of Pimps, Bishop of Jesus, Hip-Hop Royalty. Don “Magic”
Juan answers to all of the above and more. Don and I have never met
formally, but seem caught in the same gravitational vortex. Our
encounters over the years are documented here in “King of
My oldest son and his high school rock-band mates had just finished recording in my studio on a Saturday afternoon. We stepped outside. August heat grabbed us like an enraged wrestler. Sweat ran in rivulets into my eyes, dripping off my nose. Ice cream seemed the best idea. Squinting through the late afternoon smog, we saw an intriguing image shimmering in heat waves, rising on the distant sidewalk. A male figure, dressed head to toe in bright gold and green, strode toward us. He was followed, in lock-stride, by two female figures on long legs, in matching black short shorts and white shirts. The trio’s rhythmic walk, rolled and rocked to a slow beat, in counterpoint to the chaos around them. They were apart from it all - the heat, the noise, the chaotic jumble of cars and pedestrians. They seemed in their own cool slow-dance, like a New Orleans funeral cortege. As the intriguing trio came closer, we were amazed at the details of their unique dress. Here came a sun-glassed African-American man in a gold and green wide-brim hat, green full-length tailcoat trimmed in gold, and pants ending in gold spats. He walked in cool glide-stride, one step ahead of twin, tall African-American women, in matching sunglasses and black stiletto heels. Our eyes locked on this approaching aberration. As they neared, gold and diamond rings dazzled in the sun. A heavy gold chain hung around his neck. Dangling at its end, a gaudy gold dollar sign, crusted in diamonds. The girls’ glorious legs wore black, wide fishnets below tight, low-riding, satin shorts. White shirts unbuttoned and tied at the midriff revealed bouncing cleavage and slim, rolling waists. As they came upon our wide-eyed, slack-mouthed, suburban whiteness, the man in gold and green flashed us a knowing smile. We were stopped there, struck-dumb by this spectacle of undulating flash. A scruffy wino rocked on his heels. His eyes wide, he mumbled, “Man, you got what they want.” The trio passed to our turning heads, in perfect lock-step. On the back of that long green tailcoat glowed a large gold dollar sign.
We looked at each other for confirmation of this surreal vision. We could only muster rhetorical queries to the three dimensions, “What was . . . ? Did you see . . . ? Who was . . . ?” Abuzz with wonder, we found ourselves in front of the ice cream store. Ducking out of the heat, we settled into a booth by the window, babbling details of our mutual observations. The waitress approached to take our order. An exotic car horn sounded from the street outside. We turned to see a Cadillac El Dorado pass, painted in green glitter, trimmed in gold. Spoke wheels, bumpers, filigree detail paint accents, all gleamed gold in the sun. A large gold dollar sign decorated the driver’s door. We pressed ourselves into the window until the Caddy shimmered away in the heat. Exclamations of awe bounced around the table like ping pong balls. The waitress waited for the hubbub to subside and said, “You boys haven’t heard of Don ‘Magic’ Juan, the famous west side pimp?” Our mouths and eyes hung open. Naïve suburban white guys had caught their first glimpse of a Chicago legend.
Years later, our five children were leaving the nest and my ex-wife and I faced the prospect of more concentrated time together. So, we became foster parents. Fostering babies took the focus off ourselves and placed it on a child in need. The children were newborn, usually African-American and in our home to await adoption. We adopted our first, the rule being, if they stayed a year, they would be part of the family. Our second we called Elizabeth. She was with us for seven months, when we got the call that she was to be adopted into an African-American family. Mixed emotions made us happy for her and her prospective family, and sorry for ourselves. We had, of course, become attached. We met her new parents and their three boys and were instantly reassured of her bright future. We passed from foster parents to surrogate aunt and uncle, becoming extended family. As Elizabeth grew up, we were included in various family functions.
Several years passed, and her parents, mom a teacher and dad a gas company employee, decided to start their own church. We were invited guests to the opening, held at a Holiday Inn near their home. It was a Saturday service with lots of good music. Elizabeth was a featured soloist. She was wonderful among her musically gifted family and we were proud of them all. As the service progressed, guest speakers were invited to preach. Each preacher pitched his own brand of Christian hullabaloo, sing-songing, sweating and fanning the flock to whoops and hollers. Finally, we were down to the last speaker. To my astonishment a Bishop Don was introduced. A smiling African-American man approached the podium, dressed entirely in green, trimmed in gold. Gold diamond jewelry orbited his body like stars in a galaxy. There were the rings, the gold chain, and the diamond emblazoned dollar sign. There was Don “Magic” Juan, the famous west side pimp, now saved from the eternal fires of Hell and born again as a pimp for Jesus. He had style. He had charisma. He had a gift of gab. He had “Magic.” He started slow and built to a sweating, red-eyed bluster, going on for half-an-hour, punctuated by “Hallelujahs.” “Say thats.” “All rights.” “Amens.” And other adoring admonitions from the aroused, arm-waving sinners before him. I was again struck dumb by the spectacle.
Finally, the three-hour service drew to a close. I approached Elizabeth’s parents and congratulated them, gushing about Elizabeth and the music. Finally, I said to Elizabeth’s mother, “I was intrigued by Bishop Don’s outfit.” She laughed and said, “Oh Don, he’s crazy. He started his own church a couple of years ago. He’s born again.” Her eyes darted away. She didn’t seem to want to elaborate, and I didn’t know how to proceed without casting a pall on the celebration, so I dropped the subject. Everyone was ignoring the green and gold elephant in the room. Anyway, the family opened their church and made it a considerable success, saving wayward souls and saving a lot of tax-free money in the process. Their self-proclaimed divinity proved popular among the fallen, those who sought a musical form of salvation. Elizabeth grew up tall and talented and the last I talked to them she’d graduated college, had her own family, still worked in the church, and was well.
More years passed. Watching late night TV, I clicked into something that stopped my thumb. The Player’s Convention in Las Vegas, a concentration of pimps from across our propitious nation. There, the human equivalent of peacocks strutted their stuff, in every color of the rainbow and beyond. Lavender suits with vests posed above matching shoes. The Orange Dude with a wide-brimmed, feathered hat vogued in his citrus-inspired ensemble. Blue Boy strutted his stuff. Redman reigned. Mr. Yellow was quite the fellow. A proud participant preened in a blizzard of white, his ermine coat draped over his shoulders like a pimped-out polar bear. Fur and frills. Blinding bling. Here were the assembled male players in the skin trade, parading their wares, displaying their wealth and expressing their individuality and style. Their outlandish outfits and accoutrements were contrived to overshadow each other. They were like flowers competing for sunlight. The posturing and primping were preposterous. The posing prodigious. Pompous pimps in paradise. They were like tribal warriors trying to scare each other with the ferocity of their masks. While the underlying tone was combative, the overlying mood was cordial and festive. Celebratory of superstardom. Everyone knew everyone else. There was a pecking order among them, seemingly based on longevity on one scale, and the number of women collected about them, on another. I watched, astonished by this culture. The flash. The money. The scale of it all. The blatant exploitation of women. Interviews of participants told fascinating stories of their pimping philosophies. How they acquired their women. How they treated their women. How they competed with each other. How they spent their money. Whores hung on them like pilot fish on sharks, speaking glowingly of their pimps, worshipping them as rock stars. The leader banged a gavel, calling the convention to order. And there at the podium was my old buddy once again. Dressed in you know what. Yes, Bishop Don “Magic” Juan. Apparently unborn again, or perhaps just carrying forth his mission. He did not seem so unique among his peers, but as their leader he obviously had not lost his magic. As the show ended, he was crowned Player of the Year. Don “Magic” Juan, Chicago street institution. Pastor of his own church. King of pimps.
2007 Christmas holidays took me to my wife’s family in South Bend, Indiana. Buried under seven inches of snow on a cold, cozy, late night, I flipped through the channels, passing the myriad religious offerings. After all, South Bend is the home of Notre Dame University, a bastion of all things Catholic, rivaled only by Vatican City. We were in the Bible belt. And there, dominating cable channels, were an array of TV pitch-preachers. Pimps-in-the-pulpit for the Prince of Peace, all seeking generous tithes for their perfect personal blessings. Jimmy, Pat, the fat jowly guy with the chalk board, the comb-over guy in the Nehru jacket, all the cons were there, an assortment of smiling, sweating sleaze, pitching, preaching and pleading for cash. I clicked into Richard Roberts, disgraced for living high and mighty on the proceeds of prayer-for-profit at Oral Roberts University. The “University” was founded by Richard’s father Oral, who made himself rich and famous by putting his hands on people, and miraculously “healing” them for “offerings” that made him a wealthy man long before he found his rightful, holy place in “Heaven.” Witnessing this valuable gimmick, Richard continued in his father’s nimble, noble and lucrative tradition, offering faith healing over the airwaves for $100.00 “seeds” to the dumb, diseased and desperate.
In disgust, I clicked away, landing on a Snoop Dogg documentary, chronicling his 2001 tour “Puff, Puff, Pass.” The title alludes to common etiquette among pot smokers, two hits and pass it on. There were interviews with the Dogg himself, cutaways to enraptured audience inhalers, concert footage of Snoop and fellow hip-hoppers puffing away on stage. In their midst danced a man draped in gold and green, decorated in gold jewelry. His “Magic” diamond encrusted ring thrust high above his head, admonishing the adoring crowd to wave in beat, in tribute, in sympathy to the cause. Then, to my wondering eyes appeared an interview with the magic man, sipping from his gold chalice (or was it the true Holy Grail?) preaching to the choir on the virtues of wacky weed. The ubiquitous Don had become a hip-hop artist and member of the Dogg Pack. From Pimp, to Pastor, to King, to Hip-Hop Royalty. How many careers can one man manage in the vast underworld of American culture?
Apparently, yet another. To my wonder Don has finally found his way into the dirtiest game. Politics. Here on TV was John Stewart of Comedy Central, interviewing participants of the Democratic National Convention in August 2008. And here once again, our hero, in his trademark costume, captioned “Archbishop Don ‘Magic’ Juan,” holding his gold, gem-encrusted chalice. Stewart joked with the Archbishop about the chalice, asking what was inside. The Archbishop offered him a nip. Stewart hesitantly sampled its contents and responded with one of his patented facial takes, an indication that, what was in the chalice was indeed “Holy Water.” Apparently, the Bishop has been elevated yet again. Archbishop indeed seems befitting. Perhaps Pope is within his potential. Is he ready for anointment? Was this a political appointment? Has the Magic Juan become a cog in our political machine? Is he plunging into political punditry? Was he representing the religious right, to minister in behalf of Jesus to wayward Democratic souls? Did he materialize in his pimp guise, to supply girls to convention revelers? Did he supply boys to the Republicans?
Are Don and I caught in some gravitational vortex? I pose this question after yet another in-person sighting. Driving home from LAX on Pico Blvd., between Fairfax and LaBrea in Los Angeles, I saw ahead, a green and gold Rolls Royce. How many are there in the universe? I sped ahead, spotting the familiar Illinois vanity plate inscribed “MAGIC.” Who else? I pulled beside him, running down the window on my passenger side. Tooting my horn, I shouted, “The Magic Man.” The Man himself turned in his green hat, trimmed in gold. He smiled behind his massive gold-rimmed sunglasses, waving, shouting, “Right on.” I gave him the thumb-up and ran by in faster traffic. My left turn came up quickly. He passed, looking, studying, wondering who the hell I was. A former customer? A pious devotee? A potential voter? Simply an adoring fan?
Will I encounter Don Juan’s magic again? Why would I not be surprised? With his popular celebrity and penchant for dereliction, he may well be the next Congressman from his home district. This would be fitting. He would feel right at home among the other pimps in our festering government. Indeed, he is not a man to be underestimated. He is unlike a chameleon, in that he cannot seem to change his appearance. He is like a leopard, which does not change his spots, but is able to appear harmless and charming to some, and wily and dangerous to others. How he continues to prosper, above and beyond the law is another mystery to me in this land of law-abiding, right-leaning, tight-assed guardians of righteousness and morality. Where is Big Brother? The NSA? The FBI? The IRS? The CPD? The DOJ? Who is listening to his phone calls? Who is intercepting his email? Who is monitoring his bank account? Could they all be among his paying customers? Under his magic spell? I would not be surprised to see him partying at Mar-A-Lago, or as part of the Trump administration. Maybe Press Secretary. Perhaps someday the patrollers of morality and righteousness will catch him and send him to jail. There, among his like – the impeached portly President, politicians, pundits, pop stars, pimps, priests, pedophiles, corporate criminals, military contractors, lobbyists, lawyers, and other pariahs under penal punishment – I have no doubt that he will lead. Trading his gold and green and glitter for a bright orange coverall, he may finally add one more title to his long, distinguished list. Emperor. Without his clothes.
I thought the story was ended. But recently, I had another third-person encounter. A sole had come loose from a favorite pair of shoes. I Yelped for a local shoe repairman. GT Shoe Repair is in a small, shabby strip mall at San Vicente and Hauser. I entered the store, a chime announcing my arrival. GT came hobbling from the back of the store. He was delicate, and elderly, pale skin showing through sparse hair. His clothes were as worn as his ancient shop. His dirty glasses perched low on the tip of his nose. He took my shoe and peeled it further from its upper. He shook his head, speaking in an Eastern European accent. “I glue it. Then nail heel from the inside, here.” He showed me where he intended the nails. As if, I had any input. “Fifteen dollars.”
“OK, great.” I pulled a $20 out of my pocket. He turned away, “You can wait. I fix it for you now.” He and my shoe disappeared into the back of his shop. I took a look around. The place hadn’t been cleaned in years. Dust from San Vicente blew in, covering the beaten carpet. Shoes with tags, stacked on shelves, awaited the feet of their owners, the only objects devoid of the grime that coated everything. The glass counter top was cracked, coated in greasy dirt. Inside the case, ancient leather pieces gathered dust - an old leather suitcase handle, a few old belts, other leather orphans of another age, awaiting adoption. A hand-made sign said, “NO PUBLIC BATHROOM. DON’T ASK.” Another read. “CASH ONLY.” The walls were covered with signed faded headshots. LA’s acting community had embraced GT’s talent with shoes, boots and other leather goods. Unknown actors, an amusing collection of telling faces, showed the world who and what they are, or at least, dreamed to be. A couple of faded photos featured a young GT, posing with, was it Cary Grant? In the other photo, the actor looked familiar. And there, smiling back at me was a recent, signed headshot of Jimmy Kimmel. A few anonymous heads later, who’s countenance should shine down upon me, but the Bishop Don “Magic” Juan himself, poised from his seated throne, hands clasped around his jewel encrusted, green/gold chalice. His ears, wrists and fingers laden in gold and glittering gems. “The Bishop” spelled in jewels on the lenses of his sunglasses. He signed with a Sharpie “Bishop” and added 333 to the inscription. Half of 666, the Devil’s number? I Googled it. It’s the Angel Number, a symbol of power and energy. GT arrived with my shoe, looking better than new. I gave him the $20 and told him to keep the change. My offering to the angel of shoe soles, and the memory of The Bishop, self-styled spoiler and savior of souls.
Robert Richter started as a writer of ads and commercials. Then films and screenplays. Now, three novels, three volumes of short stories, two kids' books, and a New Dad Handbook, all self-published. He leads a Writers Circle in Los Angeles