Thursday, December 30, 2010

Another reason to leave New Jersey

Several years ago I had a good friend of mine in my cab driving her to work. She told that she was having trouble with a Rabbi stalking her. The damsel was at a disadvantage because the Rabbi was "connected" and she couldn't go to the cops. She told how a couple of times she had been to his mansion in the upscale town of Deal NJ and was surprised to see the entire bottom floor of the large multi million dollar home. When she walked in there were "about 20 Mexicans at sewing machines making fake designer hand bags."

This woman from time to time had been known to exaggerate, I mean, come on Hon, a RABBI is stalking you?  I didn't really want to believe in who or what she might be involved with. I knew the crowd she ran with was, well, shall we say "well organized." I had forgotten about our conversation until about a year later when I was watching the news.

 

For the rest of you in the United States, this is Jersey. Tony Soprano is NOT an exaggeration or fiction, he is an example of why New Jersey is one of the most expensive and inherently corrupt state in the country. Who ultimately pays for it? Consumers and taxpayers, the cost of bribes and kick backs have to come from somewhere. These guys shouldn't be glamorized or made to be heroes. The are low life thugs and and common thieves incapable of succeeding by the rules.

So for those of you who still live in Jersey, you can stay there and pay through the nose to be the butt of jokes. Perhaps a few of you will decide that there might be another place to raise your families, spend your retirement and live your life that doesn't reward evil and corrupt politicians and mobsters.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Success Story

A Success Story, obviously this blog post isn't about me. It's about my good friend Bobby. Bobby and I hit it off right away when we met down here because he was also from New Jersey and had a great sense of humor. I think our "Jersey humor" put off the locals. "Eric, can you hand me the ketchup?" "Whaddo I look like ta you? Huh? Am I  your friggin waiter? Sorry, this ain't my table."  Such comments made us feel at home. "Now go home and get your friggin shine box."





Early on when he asked me how I was getting by in New Orleans, I explained that I had been working as a background actor in film and television productions down here. He was impressed and I explained that there was no real reason to be impressed. "Ya know, I always kind of wanted to try my hand at that acting thing. It was always in the back of my mind..." We sat down on line and signed him up with casting companies here in NOLA and sent in his pic. "Yea, well, what about my nose..." "DUDE! Your nose and ridiculously retentive hair cut are your best features. You could pass for a construction worker, cop, Army Sargent, put a lab coat on you and you would look like a scientist."  As opposed to me, when I go into wardrobe for a fitting I get cast as a stoner-crackhead-homeless dude.


Almost right away he got background work as an air traffic controller in the film Green Lantern. That kind of burned my ass because I had applied for that part and didn't get it. I was happy for him, and he was like a little kid coming home from the first day of school. "We hardly did anything and they gave me lunch!!" He got the acting bug bad. Since he was used in deep background, they were able to use him again in another scene.  This time wardrobe placed him in a cop uniform. He so looked the part, that on the set I was looking for him among hundreds and walked right past him.  He told that during one of the days of shooting a woman ran up to him upset yelling "I want to fill out a police report!!" "Whoa, lady, I ain't a real cop." Conversely, I had strangers coming up to me asking if I had any weed.


In true American fashion Bobby jumped in head first. Applying for any and all roles while taking acting classes with local actor Lance Nichols. I've worked with Lance on a couple of films and he is an extremely talented and likable gentleman.  Check out his IMDB page: LANCE E. NICHOLS.  I was impressed by Bobby's enthusiasm and commitment to his future profession.

Meanwhile he hasn't quit his day job and he is still working hard at his own contracting and handyman business. If you need work done in the New Orleans area he's still available before he moves to Hollywood. I pointed out to Bobby that Harrison Ford was almost ready to quit acting and devote himself to construction work when a guy named George Lucus called him up to remodel a kitchen. Yea, the rest is history.

 Well, I just found out last night on Facebook that Bobby just got his first speaking role in the film production "Battleship" being shot in Baton Rouge. A speaking role is a big deal for any background actor, it's a major step up to a S.A.G. card and future roles. He still has a long road ahead of him, but with his distinct looks, enthusiasm and continued luck he'll do ok.

I guess driving all the way to Mississippi every other week to get a flat top haircut has paid off.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Flying in my taxi...

Back when I was diving cab in Belmar NJ at night I would get some drunk in the car pissing and moaning about his $12 cab ride. "I bet you guys make $300 - $400 a night." Uh, yea. I worked for a company that had about a dozen or so drivers, each working 12 hour shifts 5 days or nights a week. It was a company owned vehicle that my boss paid for the maintenance and insurance and we split the cost of fuel 50/50.  When fuel prices went through the roof, I had to spend $40 out of my pocket for half of the gas.


My paycheck was based on a 40/60% split of the night's book, 40%  for me, 60% for the company. A good "average" night would be $200 book, $80 for me, $120 for the boss. It was her car, dispatchers and overhead. $200 book might come with $50 - $80 in tips, so $150 a shift in pocket was decent. Of course along with it came abusive alcoholics, college girls puking on you and the constant threat of a crackhead stabbing you in the neck with a rusty knife. In the summer with the "Jersey Shore" crowd the driving was non stop along with the aggravation. A Saturday night in July you might take home $225 with your migraine and hatred for humanity.

When the economy started to take a dive bartenders in my cab were crying the blues too "Everyone is buying a six pack and staying home." I thought "Good, they're all assholes anyway." Of course this didn't pay the bills. The calls for cabs got fewer and the tips dropped off, on a Monday night in the winter I might book $80 with $20 in tips. After dumping $20 to $30 in the gas tank of my Crown Vic I walked away with less than fifty bucks in my pocket for 12 hours of sitting in the cold.

The last few months I drove, by payday I might have $100 in tips, and maybe a $200 paycheck. From the $200 paycheck $110 was taken out for child support. Now for the record I have no problem with paying for my kid. However the state of New Jersey seemed to be under the impression that cab drivers must not report thousands in gratuities. I was liked as a driver, but not that much.




I'd open up my pay check envelope to find a check for $90 for 60+ hours of work. I shared a house with two other guys in a winter rental off of 18th ave where we each paid $700 a month in rent. Yep, $2,100 for a winter rental where the landlord would let himself in unannounced and turn down the thermostat because WE were costing him a fortune. But that's another rambling tirade....


Why did I quit my job and move down here? Do I need to explain further?

An open letter to NJ Governor Christie

Governor Christie,
In March of 2010 I had to quit my job in Belmar NJ driving cab at night after working there for almost 5 years. Working 60 to 70 hours a week I was only taking home $250 or less in my paycheck and tips. After my child support obligation of $110 a week was garnished I was left with less than $150 a week to live on. My rent was $175 a week, so you can see how mathematically I could not survive on the remaining income. Employment opportunities in New Jersey as well as the rest of the nation is so poor that I could not find a better paying position, and with working 70 hours a week a part time job was not an option.

In March I moved down to New Orleans, La. to hopefully find employment and a less expensive environment to live in. Upon arriving in New Orleans and applying for NJ unemployment insurance I was denied benefits because I had voluntarily quit my employment in NJ. I did not quit to move down here for better weather and Mardi Gras, I see myself more as an economic refuge in the vein of the "Grapes of wrath."

After working in the fine state of New Jersey and paying into unemployment insurance for over 25 years without ever collecting it, I was turned down. (By the way, you may want to chat with those down in NJUI about their tones towards taxpayers.)  Employment opportunities down here are not much better, and I am surviving on luck and an occasional day's work.

I applaud your recent efforts to cut back on spending, waste and abuse of taxpayer's dollars. However after 25 years of paying into a system that was suppose to be there in a time of need, I think this warrants a little grace. As of now, I am quite far behind on my child support which I paid weekly in Jersey even though it meant falling behind on all other living costs.

ALL I am asking from the State of New Jersey, is to apply my unemployment benefits towards my child support obligations. Nothing more. I would not personally see or spend a dime of it, the unemployment insurance would go to my ex wife for the benefit of our 13 year old daughter. The money would remain in New Jersey's local economy, and I would fend for myself the best I can here in Louisiana.

Thank you sir for your time, regardless of the out come of my situation I wish you the very best with your efforts in New Jersey.

Eric T Styles

Vincent

A humbling complement I sometimes hear is "I wish I had your talent." Over the years I have responded "Perhaps you wouldn't if you knew all that went along with it." I'm not sure but I believe artistic talent is really just a symptom of a some sort of disorder. I wanted to share my favorite biographical films about  artists, surprisingly there are quite a few. The all time classic is the 1956 film with Kirk Douglas "Lust For Life." Douglas' eerie resemblance and gut wrenching performance makes it benchmark for films about artists.


Based on a book that was derived from his volumes of letters that Vincent sent to his brother Theo, the film is a portrait of the anguish of the tortured mind that could only find refuge in a paint brush. Vincent set the cliche' of struggling artists. A patron saint for artists who never sold any work during his painful life of self mutilation, absinthe binges and stays at mental asylums, yet today is one of the most celebrated geniuses in the art world.

I saw my first Van Gogh painting in a museum at Princeton University, and I nearly wept. To stand a few feet in front of one of his paintings was occupy space that transcended time and feel the joy of it's beauty, and the grief of it's creator. I dare say that if painting and art was a religion, Vincent would be the Christ figure.

 

Another biographical film about the life of  Van Gogh is "Vincent and Theo." This film examines the relationship between Vincent and his brother Theo who supported and nurtured the insane artist. Theo deserves gratitude and credit from the art world for enabling his sibling to create the wonders that we now hold in great regard. Tim Roth's incredible performance is scary in it's intensity.


 

Monday, December 27, 2010

A belated Christmas song

I got drunk Christmas eve and kind of melancholy about not spending it with my daughter. Around midnight I found myself sitting on a cold concrete footing of the Crescent City bridge humming this tune while sipping on a PBR. 



I would have posted it on Christmas but I couldn't remember who performed it. My friend Crystal posted a mention of it on Facebook. So much in vein of the song, here it is late. Enjoy, don't jump.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

If it's called "Tourist Season" why can't you hunt them?

The book I am illustrating is written by those who work in the service industries down here in the French Quarter. I know the book will appeal to any bartender, waitress, bouncer or cab driver who works in a tourism area.  The Jersey Shore, Miami or Vegas, when folks leave their native environment and travel they forget to pack their manners.

Tourists will behave in ways on vacation they would never dream of acting in their own neighborhood bar or restaurant. When I was driving cab at night in the summer I would encounter individuals from North Jersey or New York who seemed to be void of any courtesy or respect for anyone outside of their drunken circle. Alcoholism does that to humans.

I would politely ask them to please stop screaming at the top of their lungs, not to play with the radio or point out the fact they can't throw pizza out the windows of my cab at pedestrians the general response was "You need to lighten up! We're just trying to have fun." Yea, well so is the total stranger in the white shirt walking down the street who you just hit with a slice of Sicilian.

The Quarter Rat highlights the difference between tourists and travelers. Travelers are welcomed and embraced by New Orleans. A traveler will stop in front of a 300 year old home and soak in the rich architecture and beauty. A traveler will marvel at the fact that people still live in and nurture these historic homes that have survived wars, fires, floods and countless hurricanes. A tourist will piss on the front steps of the same home at 3 am while singing "House of the rising sun" at the top of their lungs.

A traveler will seek out the hidden history and wonders of the city, a tourist will seek out blow jobs. One approaches the locals to find the heart of the land they visit, the other dehumanizes the local population for amusement.

Travelers behave like house guests respecting their hosts, tourists treat their hosts like servants. One summer I had several Guidoes in my cab and one juicehead loudly stated while staring at me in the mirror "Jersey SUCKS! You don't sell beer in 7-11's, the pizza stinks, and everything is overpriced"
"Then why do you come down?" I queried.
"Ta fuck yo bitches."

He was a tourist.


Friday, December 24, 2010

A Holiday Favorite

Forget "It's a Wonderful Life" this is my Christmas favorite.  Last summer I worked on a film with a production assistant who was really cool. As we smoked cigarettes and downed our tenth cup of coffee he mentioned that the previous year he had worked on a film with Billy Bob Thorton.  

 


"Yea? What is he like?" I asked.
"He's the coolest"
My buddy told how early one morning on the set Billy Bob was gone for a few minutes and then came back brooding. The P.A. asked Mr. Thorton if there was a problem. Billy Bob said he was just trying to get some coffee. It seems that Billy Bob had time to walk down to a local coffee shop before the shoot but never got a cup.

The somewhat gushing production assistant quickly volunteered to go get the coffee for the star. "No, you don't understand" said  Billy. The actor just wanted to walk a few blocks down to the shop and buy a cup just like anyone else. However about half way to the shop he was so overwhelmed by pedestrians recognizing him, talking to him and asking for autographs that he had to turn around and sequester himself to the closed set.

It's a double edged sword for celebrities, fame and all that goes along with it. If you should see a celeb on the street, just a nod or a "hi" is suffice, no photos, no autographs.

"All I wanted was a damn Cappuccino."


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

God and Politics

Woke up early today, for some reason during my first smoke of the day something came to mind from years ago.  I'm not sure what brought it to mind. If you follow this blog or know me in passing you might be surprised of what I was like ten or more years ago. I used to be a "Born Again Christian." Devout Baptist and every bit as boring as Ned Flanders. I won't even go into why I'm not now, or never will be again.

I did the whole nine yards of it with bible studies, retreats, tithing and saying all of the right things at the right times. For a short while I was a trustee at a small Baptist church in New Jersey. A trustee is a church member who with others oversee the finances of the church. Numerous long boring hours of my life wasted never to get back. Sitting around a table with aging stuff shirts debating the new roof or paving the parking lot argument.

The Pastor's transportation was provided by the church. The auto, it's maintenance and insurance came from the church budget. Along with the housing and health care for the Pastor and his family. Likable enough people. This morning during my first cigarette I recalled the time the pastor got into a minor fender bender that had been the other driver's fault. The ugly blue Buick that was church property got a little banged up but ran fine with no real damage. It just looked like hell.

Being great people of faith, they immediately saw God's powerful hand of control at work in their lives. Weeks later when the check from the other party's insurance company paid out about a grand for the damage to churchmobile, God in all of his glory had provided to those of great faith. It turned out the Pastor and his wife hand been praying in earnest for the Lord to provide them with the means of going on a cruise. The insurance check was almost the exact amount need for two tickets on a cruise line. Our God is an awesome God.

I saw it in a different light. The now uglier church owned Buick was in fact church corporate property, just like the parsonage. If the parsonage burned down, would the pastor get to pocket the insurance money? My position was the money should go into the church account. The church would get a nice little shot in the arm with a thousand bucks and our Pastor could show off how humble he is by driving a beat up old Buick. 



Instead weeks later we had to listen to how magnificent the buffets were, and how the couple ate non stop during the excursion. These were the same people who lectured me on "sins of the flesh and self control."  I guess leafing through a Victoria's Secret catalog at the mailbox is considered a sin, but eating 10 pounds of crab legs in one sitting isn't a sin.

There were a few instances concerning finances like that. There was a time the Pastor wanted the church to pay to have the parsonage basement remodeled so the Pastor's daughter and her son could move in. Already the large home housed the pastor and his wife, several college age children and an aging mother. Now we have to take up an offering to squeeze in one more generation? "Sorry, we ain't Amish, raise your own barn" was my thoughts. I was out voted 5 -1.

I discovered more about politics in church than theology. When as a trustee I tried to offer a check and balance to the spending of the executive branch, I thought that was the duty of a financial officer. Any filibustering on my part was quickly pointed out as an attack on the Pastor and his family, a stumbling block to the work of God, and I obviously was secretly living a sinful life to allow Satan to use me to stand in the way of the church.  Any critic was written off as an instrument of dark forces and should be hen pecked back into the folds of the flock.

Political lesson: When you try to stop a charismatic leadership from spending other people's money, his followers will attack you.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Bourbon Street Tease



"Welcome to the Big Show. Grab your artillery and let’s whoop today’s ass! File rank and gear up. Shotgirls and Strippers, Barkeeps and Barkers please report to the front lines. This is the battlefield known as Bourbon Street, where heroes are made and brain cells are lost. You take your post amongst the madness." 


Excerpt from the Quarter Rat book that I am illustrating.  I'll keep all of you posted on it's due date.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

holiday season



I keep forgetting the whole holiday thing is coming up on us soon. This is about a seasonal as I feel this year. Enjoy.

Captain Kirk

I'll admit that sometimes I produce an illustration that makes me say "wow." Not often, but sometimes. This one started in Adobe Illustrator. Re-drawing original drawing in vector. The font also was tweeked to be original. Brought into Photoshop for the next four hours, this is the fini. I hadn't used Illustrator in about 5 years but it all came back to me because I had a great instructor.


I was taught by Kirk Strickland. He's kind of like Yoda when it comes to Mac based desk top publishing. When I first saw his white hair, he reminded me of Steve Martin. Most every skill I utilize to bring my artwork to the internet is done through his instruction. Everything you see on my website artbystyles.com and the finished artwork on this blog wouldn't be online if not for what I learned at DDP Training.

Thanks again Kirk.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The powder room

The other day my editor Ottis requested an illustration of the most disgusting lady's room in all of the French Quarter.  Well, I spent hours on my hands and knees peering under stall doors to come up with this.
I have a court date on Thursday.

Friday, December 10, 2010

"The guy at the end of the bar"

"The guy at the end of the bar"

Another Quarter Rat illustration. I didn't mean to make this guy look like anyone in particular, it just kind of happened. Sorry Waffle.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Just completed these...

"Little Person, Big Waste"


This book I am illustrating is a compilation of stories about living in and working in the French Quarter of New Orleans. A relatively small neighborhood known world wide and respected by other cities of leisure.  Only in this town can a passed out dwarf in a window sill could become and overnight shrine to the patron Saint of Pushing the limits.

I know this book will appeal not only to those who live and work in the Quarter, but with bring laughter to anyone who has worked as a waitress, bartender, bouncer or manager in the service industries.  As a Jersey Shore cab driver I know that assholes are universal.

Monday, December 6, 2010

"Yo-ho-ho, it's a Pirate's wife for me..."



More cartoon fun from the book I'm doing illustrations for. Above is the finished color version, the grayscale version for the book.