“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.”
About the myth that it’s a “sex thing” with prostitutes, that they’re attracted to the work for the sex: “Ho’s, they like to brag on how ‘All I had to do was take off one leg of my pantyhose.’ Whatever they can do and get away with it, they’re gonna do it and git go. With her and a trick, it’s not ‘Hoo-ee, until you got here, baby, I ain’t had no meat all week that I liked.’
“Ho’s are gonna do the least amount of what they can do to get their money. A lot of tricks just get left right there, sittin’ on the bed, holdin’ themselves. Tricks don’t operate in an area where they can demand a lot of quality control. Who they gonna call, Consumer Reports? The Better Business Bureau? Say, ‘Hey, man, Mr. Brown’s ho’s, they ain’t really givin’ you no sex. They’re just fondlin’ you and an’ playin’ with you and talkin’ jive to you, then they tell you your time is up.’”
Myth number four: the one about a pimp’s unusual sexual prowess. “You have to sexually please your ho’s — that’s one of the biggest myths that’s gone down. You don’t have no time to do no free fuckin’. An’ you don’t care that much how she looks or how she is. You learn over the years what tricks accept. You’re not havin’ this woman for what you like, you’re havin’ her for what tricks like.
“You hear some pimps talk about, ‘Well, I want to make sure she know how to do it.’ I say, ‘You ain’t gonna be the one that’s buyin’ it. What the hell do you care?’ When you hear a pimp braggin’ about his sexual powers, don’ believe him.”
Another myth: a pimp keeps his hold on a prostitute by beating her up: “There’s just no doubtin’, there’s ho’s who have a thing, they like to be abused. You find that in some housewife psychology, the ones who see an ass-whippin’ as a form of attention. After the man beats her up, he says, ‘I don’t like to do that wit’ you, baby, but you just make me ’cause you won’ do what I say.’ Well, that’s music to her ears, when a woman’s got that psychology. With a ho’, it’s not like that. After she’s taken a whippin’, she sees herself as havin’ to double her amount, triple her amount, to get out of the doghouse and in your good graces again.
“I think some ho’s like the pimp to whup ’em because they feel guilty about bein’ ho’s. If they can get you to stomp ’em, they can say to themselves. ‘He makes me do it.’”
Pimps, he readily admitted, do beat their women. “But it’s not like you came ’round with nothin’ else to do, and just to pass time, you start to hit ’em. Ho’s are very rebellious women, very challenging women, and they are brave. Ho’s is some brave motherfuckers! The one thing about a woman that isn’t true of a guy, she’s dangerous. I know men that got women that will kill for ’em.” He thought it would be fair to say, he added, that beating your whores was a part of old-style pimp psychology that was “passing out.”
Yeah, he said, he had beat up women who worked for him. “I had this ho’, my buddy told me she was holdin’ out on me. I sent another buddy over with 20 dollars to check her out. She give me 10. I got her down buck naked and kicked her ass. I wanted other guys to see me as a real down pimp, that I wasn’t a guy you could say about him, ‘You think you be pimpin’, but you really be sympin’.’ I did, I kicked that woman’s ass, an’ I told her, ‘Bitch, don’ bring this on me no more.’”
The “hold,” he said, pointing to his head, “is in here. It came from the git-go. It’s in how you cut into a woman that first time. It’s givin’ her that confidence in herself and in you. See, you don’t go get you a gal who’s been a ho’ on her own all her life and then try to drive her into givin’ you her money. When you got a good moneymakin’ ho’, you got a girl you done raised yourself, a girl you hand-raised. To her, you are the basic thing after God, the only thing she knows as the basis and means of life and existence. But it always come back to that thing that makes a husband give up his money to a wife. ‘We’re in this together. This is for us.’ To keep it that way, the pimp has to take care of business. These so-called ‘gentlemen of leisure,’ they may have magnetism for their ho’s, but they don’ git respect.”
He continued, “Things happen to those gentleman of leisure. They get themselves killed, for one. And I know pimps have had ho’s leave their ass in some hotel. They take his jewels, all his cash, hit the highway in his car. Then you’re really bad off because when a pimp comes walkin’ out of his hotel room with nothin’ but his undershorts on, his ho’ gone, his car gone, then he really has to hustle to get his thing back together.
“Or, his ho’s get ripped off him.”
I asked how that was done.
“One way is, you just give an invitation to get on your team. You know, ‘I been hearin’ that things ain’t too cool for you on your team.’ Mebbe she sees your girls laid out in the best of shit, hears ’em sayin’, ‘We’re gonna go to Las Vegas for the weekend. We gonna go to Mardi Gras.’ If the ho’ don’t have that kind of thing, and she gets that invitation, she’s gonna leave him. That’s one way.
“Losin’ a good ho’ is like losin’ a good job. You broke ’em in, you schooled ’em. You put a lot into educatin’ a woman. Clothes, hygiene, make-up, small talk. How to present herself.
“There is no doubt that ho’in’ is part show business. But a really good ho’, she got a lot of natural game to her, and a lot of the stuff between her and a trick is spontaneous. She jes’ has that feel for, ‘Would it work right now? Would it go down?’ A good ho’ has a high degree of con.”
As does a pimp, he added. “I could always cut into people, all my life. For some reason — my face, my make-up — people don’t get alarmed right away. An’ I can just let somethin’ roll out and then pick my rightful spot in it. You play on that ability. You play on whatever’s your strength. The things you know you don’t do well, you stay away from them.”
I asked what, as a pimp, he didn’t do well. Looking out the restaurant window, he nodded toward a group of young, uniformed men. “I don’t like messin’ with sailors. With them, you’re gonna have some that get drunk and try to take ’em some sex. A pimp has to be knockin’ those sailors out. But it’s not just sailors that do that, either, don’ get me wrong. There’s tricks whose specialty is trickin’ a ho’ for free.”
He sat back in his chair, portfolio on his knee, and drew tight circles on one side of the legal pad. “One thing that’s said, in the game, is that a ho’ ain’t really a ho’ until she done been ripped off. Had to give some sex up for free.
“Ho’s are just like you. They got things people never suspect ’em of — they got grandmothers, little brothers. They get birthday cards. They get toothaches, they get the flu. They got preferences. There’s all this ‘lay on the couch’ stuff about why women do it, about the shame, the guilt, the heartache, and sorrow. But there’s a lot of fun to it. There’s material gain, seein’ stuff, bein’ places, meetin’ people.
“But a woman’s not really a down committed ho’ until some trick rips her off and she go back out on the street and start again.”
A pimp such as himself, one for whom the association with women is his primary source of income, is “fast becoming a dinosaur” he said. “Drug guys, especially with the crack — it’s created a glut of unsupervised prostitution, or what we call ‘renegade ho’s.’ Or a lot of just sittin’ around givin’ up sex for drugs.”
The old-style pimp who roughed up his women, used them to do his housework, take his clothes to the cleaners, do his shopping, roll up his hair, that pimp, he said, is also fast dying out: “Ho’s and pimps change along with ever’body else.”
He has no idea how many pimps work in San Diego. “In terms of number, nobody goes out and takes a toll. An’ there’s different ways to count who’s a pimp. If a guy’s a dope fiend, and to get his money to cop dope he’s got a dope fiend woman with him, and she goes out and turns a trick to get the dope, he’s pimpin’ her. But he may not count himself a pimp.
“There are big pimps that come through here because it’s a vacation town, a travel town. You know they’re here, because new ho’s are in town. Ho’s can be very sociable. They cut it up with each other, seek each other out. It’s, ‘Hey, we jes’ came in from so-and-so.’”
He wouldn’t say how long he’s lived in San Diego. “Just write that it’s livable, it’s a place to rest. Write that California pimpin’ is soft pimpin’, that we’re easy, compared to the East Coast. There, whooo, it’s git out on the streets — bam-bam — every goddam night.”
But San Diego is a military town, a retirement town, “an’ nobody buys sex faster than soldiers and old men. When you look at the scope of society, who’d want to buy sex? Who would be in such a hurry that they wouldn’t go through the normal process of meeting, talking, or dating? Sailors, military, because they’ve got a certain amount of hours to get off the ship, get laid, get dressed, get drunk, and get back to the ship. Old people, they got no time either. They’re single, or them and their wife haven’t had sex in years. He slips out every once in a while and spends him a hundred dollars to be with Lola.”
What his women earn varies from week to week. “Sometimes I have a situation, one of my girl’s tricks aren’t around, and another’s is.” About his “main woman” he adds, “We been hooked up together most of four years. You run into her, shoppin’ in Buffum’s, you can look at her and tell what kind of four years it’s been.”
A four-woman stable is the largest he has had. “That was in L.A. But we wouldn’t just stay in L.A. We’d get on the road, go to Denver, Reno, Vegas, get us a couple of rooms, work the lounges. Before that, when I was first startin’ out, sometimes I’d be carryin’ three girls, and we’d do this thing, we used to call it the ‘ol’ ten and two.’ Two dollars for the room, and ten dollars for the girl.’ All that happens with that is, you go an’ get a room. It might not be, back then, but an eight-dollar-a-night room. The girls trick out of the rooms. You be downstairs on the street, shillin’ for ’em. When you’re not workin’, you’re usin’ that room.
“It was makin’ me crazy. There’s a great drive between ho’s to outdo each other, and there’s a lot of bitchin’. There’s a lot of competition over the pimp. It’s ‘You like her better than me.’ Or one of ’em won’t want to work, and she’ll say she’s sick, and the other’ll start screamin’, ‘She ain’t really sick!’ It’s jes’ like some little kids.”
His women are black. Most of his tricks are white. “White boys like to try a black woman, no doubt about it. That’s all I’m gonna say on the race thing.” He said he had worked white women, but when black and white work together, there’s a strain. “White women try too hard to fit in with black. It’s pitiful. And the white girls that work Fifth Avenue don’t make what black girls make that can work a hotel or convention. But it’s not your color, it’s where you can work and what kind of pimp you got.”
He would not say how long he had worked in San Diego. “You can write, ‘The pimp I interviewed, he’s done it long enough to have clientele.’ That means, you call me for girls, or you see one of my girls regular. You have some trust in me. You know there ain’t gonna be no stealin’, no police, no VD, no AIDS — I jes’ don’ deal with all that bus station, skin-poppin’ element, an’ my girls use condoms.” When I asked about AIDS, he told me that he believed it might actually be good for his kind of business. “It may turn out I’ll be offering the public some of the only safe sex around.
“You see one of my girls, you ain’t gonna get hit over the head. My girls is going to be properly dressed, have some manners, not get drunk and sloppy. She’s not gonna be lippin’ off, bein’ sarcastic. There’s gonna be some sweetness. It’s basic work. ‘You got Mr. Martin on Wednesday. You got Mr. Smith on Thursday.’
“In your book, that’s where you get your odd little requests. You get your guy who likes to be sprinkled with baby powder, who likes to have a girl twist up a towel, pop him with it. Those, they want to deal with one specific chick. Book guys, some of them may drop three, four hundred dollars. And with book guys, ho’s and tricks get to be friends. It can develop to a longtime thing.
“I get a call, someone I know, and he needs escorts. Or there might be one of those insurance men conventions, and they have a hospitality suite, and you get ’em some girls to work that. Mebbe it’s all the managers or assistant managers in some company, but one of the guys for that group will have made that contact, and his group knows they’re going to be served. For that kind of thing, a group, I’ll get my girls together and maybe a buddy’s.
“In group deals, I’ll invite the guy to meet me for breakfast to work out details. I make a point of dressin’ conservative, bein’ on time. I show I’m dependable, all that. I want to make it smooth for him. An’ with this approach, I’m makin’ sure my girls is not gonna get ripped off. They pay me up front, and the guys the girls are with, they give the girls a tip.
“It’s your belly that’s gonna determine a lot of what you do. You try different strategies. You stay away from stuff where you have a lot of chance of police. You work off your strengths. You ask yourself, ‘What kind of environment is my girl strong in?’ Mine are no good on the streets. But some girls, they have a wit about it. They can get out there and beg those tricks. Some girls even like the psychology of it, the challenge. But it’s too small a money. Same with sailors. The money’s too small.
“If it’s a real slack time on the book, we can travel, or we’ll stay around here, go to hotels, to the Grant, the Marriott, the Inter-Continental, out to Mission Valley, to Hotel Circle. Or you go around the airport. But the thing is, you get into that bar atmosphere. An’ this is where your stagin’ comes in. It’s in gettin’ your ho’ ready to work. What you want her to feel is, she’s gonna be a star.
“She get herself dressed just right. Little flash. Same when I go out with her. For myself, I might get somethin’ that costs five hundred but don’t have a five-hundred look to it. But I gotta be adorned. I gotta stage myself. I go conservative. Your tie-and-hanky set. Some good cologne. But I add mebbe alligator shoes. Somethin’ that sets you off and says, ‘He’s not just some goddam schoolteacher.’
“We’ll have us a drink, and we’re both radiating a thing. I’m radiating that I’m a pimp, and she’s radiating that she’s a ho’. We’re burnin’ good times. Men that are easy in this bar atmosphere, they know the signs. You’re wearing your sign. Those shoes. Tricks like that anyway. They won’t spend 400 dollars on a pair of shoes.
“We’ll just look around, make some eye contact. First time you catch a guy starin’, then it’s the pimp’s responsibility to know how to come up with the conversation. You don’t have a lot of time to fool around with him. You jes’ do some basic feelin’, some ‘Say, how’s the action in this town?’ Mebbe he says, ‘Don’ know, but I like to play around a little,’ and he looks at your girl.
“So you lock in on that guy. You let the conversation roll. Then mebbe he’ll say, ‘I’m lookin’ to date a girl.’ So you do your story. Mebbe you say, ‘I’ve got a buddy waitin’ for me, I gotta go to him to go pick up some tickets to a show.’ Now, you’ve never defined her as being a ho’. She’s your friend. You just happen to be there together. Then you look at your watch, say, ‘Why don’ you and her set here, have yourselves another drink?’ You get up and go. She’s gonna do the rest.
“After you’re gone, the guy may say, ‘I’m gonna lay this hundred-dollar bill up here. If you pick it up, I know you wanna do somethin. If you don’t pick it up, tell me how much more I need to put down.’ Guys in this atmosphere, they have some idea it’s gonna cost ’em more than ten. But when the money’s right, she’s gonna say, ‘Okay, baby, let’s go do something.’”
“A date lasts ten, twenty minutes. While that’s happenin’, I’ll get my shoes shined, get the car washed, kill time. It’s not like havin’ ho’s out on the street. Then your primary responsibility becomes bird doggin’, bein’ right there, pickin’ up the money, watchin’ the girls. Those are the guys who get busted. This thing, it’s her turnin’ the trick and you pickin’ her up after.
“Then you go somewhere and start over. Sometimes you won’t get done until four in the morning. Mebbe after the last trick, you and your girl, you’ll go have some breakfast. It’s like anybody else then, come home from a day at work. You talk about what happened.”
I asked if he felt contempt for the tricks. “No,” he said. “Not at all. From a pimp’s standpoint, a trick is a guy we think has sense. He’s sayin’, ‘Look, here’s your 20 dollars, here’s your 100 dollars. Jack me off, suck me off, do whatever you gonna do, and I’m gone.’ He won’t ask, ‘Was it as good for you as it was for me?’ It’s just, ‘Here’s my dollars. Any complaints you got, voice them to yourself. I’m back onto my business.’”
I’d heard that pimps get together, socialize. He said that was true, they did, that in larger cities, there were regular pimp bars, but in San Diego there was no “pimp gathering place.” And he felt he was getting too old to enjoy “a lot of socializing” with other pimps. “The mentality of pimps when they are together is a lot like a locker room. All that poppin’ the elastic on the jock strap, puttin’ shave cream in your shoes. I remember a time in L.A., we [a group of pimps] were sittin’ in a suite in the Marriott on Century, an’ we put a trash can out in the middle of the floor, started makin’ spit balls, seein’ who can throw in the most, bettin’ 20 dollars a crack. I jes’ don’ enjoy that anymore.”
He was careful to tell me his was just one of many “niches” in pimping, that his business, while “well organized,” was, comparatively, “nickel-dime.” He made a living, but he was no big-time pimp. He knew pimps who were, who operated “bordellos, whore stadiums.” Some of the better of them, he added, are women. “Women can be very good at it. They’re more discreet. They don’t have the need for all that ego.”
I said I appreciated that he didn’t brag. “I wouldn’t brag to you,” he said. “I’d only brag to another pimp.”
I asked how he got into pimping. He shook his head no. “That’s that ‘lay on the couch’ kind of question. Jes’ write, ‘His uncle in Chicago hipped him to it when he was still a young man,’ and you’ll be writing the truth. You can also write, ‘From the start, he was a very whorish boy.’ Then write, ‘The pimp I interviewed said he had never been totally committed to “You have to work a regular job.”’”
Still, making a living as a pimp isn’t easy. “You’re always having to overcome the lazy atmosphere and get yourself up and to work. There are dangers. There is always police.” He has never had a big bust of his prostitutes, and he’s never been busted, not since he was a youngster. “You got to do a lot of stupid things to get busted. When a ho’ gets busted, nine out of ten times, you aren’t there. It’s only those rough-hustlin’ street pimps that are out there. But then, there’s the other side to it. I’m pimpin’ an’ I get shot. My ho’s don’ die.”
He spoke of what he called one of the gravest dangers. “You can find yourself mixed up with a woman who is a little bit too much for you. I’ve seen that happen with pimps many times. A buddy of mine got all hung up on one of his broads. Turned out she was a lesbian an’ in love with some woman. He finally committed suicide.” He drew more circles on the pad of paper. “I know more than one pimp what has killed himself.”
He has a son who lives in the Midwest. The boy’s mother “didn’t want no part of that pimp and ho’ life.” I had asked him if he saw the boy. “No, it’s one of those ‘mail your money order, go to Toys R Us, pick up something for the birthday’ kind of things.”
I asked, if he had a daughter, would he want her to work as a prostitute? “Hell, no. But it would be fair to say that I’d want my son to be a pimp.”
“How long can you pimp?”
He snapped his portfolio down on the table, sat up straight in his chair. “A long time. I know a guy, he’s in his sixties. Still pimpin’. Got him a BBQ joint, couple of little businesses, still runs a book on the side.”
Unprompted by any question, he added, “In any profession, you wanna be good at what you do. Don’t you?” I nodded. “What determines how good you are as a pimp is if you’ve been able to get a Rolls and a nice house, a tailor-made wardrobe, a bank account, and a couple of little businesses.
“But a pimp’s report card never comes until the end of his life, until he says, ‘Hey, I’m not pimpin’ anymore.’ Nobody writes your report card until you’re through.”
What kind of hopes, I asked, did he have for his future?
“You waited too long to ask me. Now, I just want to know I have a ho’ for tomorrow and some tricks be waitin’ for her.”