Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Surviving the Game: An Interview with Michael “Mick-Man” Gourdine A.K.A Candy Man, Author of 'Chili Pimping in Atlantic City: The Memoir of a Small-Time Pimp and Hustler' (Part 1)

For squares, the pimp game has long held a certain mystique.  Men of leisure have always operated behind a shroud of mystery.  Their trade is practiced in the shadows.  Supposedly, the game is to be sold, not told.  Never the less, countless books and documentaries have claimed to give an insider’s view of the sporting life.  Many of them simply recycle and reinforce any number of clichés popularized by Blaxploitation films and the like.  Since it’s impossible for civilians to separate fact from fiction, many of these myths are accepted as truth by the general populace

Michael Gourdine, known in the streets by nick names such as “Mick-Man” and later “Candy Man,” was intrigued by the pimp game as a youngster.  While serving as a New York City police officer from 1990 to 2000, he led a double life as a “chili pimp” and all around hustler.  Such nefarious activities led to him being considered the 3rd dirtiest cop in the history of the NYPD.  His new book ‘Chili Pimping in Atlantic City: The Memoir of a Small-Time Pimp and Hustler’, tells the story of how he played on both sides of the law for a decade.  During a recent phone conversation, he shared the rules of the pimp game as only he could.  His insights were equal parts chilling and compelling. 

So gather ‘round
And I’ll run it down
And unravel my pedigree
-Robert Beck aka Iceberg Slim from his poem “The Fall”

Scott “Tre” Wilson:  In your book, you describe a brief encounter you had with Alberto “Alpo” Martinez.  Although you didn’t really talk to him, what was your impression of him?

Michael “Mick-Man” Gourdine: That he was a very well known person with a lot of power and a lot of pull in the street.  He was more of a celebrity than Doug E. Fresh, Rakim, or any of the rappers of that day.  I was at The Rooftop that night.  Rooftop was a club and he had more fans than the rappers that were there, even though he was outside.  I saw him outside and that was the first time I had saw him.  I saw him a few times after that.  Each time he seemed to be more popular.  That night I didn’t know who he was.  I had heard of Po, but his cousin Arlene called him Alberto.  I didn’t know that was who he was, but you knew he was someone to be reckoned with.

Alberto Martinez aka "Alpo"

Scott “Tre” Wilson: Cities like Chicago, Detroit, Memphis, and Oakland are somewhat synonymous with the pimp game in popular culture.  I’ve never heard of New York City being mentioned in that same pantheon.  It seems odd that America’s biggest city barely seems to have much of a reputation in that regard.  Why is that?

Michael “Mick-Man” Gourdine: Because the modern day form of pimping, the stroll method, came to be in East Mississippi.  It traveled northward during the great migration period where five million blacks went north.  The largest population of Blacks was 1.3 million.  It went from Mississippi to Chicago…up the Mississippi River to Tennessee. The Midwest was where the stroll method was used in the street.  It ended where the migration ended, which was Chicago, becoming a way of life during the end of the great depression in the 1930’s.  It became a subculture in the Midwest with Chicago as its Mecca, where it developed a dress style, a dance style, its own language, and it pretty much became a way of life.  

New York and the East coast didn’t really take to it.  There were more blue collar people and they reverted more to gangsterism.  Chicago criminals are more centralized around a specific crime.  If you’re a stick up kid, you are a stick up kid.  If you’re a pimp, you’re a pimp.  New York people are basically all around hustlers.  They will do whatever comes about to make money.  Since it’s not a tradition or something that’s passed on, since the game is not taught from generation to generation, each person who comes into the game in New York is pretty much winging it.  It’s not something that has evolved and strengthened over time, so there’s no continuity to it.  Each generation is learning for the first time.

Scott “Tre” Wilson: I’ve heard it said time and again that the best male pimps are actually homosexuals.  There’s even an old saying that goes “A pimp will sell his ass if his hoe won’t.”  The stereotypical image of pimps in American popular culture seems to support this notion.  Is there any truth to it?      

Michael “Mick-Man” Gourdine:  I wouldn’t say there’s truth to it.  I would say there are different kinds of men in the game.  I would say that people approach this game for different reasons and everyone in the game has had a certain type of relationship with a woman as a child which led him that way.   Since I have so much respect for the game, I won’t say that the most successful individual pimps have been homosexuals.  But what I have noticed as a whole, the ones who I saw that were the most successful have been men who were bisexual or homosexual .   That has been my observation.

As far as the dress code, I would say that the stereotypical dress code, or what some would refer to as the uniform, was not always seen as feminine.  I would say that Hollywood played a role in making it look goofy, abstract, and humorous.  For instance, Damon Wayans, when he got his job at Saturday Night Live was told to play a pimp.  When he dressed up like a real 11th avenue pimp -which is where he comes from, the Chelsea houses in lower Manhattan- When he dressed like a real pimp they didn’t like it.  They told him to wear the big ridiculous hat and the leopard skin jacket.  When he refused to wear that and he made that uniform look serious he was fired half way into his first episode.  So there is a uniform and there are clothes that go along with it that are seen as gaudy.  But what comes to your mind, the ridiculous I’m Gonna Git You Sucka look, is really not the uniform.   

In a way at times it has looked a little ridiculous.  For instance, the movie Purple Rain, they would have you think that the Prince character was how a pimp’s uniform is actually worn when it was actually the Morris Day character.  That was the uniform, and that didn’t look silly at all.  

Scott “Tre” Wilson: There’s a popular notion that cops and criminals are merely two sides of the same coin.  Being that you’ve operated on both sides of the law, do you think there’s any truth to that?

Michael “Mick-Man” Gourdine:  Well, some police officers don’t start off that way.  They’re just exposed to crime and they’re exposed to what people get away with.  Intelligence breeds criminality.  A person who is thinking will always start to look for the loopholes in the system that can benefit them.  I’ve heard the saying before, especially when I was on the job, that cops are not nearly criminals, they are the best criminals.  They’re the ones who’ve never been caught.  I can’t call all cops criminals because there are good cops too.  There’s a co-evolution that goes on with law enforcement and people who break the law.  The same way the cheetah must always get faster to catch the antelope, so too the antelope must always become faster.  In that respect, no one knows a cheetah as well as an antelope and no one knows an antelope as well as a cheetah.  So they are a flipside of the same coin.  

Scott “Tre” Wilson:  Your book seems to portray hustling as a whole lot of work with relatively little reward.  Would you agree with that summation?

Michael “Mick-Man” Gourdine: Absolutely.  I got a whole lot less out of it than what I put into it.  The fear and paranoia that you live with is what takes the most toll on you.  Being afraid to speak on the phone, being afraid of who you’re talking to.  It’s really not worth the effort.  It would be much easier to just do either four, six, or eight years in college and get a very cushy office job that pays a whole lot of money.  It’s a matter of relativity.  Youth is wasted on the young.  We always feel like four years is a long time.  We don’t have the time for something like that, but in the end it really pays off.  

The relativity type of equation I was thinking about was the old saying about your hand being on a hot pot:  If your hand is on a hot pot, a minute can feel like an hour but if your hand is on a hot woman an hour can feel like a minute.  If you just get into it and enjoy it, the four years will go by fast.  If you’re sitting there worrying that you’re wasting time, that you could be getting fast money on the street, it’s gonna draw out like a blade.  Either way the time is well spent and will pay off in the end.  No one was there to really teach us that as young black men, and no one’s really doing it now either. 

Scott “Tre” Wilson:  You entered the New York City Police Department with less than honorable intentions.  How many recruits would you say enter the NYPD with designs on being corrupt?  

Michael “Mick-Man” Gourdine: I would say maybe twenty five percent.  It depends on the class.  It could be higher.  It could be were the police department is pooling from for that particular class, but I would say most would be people who are correction officers first.  Correction officers are exposed to criminal masterminds.  When I was a correction officer I played chess with people who put all kinds of ideas in my head of how much money I could make.  People who are respected, people who are stock brokers and successful businessmen who just happen to be serving time in prison.  You’ve been exposed to the worst in society, a lot of them come out not exactly thinking to be exactly as corrupt as I was thinking, but they’re thinking about pimping their badge or their shield as far doing personal security or security at night clubs.  But the bottom line is you’re giving up a job that pays more for a job that pays less but offers the power to make money.  Why would someone do that other than to be corrupt right away, or kind of indirectly approaching corruption with caution?  Either way, those are the kind of people that are highest at risk.  I believe that they pretty much know they’re going to be corrupt.  The most corrupt cops I worked with had previously been correction officers as I was myself.    

Micheal Gourdine's graduating class from the New York City Police Academy.

Scott “Tre” Wilson: How did the pimp game change your perception of human nature?

Michael “Mick-Man” Gourdine: When I was a kid black men didn’t have much power anywhere.  The woman in my life, my mother, was the one who was working and the black men in my neighborhood were very shiftless and unmotivated and had basically surrendered.  They drank all the time or stayed high on heroin or cocaine all the time.  They were always in some form of inebriation and trying to escape a bleak existence.

The person I saw as powerful was a pimp, and I don’t even know his name, but I had never saw anyone that could tell a woman what to do and she would listen.  I saw mind control that goes beyond comprehension.  Even though a lot of it was due to simple, basic things like providing her with the drug she needs, I’ve seen some pimps that had cult like control.  Like a David Koresh or a Jim Jones or any cult leader.  I saw things they did, like the second they got a woman to choose they would change her environment and move her to another city or state.  Each time they got a woman to give up more of herself or to do something more that she wasn’t willing to do.  He seemed to control more of her soul, giving him more control of what she did.  

Michael Gourdine during his younger days, when he was just learning the rules of the game.

It made me more determined to never have someone have that kind of control over me, even though that was done to me at an early age.  I was a victim of that same kind of charisma myself.  First, you become fascinated with what someone has and how worldly they are.  You want what they have…in essence, their knowledge of the world, their self control, their environment, and their destiny.  You watch how they display that power over other people.  As you’re being hypnotized by it yourself, you will even chalk it up as a learning curve, like I have to go through this just to learn more of how to control other people.  I guess that’s how it affected my perception of human psychology.  

Scott “Tre” Wilson: In your book, you talk about losing your virginity to a grown woman when you were only thirteen.  Would you put such women in the same category as grown men that prey on preteen girls?     

Michael “Mick-Man” Gourdine:  That’s a hard one, because as you read in the book, she didn’t prey on me, I preyed on her.  I preyed on a weakness she had.  I was a curious young boy who was desperate for power.  Controlling a grown woman at 13 years old seemed as enticing and as alluring to me as right now someone offering you the position of general of the armed forces.  I wanted that kind of power.  

A woman who is preying on young men for the sexuality of it I would put as bad as a man doing it.  But a grown man who is on drugs who is being victimized by a young girl who just wants to have sex with a grown man?  Say for instance she’s a twist.  She’s a freak.  She wants to screw a grown man with a strap on because it makes her feel strong.   She was like Precious from the movie Precious when she was raped.  So she takes some grown man 35 years old who’s on crack, and offers him crack to screw him in the ass with a strap on?  No he is not a predator!  He is being victimized!  So I can’t actually put a person like that in the category of being a predator because they’re actually prey. 

Scott “Tre” Wilson: What was, to your knowledge, the biggest track in New York City during you’re tenure as a cop?

Michael “Mick-Man” Gourdine: Some people are going to be upset about this.  It would have to be a tie.  When I was one the job, Hunts Point, which had been the meat market for decades because of the produce market and the truckers that come in and the trade that had been established for generations.  Even though the pimps aren’t generational, the act of prostitution going on in Hunts Point is.  So I would have to say Hunts Point tied with 11th Avenue in the 26th precinct, which doesn’t exist anymore.  On the 26th precinct on the West Side of Manhattan on 11th Avenue, not the meat packing district because there were transvestites down there, but further up between 23rd and 34th.  Those were pimps from out of town.  Pimps from out of town knew how to control the very pulse of the track.  The cops from the 26th and midtown south task force were under their thumb.  It was a red light district in New York, meaning it’s been okayed.  Because Times Square had sex shops, prostitution couldn’t exist in Times Square.    

HBO did a classic series of documentaries about prostitution in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx.

11th avenue was green lighted as a red light district by the police department.  There was an old club named Mars.  You had the Sound Factory.  There are clubs there now  around 11th Avenue down near 23rd.  There used to be girls holding up traffic with their bare asses exposed, and there was big money down there because it was Manhattan money.  It wasn’t trucking money.  Hunts Point did better sheer numbers, because the girls were scattered all about.  I would say it was a tie or maybe even better because the game there was tighter because people from New York weren’t controlling it.  The money was better because it was Manhattan money and money coming from Jersey via the Lincoln tunnel and Holland tunnel.  Those dudes made a fortune.  

But my favorite track has to be Stanley and Georgia in Brooklyn, the East New York section of Brooklyn.  The pimps there were Big Kawala and Daddy Nickles.  They had the Oasis hotel on Flatlands and Pennsylvania and the Galaxy further down on Pennsylvania Avenue… right behind that Popeye’s on Stanley and Georgia, near Fountain Avenue which was a few blocks away.  It was a very lucrative track.  It was my favorite.  It’s wasn’t the most successful, but those were the pimps that I protected and the girls were very easy to work with.  Kawala had a bottom girl named Juicy.  She ran the track herself, she micromanaged it.  She was hands on and there were never any problems.  Even on 11th avenue and Hunts Point there was violence.  There was fighting.  Stanley and Georgia in Brooklyn was a very smooth track.  

Scott “Tre” Wilson: Now when you say that pimps from out of town ran the 11th Avenue track, where were they from and how did you know they weren’t native New Yorkers?

Michael “Mick-Man” Gourdine: Guys from the Midwest have game down to  an art.  They wore a uniform.  When you went to 11th avenue you saw the uniform.  You saw gators, purple suits, Jheri curls, and whips.  A whip is a hairstyle like what Katt Williams wore.  You saw Tommy Boys.  That’s a hairstyle that Tommy Boy records was named after.  Prince used to wear a Tommy Boy.  It was like parted in the middle, and swirled around the sides.  If you’ve ever seen the old Prince from the 70’s, Midwesterners from Chicago, Detroit, Minneapolis, you saw Tommy Boy hairstyles.  You saw hair pressed out, ostrich skin boots, eel skin boots, and leather suits.  You saw Midwestern tradition.  When you saw them, when you saw the long pinky nails and the body language, you knew the Midwest was in the house.  

Whenever they have girls out there, it’s not done chili style.  The girls don’t look broken up and being held together by spit and band aids.  The girls looked polished.  They looked like the girls from AS IS magazine and Black Tail magazine.  They looked out of place and too clean for the street.  When those dudes came, they had their stuff together.    Those girls weren’t rough.  You didn’t see bullet scars, you didn’t see earlobes missing from earrings snatched out and all of that.  They did things differently.  They would have their girls work out in gyms.  They would have all of their tattoos in the same place like a brand.  You know like how a cow is branded?  They would have their brand on their girls.  Their game was air tight.  You could feel it.  When a pimps game is air tight, other pimps show fear, because not only do they have to fear him but they have to fear his girls.  His girls are as dangerous as he is when his game is tight.  

When it comes to that game, the ones who are the most violent towards other pimps and towards johns are the ones who don’t really have control over what’s going on.  If he’s letting the girls interact with the johns and the girls are walking freely and they’re conducting business, he’s not holding his hand close to his chest.  That means he’s not only exercising his control, he’s giving them a long leash.  He’s controlling his dogs, which creates even more fear for unseasoned pimps and chili pimps!  

That’s how you knew they weren’t from New York.  Nobody from New York has game like that.  

*You can purchase Michael Gourdine's book Chili Pimping in Atlantic City: The Memoir of a Small Time Pimp and Hustler for the best available price from the Strategic Media Books website.       


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