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Brief Bio on Don
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
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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.
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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