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Introductions

28 June, 2008
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I guess I’ll describe who’s in our li’l crew, briefly.

I’m Damon.  I started working at NBS in 1999.  I came in sometime in June, looking for an apprenticeship, and was told I could start the next day.  I found out the owners, Steve Karbo and Yvette Rutledge, had relocated some years before to New Orleans, and a steady progression of on-site managers was running NBS on their behalf.  The man who hired me, the master, as it were, to my apprenticeship, was Maurice O’Carroll.  He had a very steady, graceful hand, even after the two cappuccinos with which he started every work day.  He was running his own free-lance sign painting operation, in addition to managing NBS.  He had plenty of his own clients, not least because of his connections with the Irish ex-pat community.  By the time I met him, Maurice wasn’t a drinker, but I met a number of Irishmen who implied that they “knew him when”, and they all owned moving companies, painting companies, construction companies, all in need of signs, quick and cheap.  Maurice worked cheap.  He could letter super fast.   I think that led him to assume, in fashioning his bids, that any sign took next to no time.  Thus, they cost next to nothing.  Unfortunately, they didn’t take next to no time.  He often had jobs piled up on one another, and difficulties prioritizing between his own gigs, and the NBS gigs.  Of course, this is why he needed an apprentice, such as myself, to help dig him out.

But then, all apprentices start slow.  He didn’t get dug out fast enough.  Steve and Yve decided to ask him to leave, and at the same time, Maurice enthused about how my skills were developing.  So, they hired me to replace him as shop manager.  I was still apprenticing, but now my masters were half a country away.  I’d come in and practice on my own time, as agreed, then take photographs of my practice lettering and mail them regularly to New Orleans (this being in the final few years before the digital age truly came into its own).  Steve would call with suggestions on what to practice further, and Yve would fax me (this was a mode of communication whereby printed pages were transmitted through phone lines to crappy printers) sketches of layouts for customer orders, as necessary.

This convoluted business plan soon proved untenable, and before the end of the year they offered me the choice of either buying the business from them, or helping to close it down.  I found the price and the opportunity for self-employment both attractive, so I opted to buy it, and here we are.

I can’t say I haven’t regretted it at times.  I’ve tried to sell it away on a few occasions, but with the same tepid gusto I apply to opportunities for growth and progress (personal and business…?).  Of course, growth and progress — whatever attitudes I myself bring to those concepts — are all the more confusing prospects when your line of business is as resolutely Luddite as painting letters with a brush.  It’s not likely to ever completely disappear, but barring the total collapse of the electricity infrastructure, it won’t soon occupy a growing segment of the sign industry.  Of course, that attitude keeps me stuck in the “sign industry”.  It’s probably wiser to think of what we’re doing more as art.  That, at least, is where my crop of apprentices/co-workers (seem to like to try to) keep it.

So, let’s meet them:

The longest tenured among them is Josh “Cool Hand” Luke, a/k/a The Stroker, painterly pseudonym: Michael Mercy.  I’m not sure how he came along…  I guess he’s an old friend of Keegan, Tauba’s mate.  Tauba worked here for maybe… three and a half years?  And when she decided to leave, she suggested her friend Josh would like to replace her here.  So, I think that was… late spring/early summer 2005?

Right about the same time he started, John, from what would soon be Mollusk Surf Shop came in to get a sign made.  He brought his old pal, Jeff Canham, and Jeff asked about apprenticing here.  So, really, I guess he’s at least as tenured as Josh, ‘cuz I had Tauba do the lettering on the big Mollusk sign, so Josh must not have started yet…  The first thing I remember either of them doing was riding with me up to Santa Rosa to seal and gild some letters molded into a concrete sign at a high school there.  And I remember we all brought skate boards on the second day, because there was a skate park across the street from the school.  And Jeff remembers Josh suggesting that they go into business together, because I’d already told one or both of them that I’d like to sell the joint.  And Jeff’s response was something along the lines of, “Excuse me, but what was your name again?”

So, geez, years have passed, and I’m still at it, and they’re still at it.  Well, Josh left for a bit, because I was hospitalized a couple years ago after falling out of a tree, and on returning to work told them I didn’t have much energy left for this, and that they should look for more hours of work elsewhere.  But now he’s back part time.

We also have Aaron Cruse, freelance graphic designer most days, stopping in one day a week.  He’s been here for half a year or so, but he thinks he might be splitting soon for a teaching gig in Taiwan.

And Caitlyn Galloway is the apprentice on whom we’re pinning our hopes for the future.  We haven’t explicitly told her that, so her plans might be otherwise, but we like having her around.  And isn’t being published in a practically ‘secret’ blog, the best way to get news about your employers’ intentions?  Seriously, we gotta talk to her about getting in some more hours…

It just occurred to me that as soon as I publish this post, notices will probably be automatically sent to whatever blogs/websites I’ve linked to herein, so I guess this won’t be much of a secret anymore.  Or is that not how it works?  Guess I’ll find out!

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