“I’ve had largemouth bass bust my line, beautiful girls tell me goodbye, trucks break down, dogs run off … (but) ice cold beer never broke my heart.”

— Luke Combs

You never can tell where the conversation will go when Al Kridlo, Billy Keating and I get together as we did last Friday to mark Billy’s birthday. After all, we have more than 60 years of memories to pull from. On this occasion, one of those guys brought up the minstrel show we all were in back in high school.

I, in a black tuxedo with shiny silver vest, was master of ceremonies. Billy, in the same outfit only in white and towering over me by half-a-foot, played the part of “Mr. Interlocutor,” a staple of minstrels. Al reminded us he had a singing part and the minute he did, I could picture him and Tommy Sperrazza in sailor hats and holding mops as they performed “There is Nothing Like a Dame” from the Broadway show “South Pacific.” Al said he still knows all the words and we didn’t doubt it. But we were pretty sure, we said, that these days it would be more on the order of, “There is nothing like a beer.”

Despite our urgings, Al wouldn’t sing it for us, but I was tempted to, my monotone voice and all. I might even have shed a tear as I did. For, while these guys indulged in ice-cold Yuengling Lagers and shots of Crown Royal at Gober’s Deco Lounge, I sipped a ginger ale. At one point, owner and bartender Jim Mangan poured me a little soda in a shot glass to make me feel better. It didn’t.

See, I don’t drink alcohol of any kind during Lent. I’ve been doing this for more than 40 years. It usually doesn’t bother me, except when it does, like on a Friday night out with the boys. Fortunately, they don’t tease me about it. Much.

My Lenten fast was inspired by co-worker Joe Luke, a seasoned plate maker in the newspaper business who cut his teeth at the old Pittston Gazette. No one enjoyed an after-work beer more than Joe, and I thought if he could do it, surely I could. It was only beer I fasted on back then, but that changed one St. Patrick’s Day when my brother Bill, who was living in Dallas, Texas, came home for a visit. We went to Old Forge for Italian food and instead of a few beers I had a couple of glasses of red wine to go with it. Bill wanted to hit our old haunts in downtown Pittston and I remember saying as we walked into Lou’s Place, “If I drink red wine all night I’m going to be really sick in the morning.” So I switched to bourbon. And never made it to work the next day.

There’s no sense fasting on alcohol without whining about it, and I take every opportunity to do just that. For starters, whose cruel idea was it to have St. Patrick’s Day land right in the middle of Lent? Then there’s March Madness. After Al and I dropped Billy off, we went to the Red Mill Tavern to chat with owner Robbie Johnson as we watched St. Peter’s knock off Purdue. Frosted glasses of Yuengling for Al. Club soda for me.

There’ll be more salt in the wound this Thursday. That’s when the country celebrates National Beer Day, which falls on April 7. I have to admit the date is appropriate for that’s the date in 1933 when Americans got to enjoy their first legal beer since Prohibition went into effect in 1919. Upon signing the law repealing Prohibition, it is said, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt quipped, “I think this would be a good time for a beer.” I do too, if only I could.

Over the years, by the way, the day before National Beer Day, April 6, has come to be known as New Beer’s Eve. I won’t be celebrating that either.

For about 25 years I continued my fast until Easter Sunday, but around 15 years ago, the late Biagio Dente, a certified executive chef and member of the Chef’s Hall of Fame, convinced me Lenten fasts officially end on Holy Thursday. I was only too happy to take him at his word, but when I looked it up I discovered he was right. According to the Archdiocese of New Orleans, Lent actually begins on the first Sunday after Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Thursday, 40 days later.

That’s good enough for me.

So, depending on when you read this, in about 12 days I actually might be singing “There is nothing like a beer.” And who knows, perhaps Al will join me.

Ed Ackerman writes The Optimist every week. Look for his blogs online during the week at pittstonprogress.com.

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