Sign & Digital Graphics

March '20

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6 • M A R C H 2 0 2 0 • S I G N & D I G I T A L G R A P H I C S The Debt I Owe Rick Williams owns Rick's Sign Company, a com- mercial sign shop in Longview, Texas. He has been in the sign industry since 1973 and documenting the sign business since 1986. Contact him at Rick SignCo@aol.com. A short while into my young marriage, and my self-employ- ment, I felt like I had enjoyed a pretty good year. I'd paid my taxes quarterly, covered all my expenses, and even had around $1,200 left over. And that was back in the mid '70s when $1,200 felt more like $12,000. Dutifully, some time before April 15 th I neatly placed all my receipts and invoices for the entire year into a single cigar box and I delivered the box to the home office of "Blackie" my competent tax man, who was about 30 years my senior. In a day or two, Blackie called and told me he agreed that my tiny sign business had a pretty good year, and after all was said and done I only owed the IRS another $1,300 to settle up. "Thirteen hundred? But that's a hundred dollars more than I have in the bank, and there's none in my sock drawer or anywhere else!" "Sorry to hear that kid, but for now we can send off the return without a check, and they will send you a bill for the balance. That will give you a month or so to make a little cash. But you'll have to play catch-up for a while, because you already owe taxes on the first quarter of this year, too. Great being successful, isn't it?" Well, it didn't seem so great at the time. But, if the worst thing I was dealing with, way back when I was young and good looking, was having to pay income taxes on the living I was mak- ing painting signs, it was a lot less stressful than what Blackie had been doing when he was the same age. Blackie, a WWII veteran, told me about part of his war expe- rience the night I picked up my tax return. Being older and wiser, perhaps he recounted his story to this young sign maker to help me feel thankful, instead of feeling annoyed and cheated. At the time, Blackie was a short, stocky fellow, no taller than his sweet little wife who could have passed for my grandmother. As a young army recruit, he was probably tiny. But when Blackie left his teens, he also left the U.S. for the coast of Normandy just a few weeks after the smoke had cleared and after the water had turned blue again. For some reason, right out of high school he had taken classes to learn shorthand, I assume to get a job as a court reporter. Whether he ever worked at that profession I don't know, but the fact that he was a rare male soldier with this normally female ability probably saved his life. It seems that all the meetings of the high command are be recorded on-the-spot and necessarily by shorthand, so guys with Blackie's abilities were in great demand, and typically worked behind the front lines where the high command was holding court. He met and often served the likes of Eisenhower, Patton and Bradley. In the fall of 1944, the Germans were being pushed back and the end seemed in sight, until sometime early in December when all hell broke loose at the beginning of the Battle of the Bulge. Unfortunately for Blackie, for once he was near the front, and very suddenly he was behind it and solidly in enemy held territory. Seems the officer and the sergeant he'd been with, seeing the Germans move swiftly into the east side of town, dashed to the west in their jeep while Blackie was up in a hotel room gathering his gear. For a solid freezing month, each day he was in mortal danger, surviving as best he could and knowing that at any second he would be shot, or taken prisoner… and then shot. Of course, I would never have met Blackie or be telling this story if he hadn't made it. Thirty years later he was still very thankful he had, but I think it was by a pretty slim margin. By contrast, the only "slim margin" this young American was having to worry about right then, was the slim margin between what I made and what was left over after the IRS got through with me, a little less than zero to be exact. And all the years since then, I have stayed in business, paid my taxes, and fought only battles that could not prove fatal. And, I have certainly learned to be thankful. I'm especially thankful for guys like Blackie, and for all our veterans who have paid their debt and paid mine too. The saying goes, "If you can read, thank a teacher. If you're reading in English, thank a vet." Well, you're reading, and read- ing my English, so I think we can both be thankful. Have a great month. In the Trenches B Y R I C K W I L L I A M S

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