We all have talent, something we enjoy doing so much that it rarely if ever feels like work. I would often fantasize about how wonderful it would be to draw cartoons and earn a living doing so. I'd imagine myself living like Charles Schultz as in the pictures I'd seen of him; at his drawing table cheerfully
illustrating the daily adventures of his Peanuts. For me that seemed like the ultimate dream job. I was enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard and shortly after boot camp we drew straws to see who would end up having to do a tour aboard the USCGC Jarvis. Yep, of course, I drew the shortest straw. Ever hear the saying, "Do what you love and the money will follow."? Well, it was obvious that wasn't going to be happening for me anytime soon. The Jarvis was scheduled to patrol the Bering Sea. I wasn’t happy. My fantasy about being in the U.S. Coast Guard was being sun-tanned aboard a flashy speedboat like I had seen on the TV show “Miami Vice.” My reality however was about to be more like the series, "Deadliest Catch." I’ll never forget that moment of pulling away from the dock in Honolulu about to set sail to Alaskan waters berating myself, “Now look what you got yourself into!”
Once out at sea my days consisted entirely of mindless grunt work. Being the lowest ranking sailor on board I manly chipped paint and then repainted the areas I just chipped, cleaned and organized areas that were in desperate need of organizing and cleaning, and I was also assigned trash detail. The only time I got a break from these chores was when I had to stand watch. Which was standing outside in the frigid cold above the bridge in the crow’s nest scanning the horizon for anything out of the ordinary. But at the day's end I would draw. Thinking ahead, I had packed plenty of paper, pencils and markers for my tour of duty. This was 1985, the "olden days" before smart phones and satellite TV. So that meant the only form of shipboard entertainment was either playing cards with other sailors, reading a book, or smoking cigarettes on the fantail. Instead I spent each night drawing cartoons based on my daily experience at sea. It became the highlight of my day. Soon, I began to see each day’s mishap as content for my next cartoon. Crazy as this may seem, but a day without some sort of challenge or comical blunder was seen as a disappointment.
When I showed my cartoons to a few shipmates they were impressed.
"You should show these to the Captain!" one of them suggested.
"Really?" I questioned somewhat flattered.
The other sailor backed him up, "Yeah, he'd love them!"
I did and they were right, the Captain loved them! So much so that he immediately assigned me the task of creating and hanging a new cartoon on “the board” in the main pass each morning. The board was the only bulletin board on the ship. This was where the entire crew was expected to look to for each day's "Plan of the Day" and any other important news. Located in the main pass directly outside the galley, to insure we’d all see it after morning chow, it was encased in plexiglass and under lock and key. Only the Executive Officer had a key and was granted permission to hang the approved notices therein. Although flattered I was apprehensive. Sharing my drawings with a few close friends is one thing, but the entire crew? Plus this meant that now in addition to my regular daily duty assignments I'm under orders to draw a brand new cartoon each day. Well, no turning back now.
The Captain entrusted me with a key to the case. Then he surprised me with an incredible benefit, he made arrangements for me to have access to very my own designated area on the ship to draw. There was an available drawing table located in the ship's marine safety office and from now on it was all mine. That meant no more fighting to find an open table somewhere to draw, nor did I have to unpack and repack my pens and pencils every evening. I was blown away. So I began; each evening after duty I'd complete a new cartoon and in the morning hang it in the main pass alongside the "Plan of the Day." At first I felt self-conscious, but soon I became more comfortable. Some nights I found it hard to sleep so excited to share what I drew with the crew in the morning. I became a bit of a celebrity too. Sailors would make it a point to pull me aside and tell me how much they enjoyed a cartoon. Pretty soon putting up the morning cartoon became a major event. The sailors would crowd around the bulletin board after breakfast and wait patiently, as I pushed my way through the crowd to unlock the case and post the latest cartoon.
Although I had been drawing these cartoons in addition to my regular duties it didn’t matter - I loved what I was doing! But little did I know there was a conspiracy brewing. I was called into see the Captain. He told me that a couple of the Chief Petty Officers were wondering if I could be given a new daily duty assignment, and the Captain agreed. From that moment I was relieved of all my previous daily grunt work. My new full-time shipboard job was to design and create murals for designated areas of the ship. All to be done in my style of cartooning. If this hadn't happened to me, especially under these most unlikely of circumstances, I'd never would have believed it.
“All things are ready: I have knowledge, intelligence, all I need....
The false belief of limitation and fear that I have had no longer has any power over me...
I am hemmed in by what seems like a very real doubt of myself.
But if I use my own true talents, the way will open out before me.
I need not work to make this true. IT IS TRUE.” -Emmet Fox
(Toward the end of our tour I was given a special mention in the "Plan of the Day."
Click on image to Supersize it!)
(I specifically remember asking a friend to take this shot because we hit an eerily calm patch of sea
that we were all very apprehensive about. What a trip!)