Wednesday, October 24, 2007

God, It's Hard To Make a Living As a Snowman Expert

OK, so the checks aren't rolling in as fast as I thought they might. It's going to take the public some time to see the role of a snowman expert within the context of the commerce world. It'll happen.

So, never one to sit around waiting for the electricity to turn off, I have taken a part-time job. Above you can see my co-worker Irene at Gate 218 at Giants Stadium. I work the microwave. I sought employment which would utilize two of my distinct skills. 1) My ability to know exactly how long to microwave any food by just looking at it. This gift I have for being able to determine how long any food product should be nuked before it turns rubber goes back years and I've used it onLy for recreational purposes.

And 2) my great loyality towards the New York football Giants. I have not missed a game since 1968. It seemed logical that I go after a job within Giants Stadium and getting a job at a food concession stand proved easier than one would expect.

What I didn't think through was the fact that although I was never closer to my beloved team, I wasn't able to watch the game while working. I had to ask everyone buying food how the Giants were doing. Ironically, I missed my first game in almost 40 years. To make matters worse I learned that I cannot collect unemployment because I only worked 4 hrs.

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Jessica Seinfeld, Lance Bass, Kaavya Viswanathan, James Frey

What do those people have in common? Not much.

Except they are all famous, wealthy and cute as a button and each have a book which brought them much attention and scrutiny. Mrs. Jerry Seinfeld’s Deceptive Cooking at the top of the best-seller list for hiding, among other things, pureed vegetables in junk food. Kaavya shared the same agent as Seinfeld. Frey and Seinfeld's common tread is that their respective Oprah appearance sent their books instantly to number one.

Meanwhile Lance Bass, formerly of NSYNCSRYS, just came out, literally, with his new book called I’m Coming Out or something like that. My connection to Mr. Bass, aside from the fact neither of our books has been mentioned on Oprah, yet, is that my book shares the same publisher and stuff (last night was his book party attended by the same people working on my book and Michael Musto, who I used to share a cubicle with at The Village Voice. We hated each other and he made the news for his lewd behavior at the party.)

I doubt if Lance Bass has to worry about window displays. Last night I was in my basement making Styrofoam snowman mobiles. I’m sorry but that doesn’t sell books. I put up a video on YouTube that has 16 views so far. Pretty boy Lance was on Tyra Banks, The View, Dateline and a dozen other shows venting about being gay in a boy band. His book is currently ranked at #126. Mine is at #685,785. Granted his book has been in stores a full week ahead of mine but someone, whether it's me or the snowman, is going to have to come out of the closet. I explained to my agent and publisher Simon & Schuster today that if that’s what it takes to get some notice, some airtime, I’m willing to give this sexual orientation thing a crack and go the extra yard. I’m already pretty disoriented in the bedroom. I’ll do anything the publisher and my publicist wants me to try.

Anything short of starting a boy band.

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

Soup Is Good Food

freelance |ˈfrēˌlans| (also free-lance) adjective working for different companies at different times rather than being permanently employed by one company : I work freelance from home. In other words, I'm on the dole. ORIGIN early 19th cent.(denoting a medieval mercenary who works in under-wear): originally as two words.

An item ran in about freelancing which triggered interesting responses from readers. Brian Farnham, editor-in-chief of TimeOut, apologized to his freelancers for not having been paid and mentions he himself was once a freelancer so he understands. But he was smart enough to get out.

Many incorrectly commented one should get paid in 30 days but the industry standard is 90 days, at best, any freelancer will tell you. I just did a job for a magazine that was six months late paying me for the previous assignment even though I persisted nudging them. They asked me to do a job for them Friday but I declined. They insisted they would pay me up front, which to their credit they did. Meanwhile, TimeOut owes me for many, many old cartoons (one of the real reasons we parted ways – most whiny posts here are drama-queened up here to try to be funny. Some readers actually think I'm depressed over being a freelancer and have sent me words of encouragement but I'll assume most of you see I'm being sarcastic). TimeOut might not have paid me yet but Brian, the editor paid me a huge favor giving me a great quote for the cover of my snowman book. A lesson to those who deal with cheap clients. Many fellow freelancers tell me the satisfaction they get from telling off clients. You never realize how much you're burning a bridge and who knows who. There have been times when someone screwed me over and I kept my cool only to have the person make it it way down the road. In the meantime remember soup is good food...for all artists.

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Friday, October 12, 2007

Snowman Interview

The following is an interview I did for Advance magazine, the largest trade magazine for book buyers. I know, the questions are corn-ball. I did my best to turn them around.

ADVANCE Q&A with Bob Eckstein, author of The History of the Snowman; As a humor writer and cartoonist, where does your funny streak come from?

Bob Eckstein: Grandma was a real cut-up. But I’ve never thought of myself as having a “funny streak.” I’ve been cartooning and writing humor my whole life as my sole source of income and never had another job so I take a kind of workman’s approach to it. I see it as a skill learned and honed having done hundreds of pieces for dozens and dozens of places like Spy, National Lampoon, Playboy, GQ, etc. There’s nothing funny about trying to make a living being funny, let me tell you.

Everyone is always trying jokes on me or suggesting cartoon ideas for The New Yorker, but they are usually disappointed when I don’t reply with a belly laugh. Well, I’m like a doctor, a joke doctor if you will, and if you get naked in front of me I’m going to be very professional and not laugh.

ADVANCE: What sparked your interest in snowmen and sent you on your self-proclaimed “Holy Grail” search for the very first snowman?

BE: I’m a huge fan of Sherlock Holmes and I wanted to write a mystery. But I wasn’t interested in solving a murder mystery or writing fiction. I wanted my book to be funny and breezy yet really attempt to break new ground and solve one of life’s mysteries. The book could’ve been who invented love or who said the first joke—although two examples that actually might not have worked. Anyway, I remember walking into Barnes & Noble and imagining I was shopping for everyone I know and asking myself what book, not yet written, would that be. The History of the Snowman. Just like that.

It became clear, early on, when I considered a book on the snowman that I hit the lottery. Not only were there amazing skeletons in the snowman’s closet, but also I learned how thirsty people were for any new story or angle for the holidays. Everyone’s response upon hearing about my book was “What a great idea – why hasn’t anyone written this book before?” I liked the idea that this would be a holiday book that was non-denominational and I was providing a holiday reading choice that wasn’t a cookbook or for children only. It’s a book for all age groups and finally something for the college crowd as well as those who own a glue-gun. As far as holiday books go, The History of the Snowman is a very cool book.

ADVANCE: The History of the Snowman is not just pure entertainment (though it is entertaining)—you spent five years researching snowmen and traveling around the world to talk to historians. Will you tell us about your research, travels, and your most surprising discoveries?

BE: I did consciously make it entertaining and user-friendly. I had no interest in creating something academic where I would be speaking at institutes. And it could have easily gone that way—the first draft was scholarly and much longer but the last thing I wanted was to be the guy who took all the fun out of the snowman. I want to revitalize his image, give him his due…and add humor to history. I’m a gentleman scholar and I love history. And if I can do my small part making history more appealing…

I’m glad my wife convinced me I had to actually go to where historic snowmen once stood. I had no idea at the time that other wrinkles of the story would unfold. I had spoken to heads of departments and libraries who, they themselves, did not realize were sitting on crucial clues to the snowman’s past. It was something I had to go myself and see. An example would be my visit to The Royal Library at the Hague, which houses the largest collection of images in the world (at 8 million+). There I camped out with a magnifying glass and this very real competitive drive to find snowmen in far reaches of their archives (the search was narrowed to the 15,000 woodcuts, drawings, etchings, and paintings categorized as winterscapes.) At this point, the hunt for the first snowman was at its peak. It had become a real full-blown mystery with the clues scattered about in front of me waiting to be strung together. It was incredibly exciting time because even though I hadn’t completed the puzzle, I knew I had everything I needed like when you see the last pieces left to a jigsaw. I was aggressively chasing leads at a break-neck pace jumping on trains, hitchhiking, finding entries in diaries, discovering never before seen snowmen in engravings and tracking down experts hiding in different corners of the world…all very Da Vinci Codey.

My quest culminated with my face-to-face meeting in Amsterdam with a Professor Herman Pleij, a leading authority in medieval cultural studies. His De sneeuwpoppen van 1511 is the only book to tell the story of the Miracle of 1511, a Woodstock-like event in which after a famed snowstorm the whole town of Brussels celebrated by making pornographic and political snowmen. The deep secrets of the snowman were by this time uncovered but I wanted, with the help of my Dutch translator friend, to thank the professor in person for his integral role in solving the mystery. It was time to reflect on our five years of detective work, and like Holmes and Watson sipping cognac while summing up one of their cases, we basked in our findings, almost daring to think that what we had just accomplished may be a big deal and not go unnoticed. When we parted, the professor gave me his blessing and declared he was passing the torch of snowman expert to me.

ADVANCE: In one section of the book, subtitled “Snow Sells,” you write about how the snowman was an advertising darling of the 20th century. Why was he so appealing to Madison Avenue?

BE: Aside from religious figures, the snowman is one of the world’s most recognizable icons in the world and the advertising world has hadcarte blanche to do with him what they wish royalty-free. Easy to work with and pliable to any likeness it’s no wonder the snowman is the darling of Madison Avenue.

Of course there are also excruciatingly dull psychological reasons why he’s such a popular figure in the media. There’s the human connection we all feel in some way toward him, whether large or minuscule. Companies sought out pitchmen that the common man could relate with—friendly, plump, full of humor—the snowman fit the bill perfectly. The more he was used, the more identifiable he was. His popularity just snowballed.

ADVANCE: Not until finishing your book and seeing the snowman and his influences scattered throughout history did I realize his impact on art and culture. When you first began this project, did you have an idea of how vast the snowman’s mark was on world history?

BE: My initial research showed the snowman continually popping up at cultural benchmarks like Zelig or a frozen Forrest Gump. Quickly I discarded the kitsch snowman of present and realized what I was really on to was nothing less than one of the few activities we probably share with our ancestors and one of man’s oldest forms of folk-art. Every snowfall, every dumping of free art supplies pacified man’s urge to create an image of himself and traveling back in a time we see there was less and less forms of communication and recreation to compete with, making snowman-making only more and more popular the further back in time I looked. As my respect for this art form grew, so did my expectations to what I could find and I began searching deeper and more abstractly. By the end, nothing surprised me to how far reaching the snowman’s history was.

ADVANCE: You are an avid collector of snowman memorabilia, right? Can you tell us about some of your favorite finds?

BE: While my snowman collection (800+) does turn heads—it IS beautiful—it’s more about their historical place in telling the story of the snowman. When I was scouring flea markets and eBay for snowmen items, I was looking for artifacts, collecting clues like an archaeologist at an excavation site. I don’t have knitted snowman toilet seat covers or snowmen salt & pepper shakers everywhere in my house—but I could only because everyone keeps giving me anything with a snowman on it. Truth be told, I promised myself that once I finish having my collection viewed I would start eating the chocolate and marshmallow snowmen. There’s about 40.

But my favorite item from the collection is also the largest and most expensive—a graphic billboard ad for Austrian chocolate from the 1950s that’s exceptional. While many of my favorite items are in the book, most of my collection had to hit the cutting floor (including some of the most amazing examples of postcard illustration) and I’m hoping to one day put out a coffee-table book of the collection. But fear not, The History of the Snowman does include the stranger items from my collection including a photo of a little girls accosting a snowman with a rifle, a Charles Addams painting of a snowman stabbed by a broom and a disturbing picture of the snowman being run over by a car driven by Santa Claus.

ADVANCE: Do you recall building your first snowman? Do you still build snowmen when weather conditions are right?

BE: Ironically, no, but I do recall as a little boy painting hockey uniforms on plastic army men. I realize that’s not the answer one expects but it’s the truth. And I think it’s interesting that when I was very little I did these “political statements” and then I went on to do political cartoons in the ‘80s only to learn that in The Middle Ages the snowman was an early form of political cartooning. Since becoming a snowman expert I do make snowmen and I hope to make some more, à la Beatles, on bookstore rooftops. When my book was bought, I was to meet my new editor at an Indian restaurant in midtown Manhattan. It was a rather somber
establishment until I started erecting snow people outside. All of a sudden the owners of the restaurant came out and gave me food to create faces. When my new editor finally arrived and met me inside I asked him if he noticed anything coming in but said only that there was a large crowd outside the restaurant.

ADVANCE: What are your thoughts on how the global warming trend will affect the snowman?

BE: For better or worse, global warming has made the snowman more popular. Who paid attention to the duck-billed platypus before it became an endangered species? Would the snowman have ever appeared onYouTube in the recent presidential debates if it wasn’t for global warming?

As this problem continues, snowman awareness will only grow. The snowman will become a hugely popular, sympathetic figure and ultimately trigger what I call “panic snowman-making” as many will suffer a (real and misperceived) sense of loss. I, personally, harbor no fears of this being the snowman’s last lap. From what I understand, global warming creates a situation where temperatures will drop with the eventual interruption of the jet stream. No, the biggest threat to the snowman is our youth’s short attention span and increasing inactivity. It’s hard today to grab
anyone’s imagination with anything that requires any imagination. People are convinced that the only things worthwhile must cost an arm and a leg. Some people are probably waiting for Apple to come out with an iSnowman.

ADVANCE: Several of your snowman cartoons are in the book, so I’m guessing you also have a few snowman jokes stored away—will you share a favorite?

BE: Like, why did the snowman cross the road? Or the one about a priest, a penguin, a rabbi, and a snowman walk into a bar? Actually, I don’t know any snowman jokes. In my defense, would Albert Einstein ever be asked if he knew any relativity jokes? Would Shakespeare be asked to regale us with a dirty limerick?

ADVANCE: What’s next for you?

BE: Thanks to the feedback I’m getting, I’m considering a children’s book based on one of the stories in the snowman book. I’d like to return to doing cartoons for The New Yorker, The New York Times and other publications once things slow down. Meanwhile, my next book will be a graphic novel, a comedy based on the real story of how 17th century explorers searched for paradise near the North Pole.

ADVANCE: Anything else you’d like to add?

BE: If everyone of us went outside and just made one snowman each day, this whole place would look hilarious.


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Monday, October 8, 2007

I Quit!

The finish line is in sight. It's almost over. My five year plan to find another career, a more sane vacation, is coming to an end. I am a snowman expert because I went to Staples and purchased a packet ofcpre-cut inkjet business cards. According to that thinking I can also be a rodeo clown or doctor this morning. I print cards, therefore I am. So because the card says so, I 'm a snowman expert. Can't be any worse than being freelancer.

So this snowman expert thing...what exactly is it you may be asking? Well, on the plus side, it's a wide open field with very few competitors. Actually, none. On the negative, this is due to the fact that there is absolutely no money in snowman consulting or snowman repair (yes, it sounds alot like freelancing...I'm still owed $ from illustration freelance jobs I did in Jan.). But my business plan won't be tapping into those avenues of snowman expertise. My job will be first to heighten snowman awareness and then peddle snowman merchandise (calendars, T-shirts, toilet
seat cover cozies, car accessories...). My first step is to first establish myself as a snowman kook and speak out about snowmen. To that end, I booked some speaking engagements. So far Lacawac Sanctuary, Nov. 3rd, Livingston Manor, Nov. 24th, Everhart Museum sometime in Dec. along Barnes & Noble, Lincoln Center branch, Dec. 6th. These will be 40 min. talks done with Keynote set to music followed by a brief Q & A. Seeing this all in writing now...sure sounds like a bone-head plan.

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Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Making Plans With Nigel

My favorite radio station is Radio Nigel found in iTunes (under Radio). I listen to them everyday off of my computer (with Airport hooked up in my office to send the music wireless downstairs to Altec speakers I can put anywhere – they sound great and they are only 6 inches tall. Cost $35 after rebate.) Go to the section called 70s/80s Pop then scroll down to Radio Nigel. Here's just a sampling of what they were playing during the ten minutes I wrote this post;

06:31:49 Men At Work - Overkill
06:31:42 Bump G2 - Quite Enough ID
06:28:42 Generation X - One Hundred Punks
06:25:02 Gang Of Four - Is it love
06:21:19 Shriekback - Lined Up
06:21:08 Bump E3 - So Help You God
06:16:07 David Bowie - Cat People (Putting Out Fire with Gasoline)
06:08:18 U2 - Bad (live)
06:05:07 Public Image Ltd. - The Body
06:01:27 The Smiths - I Started Something I Couldn't Finish

What hooked me was their very funny spots (ads). I wrote them in San Diego and yesterday I got a call from Steve West, the Radio Nigel DJ. We discussed possible ads for my book and he agreed to do the voice overs, which was very nice. He explained that, like me, he missed the old radio stations like WLIR, WBRE and other Long Island stations of the 80s that played cutting edge college music. I went to high school in Long Island where I remember myself feeling like an outcast listening to the Dead Kennedys, The Split Enz, The Furs, X, Thomas Dolby while everyone else was into Billy Joel, Kansas and a bunch of embarrassing LI bands like Good Rats, Foghat and, ugh, I'm starting to get a headache...I don't know how I would have got through it without those stations (actually I didn't quite make it, starting art classes "early" in Manhattan at Pratt and Cooper instead of attending my senior year in H.S. I sat in on classes I wasn't registered for and then got early scholarships from them.).

Gotta run and write that copy for the Radio Nigel ad!

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

All You Can Eat

I got a phone call from corporate yesterday and spent on hour talking about the future for The Old Country Buffet. Mr. Hendersen and I adressed alot of pressing issues facing the all-you-can-eat establishment and discussed the scathing comment card left behind by my wife in our last visit;

"Jeff, we're both men of the world and we both recgonize exactly what the problem is. You're understaffed and the dessert station at the Dickson City location looks like a war-zone...especially on Thursdays (family night)."

Breakfast was next on the agenda and I quickly realized that the bigwigs in corporate are as passionate about it as I am: "Mr. Eckstein, I fully agree. Why The Country Buffet took grits and biscuit gravy off their Sunday brunch menu is a total mystery."

"Asinine. It defeats the point that The Golden Corral, Big Buddy's Buffet and Martha's Big Meals and other second tier smorgasbords don't provide old traditional breakfast choices. Anyone can do soggy pancakes and a couple of greasy links. It's not just about eating in Biblical proportions–it's about opening eyes," I countered.

Jeff admitted it's all about education. My next book, "All You Can Eat; Getting Your Money's Worth Every Meal...Even If It Kills You," a non-fiction graphic novel well over 400 pages is a start. To their credit, The Country Buffet's section have put on their website, How To Buffet, a good primer for those who didn't know how to turn dinner into a spectacle (although no mention of my famous Catch n' Release sampling method which I teach at my workshops).

But we ended on a good note, both expressing our excitement about the premiere of Rancher's Select Steak next Spring and of course I was promised to be invovled in the upcoming symposium in Austin. There's alot of work still left for us but I'm confident we're on the same page and share the common goal. As I said, "It's not dinner unless it hurts."

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Friday, September 21, 2007

Last Guy Standing

Behind the infamous honeymoon haven Cove Haven, where they are currently taping The Last Comic Standing, is my neighborhood, a hotbed of exceptional tennis players including a cluster of Russian girls primed to turn pro. Meanwhile others are past their prime – yesterday I had a rematch with one of the best senior players in the country (he's won the silver in the World Senior Games a few times). I won't use his name but I'll share that he is 62 and in amazing shape. We played the best of 5 sets (I won 6-3, 6-2, 6-4) but he won the moral victory of being able to still breathe normally when we were done. There were some awkward moments in the middle of the third set during one of the change-overs when I needed some mouth-to-mouth.

After the match I picked his brain about his life and his game to learn how he looks ten years younger then me (I'm 44). We critiqued each other's game. We concluded I could be ranked #1 if I played in the 70+ division and I could probably look the part if I took up smoking. He was shocked I don't play everyday. He plays every day. His daily routine is to hit to gym and then walk (or run) 3 miles (each way) to the tennis courts where he drills from 9am to noon. Our match went from noon till 3 pm (He had been active many hours before he took the court against me. That morning I watched cartoons and went to the bathroom.)

He's on his way to Ottawa today as he continues traveling across the country by RV playing tournaments and eventually reaching Utah for the Nationals. In his RV was a computer for keeping track of his playing schedule and dozens of plastic bottles of supplements and powders. I explained my prematch meal was a pickled hot sausage and a glazed covered donut from the 7-11, one of which wrecked havoc with me later. Meanwhile he watches everything he eats – no sugar or bread. Eggs and oatmeal. Juicing and energy drinks. Fresh vegetables. This week I went to the All-You-Can-Eat twice, once almost dying.

Today I start afresh. For breakfast I had a half a cucumber and bowl of steam. Meanwhile, I wish my friend luck and look forward to his email updates. We will practice next summer again and I hope to reverse my shape by then...although it doesn't seem likely.

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Happy Birthday Sophia Loren, Dr. Joyce Brothers and Jim Stone (Father-In-Law and Frequent House Guest)

Important message to Jim Stone; Your daughter and son-in-law would like to wish you a Happy Birthday and are happy to announce we finally completed the construction of our new second bathroom and it is waiting for you to break it in and teach it who's boss. You're not going to find a more fun bathroom to go in...if your idea of fun is using a restroom that is only 33 inches wide, is at a total slant and when sitting on the bowl your feet dangle off the ground like you're in the high chair at IHOP (there's a dangerous step in front of the bowl).

Sorry I won't be in the NYC area to join you for your birthday dinner. I've been up at the house trying to finish construction on the house – the contractor walked off on us for not paying him in full before all the work was finished. Plus parts of the work had problems (the bathroom faucet dripped badly, the door wouldn't close, etc.) and I had to stay here and correct those problems before the inspection so I have to stay up here. It'll be a load of my mind when it's done. But it will be ready to go, if Jim Stone, you're ready to go.

Here's a picture of the final results.

"Your seat awaits!"

"All behind the comfort and
privacy of this glass bathroom door."

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

September 19th is International Talk Like A Pirate Day

"Why is this day different from all others? Why do we need an International Talk Like a Pirate Day?" valid questions posed on The Original Talk Like A Pirate Day website. (yeah, I know, didn't we just celebrate this holiday?)

Now I could have written this all in pirate talk or come up with some lame jokes about this upstart holiday. I choose instead to just run the following photo from their website. No surprise; if you had to visualize the people behind International Talk Like A Pirate Day I think we would all agree it would be exactly these four people. Below is the actual caption.

"Cap'n Slappy an' Ol' Chumbucket are off to LA for TLAPD, while the wenches, Mad Sally and Jezebel, will be carryin' on the tradition (and just carryin' on) at home. Watch the site for our reports - and yours!"

Remember these other important dates;
Oct. 3rd is International Park Like A Pirate Day, Nov. 14th National Talk Like, You Know, An Illiterate Day and of course, December is Stop Paying Child Support Month

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Sunday, September 16, 2007

Meet Ray Lang - Another Person Who Is British

Ray Lang is this really nice bloke I meet while working on my book. He's a talented painter from the UK whose above painting is featured in my snowman book. Yes, that's a painting of a snowman getting run over by a car driven by Santie Claus, in an all too common occurance during what I like to term as The Dean Martin Years. It was during this period in the late twenties and thirties that the snowman was on the receiving end of much abuse and would eventually turn to the bottle which lead to other things which I cannot get into here. I have full documention in the form of pictures and artwork to back this up, believe me.

Anyhoo, Ray is going to be rich and famous in a short time (well, I promised him fame & fortune if he appeared in my book). So, here's alittle fame in the meantime as I recommend to my bloggsters Christmas Magazine's interview of Ray Lang and his portfolio. (The Christmas Magazine is a fun online magazine for those who wish that everyday was December 25th. I think my head would explode if everyday was Christmas myself and I'm actually working on a cartoon about drugs one can take to get through the holidays.)

Next post we discuss Nigels in our continung focus on the Brits. I don't know what that means either - we'll have to wait and see!

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

A Friend In Need Is A Friend In Need of Some Monkey Bread

You think you're having a bad day? I just got off the phone with a good friend of mine who is having a couple of bad-luck days. Not only is her home phone AND office phone been out of order but she just had her laptop stolen. So to cheer her up I present the following two (no-fail) items to turn around anyone's bad day; a visit to The Nietzsche Family Circus and freshly baked Monkey Bread. Hope this helps.

Your welcome. Hey, it's what I do.

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Monday, September 10, 2007

US Open Wrap-Up

This was the first year I did not attend the US. Open – as I mentioned before, I have not missed a single U.S. tennis championship in the past fifteen years. But it was clear that this was Roger Federer’s year. In October I’ll be beginning tennis lessons and we'll see what next year brings.

Meanwhile, my neighbor begun her pursuit of world tennis dominance. Ranked #1 in the world for 16 and under, she just returned from her run at the US Open. As the youngest player in the junior draw at 14, Stephanie Vidov made it through the qualifying round before losing to another Russian who was the tenth seed. I saw her this past weekend at our neighbor courts in Hamlin, Pennsylvania where her uncle/coach had her training again (last year he traded lessons with me for hitting with one of his proteges). I hadn't seen Stephanie, who has been playing across the world, in a year and it's shocking how much she blossomed into a beautiful athlete, growing to my height and looking like Anna Kornikova's lookalike. Nike has picked her up and has given her a free spin card in their stores to help herelf to everything.

This all got me inspired to immediately drive out to Long Island to begin tennis lessons with my 3 and 5 yr.old nephews. Not many balls were hit but racquets and tantrums were thrown. Never since Andre Agassi retired has there been so much crying on a tennis court.

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Saturday, September 8, 2007

Stand Up, Sit Down

My short time on the open mic last night went well and I accomplished what I had hoped – I have taken a step toward getting over my stage fright. I got alot of laughs and compliments on my material and I will make more appearances.

On another note here is the next installment of short stories;

Slush Files; Part 3
Let’s Make This Happen

Dear Augustino Gnassingbe Eyadema,

I am so sorry it has taken this long for me to get back to you regarding your family’s loss and news of your government’s upheaval. I’m really bad with the email—ask anyone—but yes, I HAVE been getting all your emails and, of course, yes, I’m interested in helping you out. I should first tell you I’ve never helped release an inheritance before but my husband jokes I’m a fast learner. Unfortunately, Bernard will not be able to join us on the trip to your wonderful, topsy-turvy country as we’re adding a third bathroom for the girls so one of us has to stay here. But you will be meeting (drum roll!) Mr. Trousers, our Jack Russell terrier dynamo. So as you can see there’s a lot going on here, too. A busy month indeed!

Your e-mail’s instructions on how to transfer funds were a bit confusing so I’m going to have my bank contact yours. My girlfriend Debbie works there. She can provide you with that account information you requested, although I think your offer of $3.8 million is far too generous. We can talk about it after I get there. I think we should first iron out my travel arrangements as I’ve never been to Togo before (what a cute name for a country!). There are some things you’ll need to know about me beforehand. While I enjoy a good meal as much as the next person, I have been cursed with more than my share of food allergies. Please refrain from serving shellfish, coconut, strawberries, pork, night shade plants and anything containing yeast. Decaffeinated coffee is fine…if it’s fresh. Mr. Trousers is not as picky and will eat anything, including people-food. Like us, he has a three meal a day regimen.

I’m very anxious in learning more about your country and finding out if where I’ll be staying has a gym or pool. If you could e-mail me back the website of the hotel where I’ll be lodging at that would be tremendously helpful.

How long can I expect my visit to last? Right now I’m packing enough for a week with an extra bag for the millions of dollars, but let me know if there’s anything special I should pack. I’m currently shopping for an English to Togo translation book, some industrial-strength sun block—something at least 200 SPF as I’m very fair-skinned—and a very large hat. I hope it doesn’t present a problem getting through customs—the lotion or the hat. If your airport is anything like ours I may just have to get them at your duty-free shop. The last time I was at JFK mean security guards confiscated all my bottles of Mary Kay meant for my sister-in-law. Instead I had to stop off at Target and buy her a panini maker.

How is your toilet paper? I know it’s an awkward question but although Bernard and I have been doing our part being green and cutting back on our usage, as I have learned from our trip last year to Lake Como, I’m still not ready for European style toilet paper. Nothing fancy, mind you, one-ply is fine. Thank you. Now, is there anything I can bring back for you? I have the money orders you requested but I was thinking of something more personal I can give to your last surviving wife. My aunt hand-knits toaster cozies, those practical sweaters for kitchen appliances. If that doesn’t sound good I can get something else. Has your country ever heard of Tupperware?

No doubt ours will be a great adventure and I can’t wait to meet you. Words cannot express my excitement and the honor I feel that your royal family has chosen me, of all people, with such a responsibility. In a world with so much distrust and hatred, it is reassuring that people from opposite corners of the world can still be brought together in a common interest. Let it begin with us.

Best Wishes
Rebecca Chechesky


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Monday, September 3, 2007

Thank You

I want to thank everyone who wrote to me regarding getting let go at TimeOut. Thanks for your compliments and support!

The last 2 weeks+ a second bathroom and dormer has been under construction at my house (adjacent to my office/studio). Internet access (electricity and phone) have been off and on during this time so work and blogging were on hold. Thanks for revisiting.

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Saturday, August 25, 2007

TimeOut Gives Me a Timeout

As of last week, I will no longer be doing The Talking Points cartoon for TimeOut magazine. For those who come here to get an earful of old-fashioned freelance lamenting, this post is for you.

I was fired after a new editor was hired for the section in which my column has been appearing the last few years. Since it was her first week I try to make it go smoothly by providing her more sketches/ideas than usual (3). Ideas have to get approved before they go to final and she approved the 4th (!) idea, the cartoon sketch seen in the previous post. But the night before deadline she asked me to come up with another new cartoon. By that time I simply didn’t have enough time to start and finish a new idea – I would have liked to help out but it takes me many hours when I know what the text is. Instead, a story went in place of my cartoon and when I contacted the new editor later she would only tell me the editor-in-chief would be getting in touch with me. He nicely explained that TimeOut would be like to try other cartoonists, adding that maybe I would appear again at a future time. I thanked him for giving me the opportunity for doing the cartoon in the first place (he “inherited” me from a different regime) and expressed my desire to return at a later time should things change (like that editor who got me fired moving on).

There lies the essence of a freelancer’s lament with all the insecurities and frustrations that come from this business; because you’re not there at the office, you really don’t now what’s going on, what people are thinking. Nor are you able to defend yourself. I'll never really know what explanation was given that I didn't have a cartoon for my editor. Like why we can’t put metal in a microwave – it will remain a mystery. Well, that's the joy of freelancing, there are other places to move on to to get fired from.

The Talking Points cartoon was a wonderful opportunity and, in it’s inception, was very creative and exciting. I know many enjoyed it as I received fan mail from all over and offers from agents and TV people. But in the last year most of the time my ideas were rejected and I frequently did editor’s ideas and asked to simplify the cartoon. Hopefully they will receive some feedback that I am missed and I get asked back.

For old time’s sake here are two appropriately themed cartoons from the past:

Illustrated Guide to Breaking Up in the 21st Century
Do you know what the problem with The Break-Up is? No, it’s not Jennifer Aniston. The problem is that the way they split up is so old-fashioned. Isn’t that what the Information Age is for—to make our interpersonal conflicts quicker, cleaner and more e-tastic? Here are some products for the new Apple MacBook we’d like to see that would offer the advantages of both distance and drama:

Giving someone the heave-ho has never been easier. With this combination of Apple’s patentediSight and iChat AV technologies, you can dump anyone and have supportive pals close at hand, through a video conference call.

Intuitive iPhoto supported by X-Blocker remotely accesses your computer via cellphone, scrubbing your hard-drive of any images related to your ex. Perfect for when you break up on vacation and don’t want to come home to bad memories.

Creates an obsessive library of DVDs, books, and personal items to sort, divide and fight over viaiSync and a special home page,

This easy Web-page setup lets you flaunt new liaisons using QuickieTime.

Smart e-mail with iGnore software automatically filters and responds to pathetic pleas to get back together.

Looks like I’ll be sending out this resume again.

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Friday, August 17, 2007

Cartoon Killed

This cartoon was to appear in TimeOut in a piece called Illustrated Guide to Summer Comebacks but was killed the last second for being crap. This is just a rough before I was to clean it up and color it. I will be talking to the staff to discuss whether I'll be staying on or moving on. More soon.

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Thursday, August 9, 2007

Congratulations Barry Bonds – Your Impact on Our Pastime is Immeasurable

(This cartoon was part of a series I did for The New York Times called The Wide World of Scandals.)

Here is the follow-up to the last post regarding phony photos published in TimeOut.

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Friday, August 3, 2007

Reaching to Out to Others Instead of Kicking Them While They're Down. Constructive Criticism for Lindsay Lohan

I just finished making this photo of human car wreck Lindsay Lohan as a public service of what could be done to deter her from getting into trouble and into a car. It was to appear in TimeOut magazine about phony photos (due to the fact the topic is reported in the current issue of The American Journal Review). It's become a real problem in the media with award-winning photojournalists getting fired for eliminating and adding extraneous elements from their reporting/photos, distorting the truth. All of this, like the infamous doctored war photo containing cloned smoke of one year ago, places a black cloud over our trust and makes us wonder if Wikipedia is any worse than any other information source. Hypocritically, not only did I just link to Wikipedia, but I just modified some pictures in my upcoming column myself.

So what gives? My personal stance is that under no circumstances should one cheat with Photoshop, distorting the truth...unless it makes something funny. And also if enhancing various "things" for various "reasons" could lead to better job opportunities and social status. E.g. Hilary Clinton cleavage controversary in The Washington Post last week may actually have an effect on the presidental election.

My editor and I did not see eye to eye on this piece – he was set on having a large ball and chain attached to Lohan. I wanted to give her a dog cone. I know, I know. Why even have a picture of Lindsay Lohan? Haven't we all seen enough of her? Well, yes, but we haven't seen enough of her wearing a dog cone was my reasoning.

Enclosed here is also a portrait of Vice President Dick Cheney, which also got cut.

Meanwhile, I just finished a job for The New York Times where they give me carte blanche editorially. That piece, about the recent rash of sports scandals, will appear this Sunday (August 5th) in the sports section.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Bloomberg, the Toast of the Town

This week, in light of the rash of YouTube candidate videos, I did a piece on viral campaigning. Viral campaigning as in out-of-the-box, guerilla advertising. As many people already know, greasy spoons throughout NYC have modified their toasters to make “Bloomberg toast.” For more, check out TimeOut.

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Slush Files; Part 2

Of course the premise of Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret is not a new one. When I was nineteen a book called Seeds of Greatness: 10 Best Kept Secrets of Total Success instructed me to make a list of life goals, which, through the power of positive thinking, would be obtainable to me by the time I was 50. Now two decades later and the clouds of a midlife crisis drifting in, the time has come to reflect back on that list and give myself a report card. At first glance I see that many of my dreams have hit the dust like melons falling off a flatbed truck on life’s bumpy journey.

1) Have a Threesome.
What seemed like such a good idea at the time, not so much now. Doughy and short of necessary stamina, just the idea of being naked in front of someone (including my wife or myself) disgusts me, never mind the logistic improbability these set-backs bring to the table. No point in elaborating. Grade: F

2) Be the First Beginner to Win the US. Open.
I have not missed a single U.S. tennis championship in the past fifteen years. Granted, I’ve attended as only a spectator but I have accumulated invaluable insight into what distinguishes the pretenders from the contenders. As I have learnt while reading Brad Gilbert’s, Winning Ugly, a book that is (slowly) bringing me closer to fulfilling my dream, becoming a champion is 50% physical–75% mental. This September I begin tennis lessons. Grade: C+

3) Invent a Time Machine.

Again, it looks like I might have raised the bar too high. Not only can I not report any progress on this front but for the past twenty years it hasn’t even been on my radar. I totally forgot about this probably very soon after I wrote it because the next year I preceded to go to art school and I can’t remember taking another physics class or whatever it is I would need to start work on a time machine. Probably have to let go of this one. Grade: F

4) Have My Own Remote Island Fully Staffed By Domesticated Monkeys.

Originally the intent was to have a tropical island overflowing with Amazon women waiting on me hand and foot. Ultimately, that vision was tweaked to funny monkeys in suits. At this junction of my life, further compromise seems in order and now I’m shooting for someplace more local, perhaps not off the grid but a share in the metropolitan area. Plus, now I see the benefits of not having servants who fling feces at each other. That said, the dream lives on, minus the chimps.
Grade: D

5) Go To The North Pole.
Obviously I was a kid who understood his priorities. This goal was nearly reached when seven years ago I eloped to Reykjavik and honeymooned in the Arctic Circle. But one thing kept holding me back in my quest to the pole that I didn’t count on–I really don’t like the cold. Grade: C

6) Meet Thomas Dolby.
Yes, I was as surprised as you to find this entry on my list. For what its worth, last year I saw the’80s pop star of “She Blinded Me With Science” fame at Joe’s Pub but like so many of my dreams from yesteryear, I didn’t even recognize the now-bald and paunchy Dolby when we happened to be standing next to each other. Less star struck and more struck with the finite shelf life of my dreams, I would still put Thomas Dolby on my dream dinner table but maybe now I’d feel comfortable enough to ask him to help clear the dishes. Grade: B+

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Sunday, July 15, 2007

The Slush Files; Part 1

Anyway, back to Montana for a minute. The best way to sum up this beautiful state is with this item from a local paper demonstrating 5-yr olds wheeling power tools as I'm told, "the way God intended them to."

Yep, everything is alittle different here at Glacier. Here is a excerpt of some of the entertainment we enjoyed in it's national park;

This Evening’s Programs (The Slush Files; Part 1)
Welcome to Glacier National Park. We at the great Lake McDonald Lodge invite guests to our free park sponsored seminars. The schedule for the week of the 24th is as following;

Monday at 8 pm at the Fish Creek Amphitheater we present “Watch Your Step!” by Professor Françoise Manúre, author of Every Critter Poops. This interactive program will demonstrate how our forests are just one big bathroom and includes real scat samples of all shapes and sizes to pass around. Cookies and beverages will be served.

at 8:30 pm there will be a discussion in the dining hall called “How to Get the Most Out of Buffets.” This lively, comprehensive course is led by buffet-expert and health-skeptic Bob Grievances and cover subjects including pre-meal fasting and pacing yourself. Buffet Bob will teach you how to eat and evaluate using the catch and release method from his bestselling book, All You Can Eat. Continental breakfasts vs. breakfast buffets will also be discussed. Snacks will be served non-stop.

Thursday at 8:00 at The Avalanche Campground, “Can Your Marriage Survive This Trip?” Vacations can be relationship killers. Dr. Trudy knows this and will work with couples through common vacation pitfalls like how much to tip and what happens when you get really sick and tired of each other. Nobody leaves the class until they learn her buzzwords; compromise and separate-vacations!

“BEAR HERE! Gone Tomorrow; Grizzly Self-Defense.”
Did you know humans cannot outrun bears? But did you also know most bears do not know Jujitsu? Master Lin will show you how to use black belt against the black bear and other, quote unquote, alternative methods of campground combat including hypnosis and slight-of-hand. Don’t let bear attacks ruin your visit to Glacier National Park. This popular fireside demonstration will be conducted Fridays at 9 pm in the Many Glaciers Lodge. Please bring one frying pan, a helmet, a pound of sliced deli meat and pepper spray.

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Friday, July 13, 2007

I'm Back!

The Freelancer's Lament is back up and running. I have a pile of great stories to share in the upcoming week. Meanwhile, here are a couple of pictures from my trip to Montana.

My wife Tammy trying to get permission from critter to appear on this blog.

Success, as we get a signed release!

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Gone Fishin'

I will be away until the end of June vacationing at Glacier National Park. We're hoping that the one and only road, Going-to-the-Sun Road, which runs through the park will be plowed and opened by the 22nd when we need to drive from one lodge on the east side to a lodge on the west side. Every year the road is closed until mid-June due to avalanches but this year was an exceptionally severe winter. At least that should mean we will see icebergs and glaciers which have been disappearing in past years.

Please revisit me in July. Thanks.

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Monday, June 11, 2007

Freelancers Make Strange Bedfellows

Copyright © 2007 Bob Eckstein

Whether you knocked off a bank in college for tuition or jumped a turnstile as a teenager, these criminal offenses stay on your permanent record. The smallest of misdemeanors can affect an employment application...but not so for the wonderful, forgiving world of freelancing where most jobs don’t even require a resume. Writers, cartoonists, illustrators, construction workers – no resumes, no references, and in August, no shirts. That is why at any construction site the personnel is, in most cases, made up of either ex-convicts and/or freelance artists. And that is why you’re more likely to see artists at public protests or participate in general disorderly conduct – because it doesn’t go on their permanent record. As an alter-boy at Holy Cross elementary school in the South Bronx, the nuns were always threatening to us that anytime we did something out of line it would wound up on our permanent record. I often wonder if Tyrone Murphy is still paying the price for chucking that eraser out the classroom window. It was a tough school – nuns caning, lunchtime beatings, two-hour mandatory morning services…

My best friend was the only other white kid in the school. Curiously enough, he also went to art school (not the same school I went but where I eventually taught) but of instead of freelance illustrating he was picked Playgirl’s Man of the Year, landed a gig on a major soap opera and became a gay icon (not necessarily in that order). His biggest coup was being romantically linked to Penthouse Pet of the Year and Howard Stern regular, Sandra Taylor aka Sandi Korn. We’ve since lost touch years ago and our paths remotely crossed when he appeared in a soft-core porn movie, which included my ex. No, I have never sat down to watch the movie, the movie that would surely send me straight into therapy.

Anyhoo, for this reason I’m actually recommending freelancing for a change – for at least those coming out of the big house. You’re obviously part of a group that has enjoyed more life experiences (to get yourself into jail and while there). That’s why agents and editors wait there at the gates–for the next wave of artists and writers (no question, Paris will get a book deal when she tries to re-enter the free world). Personally my favorite writers and artists are felons. Outside artists, like Raymond Materson made great pieces of art from socks. Socks.

Raymond Materson, Jeter '06 socks

Each year The Puck Building (on Houston St.) has the Outsider Fair (which has gradually increased in popularity and price of admission and actual pieces. My wife and I have a small collection of outsider art. Some pieces we got at The House of Blues in Las Vegas when it was an active art gallery before it exploded into a chain store/concert hall. The next best place to buy outsider art is The American Primitive Gallery on Broadway. To learn more about folk art check out The American Folk Art Museum.

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Thursday, June 7, 2007

Paris Hilton EXCLUSIVE!

Paris Hilton will have to serve the balance of her jail term chained to this monitoring ankle cuff within the confines of her 4,000 square-ft mansion.

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Sunday, June 3, 2007

Freelancing in the Bighouse

(Big apologies to those who stopped by this blog in recent weeks only to find it stagnant. Due to legal minutia with my snowman book, juicy details I unfortunately cannot share publicly which involve a late Beatle and a certain female superhero, I'm not kidding, I’ve been out of commission the past two weeks. )

Over the next couple of weeks I will post a multi-part series on freelancing and how prison can help. In the meantime, I wanted to mention that there have been break-outs where jailbirds greased their naked bodies from head to toe and squeezed through the cell bars to escape. This is a real story (and not a Paris Hilton video).

Back to work…unfortunately. For more me I am on page 68 in the current issue of The New Yorker and will be in the sports section of this Sunday’s NY Times. For more stamps go here. Thanks.

One last item. I have been receiving many requests asking where one can learn more about moist towelettes. A good place to start is The Moist Towelette Museum. In all due respect, I won't be spending more time on this subject or personal hygiene...on this blog anyway.

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Sunday, May 13, 2007

Today's Homework

Everyone gets cornered at family and friends gatherings and subjected to jokes but when someone finds out what I do for a living all of a sudden it becomes The Last Comic Standing.

But I do enjoy the occassional one word joke and it's usually bearable enough to get through. None of this, "So a rabbi, a foot-massanger and a penguin go into a bar" stuff. No, the one word joke gets straight to the punch. The good people of The Trinidadian Ministry of Computers tell a good one word joke with the help of visual aids. All you need to do is type in the word sauerkraut.

The only other one word jokes I know is apparatus and (the much less funny) hibachi (as in, My ass feels like a hibachi.). Yak is not a one word joke.

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Friday, May 4, 2007

Lawyers, Accountants and Everyone Else

This new post is in response to a comment left on the last;

That's exactly right. The expenses are mine to pay for, which have amounted to about $8,000 if you include photo rights. My publisher has a legal department that's even hard to reach by phone nevermind addressing some of the problems I faced (for a newcomer, no less).

Thank you, cartoonist Mike Lynch, for sending me your link to your post on Will Eisner. Of course your blog I visit regularly (as I continue to learn how to be a gag cartoonist). That snowwoman was pretty interesting!

Will Eisner, of course, is the godfather of graphic novels, and as his website states "before Crumb, before American Splendor." (I have been working on another book in secret on the side, a graphic novel called The Sea Below Us, a comedy about the horrors of Arctic exploration in the 18th century which at the same time tells the story of global warming today. When I started that project 6 years ago I referred to the books by Will Eisner as a standard and tried to digest his ways and learn from it.)

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