Grandfather the Pimp
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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