Last time I was in Atlantic City I was with a girlfriend of mine.
We sat in a humid boardwalk bar drinking lemon drops and fighting off the flies. It was August and really hot, but our hotel was a pretty decent drive so we decided to make the most of it. Beer upon beer, vodka upon vodka, we sat and watched the human parade float by or roll by occasionally on a rickshaw pulled by some strapping young lad.
The bar was open-air so you could hear the ocean crash the whole time, mixed with The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, The Steve Miller Band. Another shot? Why not? Another beer? Sure thing. I'm almost out cigarettes. I think they sell some at the bar. No, but there's a machine. Can I get some change? Want to play the jukebox? Another shot? Why not?
We stayed until it was dark and staggered out into a dim boardwalk. The casinos had already lit up, but we were further down the strip in some Jersey shore netherworld of shadow dwellers, drunks, and teenage kids looking for blowjobs and pot.
We're off the boardwalk, walking on the sands in the dark. The city was a dim backlight behind us. My girlfriend at the time is a swimmer and decided that there was just too much ocean to ignore and dashed out of most of her clothes. Hold these? Are you sure? I'll be right back. Fine. Whatever. I'll just go in for a minute. Are you sure? Fine. Here, just keep them off the sand.
I watched her fade past the whitecaps and out of sight. A man came out of the shadows from under the pier I was near. I had a handful of women's clothes, shorts, bra, sandals. He had a backpack and walked right up to me. Want a beer? The backpack was full of beer. Sure.
We talked. I kept glancing into the dark waves. His name was Butch. He'd lived here for his whole life. Was retired now. He never had much of a career because he was a junkie. Loved the heroin. That's why he was under the pier. Shooting up. His wife wouldn't let do it at home. Yeah? I'm in law school. Just finished my first year. I don't know. I might end up a lawyer, I might not. Depends. No, I don't need another beer. I already drank alot tonight.
Butch seemed nice and plain-spoken. He was not obviously high, though I knew he had just shot up. I looked out toward the ocean again. Not a sign.
"That your girlfriend out there?" I nodded yes, a lump in my throat.
"I don't think she's coming back until you go," I said, draining the last drop of warm, cheap, backpack beer. "I think you're scaring her off." I was looking directly at the ocean, eying Butch strictly from the corner of my eye. My drunken blurry eye.
"We-ell, I'll just be heading on then." I looked at my hands, I was still holding the bra. "That girl," he said, casting a nod toward the shadowy breakers, "that girl's gotta lot of heart."