Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Shot by Rock

A few years ago in Spring, I pulled one fine Monday morning into the parking lot at work and saw a colleague getting out of his car.  This was one of those ass-kicking shiny new sports cars, all angles and chrome, the car version of a Jersey Shore character in a tight t-shirt.  My colleague-- let's call him Dee-- was pretty proud of his ride.  "It's only $750 a month," he said, "and I signed a five-year lease, so I can get out of it at the end."   He looked pretty tired and I asked him if he was OK.  He said he was tired from his weekend job-- bouncing at a club on Granville.

Later that week, I heard a colleague-- let's call her Pulley-- doing one of two things that property-owning Vancouverites do when they discuss real estate: patting themselves on the back.  "I'm SO glad we bought on the East Side," she said, "But out in know.  I LOVE our neighbours, where we are now."  That, dear readers, is code for "West Siders are rich snobs," which is in turn code for "I feel inadequate because I earn less money."

Ah yes, the rat race.

Some weeks later, Dee was on "stress leave" and I googled his car, which, it turned out, cost about $60,000 with $7000 down for the lease.  The guy made $3500 a month, after tax say $2800, and his car payments were $750.  Leave him $2100 to live.  His house was worth around $350,000 so let's add in $1200 for mortgage and whatnot.  Leaves him $900/month for food, gas and whatnot.  No wonder he was moonlighting!  Now, the house made sense...but the car?  Really?  $10,000 a year for a showpiece? 

I didn't get it until a few months later, when I was playing a session out in Langley.  This, as my snobbish colleagues say, is Redneckville.  The pub parking lot was full of drug dealer cars-- Asian things with fins, spoilers and small galaxies of chrome-- and of suburban rides, like big SUVs.  My own shitbox looked like a rusty toy.  This was where Dee wonder the guy felt like he had to throw down for the appearance of $60,000 worth of car.

It was a warm September evening and as I carried my mandolin past groups of weight-room-jacked twenty somethings in tight t-shirts discussing how "parts for that  thing will kill you," I felt much the same as I did eating lunch with colleagues:  totally out of place.  But not uncomfortably so.  It didn't really matter to me that my car is a piece of crap-- my mandolin is worth three times what the car is-- and that I live in a one-bedroom apartment. 

It didn't matter, cos I'd been immunised by mountains.  My peer group includes The Filth, whose aims in life include writing a novel, raising his kid, and climbing V10.  Then there is The Surveyor, who pretty much lives for his kid and his camera...he's an abstract photographer.  Then there's Tony McLane and Hannah Preston, who live to climb, and climb to live (both are new guides).  The Brewer has two kids, has been married 18 years, and still sleeps with his wife on a futon on the floor.

One thing none of these people care about is appearances.  They drive crappy cars.  They cook, bake and brew.  They read.  They volunteer.  They paint, make art, or play music.  They take care of kids. They do work they like, or they don't work.  They CLIMB.  A good day for them is being so fucking tired at 8 PM that they can't move a muscle but still have ten pitches left to climb. 

I guess it helps that none of us are involved in the corporate world, where, as a friend put it, a woman needs to spend at least $2000/year on clothing alone to keep up appearances (a corporate woman's suit can be worn for 15 months, apparently), and where the reward for work is money and a title.  It also helps that, for most of us, activities and people matter far more than stuff.  While I do feel somewhat self-conscious when I go to a yuppie cunt restaurant in Vancouver, it doesn't really matter: what is a new outfit compared to runout 5.whatever?

The Fall day I first climbed the Grand Wall clean, my friend Corinne and I stopped for shawarmas in Vancouver, and we had to cross party-zone Granville St.  On finishing eating, walking back to the car, we were accosted by a group of Jersey Shore types:  tight shirts, gelled hir, bla bla.  It took me a minute, buzzed from food and Wall, to realise that these guys-- for no apparent reason-- wanted to fight.  One of them swore at me.  I dunno what he said.  I DO remember saying something like the following: "About two hours ago I had a 3 mm thick piece of metal between me and a 300 meter groundfall.  So I'm not really going to worry about you."  I remember smiling at him. It was like, despite all he booze and testosterone in his system, he was 200 yards away.  It was fine.

Once I was coming back from lunch with my ex-girlfriend, and she stopped at a fancy furniture store window.  Man, was their stuff ever cool.  I made myself look away, and did the same thing two stores down at the shoe store.  You look at this stuff, you see it on TV, you think about it, you imagine your living room or closet filled with it, and suddenly you're making career and vacation choices around it, and you feel bad if you don't have it.

Fuck it.  The mountains gave me a reality shot, and Tyler Durden was right:  the things you own end up owning you.  "We buy crap we don't need with money we don't have to impress people we don't care about." Or, as Ron Kuk put it, "climbing showed me that there are two worlds: one where moneynis sacred, and another where EVERYTHING is sacred."

My colleague Dee went on to develop a coke habit.  He went to work in the Alberta oilfields, where he had some kind of epiphany at 3 a.m., wrestling a couple of hundred kilos of twisting pipe into a hole, came back, ditched the fancy car, and downsized the house.  Drives a beater, chills with his woman and kid on weekends, and actually enjoys time off.  Pulley is happy as a clam with her East Side house.  After all, since Vancouver real estate went up nine billion percent, she can now consider herself a de facto zillionaire, which has gotta be worth something, even though it's, sigh, not Dunbar.

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