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Midlife Crisis
By Jennifer Hoppe

Months ago, my friend Barbara cheerfully informed her husband that she was having a midlife crisis, took a sabbatical from her tenured associate professor position in Kentucky, and left home to follow U2 around the country. I drove down to spend the night with her at a San Diego Holiday Inn across from the Sports Arena. Barbara and I have been friends since we were 15. We've actually known each other since we were 12, but couldn't stand each other then. She snarled at my Polo shirts and my hard packs of Virginia Slims menthol lights, while I rolled my eyes at her '50s party dresses and her hot pink leotards. All our choices at the time were admittedly questionable, but our opinions about one another changed once we moved past sartorial differences and dropped acid together. By the time we'd started driving, we'd stopped judging. In almost 30 years of friendship, Barbara and I have survived a whole host of discomforting fashions, a few health issues, appalling behavior, and evil lovers. Nothing fazes us about the other.

At lunch on the San Diego Harbor, we squinted at sailboats and decided that midlife was the best thing that's ever happened to us. Our teens and 20s were pure chaos, nothing but trouble, a blur. The 30s were still unsettled, but when we turned 40, we washed our faces and relaxed. Now that we're further from youth and closer to death, Barbara has given herself permission to become a fanatic for the summer. This was not a reckless pronouncement, but a joyful determination. She's seeing 14 U2 shows in 8 cities. She's enthusiastically dragging herself to cold, dark parking lots before dawn to set up a lawn chair and wait in line for 16 hours so she can be one of 200 people who may, if blessed, feel the spray of Bono's sweat. She does it because she loves the band, she has for 25 years, and because she's never had the freedom or the money to chase the thrill of a perfect experience.

We discussed titanic questions over seafood salads: What is consciousness? How do cells, which are inside bodies, inside ecosystems, inside galaxies all manage to work? We had to agree that even if it's all a big fluke, it's inspired. So, here we are, capable of thought, of connection, of being moved. Why not follow a band around the country?

She's made friends with other obsessed fans in the ticket lines and on message boards. They save each other's places, bring each other water and sandwiches; they trade pictures of last night's show, share lore about Bono's kindness, and are kind to one another in turn. Not just because Bono would want it that way, but because they are like-minded. The parking lot is Utopian. The concert is religious. After hours of braving the sun or rain, when the band launches into a song, their disciples disclose themselves to one another with a look. They have a collective moment. It's different than the experience of cleaning your sink or being stuck in traffic. It's the upside of existence.

I myself get the same thrill out of making risotto, but I understand the call. Barbara and I started on the same trajectory. We both got kicked out of Arts Magnet High in Dallas for skipping school (while together), and eventually we got kicked out of college (while apart). But when Barbara made it back to her education, she contracted a potent strain of some academic bug while I continued on the chemical-addled desperado path for both of us. She settled into schedules and deadlines. I became friendly with most of the dealers in Austin. I called myself The Sky Queen. I ate acid for breakfast and snorted brown biker speed at family weddings. I slept with strangers and listened obsessively -- in fact, exclusively -- to Joni Mitchell, because what was the point of other music? I walked barefoot in peasant skirts with cigarettes burning. I went to parties, I bought the beer, I found the fun. I could stay up for days on end, then faint in a restaurant for my finale. I took my adventures seriously, staggering through cities I can't remember, inviting myself into relationships I couldn't attend. I lived over the edge.

And then somehow, inexplicably, I lived.

Somehow I got off the floor, sobered up, put on a few pounds and made it to 40. I settled down. Read War and Peace. Found love. Bought a house. I got my thrills from tomatoes being in season. The other day, I blew out my front door and yelled at a few teenagers who were parked in front of my house, smoking dope. I said, "I don't wanna harsh your buzz, but someday you'll grow up and buy a house and when you see kids smoking dope in your front yard, you'll get pissed off. I'm just letting you know. Now, get the fuck out of here."

Apparently, I don't want to see myself in the rest of humanity. Not when it's close to my lawn. Ex-smokers become sanctimonious and so have I. Unapologetically. Reckless fun and adventure have their limits. Barbara's well-planned concert hopping is about all I can tolerate.

Last night she called from the U2 ticket line. Bono stopped in his SUV and Barbara blurted something about becoming an anthropologist, partly because of his message. She said she had two students working in Africa and it would mean something to them to have a picture of her with him. His handlers said, "Absolutely no pictures," but Bono stepped out of the truck and summoned Barbara across the security tape. He said, "But I want one with my anthropologist friend." He told her that she did important work and put his arm around her. The photograph she emailed reveals a diminutive rock star with my friend Barbara, who after nine hours in line looks disheveled and sunburned and electric. Bono looks grave -- they'd just been discussing Africa, after all, and are conscious that life is not nearly so magical everywhere. But here, in this moment, it is for Barbara. She is having the time of her life, which is the point. And I don't think it's coincidence that both she and Bono are middle-aged. Good for them. Good for us all.

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