41) Apartment Managment – A Great Way to Live Big on a Small Income

In the last post you read about how I met and married my wife, Nadine. In this post you will read about how I rededicated myself to getting an education and our attempt to position ourselves better financially for family life.

chateauApartment Manager – The Chateau Apartments

On a very warm San Francisco spring morning in April of 1980, just after Nadine and I were married, Dr. Froman called us on the phone at The Chateau Apartments on Van Ness Avenue, which he had hired us to manage (image on the left).

AptDivJeffApartment Manger – The Marina Apartments

To the best of my recollection, here was our conversation that day.“Liz and I own another apartment building in the Marina, which we would like you to consider moving into and managing for us,” Dr. Froman said, in his characteristic low-key and controlled but firm voice. “It is located on Divisadero at Jefferson just a couple of blocks from the water.” “Why don’t you and Nadine swing by the building and let us know what you think.” he said.

We were so excited we could hardly wait to move out of The Chateau and into the building in The Marina district. So we moved from a great San Francisco neighborhood near the famous Lombard Street hill to a world-class neighborhood in the Marina; one that from working at the Marina Health Spa a couple of years earlier, I was quite familiar with.

Small  But Important Steps in My Personal Development

My new assignment was my second apartment manager position. It marked the beginning of a series of events that helped create a belief that I was a person that would “land on my feet” and continue to “fall into good things”. In truth, I worked very hard and experienced some luck in meeting the right people.

Here I was, living in one of the most affluent neighborhoods in San Francisco, married to a wonderful lady and only having to collect rent and change light-bulbs to support it all.

New Mindset and Now Racing Ahead with my Life

I had no formal education, no connections to speak of, no important social affiliations, no car and hardly anything in my savings account. Lucky indeed.

This was my life at 30 years of age living in San Francisco – long removed from a very bad childhood, and drug addicted girlfriend from Minnesota.

Image top – Source: http://www.zillow.com/homedetails/2701-Van-Ness-Ave-APT-311-San-Francisco-CA-94109/15071029_zpid/

Image bottom – Source: Google Maps

Do you know what it is like to have the feeling that EVERYTHING you try is working beyond your expectations?

Next: How I Developed an Unshakeable Foundation for Achievement

40) Nadine – Beginning our Life Together

In the last post you read about my leaving the comfort of a full-time job as Manager of The San Francisco Residence Club to go out and sell paint for Sherwin Williams. In this post you will read about Nadine, and my incredible luck in selecting her as my wife.

Growing Closer

By late 1979, Nadine and I were very much in love and trying different living arrangements. First, we shared a room at the residence club. Nadine then wanted to have the experience of having her own apartment and rented a small studio on Stockton street, just around the corner from The San Francisco Residence Club. I then moved in with her and continued to work at different gigs while Nadine took a job at Ingersoll Rand as a file clerk.

Apartment Manager

We had the idea that if we could find a job managing an apartment building, we could save money by not paying rent or owing a car. So that is what we did, answering an ad and taking a position as Apartment Managers at a 6-story building on Van Ness at Lombard Street working for a retired medical physician and his wife.

Marriage to Nadine

OliverandNadineWeddingOn April 11, 1980 Nancy and I were married at St. Phillips Episcopal Church in San Francisco, me at 30 years of age and Nancy at 24. It was a small wedding attended only by Nadine’s Mom, Dad, Grandfather and my brother Dean, with a reception held afterwords at Hoolihans in Sausalito in Marin County, just across The Golden Gate Bridge.


Nadine2Finding a woman like Nadine provided me with the stable, loving relationship with a person I felt I had never found. Nadine had completed her undergraduate work in International Studies, had a start on her career, her own interests and a sensible, long-term outlook on decisions in her life; all things which were not yet in place for me. Since I was wanted to be a family man, a major piece of my puzzle was in place and I felt I could now go forward and fill in the others.

Still Searching for a Career

It may surprise the reader to know, in relationships and careers, finding one’s life partner, and one’s life work does not for everyone happen by the time a person reaches their early 20’s, and cannot be arranged to happen in a certain way, no matter how badly a person may desire it. For example, by the time I met Nadine in 1978, at the age of 28, I had already danced my way through several relationships. I had held several jobs but hadn’t found a “career” – much less my “life’s work”.


Back in Minnesota, my Mom was in her 60’s and going out of her mind with worry about me. It had been about 6 years since I left the midwest and most of what she knew, came from other family members. She knew I had experimented with pot and LSD and I didn’t keep in touch, due mainly to my complete insensitivity regarding her feelings. I often regret not staying in touch with her but began seeing her again, after I was more established, during the 1980’s and 90’s. More on that later.

Did your first meeting with your husband or wife strike you like a bolt of lighting?

Next: How Two Simple Part-time Jobs Finally Helped Position Me for Success in College

39) Some Freedom, No Prestige – My Job with Sherwin-Williams Paint

In the last post you read about my big, impressive career selling mansions on Nob Hill. In this post you will read how I knew so much I decided to leave a great job running a hotel on Nob Hill and sell paint for Sherwin Williams.

Scrambling to  Survive – One Outcome of Immature Judgement

Readers that have followed until now have seen me describe “cutting corners” to make things work after I arrived in California. I did not see it that way at the time. Like you, maybe, I see it clearly now. I can no longer justify lying and cheating to get what I want. I suppose if I were starving, I would not have the luxury of this point of view. I have lived in both worlds. These early years in California are mostly about one and not the other.

More Bad Judgement – Saying Anything to Get A Job

Determined that I could not live on the room, board and small salary the residence club provided, and that direct sales appealed to me, I secured an interview with Sherwin-Williams, a chemical coatings (paint) company. My initial phone conversation to get the interview went something like this: “Yeah, I know a lot of the painting contractors that are prospects for your exterior paint.” “I met them during the renovations of The San Francisco Residence Club at California and Powell Street, where I am the Manager.” I said. This was not a lie but close, since I knew a FEW of the painting contractors (although from the same company). “I live right near some of the major hotels and could easily introduce myself to the hotel maintenance crews that might be VERY interested in your interior paints.” I recall saying.

Know Yourself First – Then Don’t Compromise Your Search for Your Life’s Work

In spite of my big sale at Sherwin-Williams and finding direct sales generally to my liking, I really didn’t know if I was suited for sales. Mostly introverted and not wanted to be a pest, I took sales rejection personally and didn’t understand why people wouldn’t at least listen to my pitch with an open mind. There are good reasons of course. But I did not know this at the time. Enough experience to write an entire book on the subject, readers here will understand the comment, sales is a numbers game. Ceteris Paribus (latin for: all other things being equal), the more folks you talk to, the more you will sell. The difficulty of direct sales is under appreciated. However, someone who enjoys sales can go as far as their ambition will take them. As a career, relatively speaking, few possess the profile of aptitudes to have success in a direct sales career. It’s damn hard work and not for everyone, as I was learning. By this time I had experience in health club sales, hotel room sales, real-estate sales and paint sales, so I starting to figure some things out.

If It Doesn’t Fit, Quit – If You Can

So I became a paint salesman (or depending upon who I was talking to) a chemical coatings sales representative for Sherwin-Williams in San Francisco. Not feeling the corporate “vibe” I left after a three months.

Before resigning (becoming a disturbing habit) I did secure a very large paint sales account with Trans-America – the pyramid-shaped building that is prominent on the San Francisco skyline. I cold-called and sold them on-the-spot!

As sales people (and former sales people) tend to do, I will end this post by putting a positive spin on my performances in health club sales, hotel room sales, real estate sales and paint sales by saying, I had some success, but I wasn’t cut out for it.

Did you ever hold a job that made you miserable but believed you couldn’t quit?

38) My Big, Impressive and Nearly Flawless Career in San Francisco Real Estate Sales

In my  last post you read about how I met Nadine. In this post you will read how, while still working at The San Francisco Residence Club, I tried my hand at selling real estate in some of the most expensive zip codes in the world.

Too Smart to Consider Advice

In 1979, against the warning of everyone I knew, I quit my job at The San Francisco Residence Club and underwent training at the Lumbleau School of Real Estate to get my California Real Estate Agent’s License. In 1979 the prime rate was around 15.75% but I reasoned the rich could still afford the condominiums and houses in Pacific Heights. I read the book “Dress for Success” by Robert Mallory and adapting the concept to the two jackets I owned, walked Nob Hill like a billy-goat that summer, carrying sheaves of papers and sweating like a carpet installer in Florida. I would memorize things to say to prospective buyers of expensive condominiums on Nob, Russian Hill, Pacific Heights and The Marina.

The Art of the Sale – Offering Prestigious Neighborhood Addresses

“This one’s got a view,” I would say. “Walking distance to The Top of the Mark Restaurant at the Mark Hopkins Hotel,” I would tell another. “The former owner used it as a Pier-a-Terre.” I would brag, feeling certain the buyer – just by me uttering these words – would know I not only was fluent in a french idiom, but that I was most likely a member of a bohemian set so ensconced and connected that my credibility could never come into question.

Falling Just Short

Unfortunately, after several months of effort, I did not sell even one San Francisco flat, town home, condominium or house. I did not the staying power, I concluded, to harvest the right personal connections – the kind that trust you with selling their Nob Hill mansion. 

Very Questionable Judgement

After applying for California Unemployment Compensation based on my earnings at The San Francisco Residence Club, I approached the owner and asked if I could have my old job back, to which she agreed. Instead of notifying the state I had been rehired, I continued to draw unemployment. In the meantime, trying to cover my bases, I continued my association with the brokerage firm that hired me to sell real estate. If economic conditions improved, I reasoned, it might be advantageous for me to be on good terms with the real estate brokerage company.

Humiliated and Humbled

Weeks passed, and I continued my employment at the residence club, for which I was earning enough to get by, but not much else. One day I received a letter from the State of California Unemployment Compensation indicated to me they have discovered I was already working and therefore not entitled unemployment benefits. I was to appear in court and pay the money back. This was my first and only time appearing before, a judge and it is not a stretch to say one I will remember for the rest of my life.

Worse, my real estate license was revoked, and no one who helped me get started in the business had the least bit of sympathy for the mess I had got myself into. I was humiliated and deeply shamed. I justified my decision to take money from the state by telling myself my job wasn’t paying me a decent living wage. In truth, I lied and cheated to make my circumstances easier.

Did you ever want something so badly you would cheat to get it?

Next – Sherwin Williams Paint Salesman

37) Nadine

In the last post you read about my big date with Mrs. Wilson at a fancy ballroom on Nob Hill. In this post, I let you know how I met Nadine.

No Longer a White Punk

With my good fortune getting a job with no experience at The European Health Spa, The Marina Health Spa and The San Francisco Residence Club, I was beginning to see myself as someone who was going to land on my feet, no matter what. It was as if someone or something was looking out for me. Not enough so, however, to make me religious. More like empowered.

 Okay, Sometimes I Still Acted Like a Human Phallus

I was ready to take some bigger risks. Driving me, was the desire to control my own time and earn more money, much more; so that I could live by the beach and get some of the other things, I was sure I wanted. More college, more self-improvement books, more self-discipline, more self-knowledge and more refined social skills. What I lacked in family connections and an inheritance, I would make up for in effort, hustle and if necessary, guile.

As I looked around my neighborhood on Nob Hill, I determined this is what I needed to do to enjoy life as professional or entrepreneur and not just provide personal service to those who were.


As the manager of The San Francisco Residence club, I was expected to wear many hats. With building renovation underway, I often dressed in a tattered, gold jumpsuit from my days working at the Stanford Court Hotel, just across the street.

Nadine2In February of 1978, Nadine walked into the lobby of The San Francisco Residence Club at 851 California Street. Slim, freckled and fresh from her bachelors program at Miami of Ohio University, her healthy aura washed over me like a shock wave, leaving me nervous and highly aroused. Kowabunga!

Chinese New Year Festival Parade in Chinatown, San Francisco

I couldn’t think of anything else and the next day, on the pretense of changing a light bulb in her room, I asked her to go to The Chinese New Years Festival, just down the street in Chinatown. At 5 feet 4 inches tall, Nadine was healthy, well-educated, came from a whole, supportive family and not street savvy whatsoever; everything that Priscilla – maybe through no fault of her own – was not, and never would be. I wasn’t wise enough to look for these attributes in a woman. And I didn’t, until years later, see them in Nadine. I only knew I was intensely attracted to this woman and helpless to resist.

No Firm Career Direction

Not yet financially positioned to return to college, I seemed drawn to every job that let me come and go as I pleased. I wasn’t lazy. In fact, I was a very hard worker. It never occurred to me there were methods to help choose a career. And for some, like Nadine, it never occurs to them, that your life’s work isn’t always discovered in your twenties.

The lucky ones discover their true calling early, I suppose.

Do you believe in love at first sight?

Next: My Big, Impressive, Nearly Flawless Career in San Francisco Real Estate Sales

36) 14 Minutes of Fame on Nob Hill

In the previous post you read about my new job as Manager of The San Francisco Residence Club on Nob Hill. In this post you will read about my date with Mrs. Williams, the mother of the proprietor (who was my boss) of the small hotel.

The Long Hallway

On a rainy Saturday afternoon – there were many of them during December in San Francisco – I walked down the narrow, dimly lit hallway carpeted in red and approached the rental office of The San Francisco Residence Club.

Mrs. Williams, the General Manager was sitting at the desk, shuffling index cards. Each 5 x 9 index card represented one of the 83 rooms of the residence club, carefully inscribed with guest information, which included room rates and the like.

Bee-Hive Hair Style

Mrs. Williams was in her late 70’s, wore her hair in a bee-hive, not a spec of make-up and didn’t take crap from anyone. Her daughter, Gwen, owned the hotel and let Mrs. Williams reside on the property in exchange for her services.

We liked each other, in a professional way, so I asked her out. “Hi, Mrs. Williams, would you like to go to a Christmas party with me at The Stanford Court Hotel?” I asked. After finding out more of the details she said, “Are you sure you want to ask me out?” “Why don’t you give me some time to think about it.” By late Monday afternoon, she had agreed, and the “date” was set.

Our Night at an “Exclusive” Nob Hill Party

Christmas Eve arrived, Mrs. Williams dressed in black, white pearl necklace, and me in my “Miami-Vice” style borrowed suit and black wing-tip shoes, walking up California Street, arm-in-arm, across the cable-car tracks on Powell Street and through the understated yet elegant courtyard to the entrance of The Stanford Court Hotel. Perched on cable-cars and automobiles ascending the steep California Street grade to the peak of Nob Hill, a steady stream of tourists and revelers were getting an eyeful.

Most likely, people thought we were Grandmother and Grandson (possibly from a very wealthy San Francisco family). We didn’t care and probably created a good laugh for the other guests in the ballroom that night.

Mrs. Williams has long since passed away. I’ll never know why she accepted my invitation for our “date” that night. Perhaps she was just being polite.

Did you ever have a date with someone of vastly different age?

Next: Nadine

35) Grinding at The Stanford Court Hotel on Nob Hill

In the last post you read about one sweet automobile – a 1975 VW Rabbit. In this post you will read how just by working hard and having great relationships with the people around me, at age 27, I was offered one of the most important jobs of my life.

During the time I was working at The Stanford Court Hotel, I was living across the street at 851 California at what was then The San Francisco Residence Club.

Having almost no money the first month, I spoke with the Manager – a young and hungry lion like myself – who fronted me the rent money until I my first paycheck from the hotel.

The San Francisco Residence Club – Nob Hill

The San Francisco Residence Club offered weekly rates and breakfast and dinner everyday except Sunday. The property consisted of 83 rooms and catered to students, interns, visiting professionals and tourists looking for an affordable and safe place to stay in San Francisco. In the style of other Victorian buildings on Nob Hill, the brightly colored club looked very much like a peacock, although an aging and dirty one.

Why We Must Grind

No doubt, the family that owned the resident club where I was staying noticed I was working what seemed like day and night at The Stanford Court, across the street, leaving early and coming home late. I had cordial relations with them and caught up on the rent I had owed them on the first month.

Out of the Blue – A Great Job Offer!

SF Residence ClubCompletely out of the blue one day, the owner asked me if I would like to be the manager of  The San Francisco Residence Club (image on the left). It seems the other manager was leaving. The salary wouldn’t be much, but room and board would be included. I had no resume, to speak of, and no management experience whatsoever but agreed to the position and gave my notice at The Stanford Court Hotel the next day.

At 27 years of age, this was easily the biggest breakthrough of my life in a way that I could not anticipate at the time. In one day I had gone from table set-up man at The Stanford Court Hotel to Hotel Manager at The San Francisco Residence Club.

As things turned-out some months later, a person that resided in Room 22B would change my life forever.

Image – http://www.851resclub.com/img/img-home-i1.jpg

Do you remember your first big career break?

34) The Car No One Wanted

In my last post you read how I worked 37 consecutive days at The Stanford Court Hotel on Nob Hill and banked enough money to buy my first car in California. In this post you will read about a little green car parked in a corner of the lot – seemingly overlooked by everybody.
Now Tan and Buying My First Car in Larkspur, California – a 1975 VW Rabbit.

One rainy Saturday afternoon, clutching tightly to a rain-soaked, white envelope containing $500 in cash, I caught the California Street cable-car down to Van Ness avenue where I walked to Lombard Street to catch the bus to Larkspur in Marin county, about a 20-minute bus ride just over the Golden Gate bridge.

“Hi, you must really need a car to come out in the rain,” the car salesman said. “Yep,” I said. After test driving two cars, I decided on a 1975 VW Lofoten (avocado) Green, swallowtail (hatchback) Rabbit. Apparently, no one else wanted the car, likely because of its color.

When it came time to apply for the loan, the finance guy insisted on some collateral so I pledged some non-existent furniture, was approved for the loan and drove the car back to San Francisco. With a reliable and even fun car now and some money remaining in the bank, I was getting a taste of what it must be like to live the good life.

The following video, produced in 1975, depicts the exact make, model and color of my first California car.

A few months later, I became bored with the Rabbit and purchased a 1976 VW Scirocco, relinquishing maybe the best car I ever owned for higher payments and worse performance but more “flash”. Just call me Oliver.

Video: http://youtu.be/pPkHCB0SCnM

What was your first car?

33) Faith, Courage and Extreme Enthusiasm on Nob Hill

In the last post you read about my surreal life in The Marina District of San Francisco, where I was able to live on a modest salary in one of the richest zip codes on the planet. In this post you will read about my consuming drive to live on Nob Hill – and what I had to do to achieve this goal.

Nob Hill, in San Francisco is the kind of place where, if you have a decent set of clothes and have had a shower within the last week, you can be mistaken for a billionaire. With age and radiant energetic health in my favor, I fit the mold, I suppose. The corner of California Street at Powell, where the cable-car tracks intersect, might represent the Lions Den of Nob Hill. CC Image Courtesy of Anthony Stone on Flickr.

Stanford Court Hotel

New ImageHaving already illuminated two well-known fitness clubs (and getting nearly thrown out of both of them) in the city and in need of a steady paycheck, I answered an ad in the San Francisco Chronicle for a banquet houseman at the very prominent Stanford Court Hotel at California and Powell Street. They hired me pretty quickly, I recall at an hourly rate of about $6. For those who haven’t worked in a 4-Star hotel, the best way to describe an experience like this is that the hierarchy of the working staff represents a very rigid caste system, where hotel management is top and housekeepers and banquet houseman are at the bottom. CC Image Courtesy of Angela Cunningham on Flickr.

There are two ways to keep a job like this: 1) to believe someone granted you a gift and hired you in spite of the fact that you didn’t deserve the job (this makes you grateful) or 2) to truly know you are better than nearly everyone with whom you come in contact, and that they are lucky to have known you at this point in your life, because you were on your way up (this isolates you). I chose the second and threw myself into my job.

A banquet houseman at The Stanford Court Hotel was responsible for making sure every restaurant and business function hotel room was supported with proper tables, chairs and audio-visual equipment that was anticipated. Our crew of 3-5 reported to a certain east European Banquet Manager had a hot temper and handled a significant amount of cash, very little of which found its way into the hands of the hotel staff who support the activities and who were low in the hierarchy.

I worked at The Stanford Court Hotel for about 6 months, until I was “discovered”. There are a few stories I could share, but the time I worked for 37 days straight is best because earned enough to go across the street to the bank and deposit $1000 into a savings account. I felt great that I had worked really hard to earn the money and better that I hadn’t spent it.

Did you ever work in a hotel?

Next: Buying My First Car in California

32) Living Well on Hardly Anything – Fitness Trainer in San Francisco

In the last post you read about my first “respectable” job in California at a fitness club. In this post you will read about my attempt to leverage this small success into something bigger – in a top-tier neighborhood – my goal at that time.

Note – As I rewrite this post again, it occurs to me that due to my humble beginnings in North Minneapolis – living near Plymouth avenue – finding great neighborhoods became increasingly important to me as I became older. When I became MUCH older, I began to be aware of GREAT PEOPLE in neighborhoods.

Strategically Positioned – If Only for a few Months

I parlayed my experience at European Health Spa and talked my way into a similar position at Marina Health Spa on Marina Boulevard in the Marina District of San Francisco. The club was smaller and slightly run-down but located across from The Marina Safeway grocery store – not a block from San Francisco bay, its yacht clubs and The Palace of Fine Arts – all in all, a prestigious and much sought-after neighborhood in the city. The enhanced image on the left of The Palace of Fine Arts is shown courtesy of Flickr. I didn’t live at the Palace but instead a few blocks from it.

High on the Hog

I leased an apartment directly across from the yacht club on Marina Boulevard. I was able to afford this because I shared the house with 3 other guys. My portion of the rent in the modest 2-story Victorian house – with a fabulous location – was about $345 per month.

I walked to the fitness club, coached (and dated) some great folks, then walked home again to our house on the bay. I had a job I loved and lived in the one of the best neighborhoods of one of the greatest cities on the planet.

This was my first indication that life in California could be sweet.

Then I Was Fired

After about 3 months working at Marina Health Spa, as an Exercise Instructor/Sales Consultant, the best job I ever had, my boss let me go for no apparent reason. (Well, I know the reason. His girl friend liked me.) In the middle of a 6 month lease on my flat, I pleaded with the landlord to let me out of it, which he agreed to do and I was jobless and homeless again.

Image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/34586311@N05/3654962401

Did you ever lose your job over something you didn’t do?