My school sent me today to a seminar on classroom management in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The seminar was interesting and useful, but the most lasting impression was made upon me by
a lunchtime stroll down the boardwalk.
Atlantic City, if you didn't know, is the inspiration for the game Monopoly, hence my taking a walk on the boardwalk and passing things like St. James's Place. The atmosphere of the city exudes that same kind of promise - fortune and thus happiness are only a few rolls of the dice away.
The boardwalk promises its own romance. Start with a clear autumn day on the warm side of brisk. Add the splendor of the Atlantic Ocean and the associated salty air. Provide a walkway from which to take it all in, add in quaint shops selling inexpensive and nostalgic American food, and you've got a recipe for sepia-toned enjoyment.
The lords over this enterprise are the casinos, who with straight, even grinning faces ignore the obvious fact that the system is rigged against you. No one seems to notice.
I found a few other things on my stroll. New Jersey, unlike Nevada, stops short of legalizing prostitution in addition to gambling. So instead of being solicited by women in front of brothels, I was solicited by women in front of massage parlors. It seems to be human nature to buy all varieties of sensual pleasure where one sort is already available.
Fortune tellers abound as well, offering such ridiculous methods as phrenology. One modestly proclaimed, "Specializing in solving all problems. Health, financial, and love."
Mixed in without explanation is the New Jersey Korean War memorial. The only people I saw there were Korean. It was cool.
Benches on the boardwalk have not one but two arm rails between the outer two, creating three distinct seats, and eliminating any possibility of being used as a bed. The memory of one homeless man sitting on one makes me think of what happens in Monopoly when you land on that last hotel property whose rent you can't afford.
On my way back I attempted to enjoy some of the aforementioned nostalgic American food, two hot dogs and some french fries, out on the boardwalk. I was foiled by belligerent seagulls, clustering and squawking more and more around me. I got up right as one lunged at my fries. Later another one smacked me in the head with its wing. I couldn't help but think of how birds in Scripture represent the powers of Satan, as when Abram drove them away in Genesis 15:11.
One contrast surpassed all of these in the disgust it brought me. At the start and at the end of my walk I passed a beggar woman. She stood and sang, completely tone deaf, beating for percussion on a plastic bucket that looked like a sand castle toy. Most street performers are musically gifted, and her complete lack of talent heightened the sense of desperation she conveyed.
A few feet up from her, another beggar danced, without coordination, displaying some physical deformity. It is hard to know whether to call her a girl or a woman, because in body she was dressed and styled like an eight-year-old, and in face she looked over forty.
The backdrop against which these beggars stood, and the filler for all of these scenes, was the casino crowd. It was easier for me to understand the presence of residents and workers, who for whatever brokenness at least seem to belong there. But, in the midst of that whole scene, the scores of white senior citizens chasing Borgata and lewd comedians like Robin Williams raised the largest sense of outrage and futility that I felt.
The way I felt about all of this didn't really hit me until about an hour ago, several hours and a nap after returning. In a different situation I might shout and cry. Instead I raise this small outcry against Trump's stronghold on the beach.
The New Testament asserts that all of creation was made by and for Jesus Christ, and that one day he will return to assert his ownership of every square inch. While I feel powerless against that monstrous boardwalk, I long for the day when he will put an end to all of its lies and all of its pain.