Saying Good-bye to Miss Atlantic City
Ex-lovers--not that I talk to them--would tell you I'm not very nostalgic. I've always associated the saccharine sentimentality required for full-on nostalgia with stereotypical femininity, which is to say weakness and reckless romanticism.
When relationships with lovers implode, I tend to drink it over and move on. I probably hold city records for the least amount of post-breakup choke-down sex. I'm embarrassed when other people linger long. The past is the past for a reason--box it up and keep moving.
It's not so easy with women. The chamber in my heart for female friendships is palatial and carved of secret corridors. Though I'm perfectly happy, every once in a while it's hard not to miss college, if only because I lived with my best friends. They were the goofy glue that put me back together again after cracked hearts, Smithsonian-sized hangovers and assorted mistakes. Then jobs, love and money separated everyone. Now, living scattered about, stealing a rare few hours together feels like dialing back time.
My friend Angel and I haven't seen each other a lot since we lived together, but we always fall right back into our intimate rhythm right away. I talk about her a lot. Angel stories are legend: the way she'd randomly turn the stereo off at a party and mesmerize the room by belting out "Me and Bobby McGee" in a voice that gave away her Tennessee roots. Or the time we were sucking nitrous oxide at a party like idiots and another roommate suddenly slumped over. Angel was the one who sprang into action and revived her.
Most classic of all is how she entered the Miss Atlantic City contest intending to write an expose about beauty pageants. I can still picture her dancing absurdly in a satin tulip costume and answering questions about mortality while poised, stomach in and chest out in a white bathing suit. When the announcer crowned Angel the new Miss Atlantic City we went to pieces, a dozen girls laughing like the world would always be full of such hilarious surprises. (Instead of writing the article, she went to Jamaica with the prize money.)
We waited back at her apartment while Angel swung by to thank her pageant sponsors at the Irish Pub in Atlantic City, where she was a cocktail waitress at the time. Eventually she stumbled in the door, sash sideways and tiara askew, a bottle of champagne in one hand and a scepter in the other, waving it over our heads like a fairy godmother.
About a decade later, I'm back in Atlantic City at her bon voyage party. Angel's moving to New Zealand. She married a guy we call the Kiwi and they're relocating to his hometown where better jobs and a whole new family life awaits.
We meet up at the Irish Pub. The crew is old girlfriends with current boyfriends and husbands dutifully in tow, making pleasant conversation with one another while we huddle in catch-up mode. Angel and I sneak in a half-hour straight face time before we all walk over to Boogie Nights, the retro-themed disco club in Resorts casino. Don't ask.
Angel's ever-present smile is still bright as a firecracker. The one time I saw her cry we were sidled up at a 24-hour bar in the Pine Barrens. Our bar. Her big green eyes were so watery it was like the teardrops were defying gravity. She'd been through some shit. "Yes," she answered, then tears gushed down her cheeks all at once. When a guy she knew tapped her shoulder, she wiped her face and turned around to greet him without missing a beat. The tears were gone and she beamed at him radiantly. Ever the lady, the seams never show.
Boogie Nights is ridiculous. A Michael Jackson impersonator jerks and slides like an animatronic puppet in front of huge screens that flicker with scenes from Fantasy Island and Kiss on The Mike Douglas Show in 1974. Middle-aged ladies who were probably actually partying in the '70s grin in sequins and tacky white boots. An Afro-wigged drag queen on stilts sashays across the dance floor, looking down at the cheese and nostalgia through flashing star-shaped glasses.
Feeling uncharacteristically charitable, it's hard to be a snob about it. Except for maybe the waitresses in short-shorts and tube socks, everyone's just having a good time escaping to another time. I stick to the couch dreading a sentimental good-bye. I suppose it's like how some people feel when an ex gets married: It's one thing when you don't but another if you can't.
After a couple of drinks I see Angel smile over from the dance floor and curl her finger in the come-hither at some friends. It's appropriate I'm leaving her here in Atlantic City, where she was once simultaneously a cocktail waitress and a reigning beauty queen. We all have different sides that don't always jibe on the surface. I grab my bag and slip through the crowd to leave. As I walk down the boardwalk past the casinos I keep thinking about it, and I cry a little.