The setup is irresistible: A 50-something-year-old white dude with a string of odd jobs behind him decides to tackle the oddest—yet oldest—job he can find: pimp. Or, to be more accurate, he decides to start up an "escort service" in San Francisco by placing ads in the SF Weekly. Vanilla Slim is Bob Armstrong's memoir as a tiny cog in the sex industry machine, with detours through his childhood and harrowing experiences in Vietnam. And—oh yeah—he's addicted to meth, reads the National Review religiously, and writes occasional freelance pieces for the San Francisco Chronicle and Portland's own Exotic Magazine.
Then the po-po catches him, ending his business endeavor and landing him in jail for a brief period. This isn't a spoiler—the prologue actually starts out "I ended up in the slammer." It's an entertaining story, even if it fails to offer many insights into the sex industry (actual sex industry workers reading it could probably point to a billion flaws in his depiction).
As with most memoirs, it's hard to judge how much has been fictionalized. His "employees" are always a little too conveniently amazed by his philosophical prowess and knowledge of remedial history (like, knowing the difference between Thomas Jefferson and Tom Hanks—okay, that was pretty funny.) And while the narrative reads as if Armstrong was an old pro at the pimpin' game, readers don't find out until almost the last page that his experiment only lasted eight months. On the other hand, the author is upfront about his lack of skills, letting the reader know in the first chapter that he only made $2,000 to $3,000 a month running escorts, leading to the funniest line in the book, when a friend tells him, "You couldn't even turn big bucks in the world's oldest profession? That's the real crime!"
Ultimately, Armstrong's prose is a little thuddy, and leans heavily on his San Francisco forbearers (the Beats) and Bukowski to be groundbreaking, but as a surface-level peek into the sex underworld should hold most readers' interest. Some Portlanders may find it a little familiar though—much of the book has already appeared in the pages of Exotic. SCOTT MOORE