New York Press' Gut Instinct: Blame It on the Train

Their superpowers do not prevent them from passing out on the train. Photo: Flickr/Power Llama

During my early, drunken youth in New York, I made many decisions detrimental to my health.

Since I earned $10 an hour as a receptionist, answering phones as gracefully as a semi-deaf construction worker with an anger disorder, my nutritional intake consisted of dirty-water hot dogs and greasy pizza. What I didn't spend on sustenance I wasted on gin-and-tonics and cut-rate beer at downtown dives such as Holiday Cocktail Lounge, Welcome to the Johnsons and Blue and Gold. I spared no expense to get smashed. Why earmark money for nutrition when salty pretzels and greasy chips were free?

When 2 or, more commonly, 4 a.m. rolled around, I'd be faced with dragging ass back to my then-apartment in Astoria. An empty wallet meant a cab ride was out of the question. Instead, I'd haul my alcoholwracked body to the subway and, once the train arrived, find a cozy corner seat and cinch my eyes. Just a few minutes, I'd think. Just sleep for a few minutes. A "few minutes" soon became 50. I'd awake at a far-flung stop such as Sutphin Boulevard or Union Turnpike, names that'd make no sense even if my blood weren't 30 percent PBR and rotgut whiskey. Groggily, I'd decipher my location on the map and wait for a train to backtrack me to my bed. I'd arrive home after sunrise, my own mistaken walk of shame.

Though I never had my pockets cut and wallet snaggedit happened to my friend Chris, who awoke to find his jeans air-conditioned and his billfold goneI've stopped tempting fate. These days, the rare weekday that I'm out boozing till midnight, I'll gladly pay for a $20 cab ride home. I've learned from my youthful folly. Well, I thought I had.

Last Wednesday, I was entrenched at Midtown's Manchester Pub (920 2nd Ave. betw. E. 48th & E. 49th Sts., 212-935-8901). It offered sports on tons of TVs, burgers and wings and decent craft beers on tap. It was a decent neighborhood hangout but nothing worth traveling toexcept for a coworker's going-away shindig. I know what you'll say: "Coworker? I thought you worked at home, pants-less, clacking out stories with dirty, jagged fingernails?" That's true. But working at home is a lonely lot. Entire days pass wherein I don't speak a syllable, as nonverbal as my mutt Sammy. Thus, I copyedit twice a week at a Midtown magazine. I ensure proper grammar and punctuation. In return, I receive conversation and sweet, sweet cash. It's a win-win for everyone!

As a loyal part-time employee, I'm often invited to work functions. Which is why I was toasting my coworker with a glass of fragrant Cigar City Jai Alai IPA. I should mention that this is a strong beer. Two glasses will make anyone a chatty Cathy. Four glasses and you'll win a medal for impersonating a fall-down Bowery bum. By coincidence, I kicked back four glasses. This gave me the Nobel Prize notion to order a snifter of smoky Macallan 12 Scotch. I'd awake at Sutphin Boulevard or Union Turnpike, names that'd make no sense even if my blood weren't 30 percent PBR and rotgut whiskey.

"Sure you want that?" a friend asked, watching my eyes roll around like marbles.

"Yesh, yesh I do," I replied. No, no I didn't. No sooner did I vanish my drink than I realized my mistake. My legs turned to Jell-O. My head felt as heavy as a bowling ball. It was time to go. Now. Not bothering to say my goodbyes, I slunk off. Cabs whizzed past. I should've extended an arm high in the air, as if I were a fifth-grader who knew the answer to a teacher's question. But I didn't have the intelligence of a fifthgrader, much less a five-year-old. Subway home, I thought, subway home. I set my body on autopilot and lumbered to Grand Central. I caught a Brooklyn-bound train in a jiffy, finding an open seat. I sank into the plastic like a sack of dough. I shut my eyes. Goodbye, night. Hello, nightmare.

The train trundled toward Brooklyn.

Stops came. Stops went. I slept. I could've slumbered all night, as snug as a bug in a rug. But then the goddamn train loudly squealed to a standstill. My brain sparked. My eyes flickered. Franklin Avenue. Subway home! I lurched from my seat and stumbled off the car, right before the doors closed. I guess you could call it a dream commute.

Read—and vote for—the original story on the New York Press' website.

Gut Instinct: Darkness at Noon

A drunken bike ride leads me into a Corona-fueled dance club in Queens

“Corona!” I bellowed. “Give me a Corona!”

“Qué?” replied the busty barmaid.


She tilted her ear toward me, an act more symbolic than useful. The rollicking ranchera tunes at Viva Zapata Bar (80-14 Roosevelt Ave. betw. 80th & 81st Sts., Jackson Heights, Queens; 718-898-4747) thundered loudly enough to make a cochlear-implant salesman a millionaire. Dears, what was I doing here?

I first glimpsed Viva Zapata one rambling afternoon. I’d just eaten crunchy carnitas tacos at Taqueria Coatzingo (76-05 Roosevelt Ave. at 76th St., Jackson Heights, Queens; 718-424-1977). Full of fatty pork, I sauntered down Roosevelt until a blast of south-of-the-border beats stopped me.

I assumed the music’s source was unassuming Mexican restaurant Viva Zapata. Yet the noisy culprit was its separate, second-floor lounge—bienvenidos al bar advertised a sign adorned with martini glasses. I peeked upstairs. It was shadowy. It was creepy. It was a perfect scary bar. I inserted the address into my “bad ideas” mental file, which I accessed last week.

Since it was sunny out, I eschewed the subway for my bike—always a brilliant idea when drinking. I steered my pedaling machine to Queens, maneuvering past myriad SUVs trying to steamroll me into road pizza. Upon arriving unscathed, I chained up beside texting teens and cluttered shops hawking loin-quaking music, the very sort pouring from Viva’s second floor.

I opened the door just as a gentleman with bristly brown hair exited. He froze as if hit by a superhero’s icy ray. “Quiero cerveza,” I said. I offered a toothy smile that both said “I’m harmless as a puppy” and “I’m coming for your daughters after dark.”

“Cerveza?” he replied, inching backward.


He flicked his head toward the dark, deafening upstairs void.

I ascended into a windowless, sunlight-murdering room. At the purple-neon-ringed bar, baby-cheeked Mexican men wearing baseball hats sat beside curvy ladies clad in skirts as colorful as they were abbreviated. They shouted into one another’s ears, their reflections bouncing off mirrored walls. A blow-up Pacifico beer bottle dangled from the ceiling. A disco ball splattered glittery drops across the vacant dance floor. Low-wattage red and green lights—viva Mexico—kept the mood seedy and cheesy, just like the music.

“AMOR-blah-dee-blah AMOR!” the songs blared ad nauseum.

“What the hell are you doing here?” I envisioned my girlfriend asking, examining me with fingers plugging ears.


“No, you’re a moron. You’ll get stabbed one of these days.”

“I’m harmless. Who’d stab me?”

My question should’ve been, Who’d serve me? After futilely shouting at the bartender, I gestured at a Corona ($4). The bartender nodded. She inserted a lime wedge into the bottle’s neck, then swaddled in white napkin. The little details are so delicious.

I grabbed a two-top table and swigged deeply. A beer-bellied DJ hidden in a CD-filled closet stepped out. I waved feebly. Belly didn’t. He retreated into the cave and cranked up the tuneage. A lady in red and a guy in blue jeans commanded the dance floor. They gyrated like high-schoolers who only recently learned how their bodies worked. But whenever the man tried touching the woman’s rump, she redirected his hands to her bony hips. This occurred, five, 10 times—until I ran out of countable fingers.

When their oddly chaste twirl ended, the guy slipped the girl currency. Good gosh, Viva Zapata was a lower-rent El Flamingo, the sexy-ballerina bar where forlorn men buy dance-floor romps with women in high heels and short nightgowns.

Tonight’s pay-to-sashay act repeated with new men. Women followed the dollars and switched allegiances like baseball free agents. I had another beer. Sometimes, that second beer’s all I need to switch from Grumpy Gus to Gregarious Guy. But the second, and soon the third, barely lifted spirits. Buying love is only funny in ’80s teen comedies. The doorway gentleman, I now saw, wasn’t telling me I was unwelcome; he was telling me I didn’t need what waited at the end of that long, lonely set of stairs.

“Besides,” my girlfriend would add, “you hate to dance.”

“There are many things I hate,” I’d respond—the Pittsburgh Steelers, tequila, men hogging multiple subway seats—“and that is definitely one of them.”

“So shouldn’t you be somewhere where you don’t have to pay to be with women? Like home?”



“Yes,” I replied, emptying my Corona and heading downstairs into a brighter world.

Gut Instinct: Beer Before Coffee

Last week, in a major-league blow to my waning self-respect, I shattered one of my sacred drinking commandments.

No, it wasn’t Stop Boozing Before You Think Your Sister Is Smokin’, a rule born one uneasy night during college when I imbibed great lakes of Jägermeister. This fogged my faculties so much I mistook my little sister’s cheek kiss for a paramour’s smooch—a memory seared into my brain like a bull’s branded rump. Instead, my mistake was hitting the happy juice before noon.

“Big whoop,” you mutter, clutching a mimosa. Morning-time drinking is an integral part of American culture, from football tailgating to brunch-time inebriation. It’s the rosy glow that makes the days go. But babies, a.m. swilling smudges a fine line I stumble between work and alcoholism. Patronizing Brooklyn’s latest microbrew bar? Acceptable. Turning off the alarm and taking a slug of whiskey? Problematic.

Except during backyard BBQ parties and Cincinnati Bengals football games, I abstain from the sauce until at least 5 p.m. This pleasantly demarcates afternoon and evening, when office troops flee their lairs to self-medicate at happy hour. I have no such lair. Instead, I wear stained pajamas and clack away at a keyboard, pausing occasionally to peruse blogs and titillating web portals. Inspiration has been found in odder places than Pornotube.com. Such actions are a socially acceptable part of the “writing process,” or similar pap I feed my friends about why I marinate in my pajamas until 4 p.m. But if you compounded my bare-flesh procrastination with beer drinking, you’d find a miserably wretched existence. Or an after-school special. Or both.

To write about booze is to embrace wild abandon mixed with self-control. Yes, I hit saloons nearly nightly and glug cocktails aplenty, yet it’s impossible to write while nursing a throbbing skull-splitter. It’s the eternal Catch-22: I must drink for material, but too much drinking means my words are gobbledygook. Hungover, I mope and scarf greasy General Tso’s bought from my bulletproof-glass Chinese eatery. And peruse porn. The shame circle is complete.

I’m not fishing for sympathy. Countless lushes would kill for my predicament. Besides, last week’s before-noon boozing was integral to participating in the Idiotarod. It’s an annual do-it-yourself race subverting Alaska’s dogsled contest: attach four humans to a shopping cart (decorated like an octopus, for example), let another “mush” then dash through Brooklyn and Manhattan. This means running. Lots of running. I abhor running. More specifically, I despise runners. This exercise transforms rational folks into holier-than-thou shlemiels blathering about the “high” provided by slapping overpriced running shoes against pavement. Want to get high? Smoke a bowl; don’t run 26.2 miles and chafe your nipples as bloody and raw as ground chuck.

Given my rubbery legs, I could only haul our shopping cart via Jameson Whiskey Power™. Three hefty shots of that amber ambrosia and anyone’s ready to run through brick walls or have sex for longer than two minutes. Either way it’s a win-win, so I spent my princely column fee on several bottles of Irish intoxicants.

“This’ll make the pain go away,” said my teammate Aaron. He has knees that, after he jogs several miles, swell up like delicious citrus fruit. Running makes my thighs feel like they’re being pummeled with a razor-tipped sledgehammer. Hence, hard liquor to the numbing rescue.

Our team, Hair Cult for Men (wearing bald caps, khakis, white button-downs and ties culled from a dead grandfather’s wardrobe), sauntered to the starting line that frigid January morning with all the swagger of sniveling preschoolers. “It’s so cold,” someone whined. We quieted the complaints with hooch. The chill disappeared, replaced by alcohol’s false bravado. “Thank god for liquor-fueled delusions of grandeur!” shouted one runner, as we began sprinting beneath a storm of condiments. I’ll spare you grody details (Vaseline, human hair and baby shampoo played roles), but know that our furious legs flew across Brooklyn at a clip that could’ve rivaled Barbaro. We reached the Red Hook finish line with asthmatic wheezes, covered in flour, mustard and thanks to a sloshing Jameson bottle I stored down my pants, a serious case of whiskey dick.

How does one celebrate completing the foolhardy, well-lubed endeavor? With beer. I chugged a congratulatory can of Genesee Cream Ale at 4 p.m. Another at 5 p.m. Seven p.m. saw me sip Sixpoint’s Bengali Tiger IPA. By 9 p.m., I was attending a microbrew party, downing high-butane beers possessing double-digit alcohol percentages that, as the night blurred away, were higher than my IQ.