This I Believe

Doug - Burbank, California
Entered on September 18, 2006
Age Group: 50 - 65
Themes: setbacks

I believe everybody should fail. Fail early and fail big.

Back in the early 80’s I was a fairly successful young actor in Los Angeles. Life was good. I had a great apartment, a new car, and I’d just done a pilot for CBS that I was sure would make the fall schedule. So I decided to buy a house. I described my dream home to Victoria, my real estate agent–small, with a nice lawn, in a good neighborhood. She told me that house didn’t exist in my price range. Apparently, the only house I could afford was a big two story box in Hollywood that was divided into three apartments. True, the rents didn’t cover the mortgage, but Victoria assured me that I could sell it in a couple of years at a huge profit, and then I could buy my dream home. A week after escrow closed, CBS passed on my pilot. But hey, I owned income property in Hollywood and it was only costing me a few hundred a month.

My tenants were a gay couple, a young artist on welfare and her six year old son, and, well, a “working girl.” Some people are cut out to be a landlord. I’m not one of them. I did things I never thought I’d do. I pulled socks out of garbage disposals, I went to court to evict the “Working Girl,” and I forgave the bounced rent checks from the young artist. The stress of being a landlord was affecting my work. I stopped getting any. And soon I was behind in the mortgage.

One day a young lady offered me first and last month’s rent in cash—money I desperately needed. I took the cash and gave her the key. The next day a family of ten moved into the two bedroom apartment. Of course, I never got another cent from them. My lowest point was the day I served the head of the family with an eviction notice. He was an old man with one eye, one arm and one leg. He looked at the notice, then asked me to shoot him. As much as I wanted to help him out, I told him no.

I tried to sell the house, but prospective buyers would see the all those people in that small apartment–and their washing machine in the front yard–and run away. So I gave it away. That’s right. I gave away a house. I was broke and had no place to live. But I survived. And I truly believe this misadventure has shaped my character. There are so many things I never would have done had I not failed so miserably 23 years ago. Like do a 500 mile bike ride; write, direct and finance my own movie; even buy another house—small with a nice lawn, in a good neighborhood. So I encourage you to fail. It’s the best thing that ever happened to me.