NY Press

Gut Instinct: Hi, Noon

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It’s humbling to explain why, at 29, your shoes mimic Swiss cheese.

“I thought you work,” a friend said, marveling at my $5 knockoff Chucks with holes the size of pocket change.

“But I’m a writer,” I explained.

“You’re also anal. Go copyedit.”

“Point taken,” I said, taking a midtown corporation’s weeklong editing gig.

The work was smooth sailing: words, words, words. My office neighbor was stormy: a shrill brunette with hair apparently bleached blond via squirt gun.

“I can’t believe he didn’t call!” she bleated into the phone my first morning. “I am worth a phone call.”

To cope, I could embrace on-the-job intoxication (tip: vodka with Sprite!), or channel my ire into finding superlative lunchtime sustenance. I opted for the latter. What’s the lure of an after-work drink if you’re drinking at work?

Lunchtime Monday, I hit Chinese canteen Hing Won (48 West 48th St. betw. Fifth and & Sixth Aves., 212-719-1451). Buffet workers served gloppy sesame chicken, but the menu offered deceptively delicious comestibles: roasted duck, double-sautéed pork and noodle soup. Soup 11 struck my fancy.

“Pickle soup!” a ponytailed counterwoman screamed, delivering my plastic tureen of $6 goodness: Thread-like yellow noodles were topped with chewy porcine slivers, zucchini and tart pickles. I slurped the spicy soup noisily and lustily, returning to work wearing a grin and broth on my button-down.

Tuesday brought more inane nattering.

“I’m getting a time-share,” my work neighbor began, as I slipped away to drecky, gray West 39th Street. Amid garment shops awaited Szechuan Gourmet (21 W. 39th St. betw. Fifth & Sixth Aves., 212-921-0233), which serves seriously fiery, numbing cuisine: chili-black-bean rabbit, pork belly with leeks and dan dan noodles. I scanned the 40-item lunch menu and blindly selected braised crispy tofu with pork ($6.95). In China, I suppose, pork is a vegetarian treat.

“Extra spicy,” I told my server.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

I received magma-color tofu and pork slices, which was an oily, chewy-tender contrast that buzzed my lips and incinerated my tongue. Delectable, but note to self: no more super-spicy.

Wednesday. Hump day. “Bikini wax: yes or no?” my neighbor queried a caller.

I plugged my ears and marched to Moishe’s Falafel (46th St. betw. Fifth & Sixth Aves.), a Kosher-certified cart run by bearded Jews. I queued behind members of the tribe, their hats big and black, and ordered the cart’s namesake ($4.75). Crunchy yellow orbs, pickles and salad were shoehorned into a pita and then drizzled with tahini.

I like eating while walking, but Moishe’s forces sedentary ingestion. I sat on a fire hydrant while tan sauce sullied my fingers and lettuce fluttered onto my jeans like fall leaves. It was deliciously, shamelessly sloppy, much like me.

What’d my neighbor talk about Thursday? I dunno; I finally wore headphones. It was my second-smartest move all day. My finest was grubbing a roast-pork sandwich ($6.95) at homey Cuban joint Tina’s (23 W. 56th St. betw. Fifth & Sixth Aves., 212-315-4313). Like a jackalope, this sandwich shouldn’t exist: Crisp pernil, fried plantains, onions and a mayo squiggle are layered on thin, crunchy bread.

“Add potato sticks,” suggested a suit.

“Really?”

“You gotta go big,” he said, motioning to the caloric bomb.

I went big. The sandwich was a crunchy-soft combo of sweet and fatty, spicy and creamy. It sank to my stomach like an anchor, rooting me to my desk till 6 p.m.’s whistle.

Friday. My co-worker called in sick. Thanks, God. What’s a good meal for Friday? I wandered 49th Street. There: Bella Napoli (150 W. 49th St. betw. Sixth & Seventh Aves., 212-719-2819). This squat, steamy slice joint was filled with congealed pizzas and businessmen with necks spilling over collared shirts.

“Meatball sub,” I ordered.

“Meatball hero?” replied the gelled-hair counterman.

“Yes,” I replied acidly. Though I say soda instead of pop, I still make the occasional Midwestern misstep—just like my Ohio brethren in every recent presidential election.

I forgave the server upon receiving a sloppy, forearm-length assemblage of sprightly tomato sauce, springy meatballs and molten cheese. Oh, cheesy meat! Instead of wolfing it down, I luxuriated: a mistake. Given time, the sauce disintegrated the bread, making the hero look as bloody and messy as a zombie victim. I sat on a ledge and devoured the red mess, one pawful after another, as a woman and her chubby-cheeked youngster strolled past. The kid stared at my spectacle. I fluttered my red fingers.

“Let’s go,” the mother said, gawking at my messy mitts, my holey shoes. She dragged her kid away, and I dragged myself back to the office with a full belly—but little else.

Gut Instinct: Daddy Issues

09-gut-instinct_daddyissues.jpgGut Instinct: Daddy IssuesAngioplasty? Colonics? What does the future hold for an unrepentant overindulger?

Just like lusty men fantasizing about performing pretzel-like acts with Barbie blondes, I sometimes daydream about colonics. Or doing the Master Cleanse detox diet. Or following the path blazed by my pal the Nucleus.

Nucleus: “I went to a month-long yoga camp in Arizona where I drank gallons of warm salt water.”

Me: “And?”

Nucleus: “I vomited. Repeatedly. Then we did yoga. I’ve never felt so pure and clean.”

Me: “…”

Nucleus: “I’d do it again.”

Me: “Goodbye.”

These are extreme remedies for overindulgence, that peculiar affliction enabled by venti mocha Frappuccinos, batter-fried Mars Bars and Wendy’s Baconator. Nearly one-quarter of Americans are classified as obese blimps, eliciting knee-jerk reactions like Herr Bloomberg’s trans fat ban. Newsflash, Mr. Mayor: Banning trans fats won’t diminish our shameless love of unhealthy grub and tasty, tasty fat. Sweet lollipops, my hangovers demand crispy sesame chicken, not wheatgrass juice and salad. Grease gives me the happy.

Thus far, I haven’t needed the Master Cleanse’s toxin-ridding, belly-slimming power. My furry body’s magical inner machinations have kept me at my buck-40 fighting weight, despite a diet heavy in dumplings and enough daily alcohol to help me anesthetize my neuroses, disrobe and engage in conjugal relations. With other people. And myself.

“Oh, you go to the gym. You’re a stair-machine maven,” you whisper, feeling my taut calves. “Up down, up down, up down.”

Scout’s honor, I’ve never been a Crunch bunny. Wait, scratch that: At 19, I puffed a very potent joint and played ping-pong at a gym. However, I counteracted any minute cardiovascular benefit by ingesting a family-size Cheetos bag soon afterward.

Like the game show of yore, I’m pressing my luck. Sure, my hairline hasn’t gone missing on a milk carton, and shaving my five o’clock shadow helps me pass for 25. (This almost makes it socially acceptable to eyeball subway-riding high school gals. Almost.) Yet I can see the writing on the scale, the whammies waiting to pop up. A nutritional intake centered on high-proof Dogfish Head beer and deep-fried Mama’s Empanadas will doom me. My heredity demands it.

My father was once a svelte scamp. Every day, he pedaled from Riverdale, the Bronx’s Jewish stronghold, to work at a West Village shoe store. Several hours of riding kept off poundage provided by his mom’s brisket. Then came college, medical school, marriage, three kids: At 35, his job whisked our family to Dayton, Ohio, land of suburban sloth. He developed an affinity for quarter-pounders and curly fries. He jonesed for jelly donuts and cheese steaks, too. His inseam expanded. His belts were re-notched. He looked like he swallowed a globe. “I’ve got my own built-in computer table,” he said one burned-into-my-brain evening. I was 14. My father was supine on his king-size bed. He wore clingy tighty-whities, his chest pelt scraggly and thick, with his laptop resting on his stomach mound. He typed away happily, contentedly, oblivious that in a decade his gut and arteries—as clogged as L.A. rush hour—would conspire to create agonizing chest pain. Shortness of breath. A frantic dialing of three simple digits. And miniscule balloons sent flying through arteries to cleanse a lifetime of super-sizing.

“I think I should start eating better,” my father announced during his convalescence.

“No shit,” I said. Jittery sarcasm is my preferred coping mechanism.

“And exercising more,” he added.

He kept his recuperating-bed pledge. My dad bought Spandex workout clothes and joined a YMCA. Chips were barred from the snack cabinet, and meats vamoosed from the freezer. Four years later, he’s made a mole hill out of his mountainous stomach.

A smarter me would view this saga as reason enough to curtail my double-cheeseburger addiction. But sweethearts, we’re living in a gilded medical age. If Hugh Hefner can have a hard-on, I bet I’ll receive a cloned, unclogged heart by middle age. I’ll spend my golden years recklessly indulging in Nathan’s cheese fries and dim sum at Chinatown’s Golden Unicorn, devouring early-bird dinner specials with a ferocity reserved for feral tigers.

And if science fails? You’ll find me in the desert performing the Downward-Facing Dog, chugging salt water and upchucking uncontrollably, as the hot sun beats down on my unrepentant back. del.icio.us digg NewsVine

Gut Instinct: Bad Company

Gut Instinct: Bad Company Eating with me can put you off your food

Driven by08_gut-instinctwork-food.jpg dire economic straits and insanity-wreaking solitude, I occasionally don pants and an unstained shirt and join the office corps. This is frightening for co-workers, because I loathe mankind.

I don’t despise every mouth-breather. I love my girlfriend and pals, but my love—by which I mean buying cohorts’ drinks and gently mocking their shortcomings—is only possible by spending 12 hours a day sequestered in my drafty Brooklyn apartment. When 6 p.m. hits, I’m so desperate for camaraderie that I embrace compatriots with new-puppy affection.

Consequently, in seven-plus years of city dwelling, I’ve held just one full-time job. Those nine months were among my most woebegone, inebriated days. Of course, scholars may contend that my melancholia was fueled less by the daily grind than my profession: editing father-daughter smut, interviewing bimbos about double penetrations and penning pearls such as, “Shove your egg roll in my combination box, soldier.”

Ever since I quit that gig following 9/11, when I realized the bleakness of a career built on facilitating prisoners’ self-pleasure, I’ve been allergic to the 9-to-5 trudge. Still, being a freelance food-and-drink writer is decidedly non-lucrative, as compared to distributing fliers and flame-broiling Whoppers.

To make ends meet, I marshal my grammar-hound skills—a lifelong fixation since finishing third in my sixth-grade spelling bee, for misspelling bicentennial—and sell myself as a magazine copy editor. I’m an English-language janitor, tidying up errant semicolons and misplaced modifiers. It’s a thankless, tedious profession that tethers me to work until 9 p.m., 10 p.m., sometimes as late as 2 a.m. To compensate for late hours, my employers ply us with something sadder than the American dollar: catered dinners.

While morning donuts or bagels are aces (more everythings, please), work dinners are an experience no less enjoyable than coughing blood. The work day’s sole pleasure, besides stealing pens and toilet paper, is mealtime. For an hour you regain free choice: Will today be Wendy’s? By-the-pound salad bar? General Tso’s chicken? Or maybe sit in a quiet park and tabulate the years, hours and seconds until retirement?

Eventually, corporate bean counters decided to goose productivity by eliminating the need to grab grub outside. Welcome the catered meal, often presented as a “perk” you’re expected to be thankful for. Except for Google’s ludicrously high-quality Chelsea-headquarters cafeteria (offering a raw bar and ceviche station!), free dinner is typically available in two inferior forms. The first is the buffet, which gives humans a crash course in feeding like barnyard critters.

During high school I worked at Ponderosa, a Midwestern steakhouse crossbred with an all-you-can-eat buffet. My job was deep-frying the blue-ticket item, chicken wings. No sooner did I refill plastic troughs with crisp, oily wings than diners, turkey necks and bellies jiggling violently, stampeded the steam table. I was scarred by the experience. But I was not as scarred as diners would’ve been had they known I often scooped frozen, deformed wings off an unmopped floor.

At work, buffets bring employees uncomfortably close. Folks you’ve avoided all day are lined up beside you, bellies growling, bleating unwanted opinions.

“Chicken parmesan? I hate slimy chicken parmesan.”

“I can’t eat steak. I’m a vegetarian.”

“Beans give me gas in the worst possible way.”

People mutter approval. Or disapproval. It’s lowest-common-denominator conversation. No one utters what they’re really thinking: “Hurry the fuck up and scoop up some mashed potatoes so I can get a biscuit and get back to ignoring you.”

Dinner option two is ordering from a work-selected restaurant you’d never choose (say, an Americanized Mexican eatery offering fake sour cream). The food’s arrival is as dignified as sharks attacking a bloodied seal. Leaky takeout containers are acquired and then squired back to desks, whereupon folks resume work or numbly click on websites, hoping for news of another Spears pregnancy, of a blockbuster sports trade, of anything but the obvious: You’re eating together but you’re alone, surrounded by individuals as seemingly randomly selected as lottery balls.

Each week, I’m afforded maybe 15 meals to chomp through, lest I dream of becoming a little Jewish Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. Work-mandated dining robs me of one meal. That’s depriving me of another chance to uncover a rootin’-tootin’ dumpling depot or revisit my favorite hand-pulled noodle dive.

It’s with vast misery that I order a gloppy taco salad. And a Diet Coke. And a side of guacamole. And hunch over my glowing computer screen. I eat until full, eat until I’m disturbingly full, hungering to go home and regain my appetite for people and food alike.