Today concludes the first Lent in the past 30 years that I've allowed myself to consume alcohol.
I began "fasting" on beer in the early '80s because an older guy I worked with at the time always did and it seemed incredibly cool. We'd do a countdown to midnight on Holy Saturday as Joe Luke prepared to pop his first ring tab in 40 days and the look on his face told me there was something to this I must experience myself.
"Fasting" is in quotes above because what Catholics from the time they are children are taught to do during Lent – to give up something they enjoy – is not fasting per se but abstaining. As a kid I'd "fast" on gum or candy or potato chips but never with much success.
Beer was another story. I was not a heavy drinker, but I enjoyed a beer or two and getting through Lent without one was something I was highly motivated to achieve. It was a sacrifice to be sure – after all, St. Patrick's Day falls during Lent – but also an opportunity to show myself who was boss, and this I deemed extremely important.
Come to think of it, it was St. Patrick's Day of 1985 – ah, I remember it well – that brought me to expand my Lenten fast from beer to all alcoholic beverages.
My brother Bill, who was living out of town at the time, perhaps Texas then, although it could have been New Orleans, happened to be visiting. He invited me out for dinner. We wound up at Arcaro and Genell's, one of our favorite Italian places in Old Forge, where I explained I would have only a glass of red wine because I was fasting on beer.
I might have had the second glass – I don't remember – but I do recall Bill suggesting we head to downtown Pittston after dinner to see if any of the old gang was around. That was a time when the bars downtown – the places where Bill and I had spent a lot of time during our early 20s – were still hoppin' and we knew darned well the old gang would most certainly be around.
We walked into Lou's Place, which might have been called Bottoms Up by then, through the back entrance and it was wall to wall people. "I'm not having a beer," I told Bill, "but if I drink red wine all night I'll be plastered. So, I think I'll switch to bourbon."
I wound up missing the entire next day of work.
That was the last hangover I had until one morning during this past Lent. Sorry, but I'm not going into the details.
Let's just say I decided early this Lent to give myself dispensation on one occasion and, like eating peanuts, couldn't seem to stop.
The first dispensation was for a visit with my son in Chicago, to which he moved at the start of the year. Mary Kay and I met Michael and the lady in his life for brunch, which of course called for bloody marys, and likewise, wine at dinner while we were there was a given.
I returned home committed to get back on track when along came the Greater Pittston Friendly Sons of St. Patrick Banquet on March 17 and I figured: what the heck? At the cocktail hour John Terrana said he'd love a manhattan but his doctor forbade him, so I volunteered to have one for him. It seemed charitable.
It also made it easier to stop at Rooney's Irish Pub after the banquet. Who knew they had Guinness on draft?
Well, I guess I did.
What I didn't know was that my old buddy Moe Mullarkey would be lurking at the corner of the bar. While it didn't turn into 1985, I will admit Moe and I did our Irish ancestors proud.
It didn't stop there.
When a couple of my old high school chums Joe Leone and Tony Alu – he the former lead singer of the band The Cadillacs – told me they were forming a duet and their first gig was to be at Cuz's Susquehanna Bar one Friday night, I knew I must be in attendance but I vowed all I would do is sip on a Coke. Enough was enough, I said.
Then the bartender handed me a beer and said it was from that lady over there, Tony's wife Kathy. What was I supposed to do, send it back?
Finally, when my friend Albert Kridlo asked if I'd consider joining him and two other pals on a trip to Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C. to commemorate the 35th birthday of his son Dale who was killed in the line of duty in Afghanistan on Nov. 5, 2010, how could I say no, even though I knew we'd be proposing a toast or two? We tend to toast Dale's heroism with Crown Royal, his favorite, and suffice it to say we toasted him heartily during our trip.
All of which has taken the fun right out of today. I might have a drink with Easter dinner but it just won't be the same.