April 18, 2003

Atlantic City: The Best Goddamn City in the World
Travel Commentary by Big Jake

You travel like I travel and you start to think of cities like people, like Philadelphia’s your uncle when you were a kid, you see him for the big holidays, he gets two drinks in him and he starts to pull quarters out of your ears and do some card tricks, except he gets half the tricks wrong but it’s okay because he lets you keep the quarters and tells you a really good story about a London whorehouse during the war. Or like Seattle’s some guy people are telling you about on the way over to the bar, about what a great guy he is, how you got to meet him, what a pisser he is, etc. etc., and then you actually meet him and the guy spends half the damn night talking about his job at the rendering plant or the weather or last night’s episode of Friends or some other damn thing, plus he’s got this wad of onion dip on his chin for two freakin’ hours and then on the walk home your friends say Well, you shoulda met him before the leukemia. Or like St. Louis is the third cousin who shows up at your sister’s wedding and hassles your Aunt Edna for cash until your dad slips you ten bucks to rough him up a little in the john.

So when you start talking shit about Atlantic City, then you and me we’re gonna have words, because you’re not talking about some buildings and crap tables, you’re talking about a buddy of mine, a goddamn war buddy who pulled me out of a trench!

Now before you start getting all confused, keep in mind that I’m not talking about a friend. Friends I don’t need. To me a friend is some guy you’ve known for years who says he’s buying you dinner but he’s really just yapping your ear off for two hours about every goddamn thing in his life that you couldn’t give a rat’s ass about until even the bourbon won’t tune him out. And then he calls you up all weepy 3:00 a.m. with some sob story about his wife screwing her chiropractor like the rest of us haven’t known about it for months. Baltimore — there’s a friend…

So what makes Atlantic City the best goddamn city in the world? Because it’s true to you, like a good buddy. It’s always there when you need it, any time, day or night. It’s never too busy to take a few minutes to make you feel wanted. Need a good stiff drink? Here you go, pal, all the bourbon you can stomach, brought to you by one of my beautiful, tunic-clad daughters. Need a few brief moments of hope? Just put a few quarters in the slot and watch the reels spin while dreaming of what you’ll do with that Mgamillions Jackpot. Need a little something extra in the ol’ loving department if you know what I need? Here you go, buddy, sample one of my thousands of whores.

And what does Atlantic City expect in return? Not a goddamn thing. Oh sure, a few times I’ve gotten back on the Expressway a few bucks lighter in the wallet, but hell, the same thing happens when I play poker with the guys from the plant (and at least Atlantic City doesn’t keep “accidentally” knocking his pretzels to the floor to try and sneak a look at my cards, like that cock Joey MacDougall). Atlantic City’ll play fair with you.

So when I hear people talking about where they’d like to go when they get that week’s vacation and I hear places like Florida, or Arizona, or California, or even Paris for crissakes (though if you ask me, anybody who’d want to leave the good ol’ U.S. of A. to spend their dollars in France ain’t nothing more than a goddamn frog-loving red), it just makes me want to smash them in the face with my coffee mug.

So Jake, I hear you asking, if Atlantic City is such a paradise, such a heaven on earth, then what the hell are you doing in this lousy dive? Well, I’ll tell you…there’s only so long a man can look at the heavens before he is blinded by the light of the sun. Or, to use a more applicable example, there’s only so long a man can play the video poker with Necco Wafers before the boys in the dark blue suits start showing you the special underground exit they keep for their special guests, if you catch my drift.

But don’t you worry none for me. I’ve got my wig and fake mustache ready, and I’ve got $23.75 that I’ve fished from the honor system donuts-and-coffee can in the breakroom. Once that sun goes down I’ll be on the Parkway again, and maybe this’ll be the time my old buddy Atlantic City sees clear to lend me a few G’s until payday, or at least leave me enough for gas and tolls on the ride north.

[Editor's Note: This piece, written by Big Jake and edited by me and my friend Gary Schwartz, originally ran in the zine Bleak House a way's back It is the first of a series of 'classic' zine pieces that I might be reprinting here.]
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