Sunday, August 22, 2010

Marijuana Or Martini? The Choice Is Yours 8/22/10

It’s a thin line between being laid back and being lazy, a fact to which several hundred people I have met here bear witness.

While there are many incredibly hard-working individuals who come to California in search of fame and fortune, there are even more who come in search of a lifestyle that allows them to be even more bone idle than they managed to be back in their home country.

Because the US is a country in which everything seems possible, and anyone can be anything they want to be, the spirit of optimism rides high; the problem is that the spirit of delusion rides equally high, and everyone thinks they are going to make it, irrespective of talent, and irrespective of their ability or desire to put their noses to the grindstone.

Personally, when I arrived, I worked very, very hard, often right through the night. I rediscovered a passion for writing that I had not experienced in some years, the toils of journalism having knocked out some of my creativity for different sorts of projects.

But as time has gone on, I have felt a slight lethargy creeping in, a desire to “chill out” more, which, while being beneficial in many ways to my health, has made me feel increasingly irritable and restless.

Excessive chilling out can be as frustrating as excessive stress, and it can smooth the rough edges of creativity – you only have to look at the crap that Hollywood turns out to know that.

The endless warm weather is undoubtedly a relaxant. In the UK, if the sun shines on a Bank Holiday, we rush to throw ourselves into vats of Stella in pub gardens and beachside bars; but if you drank every time the sun shone here, you would never be sober.

The misery of bad weather makes Brits drink a lot more, and their lifestyle is a lot more stressed. The cycle is one of stress at work/worry about money = drinking to forget and reduce stress = more stress, because nothing has fundamentally changed.

When the sun is permanently shining, it is actually very hard to keep drinking, because dehydration induces a craving for little else other than water or, in my case, gallons of PG Tips.

The vast open spaces of LA in particular, are also contributory to the emotional spaced-out-ness of its residents. You just don’t literally bump into anyone in the streets here; yes, people spend an inordinate amount of time in their cars, but when out and about, there is a feeling of spaciousness that, coupled with the ability to live so much of one’s life outdoors, cannot help but contribute to a feeling well-being. I walk miles every week and love the fact that I see so few people along the way (even if the police are a little suspicious of folk a pied).

When I recently returned to London, I felt like a marching ant in Oxford Street: being hurtled along, against my will, to whatever hell my body was being forced. I was terrified.

This week, however, I discovered another contributing factor in California’s laid-back state of mind: marijuana. Lots of it.

I know a handful of people in the UK who are prescribed marijuana for medical reasons, and others who have taken the drug recreationally. Among the first group, I have seen the benefits; among the latter, I have seen a few people who appeared to function perfectly well taking it.

But I have also witnessed that heavy marijuana use often goes hand in hand with unemployment (and yes, I appreciate that most people are unemployed for a whole host of other reasons) or, at best, under-achievement; I have seen it lead to usage of heavier drugs.

There have also been, sadly, a few in whom I have witnessed increasing use of the drug appearing to induce psychoses, with often tragic results.

As with all drugs, the goal-posts are ever shifting, according to medical research and our own experience, and in the case of marijuana I am no expert as to the short or long term physical effects.

But in California, it is synonymous with the laid back lifestyle, and it's everywhere. When I arrived, a few people told me that they could recommend some doctors where I could obtain “medicinal marijuana”, a phrase that apparently gets around the legalities. I politely declined and haven’t heard or seen much about it since.

Occasionally, it gets a mention in TV court shows, and in one recent People’s Court, a man was suing his ex, because he gave her marijuana, which she smoked but didn’t pay the full amount for – and she was counter-suing him, because it was allegedly inferior stuff. “California! Dontcha love it!” said Judge Milian.

This week, however, I went to Venice Beach, which might as well be called Marijuana Marina, for all the cannabis on offer there.

Every few steps, another man approached, pointing to a doorway, where, apparently, a highly reputable doctor was inside, handing out medicinal marijuana. The smell of the stuff was so intense along the board-walk, I felt I was getting enough already, without having to pay anything for it.

Gosh, it was bad. A really sickly, sweet smell, that seemed to permeate every pore in my body.

Venice is where the really, really lazy people hang out, I discovered. I hadn’t been there for 20 years and thought that maybe it had cleaned up its act, but nothing of the sort. It’s dirty, scruffy, a bit scary, and makes the Kiss Me Quick culture of Blackpool look like Key West.

There was only one place where you could have anything remotely decent to eat or drink along the front: the Sidewalk Café (apparently famous, though heaven knows why), barely better than a roadside caff, and with every table boasting a plastic bottle of Heinz tomato ketchup the size of a small baby.

I walked to nearby Santa Monica, roughly three miles away and a tad more civilised. It still has the air of a slightly downmarket UK seaside town, but at least you can breathe the air there.

But the edginess that inspired me when I first arrived and which sustained me for about six months has definitely diminished. Many of my reasons for leaving I wrote about two weeks ago; but another reason is my feeling increasingly out of kilter with this all too laid back lifestyle - and, in my case, that's nothing to do with the availability of marijuana. The drug is just one of a whole host of factors that keeps large sections of this city in a state bordering on rigor mortis.

As I said, it’s a thin line between laziness and being laid back, and I don’t want that line to get any thinner.

At the end of the day, there’s more to life than sunshine.

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