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?
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.
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.