I came home from work tonight and started cooking dinner and looked at the calendar at the same time. I remembered that Friday is Good Friday and realized I should stick the ground beef and pulled pork in the fridge into the freezer as I won't eat meat on Good Friday.
It's not because I am a good Catholic; I am a bad Catholic. Not eating meat on Good Friday is about the only regular gesture I make each year to my old faith.
Call it superstition, if you want. (I prefer, at the most, "stition," not a "super" one - the best joke I remember (in fact, the only one) from that old TV show, "The Office", which I probably saw about a dozen times, or about eleven times more than I have seen any TV show in the past decade, except for "Treme" on HBO, which I saw all of. But I digress.)
My old friend Bill called it such, a few years ago. He was hanging with me at my old store, Small World Music, and I was having lunch: a piece of Dover sole. "Dover sole?," Bill inquired.
"Yeah," I said. "It's Good Friday. I can't eat no meat." I had some rice with it.
Bill was, I guess, a secular humanist or so. Nothing wrong with that. Technically, maybe, I am too. But he was also, generally, a weisenheimer, and maybe thought I was acting the same, putting him on. Certainly I wasn't, and told him so. I didn't need any comments from him about my ersatz faith, but I got some, so responded.
"It ain't no thing, Bill," I said. "Just a remnant of my upbringing. But an important one, symbolically. No matter what you know, or think you know, or believe, or don't believe, isn't it nice, once a year, to refrain from the taking of flesh? Like today, when a big guy got stripped of his?"Oh, come on, Bill said, basically. Such a superstitious impulse from a rational, smart guy?
You can call it what you want, I said. It isn't rational. After all, this fish is flesh, too, or was. But my tradition asks you to refrain from one specific thing, one day a year, to commemorate a sacrifice of flesh and a commencement of spirit and the start of a tradition and belief. That is a pretty small gesture.
And a pretty lame, insignificant one, Bill said.
Call it what you want!, I said with a laugh. It's significant to me. I couldn't eat meat, wouldn't eat meat, on Good Friday for anything.
"Couldn't?", Bill asked.
"Couldn't," I said. "Physically and psychologically, I don't even know which is which, I couldn't eat meat on Good Friday. I wouldn't. I wouldn't even if I could."Let me cut a long story short. Bill is a guy, argumentative and challenging. Me, too. He says to me, what if you didn't have that Dover sole? And I walked in here with a hamburger. For you to have. And told you I would give you $1,000 to eat it.The parallels here to a certain story in the Bible might be obvious. But, obvious or not, I said to him, "I wouldn't do it."
"What if I said $10,000?" (Bill was from a wealthy family in Scarsdale and used to big numbers of money.)
I paused, for dramatic effect.
"I wouldn't eat it for a million dollars," I said quietly.He howled. "A MILLION dollars? We're talking about a million dollars? YOU'RE a RELIGIOUS person? What about the amount of good you could do in the world with a million dollars? For eating a stupid HAMburger?" (He did not actually use the word "stupid", but a present participle that I generally do not write, and certainly won't recount in a religious discussion such as this, jocular though this discourse may be.) "Helping the poor? All that shit?" (Pardon that, but it is a tamer word than the other.)
"I wouldn't do it for all the money in the world," I said.
"Of course," I said, "a million dollars would be good to have, to help the poor, plus personally. But it would be the wrong way to get it."
By this time, I was making him mad. I didn't want to do that. But I couldn't help it, despite what I said next.
Really, I was just looking for out of the conversation. But, also, to make a capping point.
"Bill, get thee behind me," I said.
Really, truly, I am not so good. Well, not usually. But one day a year, at least, a little.