The Second Oldest Profession

“So, why you want to write about a pimp, girl?”

“I need money.”

We’d met through a friend of a friend of an acquaintance of a friend. He was 31 years old and had been pimping for 11 years. He was not, he said, “a rough-hustlin’ pimp. My [two] girls don’t stand on the corner. They don’t stroll El Cajon Boulevard.” He worked off a book; his girls have “regular dates.”

He didn’t disrespect women, and he told me I should not make the mistake of thinking that about him. “Too many men have a low appreciation about why a woman is with them. Too many think she’s there just to be their own personal fool. I’m not one of those.”

“But you live off women, don’t you? You take their money?”

“Look,” he said, exasperated, “what does a wife tell a husband to get him to share his money with her? Nothin’ in particular. It’s ‘We’re in together on this, and I got to bring in mine, and you got to bring in yours.’”

He rattled his ice. I rattled mine.

He gave me what I knew was my last chance at it. “It’s not a psychological ‘Lay on the couch, let me tell you why you ought to give me your money’ kind of thing. If you got to spend time trippin’ a woman why she ought to give you her money, then she’s not a ho’, and you’re not pimpin’.”

He wore a cream-colored Fila velour jogging suit, white Fila cap, and doeskin slip-ons. No socks. A gold watch, flat. Pinky ring. Manicured nails that were buffed, not polished. Right under six feet, beginnings of a paunch. High forehead. Apostrophe sideburns and hair cut back to burr. Starting to bald. High cheek bones. Big brown eyes, with irises flecked yellow.

It was almost lunch time at Seaport Village. Women wearing bright dresses and men in neat slacks and shirts came in twosomes and parties from offices. He frowned, looked around, and said, “Prostitution’s older ’n Jesus. Been goin’ down ever since Eve stuck out that apple for Adam.”

He had agreed to discuss the myths about pimps and pimping and what the actual facts are, as he “lived” them. He would tell me something, not much, about his business. As with any business, he said, what pimping is about is making money. “Pimps, we sit up at the table together, and we say, ‘Gee, I’d sure like to catch homeboy’s ho’ Donna.’ When we say that, it’s because we’re thinking about the monetary thing, nothin’ else. Based on what the rumor says, Donna’s a hell of a moneymakin’ motherfucker, and we want to own her on the strength of that.”

A pimp, he said, acts as go-between between the girl and her trick, or customer. He is also her banker, representative, personal manager, and protector. “A ho’ who has a pimp is like a girl who’s got her daddy behind her. Guys know, ‘Man, I mess with Suzie Mae, her ol’ man’s gonna put new buttonholes in my jacket.’”

Naw, he wasn’t going to tell me his name; that

wasn’t part of our deal. Nor would he tell me where he lived, where his girls lived, what he drove, if he carried a gun, if they carried guns, or how much he — or they — earned. I asked if he paid taxes, and he laughed hard enough that people around us looked up.

“What do I call you, then, in the story?”

“Some name what you think fits me.” He recovered from his laughter and, wiping the tears from his eyes, opened a leather portfolio and smoothed down a lined yellow legal pad. At the top of the paper, he’d printed “Myths about pimps.” A line of longhand ran down the page.

He drew on his menthol More, looked steadily across the table at me, exhaled, and said, “So, let’s do it.”

I asked about the word “ho’.”

“Where I come from in Mississippi, in Big Foot country —”

“Big Foot country?”

“Yeah, Big Foot country. That’s where you only have shoes in the winter. ’Cause you poor. An’ your feet spread out, grow big in the summertime. In Big Foot country, when the dog’s scratchin’ at the screen to git in, folks say, ‘Open the do’.’ When they ain’t had enough gravy ladled onto their potatoes, they say, ‘Please pass me some mo’.’ And when they talkin’ ’bout a prostitute, they say, ‘ho’.”

* * *

He stubbed out his cigarette and stuck his fork down in his salad. “Myths. One of ’em is how your pimp dresses. All that jewelry, those rings, two on each hand, one of ’em a pinky — his highlight ring — like he gotta bunch of Super Bowl rings on his goddam hands. Gold necklace made up in his name or the name of his car. Show-business clothes. Hair permed, rolled up. Conspicuous consumption. The better you can pimp, the less you talk about it. You can tell right off if a guy is jes’ down and pimpin’. Or if all he’s got in it is clothes and some Mercedes that ain’t never gonna get paid for. I know a pimp, he’s got more money ’n most bankers, an’ he drives a Toyota station wagon. His money goes into little businesses. Oh, there’s no doubt that where there’s easy money, there’s gonna be flash. But how much there is, that’s exaggerated.”

I interrupted to ask if people — say, neighbors — wondered what he did for a living. “They may wonder. They assume, and they don’t ask. With black people, well, jes’ write, ‘Black people have their own economies. Folks don’t make a lot of inquiries.’ For one thing, they don’t really want to know.

Myth number two: Pimps and prostitutes are drug addicts. “Where there’s easy money, there’s drugs,” he said, adding that he doesn’t do hard drugs, and he doesn’t work women who regularly use drugs. “A woman has a lot to think about when she’s out there. If she’s strung out, she’s not dependable. She don’t keep herself up. She messes up, goes off crazy on you, boosts stuff, brings herself under the eyes of police.”

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