Note: This American Life is produced for the ear and designed to be heard, not read. We strongly encourage you to listen to the audio, which includes emotion and emphasis that's not on the page. Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print.
Full audio: http://tal.fm/127
We like to believe that there are laws among thieves. We like to believe that there are rules of honor, that when Michael Corleone orders a mob hit, it's because some code has been violated, that if Tony Soprano chokes a guy to death in a parking lot, it is because that guy broke some rule, that he deserved it somehow. This is one of the most romantic ideas that we have about crime, that there could be a system, that there could be ancient, strict rules, and that there are people out there who actually try to follow those rules, you know?
And at one level, of course we want to believe that. Of course we want to believe that it's all so orderly, rather than the thing that we fear about crime, which is that it's random and can strike us at any time, that it's senseless. If there's a system, if there are rules, if it's a business, it doesn't even seem like crime.
Well, it turns out that there's a classic American primer about the laws of pimps and pimping written in 1968, Iceberg Slim's Pimp: The Story of My Life. In it, Iceberg Slim explains the rules of being a successful pimp. It is such a clearly-defined tradition, the way he tells it, that at one point, he visits an older pimp for advice. And the guy doesn't just give him the advice. He begins by laying out the entire history of pimping in the Americas. And then he gives him the pointers on how to pimp by the book.
"By the book" is always said in this reverential way when you read Iceberg Slim. "By the book" means, when it comes to pimping, knowing that you're using people, outmaneuvering them when they try to play you, and never getting sentimental about it. It's business.
Today on our program, a former pimp makes the case that in Oakland, California, in the 1970s, in the last heyday of American pimps in a stronghold of American pimping, the rules of the game that Iceberg Slim describes were not just a reassuring fiction but a way of life for hundreds of people, maybe thousands.
Well, from WBEZ Chicago and Public Radio International, it's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Most weeks on our program, we choose a theme, bring you a variety of different kinds of stories on that theme. Today, instead, we are devoting our entire program to just one story of a man who tried to be a pimp, found out he did not have the stomach for the violence, and how that let to his downfall in the pimping world.
Today's show is the story of him and his friends and his observations about the rules of the game on the street back then. I have to say, part of what's amazing about him is the detail that he gets to in describing how that world worked. Our program today, Pimp Anthropology. Act One, Rules of the Game. Act Two, The Price of Ignoring the Rules. Stay with us.
Act One. Rules Of The Game.
The guy who is the subject of our show today spoke with Tamar Brott, a writer in California who he's known for years. I should say before we begin that if you are listening with small children, there is no sex in today's show. None at all. No graphic descriptions, no sex acts are even named, though there is a scene or two where men hit women. Well, here's Tamar Brott.
When Kevin was growing up in Oakland, he and his childhood friends Mark, Keith, and Little Ricky decided they were going to be pimps. And that's what they became. This was in the '70s, and the city was overrun with pimps.
The vice cops say that Oakland had the largest prostitution trade in all of California. The infrastructure was perfect-- plenty of freeway access to cheap motels, and lots of places for the pimps to shop. They went to Hill's Shoes for their footwear, Olsen's Cadillac for their custom cars, and Wilson's House of Leather for their clothes. At the height of his glory, Kevin wore a gold lame suit with beaver fur collar and cuffs. Mark favored a long, white, leather coat. Keith was partial to jewel-encrusted dollar signs. This is their story.
Where I was raised, a lot of kids, we looked at role models. Just as they do today, look at athletes today. Well, back then, one of the first images of success that you would see were Cadillacs. That was a sign of success for people in poor and blighted areas, especially in housing projects.
One of my earliest memories was of a guy named Robert Charles. He was a local guy who had, at the time, what I thought was the greatest car in the world. He had a Cadillac that probably was a '60, '61 Cadillac. Brown. The car was beautiful. And he would ride through the neighborhood. And I didn't realize at the time that he was a pimp. But he'd ride through the neighborhood. He had the girls.
And one of the things he'd always do was he would-- we'd have the ice cream truck that would roll through the neighborhood. He'd stop and get out, and he'd buy all the kids ice creams. So obviously, the image for us of Robert Charles was like, wow, this guy's really successful, he's got lots of money, and all of us aspired to be like Robert Charles.
Right outside of Berkeley, on the Oakland border, is a hotel. It's called California Hotel. At that time, back in the '60s, it was, I'm guessing, a 600-room hotel, a really big hotel. Had a ballroom, a nightclub. At that time, Richard Pryor, who was just starting to burst on the national scene, was doing stand-up there. It reminds me of what I've read about what Harlem was like. It was an area where people who were black who were successful would go.
Well, one of the things that happened was that whole California Hotel and the street San Pablo had become a red-light district. I remember the first time I rode down there, going down San Pablo and seeing all the girls-- dressed, standing on the corners, soliciting to the cars as they walked by, the short dresses, the skimpy outfits, everything.
And every pimp who was ever a pimp in the whole area drove up and down this street. They drove up and down this drill. And at that point, it's really funny, because it's different now. I don't think a pimp would want to be out there now. They sort of want to stay in the background. But then, you wore it like a badge of honor.
When we originally began going down there, keep in mind, we were catching the bus there. We would just go down there and get the bus. AC Transit. We would get down there, we'd get off the bus, and we would just walk around. We might tease the girls, hey, how you doing honey? What's up? Where's your man at? He'll be back in 15 minutes. Just jiving-- shuckin' and jivin', as they call it-- with the girls. You've got to keep in mind, now, we're going down there, but at the same time, we're going back to school the next day.
One thing about Keith is that Keith, at some point, made a decision that that was more important to him, to be successful at that, than anything else. He made the step that none of the others were willing to make, and that was to drop out of school. His first thing was that, I've got to get me a car. I've got to get me a car. I've got to have flash. I've got to have something to show.
I remember Keith, he couldn't afford a Cadillac. So what he had was a Ford. He had, I think, a Ford Falcon. It was a convertible, though. And here's what he did. He painted it red, bright red. And he had the convertible top taken off-- it was a black convertible top-- and he had a white convertible top put on it. I mean, this was a car that he probably paid $400 for, or something like that. But when he finished it, it looked shiny and new.
And boy, I'll tell you, he'd be riding up and down there. We'd be in the car with him. We would be riding up and down San Pablo. And he'd be in this little, red Ford, which was unheard of. Nobody even went down there in a Ford, but he was bold and brash enough to do that and do it with confidence. It was almost like he was saying, well, look, this is just my little sporty car. I've got a new Rolls Royce at home.
So the next thing that Keith needed to do was-- what every pimp needs-- is he needs a girl. You've got to have a girl. I mean, you can have the cars, you can have the clothes, but you have to have a girl. Keep in mind, too. At that point, the area that we were going was so established, you either knocked-- when they say "knocked," pulled some other man's girl-- or you turned a girl out, which would mean that you would introduce her to that whole lifestyle.
For Keith and us, it was about turning a girl out. That's how Keith got started. He turned out his girlfriend, who had been his longtime girlfriend anyway. Here's how it's introduced to her. One day, Keith is at his house, and we're all laughing and joking and having a drink or whatever. And he goes into the room and he says to her, you know what, Mark's a little drunk. He wants to go to bed with you. I told him to give me $50 and I'd ask you. She's like, no, I don't want to do like this.
But suddenly, he's talking her into it. Well, you know, it's only Mark. It's not a big deal. We could use the $50, you know what I mean? We could go do something, go out to dinner, go buy you a dress, or something like that. You take the money. I don't want it. You can go buy yourself something with it. So suddenly, this girl is now saying, well, OK, it's only Mark. I kind of know Mark. He's not a bad guy. OK, I'll do it. Well, you see, once you do that, once you sell yourself for money, it becomes very easy to do it again.
You're there when he pulls this sting on her. Did you feel any sort of pity? Or what did you feel for her, knowing that a door had been opened for her that she would probably go into?
I thought it was great. I really thought it was great watching this guy work. I didn't think it was great to the extent that some girl was getting turned out. I thought it was great to the extent that all of a sudden, everything that those images that we had sought, that we had aspired to, all of it was suddenly happening. And I was actually having the opportunity to be a part of it.
It's one thing to watch Robert Charles and his girls. But it's another thing to go through the evolutionary process to see a pimp, so to speak, being born as well as a prostitute. And that was my image at that time. I was excited. It was like, wow, this man is actually getting ready to do what we've only talked about. He's actually getting ready to really do it. And not only that, he's got a girl who made the first step. So it was exciting. We were all excited.
And after the fact-- and this is what really, I think, and truly makes for a great pimp-- the way that Keith made her feel afterwards. I remember very clearly that when we heard Mark and her come out of the room, we were kind of giggling, right? And I remember Keith getting very serious. He was very serious. He was like, man, cut that [BLEEP].
He didn't want her in any way to feel like she had been used. He gave her the money. He talked with her. He hugged her. He kissed her. He actually showed her a lot of love at that particular point. And I think that's one of the most significant things when you're turning a girl out. And she became quite a prostitute, as a matter of fact.
I asked Kevin how Mark knew how to turn out his own girlfriend like that. Kevin just said that's how it had always been done. That's how Iceberg Slim did it, and god knows how many pimps before him. The world of pimping is filled with many of these particular customs and bylaws.
There was a gentleman-like agreement, so to speak, that there was rules of the game. And this is the thing that's changed nowadays. Back then, there was a purity of it. It's almost like a love, like basketball, a love for the game itself. And as a result of these people having a love for a game, there was also rules. And there was street rules. And those rules was adhered like laws.
Because there was a game and because there was rules and laws, there was things that needed to be done. And if a girl didn't understand the rules and laws, then she could be in violation, or what they call "out of pocket" or "bitch being out of pocket."
Some of the rules are obvious. Every prostitute's supposed to have a pimp. Every pimp's supposed to give that prostitute a nightly quota to earn and not let her come in until she earns it. And it's all for him, 100%. A pimp is not like an agent who takes a cut. What he does do is pay all her expenses-- her food, rent, medical bills, outfits, everything. And he protects her territory.
A girl didn't want to go down, say, for example, and start working somebody else's corner. When you start to do that, you start to be in violation of the game. And when you were in violation of the game-- it's really funny-- the whole small community would come down on you. So the other girls would turn against you as quick as the pimps would.
And then some of the rules are arcane, even chivalrous, like how a woman gets to choose any pimp she wants. It's called choosing or re-choosing. If the woman finds a better pimp than the one she has, she presents him with a wad of cash she's managed to withhold from the first pimp, sort of like a dowry. Then the new pimp goes to the old pimp and says, sorry, she's with me now. And the old pimp is just supposed to let her go. That's the rule.
What you want to do is you want to keep your manhood and your dignity intact. And that's basically what would happen, is a guy who was in the game would be man enough to say, look man, your woman chose me. And here's what's happening. I want to pick up her clothes. And it's really funny. I never really understood that part of it, but that seems to be part of the ritual, picking up of clothes as if those clothes really mattered. I think more than picking up the clothes, that was sort of this hidden way for men to say, look, we have to finalize this business that we have and move on from there.
But no pimp wants it to come to that. And if he suspects that one of his prostitutes is even thinking about leaving, there's a time-honored way to deal with that too.
If you ever felt your girl might be getting ready to leave you, or that you're losing, or you're getting down, or one girl's left and you've got two left or you've got one left, well, you want to get on the road. What you do is pack them all in the car and say, look, we're going to travel for a while. And you get out of town, because it's very hard for them to leave you while you're out of town. You drive across state. I mean, I had a guy driving as far as Georgia and turn around and come back, just to stop a girl from leaving him. It gives them an opportunity to reaffirm their commitment to each other, so to speak. You see? They glue them back together.
So Mark was the second of Kevin's pals to turn out his girlfriend. And after that, he became a real player. He got chosen by this six-foot-tall cash cow named Sunny and hit the big time.
Sunny was a very well-known prostitute in Oakland. And she was white, which was really unusual. She just liked him. And this girl made tons of money. Sunny's the kind of girl where you don't need five girls. If you've got one Sunny, you don't need five girls. And he got Sunny. And boy, that's like putting your name on the map. So Mark was the next one to go on to have some degree of success. And then Ricky-- we called him Little Ricky-- Little Rick went on to have some success. He had two, three girls.
So Ricky, I remember-- I'm going to skip ahead a little bit now. But I remember he had finally got a couple girls, and he was making a little bit of money. And I remember one of the first things he did, he wanted to buy a Bentley. So he bought a Bentley. And Bentley-- those huge ones then. You know, the big-- sort of like they had in Burke's Law. Remember that show, Burke's Law with-- I forget. But that was the image.
Anyway, I remember Ricky coming-- Ricky's probably like five foot one or five foot two. But I remember him coming down the street. He had just got this Bentley, and you could barely see his head over the steering wheel. It was the funniest thing I had ever seen in my life. But he drives up, and he gets out. The door is bigger than him. He gets out the door, he slams the door, and he says, man, how do you like my Bentley Rolls Royce? I just got it. Anyway, we talked.
But he's-- it's hard for me to describe him-- not flamboyant as Keith but very smooth, more family oriented, believe it or not. He was always interested in how long they were going to stay. He used to always say, hos come leaving. Bitches come leaving. How long are you going to stay? That was the thing. And his whole thing was creating a family atmosphere. So he always, actually, wanted to impregnate his girls so that they would have his child so that they would stay to create that family atmosphere. And he impregnated several of his girls, and they had kids. And he's young at this point. He was relatively young.
So after not too long a time, Kevin's three friends are living large. They've got the clothes, the cars, the stables. Meanwhile, Kevin still hasn't been able to turn out his childhood sweetheart. He's managing to keep up appearances by becoming a drug dealer, supplying his buddies with the vast amounts of cocaine they've begun using.
But pimps looked down on drug dealers for being low rent. And privately, Kevin begins having doubts about whether or not he has what it takes to be a pimp. Part of his problem is that he doesn't know if he can hit a woman, which is a chief requirement for being in the game. At a certain point, his friend Dwayne actually show him how it's done. A little warning-- this is probably the most disturbing story Kevin will tell this hour.
Dwayne, at that time, who was another friend, his whole philosophy was that, look, if a girl wasn't acting right, you beat the hell out of her. Beat the bitch's ass, and she'd straighten up. And so he told me, he said, look, I'm going to show you how to handle this. So he goes and he grabs a coat hanger, much as I have now. And I can only sort of describe to you what you do. You grab the hook, the hanger part, and you grab the middle of the lower wire and just pull it straight out. And it will form sort of a straight sort of a--
This silhouette is like a baseball bat outline.
Yeah, pretty much. Well, at that point, Dwayne, he had two options, depending on how angry he was. He would beat his girls with this hanger just like this. Or if they had to go to work, what he would do is take a light towel and wrap it around the towel. That way, he could beat her, and it wouldn't necessarily leave marks. That way, she could go to work, and she didn't look all beat up. She could wear the skimpy clothes and still look pretty good if he managed to hit her on the lower thigh or something. But he'd try to hit her right on the buttocks with this thing.
So one of my earliest visions was I remember Annie being in the back and me coming into Dwayne's house. And there was some commotion, and we set to talking. He told her just get out of here. And we sat down and we started talking. I think we were watching a game or something like that. And you can hear stuff being thrown and tossed in the back room. Obviously, Annie was upset about something.
Anyway, at that point, Dwayne called her out of the room after going over and getting a coat hanger and straightening it out. And he says, "Annie, come here." And Annie's acting like she didn't [UNINTELLIGIBLE]. And he says, "Bitch, get your ass in here right [BLEEP] now." And he's yelling at the top of his voice. "Get your [BLEEP] ass in here. At this point, he tells this bitch, "Bend over right here. Drop your [BLEEP] pants."
I'm sitting there. I'm a bit stunned. I'm like, OK, we're going to roll with this. Annie comes over. At this point, when he flies into the tirade and he's yelling, "Bitch, get your ass over here," she's at attention. She comes right over, and he said, "Bitch, drop your mother [BLEEP] pants and bend over and grab your knees.
And I'll never forget the look on her face. It was almost very robotic. But she walked right over at a point where she was acting wild and out of control. But there was a point that he reached when he started to talk to her that she snapped, and she just got very robotic, and he had total control over her. She walked over. And I swear, her ass couldn't have been three feet from my face.
And she pulled her pants down, bent over, and grabbed her knees. And he whacked her with this clothes hanger right on her ass. And I mean, she was butt naked. No panties, no pants, no dress, no nothing. Butt naked.
And he hit her with such force that the outline of that coat hanger was on her ass. And it cut her skin, and she bled. And as I was looking at her, when she pulled her pants down, it was clear that she had been beat like this before, because there were several black marks where they had healed from this coat hanger from previous beatings.
At that point, he hit her again. And on the third time he went to hit her, I grabbed his hand. And I told him, I said, "Dwayne, that's enough. He said, "Man, this ho, she knows she out of line. Man, I'll beat this bitch's ass some more."
And at that point, I was saying, "Man, let's take care of some business." He said, "OK." He said, "Annie, pull your pants up." Even after I stopped him and we were talking, she was still standing there, bent over with her hands on her knees. He finally told her, "Annie, pull your pants and get your [BLEEP] ass out of here."
She pulled her panties up. White. It was just a really interesting image because when she pulled her panties up first, you could see the blood go right through her panties. So you could see the red soaking through her panties. She pulled her pants up, she walked in the back room, she was quiet like nothing happened. It was just incredible. And I thought to myself, the cruelty, I mean, to not have compassion for another person.
You know what's really funny? I didn't openly show any remorse about these girls. I didn't openly feel sorry for them. When Annie was getting a beating, and when I grabbed Dwayne's hand, my thing was, man, let's take care of our business. I didn't say it in a way that was like, man, give her a break. I said it in a very nonchalant way like, man, this bitch, I have no time for this [BLEEP]. Get this bitch out of here, and let's do what we going to do. I didn't show concern for Annie, you see?
Because these are internal conflicts that I'm having. Like all men, you don't ever want to appear less than. So though these issues are twirling around in my mind and they're starting to bother me, I'm not letting them be known. I'm happy for them still. These are just my own conflicts that I'm starting to have. So I'm still excited about the pimping. I'm still excited about the possibility that maybe, just maybe this stuff will pass for me. But deep down inside-- I think I even knew then-- deep down inside, it wouldn't, because I was a compassionate person. But I was hoping that it would.
Why did he do that in front of you?
I think part of it was psychologically to demonstrate his control over her. There was that aspect of it. That was for me. That was from him to me. But I think also, on the other hand, there was the breaking down of a person's constitution. When he's able to do that to her, eventually, at some point, she stops believing in herself, and she only believes in him. And so once you can get that transference, get a person so they have no self esteem left, no sense of self-worth left, then the only thing that they can do is believe in you. They start to associate their own sense of self-worth and self-esteem to the very person who took their own.
And this goes directly to the attitude of why at some point, hos want to make their pimps the best pimp. They want them to have the biggest hat, the biggest Cadillac, the longest shoes, the longest coat. They want them to have this. Because in a sense, they live vicariously through that person. Their sense of self-esteem, their sense of self-worth is all incumbent upon how their man feels.
This is why pimps dress like pimps.
When you have a relatively small community-- and when I say a small community, I'm talking about pimps now-- a small community of men who are vying for attention of women, then it's all going to depend a lot on how much attention a guy can bring to himself. In a way, it's almost like what you could call a peacock syndrome. You know how peacocks, they have the plumage? The males have the plumage? And they can be kind of skirting around, and they're spreading their wings, and they're trying to get the attention of the female.
And in a lot of ways, pimps have that same kind of mentality. It's like, who has the brightest colors, the biggest hats, the most fur, the longest leather? I don't think they think in terms of whether this is, like how I will appear to the community as a whole. But rather they're making a statement to a very specific group of people-- i.e. being the pimps and all the hos.
I asked Kevin why the girls didn't just leave and strike out on their own. Why bother to have a pimp at all? He said prostitution's too territorial, and given the potential dangers of selling your body, it's good to have somebody on your side, even if it is a pimp. And in their own twisted way, they did provide some sense of family.
The thing about it is, is that these were relationships. And I think that's what people forget or miss. It wasn't a business arrangement in the sense that I say to you, come work for me, and as a result, I'll give you 10%. These were relationships, much like families. People would say, come be a part of my family. You can be a part of my family. Now families, i.e., may mean stable. You can be a part of my stable of hos. But the fact of the matter is that that stable may be described as families.
This is how we live. We have a house. We have a nice penthouse. We've got cars. I've got my cars, but oftentimes, the girls had cars too, to get back and forth to work. We've got all of this stuff. You don't have to worry about anything except for just working and being a part of the family.
I think what confuses people is that people try and figure out how the girls have a single purpose of their own, in terms of acquiring money. But it was never like that. You moved in, you became a part of that whole exciting lifestyle that he would live in. And as a result, the money was really incidental to the lifestyle as a whole.
Do you think women who go into prostitution, there's something that happens at like, what, age of 10? When does it set in that this self-esteem issue--
What I would say was that a person who has issues of self-worth and low self-esteem would probably be a better candidate to become a ho, or a prostitute, than someone who didn't. Now, that sounds fairly obvious to anybody who would hear that. They'd say, well, that's pretty obvious. But the thing about it is, is that it's not something that people necessarily wear that's so obvious to see in a person. And so I think that's what makes some good pimps is the little probing of a person to find out where they're at.
I'll give you an example of a very simple probe a friend of mine used to do. He'd be in a club, and he'd meet a girl. And he would go up, and let's say he's having a cocktail. She's sitting at the counter next to him. And he would, after a bit of banter and small talk and conversation, he'd say, buy me a drink. Now obviously, some girls would automatically say, buy your own drink. Or you buy me a drink. But some women would buy him a drink.
That's the little kind of probing stuff that people do. You see, because just through five minutes of little conversation, now all of a sudden, he's seeing that he can exert his will over this woman, that she, not even in a conscious way, is basically giving in to his will. And sometimes it's that simple, something as small as that.
Coming up, a prostitute who likes to talk a lot, Kevin's own rise and fall as a pimp, and whatever happened to all of the '70s pimps. That's in a minute from Public Radio International when our program continues.
Act Two. The Price Of Ignoring The Rules.
It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Most weeks on our program, of course, we choose a theme, bring you a variety of stories on that theme. Today, we're devoting our entire show to one story about pimps in the 1970s. After that era, this particular culture of pimping died off. But the pimps of that era-- with the flashy clothes, the big hats, the pretty shoes-- they had become American icons, like cowboys or astronauts. Kevin's story continues.
My experience was that I met a girl. Her name was Lois. I remember Lois. She was tall, beautiful, brunette, about six feet tall. Just gorgeous. Just a gorgeous girl. And I remember that I was familiar with the game. I didn't want to lead on to her that I was, but nor did she want to lead on to me that she was. I had always aspired to be a pimp and was familiar with the game and knew how it went. I knew she was a ho, but I was going to never approach her like that. And I knew she was struggling to tell me, because she was trying to feel me out.
So she finally got around, she says, "Well, why don't you come by my job, come down to my house?" She was staying over in Belmont at the time. "Come down for the weekend. Spend the weekend at my place." She had been to my place several times. We had dinner in the city and stuff. And so I said, "OK, I'll do that."
So it was very clever how she did this. It was really funny. But she wanted to see how I played this out. So she told me to come and get her. "Come by my job and get my key, and then you can just go to the house. I've got food and everything there. You can get yourself something to eat and just wait. And I'll be there in a few hours. So I said, OK, it's on, so to speak. So I'm thinking to myself, OK, it's on.
So I pull in the back of this place. And as it turns out, it's a massage parlor. So I pull up in back, and I go and I parked, and I called her. I said, "Lois, I'm here in back." So she comes out, and she's dressed normally. She's got on a nice silk dress and everything. She jumps in the car. She gives me a big kiss. "Oh, I'm so glad. This is going to be so exciting. I can't wait to get home. And here's the keys."
And I say OK, give her a peck on the cheek, and I'm about to pull out. And she says, "Oh, by the way, take this home for me." And she hands me an envelope full of cash. Obviously, I don't think this was a day's wages. I think she had probably not been with somebody for a while, and she had been saving her money up. Had about $2,500 in cash in it. And to me, I mean this looked like $100,000 to me. I was like, whoa, OK.
But she didn't give it to me, though. She says, "By the way, can you take this to my house for me?" So she hands me this money. I'm looking at this money, and I said, "Sure." So I close the envelope, and I go to her house.
Later, she finally makes it home. She calls me. She says, "there's wine there. Have some wine." Blah, blah, blah. She's got champagne. She's got the whole-- I mean, it's obviously a setup. The flowers-- there was a place called Ah Sam's. They imported flowers from Hawaii, the most exotic flowers. And she had these exotic flowers from Ah Sam's all over the house, easily $500 worth of flowers.
So what ended up happening was she ended up getting here about 6:30, 7:00. She comes in. And we sit down, and we're having wine, and we're talking and just sort of chatting. And she looks at me and she smiles, and I said to her, I said, "Oh, by the way. I put your money over on your nightstand by your bed." And she said to me, "Oh, no. You can keep it. It's for you."
And I looked at her, and I kind of smiled, and I said, "What exactly is it that you do?" And she just looked at me and smiled, and she said, "You know damn well what I do." And we just started laughing at each other. And from that point on, we stayed together for, I guess, about seven years. Seven years.
I remember being in the Black Knight, as a matter of fact, with a group of people. And one of the things about Lois was that she was fairly articulate for a working girl. And we would have lively conversations, me and her. That was one of the things that we enjoyed. We would have lively conversations. Well, one of the things was that, when you were sitting with a group of guys, then every ho in the place is taking second position to their man. And so they basically are at this point where they don't speak until they're spoken to.
And so when I come in with Lois, she's disrupting this whole [BLEEP] thing. I mean, she's [BLEEP] all this [BLEEP] up. Because you know what? Because I'm talking [BLEEP], and then she's talking [BLEEP] too. You know what I mean? And she's not waiting for me to stop to give her the OK to talk [BLEEP]. She's talking [BLEEP] as a separate entity all unto herself. And not only is she talking [BLEEP], but she'll talk to some other man. Do you see what I'm saying? Like some other pimp sitting there.
So you see, I wasn't just treating her as a ho. I was treating her, to some degree, as a partner to me. So our relationship was different, and that created a definite conflict when we're sitting around a table with a bunch of pimps and a bunch of hos who won't even say nothing unless they're spoken to. And then this bitch is running her mouth 90 miles an hour talking [BLEEP] about the same [BLEEP] that we're talking about. Every ho in the joint is looking at her saying, who the [BLEEP] is this bitch? You know I mean? This bitch is out of line. He need to slap that bitch in the mouth and make her shut up.
I actually used to get a kick out of it. I thought it was funny that she was spirited, like a horse. She was spirited and strong willed. And I actually liked that. But for a ho, that wasn't a very good trait to have. And so guys, they used to give me a hard time about that. They was like, man, if you're coming, leave that bitch at home. It got to that point. You know what I mean? Look, if you're coming, man, leave that bitch at home, man. Because that bitch is just disruptive to the game. It got where they didn't want her around their ho.
Believe me, over the years I heard people say, man, that nigger ain't no pimp. You know what I mean? He ain't no pimp, you know what I mean? But I even got that from my friends, my best friends.
So they were critical of you and the way--
So at this point, Kevin's become like the pimp who can't shoot straight. His friends keep berating him for fraternizing with Lois, for never giving her quotas. But most appalling is that Kevin's still dating his childhood sweetheart and buying her expensive gifts, all paid for with Lois' money.
This is the thing that the guys got on me the worst about. The guys said, look, what you're doing is wrong. Because what I would do-- Lois was probably making, like I said, between $400 and $600 in a day. I would shower this other girl with gifts. I mean, just spent incredible amounts of money on her. Diamond rings, gold necklaces. That was another thing the guys, as I said, used to get mad at me. Because they used to say, man, you're not being true to this ho. You know what I mean? You can't be spending this ho's money on this square girl unless this girl is paying you too, you know what I mean? [UNINTELLIGIBLE]
And that was one of the rules of the game. You can't be taking money from a ho and then spend it on a square broad, because then, in a way, you're being a trick, just like the trick who's spending money with your ho. You see? And so they didn't understand. This was like a total contradiction to them. It's like, how you going to be a pimp if she's getting money from tricks and then you turn around and being a trick?
We did have an occasion where Lois did something that was totally unacceptable. And at that time, she had left the house. And she had been gone for maybe a week or something like that. And this was totally unacceptable behavior in any relationship, let alone a pimp-ho relationship. So I'm at home, and I'm handling my business. And after a couple of days-- you stay up a couple of nights and you worry. But after a couple days, you get back to your routine. And you know, what the [BLEEP], it'll work itself out. But I remember her sort of waltzing in the house, and me and the boys is there just kicking it, right?
And I remember her waltzing in the house like nothing happened. It was like, hey, how's it going? And she comes in, and she's heading to the kitchen. And I remember the guys was there. And so I felt like, to some extent, I had to do something. I had to act. I couldn't let her just arrogantly walk in like that with the guys sitting there. So I remember I wheeled around and I slapped her. I slapped her. And I slapper her hard. I mean, I slapped her real hard.
And when I slapped her, she fell to the ground. And she just laid there knocked out. She was knocked out. And I'm thinking to myself, jeez. Did she hit her head when she was going down? What is all of this about? So she's laying there. I remember looking around, and I think it was Mark who was there. And I remember, Mark looked at me, and he had this sort of look of disgust. Like, this bitch is just playing you like a [BLEEP] yo-yo.
And I'll tell you something really interesting. Almost without thought, I remember I had this pool stick in my hand. And I just whacked her across her back with this pool stick just about as hard as I could. It broke the pool stick in half. And let me tell you, I've never seen nobody jump up this quick in my life. This girl was like she was passed out. I've never seen nobody jump up so quick in my life.
This girl jumped straight up off the floor and ran out the back door, through the kitchen, out the back door. I mean, she just jumped. It's almost like she had springs. And I remember Mark saying to me, "Man, that bitch is trying to play you." He said, "Man, that bitch you slapped, she was acting like she was knocked out. She was going to lay there all night if you'd have let her." He said, "Man, that bitch is playing on you." He said, "Kevin, you know what, man? You need to take care of that bitch, because that bitch is straight playing you."
Would you have hit her if you were alone?
Initially, yeah, I probably would have. Yeah, I probably would have, only because I would have known that it was in order. It was what was in order. Yeah. It's almost like I had to. And she knew it.
What was really funny was that later, she got bored. Because I lived a fairly normal life now, she got bored. But I remember one day, this guy I heard pulling up to my door and knocking on the door. And I look out and it's Lois. And she's got this guy with her. And he's a guy who, actually, I had known, I had seen around, who I knew to be a pimp named Jared.
And Jared says to me, "Look, let me talk to you for a minute." So he comes in and he says, "Look, man. Your ho, she re-chose. She's choosing me. She want to be with me now." He said, "I hope you don't have no problem with none of this, man. I just wanted to come to you man to man and let you know what time it is."
Now, it's really funny. As dignified and as much a part of the game that I had been, and as much as I had seen, at that point, I said to him, fine. I said, that's fine. I was real dignified. I said, that's fine. She can go. And I remember him saying, "She want to get her clothes." I said, that bitch can't get [BLEEP] out of my mother [BLEEP] house. Period.
And it's really funny because, see, in the name of the game, I shouldn't have did that. I should've said, sure, go ahead. But at that point, even after all the training, after all the schooling, after all the being around, and after understanding how the game goes, at that point, I lost it. And I was like, no. You've got her, but the bitch can't have a [BLEEP] thing from me.
And it was really funny. It taught me something about the game, because when you're in violation of the game, the game will always come back and bite you. But I remember them leaving. And I remember them returning about 15 minutes later with the police. They came in, they took all her clothes, and they left. Now, you know what? They had every right to, because in the name of the game, I should've gave her stuff back anyway. But at that time, I was so angry she was reverting back. Because one of the things she had always said was that she was so glad that she didn't have a traditional pimp-ho relationship, that she didn't no longer want to be a part of that. But what she taught me was that she longed for it. She actually did miss it.
So you think she just lost respect for you as a pimp since you didn't care about any of that?
I think so. Yeah, I think so. I think at some point, she needed somebody who held those values that she held higher than what I held them. As I was telling you, I didn't care if she brought $100 home. And I think when she started to realize that I didn't care, that was so much a part of her self-esteem. She always prided herself in her ability to make money that way. And yeah, I think she started to say, "[BLEEP], this [BLEEP], he don't give a [BLEEP]. He don't give a [BLEEP] about me." That my not caring about the money, for me, translated into me not caring about her, to her.
Were you heartbroken?
At the time, yeah. It was tough.
After Lois, Kevin had a few other girls. But his heart wasn't in it. He just wasn't a very good pimp, and they knew it too. And eventually, they left him.
For girls would had been around and who had been with guys who were pimps, they would soon find that I didn't feel that need in them, in terms of being able to control them or even having a desire to, in terms of how a raw pimp would handle them. And so as a result, I would either get rid of them or they would get rid of me. One of the two.
Finally, after few years, Kevin got out of the game. By then, it was almost the '80s and pimping was dying. The vice cops I spoke to said women's lib killed off the pimps. They couldn't stand it anymore, giving all their money to a man. Kevin said it was a combination of that and crack cocaine that did in the '70s pimp.
Crack cocaine sets you down. When you smoke that stuff, you have no desire to go anywhere. It's almost like you're embalmed. It starts to also trickle down from the pimps to the girls. Because now, their guy, who they had all their self-esteem in, is looking up at all this time, is now sitting in the house. He's just not the same person that he was once before. He's not riding. He's not fun like he used to be. He's not excited anymore. He don't have this whole god complex of being I'm still great and this and that.
Every one of these guys that I'm telling you about got involved with crack cocaine. Every single one of them. And eventually, they lost all control. It took out many a pimp. Many a pimp.
Did any of them realize as it was happening that this was a downward spiral?
No. Not a single person ever stopped to think, "Well, you know what? Maybe this game is getting old. Maybe it's getting antiquated. Maybe it's time--" they always thought they were coming back. They were coming back. They were always one ho away from coming back, from being on top of the game.
I think the guys who were smart, who aspire to something better, they will always have used the game as a means to getting somewhere else. And that was very clear. But for the guys who were purely in the game for the game itself and felt from day one that the pimping was all they wanted to do, that's all they ever did. They lived it, they'll die it. Simple as that.
Still, like I said, it's about the purity and the love and the truth of the game. And that's the thing that-- I always loved that. I always understood the purity by which they approached what they did and their pure love of it. I always admired that, and I still do to this day. I still love the purity of which they loved it, and they studied it. They studied it, and they elevated it to an art form.
Kevin, today, makes his living in the straight world creating jewelry for rap stars. He spoke with Tamar Brott in California.
Our program was produced today by Alix Spiegel and myself, with Nancy Updike and Julie Snyder. Contributing editors, Paul Tough, Jack Hitt, Margy Rochlin, and Consigliere Sarah Vowell. Production help from Jorge Just, Todd Bachmann, and Sylvia Lemus.
Musical advice from R.J. Smith. To buy a cassette of this or any of our programs, call us here at WBEZ in Chicago, 312- 832-3380. Or visit our website where you can buy tapes, or you could also listen to our programs for free online, www.thisamericanlife.org. Special bonus tracks on the website this week. This American Life is distributed by Public Radio International.
WBEZ management oversight by Torey Malatia, who knew that I would be a perfect public radio employee when he sidled up to me in a bar one night, years ago, and demanded--
Buy me a drink.
I'm Ira Glass, back next week with more stories of This American Life.
PRI, Public Radio International.