Monday, March 15, 2010

Rumspringa

The Amish have a well known ritual called Rumspringa, the ritual that allows them to take leave of their ultraconservative lives at age 16 to galavant in the city as alcoholic junkie whores for a period of time before returning to the roost.

Why should the Amish get to monopolize Rumspringa? Why don't 31 year old married fathers of two get one? Well, not to become a junkie or a whore, but instead to behave like a jackass, spend a couple days staying up all night getting drunk and gambling their money away and the next day sleeping it off, then spending the ensuing week of life as an alcohol-poisoned, sleep-deprived zombie. The answer is my people do get their own Rumspringa. And it's annual, baby, as eternal as arrested adolescence. It takes place in Las Vegas in the third weekend of March, when the NCAA Tournament and Spring Break collide into leashing an unholy mess of humanity onto Sin City.

I've been going to Las Vegas with friends for the tournament just about every year for the last decade. What was born as a quarterlife crisis is now approaching a midlife crisis, and although the sojourns grow tamer and less populated every year, as friends shy off from the tradition because of job or family responsibilities (even I ditched out last year because I had a one-month old baby), and every time I go I am so sick of Vegas by Sunday morning that I always leave for the airport hours early hoping to catch an early flight out, it's still by far the highlight of my year.

The movie The Hangover captures the essence of what a Rumspringa can mean to a man of a certain age. At home I'm a conservative 9 to 5er, but in Vegas I'm a drunken slob who thinks nothing of screaming at maximum volume at a 20-year-old sophomore on TV for missing a free throw, threatening his grandmother as I pound my fist on the chair in front of me. At home I never touch alcohol, but in Vegas, when it's flowing for free, I am Barney from the Simpsons, unleashing slurred chance for Villanova I make up on the spot because I've got $5 riding on them to win their game by 5.5 points at least. At home I work out regularly and count my calories. Well, kinda. In Vegas I inhale so much anonymous food at buffet tables that I can hardly stand to waddle my way back up to my room to recover. At home I'll scan movie reviews intently before deciding on the movie I'll pay $10 to head out to see. In Vegas a pal will suggest I plop down $20 to see some weird 30-minute IMAX movie in the bowels of the Luxor, and I'll hate every minute of it but still consider the outing a triumph because I didn't puke on my seat.

Of course, just as most Amish do as their Rumspringa comes to an end, I always look desperately forward to returning to my real life. Rumspringa helps me appreciate things I may have started to take for granted, and helps snap me back into perspective.

This contentment lasts about a week, until I come to, regain my faculties and start looking forward to next year's trip, when I'll be another year older and poorer, grayer and weaker. Ready along with any remaining friends willing to come along to give mortality the finger once more, with feeling.

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