Deep into the night sitting at the bar at the House of Blues in Atlantic City pounding back a Coors light and the guy seated next to me is cursing up a storm at the video poker terminal.
Bottles perch on step-like shelves, a Mayan pyramid of top shelf liquors, almost taunting us to order them: Crystal Head Vodka, Patron, Grey Goose, Kahlua, Malibu rum, Jose Cuervo, Hennessey Cognac, The Glenlivet and Chivas Regal. This is the neon voodoo dungeon, a depressing place where people sacrifice their money at the blinking electric altars and smile through the pain.
A group of 50-somethings mills around the bar and quote old pop songs from the 1960s as young couples pound down their mixed concoctions. It’s a dismal Sunday night, quiet except for bleeping slot machines in the next room, and cocktail waitresses delivering mixed drinks in the Mardi Gras of supreme avarice. Asian tourists poke their heads into the bar on their way to the baccarat chamber, where they crowd around tables and add more cash to their exploding empires.
I sit in this mausoleum of American greed with my watered down beer and type into my cellphone, a fevered scribe dutifully recording this screed, my sleep-addled brain directing my fingers to tap the keys faster and with abundant rage.
Now the old man who played video poker next to me at the bar is gone and a scruffy 20-something with a reverse baseball cap assumed his place. Atlantic City doesn’t care about your soul. It just wants your money, a smiling highwayman robbing you blind with a bit of glittering spandex on her thigh and a shit-eating grin on her ruby lips.
A woman whoops like a crazed mandrill after winning baccarat. A smattering of applause and Korean clipping across the table. This town reeks of top shelf alcohol and failure, and from the stinking abyss, I become just sadistic enough to laugh. Sucking on her cigarette, a woman sitting next to me exhales, spewing a toxic cloud all over my jacket. She turns to her boyfriend, who barks into his cellphone. Three guidos hoist drinks and commiserate, and hurl expletives like the fucking pope hurls Latin.
I hate them all, puppets regurgitating profanity, vulgar afterbirths consuming air and producing shit. This is the American future, a generation of spoiled dicks, assholes and cunts flicking their cigarettes and speaking like fourth graders with Tourette syndrome.
Amid this perverted clown party, I finish my piss beer and leave the bar. I head back to the casino floor, a jungle of bright lights and shattered dreams, back to the old ladies with varicose veins and old men who stare stupid and hypnotized by the slot machines. The House of Blues’ flaming heart logo is a fitting symbol for this carnival of perversity. Yet I’m not hostile nor do I harbor any resentment for these braindead maggots. They are merely puppets for my own amusement, wayward hitchhikers I momentarily pick up and converse with and let loose on abandoned desert freeways.
For a brief moment, our lives intersect and they become the background noise in a tableau of truth, one of American absurdity and a cyclical pattern of idiocy and superficiality. This drunken butterfly bursts forth from its entombed chrysalis changed and brightly beautiful. No cynicism from the doom prophet and wild scribe tonight. Now I’ll conquer this place, a 21st century berserker Viking lopping the heads of errant loudmouths and cramming wisdom down their neckholes. As the prodigal son makes his triumphant return to the Land of the Lotus Eaters, poker tables, slot machines and roulette wheels embrace me.
Sodom and Gomorrah by the Atlantic, you’ve met your match.
Tonight I feel lucky.