Gut Instinct: All the Underage

smoking_underageGot another Camel Unfiltered?

My earliest memories of falling on my face stem from the Greenery, an 18-year-old Ohio drunk’s best friend.

Slanting and falling apart across two floors, the fetid dive was spacious as a barn— and smelled like one too. Chunky upchuck petrified in corners, while a black broth of stale beer and cigarette butts slicked the linoleum. Hormone-addled teens groped in shadowy nooks, their indiscretions fueled by the Greenery’s door policy: have cash, get trashed, regardless if you’re 18 or 80.

“Open your wallets and head upstairs, freshmen,” ordered the bouncers, their biceps the size and color of Thanksgiving turkeys, sending students up a sticky flight into rapture. And no night was more glorious than Quarter-Draft Wednesday.Two bits bought an 8-ounce beer of foamy, fabulous fun. Two bucks equaled a one-way ticket into a shimmering new world, one in which undergrads occasionally removed their undergarments.

Though the short-lived Greenery (cops eventually followed the tributaries of stumbling, slurring teenagers to the source) was heaven for freshmen, it was hell for another long-suffering breed: “What do you mean you’re not going to tip me?!” I recalled one bartender screaming, his hair gelled so stiffly it could deflect bullets. “I just poured you 12 beers!”

“I need more money for more beer,” I said, cradling the joy juice like a newborn. “Yeah, well if you don’t tip me, you’re not getting any more beers. Respect your bartender,” he said. He taught me a lifelong lesson: Don’t anger the man who holds the key to your happiness. Like a primordial creature escaping the ooze, the lesson crawled into my consciousness last week, when my pal Matt hoodwinked me into tending bar at a Brooklyn nonprofit’s art show. Featuring college artists.

“I’ve never been surrounded by so many 19-year-old girls,” Matt says, appraising the rosy-cheeked ranks. “And they all want something from me.”

“Beer,” I tell him, protecting the icy cooler of Brooklyn Lager from grasping, gaudily painted fingernails. “It’s like a female prison riot.” Playing bartender was not tonight’s plan. Originally, I was supposed to grab Matt and bolt back to my abode.We had a date with a bottle of Rittenhouse Rye, my spicy whiskey sweetheart, and a sixer of Humboldt Brewing’s smooth, citrusy Red Nectar Ale. Instead, I am now fending off summer-break students lusting for beer like zombies for cerebellums—and with manners to match.

“It’s three bucks for each Brooklyn Lager, plus tip,” I tell one melon-chested blonde, her plunging red neckline a ripe reminder of that statutory law. “I donated at the door,” she says. I try to explain that’s fantastic, but money is required. “But…”

“No buts. Go to a bar or any bodega and you pay for each beer. That’s how drinking works.” She withdraws 31 cents from a green change purse. I shake my head. She storms off, muttering sweet nothings that aren’t so sweet.

A guy with a baseball hat and a John Waters mustache has a similarly difficult time comprehending commerce. “Can’t I just have a beer for free?” he whines. “No.”

“Why not?” I just shake my head, fully comprehending America’s no-money? Here’s-a-home! crisis.

A kewpie doll of a gal, cheeks chipmunked with baby fat, shuffles my way.“Perhaps I should get to know you better—like, over a beer?”

My hands clam, my heart hummingbirds. I’m cohabiting with my girlfriend, however, happily living in rumpled-sheets sin. So I kibosh the coy talk. I hike my jeans and channel my inner old man, no doubt assisted by my recent affinity for Blue Sky Bakery’s bran muffins.

“Excuse me, but just how old are you?” I ask in principal tones. I hold a sweaty Brooklyn Lager like a switch, lightly banging it against my callused palm. “What’s your birthday?”

“August 25, 1986,” she spits back, barely missing a beat. “That makes you how old?”

“Twenty…three?”

“Sorry, little sister,” I say, dropping the beer in its icy bath. “You need better math than that. Or at least a fake ID.”

“Come on,” she pleads. “I’ve been lying my way into clubs since I’ve had braces.”

“Is that supposed to make me trust you?” Her eyelids flutter, a hot knife into men’s buttery hearts. Not mine, not tonight. Though the Greenery made me, I, sir, am no Greenery.