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The Soul of Super Pimp 

He's the top draw on Cleveland's nightlife circuit. But seriously, who is this guy?

From the next urinal over, David Michael Toth tilts back his matinee-idol grin.

"It's another beautiful night in Cleveland, Ohio," he sings out to the line of guys anxious for an opening. "And you know why? Because we're here." Breaking out in a cackle, he turns back to the main room, fingers straightening his hot-pink tie.

Nearing midnight on a Saturday, LiquidSixx is packed wall to wall. Music barrels from the speakers — all top 40 hits that have gone under the knife and come out with faster rhythms and fatter beats than what you've heard on the radio, strung together in one unending thrump. From head nods at the bar to the dance floor grind, the granddaddy of West Sixth Street clubs bops unevenly but in unison, like a waterbed distributing a bounce.

And then he enters. On the shallow end of the dance floor, he pulls a move from his repertoire — the one Joe Haden likes to copy: A ringed finger jumps to his tongue then across his brow, before snapping out across the room. His body follows suit with a series of jabs synced up to a rhythm playing between his ears only.

A college-age blonde siphoning a drink pulls her lips away from the straw and sends up an air-raid warning whine, the Cleveland nightlife equivalent to It's a bird . . . it's a plane . . .

"Ohmigod," she cracks glass. "It's Super Pimp!"

***

Toth owns the face you may have been gawking at for more than a decade, either mugging from the VIP section of a packed West Sixth club or out of a thousand Facebook photos. He's Super Pimp.

And he's hard to miss. There's the handsome mustachioed face, appropriately creased from the miles he's logged. There's the highlighter-loud suits. There's the assortment of tics he breaks off on the dance floor. As one fan puts it: "Everyone in Cleveland knows two people: LeBron James and Super Pimp."

No matter where Toth goes, no matter the crowd, the curious draw in for a closer look, trying to get the score on why a guy with 30 years on the rest of the room shows up looking like a cryogenically preserved '70s swinger who's been de-iced and taken shopping at a Detroit police auction.

"I like your suit," says a blonde at LiquidSixx, asking for a photo. On this night, what Super Pimp lacks in color he's made up for in cut: The suit is black, with wide pinstripes running the length of the jacket — which, incidentally, extends to his ankles. A matching vest runs the same length, so from a distance, Super Pimp seems to be wearing not a suit but a set of robes.

"Thank you," he says with a wink. "Al Capone is butt-naked in his grave right now."

Instead of a creep or a special-needs case, what you find with Super Pimp is a consummate charmer, armored with Kevlar self-confidence. He's also probably the nicest guy in the room. Girls, liquor-loud and pretty, drape themselves over his shoulders for pictures. Guys, their machismo hiked up for the club, shout his name in adoring tones. Toth's one-man show has become as quintessentially Cleveland as the Terminal Tower. But everybody knows the Terminal Tower. The more elusive question: Who, or what exactly, is Super Pimp?

The man himself ducks inquiries with a familiar go-to line: "Pimpin' ain't easy."

***

Turns out pimpin' came easy right out of the gate.

In the late 1950s, a child from Lorain was loaded on a plane bound for England, his mother's native land. During World War II, she'd been a nurse who fell for an American paratrooper, and the romance led to marriage and babies back in the states. This ocean hop was her first chance to show off little David Michael Toth back home; for the occasion, she decked the boy out in a replica pilot's suit, complete with cap. In the cabin, the stewardesses couldn't stay away.

"I was about 8 or 9, but I started getting that little tingle with all these beautiful stewardesses kissing me on the cheek," Toth says today, his eyebrows popping rapid fire as if tapping out morse code. "I thought, 'Damn, there must be something to this!'"

Toth is unraveling this story from a leather couch in his living room, between sips of an after-work Labatt. It's not exactly the pad you'd expect of a Super Pimp: The house is modest and clean, a split level on a quiet side street in Mentor, where he's lived for four years with his teenage daughter Kelley. A miniature Maltese motors around the carpeted floor. And in T-shirt and jeans, Toth looks less the downtown dandy than what he actually is: a single dad with a 9-to-5 at Progressive Insurance.

The suits — dozens of them — are all on hangers, scattered throughout four closets. But it becomes clear as he polishes up old memories that clothes alone don't make the man.

A postwar glow emanates from his recollections of growing up. Dad, a postman who worked two side jobs to keep the family afloat, wasn't around a lot. Mom, an extrovert with no family of her own on this hemisphere, raised Toth and his younger sister and brother. The neighborhood was stocked with buddies. "It was a better time, I think, in our country's history."

Toth's sister Carole took jazz dance lessons, and the teacher wanted him to join in. After resisting, he spotted all the pretty girls in the class — and that familiar tingle struck again. Soon, he was ducking out early from freshman football at Admiral King High School to learn new moves. When his teammates found out, merciless ribbing followed — until the night of Toth's first recital, when the team sat in the first row, ogling his fellow dancers.

The siblings performed for elderly homes and charities through their teens. The show-biz interest took a professional turn when Toth appeared in a local production of West Side Story that netted an invitation to perform at Cleveland's Hanna Theatre. He didn't wilt in the spotlight, but grew hooked to the stage — to the way the energy he put out for the crowd boomeranged back to him.

"I think it's because I always had confidence to do and be who I am, and I think that's because I always had a sense of myself through my family," he says. "We were always close, had a sense of family, a sense of where you belonged and who you were. And as long as you know who you are, you have the confidence in whatever situation you go into."

***

Four pieces of mail were waiting for Mike Toth on a sunny Saturday morning in '68: three letters from his girlfriend and one draft notice from the U.S. Army. Eleven days later, he was on a bus to boot camp.

Though it had raged on for years, Vietnam had yet to crack Toth's world, which basically consisted of chasing girls around Lorain after a failed stint at Bowling Green. He knew zero about the conflict and less about the growing protest movement. He just wanted to get this army business off his plate and get back to the ladies.

Which is why when he was told during basic training that he qualified for officer candidate school, Toth said no. But then one afternoon, he came across a sergeant beating the hell out of an out-of-shape private, inflicting brain damage in the process.

For guys training to bushwhack the jungle, bucking the chain of command was all but unthinkable. But Toth reported what he saw, and word quickly spread around the base. In the meantime, his dad was on the phone explaining the situation to a local congressman. Soon enough, Washington called the base and said if there was a hair out of place on Private Toth, there'd be problems.

After all was settled, Toth reconsidered officer school. He wanted to command his own unit, have some power to make sure things were done straight and fair. Eventually, he found himself in charge of a 300-man intelligence company in Okinawa. Later he became an aide to a general. When secret messages needed to be delivered, Toth was entrusted with a locked briefcase shackled to his wrist. He would jet around the Pacific, drop off the briefcase, then sit back on a beach somewhere waiting for the molasses bureaucracy to find him a flight home.

He climbed the ranks. By age 24, Toth was a captain, working back in the states for the National Security Agency. He planned to stay in for the long haul and walk away with a hefty pension.

"I loved the army. It was one of the few jobs where there was a strict code," he says. "It's not like the outside. It was fair. You did your job, you did what you were supposed to do, and you got promoted."

But by 1973, the army had different plans. Winding down after Vietnam, the military cut loose officers who didn't have college degrees. And so Toth was back in Lorain, without a next move in mind.

***

Don't I know you from somewhere?" asks the woman, a high-heeled blonde fading into her late thirties.

"Depends," Super Pimp responds. "You ever been in jail in Mexico?"

She poses for a photo, then skips back to a table of giggling friends. It's the third picture request he's fielded since grabbing a bourbon and settling in near the door at the swank burger joint Bar Louie. The crowd is mostly middle aged — Toth's peer group on paper, but not in partying disposition. Despite the low-key atmosphere, he likes to spend the early evening here — the better to mingle with out-of-towners who come from downtown hotels.

"There's another one over there," he says, waving a furtive pinkie toward a lone woman near the bar flanked by a squad of gym-swollen guys.

By now, photo requests are part of the game. He debuted his eyesore suits in the early '80s, and today his wardrobe is a mind-bending grab bag: from acid-trip colors to Magic Eye patterns to Mad Hatter cuts. Eyewitnesses want to bring home the evidence on their cameras, so much so that Super Pimp can read any crowd, spot body language or stray glances — the twin giveaways someone's warming up the nerve to approach him.

Even the subtlest hints don't slip his eye, like the woman he's just pointed out. She's volleying around flirtations from her companions and hasn't even flicked one random eye in Super Pimp's direction yet.

"I like to say now I'm a Kardashian, 'cause I've got no talent, but I'm famous for being famous," he says through a laugh.

Super Pimp has a way of swashbuckling through his sentences, working the words around winks and grins for emphasis, building toward the inevitable punch line. But when the topic settles on why he does what he does, Toth is purely candid. It's clear he treats having a good time — or more precisely, helping others have a good time — as serious business.

He isn't whipped up by decadence or a need to be seen. When he's on the town, he's drawing on the same circuit of energy he discovered all those years ago onstage; here, West Side Story is swapped for West Sixth. But Super Pimp isn't a character Mike Toth is playing. There's no distance between the moniker and the man.

"There's not a day where I can't be me," he says. "It's not because everything is perfect with me. It's because every day is a choice; every day is bringing people happiness around you. Even if you're having a bad day, it brings the positive back to you."

Super Pimp believes he's a walking, talking example of "testicular fortitude," his shorthand for having the stones to be who you are without caring squat about what everyone else thinks. If he's sitting out on the far edge of ridiculous, he hopes others will be inspired enough to do their own thing too.

"One of my favorite sayings is: Life begins where your comfort zone ends. You don't really start living your life truly until you step out of your comfort zone, where you're roboting along. Everything that you have, everything that you've learned, everything that you are — you bring that out. Now that's life."

Easy as it might be to toss all this aside as greeting-card hokum, in practice it's working pretty well. It's hard to be around Super Pimp and still chew over cares or worries. He's too relentlessly positive, too happy; everyone who bumps into him walks away with faces stretched into genuine grins. After a few drinks, his avuncular lines start ringing as true as tao; after a few more, you begin to think he's peeked under the skirt of life's essential truths and lived to tell the tale.

And before he can settle up the bill, that woman taps Super Pimp on the shoulder and asks for a picture.

***

It's a swift kick to your self-esteem, crisscrossing the Pacific with national secrets on your wrist one day and being just another dude from Lorain the next. The steadiest gig Toth kept for a while was bouncing drunks from an Amherst bar.

He never really hammered out ambitions after the army. Instead, he surfed through the late '70s and early '80s, riding out entrepreneurial rolls of the dice. Thanks to his family-bred confidence, he never doubted he could get something going; thanks to the army, he was resourceful.

Eventually he landed in Phoenix, where he sold stereos. Sometimes he'd just walk into a wholesaler, see what was lying around on discount and take a crack at selling it. When the bank account was low, he'd try something else.

"If I had money, I was in the comfort zone. But what really got my creative juices going is when I didn't have any money. Then I knew I would have to go out and let everything flow to make something happen. The whole thing was not to work hard."

Toth's life was a tightrope walk between flush and bust, but the stakes didn't weigh heavily. He was too busy waterskiing, motorcycling, or chasing ladies through Phoenix's clubs to let anything eat at him. And when life eventually did bring him low, he leaned on the good times as a crutch.

One afternoon in '83, he was zooming around town on his bike, when he decided to steer it back home. Whether it was dumb luck or a feel for family that ran deeper than words could explain, the choice proved prophetic. He was back in Ohio by September; on Christmas Eve, Toth's beloved mom had a debilitating stroke, a turn of events that shoots tears through his eyes 19 years later.

By the mid-'90s, he had bottomed out: After following an ill-fated romance to Alliance, he became a fixture in the bars there, a standout in eye-catching suits. But what no one knew down in small-town Stark County was that when Mike Toth called it a night, he went home to an unheated trailer, threw himself on a mattress, and let his problems blot out everything else.

He couldn't get a job. Both parents were dead. Cancer took down a couple of close buddies. The only bright spot was also tinged with pain: His daughter Kelley was born in '94, but his chance at fatherhood was chopped up into occasional weekends due to a bruising custody dispute. Toth passed the days shivering under blankets, waiting for the evening when he could put on a suit and fool everyone into thinking nothing was off. It went on like that for six months.

One day while his baby girl was visiting, Toth played ball with her in the yard. There was a change in the child's face when she looked his way, something that told Toth she was sizing him up.

"She was really looking at me to see who I am and what I'm about," he says today. "I took her back that weekend, then looked at myself in the mirror and said, 'Let's talk about who you are. You need to get off your ass and make something happen.'"

Over the radio, an ad for Progressive said the insurance giant was hiring in sales. Toth called in, lit up the old charm, and BS'ed his way to Cleveland for an interview. Soon, he was offered a job and relocated to Mentor. Once the first paycheck came in, it was time to see what local nightlife had to offer.

***

Toth likes to keep his true age in his back pocket, but he's not shy about having more rings on his trunk than most guys at the bar. Still, he cuts a young image: Under the suits, he's army fit, with a Key West tan and a ferociously spiked crown of close-cropped hair, smudged only with the slightest birthmark streak of white.

But even though he's running at top condition, his schedule is an unyielding grind. He goes out at least four nights a week. His regular haunts are the West Sixth slam-dunks: Velvet Dog, Barley House, and the Blind Pig. During the summer, he's big on Shooters, the lone remaining vestige of 1990s hedonism on the West Bank of the Flats.

Before he got custody of Kelley, he was working a shift at Progressive that ended at 9 p.m. Not one for a late start, Toth used to haul his suits into work, then change in the Progressive bathrooms at quitting time.

"My co-workers used to be able to set their watches by me," he says. Since he's become a full-time dad, he ends most days at five, heads home, and cooks his daughter dinner before heading out. If he's swinging through downtown on a weeknight, he never begs off work the next day: It's always back at his desk by 8 a.m., clear of mind or otherwise.

An evening on the town for Super Pimp doesn't look much like your average shitface; it's more about restraint and diligence. He puts in time at every club, whether he wants to or not. And he watches what he downs. Bourbon is his regular choice, augmented with occasional Snakebites — the Jack and lime juice shot he prefers. He also knows when it's time to pull back in order to drive home safely.

And he's always alone. Sometimes a crew collects at his side for a few stops, but mostly it's a solo act. So it goes romantically: Toth is single and plans to keep it that way. He's had his share of serious relationships; today, he says, it's just not realistic. Not that he doesn't get offers, or have to fend off bedroom eyes or grab-ass. "When a really nice woman makes a play, I just make a joke or say I'm not all I'm cracked up to be," he says with a laugh. "Something that doesn't let them down in a cruel way. But it's a defense mechanism for me to keep at arms' length."

But don't think he's lonely. When he's making the rounds, people often come up asking who's he's with. "Take a look around," he'll say. "I'm with everybody."

***

Super Pimp's two worlds are colliding, and he's beaming once again.

Everyone is piled into a suburban kitchen in North Royalton, 180 degrees from the Warehouse District. The house belongs to Toth's sister Carole and her husband. About 15 members of the Toth clan are here, juggling beers and tipping plates of pizza and wings. Smack in the middle of this snapshot of a family Saturday, Super Pimp struts about in his pinstriped robe-suit.

"David is always the butt of every joke," shrugs Carole, a retired English teacher who still calls her brother by the name their parents used. "Once the family starts in on him, it does not stop. But it just bounces off him."

"He's always wanted to be right in the middle of everything, man," echoes brother Dan. "Does he still drop down and do the one-handed push up?"

He's asking a group of outsiders hugging the wall: five 20- and 30-year-old guys here on Super Pimp's invite, who are nodding in the affirmative.

"Old-school fans from way back," Super Pimp explains. "They enjoy it. That's the beauty to me. People say, 'How do you go out? You work all the time, you're a single dad, you own a home ... how do you go out four times a week?'" he says with a smile knocked down a few notches in wattage, his confidence overshadowed by gratitude. "Because it's the fans that drive me, and how happy it makes people. And that makes me happy. It's an inspiration to me."

Fans — he drops the word a lot when talking about the parade of faces that pass by each night, the people who want photos or fill his ear with drunken recitations of their life story. But Super Pimp doesn't saddle the word with ego; he's a gusher of appreciation toward anyone who throws a little love his way.

One guy here, Paul Nget, actually minted the name "Super Pimp." In 2004, Nget was puttering around MySpace when he noticed an older guy in neon suits showing up in all his friends' pictures on the town. He decided to make a MySpace page for the stranger and pulled out the name Super Pimp at random. The next day, he had hundreds of friend requests, and more the following day. When he saw the newly crowned Super Pimp himself, he filled him in on the phenomenon.

"He was super-cool about it," says Nget, who doesn't go out much these days. "A month later, I ran into him again, and people were in line to take pictures with him, going 'Super Pimp! Super Pimp!'"

Among the family members who take Super Pimp in stride is Toth's own daughter, Kelley. Whereas most teens might cringe if their father's social life were as amped up as Toth's, she just politely shrugs it off. "He's just always been this way," she says. "This is nothing new."

***

When was the last time you waited in line at a club?"

"Probably the '60s," Super Pimp answers as he slips past the bouncer manning the gates at Anatomy, a windowless club-bunker with curvaceous white decor that wouldn't be out of place on the Starship Enterprise. Inside, a party for Crav vodka is limping to a start. Only a few dancers populate the open floor; the VIP area is gathering dust.

Crav is a touchy spot right now for Super Pimp. He's in negotiations to become a sort of figurehead for the locally distilled vodka, but the two sides can't agree on the value of his stamp of approval. It seems Crav isn't quite sure what they'd be buying. Despite the stalemate, Super Pimp wanted to stop by as a friendly gesture.

A couple of years back, as his status on the Cleveland scene swelled, Toth had a feeling he could harness the reaction he sparks into an actual business. The specifics were less clear — the main head-scratcher being how exactly do you hang a profit model around the life of the party?

But then Super Pimp crossed paths with Sorin Bica, a Romanian-born go-getter who co-owns a local marketing firm. Once the two put their heads together, the ideas for Super Pimp Co. started flowing: plans for endorsements, appearances, websites, music videos, clothing lines, a fragrance, charity work, reality TV. They've already made some strides. In October, Super Pimp broke the champagne bottle over a sharp new website featuring pictures and first-person accounts of his exploits past and present. They celebrated the launch with a Pimp and Pimpettes Party at Barley House, an event they hope to make annual.

Nowadays, Super Pimp sightings don't just happen outside of his normal carousing schedule. He commands a small fee for personal appearances at birthday parties and other events. He's also steadily grooved into charity work. But if he stepped it up to full time, as Toth explains it, he'd essentially be a cruise director for a client's festivities, dispatching his personality to make sure the party's pulse stays quick.

It's a bit of a gamble, mainly because so much of the impact he makes on a room has a see-it-to-believe-it quality that doesn't jump out as particularly tangible in the face of tight marketing budgets. But Super Pimp is betting his value will be appreciated: This spring, he's chopping down his hours at Progressive in order to free up more pimp time.

"This," he says gravely, palms up to encompass not only the now-teeming dance floor, but the entirety of the Saturday night that's simmering to a boil all over town, "is my dream."

***

After the West Sixth clubs have declared last call, the throngs empty out into the street and gravitate toward Panini's for their first chewable sustenance of the evening. Inside, girls shamble two-by-two for support, as if they're finishing drunken three-legged races. Guys angrily stare out from behind dawning hangovers. A crossfire of barks and laughs echoes through the room.

Super Pimp is here, making a final appearance. A tall guy in his late twenties steps into his face, his voice pushing out with a slightly aggressive edge. "What do you do?"

The night hasn't slowed Super Pimp's ready response: "It ain't easy."

"No, I mean what do you do? What's your deal? You've got these suits," he slurs, slightly more angrily now. "You must do something, you've got the money for the suits. What do you do?"

Toth gently sets a hand on the guy's shoulder, then leans in, his face done up in the softer smile he uses when he's being sincere. "It's not about the suits. It's not about money. I'm just me."

The guy stares for a moment, then mumbles something incomprehensible into Super Pimp's ear before trucking for the door. And Super Pimp's eyes start dancing again.

"He'll get it someday."

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