Does That Make Me Crazy? Possibly.

In the duplex on July 25, 2007 at 12:27 am

Have you ever done something in your life that was risky? That could, you know, make your life everything you wanted it to be or, if it went poorly, could put you into the gutter, where you’d live off Little Debbie Snack Cakes and handouts from people whose lives were everything they wanted them to be? And, really, I’m not talking about nadding up and asking out that hot guy or girl (who eventually became your life partner) for the first time or putting it all on red in Vegas during a drunken spree with a new hooker you just meant, although that’s sort of close. Except for the hooker part. This story has no hookers. As far as I know. Then again, you can’t always tell a hooker from a regular non-hooking person, can you? But I digress.

Have you ever felt like you were living somebody’s else’s life? Like maybe somehow you’d stumbled into a life that was so good that it couldn’t possibly be yours?

Okay, let’s see if I can zoom in on what this post us truly about before I go off the rails like Tom Cruise on the Oprah show. Well, really, it’s about both of the above things. See, my wife and I bought a piece of property over near downtown. That’s downtown Denver, Colorado, for our international readers (you know who you are!). Right now it has a 100 year old house on it that’s in decent shape. However, it also has a killer view of the city and it’s an 8,700 square foot lot. So we’re going to tear the house down and build a duplex. Yes, I’m now a developer. And if you know anything about Denver, you know that a lot of people are up in arms about developers tearing down lovely old buildings and putting up gigantic stale duplexes and triplexes and walking away with all the profit.

Which, honestly, this is kind of like that. I bought a piece of property for some money, I designed a duplex to go on the building, I have a building permit, and now I have a bank that says they’ll finance it. And we’ll be tearing down an old building and putting up a new stale building in its place. Which, really, goes totally against my left-wing nature. But it’s okay to be a capitalist and be a Democrat, right? I mean, I still believe in a woman’s right to choose and I’m pretty fiercely anti-gun and anti-war and I think Americans should end their dependency on foreign oil and all that. And my wife drives a Prius, which should offset some of my capitalist leanings, right? And, in light of this duplex project, I’m signing up to work with Habitat for Humanity once a month with a friend of mine. That should help my karma, right? And, shit, I just bought a box of recycled paper for my office!

But I digress. The point is, this project will either make me or break me. If I do it right, I could end up with some nice cash flow and other opportunities afterwards – opportunities that probably represent a career change for me. I’ll be 43 this week, I’ve been a structural engineer for 20 years, and, really, I’ve come to the conclusion that I could use a career change. Because, really, being a structural engineer is like being on the bottom of the development pile. The developer hires an architect who hires a structural engineer for the project. Then we all wait around to get paid. And I saw this process over the years and I realized that the developer is the one who’s really making the money. So if this goes well, I’ll be that guy.

But if it doesn’t go well and I lose money on it, I’ll probably end up divorced and living in an apartment in Lakewood, eating, yes, Little Debbie Snack Cakes and working for the man again. As, yes, a structural engineer.

So this idea that I’m either made or broken after this project leads to conversations with myself:

Self #1: I’m gonna be rich.

Self #2: No you’re not. You’re not going to pull it off.

#1: Who the fuck are you?

#2: I’m the guy who sees you procrastinate all the time.

#1: Yeah, well, this is my big opportunity. I’m not gonna procrastinate this time.

#2: Have you given the bank what they want?

#1: Not yet.

#2: See?


Yeah, I’m a lot of fun to be around right now. And, honestly, that conversation above resembles the same one I have with my wife from time to time about this. Without the cussing. Okay, not really. There’s cussing. Probably more.

But this opportunity – and, contrary to the above imaginary conversation, I am truly an optimist and see this mostly as an opportunity – also brings up questions like, “Is this my life? Or am I living somebody else’s life?” Because I look around at my beautiful wife and my great kids and my decent lifestyle and great friends and my career and this amazing opportunity and I think, “Is this really all mine? Or am I dreaming?” Because, really, it all feels surreal. Like maybe somebody got their signals crossed and the Life Guy’s going to show up one day and go, “No, Jeff, your life is the one with the trailer park in Aurora and the career at McDonald’s. Go to it now.” Because I came from humble beginnings on the mean streets of Chula Vista, California, and sometimes that feels like where I probably belong. But then I look around and I realize, “No, this is MY life. I made this. I made all the decisions that put me here today.” Which is also surreal. A chance meeting between a getting-laid-off-that-day structural engineer (with long hair and a rock band) and an extremely cute temporary receptionist led to a 12 year marriage (and still going!) and two kids and a house in Denver, and, backing up further, a crazy decision that started with “I’m good at math, but I like the arts, too” led to an application to Cal Poly SLO’s Architectural Engineering program. Do you ever stop to think about all the little decisions that you’ve made that have led you to where you are today? And about how any of those decisions made differently might have led you somewhere else? It’s crazy, isn’t it?

Anyway, the main point is I might be crazy to do what I’m about to do. But I’m willing to find out. And if my posts for the next year are all about crazy contractors and stupid drywall people (with a shoutout to HDW), you’ll know why.

  1. Dude. If the drywaller guy is named Art, run like the wind.

  2. I think all of us do things that may make us seem crazy or cause our friends and family to think we are certifiably looney. But then there is a difference between crazy and taking a calculated risk.

    Calculated risk is what keeps us alive and turns dreams into reality. As you said, you’ve been in the business for awhile so you know what you need to do. Speaking as a lifetime member of the procrastinator’s club, I can tell you that getting that side of yourself corralled in won’t be easy, but will be doable. And you will do it and learn some wonderful (and maybe not so wonderful) things about how you work.

    I do take issue with the ‘stale building’ description. No way, no how. Your design is beautiful. And I can’t wait to see it all built up and shiny and new.

    You WILL knock this one out of the park. Of that I am certain.

    Oh, and happy birthday! You look great for 30…what is this 43 bullshit about?? 🙂

  3. I’m glad to see that you are blaming yourself for your own beautiful life. It appears that Jeff #1 is stronger and in charge of things and he may end up hiring Jeff #2 to hang the drywall.

    I agree with Kath, your condo model looks bee-yoo-teeful! I cannot wait for the open house – I’m guessing there won’t be marker pens this time?

    Good luck and Happy Birthday! An aging rodent is a beautiful thing …

  4. i spent 8 years in commercial real estate. it’s feast or famine. that is for sure.

    the market is for shit right now but depending on your build time you could come out perfectly, right near the bottom of the cycle. woohoo.

    i live in a neighborhood with tons of scrapes (the one on S. Logan and Warren has been completed for over two years and has never seen occupancy. Visit that duplex for an example of what not to do.

    that being said, i live in a 100 year old house that i would never tear down.

    but most of all i wanted to say: Good Luck!

  5. Make sure to have great mentors around you, listen to them, and be ready to go big!

  6. Dude, if you ask me, you’ve been listening to too much David Byrne, by the sounds of it.

    You may ask yourself, am I right, am I wrong?
    You may ask yourself, where is that beautiful house?
    You may say to yourself, my God, what have I done?!?

    You know what, this project is gonna kick ass. No questions. Just DON’T FUCKING PROCRASTINATE! You certainly didn’t procrastinate on GETTING OLD (hehe), so you know you can get past that.

    I hate you like a brother. Just shut the fuck up and DO IT! Looking forward to reading about all the sub-contractor smack-downs.

  7. Happy Birthday to you,
    Happy Birthday to you,
    You look like a Rodent,
    and smell like one, too!

  8. Did you have any cupcakes on your birthday? What about VT’s?

    Hope so!

  9. another denver blogger doing something similar to you.

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