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.

Dollar Grub: Brighton Beach

Have you ever tried to slice an apple in half with a plastic knife? It ain't easy, chickadees. Anyway, lookie here! It's my latest installment of Dollar Grub: Brighton Beach edition. I look like an utter fool and nearly toss my cookies and pickles on the Cyclone. Then again, when do I not look like a fool?

Gut Instinct: "Cheap, Cheap"


The Birdie Chirps, “Cheap, Cheap” Sometimes contemplating the bill can take all pleasure out of the eating experience

If I were elected president—highly unlikely, given my checkered past of pilfering my mother’s purse change and guzzling strangers’ abandoned beers—I would make my birthday a national holiday. Let’s call it Josh Day. On Josh Day I’d urge, no, demand my citizenry to follow me to my preferred celebration spot, Coney Island. We’d unfurl blankets, sunscreen ourselves snow-white, devour Zapp’s Jalapeño potato chips and drink icy cans of Coors Light until I drunkenly, hilariously nuke some negligible nation like Luxembourg.

Sadly, I can’t derail the Obama Express (is America less likely to vote for a drunkard Jew than a black man?), so Josh Day will never receive national acclaim.

“But every day’s a Josh Day,” a friend points out. “You always pick the bars and restaurants we go to.” That’s because I’m always right. Except when I suggest imbibing the viscous liquor Zwack. Or eating embryonic ducks. Or sampling the Navy Yard Cocktail Lounge’s $3 cocktails and similarly affordable friction dances. Still, my smartest move—besides removing my navel piercing at 19—is celebrating my summertime birthday at Coney Island. After 29 years of birthday fetes, from Chuck E. Cheese’s animatronic high jinks to college keggers, my beach formula has proven the swellest—and cheapest. All I require are endless 99-cent Coors Light silos to unleash my battle cry, “It’s my birthday, bitches!” as the Cyclone zooms me to heights that dizzy me like a night’s ninth beer.

My party’s low-cost component is emblematic of my cheap-bastardness, which dictates I obtain pleasure from the absolute bottom. Take a recent weekend in geriatric wonderland—Sarasota, Florida—where a friend was getting hitched. Did the duo’s love make my heart swell like a Ballpark frank? Certainly. However, my happiest moment was dining at Tasty Home Cookin’, a greasy spoon with a countdown timer to Christmas 2008. The strip-mall outpost served three griddle-cooked burgers for $1.86. They were as wonderful as post-coital bliss, and far tastier, which makes me wonder what I’ve been doing wrong.

Conversely, inciting my drunken-stepfather ire is simple: Invite me to your birthday dinner. If the event’s BYOB, like at Prospect Heights’ jerk-shrimp paradise The Islands, then I’m placated. Otherwise, I avoid birthday get-togethers like I did my high school neighbor Heather. This stocky, apelike lady—her hair scraggly as a heavy metal headbanger’s—Peeping Tommed me every morning. Then she’d inform me of my underwear’s color while we waited for the bus.

“Blue,” she’d say, the words slithering from her pink, fur-lined lips, “with stars. Lots. And lots. Stars.” I shiver equally when I recall that moment, as well as a recent birthday fete at Korean long-timer Woo Chon. It’s on a Midtown block so desolate that one can urinate on the sidewalk like a flea-bitten mutt. The block’s homeless élan didn’t impact menu prices: “Twenty-five bucks for barbecue!” I cried, flipping through the disintegrating menu. “Five bucks for watery Hite beer!”

“Hahahahahahaha!” my dozen dinner companions laughed, which translates to, “We’re ordering enough food to sate a battalion of bulimic cheerleaders.”

I white-knuckled my wallet as eight bottles of bracing soju were ordered, followed by a dozen beers. Seafood pancakes, mushroom dumplings and tubular spicy noodles came next, followed by raw steak and sea creatures for barbecuing.

“I think we need another order of shrimp,” said a bald eater, smoke wafting around him. “Who wants shrimp?” I shook my head as emphatically as Roger Clemens denying any steroid wrongdoing.

“More shrimp it is!”

Mentally tabulating the bill removed the pleasure from my charred, lettuce-wrapped bulgogi. For the first time in a great long while, alcohol provided zero solace. Upon the night’s gluttonous, plate-licking end—sweet strips of raw beef served as dessert—the bill thudded onto the table like a cartoon anvil.

It sat dead-fish still until a diner cloaked in an ill-fitting suit grabbed it and performed mental math: “Fifty-six dollars each,” he proclaimed.

My heart wept as I envisioned all the dollar dumplings I’d never eat. Diners whipped out billfolds. “Happy Birthday” was sung with gusto. I tossed in my sad-sack Mastercard. When the receipt arrived, begging my John Hancock, I noticed an aberration: I was charged $57, not $56.

“Surely there’s been a mistake,” I said, masking my fury with a grin.

“No mistake.”


“We charged you an extra buck to round out the tip.”

“Huh,” I replied, making a mental note to steal the suited man’s drink when he least expected it.