If you know the way from the alley to Buckingham Palace and back, having listened to the glistening slime of pimps and hustlers can provide you with a perfectly realistic sense of human nature beyond the supposedly shocking Tiger Woods scandal.
In my youth, almost any subject would be taken apart in the near darkness of the pool hall on 42nd Street and Central Avenue. There, fallen boxers, broken-down criminals or others on the way up watched the virtuosos of the green felt rectangles where battles of pool were fought. The best-handled pool sticks with a mastery parallel to knights in the middle of a joust. The balls rolling balls into pockets were accompanied by exhortations or loud regrets whenever it became evident that more shit had been talked than could be backed up.
Chumps were a favorite subject. We young bloods on the stopover from high school listened closely, hoping we could avoid becoming the most contemptible type in a hustler's eyes—a "sucker-assed lame, a chump."
The cold drool of condescension was most evident when the talk moseyed over to someone who had been hustled or made a fool of by a woman. His example would get the hustlers and the pimps up on their hind legs and send them into preaching the lessons learned in the streets, “That Negro could put a capital F on the word fool. Negro so dumb and naive he think a woman want to get in the bed with him just because she broke a smile in his direction. Dummy. She might be smiling at somebody else, which that chump don’t know and don’t care to know. All-day suckers around the clock, they always mistake a little bit of class with some available ass, but that’s OK. Truth is a reliable motor scooter, and don’t take no mess. Yes, my little chickadees, it will find a stump to fit your rump. The truth can put a good old whipping to a chump, oh, yeah—with a switch made out of barbed wire. You can see the blood on the back of his pants every time he turn around … dumb ass. Now that ain't no kind of lie.”
Now there are times when it seems that almost any kind of woman, high or low, exceptionally intelligent or dumb as Ned in the First Reader, fine, blind, crippled or crazy is ready to climb the short distance out of her clothes at a breathtaking speed after she lets loose a smile. But what most men eager to judge Tiger won’t admit is that his experience is shared by only a few men in the entire world. We are talking about those who have achieved objective recognition for exceptional talent in the world of competitive sports.
This is invulnerable recognition. It has the mystery and the pure indifference of quite natural democracy. No one knows or can explain this small body of the elect. All that is known and acknowledged is that it exists and the guys thought to be so radiant are not bragged upon because the public has been fooled. They have the chilling and thrilling authority of the true aristocrats chosen by nature alone, tantamount to the very rarest of precious human stones made of flesh, blood and poetically graceful muscle, randomly spread through the gene pool, awaiting no more than the polish that makes their value particularly evident.
Such people did not come from having certain mothers or fathers of status; they are not part of a privileged line lowered into a luxurious tub of butter immediately after popping from the womb like wet and howling corks. They did not get the mantle of superiority because they are from a certain land or because they worship in a certain religion. In a time of insubstantial subjects given excessive celebration by our commercial and electronic culture, these men are separate from pop stars. They are much more than products created with all of the gimmicks and gadgetry available to use in the absence of the compelling power delivered by great singers or dancers or actors.
That separation into a special category of ability on the magical level of physical genius guarantees the perpetual presence of an unending line of attractive and sometimes charismatic women in every country on the face of the globe, so many of whom—literally millions—are ready to make themselves available for whatever kind of less-than-cruel fun one of those special men wants to have. And, like Pamela Harriman, they can, far more often than not, put a zipper to their lips because the experience itself is more important than whatever notoriety it might bring if the public got wind of the skin-to-skin moments that tell a man and a woman things about each other that nothing else can. That is how it is, and that is a world different from the one that most of us know anything at all about. Especially we men.
It is an icy school of experience common to women at least from their emergence into adolescence, and that experience tends to last throughout the bulk of their lives. The Watts writer Johnie Scott, while we were wheeling around in his orange hatchback many years ago, once bemoaned how it felt having to watch the way the world changed for his younger sister when she grew from a little girl into a teenager with an almost ripe young woman’s body she could not hide from sight. Uh oh.
“Then the regular guys and the hustlers spoke to her with a different tone in their goddamn voices. Sure did. They might be kind of soft and sweet when they said hello or whatever they said, or they might be crude and make me feel like stomping them a new asshole. But they all had one thing that brought them into a mass focused on that young, tender, female ass. All of them were ready to use her or abuse her, to lick her down or tear her apart. She was like a piece of meat that fell off the back of a delivery truck and landed in the dirt among a pack of hungry, wild-assed dogs. They were ready to love her or prove, without a doubt, that a rock-hard skeeter has no conscience.
“My sister learned how to handle it though. They all do. Learning how to keep the hands off your ass and men’s fingers out of your body is a rite of passage for women. If they don’t learn it, you know they subject to end up out on the block selling themselves and every goddamn thing else for some low-down scum of a pimping motor scooter.”
These are not normal circumstances, the constancy of access to the opposite sex is something only women know about—except for what is surely the smallest minority of individuals in the entire world. We call them celebrity athletes.
When I was a teenager, I used to hang around and peruse the night life of the hustling world with a woman who owned a liquor store on 34th Street and Central and dated a gambler. Light brown and bawdy, Frenchy was a wonderful guide to the after-hours Negro world of South Central Los Angeles—and she always had plenty to say about life.
Joking about one of her friends, Frenchy said to me, “A girl got to know how to put them dangling dingle berries in order. Got to, baby. Sometimes, if you out there looking just a bit too damn fine for your own good, so many stone-hard johnsons will get waved at you that your drawers could get burned off by the heat wave alone.”
“Simple as spelling out the alphabet, you got to know just how to lay some ice on all of them, every one of them, and calm them the hell down—politely. You don’t have to be a bitch. That’s a big mistake. But you do have to make sure that the line between you and them is so bright a blind man could see it.”
“Now most of them out there panting don’t expect you to actually sneak out on your man, but they will hit on you anyway. That’s right. Just because, if they be lucky, and you and your man done had a big fight or something, you might slip up under this opportunistic cock hound and sweat and holler just to get away from the blues for a little while. Just a little while that you hope like hell might be sweet.
“Now this is because your true man is not there. You know that you don’t hardly love that stranger in the paradise of your boudoir. No kind of love. Not like you do the one done dug into your heart. But even still, any man who knows how it is, knows it never hurts to give you the signal that he is ready for duty whenever and wherever you want his thing to march down your internal corridor. If you let him have a dip, the consequences can turn into a hot basket of hell. That’s all I know, baby, and I learned it all the very, very hard way.”
It is good that Tiger Woods has chosen to say very little about the women he had on the side, or the women who had him. It is highly possible that Woods was still new to the oppressively constant condition of life under a microscope when the blues started whispering its wicked song. That became a constant once Woods was known the world over for his unchallenged superiority at the especially silly game of knocking little pocked white balls into holes.
The reason that it was probably quite new to him is that, unlike basketball players, he could be rounded up with the nerds. So, from early on, his buttocks were not being smooched, and girls were not offering the spoils of their supple and tender butter almost from the moment it was discovered that the boy had an extremely serious game.
That is why Charles Barkley said that players new to the NBA needed to be disrespected as often as possible in order to get them in line because they had been deferred to by everyone around them—coaches, teachers, school mates, neighbors and family—for at least a decade before making it to professional status. Slap the taste of being special out of their mouths, and you can deflate their heads enough to make them good team players.
A nurse who used to hang out with rappers met Biggie Smalls at a number of parties. She describes a man, who, even as a rap star topping the charts, was all in a daze from the attention of fine and super-fine women. “All Biggie could talk about was the girls who were ready for him. This had never happened before. He loved to laugh and say that he was still cross-eyed, still deep black to the bone, still fat and ugly, but, like he ran it down once, he was on ‘poon overload.’ I didn’t see him that much, but I never heard him talk about anything else. Poor guy.”
Tears need not be shed for Tiger Woods or any other man so overpaid that he might become the first billionaire athlete for playing what amounts to a boy’s game. Poor guy? Yeah, right.
It would just do us well to realize that some elements of melodramatic morality are blown out of human proportion by the electronic puff pastry of our media. Human meaning has little place in our celebrity culture. Truly human things usually and quickly become as meaningless as the overheated attention given to the insubstantial lives of the minor men and women glorified to mythic proportions by loud, mechanical repetition and gossip. By the way, this happens only for the hustling of products, one of which is the celebrities themselves.
Some, however, are like Tiger Woods, part of the most extremely talented bunch about whom nature is indifferent while the world goes mad, choking on its own drool. His wealth, privilege, celebrity and all of the problems that come with celebrity—like the endless force of women available for one-night stands or dalliances at the dark end of the street—are firmly established by the inarguable proof of what makes the man more than very special in objective terms. There can be nothing more powerful or more burdensome than being able to live up to what is said about so few of us: You are the very best in the world at what you do.
Like everything else special, it brings its own kind of blues, heartbreak and self-pity. These are inevitable for a sucker-assed lame. Or a billionaire chump.
Stanley Crouch is a New York Writer and author of numerous books, including The Artificial White Man Considering Genius and Don't The Moon Look Lonesome. He was recently inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.