Bowie In An Elevator

One of my few brushes-with-famous-people was with David Bowie.

It was the second week of September, 1983, and he was playing at the Coliseum in Vancouver. I’d just started at UBC, and was drinking rather a lot, as was my wont. One night there was a mixer at Place Vanier with free booze, and me and a friend of mine who I’d graduated with and who was also a freshman at UBC took great advantage of the freebies (white wine, for some bizarre reason, as I recall, something I’d never really gotten inebriated on before).

It was pouring rain that evening, as usual, and when the mixer shut down, I was, in young wonderchicken style, just getting geared up. But being underage, finding more booze was going to be a challenge, so we decided to make the trek across campus to Gage Towers to find her older brother, the theory being that he could hook us up with some more grog.

As we passed in front of the computer science buildings, I got it into my head to do the Gene Kelly routine from Singing in the Rain, and sing and splash and swoop around the light poles a bit. Predictably, my blood-alcohol content rendered my swooping a little less graceful than it should have been, and I ended up breaking my ankle.

Next morning, I woke up in my dorm room in my clothes with a monumental wine hangover and a somewhat hazy recollection of the night before. Reeking, disoriented, with a throbbing right ankle that felt about the size of my head. My mother, who was visiting Vancouver to see I’d settled in, and her sister, who’d come to visit with my mom, were knocking on the door. I can’t say they were all that surprised. At least Mitzi — yes, my friend’s name was Mitzi — wasn’t there in the bed with me, too.

We went to the campus hospital, I got strapped up and given a pair of crutches, and we went to the Bayshore Hotel, where they were staying, for breakfast. I was feeling about as physically bad as an 18-year-old can.

The elevator stopped on our way up to my mom and aunt’s room. I could smell myself, and it wasn’t pretty. I was staring at the carpet, swaying, sweating, and trying desperately not to throw up, but noticed more or less in my peripheral vision two very large black-suited men and one much smaller blond man get on.

We got off on my mom’s floor, and as we did, I realized that the little fellow was David Bowie. The realization took long enough to percolate through my hungover brain that all I had time for was a double-take, wobbling on my crutches, enough to turn and meet his eyes and smile, and get a smile back.

I believe that he was a nice fellow because of that smile, ’cause man, if I’d had to stand in an elevator with my sodden, reeking self that morning, I’d have been rejoicing the moment I got off.

This first, memorable experience of my university career turned out to be emblematic of the next 5 years. UBC was a lot of fun.

Bird, Mountains

Here’s a story.
I’m smoking a cigarette, sweating, panting a bit, buzzed. I’m looking out to the north towards Horseshoe Bay, sorta leaning against my seat, straddling the bike, after climbing hard a-pedal most of the way up the hill from Spanish Banks to UBC.


Out on the edge of the cliff, at the end of a little trail half a dozen metres from the road, in the bushes, private-like. The same place I usually stop for a smoke after doing the Big Circle. I’m… what? 21? Strong, young, full of juice and big ideas. Spotty, callow and dancing perilously close to full-blown alcoholism, too, but the world is my oyster, by god. You can fuck right off. I love you.
I’m wearing my Walkman, of course, because that thing has changed my life. I’m listening to Elvis Costello’s King Of America, and he’s singing

I wish that I could push a button
And talk in the past and not the present tense
And watch this lovin’ feeling disappear
Like it was common sense
I was a fine idea at the time
Now I’m a brilliant mistake

and it’s the album that I love, right now. Women.
The sky is smeared with grey goth-lipstick clouds, as usual, but the blue is showing through, and I feel magnificent, looking at the mountains and the wrinkly sea, smoking my Player’s Light. Fully oxygenated blood, full balls and, if not full volume, and least plans for full and frantic Friday night.
A raven — big, black, alive — lands with a thump and clink on my handlebars.
No shit. A fucking raven. It’s like a foot and a half high, and it’s right there, wabiggety baw!
I’m in that place, though. In that moment. I’m in the place that drugs only rarely managed to take me over the ensuing years, much as I tried.
So I calmly look the raven in the eye as it jinks around on the handlebars until it’s facing me. It looks me in the eye. No, it fucking does, I’m serious. Not straight on, but with its head tilted a bit to my right, so it can really lay the eye on me. I don’t know what to do, exactly, so I do nothing.
It checks me out, takes a minute or two, looks me up and down, jerkily, from crotch to crown, then flies off. I think to myself ‘well, that was pretty cool’, drop my earphones down around the back of my neck, pull out another cigarette, and think about the trickster god of the Kwakiutl and Haida and all the rest, their totem poles stolen and replanted just a few hundred metres away at the museum.
There’s a rustle, another thump, a sudden grip and weight on my right shoulder.
The raven is back. It’s perched on my shoulder. It’s perched. On my. Shoulder. I turn my head slowly, and peer as best I can through the corners of my scratched, smudged lenses into the little black eyes. It sits on my shoulder, gripping tightly, and looks back at me.
I don’t know what to do, exactly, so I do nothing.
And I turn away and look at the mountains again, and love the place I’m in, the body I’m in, the life I’m living. The raven stays with me for a few more minutes, enjoying the view, and then it leaves. Its wing flicks me in the right ear as it launches itself out into the void, over the edge of the cliff.
This really happened, in 1985 or so. I woke up this morning remembering it. It makes me proud, although I’m not exactly sure why.