Page 3 of 3We decide to take a cab to the Borgata and go dancing. The Borgata is purple, marble, and palatial. The line for the club is a farce. We wander into the high rollers room, sit at the bar watching a table of beefy Israelis play blackjack with tall stacks of black chips. The leggy cigarette girl comes and gets a $100 chip tip on a pack of Parliaments; the busty waitress gets one too. It gets late. We get drunk, get lost among the slot machines. The slots have names like Dirty Harry, Cleopatra, Lucky Lemming. We find an empty food court. We sit at a high formica table and eat greasy grilled cheeses. My friends say how much they like American food. Rich is also getting married this summer. His fiancé is Russian Orthodox and he’s converted for her. We talk about God, the way we might have 10 years ago in college after a late night when we were first becoming friends.
We creep back to the hotel tired; Max falls asleep in the cab with his head on my shoulder. Around 5am I wake up to bachelors banging and grunting at the door of the bachelorettes in the next room. In the morning we crawl down to the diner, eat pancakes and bacon and bottomless coffee. Across the street the Flamingo Motel looks like a crime scene. A man on the corner takes out his cock, pisses in a potted plant, zips back up with difficulty and totters away. A bride-to-be walks by with an inflatable male sex doll perched on her shoulders.
We walk down to the beach. It’s raw and grey, the sea roiling like concrete in a mixer. But the sea is still the sea, even in New Jersey, and it heals our hangovers. Men in ball caps sit in the beach grass drinking out of paper bags. Two brown eight-year-olds in Y fronts dash into the water and flip around like seals. A man scrawls in the sand for his girlfriend, “I LUV U TAMMY I [HEART] U 2 DEF.”
Back on the Boardwalk I duck into the storefront of a $1 psychic. A hard-faced girl in hoop earrings reads my face. She tells me I like to gamble. She doesn’t have change for a $10. I go next door to a place selling tchotkes. The woman won’t break my bill, “You’re next door with those Gypsies!” I offer to buy a postcard, she accuses me again of being in league with those gypsies. Her husband intervenes, they get into a fight. He sells me a postcard of the city and I give the gypsy a tip. Walking back to the bus on the Boardwalk, past the little wooden walkways trailing down through the grass to the beach, I smell fried dough. I think how much I would have liked this place when I was 12, how glamorous and dangerous and grown-up it would have seemed. On the bus I write my little sister a postcard. I think about what my father always says to us, that love is stronger than death, and what the Boss says about Atlantic City, that everything that dies someday comes back. And I hope that it’s true.