By Jack Estes
In 1980, I lived in a one-room apartment with the bathroom down the hall, next to a plasma center, where folks sold their blood for twelve bucks and a sack lunch.
Each Sunday, I searched the newspaper’s real estate section looking at “For Sale by Owner,” ads to call, trying to create some business. That summer, I came across an ad: “We have $250,000 and would like to buy an apartment building.” I was so excited. I never met anyone with that kind of money. I knew nothing about apartments but figured if I could fight in the jungles and rice paddies in Vietnam, this would be cake.
I called and spoke with an older sounding woman named Claire. We exchanged information and then she asked me, “What do you have for sale?” I had nothing for sale. Not even a house and especially no apartment buildings. I diverted the question.
“Tell me exactly what you’re looking for and tomorrow, when I’m in the office I’ll check my ‘portfolio.’” Of course I had no portfolio.
At work, I searched in the Realtor’s Multiple Listing Book for apartment buildings and called Claire with information and suggested buildings she should drive by.
This excitement went on throughout the summer. Each time a new building popped up for sale, I would call Claire. Finally, one morning, she phoned and said she liked a property and we agreed to meet the following day at the building.
I had a beat up 1963 green Chevy with mismatched fenders that I bought for two hundred bucks. The worst part was the noise the heater made. One day I was driving down the road bemoaning my fate that I had no money and then my tailpipe started dragging. I stopped at a light and smashed the dashboard with my fist as hard as I could and swore. It was winter and my heater was working hard to keep the cabin warm. When my fist hit the dashboard it cracked the dash and when I swore, the cap on my front tooth flew off and went down into the dashboard heat vent. I got a new cap but couldn’t afford to fix the heater. It clanked whenever I turned it on. I parked my clunker away from the building to save embarrassment.
I waited for Claire’s Mercedes or Cadillac to pull up. I had on my best sweater vest. Soon a beat up, red Volkswagen turned in and parked. That couldn’t be her, I thought. Out stepped an elegant woman in her sixties. I remember she wore a scarf and smelled like vanilla.
“Hello, she said. You must be Jack?”
I liked her voice and the kindness in her eyes, and immediately she made me feel important. We shook hands and I did my best to show the building and give her information and make a good impression. All the time I worried that if she had that much money, why did she drive such a beater?
I wrote an offer that night. The offer was presented and rejected the next afternoon. Over the following weeks, I wrote counter offers with more rejections.
In November, Claire told me, “We go to Hawaii for the winter, please call us in the spring.” I was crushed and felt stupid and my dream of making decent money evaporated.
In the spring, Claire and her husband Pat were home and I was ready. I was knowledgeable about apartment buildings and had several to show them.
“Oh Jack, I’m sorry but Pat has changed his mind, he wants to purchase an office building. A triple net leased property?”
This depressed me. I would look, I said, and hung up. I knew nothing about triple net leased properties. I found nothing of interest for Claire and as summer faded into fall, I realized all my time had been wasted again.
“Jack, we are leaving next week for Hawaii,” Claire said. “I’m sorry it didn’t work out, but I wanted to call to give you a referral.”
I listened politely but thought this too was a waste of time. “My daughter lives in Seattle,” she said, “but she has an apartment building she wants to sell in Portland. Her name is Colleen and I’ve told her about you. By the way she’s single and very beautiful.”
I thanked her for the phone number but felt it was another dead end. After a while I began to reconsider. But what are the chances she could be beautiful? I called the number a couple days later, but her roommate said she was in Paris and would not be coming home for ten days.
I finished a first draft of my book, sold a duplex and called again. This time her room-mate said she was in Alaska working on a residential development. Two weeks later she was in Vegas working on another land deal. The next time I called she was in Hawaii visiting her parents but would be home after Christmas and would call me. I imagined what it would be like to fly all over the world when the only plane I had ever been on was going and coming from Vietnam.
Finally, we connected on the phone. “My mother told me that you were persistent,” she said. “I’ll send you some information and you work up a proposal and we can meet in Portland. What do you think?”
Her voice was fast, rich and confident. It sounded so full of joy that it reached inside of me and filled me with hope. That was what she was to me hope. She said she would fly down the next week to meet me.
I had nine dollars - period - when I walked into the lobby of the finest hotel in Portland, a hotel so beyond my means that I never had the occasion to be in it. I had no money in the bank but with nine bucks I’d buy her coffee and I’d get an orange juice. The marble lobby with its giant chandeliers and dark cherry walls overwhelmed me. I felt intimidated and nothing much intimidated me back then. The doors of the elevator opened and out stepped a staggeringly beautiful blond in a clinging red dress. I felt speechless. She was from a different world where people had things and owned and achieved and accomplished. She walked toward me, smiling, and as I stood up, she reached out her hand and said, “I’m Colleen.”
She represented something profound and good that had been eluding me all my life. In that moment I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her. She was a successful land developer, vice president of a major development firm and perhaps, more importantly, she had been a literature major in college.
I worked hard to sell Colleen’s building and talked with her on the phone daily. I loved her voice and struggled to keep up with all her ideas and comments. I told her about the manuscript I wrote and sent it to her. She read it quickly and called me and said that I was a wonderful writer, and she wanted to help me get it published. I fell in love over the phone. When we met again, she would smile and throw her head back to laugh and her fingers danced through the air. I felt she liked me and never was concerned that we were from different stations in life.
Finally, I sold her building and we met for a drink to celebrate. Across from the bar, the Rose Festival with bands and rides and thousands of folks, was going on in the park by the river. We walked outside during the fireworks. She wore a white Stetson, white blouse and green leather skirt. She touched my arm, and said she was greatly moved by my writing and loved my voice and looked forward to my calls. I kissed her that night and later in the evening, we kissed again. “I love you,” she said, and then she asked me to marry her.
I was shocked. I told her I had no money, but Colleen said, “Don’t worry. I believe in you and will take care of the bills for the first year.” Two months later we were married in a cabin on the North Fork of the Santiam River.
This year is our 35thanniversary.
(Ed. Note: Mr. Estes is the author of the recently published novel, A Soldier’s Son.)