Why I felt I had to leave Vancouver in 1983

I lived in Vancouver for about three years, back in the early 1980s, and on the surface of things it looked like I had a good life. It’s a fairly picturesque place; I was making easy money as a freelance carpenter in the theatre and on television commercials; I was getting out into the outdoors often and to paraphrase Tom Waits, “I was getting more arse than a toilet seat“.

What more could a guy in his mid twenties want?

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So why did I leave?

After travelling for a few intense years in Asia, I worked for another couple of years in America as a laser light show operator. My years in America had been one big blur of drugs, sex and rock ‘n’ roll.  For a young man in his early 20s it was like a dream come true but after a while, the ennui of such a life began to pall.  By the time I went back to Canada it was a case of “done too much, much too young”, and I was having a hard time forming lasting relationships with the people I was meeting because I had so very little in common with them. 

Many of the young people I met in North America back then, seemed to be spending an awful lot of time high as kites, spaced out on sofas in dingy basements panelled in fake walnut veneer listening to Pink Floyd.

When I look back at that time and think about how I was relating to people, it reminds me of those wildlife documentaries about wolf society. The alpha male and female get to mate and have a great time, while everybody else stands around in a circle watching, wishing that they were in the centre.  I found that the average North American of about the same age as me at the time, was quite passive socially, in that they wanted to treat every situation as though they were watching a performance on TV.  They just sat and watched, immobile.

I’d get up and tell my stories to a rapt audience but there wasn’t really any two-way communication. I guess that’s one of the reasons why I had such a good time in the States when I was working in the laser show. It was like I was some kind of low-rent rock god and people wanted to know me, because of what I did for a living, not for who I actually was. Back when I was younger, I didn’t really care why people (especially women) liked me, as long as they did.

By the time I arrived in Vancouver I was so different from the people I was meeting. I was beginning to feel very disconnected.  Just about every social gathering I went to was fuelled by alcohol and drugs and often times ended up with me wobbling home with some strange woman I didn’t give a damn about other than for some ephemeral gratification.

It was at this time in my life that I discovered how empty, casual sex really was.  After one particularly party packed and eventfull month I ended up in the sack with yet another strange woman who I had met that day, and I found myself totally disinterested in the promised pleasures of her offered flesh.  As I lay there, I thought to myself, “what the heck am I doing here?” “Who the hell is this person lying next to me?” For the first time in my life I got a sense of the complete “otherness” of another person.

I was also getting very sick of being high all the time. It seemed that everywhere I went the first thing that would happen was the marijuana would be taken out and a few joints would be rolled. It was just starting to get really crazy. Snowshoeing up in the mountains and half your party is sitting down in the snow tripping on acid incapable of taking care of themselves as the weather was changing for the worse. Lazing around naked on Wreck Beach with large groups of friends, all off their faces, high on magic mushrooms.  The party just went on and on and on.

the Razzbuffnik in his prime or so he thought

One day I was sitting on a park bench, much like the photograph above, tripping on magic mushrooms with a new-found plaything, who happened to be a woman, when I looked down at myself. I noticed how threadbare my jacket was and I thought about how I had nothing to show for the last couple of years in Vancouver other than millions of slaughtered brain cells. And who was this woman on the bench with me anyway?

In a flash, I realised I had to get out of Vancouver, before I was destroyed by my own sybaritic nature.

Within a month I bought an old bicycle second-hand and cycled back down into the States to do a 2000 km bicycle trip.

But that’s a story for another time.

12 thoughts on “Why I felt I had to leave Vancouver in 1983”

  1. A 2,000 km bike trip seems like to perfect solution to fight your sybaritism. Cyclist Against Mushrooms!
    These were the times, right? I can’t imagine Canadians being more depraved than Americans (besides Jean Chretien after retiring.)
    Does moving around really help escape your own nature?

    This is a really good portrait of you. You don’t even look that stoned.

  2. Nat

    The bike trip turned into a similar type of sybaritism. Drugs and sex were hard to get away from in those days, in those places. People seemed to be always pulling out bags of dope or quickly hopping into the sack with each other. It makes me laugh when I meet kids nowadays who think they are so cool and worldly and that people older than themselves are clueless plonkers who haven’t visited the wild side.

    As for America being more depraved than Canada, I’d say I never saw any difference between the two countries in that regard.

    I’m pretty sure I was straight in the photo. I never took my camera with me when I was chemically challenged.

  3. Well, this is fascinating, really. Since I presume Australia offered similar opportunities for sex, drugs and rock and roll, what was it that finally persuaded you to make different choices? Many I knew had similar thoughts as you about “what am I doing here?” but it took serious health scares, or brushes with the law, or hitting rock bottom in terms of rehab, or meeting someone who wasn’t in the craziness and not willing to tolerate it, in order for them to change their course.

    There are many years between the 2000km bike trip and when you got married, so I presume your book has a few more chapters of all the dumb things?

    Does it surprise you that this post reminds me of that dinner with your friend whose mother collected bull semen for a living? It is not funny at all as that post, but the directness about a subject rarely talked about honestly is quite compelling.

    Whatever it was that turned you around, I’m glad.

  4. Fascinating word, sybaritic.

    And fascinating memoir. I was never into drugs (too poor, didn’t hang with the “right” people) and casual sex just didn’t happen (too fat). I met my wife right after high school. She was the first person I seriously dated, she took me seriously and still loved me, and I married her.

    So, yeah, we have very little in common. But I love reading your stories about life on the edge. I have been there a time or two; the context and circumstances change but the emotions are the same.

    Lovely stuff, my friend.

  5. Pat

    I didn’t choose to be in North America for the scene, I just happened to be there during that part of my life. As for the drug thing, I knew it was a dead end and I didn’t want to end up like some of the acid casualties that I’ve met along the way. As you know, it doesn’t take any skill to get high or drunk and it’s certainly not a worthy way to spend too much of one’s time.

    Having said that, I’m glad that I have experienced altered consciousness because I now know that the way we see things every day, isn’t the only reality. If we ever meet in person I’ll explain in greater detail about my ideas about perception and how we filter and prioritise incoming information as a survival strategy.

    Tysdaddy

    When you’re on a good thing, stick to it! You’re lucky you found the right woman so early and it was smart of you to realise it when it happened. I also did….. a couple of times…….. but I didn’t realise it.

    One of my problems is that I’ve had an over stimulated life and this has lead me to do some dumb things. When I look back on my life, I think that I’ve been overly concerned about missing out on something.

    Lately, life is very good for me and I don’t feel I’m missing out on anything. As a matter of fact, I know I have a great life because of my lovely wife. She is my redemption.

  6. It’s strange that some people have something that clicks in the brain saying, “What are you doing?” and other people don’t.
    I hear clicking from time to time: I don’t think it’s the remote because I have the TV on mute.

  7. Wow. That’s quite peek at your younger life. It’s amazing how different lives can be, even within the body of one person.

    I’ve never been a drug user, frankly because I’ve never seen the point. That’s not to say that some of my best friends aren’t. I used to enjoy hanging out with them when they got stoned because they finally saw things the way I did… right up until the house plants started talking to them.

    As Ross said, it’s interesting that your inner Razz managed to shout at you over the drugs, sex and booze and got you pointed in another direction while other people’s inner voice gets drowned out. I wonder if it has to do with hope and drive?

    Nice post. Thank you for sharing that.

    -Turkish Prawn

  8. Hey, Razz, I can so much connect with the feelings and dilemmas you are describing here, this is pretty much how certain shifts in my life have started… I guess we will find out a lot of commonalities when you come. So, guys, plan on staying for a month or two…

  9. Another great tale to add to the All The Dumb Things catalogue. If it’s any comfort I think we all do dumb things, only to look back and say ‘was that really ME?’. The great things about your tales, Razz, is that you have lived to recount them and I, for one, am always astounded. You really are a MAN with 9 lives. Or 12. Perhaps infinite. Anyway, you’re still here so that shows that you are a serious survivor.

  10. Planetross

    And here’s me thinking I was the only one with clicking sounds in their head.

    Turkish

    It is strange how there are so many different ways how one can live out their life. I’m also finding it strange that the majority of people commenting here haven’t used drugs when I’d be hard pressed to think of anyone I know here in the “real world” who hasn’t. I guess it’s a case of “birds of a feather, flock together”.

    Robert

    Like I was saying to Turkish, most of the people I know have had similar experiences. Unfortunately we will only be staying in Slovenia for a week of two but I’m sure it will still be very interesting and I’m looking forward to it. Since I’m in the mood to spout a few maxims, I’ll pass on this old German saying from my step father: “Guests are a bit like fish; after a few days they start to stink”.

    Epic

    I don’t think that my drug abuse was ever that bad. I’ve never been interested in or taken addictive drugs like heroin. I think most of what I did was either recreational like dope or exploratory in the hallucinogenic, Carlos Castaneda sense.

    The big issue I have nowadays with drugs is that that don’t have anywhere near the same fascination for me as the did in the past. I also find people who make a big deal about how cool they think they are when they are doing drugs to be very boring. I was at a party not long ago and it made me cringe to see an old (like me) unreconstructed stoner holding court. It was a bit like watching a smoker acting out those stereotypical cigarette handling mannerisms that they’ve seen in the movies. It just struck me as weak-minded and far too callow for someone his age.

    Like the old saying goes, “there’s no fool like an old fool”.

  11. I was curious where do u go .I don’t have anything profoundly intresting that might help but you have to find the right person I truly belive that I would sample the women if I were a man .you have a strong mind beautiful red hair like my bros boy .I grew in the wrong eara your lucky if you ask me .

  12. Micah

    Thanks for droping by.

    I ended up in Toronto for a year or two and then went back to Australia. As for wishing you were born in a different era, I’d encourage you enjoy the here and now because, that’s all we are ever given and life passes very quickly. Only one life to a customer, so you might as well try and make the most out of it.

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