Jim Walls is a writer of gay stories and lives in Philadelphia. His other work can be found online at Shabby Doll House and Alien Mouth and in print via Apiary Magazine and Dostoyevsky Wannabe. You can be his friend on Instagram @garconparadiso.
1 story by Jim Walls
Listening to the Song Atlantic City by Bruce Springsteen
On my way to the beach I listen to the song Atlantic City by Bruce Springsteen 10 times and daydream myself into a beautiful loser fantasy but maybe I’m only a loser. The Mood-O-Meter on the boardwalk tells me I’m tender but I was going for sexy and alone. I sit in the photobooth and perform for myself a series of facial expressions in the mirrored window.
Happy, flash. Serious, flash. Unemployed, flash. Emotionally ready to join a cult, flash.
In the mirror I notice the halo of a room odorizer burn around my left nostril from my sex date the night before. I stand for 3 minutes staring at a sign that reads:
YOUR PHOTOS READY IN 3 MINUTES!
I look at my phone. The screen reads:
And then the phone buzzes and the time is replaced with the word:
I only let it ring once before holding it to my face to say:
“Happy birthday Dad.”
My dad’s voice says:
“I can’t believe this shit on the TV.”
And then the photo strip comes out slimy like birthed evidence that my idea of myself is out of sync with what I really am. My dad’s voice says:
“We’ve got the Monopoly man running this country. Lots of folks around here don’t see it that way but it’s true. It’s true he’s got all the cards in his hands. It’s true the president hates us.”
Instead of a facial journey in 4 frames I came out: neutral, neutral, neutral, neutral. I look like a guy who has responded to the same bad news with 4 similarly distracted expressions of indifference. I look like a guy who doesn’t care that somebody has pulled back the curtain to say to him:
“This way to the execution chamber.”
My dad’s voice says:
“He for sure doesn’t even care about us working people but half these jackasses on our block voted for him, really rallied for him some way didn’t they?”
I sniff the photo strip and it smells like rotten eggs. I say:
“The democrats haven’t done much to earn the trust of the working class lately either.”
I walk the boardwalk with my phone pressed to my ear and make eye contact with a man who looks unwell but hot and has a tattoo on his bicep of 5 big black letters that spell out:
My dad’s voice says:
“What kind of attitude is that? Where’d you get that one from? My son’s a republican is what you’re telling me now.”
I’m following The Fiend down the boardwalk past the freak show. He looks over his shoulder at me again. I lick my sunburnt upper lip. I say:
“I’m not a racist, Dad. Have you thought maybe you just live on a block of racist assholes?”
The Fiend pauses under a banner that reads:
HEAD OF A BEAUTIFUL GIRL BODY OF AN UGLY SNAKE
And under that someone has painted an armless woman with scaly breasts. Her serpentine skin is elaborately done in fine detail but her barely-there face reminds me of a vague police sketch I saw on the local news. Under the curl of her tail are big red letters that spell out:
My dad’s voice says:
“This is the block you grew up on, have you no white pride?”
The Fiend leans against the sign under the letter E. I lean next to him under the V. I say:
The Fiend says:
“That your girlfriend on the phone, man?”
I grin and my dad’s voice says:
“Who’s that? Where are you?”
I cover the phone with my hand to say to The Fiend:
And then I uncover the phone to say to Dad:
And then I hang up on my dad on his birthday before remembering it’s his birthday. I follow The Fiend onto the beach and across the sand which stretches like a desert from the boardwalk to the ocean. We’re halfway across the desert when The Fiend walks into a port-a-potty. I stand there waiting to see if he will lock the door and then I keep on walking.
I think I’ll have another sex date tonight back in the city. If I come back from the beach with a sunburn on my white ass I want my sex date to slap it and feel me as I radiate warmth. And then I will say something like:
“Oh yeah I was at the beach today.”
I pick a spot in the sand to take off my shirt and lay down. The beach is lush open space and the city is cramped cement with very little nature 67 miles away. I know how many miles I am from the city because via the sex app on my phone someone named “bottomboi” has sent me a message that says:
-67 miles. So far.
In a scary voice I say to myself:
“All alone… 67 miles… from nowhere.”
And when I stare across the ocean I know I’m looking in the direction of France or Portugal or Spain or maybe Morocco. I consider how long I would have to work until I have enough money to go across the ocean and then I remember I quit my job. I message bottomboi:
-I’m at the beach.
Maybe before I die I’ll leave my country and go across the ocean but for today leaving the city is enough. Just the beach is enough to make everyone back in the city jealous. Except I haven’t even told anyone about it yet although I guess I told bottomboi. I message bottomboi:
-You’re the only one who knows where I am. It was a last minute thing.
I want to be at the nude beach farther north or the gay beach farther past that but the bus only takes you where the families go for vacation. I’m not on vacation. I’m unemployed. I unzip my shorts and spread eagle under the sun in my speedo thinking about how maybe everybody on the beach except for me came here with somebody. I came to the beach alone because nobody will ever love me and respect me more than me. It makes me want to pull down my speedo and moon them all. bottomboi messages me:
-Hot. I’m alone in my apartment with a hungry hole.
Which reminds me that back at the bus terminal in the city I saw a pigeon with no feet. I fed it a crumb of my everything bagel and felt slightly nauseous. I send bottomboi a picture of the front of my speedo and a message that says:
-Are you lonely?
And then I leave my phone with my shorts and run through the sand into the waves as fast as I can and swim out as far as I can to be as alone as I can because that’s the whole reason I came to the beach anyway.