Odd Jobs

By Brendan Coffey
Sunday, December 10, 2006

As far as occupations go, Washington has always been known as a city of lawyers, lobbyists and government workers. But among the navy-suited and sensibly shod are a few select folks who answer the ubiquitous question, "So, what do you do?" with replies more wacky than wonky

BIKINI TAILOR

Colleen Corrigan

FEW EXPERIENCES CARRY MORE POTENTIAL TO DEMORALIZE than having to examine your Lycra-clad jiggly bits while shopping for a swimsuit. Although Colleen Corrigan can't get rid of your love handles, she can alter a suit to emphasize your assets, a specialty that she has been perfecting for the past 20 years as one of the country's only bikini tailors.

Traditional tailors won't touch a swimsuit -- the material tears far too easily, and the clientele can be unrealistically demanding. Corrigan knows how rare she is: When she was opening her District store, the Bikini Shop, back in the 1980s, she tried to find someone who would work with her customers. "The tailors looked at me like I was crazy," she says. So she started doing the alterations herself, soon finding a growing following among bodybuilders, beauty pageant contestants and dedicated beach bunnies. Most, but not all, of Corrigan's clientele is female. Usually, a client will model a few bikinis or one-pieces, and Corrigan will make suggestions -- lengthening straps, adding bra pads, fastening eye-catching sequins.

These days, with the Bikini Shop closed for refurbishment, Corrigan works out of downtown's Southern Cleaners, with owner Tran Thu doing much of the sewing. Their biggest challenge, she says, is not so much the technical aspects of the job, but managing expectations. "Everybody is not going to come out looking like Raquel Welch," she says. Corrigan remembers one curvy client who, despite entreaties, insisted she wanted padding on her already generous natural assets. In the end, she got her way. "I did it," says Corrigan. "If she feels good, then good for her."

JAW MASSEUSE

Hyun Martin

PEOPLE PAY HYUN MARTIN TO STICK HER FINGERS IN THEIR MOUTHS, but she's no dentist. She's an expert in the art of jaw massage, a series of techniques designed to release tension in the small triangular joints connecting the mandible to the skull. Tightness in those areas can be precipitated by anything from a onetime fender bender to continuous stress. In its worst forms, it can prevent sufferers from opening their mouths more than an inch or two. Martin's typical 50-minute massage works the muscles of the cranium, neck, shoulders and, of course, jaw to soothe that pain.

Martin learned massage in the late 1990s, when she was an executive charged with hiring massage therapists for local fitness clubs and wanted to be able to evaluate the candidates' skills. Her adeptness at her new hobby persuaded her to change direction, and demand for her services quickly escalated. "My reputation was as a celebrity massage therapist. It was very much a jet-set lifestyle," she says. When a dentist told her that most people have some level of trouble with the temporomandibular joints, she added jaw massage to her services.

Eventually, work trips to London and Los Angeles to treat such clients as Metallica's James Hetfield and King Constantine of Greece paled next to the appeal of staying in the Washington area with her husband and children. Eight months ago, Martin opened her Bethesda spa, Be You Bi Yu. ("Bi Yu," translates as "beauty having fun" in Japanese, Martin says.) Martin emphasizes the spiritual side of massage and believes simple mechanical technique is only part of a holistic healing process. Still, "if you only want massage, that is fine. I'm not going to shove it down your throat," she says. Unless that's called for, of course.

CALLIGRAPHER

Rick Muffler

IF THERE'S A MENU, PLACE CARD OR CITATION to be handed out at the White House, you can bet Rick Muffler will be breaking out his dip pens and nibs. The senior of three White House calligraphers, Muffler toils in a tradition older than the presidency itself, painstakingly writing out programs, cocktail lists and more.

The decidedly traditional job is a mix of protocol and creativity. Menus for state dinners, for example, usually start with the first lady giving guidance on themes and styles. After using his collection of custom-made pens and inkwells to craft the lettering, Muffler may add embellishments for a special occasion -- perhaps an emu and kangaroo to honor the Australian prime minister. Practice runs are rushed to Laura Bush herself, and particularly tight turnaround times may mean whipping out the blow-dryers to speed the smear-proofing along. "The exemplars of the 1800s had months, sometimes, to do documents," Muffler says. "We get hours."


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