I plan to post several anecdotes about life with father after mother died. You should know that my father was an alcoholic and a chronic gambler. He was totally bewildered about what to do with 9 year old girl (me). I guess it was a good thing that we lived in a small town without social workers to notice what was going on with me.
A Trip to Miami
I’m nine. My mom’s been dead about 6 months, and my dad’s left me in my own apartment. He comes back because the apartment burned down and he has to find a place for me to stay. We stay in a men’s hotel while he looks for a place for me to live. We hang around for a few weeks while Dad tries to talk them into letting the “kid” stay there permanently. I don’t think he did it, but he figures if he leaves me there, they’ll have to keep me. So he tells me to keep it quiet, but he’s leaving for Miami Beach the next day. I’ve never been anywhere but my small NJ town, and Miami Beach sounds even more exotic than Asbury Park. That night, he’s out at the Second-Avenue Social Club, which is where men of a certain type hang out to drink and gamble. I creep into his room and leave a note on his pillow — “Daddy, I hope you have a great time. I’ll miss you so much, but I love you and want you to have fun ’cause I know how sad you are about Mommy.”
Next morning, real early, he wakes me up. “Get ready, we’re going to Miami, he says. “Throw on your coat, we’ll buy you clothes along the way.” (I guess he had second thoughts that the clientele of the men’s hotel wouldn’t long put up with a nine-year old girl disrupting their ambiance.)
Oh yes, Reva’s with him. Now Reva is a 6 foot tall showgirl type with bleached blonde hair and red lips. My dad is about 5 feet tall, weighs maybe 100 pounds, always wears sunglasses, and always has a 6 foot blonde on his arm. We get into Dad’s convertible and drive to Florida. I’m in the backseat in my pajamas, Reva’s in the front. We’re going a million miles an hour, my hair is blowing wildly, my face is turning colors from the sun, and I’m ducking cigarette ashes flying from the front seat — all the way my legs are crossed because we can’t stop for me to pee — we have to make that thing called “time.” Reva’s hair doesn’t move. She never has to go to the bathroom and she’s not wearing pajamas.
We get to Miami and stop at a clothing store. Dad must have won a lot of money at the social club, because he tells Reva, “Get the kid anything she wants in every color.” Reva outfits me like a nine-year old hooker. Did you know they have sequined shoes, strapless dresses, and sequined bathing suits for kids?? Even fat kids? But there’s one thing I have to have. It’s a bright yellow kind of pants suit. I look like a fat, overripe banana, but I have to have it — and Reva buys it for me.
Dad checks me into a hotel. It’s owned by one of his “associates,” whom he tells, “Give the kid whatever she wants.” Then he leaves me there while he and Reva go off to an undisclosed location. I’m at this hotel for a week. It’s not the first time I’ve been left alone, so I’m not scared. I’m prancing around the lobby wearing my sequins, going to the beach, having room service, buying red lipstick, turning as red as the lipstick from the sun, and peeling. A lovely nine-year old hooker. At the end of the week, I get my first phone call. Dad and Reva are taking me out for dinner.
Now I’m in my yellow outfit, red lipstick, curly hair, glasses, sequined shoes and yellow socks waiting in the lobby — fending off tanned men that I imagine have been waiting for this chance to pick up a nine-year old banana in sequined shoes — when Dad and Reva walk in. Reva’s a show-stopper. She has a perfect tan, a perfect strapless white dress, high, high strappy shoes, toenails as red as her lips. She’s dripping with glittery rhinestones and I think she’s the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen. My dad is in a white suit with a straw hat, a bowtie, pointy shoes, and sunglasses, of course. Only his nose is tan — from looking up at the tote board at the racetrack.
As we leave the lobby, my Dad suddenly goes nuts. He grabs me by the hair and drags me back to my room. “How could you have a hole in your sock,” he keeps on screaming. “You did it to shame me. Your mother would never have gone out with a hole in her sock.” He throws me on the bed and starts smacking me around. Just as he’s about to strangle me with a wire hanger, Reva stops him — “Leave the kid alone,” (no one ever seems to know my name, even in moments like this).
He stops. They leave. I order room service. The next day, they wake me up, throw my Miami wardrobe in a shopping bag, and we drive back to NJ in complete silence — all day and through the night. We make great time.
Somehow he must have convinced the owner of the men’s hotel to let me stay there, ’cause that’s where they leave me. I don’t see Dad again for a year. I never see Reva again. And my teachers all wonder why I come to school smelling of sour liquor and stale smoke.