ATLANTIC CITY - Jalisa Thompson doesn't need to wear scary makeup, fake fangs or bloody clothes to surprise passers-by in front of Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum on the Boardwalk here.
Ripley's is known for odd artifacts and unbelievable exhibits, but Thompson is a human oddity herself.
The resort resident can bug the eyes out of her head to a startling degree. She is like Wile E. Coyote of the Road Runner cartoons come to life. She can pop her eyes far from their sockets on command.
"I scared my mom at age 12. I had to show her. My mom took me to the eye doctor," said Thompson, 21. "The first thing he said was, 'Do it again.' He said I have a wide eye socket and strong eye muscles. It's very rare. He had never seen any other cases like that, but he heard about it."
Thompson's ability to bulge her eyes out of their sockets is called eye popping. Most people have never heard of it. Even if they have heard of it, they have never seen someone do it in the flesh, judging by the public's reaction to Thompson on a recent weekday.
People walk by Thompson, who spends part of her work day handing out brochures enticing people to check out the museum. Their fascination over what she can do with her eyes never ends. Sometimes, they pass once but then double back for a second look because they could not believe what they saw. The comments she hears repeatedly include, "Are you real?" "How do you do that?" and "Do It Again."
DiShaun Randolph, 13, of Baltimore, whip-ped out his cell phone to record Thompson's eye pop, so he could show his friends back home.
"I've never been to a Ripley's Museum. I have never seen somebody do that," said Randolph, a high school freshman. "I don't wish that I could do that."
Thompson first got attention for her eye-popping skills in 2006, when she won the local Ripley's annual Face-Off Competition, where contestants are judged on the odd faces they make. Thompson worked at Ripley's from 2006 to 2008. This is her first summer back since then.
"All my family members think it's cool. My dad would go with me to Ripley's events. My mom would stand in the audience with her face covered," said Thompson, who usually works from Fridays through Mondays and will be there into the fall at least. "I can do it for hours. It bothers me more to stand in the sun for eight hours than to eye pop."
Chris Connelly, the manager of Ripley's here, hired Thompson in 2006. He had only seen eye popping in photos until he met her.
"She's definitely been able to attract more people to the lobby, which gives us more of an opportunity to tell them about the museum," said Connelly, who added his Ripley's is the only one he is aware of with a locally based human oddity working for it. "She's a good representative of what they will see inside."
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