Deny Me Everything
Although it's fair to say that my Catholicism can now be found in the "lapsed" category, I still give up something for Lent every year. I may have my issues with the capital "C" Church, but it's much harder to take Jesus Himself to task. Love thy neighbor, care for the poor and downtrodden...if only we had more of THAT in the world. And whether you believe the story of the Resurrection, according to the Good Book He suffered horribly and died out of love for each and every one of us. Giving up something I enjoy for 40 days seems like the least I can do to say thanks.
But WHAT to give up? Back in grade school the class wag would say "I'm giving up homework!" and we'd all laugh and think what a wonderful world it would be if we kids had that sort of power. Of course we didn't, and as adults we still don't--I can't give up work, either. Unless I want to be sleeping under the 7th Street Bridge like the guy I saw yesterday morning. And it's a bit cold to be doing that, let me tell you.
There are those who go the Draconian route. My friend Kris gives up sweets every year. Not just chocolate--sweets. No pie, no cake, no doughnut. I think fresh fruit is OK (scurvy, don't you know) but beyond that nothing sweeter than broccoli. My friend Rick does the no TV thing, but this isn't quite as macho as it sounds. First of all, Rick doesn't have cable, and his TV is one of those 35-year-old Magnovox dealies you see most often now in the Smithsonian. And he only gives up watching TV in his house
. It's perfectly OK for him to go SOMEWHERE ELSE to watch NASCAR or March Madness or whatever else he can't bear to miss. Which reminds me, it's time to change the lock on my front door.
I've never gone that extreme--except for one year. It was 1997, and I was in some state of moral flux. Either I'd just been dumped by a girl or I'd failed to make a play for a girl in time, something idiotic like that. And I felt I need to make some sort of statement that would prove to the world that I was ready to turn over a new leaf, become a new man, an even Meaner Gene. And so, fool that I was, I gave up alcohol for Lent.
Now, I'm not an Olympic-caliber tippler
. But like just about everyone, I see that pint glass filled to the brim with an amber-hued ale and it's like an angel herself is giving me a big hug. And to give up beer--and wine, and liquor, and any other fluid ending in the suffix -ol--was to my mind the sort of stupid, quixotic, brain-dead gesture I was looking for.
My God, you wanna talk about 40 fucking long days?
I drank A LOT of Diet Pepsi. You might think that cutting out all those empty calories would've helped me lose some good weight. No such luck--I ate more to make up for the liquid joy I was missing out on. The worst part was teetotaling during March Madness. While we don't go crazy like we used to, in years past I'd spend upwards of 20 hours in sports bars over the first two days of the tournament, all of it in a delicious buzzy stupor. This particular year we got tickets to see the opening roun games in Pittsburgh (I saw Coppin State pull the biggest upset in NCAA history, knocking off #2 seed South Carolina) so that was one day I wasn't chugging Bud pounders. But the rest of that weekend I was miserably sober. It didn't help that I was recovering from strep throat and beer would've done wonders for numbing my throat.
It's something of a joke with my friends that I always pick Arizona to go far in the NCAA tournament. I can't count the number of times I picked them to go to the Final Four, or even win the thing, and see them get beat in the first round by the likes of Santa Fucking Clara. Well, this was the year the Wildcats went all the way and won the title. And I'd picked them to lose in the second round. We watched the Final Four games in a local bar the Saturday before Easter, the clock taunting me as it strained and groaned it's way toward midnight. Arizona knocked off North Carolina to make the title game, and my friends wanted to leave. It was still like 10PM--I wanted to hang around till midnight so I could have the bartendress line pints up like thoroughbreds waiting for the start of the Kentucky Derby. And then drink 'em all down.
Nope, they wanted to leave. I got a stay of execution by putting in an emergency to-go order of wings (I gave up wings as well, to show you how warped I was) and when they arrived we were off. At home I watched TV, waiting for midnight, waiting for the moment when I could crack the top off a bottle of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and reach the finish line of this Amazingly Stupid Race.
Midnight. I opened the bottle and had the discipline to pour it in a glass. Just to prove that I was in control. And that first blisfull taste...
It wasn't that great. Oh, it was GOOD, but the context was all wrong. I wanted to be in a bar, I wanted to hear my friends cheering and shouting, I wanted to chug a watery Miller Lite and bellow for another. This was too quiet, too anticlimatic. Plus the wings were cold and I didn't feel like sticking them back in the microwave.
In time I leapt off the Wagon in the proper way, I think as I watched Arizona beat Kansas and my friends jeered me as the worst front-runner in March Madness history. I proved something to myself by giving up alcohol, though WHAT exactly I proved is a bit murky. That I love beer but could, if stranded on a keg-free desert island, resist hanging myself? Ehh. Nice, but not life-transforming.
Now Lent is here again, and I'm not sure what to give up. Meat? Thought about that a few times, but frankly it'd probably bankrupt me eating fish every night. Poker? Nah, I went months without playing before, it'd hurt but I've been there, done that. Sex? Ha. HA! That almost makes me want to fucking LAUGH OUT LOUD. Maybe I'll just mimic Rick and give up watching TV at his house too.