Gut Instinct: Counter Intelligence

Like Cinderella’s gown reverting to rags, I feared July 17 would transform me into a haggard wino with a bulbous gut, Shar-Pei wrinkles and a hairline hiding behind my earlobes.

“Happy birthday, old man,” my girlfriend says that morning. “You’re now—”

“Don’t say it.”

“You’re now—”

“Don’t say it,” I plead.

“You’re 30.”

I remove the blue bed sheet and scrutinize my carcass. Aside from dilated blood vessels pinpricking my chest and shoulders and crinkly crow’s-feet, I remain remarkably preserved—perhaps God’s payback for making me 5-foot-4 and furry as an Arctic critter.

“See, 30 isn’t so bad,” my girlfriend says.

“You’re only saying that because you’re 30.”

“Maybe. But aren’t you excited for your party?”

Damn straight. For eight years, I’ve hosted my get-older bash at Coney Island. The formula: swill lakes of beer, ride the Cyclone and urinate in the ocean. Not necessarily in that order.

The most necessary ingredient is beer. To stock up (and avoid the beach beer surcharge), I turn to Park Place Food Corp. (539 Park Place at Classon Ave., B’klyn; 718-399-9055). Since 2003, this 24-hour Crown Heights bodega has sustained me with meaty sandwiches and bargain beer. Twenty-four-ounce cans of Coors cost $1.25. Today, on this most special day, I want them cheaper.

“Can you cut me a deal?” I ask the mustached counter guy. He owes me. I know his secret.

Several years ago, the counterman asked my bygone roommate Cory to hang out.

“Sure,” Cory replied, “let’s watch a movie.” The counterman came over. They retreated to Cory’s cramped room.

“Got any porn?” the counterman asked.

“Uh, no,” Cory said. “Let’s watch Point Break.” Cory flicked on Keanu Reeves’ surfing flick, featuring numerous shirtless moments.

“Did I ever tell you about my blow job?” the counterman asked, perhaps stirred by Patrick Swayze’s fuzzy torso. “Some guy at my store wanted to give me a blow job. I sat on the ice cream freezer and, he, you know…” The counterman’s head bobbed in the international sign of oral pleasure. Cory concentrated on Keanu.

“Ever blown a guy?” the counterman asked. Cory shook his head. “Never just a little?”

“Let’s watch the movie,” Cory said, as they silently observed Swayze surf into the great beyond.

“How about a buck a beer?” I ask the counterman today. “I’ll buy 50.”

He ponders my offer. “$1.10 each?”

“One dollar.”

“OK, only for you, my friend,” he says. “Tell Cory I say hello.” I overload my granny cart with cheap liquid pleasure, and my motley birthday posse subways it to Coney Island. The sun is blazing. The sky is blue. We plant my birthday flag—sparkly fabric featuring my image hoisting kielbasa like a greasy trophy—and commence beer intake. Hours evaporate. Sand is flung. I wrestle partygoers with Hulk Hogan abandon.

“Honey, you should probably eat some food,” my girlfriend says. My eyes are as glazed and red as candied apples.

“Beer is food.”

“Not today.”

To stave off drunken doom, food troops stomp to…Nathan’s? No way, wiener: La Plaza Doña Zita (Bowery St. betw. W. 12th St. & Stillwell Ave., B’klyn). This Mexican stall specializes in chewy corn quesadillas ($4). A griddle-crisped moon is packed with mushrooms, fiery chicken and queso fresco, then folded and showered with cream fresca, cotija cheese and lettuce.

“Uh, where’s the silverware?” I ask upon receiving my spicy quesadilla.

“Eat with your hands, animal,” my girlfriend says. Like a toddler, I sloppily smush quesadilla between my lips. The treat is crunchy-gooey goodness, with a hint of heat. I burp in appreciation.

“More beer. It’s my birthday!”

“First wipe your cheeks,” my girlfriend says, napkining off creamy schmutz.

The sweaty, sunburn-y day sludges toward dissolution, as do I. Watching a 30-year-old binge with college-freshman abandon is barely more appealing than a Verne Troyer sex tape. Amid youth’s blossom, debauchery appears rebellious and debonair. At 21, nothing was more punk rock than when my pal Steve upchucked, then tinkled, between several subway cars. Wild days! But as years mount, common sense suppresses self-destruction and hangovers become skull-bludgeoners, drunkenness seems less ha-ha than: “Maybe he needs help.”

“Stop thinking so much,” my friend Aaron says. “It’s your birthday. You’re supposed to be a moron.” He hands me another beer.

“You’re right,” I say, cracking another Coors, maybe my seventh or 11th. I’m already feeling dumber.

“And you know what else you gotta do on your birthday?”

“Oh, yes.”

With bare feet and sunburned shoulders, we rush to the Cyclone. Kiesters are planted on the antiquated coaster. It clanks skyward, providing eagle views of ant-size beachgoers, the yawning Atlantic, the imperiled amusement park, and then—woosh—we plummet toward our reckless future.

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