Growing Up In Vegas

I am constantly surprised by how many acquaintances, and even some friends, don’t know I grew up in Las Vegas. I spent twenty years of my life there, a very significant number of years during one of the formative periods of my life. I arrived there when I was eight and left when I was twenty-eight. And yet, I’ve been gone for so many years, it’s understandable many don’t know that part of my past.

I learned things in Las Vegas that you can only learn by living there for an extended period of time, things that never made the tourist ads. For example, it was a very godly town. There’s several religions that exerted their influence on local school boards, political decisions, and inflicted their version of morality on everyone else. I doubt that’s changed. Extremism doesn’t give up fucking people for money, it just finds a new bed partner.

Religion in Las Vegas taught me what hypocrisy looked and smelled like. It looked a whole lot like a preacher who bellowed from the pulpit about sin and the evils of drink, whoring, and gambling. But if you looked closely you saw the outrage ended at the church doors. Those same preachers flung open the welcome sign when there was money involved.

And there was no difference in Las Vegas between preachers and politicians, because it wasn’t the unsavory sinners who funded them or the casinos. It was those fine upstanding moral citizens and their banks who invested in the debauchery because it honored the only god they truly worshipped: the holy dollar.

And there was no one holier than the pulpit pounder who availed himself of an escort “service” on Saturday night and then stood in line to be forgiven on Sunday morning. And chances were excellent at least a couple of those escort earnings graced the collection plate when it was passed around.

The other thing I learned growing up in Vegas is that sex was a commodity like anything else. It’s a state of legal brothels. Like many who live or have lived there, I grew up with women who were sex workers. It was not a glamorous job. But neither was working at Wally’s world for shit wages and exploitative conditions. Or in any of the casinos if you served drinks, danced, entertained or anything that required you to wear skimpy pieces of fabric in your “job.” It was shitty work like any other shitty work. Just because it was sex didn’t make it better or worse than gutting chickens or shoving packages along an assembly line. It was a job. No more no less. And the moralists were usually the ones profiting from it. You can bet on it.

The other lesson I learned growing up in Las Vegas was personal. Gambling is a serious addiction. My father gambled. He sucked at it. That guaranteed we were often evicted, lived in cheap motels, in the car, or on our way somewhere the debt collectors wouldn’t find us.

We were often without enough to eat, or on the rare occasions we had a roof over our heads, we would come home from school to find everything gone, down to the pots and pans because they were sold to get gambling money. I learned the lessons of non-attachment early in life.

But the benefit to growing up in Las Vegas was there were then and probably still are a lot of under the table jobs, non-union, no taxes paid or declared, no age requirement. During the worst of my father’s gambling sprees, I was always able to find some kind of job in some crappy way off the strip restaurant by lying about my age. Tips brought immediate food. I was 14 when I went to work at the first one. The first lesson I learned was to unbutton the top buttons on my uniform so I’d get better tips. I didn’t care. The money went to that week’s crappy motel.

But the best thing about growing up in Las Vegas were the entertainers. There were lots of professional dancers, musicians, writers, and all kinds of artists. Like anywhere else, the bigotry and intolerance was nearly non-existent in such communities, and I got an early idea of what the world could be.

And while there will always be racist assholes in the woodwork, there was more diversity per block in Las Vegas than in most places. People came from all over to visit, to work, to perform, to teach. No matter where you worked, you worked with a diversity of people from other cultures.

It was just part of Vegas. I grew to expect it and that was the hardest part of not living there anymore. Everywhere I went seemed so bland and overly white. I was and I still am homesick for that diversity all these years later. It brought a life to the place that I miss. I don’t miss anything else about it. Like most of my friends then, we realized we belonged elsewhere and we went there.

The thing I missed least of all about Vegas was the religion. There was only one god, one religion, and that was the worship of the almighty dollar. You grew up seeing that everything and everyone was for sale. You could buy loyalty cheaper than you could earn it. If you threw a few dollars around, everyone wanted to be your friend.

It’s one of the reasons I am the way I am. I live minimally. I don’t give a crap how much money you have or don’t have. It just doesn’t impress me or buy me or whatever works for other people. I grew up watching the game and have no interest in being part of it. I think that was a good thing I brought with me when I left.

My new novel When The Last Ocean Dies

Kate Taylor’s Books and Art Ursine Logic

Tina moved on to her next adventure shortly before midnight on the night of the 6th. We’ve been friends since we were 14 years old.

it was not a good time

for a black girl

for a white girl

to walk together alone

on the street at night

men threw money at us

how much for you both

fuck you we shouted together

that’s all you get for your dirty money

fuck you and no more

and then we’d laugh

and run before

they ran down their lists

and checked off

whores, maids, the laundry ladies

are fucking each other

faded away from them

like screams of frustrated rage

ugly old boys

who shouted their lust

from their cars

we cut our fingers

mixed our blood together

we vowed to protect

each other forever

from men like them

from men like our fathers

we were the strength

our mothers lacked

we walked away together

and nothing they did

nothing they said

nothing they shouted

could change that

so they bellowed out their windows

fuck you you’re too ugly

we didn’t want you anyways

***************************

My personal website

Kate Taylor’s Books and Art

Befriending The Demons Lurking In Our Pasts

“Solitude changed us. It made us confront who we were. As dark as it was outside, inside of us it was even darker. When there’s no one to talk to except the demons, you talk to the demons and they talk back to you.”

 from WHEN THE LAST OCEAN DIES

Reconnecting with my high school friend has been far more rewarding to both of us than I imagined. I almost hesitated before I sent those emails. I didn't want to bother people. I didn't want to interrupt their lives with bad memories. High school friends who try to contact you when they're old is almost a joke, a meme, something no one wants. But I've always been different. My beliefs always fell outside the safe circles. And the memory of one friend gave me the courage I needed. I'm so glad I did and so is she.

We were friends then because we were the fringe weirdos, writers who brought books to parties so we wouldn't have to talk to anyone. We were both so shy the other kids avoided us in case it was catching. We still have a hard time talking to people we don't know well, but we've become less shy about talking to ourselves. It's good practice in case the world ever goes back to something resembling normal.

What we also share is that neither of us attended nor will ever attend a high school reunion. The thought alone is enough to freeze our spines in the permanent upright terror position. It was not a pleasant memory for either of us, but especially for her. 

She was black, and when our high school began to have daily race riots, she quit and started attending an evening high school for dropouts, the same one I attended a few weeks later after I was confronted by a teacher, a counselor, and some dour guy in a suit to give up the names of those I "worked for" in the anti-war group.

I refused and they gave me the option of dropping out or be expelled. I walked out and never went back.  I was 1/8 of a credit from graduation with nearly a 4.0 gpa. I have never regretted that decision although I did cry when my high school class graduated without me. I recovered nicely from that when B.B. King turned out to be the commencement speaker at our school for dropouts and other socially unacceptable misfits. We gave each other a virtual high five over that memory.

We were each other's first close female friend. We knew secrets about each other that no one else knew. We kept them in our pockets, away from other people.  Even now, as we write back and forth about those times, the pain of the abuse we suffered still clings to a lot of the words. We play the remember game with each other. 

Remember when we wore long sleeve shirts in the summer to hide the bruises?Remember the police telling us to stop making our fathers angry and the abuse would stop? Remember how long it took for us to learn it was never our fault? Remember them spitting on me and calling you names when we tried to sit together in the movie theatre? Remember how we did it anyway? 

We didn't have boyfriends then. The only men we knew were brutal, violent, and terrifying. We had friends who were boys and in looking back they shared one thing in common, they were gentle spirits, and shy like us. They were as my friend said "good people." We ended up marrying that kind of man. 

We were friends for three years, working together in the same sleazy off the strip coffee shops enough days to collect tips and an under the table paycheck half what they paid servers and kitchen help of legal age. But it allowed us to rent a safe escape room in the part of town my father would never think to look for me, and her good church going mother wouldn't dare be seen in alone. We were 16 and kept it until we graduated. It was a secret we kept from everyone we knew. I think it was a test to make sure we were okay to trust, and we passed. During those years, we became each other's model of true friendship, a model that hasn't changed. It's our standard and it was hard earned so neither of us ever settled for less. 

In our last few letters we tried to figure out whose idea it was to get involved with the anti-war group that consumed two years of our lives and grew into a lifetime commitment to peace, but true to our friendship we finally agreed it happened simultaneously. We made some good friends from that group, people who believed in the power of one person to change the world. We have always strived to be that one person.

We lost touch when she was accepted at a university on the east coast and I stayed in the west. But our lives followed remarkably similar paths. A couple of BA's, graduate school, the poverty years, the illness that almost killed us, but ended up changing us forever instead. And love, so much love. We're still a couple of weirdo loners, but we learned to trust love.

"We both have so much love in our lives, from so many. It healed us, that love," she wrote in her last email. Yes, that love did heal us. And it will continue to heal us. As one of the characters in my book is fond of saying. "Love is all that can save us now." 

My personal website:
Ursine Logic's Books and Art