17 July 2011

An Open Letter To The Shoobies

Dear Tourist,

I wanted to take a moment out of my busy day to thank you for all you have done for our little island and the communities here during the time from Memorial Day through Labor Day. The holidays and the summer season bring much joy to the businesses that thrive on your tourist dollar each and every year. And although my personal business does not, directly, depend upon these visits, I can't help but be appreciative of your financial contribution and close company that summer brings. For example, I was so happy to find the empty beer cans on my front lawn at the beginning of the summer when I went to get my morning newspaper. Seeing them crunched and twisted on my well manicured grass meant that the local liquor store made a profit on the alcohol you bought there. Then there was the water bottle full of urine I saw next to a parked car on a side street. That proved to me that you ate at one of our fine restaurants located here on Absecon Island and the wine probably went right through you. I also must applaud your attempts on my life as I try to cross the streets and you refuse to follow the traffic laws of New Jersey, that could only mean that you want to make sure our hospitals and police forces are doing their jobs and that they have plenty of business during what could be a slow summer season. And those colorful words you shout out in greeting as you slam on your breaks just inches away add to my already considerable vocabulary. And I do enjoy your persistent use of the actual streets to take a nice walk in the summer sun. That way, the sidewalks that cover the island from end to end can be utilized exclusively for the locals to get to their tourism industry jobs in order to serve you better. But let me add, when you do actually venture on the sidewalks, I appreciate you walking four abreast and forgetting all common courtesy, forcing me trudge over a neighbor's lawn to get around you and to my destination. That way the local gardeners have plenty to do repairing the damage done by all the foot traffic. I can only assume that the salt air and the freedom of vacation are playing havoc on your, otherwise, good manners and force you to forget them. Speaking of that, our local repair shops are overjoyed at the minor fender-benders that you cause when you playfully disregard the traffic laws of our state and drive as if you are the only one on the road.

In closing, I think I speak for all of us here at the shore when I say a hearty "Thank you!" for another fine summer full of shoobies... err... tourists who make these three months of hell... err... fun worth the nine months of peace and quiet and cleanliness when you depart.

See you next year!

Most Sincerely,


15 July 2011

A Day, Much Like The Next or; Minutiae, In Eighteen Hours

Morning came as it always does, relentless and predictable. I had spent the previous day feeling out-of-sorts, one of those days where you are unstuck from time. My life was murky, I felt like I was out of step with what was going on around me. To compensate, I sat in the bedroom with only the computer, the television and Mighty Joe, my constant feline companion, as my only company with the occasional foray into the kitchen to get some food. I ignored my mobile, turned off all the instant messaging, the only thing I did was watch the Facebook feed change and the occasional YouTube video. The television was on but I'll be damned if I can remember anything I watched the entire day. I ate. That I remember. I ate a lot.
Taking myself out of the day was my attempt to balance myself with the world.
When I fell asleep, curled next to Mighty Joe, his purring a soothing vibration next to my chest, I hoped that the new day would dawn better.
I heard the BBC news first. The timers and stations on the television dutifully set each night to turn on by themselves every morning so I don't have to actually expend any effort during that hateful time between the bliss of dreams and the knowledge of reality. There's a certain comfort to hear all about the woes of the world in a proper British accent. Mighty Joe saw me stirring and immediately pounced on me from the safety of the edge of the bed. I sleep fitfully and, although he wants to be near me, he knows I may crush him or launch him from the bed with my foot or knee. More than once I felt him extracting himself from underneath me, mewling and grumbling the entire time, when I accidentally rolled over on top of him.
I lazily reached up to scratch his purring face, listening to him meow a good morning greeting and I turned over and fell back asleep. My next conscious moment occurred when I realized I was freezing. I had kicked, pushed, rolled the covers off of me and the air conditioner was set to arctic tundra. Yes, it's an actual setting. I realized I should either get back under the covers or get up and start my day or turn the damn thing up (or is it down? I can never get it right when it's an air conditioner) to, at least, the meat locker setting.
Mighty Joe woke me again, this time in protest for falling back asleep. His favourite method is walking on my head, the pillow, my back, my arms or simply sitting on my chest and meowing loudly and constantly until I feed him. He's gotten used to an early morning feeding time and it was now three hours late. I got up this time, knowing that if I kept this up, I would have yet another day like the last and I wanted to avoid that at all costs.
I heard Rico out in the kitchen and the pack of puppies running around back and forth through the house. I dreaded having to go out of the confines of my little fortress but I needed to feed the beast that is my cat and get my day started with a healthy breakfast.
There's a certain comfort in routine. Doing things by rote may seem mundane but knowing that each day of doing things in a certain time or way, everything that needs to be done will get done. I fed the cat and myself while the coffee brewed. I cleaned the litterbox and then washed the dishes. Poured my coffee and went to the room to make the bed whilst the computer started up. Watched the morning shows and updated my Facebook, leaving the smart-aleck comment here and there on my friend's walls. The weather reports called for rain so I decided not to waste my time and water the garden. This is my usual routine, predictable, comfortable and a little boring. But I don't have the luxury of wealth to be truly and completely bored.
Before I knew it, Helene had come home from work to meet with her friend, Claudia, in preparation for their trip to Lancaster, one of Helene's favourite places to get away. We chatted for a time and she gave her bits of worry and advice before leaving, her usual "take care of the puppies" and "make sure you put the iced tea in the fridge". It's odd the things that rattle around in her head, as if we would neglect the dogs and drink warm tea. Off they went and I decided that I wanted to get myself to the gym early. My mobile, when I turned it back on, alerted me right away that there was a mixer that night and I was keen to go. The Greater AC Gay bacon, lettuce and tomato Alliance mixers are always a good time and I enjoy going to places I haven't been to yet. Tonight was Gallagher's at Resorts.
After taking care of a few more things around the house and getting a much needed shower, I decided that I should first go uptown to my bank and deposit some much needed funds into my account and then go to the gym. Every day I had planned to go to the bank after the gym but I never seemed to get there before they shut so I figured I'd reverse the order to make sure it was done. I hopped on a Jitney bus and it took forever to get across town, the cane and disabled club were out in force and they all seemed to want my Jitney. Yes, MY Jitney.
I turned in some change and did my banking, deciding that I'll walk as far as I could in the heat and then hop a bus downbeach to the gym. The local five-oh-five goes right to the doorstep of Body Architects. I did my usual tour through the Taj Mahal, which is down the block from my bank, and made my way through Resorts to the boardwalk where the heat and sunshine hit me hard as soon as I stepped through the door. Luckily I had slathered on the sunblock three thousand before I left the house, if only to keep my vampire skin the porcelain white I prefer. I marched my way down the boards, people watching as I went and marveling at the crowds. It's usually not this busy until after the Fourth of July and I was surprised at how many shoobies were out and about.
As I rounded the area near New York Avenue, where the boardwalk bends and heads downbeach, I saw a crowd had gathered and wondered what was going on. As I got closer, I could see a contraption set up out in front of the Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum, where I used to work as a teenager when it was a fake slot palour (I could tell you the same story about many properties in this city). An escape artist was performing a stunt, hung upside down in a tank of water, arms chained and legs bound in irons. As I approached, they were pulling up the curtain to preserve the secrecy of his escape technique. I continued to walk by, living in Atlantic City for so long, I am more than used to the spectacles on the boardwalk and the unexpected and unplanned fiasco's are more exciting to me. I got a half a block away and heard the applause from the crowd around him so I assumed that he escaped his bondage successfully.
I got near Bally's Casino and decided to wander through to Caesars (the casinos are connected through a labyrinth of tunnels and connectors) since it was so hot and muggy on the boardwalk. I exited from Ceasars and once I got past Trump Plaza I realized that it was too damn hot and I took the tunnel next to Boardwalk Hall up to Pacific Avenue with the intention of hopping on a bus to Margate. Of course, as I got near the corner, a bus went by and, luck would have it, it was the exact bus I needed to get me to my destination. I waited a little longer, text messaging the little numbers they now provide to get a schedule sent to your mobile and saw that by the time the next bus comes, I could be half-way through Ventnor.
I manned up and trudged onward.
I did manage to stop at the flat for a few minutes to reapply the sunblock and then got to the gym and had a great workout. Although I've been working out on and off for the last few years, in these past four months I have seen some significant progress, more than ever before. I can't believe I'm the same person when I look in the mirror although most of the time, I still see that skinny red-headed boy with wire-framed glasses that I was at fifteen.
After reapplying the sunblock once again, I wandered home, down my usual route along Ventnor Avenue and when I returned home, I saw that Joe, my ex boyfriend, and his current beau, Angel, were there.
We talked, I ate lunch, we chatted some more. Well, mostly Joe and I. Angel was with Rico, cooking and gossiping in Spanish (with Cuban and Dominican accents).
The day moved along languidly, as summer days often do, and before I knew it, it was time to get ready for the little shindig at Resorts. I had checked the time in the confirmation email and noticed that the venue had changed, it was now being held at another restaurant in the casino, Capriccio's.
Joe and Angel were leaving to go about their business, whatever that may be, and they were kind enough to give me a lift to Resorts, once I got dressed.

It's strange walking into a building I used to work in. Granted, I only worked there for a weekend, but my hopes and dreams were pinned on my job at Prohibition. I had made life plans, I begun sorting out the tangled mess of my life and saw salvation, quick and sweet, in my new job and the lucky chance it afforded me.
One stupid mistake made months earlier dashed all that against the rocks. But life has proven, time and again, that perseverance (and a little luck) will shift fortunes in my favour.
The longer I live, the more I'm getting the impression that I'm using up my lucky star, and it will peter out with the whimper of a blown out match, not a brilliant supernova worthy of my stature.

I wandered through the lobby, remembering how the casino used to look, and how it used to look before that, and before that. Atlantic City's first casino has been through many owners, long before it was a (legal) casino and after. Since moving here in nineteen eighty, I have a lengthy perspective on the changes gambling has made on the city and I see ghosts of decades past everywhere I go. I got on the elevator and hit the button that said third floor, dining. Once in the lobby, I wandered around, trying to find the right entrance to the mixer. I hear my name being called and I turn to see the table and familiar faces staring at me, waiting. I made the usual pleasantries at the door and received my required name-tag, although I inwardly laughed at that. It's not as if I'm a stranger to anyone on this island.
As soon as I entered, I saw my friend Ike working at the bar, right after the entrance on the right. We talked for a bit and I ordered, spending the last ten dollars I had to my name on a Ketel One and tonic, with lemon (Ike remembered!). As he was making it, I looked around the restaurant, getting my first impressions. It was nothing like I expected but then again, the public areas in Resorts have always surprised me in one way or another. It's one of the last buildings left from Atlantic City's "golden age" and some of the public spaces still retain the glamour and elegance of that long-ago era. I grabbed my cocktail and made my way through the restaurant to the area near the balcony, where our mixer was being held. I noticed the beautiful frescos and arches, the cheery yellow walls, the nicely dressed tables, the ceilings and the chandeliers all hearkening back to another time. I saw the buffet tables simply buckling under the weight of the food and after making small talk with those who were already there, I made my way over to sample the fare. The spread was beautiful and bountiful and I greedily took a sample of nearly everything available. Deep fried shrimp sticks, scallops wrapped in bacon, clams casino, oysters on the half shell, pate on curiously cut breads, luncheon meats of every kind, cheeses from around the world, breads and spreads, fresh cut fruits and crudités, it was an amazing gastronomic and visual feast! I loaded my plate and sat down with some friends, laughing and trading quips with those seated at the tables around me.
In the middle of stuffing my face, I see a very familiar face enter the room, my great friend Michael Waters (who has the nickname Michael Finger, for reasons I'll relate in a later entry). I was ecstatic once I saw him, it's great to see one of the original faces from my early days in Atlantic City, especially one so dear to me. I've always had an admiration and respect for him, his talents as a fine artist, his wanderlust and ability to travel in many circles both throughout this country and abroad. Once he sat down, he occupied my entire interest from that moment on and I peppered him with questions about his life since the last time I saw him. We laughed and gossiped about our mutual friends and then the mixer was called to order (this particular gathering was actually an official meeting of the Greater AC GLBT Alliance and they gave the bi-annual report on the group thus far. New recruits, current membership numbers, sponsored venues, available funds, upcoming fundraisers, the usual business one must attend to when a group of civic-minded people gather together for a single-minded cause). As it stands, after the treasurer, president and other titled members spoke their required piece, the organization is solid and growing. Huzzah! Once the business was attended to, we finished up the festivities, Michael and I stood out on the porch overlooking the boardwalk and ocean and talked to a few friends who were out there enjoying a cigarette.
The party finally wound down, the waiter begging us to eat more since there was so much food left. I was stuffed, I had several servings making like a pig at a trough up at the buffet table. I had decided to visit my dear friend Lance at the Continental, one of my favourite haunts on the island, and Michael was kind enough to give me a lift to Caesars. I said my good-bye's and promised to stop by his home soon (he lives on the border of Margate and Ventnor) during my walk home from the gym. A promise I will keep as I am very curious to see his artwork now, he's been busy over the years and I'd like to see where his talents have taken him.
Once in The Pier, I hurriedly made my way to the third floor, dodging the shoobies and trying to get on the escalator before they do. Just because the stairs are moving does not mean you don't have to. I barge in to the Continental and immediately see Jon, the general manager, and he informs me that Lance had left early.
Dejected, I figured I'd go home and I made my way back through The Pier and over the walkway to Caesars casino.

I, rather impulsively, decided I would walk home on the beach, after putting up with the tourists on the boardwalk for a few blocks and since the sun is setting, it might be nicer to walk along the shoreline.
I walked over one of the overpasses that take you from the boardwalk beyond the protective (and controversial) dunes to the beach and took off my sandals and rolled up my jeans, looking every inch the beach bum, an image that I have tried to avoid my entire life here on Absecon Island.

The sand was cooler than I expected, as I trudged my way to the waterline where it's easier to walk and the water feels good on my feet and toes. I remember thinking that the sand feels odd, the occasional shell or detritus you feel on your soles is disconcerting, making each step an unwelcome surprise. The sand clung to my feet and between my toes where I could feel the grit rubbing with each step. I recalled a Discovery Channel show where they said sand is largely made of the waste produced by parrot fish crunching and digesting coral. People flock in droves each summer to lay on what is essentially fish poop. Who knew?
I looked downbeach towards home and saw the stragglers here and there, the couples in the distance holding hands in the waning daylight, there was a group far ahead sitting near the water's edge. A kid here, a dog there. I looked up and saw that the sunset was near and clouds and colours were going to make it spectacular. I continued on, passing two young boys still playing Frisbee, they were tanned and fit in the blush of youth, I secretly envied them and these days of their lives. The ocean waves were receding, it was low tide and each wave left a long area of moist sand in it's wake, where I walked along, splashing in the little puddles left behind. I tried to avoid the patches of broken shells and seaweed that gather together, haphazardly here and there, but most of the time I was so engrossed with the skies above and the beauty the sunset was displaying, I ignored the small pains the shells caused me when I stepped on them.
I approached the large group I had seen earlier and realized it was a family, sitting at the ocean's edge and fishing. The father was teaching his two sons how to cast the line into the surf, they had PVC pipes embedded in the sand to hold their poles steady whilst waiting for a bite from something in the great sea. There were younger children still playing at sand castles and a harried mom trying to corral them when they ran out into the surf. It was a familiar and comforting scene, even though they were total strangers.
As I continued on, the skies above began to take my attention completely. The sunset was proving to be spectacular and I was engulfed in watching every nuance of colour, the changing clouds, the subtle ebb of light and the encroaching purple of darkness, slowly taking hold. At one point, I could see the Ventnor skyline reflected in the sand when a wave receded and I found a spot where I was able to capture a picture of the moment. The shot came out a little hazy, almost dreamlike, a quality I grew to appreciate since it captured the moment perfectly. The entire walk home had that quality, the mix of nostalgia, the beauty, and the immediate present that all combines to make our memories which always have that hazy quality when we recall them. I managed to get a few more photographs of the sunset, the little camera on my mobile phone is surprisingly good at outdoor shots and I manage to capture the colours that were actually there. Sometimes, they are washed out or overly intense, the camera over or under-compensating in one way or another.
Once I got closer to my home, there were no stragglers left on the beach. I was alone with nature and my thoughts. I began to scan the dunes for the entrance to the boardwalk, almost wanting to keep walking and extend the moment for a while longer but I had had a long day and I was beat. My feet, now wet from walking in the water, quickly accumulated sand and the beach was hard to navigate, shifting under my feet as I walked to the slats that make a path between the dunes. On the ocean side, a young man was sitting by himself, dressed all in black and staring out to sea. I wondered what he was thinking as I walked by. When I emerged through the dunes, I startled a couple walking on the boardwalk, the light had almost completely drained from the sky by now and it was dark where I was walking. I stamped the extra sand off my feet and wandered down the ramp to the sidewalk, since I refuse to walk in the streets like a shoobie.
The promised rains never came and, since I had to wash the sand off my feet, I took the opportunity to water the gardens, teasing the dogs in the house since I was wandering around the premisis and I didn't come give them hugs and kisses and pets beforehand. The flowers in the front garden were getting big, my green thumb seems to be working. I watered the plants in the backyard in the complete dark, my only light coming from the lightning bugs and getting bitten by the mosquitos.
Once inside, the spell was broken, I was back to reality and the here and now. Helene and I sat and watched her true crime shows and I soon, I settled in and went to bed, Mighty Joe purring beside me.