“The Dice House” is what we referred to it as. On Friday and Saturday nights it brought in enough business that cars would line the street on both sides. And the cars weren't all broken down and hooptie either. It was normal to see anything from new sports cars, luxury sedan’s, and big SUV’s with expensive rims to rusted out old bicycles that people tied with ropes to the side of the porch.
Once you parked, you walked up to the 2-story duplex at the end of the street. The unit on the left side was abandoned but the one right was where all of the action was. Outside you mostly had people standing around talking, laughing, and having what appeared to be a good time. You might occasionally see a woman and a man bargaining on a price for her services and see them disappear into a car or into the side alley. Once or twice I saw a fight. But usually you just walked past the people and headed up the wooden steps to the entrance on the second floor.
Once you walked in, it was pretty much what you think it would be like. It was filled with smoke (both from cigarettes and from whatever else was being smoked). The lights were all just exposed bulbs and wiring ran down most of the walls. Right inside the door was a man with a gun in his pants sitting at a table charging a small fee to get in. This was mainly to dissuade people from just cluttering up the place when they had no intentions of playing. He’d also let everyone know that there were cans of beer in the fridge for sale for $3 a piece. (This is the reason for the warnings marked “not labeled for individual resale”). It was a 2 bedroom duplex. The kitchen just housed the man at the table and the fridge. No stove, and not even a kitchen sink. One bedroom had nothing in it but a mattress on the floor. This room was off limits unless you got permission from “Dad.” It was mainly used for women who were in desperate need of a fix to make some quick cash, and from what I remember, they had enough customers that there was a time limit on the room. The other bedroom had a barber’s chair and a small table. I never saw anyone use it but it was there. That one is still a mystery to me. The living room had no furniture other than a long dining table with about ten chairs around it, which is where people would play dice. There were usually 1-2 rows of people behind each chair, waiting for their turn to get in and play. And as for the bathroom - well my friend told me that if I needed to go, he would take me somewhere else. I never asked questions.
The class of people the dice house brought in was very diverse. There were black people, white people, and Hispanic people. There were welfare moms and professional women. I saw both bring toddlers in to that nasty place. There were grandparents that wore oxygen and young boys who couldn't have been more than 14. They were all so different, but at the core, they were all very much the same. And it was that sameness that my friend and his dad openly and happily took advantage of. They had quite the system worked out. Essentially, Dad was charging drunks, addicts, and junkies to get in, charging them to play (win or lose) and then taking a cut of the winnings. That’s where my friend came in. Almost all of the people who came to play were looking to win money for drugs - and he was a dealer. It was all very convenient. At the end of the night he and his dad put all of the money into a pot. They paid out the door man and the man who ran the dice game and split the rest. I never heard an exact amount but just from watching them count it out, every weekend they got more cash in hand than I could fathom.
Once as we were leaving for the night, a man approached us. He was twitchy and scratching - clearly in desperate need of a fix. We laughed at him as my friend took this man’s money and then threw a crack rock across the fence, into the dark parking lot. And without a word or a complaint, he took off scrambling, literally on his knees, looking for it.
Writing all of this out honestly makes me feel nauseous. Sometimes I think about the things that I participated in and even helped facilitate and feel extreme survivor‘s guilt. At the time I had no clue. No clue as to the lives that were being ruined. I had no clue how close I was to my own life being ruined. I helped take money at the dice house. I made deliveries for my friend on occasion. I was even paid at times. The person I am now would have seen the danger in even being in a place like that. Had I gone in anyway, I would have helped those toddlers. I would not have been happy to watch people who had been potentially clean for months or years fall off the wagon for the sake of a few dollars. I would reach out to the women who were giving their bodies away to nasty, toothless men instead of looking down at them and pretending like I didn't know what was going on. And I certainly would not find humor in watching a man humiliate himself for a $10 fix.
So when did it all change? Well, I got pulled over by a cop when I was high. As it so happened, the cop was the same one that my friend’s brother had pistol whipped and ran away from successfully a few months earlier. In my drugged paranoia, I just knew he was going to question me about it. I had an expired license, expired tags, and no car insurance. I had a substantial amount of marijuana in my trunk that I was taking to drop off at a local hotel to a man I had never met. The cop asked me where I was headed and just let me go. To this day I don’t know what his reason for pulling me over was. But the next day I was hit with the realization that things had to change because it was no longer a just a cute rebellious phase - I was on the path to destruction. My way back was not immediate but it is a story in and of itself. But that will have to wait for another day.
There are people in my life now who are in the throws of addiction and recovery. People who I love very deeply. It’s because I know what the environment is like that it is so hard for me to stomach the thought of them choosing to return to it. But it also hits a nerve because it reminds me that years ago, I was the person who helped put the pipe or needle back in their hand and profited from it.
O.K., I know you folks who are reading because this is a weight loss blog are probably wondering what in the world is going on. But the tag at the top DOES say shedding emotional, spiritual, and physical weight. And who are we kidding, all three of them are intricately tied together anyway. So tonight as I go to bed, I am randomly feeling regretful over the things I have done almost twenty years ago. But I am also amazingly and deeply grateful that I am not there any more. I still have issues, but my life is bright and I have a deep joy. Even during bad times, that heavy darkness is no longer there.
I always pray for the addicts in my life. Tonight I think I will say a special prayer for the dealers and their naive little friends and that their eyes too would be opened to the things that can bring them deeper fulfillment and joy.