I hated Las Vegas.  My parents were constantly fighting, yelling, screaming, throwing.  She threw.  He ducked.  The swamp air conditioner banged and clanged.  And it was hot. A hundred and ten in the shade, according to my mother.  But though I hated the heat, and the fights, and just about
everything else, I loved the shows.  Every Saturday night, my father took us to the El Rancho or the Last Frontier. I saw Sophie Tucker, Joe E. Lewis, Eddie Cantor.  I memorized the jokes. Performed them in my bedroom closet when my parents were going at it.

When I was five, or six, we went to see Joey Adams at the El Rancho.  It must have been my birthday or something, because my mom had pinned a big pink taffeta bow in my hair, and flowers in hers.  About three jokes in, Adams noticed me. "Hello, sweetheart." 

My parents beamed.  When he asked me to join him on stage, the whole audience went "Aw!"  My father, who was usually devoid of personality, grinned so hard you could see the top of his false teeth. I skipped over to the steps, but the minute I was on stage, with the spotlight on me, I felt like running back to my parents and hiding under the table.  Joey Adams took the mike off the stand and knelt down.  

"Where are you from, sweetheart?"

"Las Vegas."  My voice sounded like it belonged to someone else.

He got up and looked at the audience. 

"Las Vegas?  I didn't know they allowed children in Las Vegas!"  Everybody laughed, including my parents, and I laughed. I didn't want anybody to think I was stupid.  We chatted.  He told a few jokes I'd heard before.  Then he asked what my father did.  My legs turned to butter. I didn't know what my father did. Nobody had ever told me. 

"It"s alright, sweetheart.."  I was sure every other kid in America knew what their father did.  I was afraid to look at my parents.  Joey Adams put the microphone back on the stand.  I was a failure.
He didn't want to talk to me any more.  Then I remembered something I'd heard my uncle Manny say on the phone.  I tugged at Joey Adams' arm. 

"He works on the book," I said, and there was a big pause.  

"Oh, you mean he's a bookie?"  

And I said, "Yes! That's it! He's a bookie."  

The audience roared. I roared. I looked at my parents. They weren't laughing.

When we got home, my mother made me write a-c-c-o-u-n-t-a-n-t twenty-five times.
When I first moved to Las Vegas, in 1944, there were two hotels-- the El Rancho and the Last Frontier.   Nobody thought it would last.  There was no real industry, except gambling.  Land was selling on the Strip (except it wasn’t called the strip yet) for twenty five bucks an acre.  In those days, if  you told somebody you lived in Vegas they’d say, “You gotta be kidding.  Nobody lives there.”  And my mother, who grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, would say, “It’ll never last. It’s a million miles from nowhere.”  

My mother and I didn’t move to Las Vegas until I was five.  My father was already there, working for his hero, Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel.  We were in L.A., living with my grandmother, on Dunsmuir St. near the May Company, because Mother didn’t want to raise her precious only child in that “hell hole.”  So, we would visit my father two, maybe three times a year, depending on how he was doing at the crap tables, and we would stay in a little bungalow at the El Rancho.  When he visited us, my father stayed with his mother and sister on Delongpre Ave. in Hollywood.  My parents weren’t exactly close. 

In fact, for years my mother was trying to build up the courage to divorce my father.  Not just because he moved to Las Vegas when I was two.  She didn’t want to be stuck with a gambler the rest of her life.  She would listen to “The Romance of Helen Trent,” every morning on the radio.  Helen was a divorcee.  Men fell in love with her left and right even though she was over 35.  My mother was over 40.  Helen gave my mother hope.  

The hope didn’t last.  My grandmother, who was my best friend in the whole world, died of a heart attack, and we had to move. Mother wanted to divorce my father and move back to Cincinnati, but my Uncle Max told her she was nuts!  What did she think, she could move back to Cincinnati and have men at her feet at her age with a kid, when she already had a husband in Las Vegas who was willing to support her?

So we moved to Las Vegas.  Only we didn’t get to live in the little bungalow at the El Rancho Hotel and have tea in a pot and cookies on a tray.  We lived in a duplex on Bonneville Ave. with a mean landlady named Miss Bliss and a broken air-conditioner.