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Pimp: The Story of My Life

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Robert (Iceberg Slim) Beck's first book is told without bitterness and with no pretense at moralizing. It is the smells, the sounds, the fears and the petty triumphs in the world of the street pimp.

311 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1967

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About the author

Iceberg Slim

37 books456 followers
Iceberg Slim, also known as Robert Beck, was born as Robert Lee Maupin. Novelist and poet whose most famous novel, Pimp, is semi-autobiographical.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,125 reviews
Profile Image for Jeffrey Keeten.
Author 3 books248k followers
May 23, 2019
“A pimp is happy when his whores giggle. He knows they are still asleep...all whores have one thing in common just like the chumps humping for the white boss. It thrills ‘em when the pimp makes mistakes. They watch and wait for his downfall.

A pimp is the loneliest bastard on Earth. He’s gotta know his whores. He can’t let them know him. He’s gotta be God all the way.”

 photo Iceberg Slim_zpsi2b4vujw.jpg
Iceberg Slim

Iceberg Slim, AKA Robert Beck, attended Tuskegee University until he was expelled for selling bootleg liquor. What are the rules for capitalism? Supply and demand. This happened during the ludicrous years of prohibition, he was supplying the liquor that his fellow students were demanding. This unfortunate incident was only the beginning of a life spent on the wrong side of the law. ”Why did Justice really always wear a blindfold? I knew now. It was because the cunning bitch had dollar signs for eyeballs.”

Justice is only for rich, white people.

I would have more sympathy for Iceberg Slim, trying to find the best way to hustle, if he hadn’t been such a brutal asshole. The world has never been a fair place, and the rules are never applied evenly. A banker can write a loan and front load all the interest, but a loan shark who does the same thing is breaking the law. The pharmaceutical companies can make trillions pumping out drugs to a population who doesn’t need them, but if a drug dealer does the same thing, he goes to jail. At 18 years old, Iceberg Slim, then known as Young Blood, decides to become a pimp.

I had someone make a point to me recently that by making prostitution illegal we were actually depriving women of a lucrative means of making a living. Again, we are a capitalist country, and yet women can not legally receive renumeration for providing the service for a very substantial demand. Women can have all the sex they want for free, but they risk prison the moment they ask for a fan of C notes in exchange for it. Isn’t that anti-capitalism? So if the morality is about women having sex out of wedlock or for having sex for any reason other than reproductive purposes, isn’t that happening right now all over the world in bedrooms, back alleys, bar bathrooms, backseats of cars, no tell motels, the boss’s desk at work, golf greens, back rows of movie theaters, etc., etc., etc.? By making it illegal, we also give jackasses like Young Blood the opportunity to impose his will on women to go out in the streets and hump for him.

If a woman leaves one abusive pimp, there is always another one waiting to take his place.

Maybe we need to make prostitution legal, and just like the current battle for women’s reproductive rights, boot the men out of the equation...well, except for when they want to exchange their cabbage for getting their pipes clean. Men should be customers only. Their opinions about women's bodies they can keep to themselves.

Making prostitution against the law didn’t make it go away. So who is the customer for a young, black saucy whore looking to score some scratch?

”A lot of them are clean-cut high muckty mucks in the white world. Some of them show me pictures of beautiful wives and cute children. It makes me feel greater than those white bitches living in soft luxury. Those white broads got Nigger maids they laugh at. They think we ain’t good for nothing but clowning and cleaning. It would give them a stroke to see their trick husbands moaning and groaning and licking between a black whore’s thighs.

They coming because those cold-ass white broads in Heaven ain’t got what these black whores in Hell got between their legs. Black and low as I am. I got secrets with their white men those high-class white bitches ain’t hip to.”

Oh yeah, there is demand alright.

The first thing Iceberg needs is a whore, and after being made a fool of more than a few times, he finally meets a woman who fits the bill. ”Through the blue mirror I zeroed my eyes in on the target. My ass bone starched on stiff point. Her big peepers were two sexy dancers in the velvet midnight of her cute Pekingese face.”

Runt, as he calls her, is frequently difficult to control. She has opinions. She has demands. Since she is doing the humping that provides all the money for Young Blood Enterprises, she actually has the audacity to think she has the right to have a say in how the business is to be conducted. She even threatens to leave. The first line of defense for a pimp is to use psychology. The most important rule of pimping is to find out the life story of every whore under his control. He must convince them of the dangers of navigating the streets without his “protection.” He must use everything he knows about her to undermine her confidence in herself. If psychology doesn’t work, he must move to verbal threats, and if that doesn’t work, he grabs the nearest coat hanger and whales the living shit out of her. She’ll be out humping on the streets again before the heat from the stripes he has made on her flesh has had time to cool.

Iceberg Slim says he has had over 400 whores working for him at various times, no more than a few at one time, but it just shows that the streets burn them out or they just plain got tired of Slim’s shit. It must have been a relief for many of them the times Slim went down for a hitch in the joint. For all his "hard work", Slim never seemed to achieve his ultimate dream, to be like Sweet Jones. ”A gleaming black custom Duesenberg eased into the curb in front of me. The top was down. My peepers did a triple take.

A huge stud was sitting in the back seat. He had an ocelot in his lap dozing against his chest. The cat was wearing a stone-studded collar. A gold chain was strung through it.

He was sitting between two spectacular high-yellow whores. His diamonds were blazing under the streetlight. Three gorgeous white whores were in the front seat. He looked exactly like Boris Karloff in black-face.”

That sounds more like a freak show at the carnival to me. Who’d want to be that?

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By the time he hits his 40s and he is doing another jolt in yet another steel casket, he realizes that his time is up. Pimping is a young man’s game, and he can’t stack no more time behind bars. He turns to writing his life story in the 1960s shortly after being paroled, and Pimp is the first of several books he publishes. His influence on gangsta rap is undisputed. Several films have been made based on his books. Most of his reading audience were black initially, but as word got out, his readership continued to grow. I’ve always wanted to read Iceberg Slim to experience the colorful vernacular of his writing style. My peepers were often popping out of my head over his poetic use of street slang. There is a glossary in the back if his meanings are not immediately apparent.

”Scottish author Irvine Welsh offered that ‘Iceberg Slim did for the pimp what Jean Genet did for the homosexual and thief and William Burroughs did for the junkie: he articulated the thoughts and feelings of someone who had been there. The big difference is that they were white.’"

If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com
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Profile Image for Greg.
1,117 reviews1,878 followers
December 7, 2008
I bought this as an impulse purchase because it was displayed right next to the cash register at Shakespeare & Co. I'd seen it in the AK Press catalog before, and that is probably what made me pick it up. Pimp is entertaining in a kind of trashy way. It's a biography about a part of life that many middle class suburban folks like me don't know anything about. I have no idea how truthful the book is, or if it is sensationalism, or maybe even utter bullshit like those 'confessional' books written for priveleged teen fucks such as Jay's Journal, or Go Ask Alice. I don't even know why in my mind these books are all linked together in someway, maybe because of the voyeuristic thrill a reader would get? I don't know. They are all cautionary, and in that way they all fail, two of them because they are obviously bullshit, and this one because after reading it I'm sure all the good stuff the author got out of being a pimp outweighs the awfulness that followed. I imagine the reader who is setting out to follow in his pimping footsteps would also think he (or she I guess, today girls can be anything they want, even pimps if they want, right?) wouldn't make Mr. Slim's mistakes.

The one thing that I did learn from this book, and it's a lesson that will stay ingrained in my head for the rest of my life is that even the freakiest bitch don't like to be hit with a wire coat hanger that's been twisted into a metal whip. Even if the woman likes being smacked around, being beaten with the coat hanger will set her straight (straight meaning here spread her legs willingly for you, and then spread them for money which she will then give to you without cheating you of any of it). I will never forget this lesson, and I'm sure one day I'll be old and senile, and people I have known for years will come visit me and I'll no idea who they are, and if I have grandchildren I won't know there names, but I will pull them close to me and tell them what to do with freaky bitches who won't do what they are told, and I hope when this day comes my family will find it cute, but they will probably just hate me and wish I was dead.
Profile Image for Alex.
1,419 reviews4,482 followers
August 16, 2016
Iceberg Slim didn't invent the great American pimp archetype in 1969 but he codified it, he exposed it to mass culture, so he's an influential writer. Everything from Slick Rick to blaxploitation to the pathetic "pickup artist" scene owes a debt to him. So when Robin Kelley writes for the New Yorker, "I'm always amazed when I encounter well-read people unfamiliar with Iceberg Slim," I kinda get it. But then, does influence equal value? I mean, is this a good book? Are you going to like it?

It's not terribly pleasant to read. For one thing, it uses more unfamiliar slang than A Clockwork Orange. You're gonna need the glossary in the back, or a jive translator. For another, the things it describes are unpleasant. Its narrator, who is more or less actually Iceberg Slim, has a dim opinion of women. He does bad things to them. That's an understatement.

He is somewhat repentant. Borrowing a trope from Fanny Hill and Vanity Fair, he presents Pimp as a cautionary tale, and unlike those two books he seems to mean it; he doesn't glorify his life. Much. Big Daddy Kane's mileage apparently varied.

The book competently follows your basic biopic plot arc. Naive youngster learns the game; rises to the top of the game; hubris; fall; wisdom. (The other way these stories end is the Scarface way, but since this is a memoir you already know that's not happening.) There's a noir influence: "She was brown-skin murder in a size-twelve dress." There are some trenchant and self-aware points made about what it means for a black man to pimp a black woman to a white man. So, is it good? Sortof, sure. It does a good job of being what it is. It is well-written.

So this ends up sortof in the same department as Ulysses. It's influential and effective, but you're unlikely to enjoy the actual experience of reading it. "The account of my brutality and cunning as a pimp will fill many of you with revulsion," says Slim, showing, as he often does, remarkable perception.
Profile Image for Trish.
1,352 reviews2,438 followers
February 5, 2018
The thing about Robert “Iceberg Slim” Beck, the reason he is so magnetic, is that he is actually not the “Iceberg” he pretended to be. In this memoir of his life on the streets, he revels in his successes but also agonizes over his failures. He seems to tell us straight: this worked, that didn’t. He concludes it is necessary to hide one’s feelings behind an icy exterior, hiding his fear and doubt and empathy from his stable of whores and from other con men on the street who would double-cross him.

Beck reminds us several times how close pimping is to slavery, and where the crass brutality of it came from:
”[The book of pimping] was written in the skulls of proud slick Niggers freed from slavery. They wasn’t lazy. They was puking sick of picking white man’s cotton and kissing his nasty ass. The slave days stuck in their skulls. They went to the cities. They got hip fast.

The conning bastard white man hadn’t freed the niggers. The cities were like the plantations down South. Jeffing Uncle Toms still did all the white man’s hard and filthy work.

Those slick Nigger heroes bawled like crumb crushers. They saw the white man just like on the plantations still ramming it into the finest black broads.

The broads were stupid squares. They still freaked for free with the white man. They wasn’t hip to the scratch in their hot black asses.

Those first Nigger pimps started hipping the dumb bitches to the gold mines between their legs. They hipped them to stick their mitts out for the white man’s scratch. The first Nigger pimps and sure-shot gamblers was the only Nigger big shots in the country.”

Slim introduces us to the slavery of the skin trade. Not liking the choices he had for getting ahead, Slim decides he will pimp his way to “some real white-type living.” It is a soul-crushing world of double-cons and triple-crosses and his first couple forays onto the streets bring him low. But Slim sucks up to Sweet, a master who pimps “by the book,” and learns how to beat his whores into submission for the scratch they could earn.

Robert “Iceberg Slim” Beck writes in street slang but also in full, richly detailed sentences, paragraphs, and chapters that draw us in and sketches for us his shaky beginnings and long affiliation with the whoring trade. From time in the clink and from other street hustlers ‘Berg learned the necessity of applying psychology to his treatment of his whores: he used the oftentimes horribly broken life-stories of the whores against them, and used bling and flash and cunning to dazzle his stable, their tricks, and his competition. He noted his emotional reaction times also slowed considerably when he had a noseful of coke.

But the beauty of this memoir is also in the writing. Slim was in and out of prison from the time he was twenty. In one of the best escape scenes I have ever encountered, Slim describes his jailbreak from one prison that crackles with tension and bravado. We are aching for him to make it outside.

In the end, it is not Iceberg Slim’s cold exterior that draws us to him but his vulnerability and susceptibility. His humanity is the most endearing thing. We have reason to hate this criminal and liar. Perversely, however, we come to admire him for surviving, and persisting in learning every day. He lets us in on those lessons. It may be his best and longest con of all, and we’re all his whores.

A few weeks ago I reviewed Street Poison, the Biography of Iceberg Slim by Justin Gifford. His introduction to Iceberg Slim led to my seeking out this memoir, first published in 1969. In a heartbreaking coda to Iceberg's vulnerability in learning the street game, this first book by Iceberg Slim had a wonky contract with the publisher that earned him little. He did, however, gradually earn international recognition, and the style and naked honesty revealed in this book spawned a culture in music, film, and literature that persists to this day. Years ago I'd first seen this book; at that time I believe it wore a shocking pink cover emblazoned with an eye-popping silver scrawl. There comes a time in a reading life when a book makes sense in the order of things. The time had come for me. I can promise you an unforgettable reading experience, and perhaps some insight into the life of one black man who believed his salvation lie on the street. It is a cautionary tale, and a worthy memoir of a black man in a white world.
Profile Image for Book Clubbed.
146 reviews206 followers
December 26, 2021
Goddamn, this shit so raw I caught salmonella.

This is acute American capitalism (perhaps embellished) at its finest. This shit makes the Merrill Lynch CEO look like a socialist who tucks his long underwear into his socks.
Profile Image for Meike.
1,585 reviews2,808 followers
April 20, 2022
Okay, so I think we don't have to discuss that the exploits that Iceberg describes in his autobiographical novel are, you know, immoral, to say the least (lying to women and gaslighting them, severe physical and mental abuse, hooking them on drugs, taking all their money, throwing them away when they can't work anymore, etc.). What's interesting to consider here are different aspects:

1. The documentary character
This novel is set in the 40s and 50s, but what is described is still going on. You don't believe it? Check out the YouTube channel "Soft White Underbelly" which documents interviews with people living on the fringes of American society: Prostitutes, addicts, pimps, etc. You will hear stories reminiscent of Iceberg's descriptions.

2. Iceberg's musings on capitalism and how it works
Dave Chappelle famously turned down 50 million dollars for a project because he had a crisis of consciousness regarding his personal integrity. In his show "The Bird Revelation", he explained his reasons by drawing parallels to Iceberg's book about the inner workings of the male-dominated sex trade and its messages about capitalism in general. Here's the bit in question.

3. The relationship between slavery/racism and pimping
Iceberg himself experiences racism and reflects on it: He sees pimping as a way to make it in the white man's world - until taking responsibility for the cost of his trade for himself, his family, and the Black community. He then becomes a professional writer.

4. The book's cultural impact
Irvine Welsh has stated that Iceberg did for the pimp what William S. Burroughs did for the junky and Jean Genet for the thief, and it's probably true. His influence on rap culture can hardly be overestimated - or why do you think Ice-T and Ice Cube have these names? There also is a documentary about his influence that seems to be pretty good.

And you have give to him that his writing is really evocative and doesn't gloss over anything. Like it or not, this is a classic of American literature.
Profile Image for Darwin8u.
1,599 reviews8,731 followers
May 27, 2018
"Any good pimp is his own best company. His inner-life is so rich with cunning and scheming to out-think his whores."
- Iceberg Slim, Pimp: The Story of My Life


Iceberg Slim dances on that thread between unapologetic and remorseful. He loves and hates his mama. He loves and hates the game. This isn't a book you read because you want eroticism. This isn't Les Miserables. There isn't much at the end that redeems the story or the storyteller. HOWEVER, Iceberg Slim can write. His narrative is sharp. His stories are fascinating. His impact is large. Published in 1969, this book presented one hard, dark edge of black literature. It wasn't James Baldwin for sure. It shared more with William Burroughs. It somehow carved a bit of poetry out of depravity, misery and yearning. It inspired writers, rappers, and comedians for generations. Think of names like Ice-T. Ice-Cube. Think of acts like Richard Pryor and David Chappelle.

I had been aware of Iceberg Slim, but had never read him. It was while watching Dave Chappelle's "The Bird Revelation," however, when I decided I NEEDED to read Iceberg Slim sooner rather than later. It was Chappelle who opened my eyes a bit to how understanding Slim's perspective on pimps and whores gave one a larger understanding of capitalism, power, and race in America.* So, I didn't need to enjoy this book to get something from it.

* According to Robin D. G. Kelly, in her New Yorker profile of Robert Beck, aka Iceberg Slim “Pimp,” Beck’s most popular work, is also his least political.
Profile Image for Manny.
Author 30 books14k followers
Want to read
September 10, 2016
Photo with Pimp Stick

On Proxenetism and Pandering as Metaphors for Book-Reviewing

From a feminist/post-colonial viewpoint, the activities of book-reviewing and pimping have much in common. Operating within a patriarchal structure, the reviewer-pimp claims power over the essentially female text (recall Derrida's useful concept of "invagination"), and offers it to the reader-john as part of a quasi-commercial transaction where he is paid with "likes" or "comments". Just as the pimp symbolizes dominance over his girls using clothes which present a distorted and masculinized view of their sexuality (latex dresses, fishnet stockings, etc), the reviewer asserts hierarchic superiority over the text by structural transformations like parody, satire and use of absurd pseudo-academic gibberish.

To cut to the chase: Frances, thank you for a wonderfully inappropriate present! I will treasure it forever, though I am not quite sure I can guarantee that my camerawoman feels the same way.
Profile Image for Crowei.
151 reviews5 followers
January 7, 2018
I wonder how many people will end up here because of Dave Chappelle's Netflix special.

Interesting book, the language is coarse and rather offensive to women, but that was the times they lived in.

I wonder if the pimp game today is still as complex as it was back then. I'd recommend it to everyone to read, especially if you enjoy the show Boondocks and the character A Pimp named Slickback.
Profile Image for Naomi.
67 reviews13 followers
May 27, 2011
This is not a book you can "like." It is a repulsive book you can learn something from and hope desperately that conditions have changed since its publication. You'll find cultural commentary and insights into the psyche, but you'll also find vile, unimaginable misogyny and disregard for humanity in general. I suppose I learned something, but the urge to vomit accompanied that awful education. Why the four stars, you say? Old Iceberg Slim's tale, in the most (for lack of any other way to say it) yucky way, shows the tremendous and awful danger that occurs when the torments of anger and hatred rise above conscience and the most basic elements of human decency and actions.
Profile Image for Chris.
91 reviews442 followers
June 15, 2008
“Pimp” is fantastic. For about a decade now this has been one of my favorite books, and I don’t see that changing any time soon. Granted, I should immediately admit that I probably like this book for all the wrong reasons; I’m sure that the ‘correct’ grounds for appreciating “Pimp” (if such standards have been established) are to ponder the struggles of the black man fighting to rise up in American society and to look at the infelicitous lot he’s been subjected to and to carefully inspect the inherent disparities built into ‘the system’, which are broadly applied based solely on skin color. I don’t really care about all that mumbo-jumbo, that garbage doesn’t move me nor does it inspire any worthwhile thought on my behalf. Hell, if anything, that crap pissed me off.

My enjoyment of “Pimp” is certainly less insightful and far more puerile; more of an appreciation of the basest elements of the story. Slim rapping about social injustice: yawn. Slim talking all raw to the bitches in his stable before putting a foot in their ass: brilliant. Slim trash talking some jive turkey: far out. That’s right, Slim’s badass rap has inspired me to use ‘far out’ for the first time since 1988.

I’m going to need to justify that, so here’s a little taste of Slim’s masterful lambasting: “Listen square-ass bitch, I have never had a whore I couldn’t do without. I celebrate, bitch, when a whore leaves me. It gives some worthy bitch a chance to take her place and be a star. You scurvy bitch, if I shit in your face you gotta love it and open your mouth wide.” I couldn’t come up with anything remotely as solid in a hundred years. With that sample alone, and considering that many rappers consider him an influence, it’s no wonder the word ‘bitch’ has enjoyed such proliferation in their craft. Needless to say, if objectifying and degrading women bothers you, “Pimp” should probably be removed from your to-read list.

The story chronicles the pimping exploits of Robert Beck in the American Midwest from the 1930s to the 1950s. He starts off small-time as Young Blood, but aspires to be the best damn pimp this world has ever seen. All he has to do is learn the rules of the game from the current master, Chicago’s alpha-pimp, the badass “Sweet Jones. Sweet may be one of the most compelling and awesome figures in US History. Before even being introduced to him, Slim gets the word on the street that Sweet is “the best n!gger pimp in the world, if they got n!gger pimps in outer space he’s the best of them too, he’s lugging twenty G’s and nobody is crazy enough to try heisting him, he croaks n!ggers for recreation.” His stable reigns supreme, his bitches are obedient and focused on getting Sweet’s ass some scratch, and there’s only one bitch in the world he cares about, his ocelot, Miss Peaches. That’s right, the baddest, bigass stud in all of Chi-town spends half his scratch on diamond necklaces and little knit sweaters for his darling feline. Miss Peaches is one of the more intriguing characters of the book as well, farting in public, chomping fried chicken, and staring punks and suckas down with a icy gaze.

After learning the subtle nuances of the pimping game from Sweet and his pal “Glass Top”, Slim experiences the ups and downs of the lifestyle he sought; his bitches rat him out to the feds, he almost screws a tranny in a ridiculously hilarious scene, he gets swindled and conned, he swindles and cons, he batters his trollops, goes to prison several times, pulls a jailbreak, and discovers it’s feast or famine in this cop & blow game.

In spite of all the majesty within, there are a few negative elements. The first issue is pretty inconsequential: Slim doesn’t’ spend a whole lot of time describing details of the environment or setting very well, usually you’re lucky to get such scintillating descriptions like “The sky was a fresh, bright bitch.” So when he does actually throw in something a bit beefier like “the first April night had gone sucker and gifted her with a shimmering bracelet of diamond stars…the fat moon lurked like an evil yellow eye staring down.” These few instances stick out like a sore thumb and seem like someone else added them during the editing process. The larger issue I had was his rapping about being a black man in the white man’s world and the hurdles this creates for him, which is probably the message of the book, but to me it was just an annoying interruption from his god-like dispensation of wrath upon his various whores. Call me whack, but in my humble opinion, the white man did put forth the effort to come to this new world and chase off those pesky redskin devils, which does seem to make it his ‘world’, and Slim isn’t exactly making any strides towards establishing a better life for his peeps by pimping their asses on the street. Lastly, I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count the number the number of times he boasts about his alleged 175 I.Q, especially since he usually mentions it to show the shock of some peckerwood honky that some brother just duped him. For a guy who is usually ‘running on all 175 pistons’ he sure as hell makes plenty of stupid-ass calls, and again, doesn’t seem to realize that pimping his own people is probably why their lot in life isn’t ideal; he and his fellow whoremongers are doing more harm than the white man would even bother to.

As a last note, I’m not a fan of ‘urban-lit’ or anything minority-inspired (women’s-lit, gay-lit, latino-lit, etc) as some attempt to ‘broaden my horizons’. As a rule, if I pick up a book and see some glowing praise how it ‘helped shape and define the struggles of the inuit/aborigine/future visitors from the solar system around Alcor’ my reaction will be similar to that of grabbing an electric eel. Though I firmly embrace my narrow-mindedness and ig’nance, the fact I can still enjoy “Pimp”, even for all the wrong reasons, shows the power of Slim’s daunting invective.
Profile Image for Jafar.
728 reviews250 followers
January 23, 2010
You can try to sanitize this book, as Ervine Welsh has done in the introduction, and treat it as report on the social conditions of the racist America of the 1940’s and 50’s and one Black man’s attempt to break out of the cycle through the only way he found possible, blah blah blah. I couldn’t be bothered with any of this. I picked up this book to read some cool pimp talk. Pimp daddies and their bitches going about their binniz. Mindless degenerate entertainment. Like watching rap videos of the most debauched type. There are passages in the book that satisfied my depraved expectations. There are some funny pimp-talk one-liners, like: I was busier than a whore on soldiers’ payday. There’s glossary at the end to help with the pimp lingo, in case you’re not hip enough.

After a while the book stops being entertaining and the writing starts to feel flat. Worse, you can’t ignore the fact that it’s mostly a story of brutality and exploitation, and in the back of your mind you know you cannot justify it in spite of what the apologists tell you about racism. It stops being funny when you get to the part where Iceberg Slim uncoils a wire coat hanger to beat up one of his whores, who is also Black. I leave it to others to glorify this book. Irvine Welsh calls Slim “one of the most influential writers of our age.” Go figure. I’ll remember not to read anything by Welsh again.
Profile Image for Daniel Clausen.
Author 11 books467 followers
November 3, 2020
I have to admit, I gave up on this book at about page 155 (out of 240).

The book started off hot! The first pages were electric. I picked up this book because I heard it mentioned in a Dave Chappelle stand-up bit. I was hoping to read something fresh and something that gave me a unique perspective on power. The book started off well. It was raw and honest, and Slim has an obvious talent with words, but as the book wore on and it delved further and further into the world of pimping, the book became tedious.

What is pimping? Well, as it turns out, pimping is work. And shockingly, it's work like a lot of other kinds of work. Like other types of work, it has its own vernacular (jargon): slats, tricks, suckers...etc. This jargon is normal and mundane for insiders, frustrating and tedious for outsiders. And, like other industries and work, it's subject to ups and downs and the vagaries of fortune.

As for power? Well, as it turns out, other than its use of direct violence, pimping is a lot like managing at other jobs. You use the tricks and leverage you have available to you to get the most of your workers. And you try to restrict your workers' abilities to resist or move on to other types of work. In fact, pimping is so much like other forms of work that I felt like I was constantly at work reading this book. How do we get some kids to work their best at a call center? Well, we build them up, then we tear them down, then we give them a little token incentive to build them up a little bit. Maybe we make an example out of one worker to keep the others in line. We promote one of them to give the others some hope, but also use the promoted worker to keep the others in line (your bottom bitch).

I can see this book being used in middle-management seminars on how to keep your workforce motivated. Replace the word "pimp" with "manager" and "whore" with "subordinate" and you have something fresh for a seminar.

Or to quote Slim directly, but sounding more like Peter Drucker:

"A manager is happy when his subordinates laugh awkwardly. He knows they are still loyal … all subordinates have one thing in common just like the workers at other esteemed firms. It excites them when the manager makes mistakes. They watch and wait for his demotion or replacement. A manager is the loneliest worker in the office. He has to know his subordinates. He can’t let them know him. He always has to be a paragon, looked up to and inscrutable, respected and feared.”

You could take the same passage and translate it into the style of Machiavelli on politics. Replace "manager" with "king" and "subordinates" with "subjects". Or, you can talk about the ideal family patriarch and replace "king" with "father" and "subjects" with "family members" or "flock" or whatever.

The point is that the basics of manipulating people is pretty timeless and crosses a lot of different social barriers. Pimping is mean and nasty...but as it turns out, so is a lot of other activities where controlling and manipulating people is your objective.
Profile Image for Gary.
126 reviews117 followers
October 6, 2017
Think of the worst crimes a person can commit: murder, rape, child molestation, pandering drugs, torture, slavery. It doesn't matter which of those you think might be worse than any other. Take your pick. And then consider:

The pimp engages in all those things. They are, in fact, his routine.

I picked this book up after having stumbled across the documentary Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp produced by Ice-T. Here's the trailer:


That film was interesting enough to get me to seek out the book if for no other reason than I was curious to see how a pimp might turn pulp novelist. What it lead to was a book that has the ring of true crime novels plus the authenticity of the autobiography. Which is not to say much for truth in either crime novels or autobiographies... but more of that in a bit.

What kind of person could possibly be so loathsome as to become a pimp? How could a person's humanity be warped to the point of victimizing women under the pretense of love and protection? How could anyone have any sympathy for someone who engages in the most despicable crimes?

This book answers those questions because, in a surprisingly skillful way, the author, Iceberg Slim/Robert "Bobby" Beck/Robert Lee Maupin, gives humanity to the most inhuman of lifestyles. (I'm going to give the author his pen name "Iceberg Slim" for the rest of this review.) A cycle of misogyny, sadism, masochism, self-loathing and depravity are the mainstays of that existence, and they are portrayed with verisimilitude in this book. The sins of the author are comprehended by readers, we even occasionally relate to them, because of the apparent self-loathing and deep-seated trauma (in this case, Slim claims to have been molested as a child by a babysitter) that is described as their original causal motive.

Please note that I say "verisimilitude" not truth. I sincerely doubt this book is a full and reliable accounting of his activities as a pimp. The prose is far too much of a pulp novel "hard-boiled" affectation to be truthful in any meaningful sense of that word. In fact, that style of prose and the particulars that are given would appear in many cases to have lead to a misinterpretation of this book as an instruction manual rather than a cautionary tale, and the author himself warned against that reading later in his career. (In a scene portrayed in the aforementioned documentary.)

In reality, there are no practical lessons on pandering sex to be learned in this book. Despite that supposed reading by fans, I seriously doubt that it had a substantial effect on those who aspire to a criminal lifestyle. Like any potboiler it is as much wish-fulfillment as provocation. Rather, the supposed style presented as the mystery and allure of the pimp is, no doubt, simply a cover for the underlying and constant violence or threat of violence that is the heart of the process. It is the violence that is truly the method of a pimp. The patter is just the veneer. Learning about that veneer cannot truly prepare someone for a lifestyle filled with the most atrocious of crimes any more than reading a book about the one inch punch will turn the reader into Bruce Lee.

Nonetheless, the strength of this book is in that veneer/voice. Published as the paperback dime novel equivalent of black exploitation films, Iceberg Slim's story has a voice that compares to detective novels of the preceding decades. As such, there is a considerable amount of sardonic humor, and even in the darkest of situations, the story is told with an almost nostalgic care. Granted, the book uses the "cant" of the panderer and criminal underworld of black America in the 40s through the following decades, but readers of Raymond Chandler or even Dashiell Hammett will recognize the patter and meter, if not the prose and metalanguage, of the narration by Slim. In fact, the book comes with a handy glossary in the back, apparently at the publishers' insistence, which is itself fascinating to read. It is interesting to see how much of the vocabulary that the author and publishers felt required a glossary when the book was published is part of the mainstream these days.

Predictably, quite a bit of the language is sexist, racist or otherwise offensive, so if I might issue the most unnecessary warning in the history of Goodreads reviews: this book contains many trigger words for some people.

The general facts presented by Slim are likely true. That is, where he says he was imprisoned and when we can probably believe. However, it is the nature of that profession (and the nature of a writer, as well as the nature of an autobiography) to glorify the self in a way that is certainly deceptive. Was Iceberg Slim molested by a religious nut babysitter when he was just little Bobby Maupin? That's hard to say. Even if one wants to believe the testimony of children in such a situation, one must temper that desire with the recognition that as Iceberg Slim he made his living as a depraved and drug-addled liar whose every word was a rationalization of his own behavior. That means that as a book it's a decent piece of work. As a confession it is almost certainly not decent (in any sense of that word.)

In any case, I would recommend this book, but only to those with an interest in crime novels in the first place. For anyone wanting to see a bit of the dark side, it can be found in this book, but I would sprinkle even that assessment with more than a few grains of salt. This is a cautionary tale, but it's one that ultimately ends in redemption. It's debatable whether there really is redemption for someone whose life has been so dedicated to preying on others, and it's equally debatable whether a person who would so justify his past crimes with something like a tell-all crime autobiography has done anything to merit it.
Profile Image for Sarah Etter.
Author 13 books671 followers
June 2, 2011
where to start with this book? some of the most gruesome scenes i've ever read, but i couldn't resist it. about three pages in, i had to put it down and take a deep breath.

anyway - gut-wrenching account of life as a pimp before it became gangster rap fodder. i know there's a big debate - at least at the academic level - about whether slim wrote this book or it was ghostwritten. i'm not sure that matters to me - the story still needs to be told.

it's interesting that despite the fact that slim eventually reformed, this book has some of the coldest lines ever written about women in it. the part about whores laughing is stuck in my bones now, as is much of the rest of this book. it's also really hard to resist the time period the book takes place in, and i think slim does a killer job using the lingo in a way that makes it understandable.

maybe this is less a book and more an experience and a life. but it's one i'm glad i got a chance to see, no matter how horrifying it was.
Profile Image for Michael.
Author 2 books346 followers
March 19, 2020
091118: brutal, ugly, honest, energetic. not a world i know, have ever known, this is written in 1967, set throughout twentieth century. so maybe bad things have happened to me in early years, but i also grew up comfortably, i had good parents, good brother, good travel, good schooling, some friends, some girls, book intelligence if not street, rewarded art inclinations, did not ever much suffer racism, poverty, deceit, stupidity, cruelty, assault, or any of the many ways that the author has suffered.... i hope i never do...

so there is some sympathy. i will never know how much of me is nurture how much is nature. i do not think anyone ever does. as far as nature, i was never as handsome, charming, dangerous, street-smart, never as attracted to pleasures now, to stupid girls who were, to triumph by manipulation. by nurture, by living how well i did, by learning certain educated, delayed gratification if not repression, i hope i have never used any of my qualities to hurt, i have never used, i have never worked out my hurt by hurting others. this biography offers convincing, ugly, brutal sense of his world that i prefer to visit on the page. this is an ugly world full of stupid stupid hustlers and constant danger and lonely paranoia. this is honest in detailing how to use others and maybe still look in the mirror. this is energetic in recounting his adventures though his awakening is very late...

this is my take. i hope this book wises-up stupid young boys who need it...
Profile Image for Kristen.
151 reviews288 followers
July 28, 2010
What does it mean to be a hero in an antagonistic universe?
This book is a thoughtful and brutal examination of the choices one is forced to make in a world turned against the individual. In prose reminiscent of a street-wise Dostoyevsky, the author recounts the story of his life through various moralistic phases. These tend to impress upon the reader a recurring theme, not of the universe's intense silence to human cries, but of openly ambivalent laughter and playfulness that voices itself most loudly in universally relevant cosmic irony.

Nowhere is this more clearly seen than in a pivotal recollection of his meeting with a quaint and attractive young woman from the suburbs. An ecstatic ascension of hopes and elation, built up over several pages, comes crashing down when through various subtleties this once thought good woman is dramatically revealed to be a man in disguise, hid behind cheapness. Our hero, setting himself apart from the ordinary individual in his place, chooses not just to run from that place, but to steal the man's piggy bank (who else would be brave enough under such circumstances?) and thereby set himself apart from the victims of his world, who huddle in cowardice under the touch of sexually ambiguous attractors.

On his path to becoming a man with dominion over the streets, our hero learns, as would a prince from Machiavelli, that neighbourhood politics is of a fickle nature. One can hear the ominous echo of ancient political thought across many a page of this book. Who cares to see the parallel between Plato's Republic and our hero's contemporary treating prostitutes to a week without food will unlock the hidden meaning to this book. It hits you like a twisted up coathanger hits a hooker.

There is a holiness and spiritual honesty to this work you will find nowhere else in literature. For that I give it two stars.
Profile Image for Scott Rhee.
1,884 reviews73 followers
October 28, 2015
“[A] pimp is really a whore who has reversed the game on whores. So... be as sweet as the scratch, no sweeter, and always stick a whore for a bundle before you sex her. A whore ain’t nothing but a trick to a pimp. Don’t let ‘em Georgia you. Always get your money in front just like a whore.” ---Iceberg Slim, “Pimp: The Story of My Life”

Robert Beck, a.k.a. Iceberg Slim, was born in 1918 to a single mother. He never knew his father, who left town before he was born. His mother worked several jobs to support them; long, odd hours that required him to stay with babysitters in the Chicago neighborhood where they lived. It was one of these babysitters that sexually molested him at age three.

It’s telling and appropriate that Beck’s autobiography, “Pimp: The Story of My Life”, should open with this admission. Despite his young age, Beck vividly recalls the strange mix of terror, confusion, and excitement of that horrible incident. It was, without having been said, an experience that set the stage for his life; an experience that contributed to a confused and twisted view of sexuality and a dark misogyny that would rule most of his young life.

The love-hate relationship that Beck had with his mother also started early. Beck recalls the life that could have been lived with a kind-hearted man named Henry. A devout Christian and well-to-do business owner (a rarity at the time, especially for black people), Henry Upshaw fell madly in love with Beck’s mother. Unfortunately for Henry, his feelings were never reciprocated.

Beck, himself, fell in love with the man, claiming “[h]e was the only father I had ever really known.”

In regards to Henry, Beck writes, “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.”

Beck’s mother fell in love with a handsome young grifter named Steve, and he took her and her son away from Henry, something for which Beck was never able to forgive his mother.

Beck started pimping at age 18. He attained the moniker “Iceberg Slim” from his peers due to his ice-cold demeanor toward his whores. He was violent and vicious and rarely cracked even a smile.

He grew up believing that compassion and generosity were signs of weakness, that people would walk all over you if you let them. Respect was earned through fear and intimidation. It was a hard way to live.

It also led him to several stints in prison. In 1961, after a ten-month stint, Iceberg Slim called it quits from the pimping game. He legally changed his name to Robert Beck (His given name was Robert Maupin) and moved to Los Angeles, where he met his wife, Betty. It was she who encouraged him to tell his story. Thus, “Pimp” was born.

Beck would go on to write and publish seven more books, all of which quickly gained a following, especially among the black community. “Pimp” has consistently been in print since it was published nearly 50 years ago. Its greatest (albeit dubious) influence has been on the hip-hop movement. Rappers Ice-T and Ice-Cube acknowledge that their rapper names are an homage to Iceberg Slim. Indeed, many of their songs quote from Slim’s books.

“Pimp” is not a great book. It should not be viewed as anything more than a fascinating memoir and reportage of a life amidst a criminal underworld within the black community. That said, there is, despite the blatant misogyny and violence within its pages, something extraordinarily profound about Beck’s book.

Perhaps it is the fact that, from that life, Beck was still able to find some semblance of a normal existence: marriage, children, success as a writer, and a quiet death in 1992.
Profile Image for Justin Murphy.
78 reviews4 followers
September 14, 2020
I picked this up for myself after Dave Chappelle referenced it in his special The Bird Revelation. I respect Chappelle and appreciate his commentary and insights on complex topics. It is for that reason I am using Pimp: The Story of My Life to kick off a series of reading to help me understand the political climate of 2020.

Its hard to describe this book as an enjoyable read. The pages are filled with the violence, drugs, and manipulation that defined Iceberg's life. It is a sad dark tale of a man turned cold from the experiences of his hard broken childhood.

Though I cannot connect with Iceberg on many things I do feel like I saw the entry point to the lifestyle he took. There is no doubt in my mind that being raised by a single parent, living in poverty, and racism all influence incarceration rates. I am lucky to only face one of those factors.

I am happy I read Pimp: The Story of My Life. It breaks the mold of books I normally read and poses a good reminder to how fortunate I am.
32 reviews
May 26, 2008
Entertaining to the core, but that doesn't mean Iceberg brushes over the nuance and complexity surrounding his situation. "The Skull Book on Pimping" concisely covers issues that sociologists have prattled about in dense and meaningless jargon for decades. Slim is among the few honest autobiographers in his embrace of his contradictions. The book is neither self-glorifying nor moralizing. Nor is it, and it does not pretend to be, simply the facts. Like the hip-hop music it would influence several decades later, it thrives in its own contradictions. As a Gemini, I find that sort of thing to be excessively dope.
Profile Image for Marsha Altman.
Author 16 books131 followers
January 22, 2018
I tried this on a recommendation from Dave Chapelle's comedy special. It's probably an important piece of American culture, from a sociology perspective. That said, I just couldn't make it through it. I almost never give up on a book for cursing or sex, so I think it's just how much the character hates women and how dirty I felt reading it that made me put it down. Not that Iceberg Slim would be offended.
Profile Image for Wynne Kontos RONA READS.
359 reviews21 followers
February 15, 2021
I began a "borrowing library" in my office, where I work as a social worker in the Bronx. Reading has always been a passion of mine, especially books about the city I now call home and human suffering that has always informed my work.

Many of my clients don't enjoy reading, and I have few people utilizing my books, but one client in particular is a frequent borrower and when I told him I was reading this memoir, he shared with me several books that were important to him growing up, this being one of them (another was a Donald Goines novel I had already purchased but not read yet.) It was an exciting moment to have a LITERARY connection with a client, and an important part of my exposure to "blaxploitation" novels.

"Pimp" is a strange duck indeed. I've been working in what Slim calls "the hood" for several years now, but this is not where I'm from or where I live. It's where I work, and despite the deep kinship I feel to the neighborhood and the people in it, I'll always be an outsider. Iceberg Slim brought the hood to America, and in the gritty, surprising way it sometimes presents itself. Even though this memoir began before WW2, the language, the movement, the neighborhood, it all felt the same. In fact, I had a hard time remembering that it wasn't New York in present day. It's a story more than fifty years old that never took place in New York at all.

"Pimp" is not an easy read. Slim isn't a very likable guy, and he's in an even more unlikable profession. He treats women terribly, which is to be expected because he doesn't treat himself with any love either. In and out of jail, up and down in the "game," (one day he'll have a full "stable" of sex workers, the next day no one and on the street strung out), it becomes exhausting to read let alone live in real life.

The language can be difficult. Not because it's profane, but the slang is so thick it took time to adapt and always know what he was talking about. I also found myself disbelieving that any of the women who worked for him REALLY talked the way he wrote them. No matter what time period, men writing women is always fraught.

But Slim's memoir is important. It brought me a new awareness and he's a talented writer. In the same sentence he'll describe the genitals of a sex worker and a beautiful sunrise over the projects and neither seems out of place. There's a reason Slim was always on top of his game, no matter what game that was.
Profile Image for Evan.
1,071 reviews752 followers
April 1, 2019
"The tougher a stud is, the more a whore goes for him."

"Fast, I got to find out the secrets of pimping. I don’t want to be a half-ass gigolo lover like the white pimps. I really want to control the whole whore. I want to be the boss of her life, even her thoughts. I got to con them that Lincoln never freed the slaves.”

"Serena begged my mother to tell me to come back. She wouldn’t file charges. It was all her fault and she loved me. I knew that if I had gone back Serena would have driven a butcher knife through my heart in my sleep."

Iceberg Slim had a knack for expression that served him well in his days in the '30s and '40s as a hard-nosed big-city pimp and con man, a talent that morphed later in his days of going straight into storytelling. In this brutal and raw autobiography, Slim displays a talent for machine-gun pulpy prose and a fearless braggadocio -- wanting simultaneously to express atonement and remorse for his past cruelties while holding onto the perverse self-honor of being a cold, violent badass.

There's much to unpack in this, sociologically speaking, but I won't dwell on that. Slim was a victim and a victimizer. A man who wanted to stick it to the man but in doing so emerged as no better than the unjust society he bemoans.

Slim had promise as a youth. He was a model student who made good grades and his talent for writing emerged early. But, as many do, he succumbed to the allure and fast buck of the streets. And sated a lust to dominate the streets and the women he corralled to ply his trade. To keep them "in line" he brooked no conscience, no warmth and no emotion, thus the moniker pinned on him by an associate: Iceberg.

Along the way, Slim pulls the long and short cons, beats women, serves two stints in prison, masterminds a successful jailbreak and generally weaves his way through a treacherous world where the competition is fierce and the rise to the top is strewn with equally dangerous competitors. To survive it, as Slim did, was rare.

Whether Slim is good, bad, or both, doesn't much matter to me. This book is uncompromising, pulls no punches, and makes no concessions to your PC sensibilities. It's misogynistic, racist, lewd and discomfiting. It's a report from a part of the world I'm happy to not be a part of.

eg/'kr '19
Profile Image for Cheryl.
83 reviews28 followers
November 29, 2014
Smooth. Slick. Poetic, slithered in pimpology.

I think it is clear pimps are not nice people. They are cunning, abusive, emotionless creatures and liars. And their street walkers are lost souls, foolish and not too bright. That's why I loved this book. It's blunt, gritty, and organic.

Some might read Pimp and believe it's teaching tool how to pimp and to whore. Granted, while some might read this book and take it that way, I look at it as to why one shouldn't get into the life at all. Like what Iceberg said at the end that pimping is for young, stupid men. Same can said for the street walkers, it is for young, stupid women. It is a get rich money scheme but it has its consequences. You can get locked up, addicted to drugs, raped, physically/mentally abused and/or let the game kill you one way or another.

Iceberg does acknowledge behind the mask of every pimp in his biography there is a dark past into why they get into the life. With Iceberg, that was his mother. His mother plays a key role into why he chose the pimp life instead of the square life.

Again fantastic look into the life of pimping by Iceberg Slim. I also would recommend reading Whoreson by Donald Goines. It's quite similar to Pimp which gives one an idea into Goines' life as a pimp. Lastly there is a documentary film based on 'Berg and on this very book that is worth checking out.
Profile Image for Matt McGlynn.
28 reviews5 followers
May 4, 2022
First, the way this book reads might be one of the most unique reading experiences I’ve ever had. It literally reads just like a movie. The slang is incredible to read, the entire thing is like sitting around a bunch of people from a Dirty Harry movie.

Now the cons. This book is unbelievably dark and I have to imagine very little was held back. This guy was absolutely horrible. Point blank that’s it. Some of it I just kind of skipped ahead.

With that said, just for the way it’s written I would check it out. Even just a chapter or two.
Profile Image for Ashley .
166 reviews40 followers
January 16, 2020
Being a woman is hard. Sometimes, we want to fight toxic masculinity and shun works such as these in order to reject all forms of misogyny, written, spoken, and the like. Other times (for some), we want to peek behind the curtain to see what is being said, "is the violence in that book/song/movie glorified enough to make men think behavior like this okay?", will this work set women back decades of progress all because female characters are portrayed in a negative light? Is the man who wrote this providing content for curious voyeurs to consume and regurgitate messages from within? In the end, I'm definitely someone who read this because I as a woman wanted to see what Iceberg was saying and try to understand how the works of this pimp-turned-author became so prolific, inspiring the era of the "black pimp" in blaxploitation. I will admit, this worship of pimps and the "opulent" lives they led due to slave labor (and yes, it is slave labor. Iceberg gives a rundown in the book of how the pimp was allegedly created by black slaves pimping out their female counterparts to slave masters and white men) disgusts me, but I didn't come here to vilify Slim. I gave the book three stars because it was redundant, from the writing to the message (if even there is one), but redundant enough to lead me to believe that he wrote this book honestly and truthfully, maybe to teach readers a lesson about living in the fast lane or maybe just to have a memoir by which he can introduce other books of the same nature under the pretense of "writing what he knows". Either way, there was only so much in jail out of jail, slap this whore slap that whore I could take before I had to wonder why I was still giving this book the time of day.
Profile Image for Kristin Myrtle .
113 reviews36 followers
December 23, 2020
I just finished Pimp and I am broken and crying. Holy fuck that was a beautiful book omg. What a rollercoaster ride! There where moments where I didn't think I would be able to finish it but I pushed through. But it was rough, this book is incredibly violent, and the psychological torment he inflicts on the women he employs is wild. Hard to read for sure.

But goddamn Iceberg can write. Omg can he write!!! There was sentences that stopped me in my tracks, passages that left me breathless. You know when you're really into a book and then you have to stop reading because of LIFE and then all day you're just thinking about it and the characters and what's gonna happen and you're even talking about it to your partner and you cant wait to sit back down and just meditate with it again. This book was like that. And ya it's about pimping and drugs and violence and sex and manipulating women, but it's about so much more. Iceberg Slim led quite a life but in the beginning he was just a boy, just a young boy with a young mom. So many of us started out that way.

He is an effortless writer. This book begs to be read. There is an urgency and a vibrancy to his words. His writing is fucking magical and mystical and things get so damn bleak and you're like oh god this is gonna end so terribly... but it doesnt. It had a perfect ending, a perfect last chapter. A fucking perfect last paragraph and last sentence I cant believe it I'm crying again.

This book filled me with hope and I did not expect that AT ALL ❤❤❤❤
Profile Image for Lex Alexander.
9 reviews3 followers
July 31, 2013
The one thing that I did learn from this book, and it's a lesson that will stay ingrained in my head for the rest of my life is that even the freakiest bitch don't like to be hit with a wire coat hanger that's been twisted into a metal whip. Even if the woman likes being smacked around, being beaten with the coat hanger will set her straight (straight meaning here spread her legs willingly for you, and then spread them for money which she will then give to you without cheating you of any of it). I will never forget this lesson, and I'm sure one day I'll be old and senile, and people I have known for years will come visit me and I'll no idea who they are, and if I have grandchildren I won't know there names, but I will pull them close to me and tell them what to do with freaky bitches who won't do what they are told, and I hope when this day comes my family will find it cute, but they will probably just hate me and wish I was dead."---Greg
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