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.
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
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
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.
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.
then somehow, inexplicably, I lived.
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
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.
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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