I DISEMBARKED FROM THE train just in time, it seems. From the station, I could see massive black thunderheads gathering at nearly every corner of the sky. One wan strip of light sky was all that remained of a Thursday afternoon cut short by an impending storm. Ozone hung heavy in the air around the station, where the ground bore slick evidence of a previous soaking.
I made a quick stop in Trader Joe's across the street from my apartment, figuring I wouldn't have long before the heavens opened or the gusting winds knocked out the power and placed any dairy I purchased in jeopardy. On my final jog from the store to my front door, I felt fat drops spatter on my forehead, and lightning caught me with its flash, like a prisoner slinking along a jailhouse wall during a breakout. Now I am ensconced before my computer, unplugged from the wall and the Net for safety, with 1010 WINS in the background, the broadcast so wracked with static it sounds like an ethereal giant is somehow chewing on the signal itself.
Don't get me wrong — I love a good storm. With today bringing the official start of hurricane season, I'm sure we'll get our share of violent weather, which with any fortune will be more of a spectacle than a hazard. As a child, lying in bed on the top story of my parents' house, I enjoyed being lulled to sleep by the unstructured music of rain pattering on the roof, distant rumbles of thunder punctuating the symphony. My parents and I were trapped once in a South Jersey shopping center, when a huge storm swept over us, illuminating the sky and pouring dangerously opaque sheets of rain over the flat landscape. With no real sense of scale and few landmarks of any height down the shore, it seemed to my 10-year-old self like the ground-to-air lightning was a thousand miles tall.
Later, during a college summer, my foolhardy friends and I watched a massive high-atmosphere lightning storm from the deck of a friend's house. We drew our chairs under shelter and watched in awe as lightning burned inside dark, swiftly passing clouds, like thoughts illuminating the neurons of a feverish brain. For what seemed like hours we watched this light show, until the air could support the moisture no longer and drenching rain began to sheet down . . . whereupon we got the hell back into the house.
This rain now engulfing the area is welcome, the weather having switched decisively to heat and humidity after the holiday weekend. Optimally, it will last all day tomorrow and trail off, as light rain, into Saturday, thus keeping potential beachgoers off of the Garden State Parkway. I have a plan to drive two friends, Steve and Dave (aka Felix), to Atlantic City. Dave's had a couple of recent and profitable gambling excursions, and some weeks ago threw this date at the wall to see who might want to come along for a rematch. We had a fourth, the mighty Bill, but his Palpatine-like progress into the Hoboken power structure called him into service for Saturday and he had to back out.
This is a bit of a Costanza-like worlds-are-colliding moment for me. My trips to the local (and distant) gambling emporia, both as a blackjack and craps novice and, later, as a poker padawan, have been solo affairs. I've floated group outings in the past, but time and events conspired against me. This changes Saturday. Neither Steve nor Felix are in my poker circle, so we're looking at the two aforementioned games as our degeneracy of choice (unless we wander into one of the racing books). I haven't played blackjack, formerly my game of choice, since my June 2003 trip to Las Vegas, when Dame Poker ran her green finger across my brow and then laid the tempting bait of a royal flush before my bedazzled eyes. Craps I remember how to play, but I have been reviewing blackjack basic strategy for the past couple of days so I am not staring at two Aces in front of me and saying, "I'm all in" instead of splitting them. (Apropos of my coming date with table gaming, last week at the poker game I kept getting hands — 7 4, 9 2, 8 3 — which would have warranted doubling down at a blackjack table, but which in hold'em were absolute trash.)
So what we're looking for this weekend is a bit of rain to ease the influx of shore-goers, a sudden reawakening of my basic-strategy skills, a benign neglect on the part of the gods of statistical variance, a hot hand when the dice are rattling around in it, and, of course, a boatload of fun. Once all these goals are achieved, and we've slipped back under the wire to the dreary, casino-starved precincts of Bergen County, then — then — the skies can unleash whatever torrents of weather they so desire.