Plunging into a midlife crisis

Kevin Cowherd

August 07, 1992|By Kevin Cowherd

A friend of mine is going through a midlife crisis and recently took up bungee-jumping, which is the newest sickness sweeping the thrill addicts in this country.

The midlife crisis arrived on the occasion of his 43rd birthday, when he blew out the candles on a chocolate cake and realized he had accomplished all he could reasonably expect in life, and that his remaining days would be spent in a long, dark slide into the cold ground.

I myself arrived at that point in my early 20s. After dropping out of college for the first time, it dawned on me that I was a man with very little aptitude for anything except drinking beer.

"You'll never amount to much," my father said. "Not the way you procrastinate."

"Oh, yeah?" I said. "Just wait . . ."

HTC Unfortunately, his prediction turned out to be right on the money.

The ensuing years were difficult ones, with one midlife crisis after another, the result being that I am more or less inured to them as an emotional challenge.

But this friend is undergoing his first midlife crisis, and apparently hoped to kick-start his soul by jumping from very high places with nothing more than a piece of elastic strapped to his ankle.

The first hint of this new hobby surfaced during a phone call in June. His voice quivering with excitement, he told me he was at the Delaware seashore.

Most people go to the shore to soak up the sun and play in the waves. But my friend went and paid a man $150 for the privilege of jumping 90 feet off a crane, and thought it was the greatest thing he had ever done.

"You must be very happy," I said.

Then I hung up the phone, convinced that my friend had become unhinged and feeling badly for his wife and kids.

Three or four phone calls followed in the next few weeks, each detailing another jump from a crane and a fresh brush with death.

By this time, I had an arrangement with my wife. If this nut calls again, I said, tell him I'm not home.

Then two weeks ago I found myself on the phone with him again. Somehow he had gotten through our crack security system, tricking my 6-year-old daughter into putting her daddy on the phone.

Anyway, the purpose of this latest call was to invite me to a bungee-jumping "festival," where he would make his first jump off a bridge.

The festival was to be held in upstate New York, outside some godforsaken little town where the weird routinely gather in celebration.

I didn't want to go, but he kept pleading. And then I thought: Well, someone has to bring the body back home.

It took us six hours to make the trip. When we finally arrived, there were maybe 100 people walking around smiling vacantly and talking in flat tones about recent jumps from train trestles, hot air balloons and the like.

It reminded me of what Jonestown must have been like in the final hours before the loudspeakers clicked on and they started ladling out the Kool-Aid.

The jumping was about to begin when two state police cars squealed up like they had just cornered the remnants of the Manson Family.

The cops ordered everyone to clear out, claiming the organizers needed a permit for the festival. This is America in 1992: Even if you're trying to kill yourself, you need a permit.

There was a lot of grumbling from the assembled jump-Moonies, but not from my friend, who was already inching his way back to the car.

"I was scared," he said on the ride home. "There's no way I would have gone through with it."

As this was the first sensible thing I had heard him say in two months, I decided to share my secret of coping with a midlife crisis.

See, I said, what you do is, you drink a beer. Then you drink another one. Three or four beers later, things start looking positively rosy and you're thinking: What midlife crisis?

"Beer doesn't do it for me," he said. "But neither does bungee-jumping."

Then last week I received another phone call from him, this one the most alarming of all.

In a voice quivering with excitement again, he announced that he was taking up . . . golf.

This, of course, was a bad sign, golfers being some of the most disturbed people you will ever meet in your life.

I once watched a golfer smack his approach shot into a bunker, and then sail his golf bag into a nearby lake.

Then he walked over to his golf cart and calmly drove it into the water, too.

I got the hell out of there at that point, figuring his next move would be to the trunk of his car for the battle fatigues, face paint and assault rifle.

There might have been a midlife crisis involved there, too. Although I didn't ask.

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