How to Have a Midlife Crisis
Listen to/Watch entire show:
By Marc Porter Zasada
This year, as the Urban Man hits his late forties, he finds himself planning his male midlife crisis. Come summer, I figure I'll connect with my inner warrior, put aside civilized malaise, and start to "rage against the dying of the light."
In preparation, I watch an X-Men movie. I sweat at the gym. But it seems impossible to have a really satisfying crisis here in the city, and at last I announce a "guys only" camping trip. I figure to hit middle-age in some mountains at midnight, after a serious day of hiking. Stars will rise up, framed by ponderosa pine, and the Urban Man will lie outside contemplating his life in the context of eternity.
I call my friend Matt, a former athlete and known woodsman, and I say, "Let's head out with our teenaged sons. We'll leave wives, daughters and small fry behind, and we'll travel light." Matt, I know, owns a zip stove: no propane required, just twigs and pine needles fed into a tiny chamber. He's fifty-something, but not the kind to chat about midlife crises. He asks, "Well, surely our daughters and small fry can keep up with us."
And so it happens that come the long weekend, I find myself pulling into a campground with the whole brood, up along the Angeles Crest. The campground is too close to L.A. for effective contemplation of either life or eternity and it's rapidly filling with three-room tents, day-glo lounge chairs, boom boxes, grills, screened canopies, black vinyl shower bags, and ice chests big as coffins.
Sons, daughters and small fry merrily lace up their hiking boots. And of course, when we head out for a rough climb, maleness or femaleness makes no difference, traveling light or heavy makes no difference: only youth seems to count. Matt and I speak of our knees. We rest as our kids explore the slippery rocks leading to the peak.
"Makes you feel old, don't it," notes Matt unnecessarily.
Back at the tents, evening has fallen, and the campground becomes a miniature of L.A. itself, the air grown thick with the soot of grilling meat. Matt pulls out his fabled stove, gathers a few handfuls of twig and pine needles, and I can't help admiring the way he sits stoically boiling a little water in a dented aluminum pot as loud summer feasts rage all around us.
Me, I crawl into my sleeping bag early, my plan forgotten, the stars left to wheel unheeded through the pines.
But lo, come 11:55, I awake to laughter from the campsite next door. Here a group of twenty-somethings, a collection of--you'd have to say--"young men with their women" has gathered. A guitar is strummed. And yes, my inner warrior bids me arise and climb out into the darkness, where I stumble barefoot through pine cones into an illegal circle of firelight.
"Don't you realize it's almost midnight?" I ask, and then, like a coward, I tell a lie: "My kids can't sleep."
"Come on, it's a holiday," says one. "Maybe your kids will like the music." His face glows with drink and hormones, and it occurs to me that he needs no "inner" warrior.
I bluster some more, but now the self-appointed leader, a boy-man with long blond hair stands up. Despite the cold, his bare chest shines in the firelight, and he speaks to me with surprising eloquence:
"Come on, mister, don't you remember what it was like before you had kids and wanted to go to bed early? Don't you remember just wanting to enjoy the night and the woods and not worry what anyone thought? Don't you remember what it was like to be young and just have a good time? Don't you remember?"
It's midnight. And for a full twenty seconds, struck speechless as I finally have my cherished midlife crisis, the Urban Man remembers.
For KCRW, I'm Marc Porter Zasada.
Click the Full Details link to view the complete transcript. Tapes are not available.
Engage & Discuss
BROUGHT TO YOU BY