Party's bad break sobered me. I started hearing what was going on in day classes at school, and kept it up for a year or so until at age fifteen I graduated from high school, amazingly, and with a ninetyeight point four average! Some people who were alumni of Tuskegee, a Southern Negro college, insisted upon Mama letting them underwrite all expenses for my education at their Alma Mater. The tuition came to almost two hundred, and then there were other expenses for textbooks. Room and board came to another coupla hundred. All together it piled up just a shoeshine short of Vera's take that one Friday night. The thought still makes me snicker, though of course I didn't dare bat an eyelash then. To Mama it seemed nothing short of a fabled fortune of the sultans, and she leaped at the chance.
The alumni went into debt and sent me down to their hallowed school with a sparkling wardrobe. I sold myself hard on their blather of the future, I still don't know why but I sure as hell did it back then. Education freaks are no different from any other church nuts. They all think the same way, it's always salvation and Jesus is coming for them, though they call it different things but it all works the same, like a tractor painted red is the same under the hood as the same tractor painted yellow, and if you paint it pink instead it might look like a novelty but it'll still be a Farmall Progress. I didn't know any of that back then, of course. Somewhere in the back of my head there was the thought that if it costs the same as Vera's Friday night it probably is worth the same as Vera's Friday night too, I'm sure. It must've been there in the first place for me to figure it out eventually ; but it was buried, deep under a whole pile-up of "the success of my very life itself", rescuing Mama and all her awesome guilt, not to mention the trust and confidence of those big-hearted alumni. A lot of people's self-importance was at stake, and I was supposed to be stuck pulling their ego carts for them all the way uphill to Tuskegee.
The sleepwalking lasted maybe two, maybe even three months ; but little by little I woke up and smelled the cunt. Before the first year was out I had slit open the maidenhead on a halfdozen curvy coeds, and in the process made the biggest discovery of my entire life. They don't mind being together! They think they mind it, everyone tells them they do and tries to sell them on it, but deep down, at the brass tacks, they like being together just fine. It's better for them, it's like someone told them they don't like fried chicken their entire life. They go through the day stuffing themselves on watermelon, because on their own they're too dumb to try things or figure their way out of a paper bag. You ever try any poisonous mushrooms to see whether they're poisonous or sugar-sweet ? So then how you know they're poisonous in the first place ?
That's how it goes, once you force them to stick some of that disgusting terrible awful delicious fried chicken down their craw their tune changes fast enough. All of a sudden all sorta qualities and advantages start coming out of the woodwork. You've gots ta start with them young enough, so their brains ain't grown bones all over and through yet, but as my good fortune had it freshman year's not too late at all. Once I finally figured that out, I was like a fox in a chicken coop. My notoriety was getting something awful, but I was starting to pile up the scratch faster than it went out. Turns out that even though the campus finks were bile-green with envy, there's nothing much a college kid won't do for even the prospect of spending the night with a roomfull of naked co-eds ; and the naked co-eds don't mind being naked if there's three or four of them to the loser.
In my Sophomore year I figured out no man lives on an island, even if off to college. I started going into the hills near the campus. I made a circuit through all the juke joints, and there were dozens of them. They liked the smell of Chicago on my accent, plus by then I had extended my original wardrobe pretty far, and in a different direction from the alumni tastes. To the pungent, hot-ass maidens in the hills I was prince charming in spades. I started having the round butt, bare foot beauties sleeping in with the respectable maidens on paper only, proud produce of the Negro middle class, though it did turn out they minded that a lot more than anything else. This is where I made my second big discovery in life. It doesn't matter what they mind! It doesn't matter one ant's piss-all. The more they mind, the more they work each other, the dorms with the toughest tugs of war between the farm-bred whores and the Papa's parlour prostitutes were always the dorms the guys wanted the most, and paid for the most. Competition's really what makes the real whore out of the dull girly in a stupid collared blouse. Once I figured that out, I started using it like Archangel Michael's sword of ass-unction. Maybe some girly didn't want to give it up, or maybe she liked pretending like she didn't want to, a little. That changed more often than not once it came up that some other girly did give it up, and loved doing it, too.
I kept the old folks out of it as best I could, but nothing lasts forever and soon enough I was on the carpet, in the office of the school President. The cocksucker didn't even offer me a chair. He just sat there behind his gleaming mahogany desk, reflecting his ugly mug and clearing his pipes. He kept giving me looks, like I picked my nose at a wake and wiped it on the stiff's tie or shoved cowpies in the kitchen smokestacks. I don't think he ever did anything worth writing about with his missus, but he held his head high and kept right on not understanding why she's such an unpleasant bitch. He drawled his way through words like the Mississippi flows through shit : "Boy, yu ah a disgrace to oauh fine institushun. Ah'm shocked thet sech has occurred. Yo mothah has bin infaumed of yo bad conduck. Oauh bord is considurin yo dismissul. En thu meantime, keep yo nos clean, boy. Yo ah not to leave campus for eny resun."
I came out of there whiter than I've been in my life, at least lookswise. I could have saved my worry over dismissal, though. They may not look like it, especially on their backs with their legs hanging by their ears and fresh buttermilk coming out of their bush, but whores have powerful pull all right. Turns out I wasn't the only one with a vested interest in the matter. Before the week was out I was back in the Principal's office, this time seated, and on the receiving end of an apology. Can you believe the old scarecrow actually went as far as to apologize to me for calling a spade a spade or more's the like a cathouse by its proper name ? I can't believe it either, not now like I couldn't then. And yet it happened, like the Hoover dam happened.
Meanwhile anything with a buzz in it was in great demand on campus, second only to anything warm and round and with a greased hole sorta midway. A pint of rot gut whiskey that you couldn't give away on the Southside brought from seven and a half to ten dollars here, depending on supply. My chosen roommate had some decent scratch together. He was a sharpy from a number-racket family in New York. We worked it together, I'd stay back and distribute while he'd go out there through the hills finding sourdough miners running hidden stills, and old farmers moonshining. There were almost as many of these as young whores waiting to be discovered, thinking back on it now it seems those hills teemed with everything but a honest day's work. Great place them Roller people found for their castle of higher learning, no doubt about it.
This partnership worked for a little while, but soon enough there were some problems come from it. There's only so much liquor young negro studs can imbibe, both because they can't carry it worth two bits and because there's only that much money they have available to pay for it. As it turns out, neither of those's all that much at all. In the few months we worked together the pint went to five dollars tops, then four, and finally three and even two-fifty. It was getting to where it was barely worth the carting, not that anyone was in any danger of breaking their backs hauling the aggregate demand anyway. Then all his truck with the hillbillies put him in a prime position to see the prize cooch before I did. I could feel it coming a week away, the cogs turning in his head. He was going to cut loose and go in on his own, and to say it true I didn't think he was smart enough to pull it off. Besides, the well was getting tighter and tighter, the air in the tunnel ever thicker and harder to breathe. I thought to myself I'd be damned if I'll go start a turf war for the grand or two a week that apish gang of Mama's boys was worth at their furthest stretch.
I didn't let him turn a rat. I guess he might've told me, maybe, fair and square, that he's cutting loose. But I didn't wait to find out. Instead I told him straight up one night, "Listen Jimmy, this is a great set-up we got here, ain't it ?" I said. He nodded. He didn't talk much, like dumb people don't. "Leaving it all behind's the last thing I want to do" I carried on "But I have no choice. Family trouble, I gotta go be with my Mama. I tried to work it out every which way but there's no helping it. Before two weeks is out I'll be out of here, I haven't told a soul but I want to let you know first. You'll be left in charge with it all. Think you can handle it ?" He could barely contain his glee. I peppered some more "don't let some sucker steal it from us now" and "make me proud, you hear ?" in there, college spirit bullshit, and then that was that. Next day I took the train out, and that was the last Tuskegee saw of me, or me of it. I guess a college career works better for some people than some others, like drowning works better for some people than others, in preference of say hanging or falling down a well. Don't let no fool tell you though that it works well for anyone, because it don't. It can't work no better than any other prayer meeting or hallelujah joint, because how could it ? It's the same thing anyway. All your life you gotta learn, and if you do or if you don't it'll be your ass. But no college has more to do with that than painting your nails. You can't buy yourself a house to be happy in anymore than you can get yourself a college to be smart in. It just ain't how anything ever works.
I paid the man in the booth nineteen-fifty for a ticket to Chicago. That left me twenty-eight twenty and some coins. Six hundred of that was from Vera. I meant to keep it. Who knows, maybe she comes asking after it one of these days, so I can milk another sixty thousand sixty times out of that sweet ass of hers. Who knows what Vera ripened into by then ? It's been five years, she must be a woman, grown in full by now. There I sat, I can see it in my mind better than I can see myself in the mirror, a seventeen year old nigger boy half weeping half counting. I put seventeen hundred together in one pocket. I put the other eleven and change in another pocket. A hundred a year was more to show than most people ever can or ever could ; and boy was I gonna have a ball in Chi. I stretched my legs on the trunk. Hour and a half till the train leaves. It looked like I was taking a nap, but I was just sitting and thinking. Then there was a hand on my shoulder.
When I looked up, a kid I didn't much know, from the East Coast, nodded at me. He handed me an envelope, and he said "Jimmy says arivederci." Then he turned around and left. Inside it, twenty-eight hundred dollars, in hundreds and fifties. Jimmy was buying me out. It never pays to wait for anyone to turn rat. Things didn't work out for him too well, though. There were two jasper coeds in one of the dorms who got off by their fierce rivalry with each other. They liked me for some reason, but they didn't like Jimmy, and from what I pieced together from what I heard later, they blew up the whole set-up for him within a month of my getting out of there. I don't know how it went down exactly. I think it maybe started from this coffee-colored doll from a country town in Oklahoma. She was all curves but really dumb too. Nobody had wised her up to the lesbian kick, she had no idea what the hell's going on, it was almost funny to watch. Or who knows what fly went up their ass, they might have done the same with me there too, except for how they didn't.
I spent more than a month in Chicago before I finally had the heart to tell Mama about it. I put up in a hotel in a slum neighborhood, around 29th and State Streets. More of a flop house to tell the truth, but it only ran me eighteen-fifty a week. It was the best I could do after nigh-on half hour of pratting the clerk. The sucker ask was twenty-five, though I could tell twenty is what they wanted for 'em. Most places went thirty or even forty, but this was a little bit more run down. It wasn't worth my time to push the clerk that hard, and take that long doing it. Only a nigger dumb enough to be a chauffeur or something spends half an hour sweating up a buck and change. I did it because I was a dumb kid, and didn't know what's what or anything. Who knows, maybe if I prat them good they'll pay me a coupla hundred a week to sweat in their bedsheets every night ?
Maybe you think it's funny, haggling like that, and for what ? While all the while I had the cold hard cash in my pocket to pay the rent for years in advance on that rat trap. Another guy would have gone for the plushest pad he could find, drop a hundred or two a week on it and then go out looking for maybe some whore to open up his nose, a nice game of Georgia-skin with some people he's never seen before in his life and wouldn't know from Adam, a dirty cop looking for some young nigger to roll over, something like that ? Another guy did, but Iceberg ain't his daddy. I didn't mean to blow my five grand within the week. I didn't mean to blow it ever, and if you think about it, who'd think to try and break into the room of some skinny ass nigger kid who ain't got twenty together for his rent ? Huh ?
I did the right thing, and you know that's what it is by that unerring sign, that all the dunces are in their natural confederacy against it. To get myself to the plush pad I had to make some friends first. That's the two teeth of the living good pliers, one's who you know the other's your stake. Dumb bitches all the time try to get to it on just the one, live offa handouts, eat at parties, shower on a home date, live out like rag dolls from fuck to fuck. Dumb suckers all the time try to do the other by itself, get a big stake together as if that'll do anything besides land them in a tank somewhere. You gotta get both to pinch Mother Nature's tit good and hard enough to dribble some of that sweet milk in your open mouth, and that's just what I meant to do. I said before something was the biggest lesson I had learned in my life, and I lied, like I'm lying now, when I tell you the truth : this is. This is the biggest lesson, if you ain't got the outfit blow the setup, I you ain't got the bankroll blow the game. Go sit at a table with people you know and with as much scatch as you need for it. Learn this much, you won't need no college as long as you live, and all the other suckers no college will ever help enough to figure worth a dry fig.
It didn't take me so long to found a fascinating second home. It was a gambling joint run by a broken down ex-pimp and murderer called Diamond Tooth Jimmy. The two-carat stone, wedged between the upper front rotting teeth, was the last vulgar memento of his infamy as the top ass-kicker of the nineteen-twenties. I told you I lied to you before, and I'll tell you right now I'll lie to you again, because the biggest lesson's that old quality beats anything to buy, because it's cheap. I read it in the newspaper once, nothing's as ex as an ex-bigshot, and you know what that means ? It means nothing's as cheap, and that means nothing's as much worth buying, dollar for dollar you won't get value like that anywhere. I'd have rather spent my days in Jimmy's joint, dropping a buck on his rigged games now and again like a sucker kid, than stuffing my craw with the President's wife. They paid a thousand dollars a plate back in those days to go eat an evening with some senator in the running, those sorts of people. I guess it's good enough for them, who don't need that G for anything. But if you mean kick for your buck, Diamond Tooth Jimmy's worth fifty future presidents, and it'll run you much lighter on the pocket, too.
He boasted endlessly that he was the only nigger pimp on Earth who had ever pimped in Paris on French girls. I didn't ask him roller questions, I just let him spin his tale, but it made no sense to me. Why'd he not bring some over, for one thing ? Everyone was going to France in those days, all the bums I mean, artists and writers and that kinda scum. If the bums are going one way the whores'd better be coming the other way. That's how it always goes, when the bums calling themselves prospectors make out of town for the hills like varmints from under a lifted boulder, that's when the whores come in from all the hill farms to the mint town, to work that kitty for fresh minted silver. When all the bums go off to France you know it's because French money isn't any good, and if the money's no good what the hell are the girls still doing sticking around there ?
I never asked him anything like that though. Much later I found out niggers had been pimping on white girls around those parts in the old world for long before America was even invented. There was even one guy Othelo who strangled a whore in his bed so good, they made poems about him for it. Back then and over there people had their head screwed on better. Anyway, the thing with old timers is, all you care about's that they were on top. You're not about checking out their stories like a cop. You just let them tell and keep your ears open because they don't know what they're telling. If they want to lie to you or not it doesn't matter, they only lie about themselves, and you don't care any about that. Everything else's what's the matter, and that gets straight and true through well enough.
After all the suckers were trimmed and all the shills were paid, Jimmy locked the door and then, like a ritual, lit up a thin brown reefer. As he talked, he sometimes passed it to me, cursing me lightly for not inhaling deeply and holding the smoke, as he put it, "deep in my belly." When dawn broke he'd go out through the joint door home, to the nineteen-year-old jasper on whom he lavished furs and jewels. I thought he was a real sucker. Me, half the time I'd go to bed in the tiny cubicle in the rear of the joint, to dream fantastic dreams. Always beautiful whores would get down on their knees and tearfully beg me to take their money. They'd be virgins run from home with their papa's silver dollar and their mama's silver needles, begging me to turn them out on the street and make real whores out of them. They'd be top ticket dancers and singers from uptown, their press agents trying to keep the private dicks and glamour beat reporters from taking their picture, naked, kneeling and kissing my feet. They were gun molls and hundred-a-trick whores, runaway from their pimps and gangsters who'd be roaming the streets looking for us but never had enough sense to knock on the door. I'd be waving at them as they drove by in a rush while I boned their prize by the window, her tits hanging out over the ledge and her moans filling the neighbourhood. One day I saw a pretty Apache girl in a wedding dress crossing the street a block up from me, and from that day on she came to beg me to knock her up before her wedding almost every night. There were French girls, too, and they spoke French to everyone though I have no idea how it went or how I knew it was French, and then there'd be Mama. She's caress me and cry on my shoulder because she was so old and if only she had met me before she met Steve her life'd have worked out so much better. She'd run around and hide among the other girls, clumps and clumps of naked girls, and then I'd fuck them, but always in the same way : I'd grab one and start boning her standing, from behind, her head pressed against a wall just like I did Vera. The others'd line up, and I'd pluck the head off the one I was fucking, just like that, the way they take heads off manequins in clothing stores, and plop another one's head in. I'd be fucking the same body over and over with new heads, they'd be coming offering me their detached head, holding it in their hands. Then when I was done they'd laugh and run around, switching their heads from one to another all the time like god damned prairie dogs.
Across the street from Jimmy's joint, a little ways up there was a big bar that had live bands, and not just on weekends either. Jimmy didn't open early, but the bar did, and I often camped there after breakfast, chatting up the girls and playing the jukebox with them. That's how I met June. She was just turned fifteen. She was luscious like I couldn't believe, and I don't just mean for a fifteen year old. Jean Harlow had nothing on her, which is how we met. She was there with some friends of hers, way in the back, sucking down root suds. I walked up to them and, looking straight at her, I said "Hi! What's your name ?" She said June, but I made like I heard Jean and I said "Oh, Jean, that's a pretty name!" She said no, not Jean, June, and I laid right back into her, I said "Ok Miss Harlow, have it your way." I turned around like it was nothing and walked slowly off. She was laughing and so were some of her friends but one of them didn't get it and kept asking what does he mean ? what does he mean ? Another one explained it to her and I turned just my head and winked at my future whore. That night she spent at my hotel, which I kept even though I slept over at Jimmy's most nights. Cheap comes in handy more ways than one. If it's not burning a hole in your pocket it's more likely to be on hand when needed, and boy was it needed that night! Nobody knew about it, I hadn't told a soul, so even though the people from the bar knew I hung out around Jimmy's all the time, nobody there could tell them where to find me. Jimmy said he never would have told them in a million years anyway, even if he knew, and I believe him. It's cheap to believe him, seeing how he didn't know in the first place. It never pays to make anyone a rat.
Her dad was one of the more popular band leaders, a big black guy from New Orleans, kinda old. Her mom was white, and gone somewhere. She'd say dead sometimes, or gone to Indochina other times, I never got a straight story out of her. I figure her mom was one of those girls with a wild itch, and she took off sometime never to be heard from again. June was the highest yellow broad I had yet laid my prick into. Strawberry blond hair really looked great on her slightly toasted, almondy skin, though when I met her she was just some kinda brown. Her old man was crazy tight, and she wasn't keen on going back at all. I think maybe her mom running off had more to do with him than with her. He was one of those loud and in your face types, always yakking about something he wants you to do or stop doing. It's no wonder they kicked him out of the Big Easy. Deep down she hated him plenty, but also he had taken care of her growing up. She just didn't want to think about it, and with me there she really didn't have to.
The way it played out was, she sneaked out during one of his early sets. There was nothing he could do about it for hours, except grow more incensed. From what I heard he played some of his best music that night. By the time he was off, the bar was closing, people were heading home. The jughead didn't go to bed or anything, instead he roused the cops, made a big scene, screamed his head off in Jimmy's joint, ended up in the slammer. The pigs weren't perturbed or anything, single father with a wife gone to Texas and a fifteen year old daughter headed that way, but they figured he's safest in the tank, lest he assaults someone or gets himself in even worse trouble. So they took him to everyman's flophouse, courtesy the board of trustees of the city of Chi. All the while we were cosy like honeybears fourteen blocks away in my eighteen-fifty a week bed. It hadn't seen me in like a week, but we sure gave its rusty springs a workout to compensate. Then after the second or third twirl I felt this pang grow inside of me, like a biting ache. I wanted to test her, to try her out. I wanted to see what's inside, what she's made of. I'd have stretched her with ropes if I had any. Instead I asked her if she knows what a whore is. She giggled and said she does. I asked her if she knew what a whore does ? She giggled some more but didn't say anything. I said to her "I'll tell you what she does. She leaves all her clothes behind, in the room, and goes naked in the hallway." She looked me straight in the eyes, dead serious. "Why does she do that for ?" she asked, sing-song like, as if she was playing along in some game. "She'll see it when she does it", I told her, and sure enough five minutes later there we were, buck-naked barefoot beauty running up and down the old stained carpeting of the run down hotel. I took her out to the fire escape and fucked her there, out in the open like that, the pleasant breeze flying her hair in my face. It was the first time I felt the pleasure of fucking a hot eager whore. Before that it was the release, the relief, but this time, and occasionally from then on it was just the sheer pleasure of feeling her womanly guts, smooth as silk, rub on the delicate part of my rod, under the skin, like a crazy tickle of joy.
In the morning I gave her a few bucks to buy us breakfast at the diner down the street. I figured her old man might have pulled a stink, though I had no idea then just what kind of a stink he pulled. I had no conception of her being hot to go out though, and maybe I was right. In a big town fourteen blocks' further than across the county line in the sticks, and that's god's own truth of the matter. While she was gone I had the craziest plan. I knew Mama had changed jobs, she had just started working at a small beauty salon, doing hair. When June came back I asked her how'd she like to get her hair and nails done ? She jumped up and down like a baby goat, clapping her hands in joy. She told me her daddy never let her do that before, and I told her I'm her daddy now and she'd better not call anyone else dady in the whole world for as long as she lives. I said it stern and she almost started crying and begging me to not be upset. I told her I'm not upset, and she asked me if she can still get her hair done ? I said "Sure honey. Here's what you do : there's a hair salon so and so, you go in there and you tell them you want to be strawberry blonde and your nails done pretty red with it, and your Daddy be by later to pay for it, but your Daddy say ain't nobody to do any of it but Ma'am Beck, 'cuz she's the best there is."
I gave her about an hour's head start, and then you can imagine Mama's shock and awe when who else comes in the door, the pretty baby's Daddy, other than little Bobby gone from college ? She nearly had a heart attack. Like I figured, all they did the whole time was trying to figure out who the gent might be that has such high oppinion of her. Truth be told she probably figured it's Steve, or some other bum in his line that never came out of her mouth to me though I'm sure had in his time his fair shot at being my daddy. That's why they've got two mouths on them after all, and at criss crosses from one another. But I told her I just couldn't cut it in college, and that I'm working now and this is June, don't she look just like Jean ? The whole thing was too much for Mama to get her wits gathered about her enough to bitch and moan, so we parted as the best friends, and we were gonna come Sunday for Sunday dinner at her place, like we was married or something. On the way back to my place, I turned around asked her how much does she love me ? She said she'd do anything for me. "Even turn a trick?" I asked her. "I'd do anything for you, Daddy!" she said right back, looking straight at me all serious. "You ain't ever gonna be my wife", I said back to her. She didn't say anything, just looked down at her feet. "But you can be my whore. And it'd be the first one, too. I ain't ever had a whore before." She looked back at me, straight into my eyes, piercing mine with hers, and then she said "Ok."
I left her at the hotel and went back in the street. Two blocks down I saw an old gambler. I knew he was a trick, and I owed him five dollars from before. I walked up to him with a swagger. "Hey Moe, how'd you like to give me five bucks ?" "You're the one to give me five, pay up, buster" he came right back at me, gruffly. "Oh, I'll pay you up even better." and I explained to him what awaited in the hotel room. Sure enough he greased my palm with five's silver. I took him upstairs and let him in on her. She turned him in less than five minutes, he was back down in the street before I finished my Camel. My seventeen-year-old brain reeled. This was still the depression. Ten bucks in five minutes, June could clear as much as Vera and with not nearly the same risks, either. I could get rich with this girl and drive a big white Packard, and not need no Party Time for anything, either. I discovered soon enough I liked watching her getting worked over. For the whole rest of the day I just piled up guys into her, must've been twenty, thirty people. If they didn't have cash I'd take their marker, I'd take pretty damn near anything just to get another prick working June over. You could say I was going hog-wild with the pimp's fever.
Then just by the time night was falling and I was running out of people I knew, a roller squad ran straight into me. "Son, are you so-and-so from so-and-so ?" Sure, I said, that's me. "You'd better be coming with us, then." and that was that, next thing I knew a fat pig of a detective was yelling at me.