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Financial Advice from the Thief Next Door

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Ola was a bad person.

At least that’s what everyone told me.

My neighbors told me he had a criminal record which included assault, car theft, and narcotics dealing, but that his REAL passion was B&E thievery.

Not good.

Definitely not good for me because Ola lived next door in our rundown dump of an apartment building.

I didn’t have much “stuff” but what I did have was precious – like my Fender Telecaster guitar which I bought when I was 16 years old with the proceeds from my first job at McDonald’s.

Every time I saw Ola in the hallway, or outside the building coming and going, I felt a zap of anxiety run through my body.

I could visualize him breaking into my apartment and rifling through my things.

I could imagine him stealing my guitar, my amplifier, all my CDs, my leather jacket, and my unique one-of-kind handcrafted bong.

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I figured it was just a matter of time before I was the next target.

I imagined being home while he was “in the commission of his crime” and getting beaten to a pulp in the process.

But as the weeks and months went by…..nothing. Not a bump in the night or a crack in the day.

He even said hello to me once when we were getting our mail at the same time.

I thought maybe he didn’t want to steal from people living so close to him.

Or perhaps he didn’t think anyone in the building had anything worth stealing.

But then it happened.

A well-known wannabe pimp who called himself Andy X from 10A came pounding on Ola’s door demanding he get his belongings returned.

I heard Ola open the door, a barrage of heated words from Mr. X, then Ola’s distinctive tone of voice,

“Look man, you better back off or I’m gonna fix ya – and by the way you look like a fucking clown wearing that backward baseball cap and cheap gold chains – you ain’t black, you ain’t cool, and you ain’t never been to Oakland.”

Door slams.

The Party

A few months later my roommate Mark and I came into some money so we had a party.

We packed our tiny one bedroom apartment with our “colourful” neighbors – it seemed like everyone in the building showed up.

Mark and I had a 40 of tequila and a 40 of gin which our thirsty neighbours we’re happy to share with us.

My friend Indian Jack from the pizza place across the street came with a fresh bag of pot to stuff in my bong.

It was a stone groove baby.

One of the neighbours was a young single mother named Keri who had recently lost her daughter to social services. After a few stiff drinks and some smoke she started spilling her grief.

She rattled on in tears until she finally went into another one of her epileptic seizures. We stopped what we were doing and made sure she didn’t bang her head (this wasn’t the first time Keri had seized in our presence).

Just as I was getting up off the floor from tending to my epileptic guest, Ola walked in the door.

Everything got a little bit quieter because everyone was a little bit afraid of him.

He only stood about about 5’7″, had a scar on his left cheek, brooding eyebrows, jet black hair (that must have been cut by Johnny Rotten’s barber), a green bomber jacket, faded ripped jeans, and dirty 1950s Converse-style runners.

He made his way to our tiny kitchen to get a glass and some ice for his drink, then sat in the corner where he had a view of the entire apartment.

Being I was one of the hosts I sat down across from him and offered him a pull on my freshly replenished bong.

He declined saying, “Never touch the stuff.”

He gave me the creeps as he looked around the room assessing his future robbery.

Over the next hour or so he continued to drink his bottle of rye whiskey on ice, and as he did the screws in the back of his tongue began to loosen.

Apparently our dangerous and brooding neighbor was a bonafided chatterbox when under the influence.

He pointed at my guitar and told me what I paid for it. Then my amp, then our stereo, and Mark’s 4-Track Tascam recorder.

And he was right. Damn close at the worst.

Either Ola had a photographic memory (the best next contestant on The Price is Right) or he had already done inventory on our humble abode.

Either way, he was no ordinary thief.

To make us even more uncomfortable he told us how much he could get if he pawned our stuff at his buddy’s shop in East Van. You could tell he was relishing the fact that Mark and I were wide-eyed and intimidated.

Now I was certain. Ola didn’t want to party – he was just there to “case out the place” and put the fear of god into us.

I decided the only thing to do was to shrewdly lube his ego so he would see us as friends – at least friends enough not to rob us.

But before I had a chance to “butter Ola’s bread” he started,

“Why are you guys wasting your money on all this shit? You’re never gonna make it. When was the last time you ever made any money with your music?”

Mark and I looked at each other with a stunned expression. This low-life street urchin was giving us our fathers’ lecture almost verbatim!

What. A. Prick.

It’s one thing to be a petty thief and thug, but it’s another thing entirely to sit on our back-alley acquired lounger and piss all over our rock ‘n’ roll parade.

He went on.

“If you’re music was anything special you would have been discovered by now, but here you are still dreaming of stardom and getting stoned in squalor. Look around man, you’re surrounded by losers and you’re all going nowhere.”

It was clear – Ola saw himself as the winner of the losers and that he was only a tourist in our nefarious neighbourhood – soon to lift off en route to a better place.

Just when I thought his onslaught was over he continued, “You need to wake the fuck up and get real man. Stop wasting time and money on a fantasy and make a realistic plan. Look at me – I don’t spend jack shit on anything unless I can eat it or wear it, and I’m saving every cent I can for a used courier van.”

At that point I’d had enough and went outside for some fresh air.

The next day Mark told me Ola had continued talking after I left the apartment. Ola explained in detail how he was going to buy a courier van so he could deliver food and supplies to restaurants.

Moving Out

I no longer feared Ola.

Well…..at least not as much as I despised him.

I didn’t like him because he told me something I didn’t want to believe.

Was it possible he was right? Was I really just another dreamer (“…can you put your hands in your head….oh no!”) and a mediocre talent destined to get eaten alive by this cold and daunting city.

Months later I moved out of the building leaving Mark, Keri, Jack, and Ola behind.

My dream of stardom was still intact and I could see my glory on the horizon – somewhere beyond the North Vancouver fog and a Sativa plume.

Meeting On 3rd

I ran into Ola a couple of years later as I was exiting a 7-11 on 3rd Street.

He was pulling a pallet from a van that had “Ola’s Delivery Services” painted on the side.

“Hey rockstar, how are ya? Still writing your tunes?”, he asked.

I had to acknowledge his accomplishment.

“Looks like you did it Ola. You bought the van and started your business”, I said sheepishly.

He smiled broadly and said, “Yeah…..got four of these now and three employees working for me. Been crazy busy but I love it.”

He whipped out his business card like the Sundance Kid in a gunfight and said, “Give me a call and we’ll shoot the shit sometime.”

As I rode the bus back to my apartment I was replaying Ola’s stinging words in my head,

You need to wake the fuck up and get real man. Stop wasting time and money on a fantasy and make a realistic plan.”

I got off the bus, leaving Ola’s business card on the seat.

I didn’t ever want to see or hear from him again.

And I didn’t.

Retrospect

I’ve never forgotten that building, that dream, and those characters who impacted my young life.

Mark was killed in a car accident just after his 30th birthday and I never went to the funeral. I couldn’t handle the grief, and I couldn’t afford the plane ticket back home. I didn’t want to face his parents or face the pain – he was my best friend from the age of 17 to 24.

Jack went back to school and got his Electronics Technician Certificate, found a good job and married. He has three children and lives in Lyn Valley now. We still connect by text or phone once in a blue moon.

Keri took the Via Rail back to Toronto to live with her grandmother. She never saw her daughter again and died of a heroine overdose sometime in early 1995.

Andy X left the building soon after he was humiliated by Ola and we never saw him again.

Years later Ola sold his delivery business and moved to Norway, where he started a software company with his cousin. How they did I’ll never know, but he was sharper than any human I’ve ever met and he could not be out worked. The truth about his criminal past was finally revealed years later when Jack befriended a retired Vancouver City Police officer.

Ola had done jail time for assault when he was attacked in front of a bar called the Big O. His attacker slashed him in the face with a knife and Ola responded by nearly beating his assailant to death, then returning the attacker’s knife deep into his buttocks.

The rumors of Ola being a thief and narcotics dealer were false.

My guess is he wanted people to be afraid of him. With his facial scar and intimidating stare he easily accomplished exactly that.

Ola’s Lasting Lesson

When I finally started to tackle my debt problems I was taking action straight from Ola’s playbook – although I didn’t acknowledge it at the time.

I was only spending money on food, clothing, and utility bills. I stopped wasting money on unrealistic goals and found something enjoyable to do with my time that made money.

Instead of wasting time, I used almost every waking moment to pursue my dream of financial freedom.

——–END——–

Brent Truitt is a full time Internet marketer and part time blogger who lives in Canada and the United States. You can connect with him on Twitter @IAmBrentTruitt    

brent 

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(Brent wrote a song about parties like the one described in the post above called Crashers On The North Shore Side – click here to listen)

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The Sea-Bus described in the song.

22 Comments

  1. Sometimes it takes a seemingly low-life street urchin to smack us upside the head with a lesson. Power to you for pulling yourself up by the bootstraps and getting the heck out of that environment. I know from another post of yours it was your family that made the difference — looks like some of the others weren’t as fortunate.

    • Hey there Mrs. G – thanks for reading.

      Yes, I was just a tourist in their world for 5 years. Young and dumb.

      Learned a lot and saw a lot. Family is so important.

      So many of the people I met and/or saw didn’t have anyone to help them. They had little chance of “getting out”.

      I met a few who DID get out and their stories will be told later. 😏

      B

  2. Shelley Shelley

    Was the building the Fraser Arms? Or nearby. That area was notorious back in the day.

    Shells

    • We were one block from there. Had a friend who lived in “The Arms” – not sure if they tore it down. Should have!!

      Thanks for stopping by Shelley

  3. You can always learn something from another person no matter their station in life and money rules apply to all of us no matter where we are, great story about lessons learned.

    • Thanks for coming Liz. Yes, we all have a story to tell. Always something to learn from somebody else’s experience.

  4. Interesting story Brent! Funny how some advice really pisses us off. That should be our first sign to listen but typically it’s not until later that we really “get it” and use it to our advantage. Thanks for sharing!

    • Hi Amy,

      Yes. And sometimes the advice comes blasting out of a “very unpleasing, sneezing, and wheezing” vessel, which makes it even harder to accept.

      Thanks for coming by. I love your work.

      B

  5. What a great story – I got totally wrapped up in it – thanks for sharing & great writing!

    • Well hello there Holly – thank you for the compliment and kind words! Glad you could make it by my humble abode.

  6. You should try and track down Ola. But I’ve already told you that right.

    • Yes you HAVE told me that, and I’ve always answered the same way. I tried to find Ola, and I’ve had no luck in doing so. He probably wouldn’t even remember me anyway.

  7. Great read of a hard knocks lesson. Looks like Ola’s story has the makings of a great movie – real life street rag to software riches!

    • Thanks. Not sure how it worked out for Ola in Norway. I hope he stayed out of trouble and kept on striving for success. His attitude may have slowed him down on his journey if he didn’t grow into his new life. He was still “rough around the edges” so to speak.

  8. Amazing story. I loved reading this. Lots of generic lessons popped into my mind. “Don’t judge a book by its cover” and other types. But in all seriousness, it is true. Just because you aren’t like someone, view yourself differently, etc., doesn’t mean that a person does not have wisdom to pass. Sure it may be delivered awkwardly and in a way that is standoffish, but Ola had a few valuable lessons that you now find yourself embracing (not due to his influence).

    This article has me thinking a lot. There are two experiences that come to mind.

    1. Someone from my high school on Facebook that reminds me of Ola. He is blunt and is never shy to share his opinion about a situation. Could he be more respectful. Sure. Could the timing be better. Yes (he is known to speak hard truths about the opiod crisis after a death of someone from the community). But there is a lot of wisdom to be had in some of his messages if someone wants to look hard enough or is willing to look past the way it was delivered. Heck, I need to get better about this myself.

    2. Some of my co-workers. My industry, public accounting, tends to breed some people that are arrogant and think highly of themselves and the work we perform. We interact with people all the time. What we know is specialized and if someone doesn’t understand where we are coming from, some of my co-workers disregard them and automatically assume they are way more intelligent than that person. It couldn’t be further from the truth. Don’t judge them because they don’t know the answer to your highly specialzed questions. Most people won’t on first glance unless they were in public accounting. But you don’t know the individual personally and I guarantee you there are plenty of aspects they are intelligent and experts in.

    Okay. Thank you so much for letting me rant here. As you can see, your article was very thought provoking and led to some deep thought on my end. I’ll be remembering this lesson going forward!

    Bert, One of the Dividend Diplomats

    • Hi Bert,

      I’m so glad Ola’s story resonated with in you. It’s always frustrating to see how people struggling “in the depths” are treated so badly – with no respect. Empathy is right up there with humility and gratitude.

      Just like some of your co-workers, I’ve had shameful moments when I was NOT being sympathetic towards people struggling in their current situation – and I was extremely poor for five years myself.

      What THE HELL is that!

      Most everyone I was in contact with those days was barely off the street (some did end up on the street) and at the time I had nothing but compassion for them. I had an apartment friend who was one of the best guitar players I’ve ever known, and it turned out he was a heroine addict.

      Eventually his roommates kicked him out on the street.

      Later, he would come by my apartment once and awhile – he would smell really bad, and be broken. He would have a shower and clean up a little. One time me and two of my friends arranged for him to get some new socks, underwear, jeans, and a t-shirt. We used duct tape to wrap up his shoes temporarily until he would hopefully find some better ones.

      It was so sad and he was so helpless. It didn’t end well for Alistair – he was badly beaten and raped in Los Angeles where he was trying to start over with his brother-in-law working in construction. He started using again and ran into some evil people.

      He limped his way back home and ended up permanently institutionalized in Vancouver. His brain was fried by then.

      It’s examples like Alistair that scared the living shit out of me and made me realize I had to get out of there, and that I was extremely foolish to expose myself to that world. Thank GOD for my parents being sober and loving.

      Thanks for dropping by!

  9. RayinPenn RayinPenn

    Great story, I am reminded of just how blessed I’ve been; I had little growing up and felt our lack or resources controlled our destiny. Once on my own I figured out education was my ticket To a better life. While I don’t drive a Rolls I do have the money to meet the many curveballs life throws our way. And in the end that’s pretty awesome.

  10. Crazy and very cool story Brent, Ola seems to be one helluva interesting guy. It’s amazing how determined he must have been to move forward with his life.

    • Thanks for stopping in for a comment WFT. He was more intimidating in person than interesting, but he was REALLY determined. He had blinders on to everything else except his goal. Hope he made it big in Norway.

  11. Ola! I was waiting to see when his dreams of a van would come up – good on him, for having his shit together. Could’ve been a little nicer about suggesting everyone else get their shit together, but alas – what a character!

    Glad you had some life lessons learned out of the experiences. Retrospection is a crazy thing…

  12. This was a good one. Its amazing how wisdom sometimes whacks our brain via unexpected circumstances/people/situations. But what’s even more important is, us being able to understand it and further still, being able to do something about it.

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