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Odd Jobs 

A photo essay about Charlotteans in out-of-the-ordinary professions

If you’ve paid a visit to Bobbie Pallante at Serenity Health Care, chances are you two have a very intimate relationship. In fact she’s probably seen a side of you not even your closest friends have seen. Pallante is a colonic therapist — one of just a handful in Charlotte — and her job calls for her to clean out patients’ colons and intestines using pressure-regulated water. If that strikes you as a little odd, well, that’s the whole idea. We’ve scoured Charlotte’s workforce in search of folks whose career trajectories have taken them down some out-of-the-ordinary paths — people who refused to settle for the drone-like drudgery most of us put up with in order to keep food on the table. Instead of following deadlines, they’ve followed their hearts and passions. And if that led them down the road less traveled, then good for them!

Colonic Therapist
Pallante first discovered colonics about a decade ago after she became ill and her sister suggested she go see a Charlotte colonic therapist. After one treatment Pallante was hooked. "I thought it was the greatest thing since ice cream," she says. "My life changed, and I decided to pursue it as a career."

She was certified at a colonic training facility in Florida, and, after working for awhile as an apprentice, she opened Serenity Health Care in 2000.

Pallante, 53, says, "Colonics are nothing new, but the Hollywood types are beginning to talk about it. People like Janet Jackson, Oprah, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck -- now it's got their stamp of approval. It's all about detoxing and cleansing the body."

Her patients are equally divided between men and women, ranging in age from 12 to 80, and she has regular clients who come for treatments three to four times a year, which is what's usually recommended. "This isn't something you want to do every month," she stresses.

And yes, she's heard all the jokes by now. "I've been called the Roto-Rooter lady and every other name you can think of. But I've always been the odd one in my family, so they weren't that surprised."

Her workplace is homey, pleasant and relaxed. "Everybody always says it was nothing like they expected. They're always pleasantly surprised. I really enjoy what I do. It's fascinating; you see so many different things."

Drag Queen Dressmaker
From a very young age, "Randy" knew something wasn't quite right. Although biologically a boy, he didn't feel like one, and in a cosmic joke, was born on a farm in West Virginia, where gender-identity issues are frowned upon. Instead of sports or other traditional male activities, Randy, unbeknownst to his mother, started making dresses for girls in the neighborhood -- and for himself. At 16 Randy decided to drop the pretense, and started living as a woman.

In 1986 she moved to Charlotte, and today, Gypsy Star, as she's now known, can be found at Morris Costumes, where she's been making dresses and other outfits for over seven years. In addition to traditional costumes for Halloween and whatnot, Gypsy also designs dresses and gowns for drag queens, gay pageants, and other alternative performers across the country. And just like back in West Virginia, she's still designing her own outfits, which she wears during her performances at Scorpio.

Brian Clyburn, 31, has spent a lot of time around dead people. When he was just a kid, his great uncle started Long & Son Mortuary Service, and young Brian would ride around in hearses, hang out at the cemetery and run errands at the office. He apparently enjoyed working around the living-challenged, because when it came time to pursue a career, he chose mortuary school over law school.

Since he graduated, he's embalmed over 1000 bodies (he averages about 150 per year), as the director and mortician at Long and Son Funeral Homes. Clyburn explains that the embalming process starts with thoroughly washing the corpse. Next, Clyburn makes a series of incisions along the body's main arteries and veins, tying off both with sutures. He then inserts tubes about the diameter of a pen into the incisions, then pumps out blood and pumps in embalming fluid. After all the fluids and gases are drained, he sews up all the incisions, applies make-up, combs the hair, dresses the body in proper attire, and as a finishing touch, makes sure the body and facial features are posed just so.

"Some people think we're morbid or strange, but I like my job, it's as simple as that."

Doll Repair
Becky Rushing's special little room is littered with body parts -- arms, legs, torsos, decapitated heads, their lifeless eyes staring at nothing. But Becky isn't a serial killer, she's owner and operator of Becky's Doll Repair in Indian Trail. "It's not real lucrative, but it's real satisfying," she says. "I just love it."

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