1960 – Fullerton, Callifornia
name was later changed to Harbor Blvd – the street
that leads to Disneyland, a few miles to the south.
After returning from Korea, I worked for a number of sign shops, and had hoped to have a shop of my own someday. Well, I finally did so after marrying a divorcee with two small children, whom I met when she was working as a housekeeper for my then boss, a divorced sign shop owner named George Schecter, who had two small kids of his own.
Well, Elaine, her kids, and I moved to Fullerton, California, where Elaine had a married sister, whom she hoped would help with baby-sitting while she went back to work as a Registered Nurse and while I tried to find a job.
As it turned out, however, Elaine's sister wasn't too interested in baby-sitting – so Elaine stayed home while I found part-time work at a couple of Orange County sign shops. I still had dreams of having my own business, but had no money—and was now living in a new town where I had no friends, relatives or business contacts.
Worse yet, I had no aptitude for going door-to-door handing out cards, in hopes of picking up some freelance jobs. Elaine, however, turned out to be a natural-born salesperson. So, while the kids were in school, she went door-to-door and brought home enough work to supplement the income from my part-time jobs.
In the early days of the business I would take on just about any job that came along – I couldn't afford not to.
However, one of those jobs nearly killed me.
Although the business had begun as a sign and silk-screen printing shop, I quickly discovered that many of my customers also wanted various types of flags, banners, and pennants – including "string pennants." These are the multi-colored plastic wigglies often strung over a parking lot sales event, and which have always been a favorite among car dealers.
It was a used car dealer who not only wanted to buy a bunch of pennants, he asked if I would string them up over his sales lot. Well, I had never installed string pennants before, but figured it wouldn't be that hard to do – so I asked my main assistant, Jerry Thomason, if he would help me do it.
Jerry wasn't all that enthused about the idea, but agreed to go along with it. For one thing, we weren't sure if we needed a permit of some kind to be doing this in Fullerton – but figured that if we did it after dark there would be less chance of being spotted by a city inspector.
So that afternoon Jerry and I drove to the small lot on Commonwealth Ave and looked it over, to see what we would need by way of tools, ladders, and etc. The following night we went to the lot to install several strings of pennants.
Well, it was a damp, drizzly winter night, but we were warmly dressed and ready to do the deed.
A small metal building stood near the middle of the lot, from whence we would string the pennants to some lamp poles on the lot's perimeter. Our plan was to drill some holes in a chimney-like structure on top of the building, through which we could secure an end of each string, and then tie the other ends on the surrounding lamp posts.
I placed an aluminum ladder against the building and volunteered to be the one who would climb up and drill the holes.
But there was a problem.
I had forgotten to bring my electric drill and extension cord. (Well, I told you I had never done this before.)
"No problem," said the car salesman, "I have a drill and extension that you're welcome to use."
But now there was another problem.
The drill's cord was badly frayed and I could see copper wire near the drill's handle. But I assumed that with careful handling I could avoid contact with the bare wire – and, besides, the hole-drilling would only take a few minutes and be over with.
So I started up the ladder holding the drill very gingerly while dragging the extension cord below. I made it to the top of the ladder and was in the process of placing one foot on the roof of the building when all of a sudden I felt my body go rigid, saw a burst of stars, and found myself being abruptly hurled backwards. I blacked out for a moment and then realized I was laying flat on my back on the damp asphalt pavement, with the ladder laying across me.
I could hear someone asking if I was OK, and someone else yelling something about paramedics.
Well, what had happened was obvious – my wrist had touched the live wire and the electrical surge grounded itself by going through my body and into the metal ladder and the metal building. Had I been all the way on top of the building, I shudder to think of the consequences – but being thrown off the ladder saved my life – although it damaged my pride and gave me a few bruises.
I was able to get up and assure Jerry and the car dealer that I was OK and didn't need an ambulance – but Jerry had already called my wife, who arrived quickly and made sure I got into the rescue vehicle and shipped off to St. Jude's Hospital.
I continued in the sign business for the next 40+ years – but that was the one and only time I ever tried putting up string pennants.
PS: The car dealer paid for the pennants and got someone else to install them. Whew!
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