So what does a Muslim, whose best friends are Mormons, do for fun in Washington, D.C.? When I first moved to the District, I had not seen many drunk/drinking people before. I went straight from The Gaza Strip into the Motherland of the Mormon faith, Utah -- so much for a cultural shock I read about. Fortunately for me, BYU had a policy about not drinking, and we had to sign a statement every year that we wouldn't touch alcohol. That's a no-brainer statement for a good Muslim boy like myself. I signed it and asked if they wanted me to swear an oath to that. They said no.
And even those who did not have to sign such statements had to search for hours for a place to get a drink. They had to buy a membership at some private bar in order to be served. And the state runs the only stores that sell alcohol, so do not even try to score some if you are feeling superbad.
Fast forward to a 4th of July barbecue in Northern Virginia with some Arab-American friends of mine, serving spiked slushies -- except I did not know it. I thought this would be just like they did at Jamba Juice, then I tasted something funny. I did not panic and no, I did not try to spit it out in a dramatic scene. I quietly looked around and thought none of these affluent bunch would want my punch. I tossed it in the trash, which is sad because I do not like to see anything good go to waste.
Later at my Silver Spring basement when I had my first job in the District, I would understand for the first time why people would want to drink. It's all about being lonely, and I know I was starting to really miss my family in Gaza. It also had to do with having too little to do after work and getting sucked into a deadly routine. I still would not drink, but I stopped judging people who do. Especially this large Salvadorian family that moved in across the street and like clockwork, they would have a big party every Saturday night and drink their blues away and yes, there was dancing.
I had befriended an accountant nearby my home who would be so busy during the tax season, he would send me to buy him beer. Being the homeboy I am, I would answer the call. But a fellow Muslim friend of mine told me that this is Haram -- Forbidden -- so I stopped picking up beer for my friend. I think his doctor told him to quit, anyway, so it worked out well. I have always had a soft spot in my heart for sparkling apple and other sparkling fruit juices, but I have decided to abandon the fizzy drinks so that love affair did not last long. And then there was this lady from work that tried to get me to try all the non-alcoholic beers, wines and beverages that looked like alcohol but have no or little effect. I remember liking the bottle designs, but not the content -- and most Americans would look down at people who are trying too hard to blend in.
Once a supervisor gave me a gift card to some wine and spirits store that was close to our office. I did not know what to do with it, and when I attempted to give it to a homeless guy, he thought I was asking for directions and pointed me to the store. It was meant to be so, because I walked in and saw they had some cheeses and I changed my mind. I was not going to use the gift card on their overpriced sodas and salty nuts. And then I started doing stand-up comedy in the D.C.'s clubs and open mic nights. They say the drunker the audience gets, the funnier you are. I thought President Bush had sworn off the spirits, but he was still the funniest-sounding guy in D.C. Plus, my "a Muslim walks into a bar" bit seemed to work so well. After the show they would give me a coupon for a free beer, and since none of my friends drink I would ask them to donate my beer to AA.
For recreation I starting running around town, and that was the one physical activity that cheered me up and helped discipline me. D.C. is one of the friendliest places for runners and there are so many natural and historic trails. The malls and Borders (RIP) would keep me busy most of my weekends. I would say sports, but I was never too keen on it. One time my friend, Lyndsay, took me to a Nationals baseball game. I was so bored, not sure whether to blame the performance of the team or the lack of beer in my system. Hiking is another thing I liked doing, but there's nothing really within the city limits that would be perfect for such activities. Still, the movies were a wonderful escape. Nothing beats a good movie about a person who abuses alcohol and tries to clean up his/her act -- as long as this person doesn't cross paths with me.
I think it might be harder for people who work in small offices, because they have little contact with other people beyond their work. I recall one of my coworkers joked about one of her professors at this esteemed university in D.C. showing up drunk to her graduation party. And then the office started getting interns, and with interns comes a great deal of happy hours -- what beats cheap booze and mediocre food? I think those were fun nights. Except the guy who got the most drunk was always the nice Saudi boy on a scholarship to the States.
The worst part of this is living without a drink and not coming across as a pious judgmental clown. I have figured out a way to distract people from the real reason why I do not consume alcohol: blame the Mormons.
[Hat Tip: Kellee]