Think of it as the opposite of a national holiday—no parades, no bank closings, no days off for dead presidents. Deny Yourself Nothing Day is what is known in employee benefit circles as a personal day—a personal observance chosen by the celebrant for private reasons. While personal days off from work are usually spent running errands—getting the oil changed, mowing the lawn, sitting in traffic court—Deny Yourself Nothing Day is more closely allied with activities like eating an entire red velvet cake than it is with outpatient surgery.
This holiday has been celebrated throughout the ages, by this name and others. It has been celebrated by those who did not think to give it a name, those who wallowed in the foul swamps of guilt, ignorant of the joyous break from moderation that is Deny Yourself Nothing Day. In the last 50 years, the holiday's most devoted adherents have been young entertainers like Lindsay Lohan, John Belushi, Keith Moon, and Janis Joplin. Admittedly, these four represent the radical fringe of the Deny Yourself Nothing movement, and seem to take the nothing in deny yourself nothing rather literally. Mainstream ideas have a tendency to be taken to extremes, as has been proven time and again throughout history. (One instance that comes to mind is the Anabaptist Rebellion of 1534, wherein a splinter group of Lutherans established a theocracy in Munster, Germany, based on the equality of all humans and the redistribution of wealth. Suffice to say, it didn't end well for the Ananbaptists, despite the fact that they held the city for a year. One of the organizers of the rebellion, Jan Matthys, had his head cut off and his genitals nailed to the city gate. Three other rebel leaders had their skin ripped off with flaming pincers in the city square. Their bodies were then exhibited in cages hung from St. Lambert's Church. The cages are still there; they removed the bodies a while back.)
I first learned of Deny Yourself Nothing Day from my friend Marcus, a transplanted Brit who is a lover of pleasure like myself. (He now lives in South Florida, home to sensualists both young and old.) On my first trip to visit him in London, he took me on a tour of the city, which consisted of staggering through a succession of pubs with names like The Engineer, The Queens Head, and Prospect of Whitby, and explaining that something of historical import happened there, like Charles Dickens once got sick in a corner. It was at the fourth or fifth stop of the tour when Marcus turned to me and declared, fresh pints in his hand, "It's Deny Yourself Nothing Day!" Marcus, bless him, was trying to rally my flagging spirits, as the merciless daytime drinking that is the British custom on Sunday afternoons had gone to my head. As I recall, I made it through the day more or less intact, visiting a few other darkened rooms where the national treasures of British culture had polluted themselves.
I was reminded of Deny Yourself Nothing Day recently when I left my office to grab some lunch at a local tacqueria. Sitting at the lunch counter (depending upon one's point of view, it could also be called a bar), I ordered my food to go. The waitress asked if I would like anything while I waited. It was 11:30 in the morning. It's Deny Yourself Nothing Day, I thought, and ordered myself a beer. As the beer was placed in front of me, I remembered a crucial fact: I was two weeks into a month-long no-carb diet.
Why was I dieting? (As of this writing, I still am, though I plan to break my carb fast on October 4, after precisely one month of subduing my starchy desires.) Vanity, of course, but, more practically, so I might fit more comfortably in the suit that I'm wearing to my sister's wedding. (I never should have ordered the Slim Fit cut, tailored for those who don't look like a sausage in a too-tight casing in skinny jeans.) I've never dieted in my life, never denied myself much of anything, and this regimen eliminating pasta, rice, bread, and beer, was a test of sorts for myself. Could I do it?
For the most part, the diet has been fine—aside from the cravings and the intermittent irritability it's been fine. Cravings like staring at someone else's creamy risotto and wondering whether it isn't just easier to buy a new suit. Irritability like a white-hot pulse of hatred for the person in front of you on line at the supermarket check-out who is two items over the limit for the express lane. I've eaten a steady stream of omelets for breakfast, bunless burgers for lunch, and roast chicken for dinner. I mix it up a bit some days and have roast chicken for breakfast and an omelet for dinner. All with lots of vegetables—that my wife, the executive director of a CSA farm has been a godsend. That said, spaghetti squash can be delicious, but it is no substitute for actual glutinous, gluttonous pasta.
But back to that beer. I had ordered it out of rote, without thinking, monkey-mind style. It sat there tantalizingly on the counter, condensation beading on the glass like the Platonic version of a beer in a commercial. A line from Don DeLillo's 1973 feast-of-paranoia-as-novel, Great Jones Street, came to mind. The narrator, Bucky Wunderlich, a rock star in hiding, is visited by a young representative from his record label, whom he describes as "a voluptuary indulging himself in the idea of restraint." Was I such a person, a dieting poseur who outwardly denied his desires but was merely engaging an intellectual whim? Had I already failed to keep my carb fast, sinning in my heart like Jimmy Carter?
As I had ordered the beer, it seemed foolish not to drink it, diet or no. So I did. The beer was good, very good—like a pizza in the desert, French fries in brown paper blotched with oil, a heel of bread in a bowl of linguine. I thought of another quote, variously attributed to Petronius, Oscar Wilde, and even Ralph Waldo Emerson: "Moderation in all things. Including moderation."