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To Drop Out or Not to Drop Out...
Don Edrington

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Hollywood, California - 1946


     Dropping out of high school was probably not the brightest thing I ever did, but somehow I survived it and even went on do more dropping out.
     At the time, I was convinced I was going to be another Norman Rockwell, or at least another Al Capp or Chic Young—and that having a formal education really wasn't all that necessary to becoming a commercial artist or a cartoonist.
     Besides, I had a full-time boxboy job at a Ralph's Market, and 75¢ an hour was enough to skim by on in those days. But personal problems with my multipli-divorced mom made me want to leave the area altogether—so I joined the army.
     They let me sign up for the Army Corps of Engineers Surveying School at Fort Belvoir, Virginia—and I figured that having a technical skill of some kind would give me something to fall back on if my intended career as an artist ever bogged down.
     But guess what—I dropped out again.
     I did this by deliberately flunking the final exam. Why? Someone had heard that I knew how to type and offered me a job as a Company Clerk in a Fort Belvoir office—but only if I failed the surveying course.
     Well, the thought of being stationed just half an hour away from Washington DC with an easy 9-to-5 clerical job and a semi-private cadre room seemed a lot more appealing than being sent off to do surveying in a foreign jungle or desert somewhere. This would also give me more time to practice my drawing.
     Two and a half years later I had less than six months to go on my enlistment, but dropped my easy job and volunteered for an extra year's duty so I could get what I heard would be an even cushier office job in Japan (you know—where all the geisha girls were said to treat the GIs so well).
     However, all I saw of Japan was a brief view of Sasebo's harbor on my way to an artillery battalion in Korea. .
     Well, as battlefield assignments go, I couldn't have been much luckier. Since I had had no artillery training of any kind, I was made Battery PX Clerk in a 155-Howitzer battalion, located a few miles behind the front.
     A few months later, I was surprised and pleased to hear I was scheduled to return stateside in a few days. So what did I do? I decided to visit a Forward Observer outpost on a hill overlooking enemy positions, and nearly got myself killed while standing on top of the FO bunker to get a better view.
     Anyway, after getting out of the army, I went job-hunting and spotted an ad saying the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California needed a surveyor. Well, even though I assured them I'd gotten good grades up until I dropped out, they said they needed a credentialed journeyman—but that they had an opening for an entry-level draftsman. So I took it.

Dropped Out Again
     However, I dropped out of the job eleven months later—one month shy of earning a week's paid vacation. Why? Because I had been taking an evening class in free-hand lettering and couldn't wait to become a "self-employed lettering artist" (sign-painter).
     As it turned out, that week with pay would have been a big help in getting started, and might have kept me from having to drop the lettering plans and take a job as a milkman. My "self-employment" dreams would have to wait a few more years. bottle.jpg  22843 bytes
     In any case, getting up at 3:00 AM to put ice-filled gunny sacks over dairy products in a drafty truck you had to drive standing up had no appeal for me at all. I must have been the worst milkman Carnation Dairies ever had.
     So I dropped that job and started looking again. I was beginning to think that dropping the surveying class was maybe not such a good idea after all.
     Next, I got a job as a manager-trainee for Cornet Stores, a West Coast chain of Woolworth-like variety stores. I eventually dropped that job to take one at a new mall being built in Las Vegas—but went back to Pasadena after Joe Cornet Jr. offered me a substantial pay raise to become the company's official "Display Manager." This was a fancy title for being sent around to various stores to do on-site sign-painting.
     When Mr. Cornet realized I could be more productive by mass-producing signs for all 100 stores, he asked if I knew how to do "silk-screen printing."
     "Sure," I replied enthusiastically.
     So he gave me a blank check and told me to buy what was needed to build a screen-printing department in their main warehouse. The first thing I bought was a book on how to do screen-printing. I hadn't a clue.
     Anyway, my on-the-job self-training worked out so well, that I thought I'd offer to do the same for a Cornet competitor—if the price was right. Well, Rasco Stores was sufficiently impressed with my plans that they made me a generous offer to leave Cornet and go to work for them.

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     Would you believe I stayed only one day—and then dropped out to go to Puerto Rico, where I had decided my junior-high-school Spanish could help me become a "self-employed bilingual sign-painter?"
     Not surprisingly, I was back in California a few weeks later looking for another job.
     Well, I found a pretty good lettering job at Signs by George in Sherman Oaks, but eventually dropped that job and went to Mexico City, where I thought I could become a "free-lance cartoonist" and just mail my drawings in to the likes of The Saturday Evening Post, Colliers, and perhaps even the recently-created Playboy.
     You probably won't be surprised to learn that I was back in Southern California a couple of months later, again looking for a job.

Elaine.jpg      Well, I finally did become a self-employed sign-painter - but only after marrying a divorcee with two small children, whom I met when she was working as the housekeeper for my then boss, a divorced guy with two small kids of his own.
     Anyway, Elaine, her kids, and I moved to Fullerton, where Elaine had a married sister, whom she hoped would help with baby-sitting while she went back to being a Registered Nurse and while I looked for yet another 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 business cards, in hopes of picking up some freelance lettering jobs. Elaine, however, turned out to be a natural-born salesman. 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.
     But when Elaine announced that she was going to call on Longs, the town's biggest drug emporium, I suggested she drop that idea. The store was covered with window banners and counter signs, and it was obvious they already had someone doing their work. But guess what the store manager said to her.
     "I'm glad you came in. The fellow who's been doing our work is in another town and he's been getting less and less reliable about getting the signs to us on time. Have your husband come in and talk to me."
     Well, that was the beginning of Banner Sign Company, which kept food on the table and a roof over our heads for the next 40+ years.

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More Dropping Out
     One might think having my own business would finally put an end to my "dropping out." Well, not exactly. I began to "drop out" of Banner about half way through the company's existence.
     trs-don.gif  23584 bytes When the first PCs (personal computers) began to appear in late 1977, I was hooked right from the start. Naturally, I looked for ways to use them in the business, but found that my interest in the machines went way beyond calculating sign prices and doing office bookkeeping.
     Although I've never taken a computer class of any kind, I found that teaching what I'd learned to others with less experience was something I enjoyed—and I've been doing it ever since. (This old high-school drop-out even ended up being a Computer Applications Instructor at Fallbrook High School for a few years.)
     Fortunately for Banner, my wonderful daughter-in-law Alana Fugnetti had gone to work for us and soon learned to take over the management of the whole operation. She did so well that Elaine and I eventually gave her and Dennis (Elaine's son) half the business. 1alana.jpg  17400 bytes
     Well, we finally sold Banner to an Ohio corporation who wanted to expand into California.
     Alana's still there, however, making the business even more successful for its new owners. When they bought it, they asked Alana to stay on for at least three years and made her an offer she couldn't refuse—a win/win situation for all of us.
     Sadly, heart failure had taken Elaine a year earlier, but we all take comfort in knowing she is out of pain and with the Lord.
     In the meantime, I'm still busy helping others (mostly seniors to whom PCs are often new and somewhat intimidating) learn how to deal with the amazing little rascals. I count my blessings and thank the Lord every day.





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