Sometime after Christmas in the mid 1950s, when I was 6, I enlisted my 4-year-old sister to help me scavenge the alley behind our house on Church Street in the tiny town of Salem, Indiana.
Back then no one had artificial Christmas trees, and instead the alley was littered with real drying-out trees waiting for the trash men to come. A lot of people had been in a hurry to take down Christmas; many of the trees still were covered with tinsel, and several had broken (or, occasionally unbroken!) ornaments dangling like treasure on an interior branch, or lying in the alley stones beneath the tree carcass.
It was a gold mine for us because, naturally, we were collecting all this holiday flotsam in a cardboard box, to be brought back to the garage, where I would craft it all into numerous amazing Good Luck Charms.
I made several dozen, then declared that the best ones were worth 25 cents and the rest a dime apiece. Then my sister and I worked the neighborhood, going door to door over about an eight-block area, hawking good luck to the residents of Salem. A lot of people shook their heads no and shut the door, but you could tell they still were a little amazed at the shiny twinkling goods in the box. Others felt inclined to buy, often just one of the small 10-cent tokens.
But a few really warmed to our concept and bought two or three or even more. Some of them seemed really delighted, and invited my little sister and me into their homes and called everyone inside to come and see the artisans who’d created this wonderment, right down the street. We didn’t sell everything in the box, but we marched home proud, heads held high over making an honest day’s fortune out of an honest day’s scavenging.
That all changed when mom and dad demanded to know where we’d gotten all the coins. I absolutely could not understand their reaction. They were horrified! and ashamed! They drove us around in the old Plymouth, demanding that we recall our exact sales route, and the exact houses whose owners had purchased just a little good luck. Our parents explained that it was all a mistake, and returned every dime, even from several people who really preferred the charms to the cash.
It occurred to me later that my folks were afraid people would think they’d sent us around town to essentially hit up the residents for some spare change that we could use to help pay the bills or something.
This was not a good lesson in capitalism, and it took many years for the psychological effects of the episode to wear off.
When they finally did, I became a student of fine art at the local university. I learned to draw and paint after a fashion, and I enjoyed collage – the cobbling together of found objects in order to create some new entity. A few of my professors told me I excelled at my work, and I briefly allowed myself to visualize a life of gallery openings somewhere like New York City, filled with my paintings and creations.
But it was an incomplete vision and, pressed by the economic realities of my impending first marriage, I got off the art path in order to pursue the far more stable and financially rewarding career of newspaper journalism. That last sentence is intended to be very sarcastic, since the idea of a career in newspapers essentially no longer exists.
So a lot of time transpired between the end of art school and The Present. I morphed from newspaper journalism to Internet journalism to web and computer project management to database application company prez and then back again to Internet journalism and what is known as “web development.” I thought I’d hit upon a new media niche I could exploit as a one man show, making a living in a micro company without any emplyees or the accompanying accounting nightmare. Then came the crash of 2008, and suddenly big web development companies from Houston were bidding on these small jobs that I had briefly had all to myself. I knew the big companies would lose money on every one of these jobs, but the big jobs had dried up for them.
I didn’t admit it to myself at the time, but the economic downturn forced me into semi-retirement. My new business began drying up just as it was starting to grow. And when there are 300 applicants for any meaningful available corporate job opening, applicants in their late 50s represent possible health plan increases, and former self-employed business owners represent a potential unwillingness to blindly follow orders. Today I still have a few web development and hosting clients, but I am not accepting anyone new.
Instead, I’ve accidentally tapped back into a vein of creative energy that had been lying somewhat dormant over the years. Actually, I was never able to entirely give up the artwork. As operator of a web-based news service a few years ago, I had to hone my digital art skills sufficiently to create the occasional web advertisement, for example. More recently, as my web development workload shrunk, I began devoting time to digital design.
I became fascinated with, of all things, the T-shirt.
I’ve always loved the casual comfort and snazzy looks of a thick cotton T-shirt embellished with a clever design. I’ve always had at least one or two favorite tees, and I will wear them until they are so full of holes that family members are ashamed to be seen with me. I have T-shirts I liked so much that I cut out the designs after the shirts fell apart, with the idea that I would have them made into pillows. I have one old favorite hanging on the inside of one of my workshop doors.
I like T-shirts because they are the quintessential American garment. They represent casual self-indulgent fun (you can’t be working today, you’re wearing a T-shirt), and they have become a walking advertisement for the wearer’s philosophical bent or mental state. T-shirts are extremely handy. Just by looking briefly at one, you can tell you for sure don’t need to waste 15 seconds striking up a conversation with that guy.
So it has come to pass that I have delved into the strange world of wholesale apparel and screen printing. Now I find that I have created a fashion brand, if you can apply that term to T-shirts (and I think you can). To make a long story short, allow me to introduce you to Juju Rags.
You can go there to shop online for T-shirts created in the spirit of whatever I was pursuing with my little sister back over the Christmas holidays of 1957.