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My Grandfather the Pimp
By Jeff Hopkins

It was 7:30 AM. I'd stepped out of the car and was standing on the sidewalk in front of Meadowbrook Junior High. I waved "bye" to my mother, but she didn't drive away. The passenger window lowered, liberating a cloud of cigarette smoke as Mom leaned across the seat to shout something through the window.

"Oh, by the way, we're not going to Grandma's for Easter because your grandfather left town. The police were after him for soliciting women into prostitution." The car window rolled up again, leaving a smoke signal exclamation mark hanging in the air as she drove away.

I stood there in shocked stillness as other kids drifted past. I'd recently turned 13 and had begun to develop a filter that blocked out most of what my mother said to me at any moment. But somehow, "The police are after your grandfather for soliciting women into prostitution" cut through to my general consciousness.

I walked into school and sat down at my desk in my first-period algebra class. I was already a D-minus student who had trouble paying attention, but now the "FOIL" method of multiplying polynomials was losing in the gray matter turf war against mental images of my grandfather dressed up as a pimp. My grandpa. The gray-haired old man who took me fishing, carved the turkey at Thanksgiving and passed out itchy sweaters at Christmas. A man I now envisioned strutting down the street in the suburbs of Shawnee, Kansas, wearing a purple velvet jumpsuit and a wide-brimmed hat, keeping his bitches in check.

For a moment I thought my mom might have made it up. Yes, she was frequently sarcastic, and often exaggerated the flaws of others, but had never really needed to when it came to the men in our family. Most were drunks, some had been incarcerated. A few years earlier my father, who was a printer by trade, had been arrested for making money… literally. He made his own twenty-dollar bills with a printing press on our back porch. But he didn't go to jail, no. He somehow got out of doing time for counterfeiting by pleading guilty to arson. A friend of his owned a Gone With The Wind themed disco in Kansas City called "Scarlet O'Hara's Plaza West" and had persuaded my dad to help him torch it for the insurance money. So my dad testified against that guy and the feds let him off with six years probation for the whole deal. So at an early age I learned that although crime doesn't pay, if you commit two crimes, you could pretty much break even.

I'm digressing but the point is it wasn't hard to imagine a member of my family being a criminal; I was kind of getting used to it.

But this was my grandfather. And unlike my dad, the printer/counterfeiter, his crime didn't align with his occupation. He was a 65-year-old appliance repairman who looked kind of like Lorne Greene. During the week he fixed deep fat fryers for a restaurant supply company. During the weekends he was king of the garage sales and could normally be found in a yellowed V-neck t-shirt and Wranglers.

By lunchtime I'd become obsessed with uncovering the truth about my grandpa the pimp. I wanted to know his M.O.; I needed some factual evidence. And I got it when the other third chair trumpet player and I ditched band class and went to the school library to read about my grandfather in the Metro section of the Kansas City Star. "Joseph L. Peterson is believed to have left town after being questioned by local detectives on accusations of pandering." It went on to explain my grandpa's method as, "wearing a dark suit and approaching waitresses in restaurants such as Perkins and Denny's and offering them contracts for employment as secretaries to traveling business executives, positions that would require them to have sexual relations with the executives." The article also said his typed-up contract required the women to have sex with him as well, to determine their qualifications.

For the rest of the day at school, my brain was just completely short-circuiting. It's one thing to find out your grandfather is a pimp, but to then find out he's a completely different kind of pimp than you originally thought is maddening. My earlier visions of my grandpa as a '70s era street mack-daddy had now been replaced with one of him as a strange sex industry corporate recruiter. Now I just wondered if his approach ever worked. What woman goes about her job at Denny's waiting tables thinking, sure, slinging Eggs Over My Hammy is fulfilling work, but if an old man in a cheap suit sits down and offers me a job as a traveling prostitute, I'm there.

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