Gut Instinct: Punch-Drunk Love

This is what you get when you type “Jewish” into Flickr.

Long before I fell in love with the bottle, I was under the influence of live music. Three, four or even five times a week I’d wrap myself in a Kurt Cobain green cardigan and submit myself to sonic assaults. Concerts were my religion. But just like that R.E.M. song, I lost it. I can’t pinpoint the moment. The change occurred slowly, imperceptibly, like wrinkles gathering around my eyes. One day, I traveled to graffiti-scarred Bushwick lofts to pogo to punk rock. The next, I was content to watch my Netflix horror flicks, laptop on my tummy, Speakeasy’s hoppy Big Daddy IPA in hand.

But every blue moon, I’ll shut off iTunes and attend a live show. Last Tuesday’s irresistible lure was the Seedy Seeds, a Cincinnati, Ohio, trio that crafts peppy ditties driven by banjo, accordion and keyboard—the ’80s by way of the 1920s. The Seeds were playing at Pianos, a twentysomething-plagued LES venue that—when crowded—is about as appealing as swine flu. What swayed me was the Seeds’ set time: 9 p.m. I could rock out, then snuggle beneath the covers before the Cinderella hour.

Unable to rustle up friends nor girlfriend (“I want to watch Gossip Girl,” she explained), I arrived solo at Pianos at 8 p.m.

My jaw smacked the sidewalk at 8:01, when the Popeye-muscled bouncer told me: “Sorry, they’re not playing till 11 p.m.”

“Don’t you know I’m an old man?” I moaned, watching my beauty sleep pop like balloons at a porcupine’s birthday party. My complaint fell on tinnitus-deafened ears. I pondered heading home for the bloody comfort of slasher films, but a squeaky voice inside of me whispered, “Suck it up, Bernstein. Go see the band. But first, kill time by drinking cheap beer at Local 138.”

For nearly a decade, grungy little Local 138 (138 Ludlow St., betw. Stanton & Rivington Sts., 212-477-0280) has been my happy hour secret weapon. Till 9 p.m., the dive pours $3 pints of ace brews such as Stone’s Arrogant Bastard and Sixpoint’s Sweet Action, which I order. On TV, Bill Murray led hapless soldiers in Stripes. To my left, a Latina lustily slurped a Ketel One and lime and thumbed her phone’s keyboard.

“Excuse me, but are you Progressive?” she asked.

“Progressive?” I asked. Was she asking if I agitated for gay marriage?

“The car insurance man—oh, you’re someone different.”

“Yes I am.” I turned back to the TV, watching bombs and one-liners being tossed with aplomb. I ordered a second pint. My neighbor snagged another Ketel One, which she spilled across the bar. “I’m so clumsy,” she said, showing teeth stained pink with lipstick. “I got my car stolen two weeks ago, and I’m trying to contact the insurance company.” Oh, Progressive Insurance.

“Too bad,” I replied. Sympathy is not my strong suit.

“It’s OK; I’m from Queens,” she replied, apropos of nothing. She flashed her license. She called Los Angeles home. “I lived there for nine years,” she explained. “I got a nose job and liposuction, and now I’m fine.” She thrust her chest forward, her breasts like ripe oranges, and examined me like a butcher does a side of beef. “Are you a Jew?” “I had a bar mitzvah, yeah.” Her eyes twinkled like Hanukkah candles.

“I don’t care what people say—Jews have big dicks,” she proclaimed. “Take off your glasses and let me see how sexy you are.”

I turned as red as an overweight jogger, then drowned my embarrassment with Sweet Action. My companion noticed my empty pint. “Can I buy you one?” she asked, flashing a crinkled $20. Though the path to this Jew’s heart is through someone else’s wallet, I knew this free drink had a cost. I demurred. “You need a drink,” she insisted, sliding her brightly painted fingernails toward my hand. I recoiled, as if she were aflame and spewing venom.

Behind me, a cherubic-cheeked woman ordered a Brooklyn Lager. I caught her brown eyes, telepathing, Save me. “Is that your girlfriend?” my neighbor asked, her mood souring.

“No.” “Yes. I’m going to knock her out.” “Please don’t punch her,” I pleaded, gathering my coat. She reached for hers.

“I’m comin’ with you, big dick.” In a masochistic way, I dug the attention.

Every man likes to feel wanted and well endowed, even if the suitor is certifiable.

Wait, that last bit’s a lie. I pondered my surgically altered bar companion—her violent threats, her sharp fingernails, her vodka-slowed reflexes—and quickly, wordlessly strode outside. I had a date with a band, and I didn’t want to be late.

Read the story at the NY Press too.

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