Earlier this week, I had an experience which upon reflection, taught me something about myself. I know that sounds like a setup for an ABC After School Special, but I’ll nonetheless go ahead and take the chance of telling the tale.
About a month ago, I read that Bob Dylan was going to be playing at Stanford. Now, I am not the concert-going type. I can’t stand crowds, I don’t like standing in line, and I usually prefer hearing whatever it was that was originally recorded as opposed to what is normally an inferior live version. Some people are crazy about seeing live music, whereas I am not.
In this case, though, I was intrigued for a couple of reasons. One was that I’ve been a lifelong Bob Dylan fan. Not in a maniacal way, like our dear departed BDI (a moniker which itself stood for Bob Dylan Idiot), but I had certainly listening to his music for hundreds of hours. Second, the sad fact is that the guy is almost eighty years old, and I wanted to see him, forgive the expression, “one last time before you go.”
Therefore, I bought tickets for myself, my family, and some close friends, and I marked the day. I told myself that, Dylan being Dylan, he would probably sing a bunch of songs I had never heard of in my life, and he probably wouldn’t sing them in a way that was exactly recording session level. All the same, I was looking forward to it.
When the day came, I told everywhere else that I would “establish a beachhead” by getting in line very early, because the venue – – Stanford Frost Amphitheater – – was general admission seating, and you basically seize whatever plot of land you could with a blanket and defend it until the show.
The show was at 7:30, and the gates were to open at 6:00, so I decided to get there at 4:30. I bicycled over to Stanford at that time, and I was pleased to see the line wasn’t that long: perhaps about 35 people. I locked my bike, grabbed my notebook with pens, and secured my place in the line.
I noticed I was pretty much the youngest person in line. I’ve been around a while, so this isn’t a circumstance I encounter very much, unless I happen to pop into a hospice. My adolescence was in the 1980s, and I’m a proud member of Gen X, whereas those in front of me were quite clearly ten to fifteen years old. Baby Boomers.
Some of you reading this right now are baby boomers, so I’ll preface the rest of my story with two words that will probably not help me much, but here goes: no offense……….but………..I’ve always been easily annoyed by boomers. It probably has to do with Bay Area boomers, and not boomers in general, but those who grew up ten or fifteen years before I did might as well have been from a different planet.
This is a difficult point to make, and I’m not sure I’ll succeed, but I’ve always felt more mature than the boomer set. Even when I was a kid, I felt like more of a “dad” figure to these people, even though they were my seniors, in the respect that they struck me as capricious, flighty, self-absorbed, and irresponsible. Stick with me on this story, because I think I’m going to start to sound like a real prick in about a paragraph or two, but there’s a twist to this tale.
So, there I was, standing in line, and I started seeing some smoke billowing around a guy a few people in front of me in the line. The guy was on the fat side, with a big grey beard, and definitely looked like ae guy who probably enjoyed going to concerts like this on a regular basis. I haven’t even smelled pot since college, so I’m not expert, but the scent was definitely not a cigar, so I figured, meh, no surprise, some old boomer at a Dylan concert is going to toke up. Whatever.
He then stared sharing this thing with a few people around him, complete with the squishy tip, moist with this bearded creature’s saliva. It was clear to me from their interaction that these people didn’t know one another, and Mr. Hippie Dude was just sharing ganja with his line-mates as some kind of amiable social ritual. They exchanged grateful pleasantries as I tried to focus on highlighting my options strategies book.
Within a minute of the hippie guy sharing his blunt, one other guy, probably about 65 years old, starts to look kind of woozy and unstable, and those around him grabbed his elbows and helped ease him to the ground. “Yep, dude, my pot does that to people!” Hippie Guy said with a chuckle. So, not even sixty seconds after this stranger sucked on this guy’s filthy joint, he was sitting on his ass on the ground, as his wife (or whatever his female companion was) comforted him.
I’m getting weary of making excuses for myself in this essay, so I’ll stop after this, but I want to be clear I am relating my own internal reactions in this piece. I thought about these reactions later, because I found them interesting.
Anyway, I was immediately disgusted. I wasn’t disgusted from a moral perspective, like smoking weed is personally offensive to me. Listen, there are about seven billion people on the planet, and I actually care about, oh, twenty of them (Slope premium members notwithstanding, of course). Whether this guy lives or dies doesn’t mean a thing to me. But I was still really annoyed.
For one thing, his wife was soothing and comforting him. If I had been the one to partake of some stranger’s drug and, within moments of arriving in this line, was sitting on the ground and “checked out” from the entire scene, my wife would have kicked my ass mercilessly. And I would have deserved it. There’s no way I would dare embarrass my family, and to see a sixty-five year old man behave like a curious fifteen year old kid just nauseated me. I really wanted to smack him hard across the head and say, “Grow UP!”
So as these thoughts were running through my head – – and I actually was getting close to sharing my thoughts, although I’m glad I restrained myself – – I really started to ask myself: what’s wrong with you? Why do you care? This is none of your business and none of your concern. In fact, you’re always such a loudmouth about personal liberty and personal freedom. Isn’t it this guy’s right to do whatever he wants to do, as long as he’s not harming or infringing upon anyone else? Jesus, Tim!
Thus, my libertarian instincts were in strong conflict with my paternal inner asshole. What was the basis of this conundrum?
After a while, I found a resolution: my desire from life is societal liberty and yet personal responsibility. In other words, I don’t want to be in a life in which a government authority tells people how to behave, what to wear, what to say, what they can listen to, and how they can express themselves. The less “oversight”, the better, particularly since I believe that nothing mucks anything up so much as a gaggle of government employees or lawmakers.
Put another way, I want to be my own ruthless, authoritarian dictatorship. Not someone else.
Put more gently, I want to act with a deep sense of personal responsibility and efficacy. This has been a particular goal of mine lately: total and complete self-discipline. Making the choice of doing what is required instead of what is pleasing. Taking the more difficult path instead of the enjoyable one. I consider this a personal struggle, but a journey of choice, and a part of this doctrine is behaving myself in a way which is mature, sensible, and honors the family.
Thus, I felt like kicking the living shit out of this clown. No, I exaggerate, I have never done violence against anyone. But I was still really bothered, and for the entire time I waited in line, this group in front of me comforted the guy and shared their own amusing anecdotes about how stoned they had gotten at such and so a concert, and how good the pot was and some given event, and where the best places were at some particular venue to get really wasted. And so Tim, almost two decades younger than these folks, wanted to sit them all down, have a firm talk, and tell them they were grounded. It was just a ridiculous reaction on my part, but kind of eye-opening too.
Flabby self-discipline is something I have certainly been guilty of on occasion, and I probably shouldn’t push my own weird rules on the rest of the world, even silently. Perhaps you may see some of yourself in how I reacted. Or perhaps you see some of yourself in the crew standing in front of me, and you feel like telling me to piss off, which I could certainly understand.
I guess I should orient such firm judgment on my own path and behavior instead of strangers who might be near me. Dealing with one person is enough work, and that one person should probably be one’s own self. But that’s what happened. And that’s what I think I learned. Still, I’m a rusted-out barrel of emotions at times. These two halves struggle every day.