My grandparents think that I should have already found my wife. Ideally, she’d be Jewish, of Polish or Romanian descent, Modern Orthodox and willing to find the perfect Venezuelan nanny to care for our kids. We’d take luxurious summer vacations to Israel and those European countries without recent histories of anti-Semitism. And we’d never have to settle for the Borscht Belt of upstate New York or the beachside casino town of Atlantic City, N.J.
But for a long time, I’ve been intrigued by Atlantic City. I’d only heard of the seedy resort town from my mother’s parents, while spending a summer at their house in Flushing. During my grandpa’s weekly pinochle games, elderly players discussed potential dates for Jersey outings, then exchanged their latest pharmaceutical finds. My grandmother, often decked out in a Tropicana Resort T-shirt, would describe to me the rush of playing nickel slots at the casinos while taking in Broadway revues and the occasional performance of “that show with all the blue people, you know, not talking, or whatevuh.” Since my grandparents could never afford Boca, Atlantic City became their weekend paradise, once or twice a year.
While on assignment for the News covering a men’s hockey team road trip through Schenectady and Troy, N.Y., I discovered that the ECAC tournament would be held in Atlantic City and not in New York’s dump city-of-a-capital, Albany. Over Domino’s Pizza and Colt 45, three of us traveling on the News’ dollar pledged to make the trek to “America’s Greatest Playground,” should the Bulldogs make it to the conference semifinals.
After Yale dominated St. Lawrence in the final game of the quarterfinals in New Haven, I booked my bus ticket on Greyhound’s Lucky Streak. Less than a week later, I’d find myself in Manhattan’s Port Authority bus terminal, looking like a tourist to the throngs of geriatrics waiting to board the bus they knew so well.
Me: “Do you know where the Boardwalk Hall is?”
Meshugenah 1: “This bus is goin’ to the Showboat and the Resort, honey. You’re gonna have to take the jitney. It’s a long walk, let me tell ya.”
M1: “What are you doin’ at the convention centuh? Handsome boy like you must like ta gamble.”
Me: “No, I’m going to a hockey game.”
M1: “They got virtual pok-uh now at Caesars. You can make some money, maybe take my granddaughter on a nice date.”
M1: “Are you Jewish?”
Yale played incredibly this past weekend, shutting out Cornell and Dartmouth by a combined score of 10–0. Unfortunately, no members of the team had the opportunity to become the good luck charm of an 80-year-old widow named Beatrice, experience the center of the Beer Pong Universe at Bally’s or wolf down foot-long Hebrew National hotdogs with Bud Heavy on the beach.
Atlantic City lived up to my high expectations. T-shirt stores hawked either Jersey Shore/Mob/Italian-American or Retirement/Geriatric Fertility/Gold Digger themed T-shirts, alternating Cee-Lo Green’s “Fuck You” with Tony Bennett’s ode to erectile dysfunction “(Where do I begin) Love Story” — “How long does it last? / Can love be measured by the hours in a day?”
I spent countless hours inside Bill’s Gyros and Souvlaki, conversing with the store owner, a mustachioed Greek man who I decided must be Bill. Perhaps intrigued by his passion for 300-year-old bound copies of Greek mythologies, his 300 percent inflation for sit-down vs. takeout beer-drinking and his tendency to make xenophobic and homophobic comments, I purchased four Hebrew National beef franks with mustard, ketchup and fried onions from his restaurant in less than 24 hours. He mocked me for my kosher, unhealthy ways, which I somehow found charming.
Me: “You’re charming, Bill.”
Bill: “ARF ARF.”
Bill did not refer to me by my stated name. Instead, he barked at me and the other patrons in my presence. Regardless, the gyro and souvlaki master smiled for a blurry picture with me and two of my traveling buddies from the News before the three of us left for the ECAC championship game between Yale and Cornell.
While I cherish the time I spent in Atlantic City with Bill and the craps-playing grandmothers of Queens and Flatbush, I will forever regret the missed opportunity to meet the Jewish granddaughter of my choice Greyhound bus encounter. Nothing would have pleased my grandparents more than knowing I’d met the perfect yemenite match in the best vacation spot south of Monticello.