Room at the Bottom

When Eisenhower-era civic leaders drunk on urban renewal laid waste to the Gateway district, they forever altered the topography of this town's hard-luck hotels and shot-and-a-beer saloons.

Once we got a call to check for an ambulance at a flophouse. In this place they had rooms, but they were run-down. They weren't the kind of room that you would want to stay in, or I would want to stay in. But anyway, we went in there and there was a man laying on the bed. He was ill. They didn't at the time know exactly what was wrong with him. He just didn't feel right. He got a little scared, I think.

I took one look at him and I said, "You know these people who let themselves go to this point and then expect us to come in there and handle them are crazy." He had body lice running all over him. He told us that he had put his long underwear on in October and this was the end of March, and he had not taken a bath or anything in that six-month period of time.

So I says to him, "You're sick and you want to go to the hospital?" He said, "Yes." I said, "OK. When the ambulance gets here they'll bring a cart up here. You're going to have to get off that bed and onto the cart." He had the strength to get off of that one and on to the other one and they took him down there.

Wing Young Huie

I don't know if you've ever been in the old General Hospital, but they had a salt shaker, it's got holes in it, and there's DDT in there. They opened this man's clothes and they saw all these lice and they just pulled his underwear up and shook this in like they were shaking salt onto a roast. The DDT kills those bugs immediately. They were flopping over. Right around that cart that he was on was just a layer of dead bugs. Like I say, it was a different way of life.

They peeled his underwear off eventually and believe it or not the skin of his legs below his knees came off inside his underwear. Oh, it was terrible. And the smell--oh God.

He survived and went on his way afterward.

Another time there was a cutting by South of the Border. We weren't too far away so we went over there. South of the Border was a liquor establishment that was run by colored people and that's where the colored people predominantly played in that area. A guy came up from Chicago and he met one of the girls in South of the Border and they made a deal that he would pimp for her and get her business and by the same token he would get the money and then give her what he thought she should have. Then the second day he met a nicer-looking colored gal, so he made a proposition with her: "Hey I'll pimp for you but you gotta give me the money and then I'll disperse it."

Well, then the two girls found out that he had changed. The story I got, they had straightedge razors hidden in the fuse box in the basement at South of the Border. So when they found out that this was going on they went down and got those razors.

I wish you could have seen how they cut each other up. One nice-looking colored girl got cut right across both breasts. Half of the breast hung down and the other one was firm and up and in place. She said to me, "You keep me from going to jail and I'll make you the wealthiest man in the world." I said, "Well, I'm not exactly in the meat business." She was willing to talk to me when I walked in. They have no hesitance about exposing the body. She was laying in there and they put a sheet over her and she pulled the sheet right down, and I'm telling you she had a gorgeous body. But that razor cut went across both breasts and down her back in two places and she was really chopped up. And the other girl was likewise, she was chopped up pretty bad, and then they went after the guy the pimp, and cut him up too.

What's so funny about it, there was an older man, and he was known as "Tag-'em" Johnson. And he was riding with this guy that night and when he saw them with straightedge razors he ran back to the car and locked the doors. He called on the radio, "Send a lot of help they're chopping each other up! Send a lot of help they're chopping each other up!" He wouldn't open the doors 'til more squad cars came. Then he got out. I don't know what they charged them with. When they get through sewing them up, then they would call the wagon and the wagon would go and pick them up and take them to jail.

There was one guy, he'd dress as a female. He took balloons and filled them with lukewarm water, and put a nylon sock on it, and put a bra on and put these things inside there. He'd go around and start talking to these guys, "Hey you wanna have a good time? Come on." They'd start feeling around and they felt down there and, honest to God, I felt them afterward when they put them in the captain's office. I felt the things laying there. I just felt them, and they were so close to normal you'd never suspect anything.

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