Slash for Cash

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By Diana DeJesus

Everyday thousands of artists wake up and head to a job they don’t care about in order to keep up with the bills. The career they want is hard to get or hard to live off of, so they slash.

Slashers are people pursuing a passion, or dream, but still have to pay the bills until they catch their big break. These are the people who work in the creative fields. Painters, sculptors, writers, actors, directors, musicians, models, designers and anyone with a dream for something else- something they don’t have yet.

The term “Slasher” has to do with artist being asked what they do for a living. They reply “Actor, slash, waiter,” or any other artistic field followed by the money-making job.

“Thought I would have made it by now, but I’m still up all weekend long bartending and running to auditions hyped up on coffee during the week.”

For actors the job of choice is usually bartending or waiting tables; there is flexibility in the service industry. There is money to make. There are people to network with.

Chausa Hong is slender and taller than the average woman and her hair has a natural bounce to it. As she slides her arms out of her coat, her sweater follows behind and the red and black tattoo on her arm stands out darker than her hair or eyes or lightly applied make-up. Her lips are full and when she speaks her voice is playful and pitchy. She is easy to listen; she is very easy to look at, the 27 year old Slasher.

She’s been acting locally since high school. She attended LaGuardia High School in New York City for Performing Arts up until 2005, and went on to the Fashion Institute of Technology after. She wanted to be surrounded by artists, and people like her. She went to work in the industry that many Slashers depend on; food service and night life.

Hong is a Jersey Girl, and not the which-exit-off-the-parkway kind. A Jersey, girl who buys her Metro card as a “monthly” because she is always in The City. It’s exactly the reason she is moving into Brooklyn. “The only thing for me in Jersey is the space.”

She will be close to Manhattan and the bar she works at and the auditions she travels to, and the people she knows from the industry that she is trying to break into. It’s worth it.

Chausa recently worked on a short called Mr. Chavan, directed by newbie Edward Sheih. The short is about a home-care aide of an isolated elder man who is burdened by an unexpected responsibility. The film was received well by the indie community, being accepted into many film festivals (The New York Indian, The Los Angeles Asian Pacific, Athens International Film and Video Festival). Other than that, it’s been very quiet for her lately; not much work available.

As of 2011, the Bureau of Labor Statistic (BLS), a subdivision of the United States Department of Labor, recorded 39,880 working actors in US (working means they were paid at least once for working that year). New York is home to 7,280 working actors. Pay for an actor in New York can range from minimum wage, to $80 per hour (or more for the big name stars) if they make it past the audition and onto a stage or screen. While the country’s unemployment rate was recorded at 6.7% in December, unemployment within the acting community normally settles around 90%.

Sidebar: Gigs that Get You By

Finding a job that allows you to keep going on auditions is the only way to survive the Big City.

Hong works long shifts to pay for her kickboxing classes that keep her body in shape, and classes to keep up her training. She isn’t working for vacations, or saving for the future. She considers her check to check lifestyle an investment; she is committed.

If you’re your job field was at 90% unemployment, what would you do?

Manos looks like he has no last name and no permanent address; a traveling man with a warm smile tucked into a patchy beard. He has a rugged artist appearance like that of someone who couch-surfs. He wears a necklace or little carved heads that peaks out from the bottom of his wiry beard.

He was the apprentice for a Jersey City Tattoo for a year and a half, and isn’t sure when he became a “professional” tattoo artist.

As an apprentice, you are the “shop bitch”, the sweeper, the break-down and setup guy, the appointment scheduler, the goffer, the guy that picks up the coffee and the lunch, the guys who goes to pick up the booze when the shop closes and its 15 degrees out and windy. Slowly you earn the time to tattoo grapefruits and sit in on appointments to watch over the shoulder of the shop artists as they work. You don’t breathe heavy and you watch close enough to learn something. Eventually, you start tattooing, but not clients of the shop. The shop reputation would be ruined if they let an apprentice touch live skin. An apprentice convinces their friends and family members to let them needle life-lasting ink into their skin.

One of the worsts parts of being an apprentice “was the anticipation and helpless feeling of not knowing when I was going to graduate.”

When you are an apprentice, money is tight. You want to hang out with the professionals, but don’t make professional money or have professional cliental or a schedule booked out for the next two months. You aren’t making much money and you do all the dirty work. Emotionally you have to deal with rejection, Manos reflected on the times of “constant tearing apart of ones artwork by my superiors.” But you keep on, keeping on until you “graduate.”

When he isn’t tattooing, Manos, whose real name is Pedro Rodriguez, is a Carpenter out of Summit New Jersey. His parents own a nice home and well-groomed dogs. They love him, they understand him but they are “traditional.” They like when he is a carpenter like his father. They prefer that roll. The pay is reliable.

Manos is an artist. He uses his hand to create and to build. “Manos” means hands, in Spanish. “They call me Manos because I have small hands and I’m good with them.”

Manos who is a full blown Tattooer still works 40 per week as a carpenter, and about 30 hours a week in the tattoo shop. That’s just about 2 full time jobs to maintain his low key lifestyle. He is happy, but he remembers the climb to get where he is. “There was anxiety and not knowing if I was cut out for this or not.”

In Japan, there is a term for being overworked. The word “karoshi,” which means sudden death because of overwork. People die because they are putting too much stress on their bodies and minds. Is maintaining two full time jobs worth the idea of someday being able to do what you love full time?

This is the struggle of every young artist. Live a “normal” life with an average job and pay your bills on time, sleep 8 hours a night and have a reliable income, or– follow your heart? Is there a line in the sand that announces “enough is enough?”

Marquis Sharief Ellis, 27 of Jersey City is complimented by everyone he drops bars for. He has been rapping for 11 years, and you can say he started his career when he was a teen in the Jersey City neighborhood in which he grew up. “The drug dealers in my neighborhood used to ask me to freestyle for money and it made me feel like I could make more than the little bucks they were giving me.”

Blaze Moolah, wants the typical American dream come true. He wants a home in a good neighborhood for his 4 children and wife. As he walks them to school every morning, he thinks of how good life could be for them if he made it. “I’ve been told I’m old and can’t do it because I have kids.” Blaze Moola is inspired by fatherhood and the possibilities.

His 5’7 solid stature may be hard to read at first, but when you ask about the kids, his perfect, bright, genuine smile instantly warms you. It’s the kind of smile that pushes your cheeks up toward your eyes. He can scroll through pictures with you for minutes before he catches himself. He’s proud.

At a recent show at the Dopeness Café in Jersey City, his wife stood front and center and as everyone cheered him on, she mouthed her favorite lines and you could see that her support made it possible for Marquise to chase his dreams. He’s got support on his side.

About 3 years ago, Marquise had to give up music and focus on being a father, a husband and a man with an average job. “When I moved to Georgia I had no sense of creation. I had no one around me with the love of the craft.” In his darkest of days of those years, he hit a period of depression. “I cried myself to sleep one night, ashamed that I hadn’t written a rhyme in so long. I felt like I let myself down”

Marquise is an artist, he is a writer. He is an example of Charles Bukowski’s poem So you want to be a writer? “If it doesn’t come bursting out of you/ in spite of everything, /don’t do it.”

He put his passion on hold for as long as he could, and he is now back in full force. Blaze Moola has teamed up with other local rappers, producers, photographers and designers and created FLXXARMY. They wear the brand, promote each other, produce music, and host showcases to mingle with local artists. He belongs to this community now.

“We all want success and fast. People tend to lose faith in them when they don’t see what they want immediately.”

Blaze Moolah worked at BestBuy for three years, and attends Hudson County Community College. At the end of this semester, his wife will graduate.

“I just keep pushin’.”

____

When you are a child you are told “you can be anything you want to be when you grow up.” That isn’t so. You can want it bad, eat, sleep and dream it and it may never come. The same people who encouraged you to dream big- “shoot for the stars”-big- will later nudge you settle down and make a “good” life for yourself. But what’s a good life anyway?

Is a big salary, nice ride and swanky apartment over-looking some well-kept park in a major city or a two car garage at the end of exclusive suburban cul-de-sac, what they mean by a “good” life? Could it be a steady job where you greet the same people for 20 years before you retire after putting our children through college?

What if you aren’t cut out for that? What if the hustle of making it “one day”, or the day dream of a crowded arena standing in applause, or being surrounded by people like you, was a “good life”?

We need the artists, technicians, the bankers, the bakers, the brokers, the nannies, the teachers, the actors, the homeless. Depending on the role you play, you are a part of what makes THIS, a good life. You get to choose where you want to be and what you’ll do, or wont, to get there.

And if you don’t feel like you are living a “good” life, there is always tomorrow.