The Things We Do for Cash

Taking It OffStripping professionally can cover a student's bare essentials and then Sara ScottIn a dark bar where neon and mirrors dominate the decor, a woman who calls herself Austin -- it's a stage name -- struts her stuff to pounding beat and screeching guitars of '80s hard rock on a stage in front of the Pure Pleasure Tuesday happy-hour crowd. She wears a tight gold dress, which she soon pulls up to reveal a gold-studded thong and a thin gold belly chain. Then she pulls the dress down around her waist, revealing her only other covering, a pair of silver pasties. Soon the dress is off and she's dancing in as little clothing as the law permits; a thong and pasties leave little to the imagination, but technically "cover" what the law deems must be covered.Exotic dancing is putting Austin through a correspondence nursing course. She works part time during the day as an LPN, studies to be an RN in her free time, and works six 2 1/2-hour bookings at Pure Pleasure and a few nights at Richard's Rendezvous."My plan was to work part time at nursing and to do this to supplement my income and pay for nursing tuition," she says, "It's so I would have time to study, because working full time as a nurse you don't have time to study. This is more for the free time as for anything else. ... I couldn't see picking up a part-time job at a department store for $8 an hour."Pure Pleasure Manager Richard Holden brags that the dancers make more hourly than most lawyers. "There's a perception that these gals are doing this because there's nothing else they could do or they'd be on welfare, but they enjoy it, they have fun and they have a flexible schedule.... These gals can put themselves through school and still drive a nice car." Many of the women are single mothers or students who need plenty of money, but also plenty of free time.While Austin dances, a few men sit around the edge of the Pure Pleasure runway. It's early yet, business will heat up as the night wears on. There are a few guys at the bar, watching the dancers out of the corners of their eyes, a group of men in business suits sitting in a row along the runway, and two men sitting alone. The two single men sit with neat stacks of dollar bills next to their beers. They watch every move the women make with vapid interest, placing tented bills on the edge of the bar without taking their eyes off the dancers. Unlike the businessmen, who act as though they are out for a drinks where there just happen to be naked women, the two single men make no pretense about their presence there.Austin and the other dancers take turns dancing, emerging from the booth at the end of the runway. They each have signature moves and signature names: Shiloh, Rio, Angel, Pebbles, Diamond, Heaven, and Bob.Austin says she has to work out to be able to sustain a 2 1/2-hour booking. On this Tuesday night, when business is slower than most nights, Austin goes home with $150 in her pocket. Other nights can bring as much as $400, if the bar is packed and there are requests for private dances on a back stage or table. The women are free agents and are paid only tips. They pay the club a $5 house fee to dance. This fall the shifts will be lengthened, house fees will be raised, and the dancers will be paid a minimum hourly rate. Austin hopes this will mean more money.The most difficult part of the job is dealing with the customers, she says. Some lean too far into the stage while she is performing and are rude or aggressive. "A lot of people who go to bars in different states and don't know that you can't touch, they can be problems.... But I'm good at defusing things. Usually if you say something to them or ignore them, they stop."Holden says protecting the girls from overly enthusiastic customers is his main concern. "We have what we call our look and point rule," he says. For any reason, if a dancer is feeling uncomfortable about a customer and wants them thrown out, she looks at one of the men who works in the club and points at the customer. The men escort the customer out, no questions asked. The dancers also are escorted to their cars at the end of each night, in case any customer has mistaken theatrics for true romantic interest. "Every guy has a fantasy. In the back of their minds they think it will become more than that," says Holden. "We want to let them have that fantasy, but protect the gals if they try to make it come true."Austin doesn't see this as a permanent job. "I'm only going to be able to do this for a couple more years. I've got to have something to do when I finish. I'm a little older than these other girls. I'll probably stop and go back to nursing."***Testing, TestingMedical research offers students the chance to sit in chairs, ponder relationships and chew cotton balls for the advancement of science ... and a little Mark StrohSometimes making money is as easy as sitting in a chair. Not telemarketing or designing or researching, or any other endeavor that involves any sort of physical or mental exertion.Just sitting in a chair.That's because sometimes chairs need to be tested.More often, it's drugs that need testing, but chances are if a researcher, inventor, or a pharmaceutical company can dream it up, it can be tested, and usually it's students who do the testing, for as much as $100 a day.Students often make the perfect subjects: They always need money and frequently have some time on their hands.Take Meredith Donohoe. Last year, she got paid $25 to think about her ex-boyfriend and chew on cotton balls. Donohoe responded to a flier she received in a stress-management course looking for volunteers who had been in bad relationships."I was applicable," Donohoe says humorlessly.She reported to the lab and was told to sit in a room with another student. After about a half-hour alone in the room with the student ("That was fun," Donohoe adds, with a hint of sarcasm), each was given a lengthy questionnaire asking how forgiving they would be in certain situations, like if a friend stood them up, Donohoe recalls.After the pair was separated, Donohoe was asked to chew on a cotton ball for two minutes, and then spit it into a small, lidded plastic tube."That was very annoying, I couldn't swallow," Donohoe says.She was then instructed to close her eyes and think about her lousy ex-boyfriend for 10 minutes while a doctor sat in front of her and kept time, which Donohoe says was a bit discomforting. "I felt like he was staring at me the whole time," she says.Then she got another cotton ball to chew on, which went in another little tube, and filled out another questionnaire.Donohoe says the study was an attempt to determine if a hormone produced under stress can be found in saliva -- hence the cotton balls and bad relationships."We particularly like to use students," says Dr. William H. Barr, director of the Center for Drug Studies, where many Phase One drug studies occur. The center does a great deal of work for pharmaceutical companies seeking Food and Drug Administration approval for new drugs. The first phase of testing involves giving the drug to healthy individuals and documenting the results. Barr says students, particularly medical students, understand the need to live up to their end of the study, to see it through, which often involves being drug-free and committing to a given amount of time, anywhere from a few hours to a week or more. "We want them to be aware of what they're required to do."The pay can range from $50 to $100 a day. During the school year, shorter studies, such as the chair test, are very popular for students. To test a chair from Japan that emits microcurrents, students simply sit in the chair for a few hours. Fewer students participate in longer-range studies during the school year, but student participation in those goes up in the summertime, according to Barr."If it's a short study, we get a number of students coming in. We try not to get students involved in any way counterproductive to the educational process," Barr says.Luke Trimmer, 21, isn't a student, but he and his friends have participated in a number of experiments of all kinds, and their experiences are indicative of the variety of opportunities that exist for students in medical research. He spent nine days in the center testing a thyroid drug and got $900. He says a friend participated in testing a head-trauma medication, which first required him to take a drug simulating head trauma. According to Trimmer, his friend earned $1,900 for that study. While not all studies pay that much, the money is there, even for a couple hours of cotton chewing and reminiscing.Donohoe is clear about her motivation: "Definitely the money. I didn't have a job at the time."The study was last May, and Donohoe received a check in July for $35, the original pay plus a $10 bonus because it took so long for the check to come. But the tardiness of her pay didn't sour her on the idea of doing another study. "I would definitely do [another study]," she says.***Blood MoneyWhen all else fails, why not sell your plasma?by Brandon WaltersMaybe you've heard the commercials wedged between Hanson and Celine Dion tunes:"How'd you like to make $160 of spending money every month for sitting on your butt and doing absolutely nothing? Wondering what kind of work pays that well? Believe it or not, you can make all that just for being a plasma donor at Sera-Tec Biologicals. Yep, you can save lives and make money all at the same time!"If that ad copy doesn't say "Hey, students!" outright, it sure says it between the lines."We encourage students to donate," says Jeff Williams, general manager for Sera-Tec Biologicals. Sera-Tec takes plasma from donors and returns cold, hard cash. For starving students, it's more than spare change, it's money in the bank. Williams says that student donors ensure a greater pool of healthy plasma. "College kids are about the healthiest group of people.... They've eaten right, having just come from their parents' houses," says Williams. "It's not until they've been at school for a while that they develop bad habits."Before the plasma is accepted, a sample of the donor's blood is tested for HIV, syphilis, hepatitis B and C, ALT (for liver function) and the presence of illegal drugs.Most college students are in the clear to be donors. But on a mid-September afternoon, no college students are seen with extended arms by the autopheresis machines. Williams knows the trends. Students were here last semester and they'll return again, especially when their cash flow slows to nil sometime just before Thanksgiving."When I went to school I had a part-time job which paid my rent and bills," admits Williams. "But I started giving plasma to get beer money."It may not be your idea of an easy way to earn a few greenbacks. It certainly isn't for the squeamish.But really, just how much cash are we talking?Bottom line: $40 a week. After the initial visit's half-hour physical administered by an RN, the investment is less than two hours a week. Because saline and blood are returned to the body, donors are able to give plasma up to twice a week. Sessions last from 40-55 minutes. Payout for the first session is $15. A second donation within a Monday through Saturday workweek brings $25. Sera-Tec pays for repeat customers and for referrals to other donors. That's an extra 10 bucks.Sera-Tec pays because Baxter Healthcare Corporation of Glendale, Calif., pays them. Healthy plasma is a commodity.Plasma is used by pharmaceutical companies such as Baxter to make a variety of medical products, most notably a substance called Rh Immune Globulin, important for preventing a certain blood disorder in newborns. Plasma also is used to help patients with blood clotting disorders.By selling plasma, the money hungry are actually giving to the greater good of mankind.-- and directly, at least, to the greater good or profit of pharmaceutical companies.The large white room at Sera-Tec where donors bleed for cash is dotted with rose-colored vinyl recliners lining two walls. In one afternoon, 11 people have their plasma sucked out by clear winding straws. They appear relaxed, watching "Independence Day" on overhead TV monitors placed strategically for optimum view from each chair.Next to the chairs are the autopheresis machines. These machines are responsible for the modern ease of plasmapheresis, the technical name for giving plasma. A trained technician makes a prick in the new donor's arm and secures the needle. The computerized closed-safe machine swirls blood through the clear tubing. The system separates blood from water and plasma (protein). Plasma on its own looks powerless -- a dull, straw-colored liquid looking like watery tapioca. It is mostly water--90 to 95 percent. The important part of the plasma is the protein--only about 5 percent.The machine registers when the donor has given 750 milliliters, precisely the amount of a fifth of liquor. The autopheresis machine then starts the process of returning red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets (the other parts of the blood) to the donor. Putting the blood back into the body requires the same amount of time (20-30 minutes) as extracting it out of the body. The computerized machine shuts off when the process is complete. The technician dabs the arm with a cool wet swab and presses a small circular bandage over the tiny entry wound.That's it, and for many it's practically painless. The donor walks out with $15 cash.Kim Baker, 30, and a first-time donor, understands why it would appeal to college students. "It's easy. Like me, they do it for the money. And it really doesn't hurt a bit."***Call MeA professional escort can make big bucks, but at what cost?by Sara Scott"If we were starving, if my fiance lost his job and we were out in the street, that's the only way I would do it -- for my kids. Otherwise, I would never go back."Allison (not her real name) is a 28-year-old mother and a student. Four years ago, living alone as a student, she was trying to work temp jobs 9-5 and take classes at night, but couldn't make ends meet. Her son was with her parents and she needed money to move here to be with him. "I don't know what made me think of it, but I looked in the Yellow Pages under 'Escort' and I picked this one out." Escorting paid $400-600 a night, "tax-free." It was a quick way to make money without interfering with school.Some establishments that describe themselves as escort services cross the line into prostitution, but Allison says the service she worked for required a form to be signed by each client acknowledging that the service was hands-off: nothing beyond private stripteases. She says some women, though, would charge their own fees to go as far as prostitution. Allison never did. "They advertise that you're going to have an escort on your arm for the night," Allison says, referring to the typical escort Yellow Pages ad, which usually shows an image of an elegant couple out on the town. "It is nothing so prim and proper, unfortunately.""It was scary because most of [the clients] were in hotels, and they're traveling businessmen or truckers," she says. "It's just you, one single woman against a man, and you have no idea what their mindset is." Each night, the company's switchboard would call with a client in Allison's area. Allison was required to call into the service as soon as she arrived at the hotel or house and also at the end of the hour. If she didn't call after an hour, they would call the room to check on her. But what happened during that hour was beyond their control."This one guy was into black magic, and he had all these weird things like incense and candles, and he was playing really weird music and he was talking freaky, you know -- 'People are witches and you don't even know they are. Have you ever considered yourself a witch?' -- and he's just crossing the line there." Others would, as she puts it, "have sexual relations with themselves," while she danced.The escort service charged clients $150 for an hour of Allison's company. The service split the take 50-50 with Allison, but she got all the money she was paid to strip down to a thong or G-string. "How I made my money was tips. I didn't necessarily make it off the call, but those guys would give me 150 bucks cash just like that, flipping me bills, 'Here, dance for me some more. Take this off.' If you want a lap dance, that's extra. And that's where it became a fine line because you get real close to them, but you still have to maintain your distance, and they keep pushing you to do more."If escorting seems like an almost desperate way to make a little money, consider the kind of money that can be made. Allison says she can't remember exactly because she never kept track, but guesses she made somewhere around $5,000 for the three months. Quick math shows she must have made much more than that. Working at an average of $500 a night, four nights a week for three months, the total could have looked more like $24,000. She says it went quickly into paying bills, and she never kept a record to claim it as income. She was aware that it was "a lot."Today, Allison is engaged and she and her fiance have a new baby. She is getting a bachelor's degree in psychology ("To figure out crazy people like me"), and is planning to become a counselor. Those three months are deep in her past.Escorting was a way to get where she wanted to be. She is ambitious and hopes to be headed for the same bright future most other college students hope for.Though she has seen more of the dark side of the world than most, she remains idealistic. What shocked her more than some clients' perversion was that, she says, "Most of them -- 95 percent of them -- were married. Married! ... Can you believe it?"Understandably, escorting has changed the way Allison looks at the world. "It's funny. Now, if we ever go on vacation, I always look in the [hotel] Yellow Pages under 'escort,'" she says, "You would be surprised, the pages are all crumpled up and there's marks, people have referenced. It's out there and you would be surprised how many guys go through it."***My Odd JobsOne man's trip to hell -- or at least the graveyard -- and back in pursuit of extra Richard FosterMy first job at age 14 was scooping poop in a dog kennel.I'm not sure how I landed it. All I remember is my dad took me there for the job interview and the next thing I knew, I was sold into indentured servitude as a sewage specialist to the animal kingdom.I recall holding my breath to avoid the stench in the stifling hot and poorly ventilated concrete runs. I recall warily protecting my limbs while trying to feed a police dog who was named Rommell because his original name, Satan, apparently wasn't as cuddly.My association with the animal kennel ended after I kicked a dog that bit into my ankle like it was a soup bone. It was not my proudest moment. The owner, a sandy-haired good old boy, told me he would make sure I never worked around animals again. Chastised, but sullen and angry, I wanted to tell him, "Great. I'm really going to miss being knee-deep in dog sh-t." Instead, I went home and burned the termination letter in the fireplace. My next job? An exciting position as human ballast at an amusement park. Actually, my job title was Ride Operator, but early in my brief tenure there, on a chilly weekend in March before the park opened to customers, a manager gathered us excitedly and said, "Today you guys get to ride the Rebel Yell all day and get paid. What do you think of that?"Well, I think they should have paid for frostbite treatment, too. Wearing a thin baby-blue windbreaker, the ride was fun for the first time or so. Then the wind began to turn my skin a frightening crimson, and I also happened to notice the earnest-looking men taking readings on what appeared to be a seismograph every time we zoomed by on the rickety old wooden coaster. After that, I began my indoctrination into the world of politics. During my junior year of high school, I worked for the Republican Party as a telemarketer five nights a week. It was a surprisingly wild place, led by a boy scout named Lloyd, who for some reason hired the most un-Republican freaks and losers who ever manned a phone. We got 10 bucks a head for recruiting friends. Soon the whole place was full of dyed hair, spiked hair, long hair, combat boots, torn T-shirts and suspicious smelling smoke in the break room. We all had fake phone names like James Hendrix or James Morrision that we figured the party faithful were too unhip to notice.One night we were paid to do nothing but call Sen. Chuck Robb's office and inundate his aides with angry complaints about nude massages and alleged cocaine parties. I still have a response from Sen. Robb written to David Gilmour, the guitarist for Pink Floyd. My weirdest job came in the summer of 1989 when, as an 18-year-old freshman in college, I applied for -- and received -- a job selling cemetery plots by phone. I think I may have been called something like a grief communications enabler.I could tell you about how cool it was to sit at a desk surrounded by tombstones, but that's not the part I really remember. What I remember is my job interview. I was led into a dark office, the yellowish light between the slats of the Venetian blinds casting a sickly pall over my interviewer, a chain-smoker who, I swear to God, was a dead ringer for Cancer Man on "The X-Files."He kept furiously chain-smoking long Pall Malls through the whole interview and asking me questions like, "You're artsy, right? I've got an artsy girl lives beside me, plays the violin. Good-looking bitch. Sometimes I just watch her ..."I lasted a week.I could go on, though. The weird doesn't stop there.I worked for Clean Water Action as a door-to-door solicitor, being driven to remote locations to talk earnestly to people about preserving the environment while I stubbed out my cigarette on their front porch.Then there was what I refer to fondly as my year in hell. At age 20, I worked full time selling appliance parts and accessories to the most disgruntled bunch of old men you can imagine. (Think Hank Hill's father.) That was an incentive for me to get my college degree if ever there was one.I learned two things there: how hard blue-collar work is and how to kill flies with a blowtorch. Both have a nasty smell.***Sidebar One: You Earned It How?We strolled around recently asking students what was the most unusual way they ever earned money. Some of them were forthcoming with the answers and their names. Others, sometimes for obvious reasons, chose to keep their names out of it.A 20-year-old student tells us she posed nude for a museum class when she was 7 1/2 months pregnant and received $350 for four days' work. "It's not something I would ever do again."Becca Wood groomed llamas for $15 an hour for one summer. "It was awful 'cause they spit at you. They're not very nice.""I sold fake watches downtown. I made good money that way."Some art students sell the art they produce in class for big bucks. "People will buy that stuff for $75 or 100," one student says. "They think, 'Oh, that person might be famous.'"One student claims to hammer a 9-inch nail through his nose and into his head cavity at parties for money.One student claims to have stripped for $50 in a dorm.Julius Battle made $140 for passing out Bill Clinton fliers door-to-door."I cleaned stables. It's brainless and it's better than waiting tables."Almitra Corey dressed up as Ariel from "The Little Mermaid" for kids' birthday parties at $25 an hour, but says she wasn't very popular. "It scares all the little kids. They all start crying. I felt so bad because this little girl was expecting Ariel, and here I was in this disgusting mermaid outfit. Now I make $ 6.15 at the library [at the checkout desk] and I don't have to scare kids on a regular basis."


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