Lent is the six-week period of Catholic fasting from Ash Wednesday to Easter. This self-denial allows the faithful the chance to absolve sins for the previous year. The forty days mirror the span of time the Messiah spend in the desert before He succumbed to the temptations not of Satan, but his own mortal flesh.
While I'm a full-blown atheist, this last Ash Wednesday I decided to give up beer for Lent.
"No beer?" Uncle Drunkey said at the 169. "Why?"
"Just to see if I can do it?" I haven't given up anything in years.
"So you still drink wine and liquor."
"Not to mention cider," added Dakota, the lead singer of Wicked Womb, from behind the bar.
"Then here we go." I drained my last 'Gansett and ordered a Bombay Tonic.
"Gin's nasty." Uncle Drunkey like his Jamison whiskey. "You know why Hitler didn't drink Gin."
"No." I recalled hearing the joke, but not the punchline.
"Because he said it made him mean," jibbed Dakota with wry smile.
"Too soon," said another drinker.
Last weekend at the 169 Dakota suggested giving up the ghost.
"I can handle the gin," I slurred from my bar stool.
"Yes, but I can't stand the belligerence." Dakota was half my age. He hailed from a tough life in Tucson. He was no Girl Scout and I said, "What the fuck you talking about, hippie boy?"
The bouncers heard this retort and chucked me gently out of the bar onto the last snowdrift of the winter. Ice lay five inches below the powder. The impact of my old body on the frozen slush took the fight out of me. The bouncers pulled me to my feet and apologized, "Sorry, man, but you were out of line."
"It wasn't me. It was the gin."
"Then do us all a favor and switch back to beer."
"I can't until the end of Lent."
"And when is that?"
"See you then."
"You're banning me?"
"Not you. Monster Gin."
I understood and nodded my head.
I slept in the taxi over the Manhattan Bridge. The driver deposited me at the Fort Greene Observatory. I tiptoed up the stairs and fell into bed. I was in no condition to take off my clothes.
That Sunday was a long novena of suffering.
My only positive act of the day was to change into pajamas. I watched crappy films on Netflix and ate a hot dog cooked in my toaster oven. It was my one day off of the week.
Monday wasn't much better, although by evening I regained 30% of my power.
I came home without any alcohol in my shopping bag.
Tomorrow is St. Patrick's Day.
I called my old friend from Boston. Bishop Ray was high up in the church. He heard my confessions every ten years.
"Are you a little early?" he asked from his sacristy on Commonwealth Avenue near my old alma mater.
"This isn't about my sins."
"No, I gave up beer for Lent."
"And everything else?"
"No, I've been drinking gin instead."
"At your age?"
Pay was no tee-totaler, but firmly believed in excess in moderation.
"Yes, your eminence, but tomorrow is St Padraic's Day and I was wondering if I broke fast, would that be bad?"
"Aren't you an atheist?"
"Then by the power invested me by St. Peter and his Holy Roman Church I waive the abstinence for Lent. Of course I am required by faith to ask, if you are seeking to rejoin the Church."
"No, your eminence."
"Then go back to your heathen ways. I'm watching the last episode of THE WALKING DEAD."
"and say one Our Father and Three Hail Marys."
"Five Hail Marys and stay away from Mother's Ruin. It's been the end of many a strong man."
Ray was right.
Gin had killed millions in London.
I hung up the phone and put on my pajamas.
I wasn't drinking tonight.
My heart wasn't in it and I had a funny feeling that tomorrow might also belong to sobriety.
It's not such a bad thing.
Especially when beer was waiting for you somewhere soon.