Personal Success

You Call This Work?

UPDATED 09/08/2003 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 09/08/2003 at 01:00 AM EDT

Sand Castle Builder

LUCINDA "SANDY FEET" WIERENGA, 45

THE JOB: Sand sculptor. Creates elaborately detailed large-scale sand castles and other structures seen in public spaces around the world. "Most people can't believe someone can do something so silly for a living," she says. "But others will say things like, 'I think I was supposed to have your life.' "

THE PAY: About $60,000 a year in commissions from clients such as Nokia and Coca-Cola.

THE HOURS: From four a day to 80 a week.

HOW SHE GOT THE JOB: In the early 1980s Wierenga—then a high school English teacher—was sunbathing on the Texas Gulf Coast when she met Walter McDonald, now 62, a self-styled beach bum, who turned her on to sand sculpting. Their sculptures began winning competitions. (They also later wed and amicably divorced.) And in '87 a San Antonio mall commissioned one of their castles for $20,000. A career was born.

PERKS: No boss. Plenty of fresh air.

PERILS: No benefits. Some stress: She works in blizzards, hail and heat waves. And: "You can spend all day building a castle and have it crumble in an instant."

State Park Manager

PATRICK WILLIAM WELLS, 53

THE JOB: As the keeper of several state parks in and around the Florida Keys, Wells gets to live alone, rent-free, on his very own subtropical island—or at least, the federal government's: the lush, uninhabited 280-acre Lignumvitae Key Botanical State Park.

THE SALARY: $40,000 a year.

THE HOURS: 7:30 a.m to 5:30 p.m. spent tending wildlife, patrolling and maintaining sites, running tours and education programs.

HOW HE GOT THE JOB: Worked his way up over 20 years with the Parks Service.

PERKS: Hemingway-esque lifestyle—sans sirens, screechy kids, Starbucks and idle
chatter. (Bennifer who?)

THE PERILS: "My biggest thorns in Paradise are the mosquitoes."

BUT DOESN'T HE GET LONELY? No—it's a quick boat ride to the mainland.

Celebrity Stylist

JEANNE YANG, 35

THE JOB: Shops for and dresses stars like George Clooney, Mel Gibson and Matthew McConaughey. "That means, 'Gee, I'm putting a pair of boxer shorts on Ashton Kutcher,' " she says. Also outfits movie casts.

THE SALARY: Up to $3,000 per day.

THE HOURS: Varied. Can be seven days a week if she's dressing 1,000 movie extras.

HOW SHE GOT THE JOB: In the early '90s she sold her own clothing line on the Web. She built a portfolio and hit the stylist agencies.

IS THERE A DOWNSIDE? Shockingly, stars can be less than truthful. "Guys always lie about their shoe size." Women—duh—understate dress sizes. "I use my little stylist secret decoder ring for those situations."

COOLEST PERK: "I am privy to some of Hollywood's biggest secrets—or smallest."

Horror Jobs
Stressful, exhausting or downright disgusting—hey, they pay the bills

Washington, D.C, Police Officer on Terror Watch

STEPHEN BIAS, 35

THE JOB: When the nation's terror-alert level hits orange, the ex-vice cop sits in a dark room staring at as many as 100 TV monitor screens from surveillance cameras posted around D.C.

THE SALARY: $50,000 a year

THE HOURS: 50 to 72 a week, depending on the terror level

WHY YOU WOULDN'T WANT IT: High pressure—one oversight could allow another 9/11. Long hours working in a dark environment with bosses literally looking over your shoulder. Bias, who is single, says he has no life: "You leave work, you sleep, then you get back to work."

THAT SAID: It beats what he used to do: busting hookers.

Survivor Taste Tester

JOHN KIRHOFFER, 40 (RIGHT, WITH MATT BARTLEY)

THE JOB: Heads the crew that dreams up and tries out the show's mental and culinary challenges—including protein sources with more than four legs.

ICK FACTOR: Well, there were those hideous giant horned beetles they eat in Thailand.

WHAT HE HAS LEARNED: "There are two ways to cook a tarantula—baked or boiled. When you boil them, they go down much easier. All the little hairs on their legs soften up.'

Diaper Counter

MARTHA AGUIRRE, 34

THE JOB: Counts more than 2,000 dirty cloth diapers a day for ABC Diaper Service of Berkeley, Calif.

THE HOURS: 8 a.m. to 4: 30 p.m.

THE SALARY: $21,000 a year.

THE PERILS: Like, you have to ask?

COULD THERE BE AN UPSIDE? There's just something about infant excrement that brings coworkers together: Says Aguirre: "Everybody here has been my friend for a long time."

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