A Neglected Child

The neon hotel sign flickered against the midnight sky. Cars whirred by in an endless flow, their headlights playing across the parking lot in a solemn dance. I sat propped against the door of my hotel room, enjoying a cool summer night.

The sun had been down for hours, and the city’s business’ were closing, but this place was just coming alive. Beer joints, strip bars, and prostitute infested hotels on both sides of the strip were getting primed for another night. This was not an ordinary street. This was 11th street, the one mile strip of sin that I called home.

No sane parent would take their children to 11th street, but my dad was far from sane, so he moved my brother, sister, and me there without even the slightest reservation. We lived in a cock roach colonized hotel called Southern Hills. The rooms featured the standard two beds, mini-fridge, and a T.V. with the HBO package.

Our hotel was set conveniently in the dead center of the strip, making it the shortest walking distance from all the “nudey bars.” Every night dad would disappear down the road, usually returning at around 5 am with a hooker on his arm.

Dad’s favorite place to visit was Passions. He loved Passions because it was a strip bar and it was just to the right of our hotel. From the bathroom window, I could look up the hill and see it. The building was pink and covered in flashing lights and neon signs that read, “Girls, Girls, Girls!” I always wondered what it looked like inside, and I even tried to go in once, but I was quickly shooed away by a washed out hooker whose skin looked like a faded leather wallet.

During the day, my brother, Brandon, and I spent most of our time at Pappa Billiard’s, the pool hall across the street. You had to be eighteen to get in, but the owner must have liked us because he would have the clerk lead us through the myriad of pool tables, video games, and slot machines to his private room in the back.

I loved stepping out of the main room into his little den. The door was covered in brightly colored Mardis Gras beads that slid across your skin as you moved into the room beyond. I remember feeling like I was being transported to another world as I came through the door, partly because of the beads and partly because of the sharp contrast between the two rooms.

The back room was huge, probably about 20 ft deep and 40 feet long. The regular light bulbs had been replaced with some sort of black light that emitted a reddish pink glow. Tiger stripped rugs and zebra print throws covered the open areas of the floor. There was a gigantic fish tank in the back of the room that housed some of the most exotic little fish I had ever seen.

In the middle of all this, in a big cushiony leather chair, sat the owner. I never knew his name but everyone called him “Pappa.” He was a little over middle age and slightly plump. Looking back, I think he may have been a pimp; he wore purple suits and large gold rings on almost every finger. Nevertheless, he was a warm man and I liked him because he always gave us food on our visits.

Hanging out in Pappa’s was fun’ but we loved being out on the strip too. When the sun would go down and the lights would come on, I would always begin to feel the thrill of adventure. Behind the hotel there was a cluster of trees up on a hill that overlooked the street. Sometimes at night, we would take a few cartons of eggs up there and hurl them at unsuspecting motorist from the concealment of the trees. Occasionally, a ticked off driver would stop his car to pursue us up the hill. At this, we would flee wildly back down to our hotel and dive through our bathroom window before we were seen.

There was a cop who would sometimes drive by the hotel to make sure we were playing in the parking lot and not terrorizing our neighbors. He always told us not to leave the parking lot after 6 pm for any reason. Of course, we didn’t listen to this rule and he was really too busy taking care of problems in the bars to enforce it, so we roamed wherever we wanted to.

11th Street was an interesting place to say the least. I often marvel at the fact that I lived in such an immoral environment at such a young age. Sometimes I drive down that old street, reliving the past and comparing my view of it then with my view of it now. I could never dream of even staying there now, but it didn’t even bother me then. As a child, I didn’t realize how much danger I was in and to this day I wonder how I escaped such a life. I guess I just had someone above watching out for me.

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