In this book Robert Beck, aka Iceberg Slim, documents the dramatic ups and downs of his life as an aspiring, then successful, then failed pimp.
Major highlights included his initial difficulties figuring out the pimp game and getting whores, his dabbling into drugs and finally heavy drug use, his betrayals by other pimps and some of his women, jail time and the usual flora and fauna one would expect. Amusingly his career in crime started out with a crime called the 'murphy' in which Iceberg dressed like a woman hooker and his fellow criminal 'sold' his services to those who couldn't see him/her very closely (or didn't care). They would then run away with their loot.
He admits his initial fumbling as a pimp proved difficult and the "psychology" of pimping comes through only in flashes.
His first woman he acquires through sheer bravado. She holds his poverty against him later on in the book, but is his 'bottom bitch' (main prostitute in a stable) for some time. The role of wealth in acquiring women is problematic, and in getting his first he has none. He not only takes her money, he has her sign over her car to him. The theme of making displays of money, in clothing, cars and in cash, occurs frequently although he often notes that it is a false front. He goes broke buying a new car later in the book, he fills bags with small bills but covers them up with hundreds to give the appearance of bulky loot, and so on. This seems to be a part of the pseudo-promise of a flashy "fabulous" life that lures in women to work for him. He says that one waitress came into his stable exactly for this reason. The irony, of course, is that if they women to acquire anything it is through the money they make, give to Iceberg, which he then spends on them or not.
Iceberg mentions the superior nature of moving women away from their familiar cities, which suddenly makes the "cross country pimpin'" motif of the movie Pimps up, hos down make sense. This method, though, makes people like Iceberg subject to white slavery charges, which Iceberg serves a sentence for when one of his women leaves him on bad terms. She gets her revenge by setting him up with a term in federal prison.
The Pimp Game
Oddly, Iceberg mentions that pimping is a skull game not a sex game. The pimp, he seems to give the impression, only occasionally has sex with his women. His primary role is as a good/bad cop. The "bottom whore/bitch" is the probably other good/bad cop. My guess is that the pimp sets himself for rewards, while the bottom bitch sets herself to dole out the day to day punishments.
Iceberg notes that "the pimp book", which he claims to have followed, indicates that you should always have at least 5 women or more at any time. This may be a matter of pimp status, which seems to be a recurring thing in Iceberg's book, but it may also be a matter of what he calls the "cop and drop". This method is a matter of turning over women into prostitution, or finding prostitutes who are willing to come over, and having them 'run the streets' for awhile. There is a huge turnover in women, which would explain the 5+ number better. It represents a sort of "raid array" of hookers - a redundant array of unreliable sex workers. Which is not really surprising, since the life of a sex worker is fraught not only with the unpredictable rewards of the group, but with the hazards of the sex trade including customers and police harassment. The 'drop', after the 'cop' acquisition, means to let them go, or see them disappear, when they've done work for you, the pimp. The "pimp book" appears to be a collection of best practices of how to manage a stable of prostitutes, how to collect, how to handle them when they cause trouble, and so on. Iceberg spends much of the early part of the book attempting to discover these rules by finding established pimps and testing out his methods.
A Cult of One?
One thing that struck me in the book was how it seemed to echo something I'd read about cults in another book. The pimp game is seemingly a kind of sex-cult in which the cult leader (pimp) makes all the money, while the followers exhaust themselves in fund raising (sex) for the leaders benefit.
Recruiting new members is a constant problem in cults, and in the pimp game as well. The women attempt to recruit other sex workers into the sex crew, as well as women lovers. Lesbianism is mentioned a few times, twice as a means to recruit women into stables (or away from them). Which suggests that the inter-female loyalty element may be one additional element that plays into the rationale for having no less than 5 women.
In terms of the numbers game the pimp may have a hard time convincing more and more women and "in the end it will just be you and me, all these others will be left behind" so the pimp may be scraping against the problematic no-whore and too-many whores game, with the turnover increasing as numbers inflate.
'Cop and drop'? Or simply endemic transience?
What is interesting is that this book gives the impression that prostitution for many of these women appears to be relatively transient. Many of them "square up" (go straight) with husbands who may or may not have any idea of the mileage on their women. Some never really get into the life, and their career may simply be a "phase". I am reminded of the Japanese teen prostitution for expensive fashion accessories. There seems to be no pimp in these transactions, and the motivations are similar to some in Iceberg's book: easy money, flashy living. Although drugs, violence and desperation seems to be a key ingredient as well in many women mentioned.
Racial Stereotypes: Black Pimps, Black gang members, Black drugdealers
This book does not represent the apex of African American culture, but it does represent one of the symbols of African American culture that occurs repeatedly in a predominantly white controlled medium. In that sense Iceberg might be seen as doing what the more recent gangster rappers are doing: selling their image of African American self-degradation to the masses for a quick buck.
This motif of the self-exploitation of racist images occurs in Spike Lee's Bamboozled and Townsend's Hollywood Shuffle, and in other movies. Is it really racist if a black person says it/does it?
The book is a fun read, although much of it reads thick with dense 1940s lingo that is not all fully translated in the index. This gives it something of the quality of reading A Clockwork Orange although Burgess is a much better writer. I'd recommend it for the sense of peering into a generation of America that knew WWII, shortages, outlawed homosexuality, and life without television or video games.