Illustration by Popularium
“I’d get excited when they’d pack their hoes into Duesenbergs, Lincolns, and Caddies and cruise away on joy rides. I ached to be a pimp when I was just 12.” – Iceberg Slim
Life was a trip at the young men’s youth group we went to on Mondays and Wednesdays. My homie Chip whispered to me in a hurry, “Hey man, this cat named Blane was telling us how Mack the Bear tried to beat him down yesterday. Something about a dime piece that was worth 25, if you know what I’m saying.”
Blaine told Mack, “Slow your role, patna. I don’t want that broad when I got the bread.” Evidently Blaine felt insulted and a few weeks later Mack The Bear was in a wheelchair, permanently.
It was a church-run youth group, but I was learning everything but the Bible. The older guys — Chip especially — were schooling me on the life of playas and hustlas. We spoke constantly of Iceberg Slim, a legit pimp who had written books detailing the playa lifestyle.
Chip would say, “I love them hoes like I love my white walls, I keep them clean and wide.” He was wearing his crisply creased khakis while gesturing around an imaginary hefty woman. He also ironed two creases on his t-shirts everyday. A genuine 10th grade playa. I ate it up. He was handing down a playbook for that lifestyle. I mimicked every move he made.
Chip would say, “I’m tired of these perpetrators out here trying to be me, man. They subject for a beat down. I’ve been wearing my hair like this since before I even read Iceberg. You too.” We had a rivalry over whose hair blew the most in the wind. “You gotta think like in Airtight Willie and Me. You gotta make her like candy in your hands but without the wrapper.”
Then some playas pulled up in El Dorados, Coupe de Villes, and Impalas. They were neighborhood superstars. Man, those rims made our eyes hurt from the glare. Felt like Han Solo in Return of the Jedi when he came out of the carbonite block.
Cops are exploding all over the place. I was asleep in bed but now I’m sitting bolt upright, trying to shake the dreams from my eyes.
The cops say, “See if the money’s in here. See if he hid anything in the closet!”
Everything is blurry. All I see are shadows. Guns. Our dresser drawers are dumped on the ground. My hidden love letters and my secret stash of pin-ups and Jet Beauty of the Week posters, spilled out for all to see.
There’s sweat dripping down my nose and my throat is dry. I know why they’re here. They’re searching for my bro’s stash. My bro — Marlon — was into some heavy shit, you know, things like a three-week robbing spree and unlicensed guns.
“Don’t move!” the cops scream at me as they continue to ransack the room. Once they’ve managed to ruin the place, they turn their attention to me.
They smell like stale cigarettes, sweaty armpits, and mildewed gym clothes. One of the cops asks me if I’m hiding something. Another gives me his card saying that any information that I have would help my brother’s case. His voice sounds like a log being cut by a dull piece of metal.
Cleaning up the room takes forever. My dad and stepmom are furious — mostly at Marlon, but they redirect some of it at me. The worst thing that happens is that our collection of hidden rap records gets exposed during the raid.
My stepmom almost seems happy that she was right about Marlon ending up in trouble. I guess it confirms her statement that we’ll never grow up to be anything worthwhile. She calls me out to the yard, smiling with pleasure at what we’re about to witness.
A pyramid of tapes and CDs covers the grill. She says, “let this be a reminder.”
My dad tells me to get the Kingsford lighter fluid which they use to marinate the CDs and tapes. Then they ask if I have anything to say. I just stand there silently. Then, with a drop of a match, our music is transformed into melted notes. The charred plastic smoke blends in with the night. The smell is like a fly being burned by a magnifying glass, multiplied by a thousand.
I go back to bed, crying myself to sleep with angry tears.
I wake up the next morning, and realize that they’d left me one CD. Sly and the Family Stone’s There’s a Riot Goin’ On. Listening to the album provides me with solace that day. “Runnin’ Away” is exactly what I want to be doing.
The cops pick up Marlon a day later.
Up until that point, the pimp life — the shiny cars, hoes, the hustle — seemed like so much fun. It got you respect, it was the way of life. But Marlon getting locked up changed everything. Was prison the predictable end result for Marlon, Chip, the rest of the guys I knew from youth group? Probably so, if they didn’t quit with the bullshit. I had to switch things up, you know, put the record on Side 2.
I latched onto the vibe of all those ‘70s cats, like Sly Stone, Curtis Mayfield, and Roy Ayers. The trippy patterns they wore, the variegated colors. Their message was different, too. Sure they macked on women, were smooth talkers and sex icons, but they didn’t reduce women to sex lard like Iceberg Slim, Wilt Chamberlain, and Donald Goines did.
The final step was finding a way to make money. I wasn’t going to be about that life of vice and gang activity. One day Dad pulls me aside.
“Listen man, I know you caught hell when Marlon got picked up. We’re not mad at you, we just want to make sure you don’t go down that path.”
“I know, Dad,” I say. “I’m trying to figure something else out.”
“Why don’t you go talk to Stacy, he lives down the block,” Dad says. “He runs all the paper routes around here. He might just have a job for you.”
A real job, on the up and up? This could be crucial. I had to fund a new CD collection, after all. “Thanks Dad, I’ll go talk to him today.”
I had no idea just how much that paper route would do for me…