About the Author
Robert Beck, who used the moniker Iceberg Slim, was a major-league pimp who enjoyed serious success during the 40s and 50s. He decided to leave the pimping game having served his third and final stretch in jail. He moved to Los Angeles where he straightened out and began a career as a writer. Pimp was originally published in 1967.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
In this book I will take you, the reader, with me into the secret inner world of the pimp. I will lay bare my life and thoughts as a pimp. The account of my brutality and cunning as a pimp will fill many of you with revulsion, however, if one intelligent, valuable young man or woman can be saved from the destructive slime; then the displeasure I have given will have been outweighed by that individual’s use of his potential in a socially constructive manner.
I regret that it is impossible to recount to you all of my experiences as a pimp. Unfortunately, it would require the combined pages of a half-dozen books. Perhaps my remorse for my ghastly life will diminish to the degree that within this one book I have been allowed to purge myself. Perhaps one day I can win respect as a constructive human being. Most of all I wish to become a decent example for my children and for that wonderful woman in the grave, my mother.|Pimp EPILOGUE
I am lying in the quiet dawn. I am writing this last chapter for the publisher.
I am thinking, “How did a character like me, who for most of his life had devoted himself to the vilest career, ever square up? By all the odds, I should have ended a broken, diseased shell, or died in a lonely prison cell.”
I guess three of the very important reasons are lying asleep in the bedroom across the hall. I can see their peaceful, happy faces. They don’t know how hard and often discouraging it is for me to earn a living for them in the square world.
This square world is a strange place for me. For the last five years I have tried hard, so hard, to solve its riddles, to fit in.
Catherine, my beautiful wife, is wonderful and courageous. She’s a perfect mother to our adorable two-year-old girl, and our sturdy, handsome three-year-old boy.
In this new world that isn’t really square at all, I have had many bitter experiences. I remember soon after my marriage how optimistic I was as I set out to apply for the sales jobs listed in the want ads.
I knew that I was a stellar salesman. After all, hadn’t I proved my gift for thirty years? The principles of selling are the same in both worlds. The white interviewers were impressed by my bearing and apparent facility with words. They sensed my knowledge of human nature.
But they couldn’t risk the possible effect that a Negro’s presence would have on the firm’s all white personnel. In disgust and anger, I would return home and sulk. Bitterly I would try to convince myself to go back into the rackets. Catherine always said the right things and gave me her love and understanding.
There was another indispensable source of help and courage during these hard times. She’s a charming, brilliant woman. She had been a friend to my mother. She functioned as a kind of psychotherapist. She explained and pointed out to me the mental phases I was passing through. She gave me insight to fight the battle. To her I shall always be grateful.
The story of my life indicates that my close friends were few. Shortly before I started this book I met a man I respected. I thought he was a true friend. I was bitterly disillusioned to discover he wasn’t. I’m glad in a way it turned out the way it did. I’ve always come back stronger after a good kick in the ass.
I have had many interesting and even humorous experiences in this new life. They will have to wait for now. I see my little family is awake. I’ll have to light the heater. I can’t let them get up in the early morning chill.
How about it, an Iceberg with a warm heart?|Pimp 1
TORN FROM THE NEST
Her name was Maude and she Georgied me around 1921. I was only three years old. Mama told me about it, and always when she did her rage and indignation would be as strong and as emotional perhaps as at the time when she had surprised her, panting and moaning at the point of orgasm with my tiny head wedged between her ebony thighs, her massive hands viselike around my head.
Mama worked long hours in a hand laundry and Maude had been hired as a babysitter at fifty cents a day. Maude was a young widow. Strangely, she had a reputation in Indianapolis, Indiana as a devout Holy Roller.
I have tried through the years to remember her face but all I can remember is the funky ritual. I vaguely remember, not her words but her excitement when we were alone.
I remember more vividly the moist, odorous darkness and the bristle-like hairs tickling my face and most vividly I can remember my panic, when in the wild moment of her climax, she would savagely jerk my head even tighter into the hairy maw.
I couldn’t get a breath of air until like a huge black balloon she would exhale with a whistling whoosh and relax, limply freeing my head.
I remember the ache of the strain on my fragile neck muscles, and especially at the root of my tongue.
Mama and I had come to Indianapolis from Chicago, where since the time when she was six months pregnant, my father had begun to show his true colors as an irresponsible, white-spats-wearing bum.
Back in that small town in Tennessee, their home town, he had stalked the beautiful virgin and conned her into marriage. Her parents, with vast relief, gave their blessing and wished them the best in the promised land up North in Chicago.
Mama had ten brothers and sisters. Her marriage meant one less mouth to feed.
My father’s father was a skilled cook and he passed his know how to my father, who shortly after getting to Chicago scored a chef’s job at a huge middle-class hotel. Mama was put on as a waitress.
Mama told me that even with both of them working twelve hours a day, six days a week they couldn’t save a nickel or buy furniture or anything.
My idiot father had come to the big city and gone sucker wild. He couldn’t stay away from the high-yellow whores with their big asses and bitch-dog sexual antics. What they didn’t con him out of he lost in the cheat crap joints.
At the hotel one night he vanished from the kitchen. Mama finally found him thrusting mightily into a half-white waitress lying on a sack of potatoes in a storage room, with her legs locked around his back.
Mama said she threw everything she could lift at them. They were unemployed when they walked away from the shambles.
My father tearfully vowed to straighten himself out and be a man, but he didn’t have the will, the strength to resist the cheap thrills of the city.
After my birth he got worse and had the stupid gall to suggest to Mama that I be put on a Catholic Church doorstep. Mama naturally refused so he hurled me against the wall in disgust.
I survived it and he left us, his white spats flashing and his derby hat at a rakish angle.
It was the beginning of a bitter winter. Mama packed pressing irons and waving combs into a small bag and wrapped me warmly in blankets and set out into the bleak, friendless city to ring door bells, the bag in one arm and I in the other.
Her pitch was something like this, “Madam, I can make your hair curly and beautiful. Please give me a chance. For fifty cents, that’s all, I will make your hair shine like new money.”
At this point in the pitch Mama told me she would slip the blanket aside to bare my wee big-eyed face. The sight of me in her arm on a subzero day was like a charm. She managed to make a living for us.
That spring, with new friends of Mama’s we left Chicago for Indianapolis. We stayed there until nineteen twenty-four, when a fire gutted the hand laundry where Mama worked.
There were no jobs in Indianapolis for Mama and for six months we barely made it on the meager savings. We were penniless and with hardly any food when a tall black angel visiting relatives in Indianapolis came into our lives.
He fell instantly in love with my lissome beautiful mother. His name was Henry Upshaw, and I guess I fell as hard for him as he fell for Mama.
He took us back to Rockford, Illinois with him where he owned a cleaning and pressing shop, the only Negro business in downtown Rockford.
In those tough depression times a Negro in his position was the envy of most Negro men.
Henry was religious, ambitious, good and kind. I often wonder what would have happened to my life if I had not been torn from him.
He treated Mama like she was a princess, anything she wanted he got for her. She was a fashion plate all right.
Every Sunday when we all three went to church in the gleaming black Dodge we were an outstanding sight as we walked down the aisle in our fresh neat clothing.
Only the few Negro lawyers and physicians lived as well, looked as well. Mama was president of several civic clubs. For the first time we were living the good life.
Mama had a dream. She told it to Henry. Like the genie of the lamp he made it a reality.
It was a four stall, opulent beauty shop. Its chrome gleamed in the black-and-gold motif. It was located in the heart of the Negro business section and it flourished from the moment its doors opened.
Her clientele was for the most part whores, pimps, and hustlers from the sprawling red light district in Rockford. They were the only ones who always had the money to spend on their appearance.
The first time I saw Steve he was sitting getting his nails manicured in the shop. Mama was smiling into his handsome olive-tinted face as she buffed his nails.
I didn’t know when I first saw him that he was the pin-striped snake who would poison the core of our lives.
I certainly had no inkling that last day at the shop as live billows of steam hissed from the old pressing machine each time Henry slammed its lid down on a garment.
Jesus! It was hot in that little shop, but I loved every minute of it. It was school-vacation time for me and every summer I worked in the shop all day, every day helping my stepfather.
That day as I saw my reflection on the banker’s expensive black shoes, I was perhaps the happiest black boy in Rockford. As I applied the sole dressing I hummed my favorite tune “Spring Time in the Rockies.”
The banker stepped down from the shine stand, stood for a moment as I flicked lint from his soft, rich suit, then with a warm smile he pressed an extravagant fifty-cent piece into my hand and stepped out into the broiling street.
Now I whistled my favorite tune, shines were only a dime, what a tip.
I didn’t know at the time that the banker would never press another coin into my hand, that for the next thirty-five years this last day would be remembered vividly as the final day of real happiness for me.
I would press five-dollar bills into the palms of shine boys. My shoes would be handmade, would cost three times as much as the banker’s shoes, but my shoes, though perfectly fitted would be worn in tension and fear.
There was really nothing out of the ordinary that day. Nothing during that day that I heard or saw that prepared me for the swift, confusing events that over the weekend would slam my life away from all that was good to all that was bad.
Now, looking back remembering that last day in the shop as clearly as if it were yesterday, my stepfather, Henry, was unusually quiet. My young mind couldn’t grasp his worry, his heart break.
Even I, a ten year old, knew that this huge, ugly, black man who had rescued Mama and me from actual starvation back in Indianapolis loved us with all of his great, sensitive heart.
I loved Henry with all my heart. He was the only father I had ever really known.
He could have saved himself an early death from a broken heart if instead of falling so madly in love with Mama he had run as fast as he could away from her. For him, she was brown-skin murder in a size-twelve dress.
That last night at eight o’clock Dad and I flicked the shop’s lights out as always at closing.
In an emotion muffled voice he spoke my name “Bobby.”
I turned toward him and looked up into his face tense and strained in the pale light from the street lamp. I was confused and shaken when he put his massive hands on my shoulders and drew me to him very tightly just holding me in this strange desperate way.
My head was pressed against his belt buckle. I could barely hear his low, rapid flow of pitiful words.
He said, “Bobby, you know I love you and Mama, don’t you?”
His stomach muscles were cording, jerking against my cheek. I knew he was going to burst into tears.
I said as I squeezed my arms around his waist, “Yes, Daddy, yes, Daddy. We love you too, Daddy. We always will, Daddy.”
He was trembling as he said, “You and Mama wouldn’t ever leave me? You know Bobby, I ain’t got nobody in the world but you two. I just couldn’t go on if you left me alone.”
I clung tightly to him and said, “Don’t worry Daddy, we’ll never leave you, I promise, honest, Daddy.”
What a sight we must have been, the six-foot-six black giant and the frail little boy holding on to each other for dear life, crying there in the darkness.
I tell you when we finally made it to the big black Dodge and were riding home my thoughts were turning madly.
Yes, poor Henry’s fears had foundation. Mama had never loved my stepfather. This kind, wonderful man had only been a tool of convenience. She had fallen in love with the snake all right.
His plan was to cop Mama and make it to the Windy. The dirty bastard knew I would be excess baggage, but the way Mama was gulping his con, he figured he could get rid of me later.
Only after I had become a pimp years later would I know Steve’s complete plot, and how stupid he really was.
Here this fool had a smart, square broad with a progressive square-john husband, infatuated with him. Her business was getting better all the time.
Her sucker husband was blindly in love, and the money from his business was wide open to her. If Steve had been clever he could have stayed right there on top of things and bled a big bankroll from the businesses in a couple of years.
Then he could have pulled Mama out of there and with a big bankroll he could have done anything with her, even turned her out.
I tell you she was that hot for him. She had to be insane over the asshole to walk away from all that potential with only twenty-five hundred in cash.
Steve blew it in a Georgia-skin game within a week after we got to Chicago.
I have wished to Christ, in four penitentiaries, that the lunatic lovers had left me in Rockford with Henry when they split.
One scene in my life I can never forget and that was that morning when Mama had finished packing our clothes and Henry lost his inner fight for his pride and dignity.
He fell down on his knees and bawled like a scalded child, pleading with Mama not to leave him, begging her to stay. He had welded his arms around her legs, his voice hoarse in anguish, as he whimpered his love for us.
His agonized eyes walled up at her as he wailed, “Please don’t leave me. You are sure to kill me if you do. I ain’t done nothing. If I have, forgive me.”
I will never forget her face, as cold as an executioner’s, which she was, as she kicked and struggled loose from him.
Then with an awful grin on her face she lied and said, “Henry, Honey, I just want to get away for a while. Darling, we’ll be back.”
In his state she was lucky he hadn’t killed her and me, and buri...
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