My mother called them the scum of the earth.  They came to Las Vegas from Miami, Chicago, Detroit, New York, to buy respectability.  Back where they came from,  Mother said, nobody would even spit on them. In Vegas, they were the crème de la crème.

When I was about seven, my mother and I were invited to the El Rancho to have lunch poolside with the wives and daughters of some of the bosses on the Strip.

My mother seemed to fit in with the other mothers right away. I only remember Mrs. Moss and her sweet, chubby, red-haired daughter, Terry, and Mrs. Frank Soskin, and her beautiful ten year old daughter, Linda.  I recognized them from the Jewish Community Center but didn’t know them well enough to say anything, so I sat on the pool steps and thought about the time I almost drowned in the El Rancho pool. It was before we moved to Las Vegas. I was four. A lifeguard fetched me out of the deep end and gave me artificial respiration. I thought my mother would be mad, but she treated me to tea and cookies in our bungalow. At seven, I still couldn’t swim, but there was no need to watch over me. I had learned not to wander into deep water. 

Terry Moss joined me on the pool steps.  I was surprised at how nice she was. Terry’s family was from Chicago. Her mother was Catholic, but she didn’t object to raising her kids Jewish. Terry’s father made lots of money but, like me, she didn’t know what he did for a living.  We both thought Linda Soskin was the most beautiful ten year old we’d ever seen, including movie stars. She was stretched out on a beach towel at the deep end of the pool applying Coppertone to her arms and legs. Her pale blue bathing suit had just one strap; her other shoulder was bare. Her long, brownish blonde hair hung halfway down her back. She was wearing pale, pink lipstick.  The other girls joined Terry and me on the pool steps. Linda stayed where she was, probably because she knew we were all watching her, and she loved being watched. The girls asked me where I went to school, where I lived. I could tell from their faces that they considered Bonneville Ave. a place where poor people lived, so I said we were just renting until our house was ready, which wasn’t a total lie since we were house hunting.  Terry’s parents were having a house built; in the meantime, they were staying at the El Rancho.  The other girls were waiting for their houses, too, and staying at the El Rancho or the Last Frontier.  I wished I were back in California where everybody we knew lived in apartments. Linda stood, stretched, and sauntered over to us. She asked if anybody wanted lemonade. We all squealed.

Linda called the waiter. He scribbled on his order pad and referred to her as Miss Soskin. All of us crowded next to our mothers, nibbling on their chef’s salads and club sandwiches, and sipping their ice teas. My mother had a dot of mayonnaise on her chin. It seemed like forever before the lemonades arrived. The waiter placed a large tray on one of those folding things. There they were: tall, thin, elegant glasses of lemonade filled with crushed ice, and adorned with tiny, pink paper umbrellas. Linda signed her name on the pad. She didn’t even have to pay!  I watched while the other girls took their drinks from the tray. I was worried that I didn’t have one because Linda didn’t really know me, and my father wasn’t rich, but there was one lemonade left on the tray. It had to be mine. A dark, hairy man in a bathing suit and sunglasses put his hand on my shoulder. “That’s my lemonade, little girl.” He took the glass out of my hand. On the way home, my mother said catty things about the other women. She considered them beneath us. I knew better.

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