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The walk that talked:  When cool went cold

Updated: October 7, 2012 7:56AM



Back in the day, I was never completely dressed until I had climbed into my “pimp walk.” The transformation usually took place on special occasions like Easter and Christmas.

When I got all decked out it, I would strut out of the bathroom, feeling like I was going to burst inside. Was it joy, cool, pride, ego?

There was something about this metamorphosis from ghetto boy to boy wonder.

The feeling shot through my veins and my muscles surrendered. Then the bounce, drag and tilt took over, like the Holy Ghost. Hallelujah!

We called it the pimp walk. The bounce-and-drag cool swerve, performed in sync. It was simply a cool way of walking, nothing erosive or sinister.

Or was it?

I’m not so sure anymore.

“Superfly.”

That’s when it all started. The biggest movie of the century. And even though Mama wouldn’t let me see it, Rickey and Michael and Huckey, and it seemed like every other boy in the neighborhood did go, and they came back with the walk.

Brothers started seriously conking their hair and sporting gangster brims and wide lapels, collars cuffed over the outside of their leisure suits.

But it was the walk that talked.

Of everyone I knew, my Uncle Ollie, Aunt Brenda’s husband, was the coolest.

His was a crossover, ear-to-shoulder, swanlike stroll. Throughout his procession, while we kids all gawked, he wore a half smile, his white teeth showing beneath his dark lips, brown skin and black mustache and beard.

Ladies liked a good walk. You didn’t just walk up to a girl and ask her for her seven digits. You had to pimp a little.

And you couldn’t just walk past a group of roughnecks you didn’t know without dropping a little bounce and drag for them, even if you were bluffing or actually trembling on the inside.

It’s like that scene in “The Godfather” when Don Corleone is laid up in the hospital and young Michael grabs the baker outside on the hospital steps, turns up their collars and shoves their hands in their pockets pretending like they have guns in order to scare away the hit men.

Pimp-walking is like that when done correctly. Not cool. Cold.

Not every black man or woman liked the pimp walk. Grandpa would inquire of us teenagers, as would some older men, “What’s wrong with your leg, boy?”

We knew then it was time to straighten up and fly right.

Whether the pimp walk was some cele­bration of male blackness I don’t know. I do know that walking so rhythmically, I never felt so good, or so black.

But even back then the walk could not compensate for all the negatives associated with “pimposity.” And mostly it was negative.

It wasn’t as much the walk as it was our collective walking away from the values and principles that once fortified us, even against internal erosion.

“Superfly” ushered in an era of “blaxploitation” that made heroes out of pimps, drug pushers and playboys. In fact, in the ’hood, real-life pimps and pushers seemed to spring up overnight like weeds.

And though the boys in my hood still played baseball, still licked frozen cups of Kool-Aid, chewed bubble gum and slap-boxed in the middle of the street, there was a change in the wind back in the 1970s.

It is a wind that many years later still blows cold.

A wind that even back then signaled, in a way, the beginning of the end to life in my hood as we once knew it.

And my sense is that it has never been the same.



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