Beneaththeneon.com is the website of Matthew O'Brien, a journalist who's lived in Las Vegas since 1997. Matt is the author of Beneath the Neon: Life and Death in the Tunnels of Las Vegas and My Week at the Blue Angel: And Other Stories from the Storm Drains, Strip Clubs, and Trailer Parks of Las Vegas. He's also the founder of the community project Shine a Light.
You’re gone? Just like that? When I was preparing to send you another poem for your feedback? You slimy bastard!
Shaun, I learned so much about life and poetry from you, despite the fact that you were 20 years my junior. I wish I could’ve done more for you. Wish I would’ve been more persistent, more of an asshole. (At the time, I convinced myself that was not what you wanted or needed.) Wish I would’ve driven from Vegas to South Bend and dragged you to where you needed to be and stayed by your side.
I’m so confused. So many memories, but I assumed there’d be so many more.
The rainy season returned to San Salvador this morning. Miss you madly, mi amigo!
Con amor. Siempre …
PS- You would’ve fucking hated the poem, but provided positive, insightful and constructive criticism nonetheless.
Besides sharing several funny and morbid stories about being a musician in the South, stumbling on a mutilated body while “scrapping,” hustling the casinos, and being set on fire in the tunnels, Jamie provided perhaps the best short description I’ve heard of life in the drains. It was “casually intense,” he said. #TwoCopsAndACricket #ShineALight #CasuallyIntense
I’m predicting a bright future for this young man (and not just because he gave me and Shine a Light a shout-out). He visited Las Vegas with his family and took the time, along with his father Scottie Profitt, to cut a video on the people who live in the drains. Of all the media coverage dedicated to the tunnels, this one definitely ranks among my favorites.
One thing I’ve learned doing outreach in the drains is it’s difficult to predict who’s ready to get out. I used to assume that the clean-cut fella with a part-time job who uses drugs only occasionally was most prepared for a change—but it’s often the soiled, knit-capped heroin addict who’s nodding off in the shadows. This makes some sense, I guess, as the heroin addict (in this case) is closer to his “bottom.”
I say all this to make the point that I never thought “Gordon” would move out of the drains. In fact, I expected to stumble on his lifeless body at the mouth of the tunnel, surrounded by cans of whatever beer happens to be the cheapest at the nearby Terrible Herbst. (He’s an alcoholic who has lived underground for at least three years.)
Best of luck to Gordon, the second housed client in the Freedom House/Shine a Light partnership! We will keep you updated on his remarkable story.
A quick update on the tunnel-survivors book: I have 75,000 words of the first draft (it should top out around 100,000) and a new working title: Two Cops and a Cricket: Surviving the Las Vegas Storm Drains. (The title was borrowed from a line from Paul Vautrinot’s interview.) Also, Steve Fanell is shooting some photos for the book.
I’m as excited as ever about the project and hope to finish the first draft in the next few months. More-detailed updates to follow.
We’ve established a partnership with the Las Vegas Rescue Mission, which graciously shares food and clothing donations with us. This gives us a stream of men and women’s clothing, along with blankets, socks, and sleeping bags. The Rescue Mission has also given us canned goods, water and snacks.
Paul Vautrinot, a former tunnel resident and Shine a Light’s point person in Vegas, recently spoke at Bishop Gorman High School. This led to a relationship with the prep school, which has been donating batteries, gloves, knit caps and freshly made sandwiches.
The first housed client in the SAL/Freedom House partnership has made remarkable strides. He completed 30 days in our inpatient program, was placed in transitional housing, and is now working full time. Honorably discharged from house arrest, he hopes to one day work as a sushi chef.
As always, thanks for your support! Any success we have is shared with the local community and our friends and followers online.
For our winter break, I’ve pieced together a Las Vegas (Dec. 19-22), Atlanta (Dec. 22-28) and Mexico City (Dec. 28-Jan. 2) trip. Let’s hike, shop, urban explore, shoot some ball, practice our español, give gifts to the homeless, or get boba tea or discuss Pride and Prejudice (the break reading for my AP Lit class)!
Currently, my plans for Mexico City entail wading out into the sea of humanity—wallet in my front pocket—and seeing what develops. Please let me know if you have contacts in the area or suggestions on neighborhoods, hotels, restaurants, bars, coffee shops, parks, museums, etc.
I’m proud to report that Shine a Light has housed its first client in its fledgling partnership with Freedom House. We can’t reveal too much about him, because of confidentiality concerns, but he’s originally from California and had been living in the tunnels off and on for about three years. He emerged from a double-barrel drain we know well near the south Strip. Eight to 10 other people—all of whom we have made contact with and many of whom I consider friends—currently reside in the drain. The client now has access to several services, including drug counseling, case management, job training and a GED program.
A hearty congrats to the Shine a Light staff and to the client! May he be the first of many!
“I tell these guys all the time as long as a man draws breath there’s hope for recovery. It’s never too late; there’s no bottom too low; there’s no hole you can’t climb out of. When I see a man in a hole I jump in with him. He says, ‘Dude, now we’re both stuck here.’ And I tell him, ‘It’s OK, brother. I know the way out.’”
My 12th grade AP Lit class is currently covering metaphysical poetry. These cats (John Donne, Andrew Marvell et al.) were next level, and Donne’s intricate poem/puzzle “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning” provided me some strange solace following a long, confusing week. (You’re in my thoughts, Las Vegas!) I hope it provides you some, too.
“As virtuous men pass mildly away,
And whisper to their souls to go,
Whilst some of their sad friends do say
The breath goes now, and some say, No: …”