Sitting in the stands of the sports arena, Waiting for the show to begin . . .

-"Venus and Mars," by Paul McCartney and Wings

I STILL can't believe I have tickets for Paul McCartney Wednesday at RFK Stadium.

You see, I was 14 when I first heard the Beatles live. They were at the Hollywood Bowl. I was in my backyard. It was 1977, and there were no Beatles anymore.SNAPSHOT

Still, lying there in hopes of wringing a tan out of the humidity, I was instantly riveted to the sounds from my happy-face yellow AM radio ball. The DJs kept previewing snippets from the soon-to-be-released "The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl."

Every cut seemed to open with a deafening rush of screams, shrieks and cheers, resurfacing almost contrapuntally beyond the mixers' control. The din refused to fade or segue nicely into anything else. The Beatles' ever-game but increasingly hoarse vocals were woven in like latter-day rap sampling.

More than anything, I realized, I wanted to be where they were -- or rather, to have been there. Even more, I wanted to be somewhere like that someday.

The thirtysomething crowd may remember seeing the Beatles for the first time on Ed Sullivan; I remember seeing them in "Help!" on a motel room TV in 1970. Unimpressed, my parents switched it off. A few years later, they had mellowed (without acknowledging the concept) and they didn't turn the radio off when McCartney's "Band on the Run" came on:

And the jailer man and sailor Sam will search for evermore

For that band on the run, band on the run.

Deep it wasn't, but it reassured me that there was still a band to see, even if it only had one Beatle.

Personally, I still thought George was the grooviest, but Paul got the airplay. He got even more when he released the "Venus & Mars" album, with the bubbly single "Listen to What the Man Said."

Any time, any day, you can hear the people say,

That love is blind, well, I don't know but I say love is kind.

My love was kind to Paul. I listened to what the man said and his "Silly Love Songs." When he asked me later to "Let 'Em In," I did. I put up Linda's photos of the band. I bought the Beatles nostalgia magazines that mysteriously popped up next to the Tiger Beats at the drugstore. My friends gave me Beatles memorabilia for presents; not able to think of anything more indulgent to sacrifice, I even gave listening to the Beatles up for Lent (but I didn't take down their pictures).

In teen time, a Wings tour seemed to come around as often as the Bicentennial. In 1976, they occurred simultaneously. But no amount of Lenten devotion or needle-wearing album play could change the inalterable facts: Youths live in a bounded world, and the concert was on a school night. Mom said I couldn't go. I didn't.

Some kids would ax-murder their parents. I made mine get me the three-record live album "Wings Over America" for Christmas. It didn't really make it up, but I didn't have to serve time either.

It's been a long time since I felt teen-like quivers about the Beatles, or Paul, or even about a rock concert. Paul slid briefly into disco with "Goodnight Tonight" and I slid out of my obsession. By the time he resolved "No More Lonely Nights" in 1984, I was in graduate school and giving my regards elsewhere.

So it's with some surprise that I now find myself fingering two tickets to a Paul McCartney show. Is this twentysomething rebellion -- going out just because it's the work equivalent of a school night?

Sure, Paul's become somewhat cooler -- recording with Elvis Costello and all, back on VH-1 if not MTV -- but I'm different. "Venus and Mars," "Hollywood Bowl" and other junior-high faves of mine have gathered dust in four different apartments. I let a friend keep our joint-investment butcher-cover copy of "Yesterday and Today" (for which we'd each ponied up $100). I've tossed out the already aged Beatles sugar molds that adorned one birthday cake, or I ate them; I can't remember. Anyway, I'm above that radio-orchestrated suspense and the arena mind-set that made those early fans howl.

And yet, when I try to imagine what will happen when I'm actually there, seeing Paul -- the man, the Beatle, the Wing -- suddenly I'm humming the last lines of "Listen to What the Man Said:"

The wonder of it all baby

The wonder of it all baby

The wonder of it all baby

Yeah yeah yeah.

See you there.