Monthly Archives: July 2010

New York Press’ Gut Instinct: Get Shorted

It is true.

It was an oven-like afternoon at Coney Island, and hell had seemingly frozen over.

“I have $40 toward the first round of tortas and huraches,” my friend Matt said.

“What’d you just say?” I asked. It was my 32nd birthday party, and perhaps my advanced age had caused sudden hearing loss. Or maybe it was the copious intake of Coors Light at the beach.

“I have $40 for Mexican food,” he repeated. Color me confused. As charter members of the Cheap Bastard Club, Matt and I like to play an unofficial game we call “out-Jewing.” This penny-pinching diversion is miserly fun for everyone! How’s it work? Well, let’s say you split a couple orders of spicy noodles at X’ian Famous Foods, chased by several cumin-spiked lamb burgers. The bill is $13—$6.50 apiece. the winner would give $6, thereby saving 50 cents. Sure, it’s a small sum, but it’s a big victory for a cheap bastard.

For example, last week at Spuyten Duyvil I mistakenly ordered a round for Matt and myself. I bought Stillwater Stateside saison, made with wine-esque Nelson Sauvin hops, while Matt requested a summery ale from Greenport Harbor. His cost $6. He gave me six dollar bills, as wrinkled as dishpan hands. “what about the tip?” I wondered, as he wandered out of earshot. My cold beer was little consolation to the additional cost.

But now, Matt had a change of fiscal heart. Perhaps he’d won the lottery, or his grandparents had sent him a check for his birthday. Oh, how I loved when my grandparents sent me those $50 checks. For a moment, I’d feel wildly wealthy, like scrooge McDuck diving into his money bin.

“Thanks for the birthday food, Matt,” I said, genuinely touched.

He paused for a beat. “That’s money from last night.”

The previous eve, 19 of us dined at my favorite Caribbean restaurant, The Islands. As if the luscious, coconut-creamy calypso shrimp and lip-singeing jerk chicken are not lure enough, the Islands is also BYOB. You can dine and imbibe in the tree house–like upstairs for hours, not worrying that each beer will add $6 or $8 to a tab—the costly bane of every restaurant birthday dinner.

When the check arrived, the bill neatly broke down to $20 a person, tip included. That was a teensy sum for a three-hour bacchanal. Everyone anted up an Andrew Jackson. I gathered my bag, ready to waddle home. “Hold on,” Matt said. “We’re short $40.”

“Who didn’t pay?” I said.

“Don’t worry, baby,” my girlfriend said, soothing my inner indignant beast. “It’s your birthday. We’ll take care of it.” Five-dollar bills were passed forward, and soon the deficit was a thing of that past. Still, it left a bitter taste in my mouth—or maybe that was just acid reflux, from three too many five-alarm chicken wings.

But the beauty of the digestive system is that no matter how much you overindulge, you’ll be ravenous again. By the next afternoon, I was hungering for huge tortas from Alex Deli (1418 Mermaid Ave. betw. W. 14th & W. 15 Sts., 718-265-0675). Planted a couple blocks from the Coney beach, the teensy Mexican storefront serves skyscraping sandwiches piled with avocado, stringy Oaxacan cheese, refried beans and your favorite flesh. I like spicy carne enchilada best, but juicy al pastor is equally excellent. at $5 apiece, they’re the best boardwalk-area bargain—and my cheapskate-in-arms was going to buy me one! It was too good to be true. It was.

“I forgot that I had $40 in my pocket last night,” he admitted, his cheeks reddened by sun and slight embarrassment.

I was just tipsy enough to be incensed.

“You overcharged everybody!”

“They just paid it forward,” he said.

“Now, what do you want to eat?”

“Carne enchilada,” I said. We called Alex and, in Coors Light–accented Spanish, placed our order. Matt abandoned the beach to retrieve our food, returning with arm-straining bags of grease-stained pleasure. I bit into my torta, relishing the piquant pork, creamy avocado, zippy salsa verde. It was perfect fuel to survive another four hours basking in the celebratory sun.

“How is it?” Matt asked.

“Tastes like a million bucks,” I replied, wiping grease from my lips, “or maybe just 40.”

Read—and vote for—the original column at the Press’ site.

New York Press’ Gut Instinct: Sleep Calls

Sleep, li’l angels, sleep.

Most Monday nights, I work at a celebrity magazine till about 2 or 3 a.m., ensuring the proper spelling and punctuation of stars, starlets and reality TV riffraff. This may contradict the pantsless, anarchic, alcohol-driven ethos that I champion in Gut Instinct, but here’s my dirty little secret: I kind of love my part-time gig.

There’s a comforting rhythm and routine to toiling at the glossy mag. Pages must be shipped to the printer at preordained times, providing the workday’s framework. To me, Britney Spears, Renée Zellweger and Brad Pitt are not personalities but rather 500 or 1,000 words of text that I must make Webster’s perfect. I’m a grammar janitor, and I dig cleaning up the misspelled muck.

Moreover, the late hours are appealing.

They return me to the caffeine-fueled jags of college all-nighters, the last time I stayed awake till 3 a.m. without a bottle in hand. Increasingly, Monday is the only night when I’ll keep my eyes open past 2 a.m. I just turned 32; no longer do I believe that Saturday night doesn’t end until I hear birds chirp and see bright slivers of sunrise.

Fact is, little good happens after 2 a.m. It’s the gateway to a stretch of night when bad decisions become bright ideas, when just one more bump and just one more beer will land you in the promised land of someone’s pants. Call me a fuddy-duddy in a long-term relationship, but the words “last call” send chills slinking down my spine.

That’s why, on a recent Monday, I knew better than to answer my phone at 2:24 a.m. The caller was Cory, my former roommate. Cory and I were once inseparable. We navigated the swervy, boozy seas of bars and after-hours bashes together. These were high times. Cory never came down.

As my twenties ticked closer to 30, I embraced the pleasures of movie nights and sit-down dinner parties. Writing increasingly mattered, and a crushing hangover and quality adjectives became incompatible. You know, adult stuff. I went to bed early. Cory invited that night’s bar friends over to stay up till i woke for work. Our increasingly divergent behavior led to a drastic resolution. “You can never stay here again,” I told him, as cold as an antarctic night. He left my apartment a year and a half ago.

Tonight, he left a voicemail. When I left work at 3:15 and climbed into my car service automobile, I listened to the message. “Hey, Josh,” Cory began, his words so slurred I could smell stale Bud on his breath, “I miss’ my bus. I’m goin’ ta sleep on your patio. I’ll shee you in the morning.”

What bus? Cory now lived in Boston.

As my black Town Car cruised through the equally dark streets, I considered calling him back. Months of interpersonal distance had somewhat softened my anger, like frozen butter gone room temperature. But it was almost 4 a.m. nothing good occurs at 4 a.m. “Stop here,” I told the car driver, pulling in front of my house. I gathered my bags and gasped: There was Cory, rolling out a sleeping bag on my concrete front patio. A thin urine stream zigzagged from the tree to a dark and weedy corner. On the ground sat an empty Bud can, as red as the vein bulging on my forehead. Thoughts of forgiveness burst like bubbles in a champagne flute.

“Hey, Josh,” Cory said, as if he’d bumped into me in the living room. “Jus’ getting’ back from the bar? I got you these.” He shook a bag full of Budweiser tall boys.

“I’m just getting home from work. And I’m tired,” I said icily.

“Tha’ is cool,” he said. “I’ll jus’ sleep here. See you tomorrow.” He lay down, ready for some sack time.

Once, I was a wide-eyed Midwesterner who wrote love letters on a baby-blue Smith-Corona typewriter. Now, I’m a curmudgeon who writes about his journey to gout and AA on a Sriracha-stained Mac. Somewhere twixt the two, a little romanticism, idealism and compassion were lost.

In 10 years’ time, new york has taught me to be a bastard. I tune out pleading panhandlers as if they’re AM-radio static. I cross streets to avoid college students imploring me to pledge to Greenpeace. I elbow aside Chinese grandmothers tidal-waving on to the B train at grand street, preventing me from exiting. But sometimes, I surprise myself by acting like my previous self.

“Come upstairs,” I told Cory, “And sleep in the spare room. You’re not spending the night on the concrete.”

“Really?” he said. “Come on,” I said, holding open the front door and watching him climb the creaky, familiar stairs.

Read—and vote for—the original article at the Press’ website.

New York Press’ Gut Instinct: Old Lady Syndrome

This is how I want to look when I’m old—and a woman.

“Are you going to behave?” my girlfriend asked, heading out the door. She eyeballed Sammy, our furry-sausage mutt, then me. Neither of us so much as snorted.

“It’s going to be a dude’s week,” i said, batting one of Sammy’s fox-like ears. “Anything can happen when it’s a dude week.”

She sighed that sigh i know so well, then gave us both a peck. At that, she was off to Seattle on family vacation. “Freedom,” I whispered to Sammy, rubbing his stomach. “Sweet, sweet freedom.”

If my life were a brain-dead bro flick, the week would flash past in a series of comic escapades, likely involving midgets, tasers, bodily fluids and kidnapping. you know, the usual. “Everything’s going great, honey!” I’d tell my girlfriend, as I’d hastily rectify my wrongs before she returned.

Life, though, does not imitate crappy art. I had the best intentions to break bad. Heck, I even handpicked my hell-raising henchmen: My pals Ben and Aaron, who were also without their wives. “I feel like I should go to strip clubs and rage all night,” Aaron confided on our first estrogen-free eve. “Me too!” I said, searching my wallet for dollar bills.

“But I’d much rather stay home, watch a movie and drink a beer.”

“That…does sound pretty good,” I said, putting bucks back in my billfold. “What movie?” “The Road,” he said. His wife cares not for super-violent movies, “so I frontloaded my netflix queue so I could watch them now.” “Have you seen 28 Days Later yet?” A couple years back I was in Beijing, the land of delicious dumplings and copyright infringement. Beijing offered a bounty of cheap bootlegged horror films—my celluloid weakness. Give me zombies or give me death! Well, give me zombies and lots of death. And beheadings. And disembowelments, too.

Most nights, while my girlfriend gets weepy-eyed watching The Biggest Loser, I’ll curl up on the couch with Buffalo Trace bourbon on the rocks, a serial killer slashing across my computer screen. La Horde, Battle Royale, Lady Vengeance: I can recite horror flicks like kindergarteners and the alphabet.

Long story short, I bought Aaron the apocalyptic 28 Days. Three years later, “I still haven’t seen it,” he admitted. I sighed. “Forget the movie. Let’s go out for a beer.”

We headed to Bierkraft (191 5th Ave., Brooklyn, 718-230-7600) and shared a growler of Two Brothers’ Bitter End, a mildly floral ale with a name fit for a misanthrope’s funeral. Naturally, our conversations wound to kids, mortgages, careers—words that sobered me up, no matter how much I drank.

The next eve, Ben and I planned to hit a Brooklyn barbecue. Meat! Fire! Alcohol! Then raindrops fell, fat and cool. “Maybe we should stay inside?” I said, staring fearfully at the downpour as if I were the Wicked Witch of the West. “I’m game,” Ben said. So we sat on my couch, eating crunchy Zapp’s chips and sipping Cascade Brewing’s Sour Apricot Ale till Cinderella time, when Ben headed home. I washed my face and slid into slumber, garnering nine hours of beauty rest.

The next morning, my eyes were bright and white. No jackhammer rattled my skull. When did I become a responsible old lady? i thought, making myself a cup of steaming coffee—no hangover-soothing Diet Coke needed. That night, i tried to not act my age at Williamsburg’s The Commodore. The nautical, ’70s-style dive is helmed by Stephen Tanner, a co-founder of the cultish Pies-N-Thighs.

I double-fisted cans of Modelo (2-for-1 till 7!), before tearing into Tanner’s beautifully brittle fish and fiery fowl sandwich. I ate until I was full, then I ate more. Who says I can’t have seconds? Or fourths? I’ll show you—until I nearly puke. I left the bar clutching my stomach, stumbling into a bodega for antacids and seltzer. Sadly, there’s nothing reckless about chomping Tums.

When did I get so old and wussy? Five years ago, my nights spun out of control like a car on an icy road. I loved careening toward that time of night when every bad idea seemed like a good one. Now, I like waking early and clacking out stories, an occupation at odds with a skull-crushing hangover. Sure, Hemingway did it, but his story ended with an unhappy bang.

My girlfriend returned from the West Coast, bearing kisses and gifts of beer. “So did you have fun?” she asked, dropping her bags.

“Well, not the kind of fun I was expecting,” I said.

“It’s called maturity. Face it: you’re too old to stay out all night,” my girlfriend said, “and you’re only getting older.”

Read the original column at New York Press’ website.

Peak Organic’s Summer Session Ale – Beer of the Week

Get in my belly.

Well, its 10:10 on a Tuesday morn, and you know what that means: it’s time to drink. Glug, glug. This week, I turn my boozy attention to Portland, Maine, a city that’s dear to my heart. Four years ago, I spent a month living in the coastal town, cruising around by bike and eating my fill of lobster. Lord, did I eat lobster.

Anyhoo, one of the top local breweries is Peak, an all-organic outfit. This sweaty season, the brewery just released its Summer Session Ale. It’s bright and crisp, with a refreshingly floral profile to appease all you hops junkies. Curious? Drink up the full review at Slashfood!

New York Press’ Gut Instinct: Condiments to the Chef

Unappealing poster, yet awesome.

For this committed carnivore, watching the deli dude slice the soft, rose-hued corned beef was a lot like ogling lesbian porn. My pulse quickened, pupils dilated, sweat slicked my brow. I reached deep into my pants and pulled out my fat, bulging… wallet.

Damn, David’s Brisket House (533 Nostrand Ave. betw. Herkimer St. & Atlantic Ave., Brooklyn, 718-783-6109), you drive me crazy. For a half decade, I’ve been hitting this first-rate Jewish deli, which soldiers on in Caribbean Bed-Stuy like a reminder of an earlier, yarmulkewearing era. David is long gone, replaced by Muslim ownership. It sounds like a Borscht Belt joke (“A Jew and a Muslim walk into a deli…”), but it’s all kosher. Muslims are stricken from feasting on swine. Luckily, cows are the building blocks of David’s daily made corned beef, pastrami and brisket. Briny, tender, fatty, peppery, savory—name the adjective, it’s applicable. Hell, if you cinch your eyes and whistle a klezmer tune, you might envision that the meaty masterminds are men named Abe and Moe.

Today, I’ve taken my friend Dave to David’s. It was his virgin voyage. He ordered corned beef. Me, brisket. We watched rapturously as the counterman built our sandwiches to Empire State heights. Bread? Rye. Mustard? Yes. Mayo? Mayo?!

I gasped. Dave, a native West Coaster, nodded. “Yes, please,” he said, words that made me reevaluate our friendship. “No mayo, only mustard,” I said, changing his order. “You have so much to learn about condiments,” I said, keeping eagle eyes on the sandwich to ensure only brown mustard marred the pink flesh.

I have no hard feelings about mayo.

In fact, the creamy condiment is the reason I even have a girlfriend. About five years ago, my friends and I ganged up for the Idiotarod, a shopping-cart race in which drunk humans act as sled dogs. Our team was the Mayo Clinic, and we were despised. That’s because we flung mayonnaise willy-nilly, coating contestants’ carts, clothes and hair with Hellmann’s. It was terrible—and terribly hilarious.

A few weeks later, I was dining at Pacifico after a Jonathan Ames reading. Across from me sat a couple of girls, one blond, one brunette, discussing the Idiotarod. “Hey, I did that too,” I said, trying my hand at dinner conversation.

“Oh, what was your team?” the blond asked, batting her blue eyes.

“We were the Mayo Clinic.” “We hated you,” she said. And that, dear readers, was the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

But while mayo has brought me love, it brings little to sandwiches. It’s little more than a lubricant, the K-Y Jelly of the condiment world. If moisture is needed, give me a splash of olive oil, or maybe mustard. Ketchup? Keep it. I learned my lesson long ago.

I must’ve been around 10 or 11, in New York for the third or fourth time. My family and I were visiting my grandparents, who lived in Washington Heights and the Bronx. Hunger hit. We stopped at a hot dog shop, and my parents sent me in to secure the frankfurters. Big man! Big man in a big city! I ordered griddle-crisped dogs, then painted narrow, ruler-precise stripes of ketchup. I brought the wieners outside. My parents looked at me as if I presented them dog shit on a bun.

“You can’t have ketchup on a hot dog,” my dad said. I was confused. Every kid in my suburban-Ohio elementary school coated hot dogs in Heinz 57. “Ketchup goes on a hamburger,” my dad instructed, “while you can only have mustard on a hot dog.” He sent me back inside to remove the tomato-based topping and replace it with a lonely yellow streak. It was embarrassing. It was instructive.

“I don’t remember that happening,” my dad will doubtlessly complain after reading this column. He often says that. But as a doctor, he should remember that though he can’t recall every incision, his patients remember every scar.

But hey, save your hankies and psychotherapy for someone else. Matters of taste are as much a product of nurture as nature. Who would I be if I didn’t grow up smearing mustard on Hebrew National hot dogs? Or if meatloaf decorated our dinner tables instead of fiery Thai curries and stir-fries with tofu and fermented black beans? I eat, therefore I am.

As for the case of Dave at David’s Brisket, his empty plate told me he didn’t miss mayo too much.

Read—and vote for—the original article at New York Press’ site.