by Matt Conte
One soft, infested summer, I met Sandy. We didn’t hang out all that much at first, but we eventually found out we had much in common. Not the kind of commonalities that a date-finding machine would recognize and, therefore, match us up, but we were a lot alike in ways that we ourselves felt. We both talked the same way and reveled in the conversations we could have with each other in our own language. It was more than just the movie quotes and the Bob Dylan lyrics we peppered our sentences with…it was more than just the dryness of our jokes…it was more than just the quickness of each response and the whirlwind they would create…it was the connection we felt to each other that we hadn’t felt with anyone else.
We spent that summer together because we couldn’t leave each other alone, and most people couldn’t handle us when we were together. It was a powerful bond – one even the gods seemed to fear. We considered ourselves epic, though – heroes of the alleys and royalty of the boardwalk. We would lie around during the heat of the day, downing whiskey sours, and Kentucky bourbons. We stopped living by the times that most society does, instead sleeping when we were tired and eating when we were hungry regardless of where the sun was in the sky. We slept in the sand, or in an old abandoned beach house. Sometimes we would sneak up to the beach at Stockton’s Wing where the young kids park-out and provoke them. Sometimes we found our way up on the rooftops of downtown, where we would hop from building to building. Sometimes we would light a bonfire with all the driftwood we found and create a granular, raspy phantasmagoria between us and the sea. Sometimes we hid underneath the boardwalk, free from the rain; cold, young and brave. We would waltz a slow, fiery waltz until we collapsed. We would nick old guitars and teach ourselves to breathe. We would run down the wooden walk, fly over the rails, away from the carnival lights. We would start fights and finish fights. Our icy teenage ungodliness would explode inside us as we yowled the blues along with the whole damn, brick city. We would bum around on the old train tracks and check out the sweaty, young bodies of the girls with their boys loitering outside the Seven Eleven store. We would lay claim to our coastal Promised Land, mixing our flesh and blood with the powdery waterfront. We were 21st-century poets basking in our escape from the Battle for Breath and lyricizing the majestic horizon that we had come to memorize. We had a personal exodus from judging sets of eyes, just us and the backstreets.
One night, Sandy and I were drunkenly hymning on top of a lifeguard stand. We started out slumped against each other, but as we made our way through Thunder Road, we became rowdier and rowdier. I stood up to sing while Sandy kept on strumming, holding my arms out like a crucified rock and roller, laying out my morals and anti-morals for the universe to take note. We each pounded out the last lines – “It’s a town full of losers, and I’m pulling out of here to win” – into each others faces, and I grabbed Sandy’s head in cupped hands and went in hard, our lips colliding. My own hastiness caught me off guard, and I went to pull away, but Sandy’s hand pulled me in closer, our lips stayed together, our unshaven hairs clinging to each other. I could feel his teeth through my lips, and could taste the copper of my own blood – and of Sandy’s. When he let go of me, we both belted out the saxophone solo that ends the song as best we could, and fell asleep enfolded, like twin brothers in utero.