Sunday, March 2, 2008

mccatholics ...

somehow, your parents will know: your breath reeks of hamburger patty, your canines are dripping, purple with beef blood. a fleck of pepperoni is wedged beneath your fingernail. for most teenaged sins, there is a standard on the trouble chart: borrowed mom's red knit cardigan with chunky wooden buttons? a stern stay out of my closet. their green digital alarm clock glows 12:02 a.m. at the precise moment the garage door screeches closed? two minutes late -- you aren't going anywhere next weekend.

ate meat on a friday during lent? this falls out of parental sanctions. there will be icy glares, the air will be humid with disappointment. but what's the point in shrieking and grounding, when above us jesus sighs, picks up his clipboard ... pista, pista, pista ... ah. here we are: christa pista. licks the tip of his pencil and makes a sweeping checkmark with a single flip of his wrist. adds "hope that slim jim was worth it."

in the 1980s, the average catholic elementary school student takes lent very seriously. lent is about sacrifice: the blanket rule that we will all abstain from eating meat on fridays and give up something else.

"i'm going to be nice to my brother."

28 10-year-olds twitter at the joke.

the school's hot lunches are purposely void of temptation, let alone imagination, thick in seafood and velveeta. fish sticks and tartar sauce; cheese pizza; grilled cheese sandwiches; macaroni and cheese; tuna noodle salad. cold lunches substitute peanut butter and jelly for turkey and lettuce sandwiches on white wonder bread. if allison accidentally brought theringer, the rumor will spread through the grades and by dinnertime, every family in the school will know that allison is on hell's fast track. she probably was anyway; her swearing doesn't help.

some catholics take sunday off. horde twinkies and twizzlers and nerd's in a shoe box beneath the bed. a week's worth of candy that is legal for 24 hours. some consider that reprieve lax catholicism and fill the shoe box with 40 days worth of jolly ranchers and peanut butter cups. [we were lax on lent. on sundays my dad brought out the box of thin mints he had hidden in his closet.]

my family's meals are a steady rotation of spaghetti, pork chops, chicken. beef stroganoff, hamburger casseroles, meatloaf. lent is tricky. beer and cheese soup, tuna spread on hamburger buns with melted cheese, grilled cheese and tomato soup. most often it is a filet o'fish from mcdonald's.

the dinner rush at the drive thru winds through the parking lot. signs advertise slabs of fish patty smeared with tartar sauce. a small rectangle of cheese sticks to the bun. two should do the trick. they're better when they are hot, you learn. one bite of a filet o'fish that has been idle for too long reminds you of goldie and sport -- the former a fatty, the latter streamlined -- the pet goldfish who have been swimming circles atop the stereo in the living room for years. way longer than the average goldfish. goldie eventually lives something like four years.

eventually, lent is synonymous with the taste of a filet o'fish and a shamrock shake. tangy tartar sauce. you start to look forward to sacrifice.

it's funny, now, to think of the panic involved in creating a meatless meal for the family. like the food spectrum had been whittled down to stale saltine crackers and water served at room temperature.

in high school, there is more freedom. while they don't necessarily serve meat loaf on friday, the vending machines are not stripped of ham sandwiches. we're closing in on adulthood, here, and should be able to control ourselves in the face of beef jerkey. this doesn't mean a concession stand worker at the boys basketball game won't remind you, before sticking her tonges into the hotdog wheel, that its friday. right before you smile sheepishly and change your order to nachos. had you not, she would for sure mention it to your mom.

"christa ordered a hotdog, and i just thought that was strange since it's lent and all ..."

i took my cousin to mcdonalds for a filet o'fish and a shamrock shake. passing the catholic meal of champions on to a new generation. because of this, i'm guessing, he asked me to be his confirmation sponsor years later. then he passed the tradition on: taking another cousin to mcdonalds, and mentoring him into the churchy folds.

so say the lourdes eagles have just trounced the pine island panthers in a hiawatha valley league boys basketball game. you file out of the gym and make plans to meet your friends at mr. pizza. you are starving, and magically a sausage pizza appears in front of you. you coat your piece with a layer of parmesean cheese and red pepper flakes. you assume the position with your fork. and just as you are about to cut into the point, jesus flashes in your brain.

you weigh your hunger versus the archaic and unflinshing religion you were born into. ugh. if only you had truly forgotten you could enjoy the pizza. but now that you've remembered its lent, you have to either push the pizza away. nibble on cheese bread. or you have to know deep down that you have just ignored your lord and savior. there he was -- nary a peep of complaint while he hung on the cross. all you're dealing with is pizza. in a battle of wills, jesus wins again.

you are starving now. and all you want is sausage. so you take jesus, put him in a little box, inside a bigger box, inside a bigger box. file him away in the back of your brain where you can't hear his disappointed clucking. and since you've already violated the rules of lent, you have three pieces. this is how you come to compartamentalize. this will come in handy as you weave and bob through adulthood.

i went to mcdonalds yesterday, purely for research sake. i wanted to see if the catholics still descend on mcdonalds, a makeshift vatican, on a friday night during lent. i almost gagged on the smell coming from the mcdonalds bag in the back seat, and hoped it wasn't seeping into my hair and clothes.

and, about once a year, right around this time, i get a strong craving for the catholic combo. so, i guess i took care of that for this year.


Beverly said...

I have wondered something, and I admit that I speak out of ignorance. I don't want to seem insensitive. But maybe here, in "Leave your comment," I can feel safe to express it.
Is it accurate to say that the church's history went something like this?
1. We're going to fast during lent.
2. OK, you don't have to fast, but don't eat meat during lent.
3. Well, how about you just don't eat meat on Fridays?
4. Fish. That's not meat, right? It's the flesh of an animal, sure, but meat? No. OK, so you can eat fish on Fridays.
Feel free to correct me.

Sproactually said...

Ye olde Filet of fish is not a huge seller at Mcdonalds, most of the year 1-2 boxs of patties (Real cod, back in the day anyway) a week maybe, a single tray of burger buns and maybe 30 silces of cheese, cut in half in the cooler next to vat to fry the fish (Filets had their very own fryer) So less than a hundred a week maybe, but come lent.. whoa doggie, 250-300 on a friday, and the after lent, there would a small intrest for a couple of weeks.

Then it was back to the filets mainstays, anyone old enough to test a drive a buick, and those that would ask like this.. gime a fish and a grape.. Sorry, we don't have grape soda, what'ca got, don't bother with the coke, 7-up, root beer here, just blurt out orange.

Anonymous said...

Beverly, the fish thing happened about the same time as No. 2 (or was it No. 3?) on your list. Anyway, if you can't eat meat, you have to eat something. And as long as it doesn't ever touch land, or something like that, it can't possibly be meat. Or something like that. Hey, I think I'm finally starting to forget some of my brainwash ... I mean catechechism.


Anonymous said...

This is very timely. This Friday I actually had this conversation with myself in line at Jimmy Johns. Ultimately I decided that, since 80% of my meals are meat-free, it's really not a sacrifice for me to be meatless on Friday. So, I opted for the BLT instead of the tuna. -Fannie

Mach1 said...

"The air will be humid with disappointment." I like it.

ceecee said...

My parents were in town last weekend and I had planned homemade chicken wild rice soup for supper for Friday night and my mom was like, "WHAT? Have you forgotten what we taught you for 18 years?" So we had smoked salmon fettucine instead, and somehow it was all OK.

Me, on the inside: "Um, alrighty then!"

kristabella said...

Wendy's has the fish sandwich now too, which is funny. Around here in Chicago, we get a lot of pepper and egg sandwich advertisements too. And those are good enough to eat all year round. I gave up the whole not eating meat during Lent thing when I went to college. Because really, drinking too much, having pre-marital sex, taking birth control and swearing like a sailor took care of my place in the afterlife. So I might as well enjoy the ride down.