003, the City by the Bay declared all psychics had to register with the city government. They were even required to give fingerprints and pay for operating permits, all in an effort to keep San Fran citizens safe from con artists.
Other people think psychics are protecting them from evil powers and bad vibes, including quite a few folks in Silicon Valley. Several CEOs are turning to mediums when they need guidance, mediums like Nicki Bonfilio, an “intuitive counselor” who’s worked for companies like Facebook, Apple, and Microsoft.
Bonfilio was voted the city’s best psychic in 2009, and she’s got mad skills when it comes to “assisting with challenges relating to fertility” and “creating an ideal energetic context within which to maximize growth and self-awareness.” And she’s also pretty good at helping Silicon CEOs make important business decisions, like which apps are going to do well and when they should hit the market.
Nicki isn’t the only clairvoyant helping out San Francisco’s techie crowd. According to San Francisco Weekly, the Rev. Joey Talley specializes in warding off computer viruses—with magic. When she’s not helping average Joes with “daily magic” (relationship ills, money problems, etc.), this Wiccan is showing up at businesses with homemade charms to keep their computers safe. Using plants and gems of various colors (evidently, the colors are important), she can keep hackers and malware at bay.
Tech companies also hire the Rev. Talley for her legal expertise—or, more precisely, her incantations. Several start-ups actually ask Talley to influence upcoming court battles by working her magic on judges and rival attorneys. Now, you might think that sounds pretty ridiculous, but on the off chance that she’s really magic, we’ll keep our skepticism to ourselves.
Rape Admissions Consultant
It’s safe to say Hanna Stotland provides the most controversial service of anyone on this list. She helps young men get into college. At first glance, that sounds pretty innocent. But Stotland specializes in a particular kind of client: students kicked out of school for sexual misconduct.
According to the Association of American Universities Campus Climate Survey, one in four women have “experienced unwanted sexual contact” during their college experience. Thanks to intense media attention, universities are starting to crack down on the problem. Even victims who don’t go to the police can report their attackers to university authorities. College officials can then suspend the assailant or kick them out, even if the student was never legally charged or convicted.
Rape allegations are going to follow you wherever you go, and your chances of getting into another university are pretty slim. That’s where Hanna Stotland comes in. A Harvard graduate with years of legal experience, she provides a sort of cleanup service, helping men find a university that’ll accept their transcript—and their version of the truth.
When Stotland accepts a client, she gives them dedicated advice. For example, she advises her clients to wait one or two years for the furor to die down and to never cover up the controversy. Instead, she encourages them to admit what happened but give things a friendly spin. Explain you feel bad for upsetting the victim, but never admit it was actually rape. Say something like, “Yes, the girl was a bit drunk, and I made a mistake, but it’s not like she was unconscious or anything.” Stotland refers to these kinds of scenarios as “gray situations.”
Stotland also advises her clients to sweet-talk prospective colleges. Explain they understand it’s awkward to admit someone accused of rape, and that they appreciate their tough situation. And Stotland’s methods are effective. She’s also pricey, so most of her controversial clients are well to-do.
Of course, she doesn’t feel bad about making a few bucks helping these people get back into college. In fact, she thinks she’s providing a valuable service for society. As she explained to BuzzFeed earlier this year, “God forbid, if one of my clients committed rape, who needs a liberal arts education more than that person?”
The Hookworm Man
If you can’t stand pollen or feel funny around felines, Jasper Lawrence understands. This Englishman spent most of his life suffering from allergies. He couldn’t even step outside without his eyes swelling shut. Things got worse in his late twenties when he was hit with a debilitating case of asthma. Since his medication wasn’t helping, Jasper got drastic and took a trip to Africa.
Jasper is a big believer in the “hygiene hypothesis,” the theory that developed countries are too clean. Thanks to our hatred of germs, we’ve killed many of the microbes that keep our bodies working properly, and that’s why we suffer from afflictions like asthma and Crohn’s disease. Without the proper bacteria and parasites to strengthen our immune systems, our bodies overreact to dust and pollen, causing all sorts of irritating allergic illnesses.
Hoping to restore balance to his intestinal ecosystem, Jasper spent two weeks stomping through open sewers in Cameroon. Why? He was hoping to pick up a few hookworms. These nasty nematodes reproduce in our small intestine, but the eggs exit through our feces. When people step on this parasitic poop, the worms enter through our feet. Jasper—and several other scientists—suspect these parasites have a calming effect on our immune system. When they wind up in our guts, they (possibly) cause our immune systems to chill out.
While that sounds crazy, it seems to have worked for Jasper. After introducing 50 worms into his body, his allergies completely disappeared. And he decided to share his creepy-crawly cure with the world. Using his own intestine as a breeding facility, Jasper harvests his feces for hookworm eggs, washes the creatures with an antibiotic solution, and then sells the parasites to anyone desperate enough to intentionally infect themselves. Now, before you can get these squiggly critters, you have to answer a questionnaire and show him the results of a blood test. But if you check out (and fork over $3,500), Jasper will keep you supplied for five years.
Jasper claims he’s healed people suffering from sicknesses like multiple sclerosis, but of course, there are risks involved. Hookworms can cause diarrhea and anemia, and that’s probably why the FDA isn’t fond of Jasper’s business. Originally, this Englishman ran his business in California, but once the feds came knocking, Jasper got out of Dodge. Fearing harsh fines and possible imprisonment, he’s spent the last few years on the run, hiding out in the UK. But despite his nomadic lifestyle, he’s still selling plenty of baby worms. He’s got a never-ending supply in his gut.
2Jeff The 420 Chef
Marijuana has come a long way since the days of Reefer Madness. According to the Pew Research Center, 53 percent of Americans think pot should be legalized, and so far, four states and Washington, DC have approved the use of recreational marijuana. And that’s good news for Jeff the 420 Chef, one of the most unusual cooks in the country.
Preferring to go by his dope pseudonym, Jeff the 420 Chef travels across America, preparing cannabis cuisine for his clients. The so-called Julia Child of weed has serviced everyone from the Hollywood elite to patients suffering through chemotherapy. With his special “CannaButter” and “CannaOils,” Jeff creates delicious dishes like French toast, macaroni and cheese, and coconut chicken with a little twist.
Obviously, Jeff only works his marijuana magic in places where weed is legal (Oregon, Alaska, Colorado, California, and DC), and since things are still a bit weird legally speaking, Jeff doesn’t accept any cash for his services. Instead, the client pays for his plane ticket and hotel room, and they buy all the necessary ingredients.
Jeff is the cannabis connoisseur, and he knows which weed fits which occasion. Want to spice up your Valentine’s Day party? Jeff might recommend a special brand of pot that stimulates the sex drive. Suffering from nausea due to chemo? Fortunately, Jeff knows just the right kind of weed to settle you. And if you want to get in touch with your creative side, the 420 Chef recommends Purple Haze, a plant that’ll put you in touch with your muse . . . and the munchies.
And Jeff will cook for pretty much any occasion imaginable, from corporate events to weddings to Shabbat suppers (the man makes a mean marijuana matzo ball). He also offers cooking classes and is trying to get his own TV show, all in his quest “to make people’s lives better.” The man even offers a few of recipes online if you feel like getting crazy in the kitchen.
Some call him “The Babymaker.” Others call him “The Sperminator.” The BBC even labeled him “Europe’s most virile man.” His real name is Ed Houben, and this Dutchman is something of a sperm donor, but he doesn’t deliver his seed in the usual way.
Or, rather, Houben donates his sperm in the most natural way imaginable. The man helps struggling couples and desperate singles conceive by actually having sex with them.
Though he describes himself as an “ugly fat guy with glasses,” Houben’s services are incredibly popular. As of 2015, he’s fathered 106 babies, including four sets of twins. Women from around the world have showed up in Ed’s apartment, flying in from countries like Brazil, Australia, and Vietnam. Many of his clients are single women, but things can get awkward when he’s helping married couples. While Ed is busy “working,” the men sometimes stay in the car or watch TV in his living room, but occasionally, a few husbands sit in the bedroom, wanting to be there for the creation of their child.
Now, Ed says his intentions are completely innocent. He says he just wants to help people who can’t conceive a child of their own, and up until recently, Houben helped any woman who came his way. In recent years, he’s started asking for photos beforehand so he can pick and choose his clients.
While that sounds a bit piggish, Ed is more than happy to meet any of his kids if they ever want to find their biological dad (although he makes it pretty clear that he’s not involved in the parenting process). Most importantly, Ed doesn’t charge anything for his services, and as he explained to GQ, he’s “rich in children but not in money.”