“What did you give up for Lent?” An honest response to this question typically requires a fair bit of chagrin, a prolonged sigh, and an explanatory tale that often begins with “Well, it’s like this . . . ” Regardless of their beginnings, no two stories are the same even though — more often than not — we all wind up innocent in the end.
Once again, this year Dasad and I have not managed to free ourselves from this fate. However, unlike everyone else, it’s not our fault this time. Truly. Seriously. Look, if you can spare me a moment or two, I can explain . . .
Lent for us Catholics is typically a time of sacrifice, fasting, and forgiveness, a decidedly textbook definition for what amounts to using God to enforce those pesky New Years’ resolutions we’ve long forgotten over the last two months. As a kid, this usually meant giving up candy, video games, or the internet for forty days and forty nights, the same time period Noah suffered storm-tossed seas and a boat-load of the world’s fauna without the aid of Dramamine, sails, or steel cages. After mounting a particularly towering wave, the world’s last pair of unicorns slide into the lion paddock, promptly removing magic (and many a childhood dream) forever from the gene pool. By all rights, getting by with one less bag of Twizzlers doesn’t seem so bad.
This year in addition to striving to run two miles each day, I decided to halt my weekly purchase of novels and considered diving into some of the older tomes I have left to gather dust over the years. Thus, no new novels for forty days. In hindsight a more effective sacrifice would have constituted banishment from the bookstore entirely, but my on-going addiction to Borders iced tea prevented such a bold stroke. Instead while shifting through shelves of manga one afternoon — keeping a wide berth between the rest of the stacks (Mr. Bradbury, you know why) — my eyes tantalized by several new titles, I considered what exactly constitutes a ‘novel’ per se. My thoughts traveled back to EN212, Birth of the English Novel, and some vaguely remembered definition concerning plot and character, an eight-page paper citing specific examples in 12pt font, Times Roman. At any rate no mention of ‘Japanese’ or ‘comics’ appeared in the slurry of words so I grabbed a handful of books and raced to the check-out counter before any divine arbitrator could consult the fine print. Afterward outside the store, amid the blustery spring breeze and cloud-streaked skies, I walked bag in hand, swelling with my new purchases, confident in my adherence to the letter-of-the-law even while gut-punching the much ignored spirit-of-the law with two rights and an uppercut to the chin.
To my credit, over the last fifty days or so, I ignored the graphic novel section (collected anthologies of Superman, Spiderman, and other comics) entirely. Here my half-hearted arguments that graphic novels did not strictly constitute novels failed; in the end I could not escape the nomenclature. Besides, nothing good (i.e. Batman’s ‘Heart of Hush’ book) arrived in the stores until at least the end of April at least . . . and in the absence of temptation one finds strength.
Still despite my own innocence in this affair, I still felt the twinge of guilt, a smidgen of complacency in my actions; thus I sought out Dasad, prompting his confession and shared guilt with the similar question:
“Wait, so you’re only giving up videogames on Saturdays?” I wrote to him on IM one morning, a week and a half after Ash Wednesday.
“Well, it’s like this, man,” he typed with a speed reserved for computer programmers and courtroom stenographers. “It used to be everyday, but once Resident Evil 5 came out, I decided to alter it a little.”
“A single day sacrifice though?”
“Well, when the game came out, I thought of just abandoning the whole no-gaming sacrifice altogether, but considering a potential wrath-of-God-slash-karma blacklash, I just decided to tweak it a bit: ‘No games that I already own, will I play.’ There. Now we have a loophole . . . and my console is RE5 ready.” For most individuals Lenten appeals do not need to be stated aloud, resting solely on the honor system. In our case, we require written contracts for the sake of bragging rights.
“What about Gears? Don’t you already own that?” I wrote with a smile.
“Uh yeah, I thought of that too,” he typed after a pause. “That would put a serious dent in our Friday nights so then I considered ‘No games released before 2006,’ but that only really eliminated that pinata game and Madden 2005 . . .”
“Both of which you haven’t opened yet, if I recall correctly.” Dasad collects games almost habitually, like a schizophrenic stockpiling voices, or old Mrs. Martin and her cats.
“Yeah, not much of a sacrifice, right? So then I reconsidered and decided that I would only play games on Friday and Sundays.”
“Ok, so what went wrong with that?”
“There was nothing on TV last Wednesday.” I picture my friend flipping frantically through his 1 million channels, his mounting anger that nothing NOTHING was on except another abysmal season of American Idol. Then finally after dousing the lights and shutting the blinds, he switches on his Xbox for a quick Horde match. No one will ever know . . .
“Dude, that’s sad.” Sincerity aside, I am laughing when I write this.
“Hey look, the whole Lenten season is rife with loopholes. No meat on Fridays except seafood and if St. Patrick’s Day falls on Friday, then the Irish are given special dispensation to eat corned beef. Moreover, on Sundays you are free from your Lenten sacrifices anyway.”
“Yeah . . .” I consider, trying in vain to differentiate the rule from the habit, “. . . but I think that’s only for elementary school kids. As adults we’re expected to keep the sacrifice every day no exceptions.”
“Ha, another bias! Damn it all, I’m having pastrami tonight.”
In the end, I think Dasad faithfully maintained his original pledge and abstained himself from gaming throughout the last forty days. Every now and then I saw his avatar logged onto Xbox Live but he swears that was merely to watch a movie — which he reminds me does not constitute a game at all. Frankly I believe him, though for the sake of my own heathen soul I like to pretend otherwise. Hell, I hear, is a quite a lonely place with a very poor library — the constant humidity is murder on the pages. In the absence of reading materials, amid the screams of the damned, a sympathetic ear means the world to us sinners.