Uncle Basil and The Pimp by Lynn McSweeney

Around 1966 or ’7, Uncle Basil, my mother’s brother, stopped by our home in Indianapolis for a few days on his meandering cross-country journey. He was always popping up for visits, with imagination-catching gifts for me and my sister: dolls with pink hair and blue eyes, or blue hair and pink eyes, or a marvellously-detailed miniature of the first Model T, enamelled in shades of glossy purple, just the ticket to park outside my beloved dollhouse.

Of course, the best gift was his own presence: at a lanky 6’1”, with black hair and blue eyes, he most resembled Errol Flynn. My adored handsome uncle, with his slight New York accent that almost camouflaged his original Irish brogue, with his easy charm and gift for witty conversation, told amusing tales of crashing embassy parties from Dublin to Paris, by the simple expediency of owning well-fitting formal wear. “Men should always travel with a tuxedo,” he told me, winking as if I were in on the conspiracy with him. He had buzzed around Europe in a chic orange-creamsicle-colored Karmann Ghia.

But in the mid-nineteen-sixties, he rolled up to our Indianapolis Dutch Colonial in a refurbished milk truck, sporting long hair and a pirate’s mustache. My mother was aghast at the changes. He’d become one of those hippies. He was heading out to California.

Years later, he regaled me with tales of his first weeks crashing on the beaches outside Los Angeles. He and an old buddy of his had set themselves up as entrepreneurs in the free enterprise of selling a little marijuana, and spent their days chilling with all the beach bums, surfers, street people, and nascent hippies that called the Coast home. Baz of course attracted women as he always had.

He started noticing that some very young women, teenage runaways, were starting to frequent a communal scene in a more remote area. He didn’t like the vibe he was getting off one guy in particular, who was pimping out these underage girls. Basil despised pimps as being unmanly. Why not get a lucrative job that risked jail yourself? Part of the fun of courtship for him had always been picking up the tab.

So he started laying on the charm thick as jam when new young girls approached him on the beach. Going all mystical, he’d lay a joint or two on them and preach. “Wow, you’re covered in gold light, it’s shining off you. You know, I see a beautiful future for you if you go down this road today, just golden,” and he’d point in the opposite direction from the crash-pad of the pimp’s burgeoning family. Baz was a consummate artist of the con, the original flim-flam man. Yet, he was selling these girls nothing but their future safety.

Eventually, the short scruffy pimp and my tall mellow uncle had some sort of discussion. Basil reported he just smiled and nodded, neither denying nor confirming rumors of dissuading young girls from the flesh-peddler’s path. Eventually, Charlie, the guy in question, moved on from the fruitless conversation, and shortly after moved his harem-cum-commune to another location.

“Man, I always got a bad vibe from that Charlie Manson,” Basil said years later. By then, my uncle was on the lam and living under an assumed name after skipping out on bail consequent to the big bust of his LSD-wholesaling operation. His hair was cut short and he was very clean-shaven. The Manson Family had impugned the whole hippie aesthetic, from his point of view.

Basil never worked or lived under his real name again. But that’s a whole ’nother story.

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