Last year, I didn’t give anything up for Lent. My college didn’t serve meat on Fridays, so I suppose that could be seen as a sacrifice, albeit one that had nothing to do with personal surrender. This year, however, I decided that I really needed to offer up some form of self-sacrifice. That is why I gave up late night fast food.
This might sound like a diminutive forfeiture, but I assure you it was not. I have come to find that online poker is a nine-to-five job, in that the worst players are playing from 9PM until 5AM. Think: Europeans. Think also: Drunk Americans. Because of this, it makes sense that my sleep schedule is somewhat askew. If I go especially deep in a tournament, or if I find myself sitting to the right of a complete donkey in a cash game, I am forced to continue playing, despite my tired eyes. Often, my head will hit the pillow at the same time that my parents’ alarms force them to grumble their way around the house to start their long days at work.
I usually wake up somewhere between one and three in the afternoon, at which point I eat a breakfast of either a bowl of cereal, a pop tart, or a sandwich. My parents, walking in the door after a full day at work, say “Good morning, Sleepy,” apparently in reference to one of the Seven Dwarfs. Around six o’clock, I join my parents for dinner. According to my stomach, however, that meal was called “lunch.” My stomach (whose name, incidentally, is Grumpy) begins getting quite restless around midnight, and the snack food we have around the house is generally not to his liking. Can you blame him? I mean, it is dinnertime for him. So I take the little bugger out for a late night fast food run and that is that.
Fulfilling my Lenten vow by taking those late night expeditions out of the equation meant that for forty days the beast known as Grumpy was not tamed. In turn I, myself, was quite grumpy. It truly was not a small thing to let go, as it forced me to truly be aware of the sacrifice during many of the hours that I was up.
I also made another promise to myself during Lent. Instead of making a pilgrimage to the Golden Arches, I made more trips to church. I do attend mass every Sunday, but during Lent I went to church on all the biggies. Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday: if the day of the week has a capitalized word in front of it, I was there. In addition, I also persuaded myself into attending The Passion Play at my church.
In a nutshell, the Passion Play is the twelve Stations of the Cross acted out by seventh graders. The Passion of the Christ meets Sesame Street. The play itself required no acting skills whatsoever. The children simply went through the motions of the stations of the cross. Even the spoken words were taken care of, as they were bellowed out over the microphone by the male CCD teachers. As far as acting was concerned, all the little actors had to do was make hand gestures, always as if explaining something. It is a very well-organized and somber production. But at the same time, when some parents are clandestinely videotaping their little Mary Magdalene, it loses some of its solemnity. Some of the actors being scolded for giggling also has a similar effect. I can’t blame them, though. After all, a decade ago I was one of them. Rather, the One.
That’s right. I, Youngman Brown, was Jesus in the Passion Play.
On the day that roles were being handed out, I had my sights set on Pontius Pilate, but my wishes were swiftly brushed aside as our teacher nominated me for Jesus. I politely said “no thanks”: the role had its obvious responsibilities, but it also involved a certain degree of nakedness. Back then, I was hesitant to take my shirt off at the beach, let alone the middle of a church. Nobody wanted to see my pale, seemingly malnourished body.
“I think that I would make a great Pontius Pilate,” I tried.
“You are just being modest,” our teacher said.
I thought of the marble Jesus hanging in our church. It revealed a relatively muscular man, equipped with pecs, abs, and even those oblique muscles that women seem to love. Jesus was a carpenter after all.
“I think David would make a better-”
“You are Jesus.” Whatever that meant, it didn’t make a difference. She had already washed her hands of the matter.
So there I hung, a thirteen year old, shirtless and scrawny rendition of our Savior. The church was silent as my body hung limp -- I had just offered up my spirit, and was trying desperately to appear as if I was not breathing. It was a very difficult task without a shirt. Making it even more difficult was the fact that I was clenching my abdominal muscles together, hoping that my weekly regimen of situps would be noticed by at least one of the onlookers. I fear that I did not make a convincing dead man, especially since I was so skinny that the audience could probably see my heart beating. Either way, all that was left to do was take me off the cross, lay me in Mary’s arms, throw me into the tomb, and then, viola! I’d have risen from the dead, fully clothed once again. The falling, crucifying, and dying was over, and it wouldn’t be hard from here on out.
Or so I thought.
Picked as the Virgin Mother was the only other CCD student in my class that also went to my high school. We shared this bond, but I also had had a crush on her for four years. Guard #1 took me down from the cross and laid me in her lap, at which point “Gentle Woman” was played and sung by the Children’s Choir. It was the most somber moment of the Passion Play. Nay, a representation of the most somber moment in recorded history. She was the depiction of a mother, grieving at the death of her only child. I was the depiction of Jesus Christ who just died for mankind’s sins. And all I was doing was praying.
Praying that I didn’t get a boner.
It’s not an erotic position, per se: my head in a girl’s lap. That was not the reason for my fear of the firm. It was Jim Ruplee’s fault. Jim played Guard #2, namely, the guard that strips Jesus of his clothes. During rehearsal the night before, as Jim guarded my dead body on the cross and Mrs. Pellis, the director, announced that I would now be carried to Mary’s lap, Jim whispered, “Don’t get a boner.”
Like I said, it’s not an erotic situation and I am also not a hornball. But, let me ask you, faithful reader: what do you do when someone tells you there is a spider in your hair. Do you freak out? Do you feel other spiders on your body for the next few minutes? It’s exactly the same. Well, not exactly the same, but I hope you get the idea.
I listened over the choir and heard sobbing coming from the audience. People were praying, contemplating the significance of the sacrifice made by a man who died for their sins two thousand years ago. And I was wondering if Guard #1 plopped me down with my pelvis facing the congregation on purpose. Judas.
I couldn’t adjust myself. I mean, I was dead. I couldn’t take a peek. There was a spotlight on me for Christ sake.
The choir sung on and on. Gentle woman, quiet light…
I was wearing white mesh shorts. If given a list of things one should wear to disguise a hard-on, white mesh shorts would be down there with thong and cellophane. I could only hope that perhaps the congregation’s eyes would be more attracted to the “Champion” logo than my other inconsistency.
As “Gentle Woman” finally finished its fourth and final verse, I thanked God. I didn’t care how big it was (or how big it would ever get for the rest of my life, for that matter) so long as this moment was finally over.
But then the guards flipped me on my back onto a makeshift stretcher and put a white sheet over me in order to carry me to the “tomb.” I realized that this probably made the situation even worse as I thought back to many a morning, waking up on my back, looking down and saying, “Oh hello there.”
Whether or not my subconscious made me pitch a tent that night is not up for debate. The only thing debatable is how much was built up in my mind and how much was built up in my shorts. There are many factors to consider, such as lighting, angles of limbs, and people’s general ignorance for such things. It wasn’t something I could look down to check. Nor was it something I could ask my parents about afterwards. It is one of those things, I am guessing, that every young boy goes through. Sometimes, you simply can’t control it.
Its name is Happy, after all.
One day, perhaps, it will be downgraded to Bashful.