Atlantic City covers the northern third of Absecon Island, a barrier island made up of an alarming amount of sand. It is a bad town to die in — there are plenty of vacant lots but no cemeteries. In many places, if you dig down more than eight feet you hit water. A couple blocks away from the beach, the Absecon Lighthouse is built on a submerged wooden foundation for exactly that reason — so long as you keep wood wet and away from oxygen, it won’t rot. “We haven’t tipped yet,” said Buddy Grover, the 91-year-old lighthouse keeper, “but it does sway in the wind sometimes.”
“The problem with barrier islands is that, sort of by definition, they move,” said Dan Heneghan. Heneghan covered the casino beat for the Press of Atlantic City for 20 years before moving to the Casino Control Commission in 1996. He retired this past May. He’s a big, friendly guy with a mustache like a push broom and a habit of lowering his voice and pausing near the end of his sentences, as if he’s telling you a ghost story. (“Atlantic City was, in mob parlance … a wide open city. No one family … controlled it.”) We were standing at the base of the lighthouse, which he clearly adores. He’s climbed it 71 times this year. “I don’t volunteer here, I just climb the steps,” he said. “It’s a lot more interesting than spending time on a Stairmaster.” The lighthouse was designed by George Meade, a Civil War general most famous for defeating Robert E. Lee at the Battle of Gettysburg. It opened in 1857 but within 20 years the beach had eroded to such an extent that the water was only 75 feet away from the base. Jetties were added until the beach was built back out, but a large iron anchor sits at the old waterline, either as a reminder or a threat.
A little more than two years ago, when I was an intern at a now shuttered website called The Awl, I went out to Atlantic City to cover the Trump Taj Mahal’s last weekend before it closed for good. My first night there I met a woman named Juliana Lykins who told me about Tucker’s Island — New Jersey’s first seaside resort, which had been slowly overtaken by the sea until it disappeared completely. This was a month before the election. The “grab ’em by the pussy” tape had just broken, it was pouring rain, the city was on the verge of defaulting on its debts, and 2,000 casino workers were about to lose their jobs. At the time — my clothes soaking wet, falling asleep in a Super 8 to the sound of Scottie Nell Hughes on CNN — it was hard to understand what Lykins was saying as anything other than a metaphor for the country. I missed the larger menace and focused on the immediate. Trump was elected obviously, but Tucker’s Island wasn’t a figurative threat; it was a very straightforward story about what happens to coastal communities when the water moves in. Read more…
“Trump, a man addicted to success, and—if his oration is any indication—a man with extremely limited reserves of self-control, can’t ever gamble, because he can’t ever lose. I’d bet that Trump is barely even familiar with the table rules, for the simple reason that he doesn’t have to be; all he has to know are the odds to know that he can’t beat them. Having owned the house, he’ll never tempt the house. All he can do is torch it. “
One of the coolest things about Longreads is when someone tweets:
“I’m at the airport about to fly to San Francisco / New York / London / India / Argentina. I need some #Longreads for the trip.”
This got us thinking: What if we started gathering the best #longreads for every destination in the world?
It’s a big job, so we might as well start now. Today we’re announcing the launch of Travelreads, a new channel curated by Longreads and presented by Virgin Atlantic to help you find and share the best stories about the best places in the world.
You can find Travelreads at Longreads.com/travelreads, and you can find our curated picks on Twitter and Facebook. Share your favorite stories by tagging them #travelreads, and tell us where you want to go next.
We couldn’t be more thrilled to team up with Virgin Atlantic for this new endeavor.
For those interested in the business side of this: With Travelreads, we’re creating a sponsorship model that serves both the Longreads community and Virgin Atlantic’s community, by doing what we do best—providing a service that finds the best stuff on the web and links directly to the original publishers’ work, on Twitter, on Facebook, and on Longreads.com. We think this approach works well for everyone in our community.
How did a blackjack player manage to win $15 million from Atlantic City casinos over the course of several months?
“As Johnson remembers it, the $800,000 hand started with him betting $100,000 and being dealt two eights. If a player is dealt two of a kind, he can choose to ‘split’ the hand, which means he can play each of the cards as a separate hand and ask for two more cards, in effect doubling his bet. That’s what Johnson did. His next two cards, surprisingly, were also both eights, so he split each again. Getting four cards of the same number in a row doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. Johnson says he was once dealt six consecutive aces at the Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut. He was now playing four hands, each consisting of a single eight-card, with $400,000 in the balance.
“He was neither nervous nor excited. Johnson plays a long game, so the ups and downs of individual hands, even big swings like this one, don’t matter that much to him. He is a veteran player. Little interferes with his concentration. He doesn’t get rattled. With him, it’s all about the math, and he knows it cold.”
In May 1989, Mark Humphrys, a 21-year-old University College Dublin undergraduate, put online an Eliza-style program he’d written, called “MGonz,” and left the building for the day. A user (screen name “Someone”) at Drake University in Iowa tentatively sent the message “finger” to Humphrys’s account—an early-Internet command that acted as a request for basic information about a user. To Someone’s surprise, a response came back immediately: “cut this cryptic shit speak in full sentences.” This began an argument between Someone and MGonz that lasted almost an hour and a half. (The best part was undoubtedly when Someone said, “you sound like a goddamn robot that repeats everything.”)
Returning to the lab the next morning, Humphrys was stunned to find the log, and felt a strange, ambivalent emotion. His program might have just shown how to pass the Turing Test, he thought—but the evidence was so profane that he was afraid to publish it.
An actual, rather than metaphorical, dumpster fire. Photo by Timothy Wildey (CC BY-NC 2.0).
Christopher Orr, film critic for The Atlantic, watched Fifty Shades Darker — the second film in the series based on the super-popular Fifty Shades of Grey books — so that you don’t have to.Why bother to read? Because “a movie this bad deserves to have its flaws enunciated clearly.”
Ana explains that she left him following last movie’s whipping in his Red Room of Pain, because “you were getting off on the pain you inflicted.” I feel obligated to note that this is the exact phrasing used by Steve Martin in the song “Dentist!” from Little Shop of Horrors, making Christian literally a knockoff of a parody of a sadist.