From playing Monopoly in the hot Detroit summers, to the first experiences of being a tenant while a student at Michigan State University, I was intrigued with the idea of collecting rent. Sure, there was an element of greed there, it seemed like a way to earn a living that would not involve a lot of work. I am not sure though if it was not my father’s life that motivated me most of all. An 8th Grade educated autoworker with “The Big Three,” he once described his job title to me as “Slave,” for an elementary school assignment I had to write. And, he often said that he was “chained to a machine” eight hours a day. Listening to him bang and curse around the kitchen, day after day, at 5am on frozen or sweltering Michigan mornings sent the message to me, loud and clear, that he was an unhappy man. Unhappy with his very life, and some part of me knew I had to do something differently.
After graduating from MSU in 1977 with a degree in Building Construction I experienced a long period of deep personal suffering, catalyzed, in part, by the death of my father when I was 21 years old. I ended up at Tassajara Zen Monastery, near Carmel Valley, California in 1980 when I was 25.
Tassajara was like boot camp and detox at the same time. Even though it was the “Guest Season” ( a period of less intense meditation practice ) it was unimaginably difficult for a suicidal hippie kid who had spent the previous 6 years drinking as much beer and inhaling as much pot as he could get his hands on. Then, after a period in San Francisco, living in an apartment with other Zen students in the era of Baker-Roshi, and his magnificent expansion of the San Francisco Zen Center, I returned to Portland, Oregon, where I had lived in 1978 and 1979.
Hired by the Portland Art Museum as a maintenance man, I met my future wife. We bonded over shared rides to “sitting” at the Zen house that I shared with (now Roshi ) John Tesshin Sanderson, a monk from the Zen Center of Los Angeles.*
Before we married in 1987 we decided to buy a house. My dormant desire to be a landlord re-surfaced when we found that the $55,000 price we could afford would buy us a very miserable house, or, we could incorporate potential rental income into our formula, and buy a lovely 1953 duplex ( pictured in the header) for $75k. Since it was agreed that this was “my baby,” and my wife would continue her career in Arts administration, suddenly I was a Landlord, and the question immediately arose “How to do this without harming any person or thing ?”
Today there are 7 beautiful rentals to take care of – 18 wonderful tenants who always pay their rent on time – A much depleted net worth thanks to the economic slump – and, much joy in life after 31 years of Zen meditation. I go to morning meditation at the Zen Center of Portland 5 days a week, and get good guidance from my teacher there, Dr. Larry Christensen, a Dharma heir of Charlotte Joko Beck. I also serve as a meditation instructor ( not a Zen teacher) at the center.
*This house was one of the early incarnations of a group that would later become the Zen Community of Oregon, a group with several hundred members in 2012, and both a “City Center” and a Monastery ( Great Vow Zen Monastery) in the country 1 1/2 hours from Portland.