A Cautionary Tale
Right now, there are yahoos on the internet gleefully and analytically dissecting the tang of their latest stink. They’re discussing such things as the viscosity and texture of their most recent bowel movements in torturous detail. Though some are undoubtedly outright poop fetishists and peanut-hunting debauchees, a good number of them are simply fasters.
As in: fasting.
As in: Adopting an East African-like diet of bare subsistence for anywhere from three days to a month in hope of promoting internal cleansing, spiritual growth and personal awakening.
As in: “My first and second eliminations of the morning are still brown and flaky, and the second one burned my anus.”
As in: Shut the hell up, already.
A popular version of the fast called “The Lemonade Diet” or the “Master Cleanser” has been around since the 1970s and calls for adherents to drink nothing but a mixture of lemon juice, maple syrup and cayenne pepper, as well as a morning laxative consisting of tepid salt water. The Lemonade Diet was reportedly used by chanteuse Beyoncé to offset the camera’s plus-10 for her role in Dreamgirls.
There are also claims that in addition to detoxifying your body, fasting is a spiritual journey that can result in awakening and even enlightenment.
Not giving a damn about my weight or, for that matter, my health, but still seeking a healing experience, I opted for a 30-day beer fast, instead. Because beer is wise, after all. Wiser than a stomach-full of salt water and lemon juice, anyhow.
I consulted a nutritionist. She was dubious and almost angry that I would suggest subjecting myself to such misery. Not for attribution, she said that yes, a person could technically survive on nothing but beer, as barley was apparently as rich as a slice of brown bread in some vitamins and, of course, there were plenty of carbs and sugars in the stuff. But, she warned, the alcohol would dehydrate me, and I’d miss out on virtually every other vitamin in the book. And then there was my liver.
“So that’s a tacit approval,” I said with a nod.
No,” she said. “It’s a hypothetical answer to a question you never asked.
“In fact,” she said. “You’ve never been here, you’ve never met me and this conversation never took place.”
I considered her warnings.
“You wanna get a drink?” I asked.
It was October 1, 2006.
I figured I would need anywhere from 10-30 beers per day, depending on the level of spirituality and enlightenment I wished to achieve. I loaded up a shopping cart full of 12- and 24-packs of Pabst Blue Ribbon, Budweiser, MGD and (for a treat) Steel Reserve and pushed the full cart back to my apartment building. Total cost: $256.93.
On the first day, I woke up around noon and pulled back a beer. I didn’t feel very spiritually awakened after the first one, so I pulled back another and took a shower. I stuffed a few cans into my coat and went for a walk. I was already hungry. I hid behind a concrete abutment and pulled back a third beer. Then, a fourth. By nightfall, I had consumed about 200 ounces of God’s gift. I wrote “Feeling pretty sexy,” in my notebook and blacked out.
I wake up, my stomach growling like an angry bum.
I read through my journal. I notice a man and a woman sleeping on my floor next to the heater. I didn’t recognize them.
“Newfound empathy for strangers,” I write. I was already becoming more enlightened. Like Gandhi.
I felt like puking but held it in. I had a beer. I gave the dude on my floor a swift kick in the back of the neck to wake him up. The two of them bail, but not before they lighten me of $200 in rent money I had stashed in a drawer. No worries. I feel empowered, just like the juice fasters had reported I would.
I find a quote attributed to professional loiterer/magician David Blaine. “We are all capable of infinitely more than we believe. We are stronger and more resourceful than we know, and we can endure much more than we think we can.”
Reading is making me dizzy. I am hungry. My stomach swishes around with a new volume and pH. It feels like I have eaten the contents of an ashtray and chased it with a chemical weapon.
I wake up in a cold mess of my own sweat. I wrote down, “Cold and runny,” and chucked my sheets and my shorts, then took a shower.
Here came the beer flies—these grubby little insects that fly around in circles just below the brink of eyesight. Them and my distended stomach, and I feel like a small African child. Not even RAID could kill the little brutes. The sniggering flying fleas are immune to the stuff. I open a box of Cuban Romeo y Julietas my friend had sent me from Prague. I wandered around my apartment thinking strange thoughts: Are my toe bones getting too soft? That guy looks a little too much like Karl Rove. Is that me? Is that a mirror? Who’s screwing in that van?
My cell phone rings. “Maybe it’s Make-A-Wish,” I think. “Maybe they’re ready to talk corporate sponsorship.”
It’s a friend, Colin, from college. He’s going to be in San Francisco for the last leg of my beer fast. I agree to meet him as I agree to meet anybody, anywhere when I’m drunk.
But wait. I can’t fly because of the terrorist-inspired three-ounce rule. Greyhound quickly becomes the only alternative.
Fasting is a centuries-old symbolic demonstration of devotion and worship. I am not going to give up until I have a spiritual experience. I do want some bread, though.
I sit on my bed, meditating with a hangover and the taste of paint thinner in my mouth while Colin attends a business conference. I write, “Beer-fasting is not an inconsequential mini-series but a long, drawn-out sea voyage that begins and ends with full-on self-mutiny.
“It is, most likely, not even a very healthy thing to do.”
Back in Nevada, I step on a scale at Rite-Aid after guzzling a can of something silver. I have gained almost 30 pounds of pure kobe beef-style beer fat in one month. I would be delicious to eat, I think. My pulse is a jumpy 100 beats per minute. My blood pressure: 145/90. I buy a pack of store-brand vitamins. It is Friday night. My joints ache. I black out, drinking on my futon.
I am finished. 30 days. I have learned nothing. Achieved less. There was no climax here. No “Aha!” moment. No enlightenment. Maybe I should go for 60 days?