Whatever happened to TwoLiter?

April 28, 2011 at 2:14 pm (Uncategorized)

I trekked out to North Vancouver last week to see my new doctor.  My GOD, I needed a new family doctor!  My old guy (no pun intended) is 79 years old, and would forget why I would come in for a follow-up that he requested, would leave my iron dextran (USED) needle on the patients table beside me, and made a bunch of other mistakes that doctors shouldn’t make.  Time to retire!

I don’t remember the last time I felt healthy. Sure, there are sometimes I feel better than others, because I can ignore how I feel when I am with friends, or when I was having a great time in Brazil… but on the whole, I’ve felt pretty sick for a while, and as much as I want to just pretend that it’s okay, I’m starting to get scared.  Summing it up, let’s just say that I desperately need a doctor who will listen better.

After my consultation, I was feeling drained and still pretty sad.  This health stuff had kind of left me feeling down lately, especially since I came back from Brazil.  To be honest… it’s not just the health stuff, but I always feel a tiny bit lonely in Vancouver.  Does anyone else who has lived here feel that way?  I’ve travelled a decent amount in Canada, the United States, a bit of Europe, and a bunch of Brazil, and Vancouver is different from everywhere I have been.  Yes, it’s beautiful, but…BUT…

I went to the Starbuck’s on 17th street and Lonsdale, a half block from the doctor’s office. It’s nice to enjoy little things on a dreary day. The sun was actually shining (BIG deal in this city!), and I was standing in line to buy a giant, scorching hot coffee. Mmmm. I felt better already.  After waiting my turn, I had been people-watching for a while, and by the time I was putting a lid on my coffee, I was thinking “Wow, I forgot how many crazy people live around here.”  I don’t come back into North Van very often, and especially not to central Lonsdale.  I used to work at a Blenz coffee shop on 15th and Lonsdale in my last year of high school, and the year after that, and it was the same picture:

People talking to themselves, talking to no one, shaking a little, twitching a little, slouching just a bit, seeing past you and through you when you are standing right in front of them, people sipping their coffee outside while sucking back a cigarette, stamping it nervously on the ground, and immediately lighting another one, and waving it around for a minute, and then stamping that one, picking them both up, asking weird questions for directions they don’t need, staring into their coffee, stirring and stirring, pacing back and forth occasionally, laughing nervously when you smile at them, laughing nervously all by themselves at nothing at all…

Lions Gate Hospital is nearby. I got so used to seeing people like this when I worked at Blenz, and it’s almost half of the people I see around North Van – and I think as many as are in downtown (except, of course, the downtown eastside – DTES).  MUCH more than in Brazil. In fact, I saw some homeless people in Brazil, sure. And of course I saw poverty there… but I didn’t see any mentally ill people, maybe one or two (aside from the crack-kids in Salvador…but that’s a drug issue, not mental illness).  Why?  Brazil has its problems.  The divide between the rich and the poor is noticeable, and in some places it’s huge!  But I just didn’t see any so-called “crazy” people. When I worked at Blenz, it was something that my friends and I would occasionally make jokes about in order to make light of the situation, but of course we felt for these people, who couldn’t work and would sit on our coffee shop patio, just looking for something to pass the time alone.  It was sad to see someone having a lonely conversation… and I would talk to the most crazy-looking people quite often because I though they needed real, human contact most of all. Plus, it was probably the most interesting part of the day. We would ignore the perverts, and talk to the “crazies”.

But…

Why?  Why are there so many mentally ill people in this neighbourhood? In North Van? In Vancouver, in general? Everyone who lives in North Vancouver boasts about how clean it is. About how it is the perfect neighbourhood in which to raise a family and send your kids to school.  They even like to brag about how much money they all have, and how big and beautiful and perfect their houses and cars are… North Vancouver is a self-proclaimed Pleasantville.

I could never live there again. No offense, but I grew up there, and it’s not for me. It’s super quiet, there’s not a whole lot to do unless you can afford to ski/snowboard, and it’s full of clique-y people who enjoy their “community” just the way it is.  As in, no outsiders, please.  It’s a lot of gossip. It’s too many people who have too much they don’t appreciate.  It’s 8 year olds with Iphones.  Enough said. But the worst part is, it’s SO lonely living there.  Many people act like they don’t have time to talk to each other, or even smile at each other.  They are scared to make new friends and try new things. They treat service staff like servants (as I saw in Starbucks yesterday, when the cute girl working at the counter was surprised when I asked “how’s it going?”), and don’t understand the concepts of humility and respect.  I’m not talking about everyone, but it’s definitely the great majority of the population there, from my experience.

Maybe it’s because there is so much rain in North Vancouver.  I mean, they get even more than downtown, and Vancouver in general can be pretty grumpy because of the rain – it definitely dampens my mood.  But the North Vancouverites tend to get a bit more… rude.  I think it may be because they are constantly trapped under the low-hanging rain clouds, and that’s exactly how it makes you feel: trapped. But aside from the grumps, I have a theory that because all these people can not see the sun for sometimes WEEKS at a time, it gets to their heads a little.  I know that rain and loneliness don’t cause mental illness… but is there maybe a possibility that it sparks mental problems in some people?  If you were stuck in a grey, cold, wet place, with no one to talk to for so long… with no one who wanted to understand you… well, damn it, it’s lonely when no one understands you.  Maybe these people talk to themselves because no one else will listen to them.

We had a regular at Blenz, and his nickname was TwoLitre.  He always had a two-litre jug of soda with him in a plastic bag.  He always had a pack of cigarettes handy, and would smoke nervously outside while drinking his Supremo coffee, loaded with extra sugar.  He was over six feet tall, with brown hair and a permanent look of confusion stamped on his face.  He would come into the cafe, and ask hurriedly “Can I borrow a penny for a sec?!” Of course he could… and we would watch him walk right into the middle of the intersection at 15th street and Lonsdale, in the middle of traffic, and while the agitated drivers honked their horns and steered around him, he would look to the sky and throw the penny as high up in the air as he possibly could.  With his head turned to the sky, completely oblivious to the chaos around him, he would watch the penny fall to the ground.  Crouching over the dull penny, he would frown, shake his head, pick it up, and bring it back to us.  He gave us the same response every time:

“It didn’t work. Thanks anyways.”

I never asked. I probably wouldn’t have understood anyways. But I haven’t really seen TwoLitre since I moved back here from NYC… and I hope that things worked out the way he wanted, with or without the lucky penny, whatever it was for.  He may have talked to himself the majority of the time, but when he was talking to me, buying his coffee, he always said please and thank you.  I don’t think he’d remember me, but I hope he’s found some more friends to talk to.

As for the people who have gone further into another world – the drug addicts of Vancouver, especially those on the DTES – I think they were lonely once, too, and that most of them were alone when they started to make bad choices. I realized that I was holding back tears a few days ago while riding the bus through the DTES.  It pained me to think that most of these people just didn’t have someone who loved them enough to help them, guide them, love them.  Maybe they just had no one around at the worst point in their lives… maybe no one would listen to them when they really would have taken that helping hand.  I finally saw these beautiful, sad people for who they were: not outcasts of our prim and proper city, not pests, not weak, not just crazy people asking for spare change… but just lonely people who got stuck long ago in the wrong place at the wrong time.  I wiped my eyes and felt so selfish to be crying for them, and neglecting to talk to them and help them this whole time.  I still won’t give spare change, but I want to know how their days are.

I don’t like the word “crazy” anymore. I think the true “crazy” ones are the people who are so very sheltered and withdrawn, the ones who can’t even bring themselves to smile when they look at one another on the bus.

As for the homeless people, the mentally ill, the drug-addicted, the confused and the scared? I will always think of them as the “lonely” people.  The “lonelies”.

Don’t hide your children from these beautiful people, don’t say hurtful things to them or act like they disgust you. They are human.  It could have been you in their shoes. 

Don’t leave the “lonelies” alone too much.  I may be too hopeful to think we could replace heroin with “hello”, but it could be a start in the right direction.

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1 Comment

  1. Ren said,

    I think there are probably just as many of those snobbish crazy people over the straight in Vancouver as here in North Van. I think it is just easier to ignore them because there are so many more people in general.
    Downtown, because there is a swirling hum of constant movement, it is easier to forget that all these people you pass everyday in the street are just as locked in their own self-centered bubble. Sure you notice the man with the dog outside waterfront station, but what about the other 8 people who passed you as you walked passed him? Do they even register?
    North Vancouver definitely has a more subdued pace, and it certainly has more than it’s share of snooty I’mdoingsowellformyself’s. Where do you think they go to make that green? Do you notice the suits strolling around, shmoozing during the lunch hour, trying to get ahead? Even if they ask how are you, it’s probably not because they care about you, only what you think of them.
    It’s easy to feel lonely when it’s quiet and you can see the people around you seeing YOU, alone. But standing in the blur of a busy mecca is really just as lonely under the comforting blanket of anonymity.
    North Van has it’s share of Nuts and Lonelies, Hipsters and Artists, Minorities and Bigots, Rich and Poor. Vancouver just has more so, making the delineations and boundaries blur. With a smaller sample size to choose from, the discrepancies are glaring and obvious, each point a speck of black or white. But when that sample size grows, everything starts to blend into gray. That sense of connection is easier to come by because you feel that just around the corner there could be someone just like you, or close enough.

    Just thought I would offer a counter-point.
    Love ya hun 🙂

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