Wednesday 15 May 2013

Ronald Probstein – Flophouses

Flophouses From Honest Sid

by Ronald Probstein

          During the Depression for many men in New York City the last place for getting a night’s sleep that was one step above a bus terminal or railroad station was the flophouse, which cost 50 cents for a night. The living conditions in a flophouse are described on p. 98 when as a young boy I went to find my father in one:

“I found the place, with the word “LODGING” crudely hand-lettered on a large globe hanging above the doorway.  Inside was a small lobby with bare wooden floors; a few men in threadbare clothes sat in lounge chairs worn so thin that the stuffing was coming out.  The men ignored me completely, staring forlornly into space.  A small, dust-encrusted fixture on the wall with a single bulb, and another naked bulb hanging over a small counter just inside the door, provided the only light.  A rail-thin old man sat behind the counter reading the Racing Form.  I asked for my father and through the yawning toothless chasm of his mouth he mumbled, “Second floor to de right,” and went back to scanning the Form without giving me another glance.

The air felt dank as I walked up the dimly lit stairway and I become conscious of the strong smell of urine.  Upstairs the rooms were like cubicles crowded one after the other down the long corridor.  Although the rooms had doors with latches, many of them were ajar.  Open at the top with widely spaced wire mesh for a ceiling, each had a cot-like bed, a shelf, a chair, and a bare light bulb. Finally, I spied my father.  He was sitting on the narrow bed in his cubicle.  Dressed only in his underwear, unshaven with disheveled hair, despair was etched on his face….

“Things ain’t too good.”  Then he turned and looked blankly at his pants, which were draped over the chair.  “I got cleaned out last night while I was sleepin’.  All they left was some change.”

Robbery in the flophouses was as common as the perpetual smell.”

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Genre – Biographies & Memoirs

Rating – PG13

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