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