StreetLegalPlay by Kyle Thomas Smith

Finger-Twirling: The World’s Oldest Profession?

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on July 18, 2009

By Kyle Thomas Smith

I wrote this a long time ago, but I’m on a memoir jag, so here it comes again…

Cleopatra Jones

“This is for discrimination and egotists who think supreme/

And this is for whoever taught you how to kiss in designer jeans.”

-Prince, “Lady Cab Driver”

For a long time, Mom blamed herself for my inaptitude in school. She was already exhausted enough, raising a houseful of six kids when I happened along, quite by surprise. So, when I was supposed to be learning Reading, ’Riting, ’Rithmetic with The Count, Big Bird, and a chaser of The Electric Company, she didn’t protest too much when my siblings would come along and change the channel to General Hospital, What’s Happening!!, Soap, or those reprehensible ABC After-School Specials. But, the way I see it, this was no tragedy. In time, I became a devoted reader and writer (I still suck at math). Plus, overexposure to junk culture gave me a whole different jumping-off point from my more assimilated peers.

For instance, I developed an early fascination with Urban Fiction from Blaxploitation films, which were constantly airing (replete with bleeps and scene edits) in the late Seventies, especially on the U-Channels and Insomniac Theater. I sat through more of them than I can count—Blacula, Cleopatra Jones, Superfly, Shaft, Foxy Brown. (My disclaimer: those were different times, I was too young to have a social conscience about what I was watching, and Mom was in the other room.) These movies were rife with guns, pushers, pimps and crooked cops. But the hookers were the ones who fascinated me most.

I didn’t know what they were doing. I knew they enticed men, but I didn’t know for what purpose. To me, they were just strange women, standing on street corners in tight minis, often while leaning against brick buildings under elevated subway tracks, twirling the dangling ends of their chain-link belts. I knew they twirled chains. I had no idea what they were up to past that.

One Saturday morning, I was with Mom and my sister Kathy in the kitchen. As usual, the TV was blaring. Channel 7 Eye-Witness News was on. Kathy was wearing her canary yellow terrycloth robe and burning a Cheddar omelet on a front burner of the stove. Mom was wearing a black apron with white polka-dots and pouring Cascade into our new dishwasher. I was sitting at the table, drinking an iceless Lipton Iced Tea that I’d mixed myself from a bottle, which had a warning label on it, which read that the beverage I was enjoying was laced with something called saccharine, which was responsible for the deaths of laboratory animals. The anchorman announced that the National Hookers Convention in Las Vegas was in full-swing. Mom noted her disdain with a scowl. My sister responded with a smirk and the gambit, “It’s the world’s oldest profession, Mom.”

“Next to motherhood,” Mom countered.

The camera flashed to a dais of women who looked just like the ones from those movies. My eyes dilated, “What’s a profession?”

Kathy snarled out the side of her mouth, “It’s how you make your money.”

Mom caught sight of my awe and said, “Kathleen, turn that smut off now!” Kathy complied, knowing she’d won the match. Her youngest brother had learned what the world’s oldest profession is.

I remember going away from the table that day, meditating on olden times. You see, in addition to Superfly, I was also fond of 1950’s Bible epics like Ben Hur, The Egyptian and The Ten Commandments. Those films were strewn with pharaohs, shepherds, Romans and Hebrews. (I guess there were harlots in them too, but these were G-rated movies, so a five-year-old couldn’t tell.) I began to put two and two together. So, there were hookers in the times of the pharaohs and the shepherds, huh? A picture began to form in my mind. For years after that, I walked around imagining bearded men in caftans, carrying staffs through the scorching desert and passing by women, who were in pumps and purple, Saran-Wrap mini-skirts, twirling chains from their hips.


One thing I did have in common with the other kids was that I loved Superheroes. I watched every cartoon and live-action show on the air. I wore the pages out on my Marvel Comic Books. I wore whatever Underoos Mom would buy me for my birthday. The Hall of Justice and the Legion of Doom had timeshares on my heart. Linda Carter was a goddess as Wonder Woman: her invisible jet (but you could still see her in it, so what was the point?), her golden lasso, her bulletproof bracelets, and don’t forget that twirl for those costume changes (I used to wonder, if you pulled her out of the pyrotechnics, mid-twirl, would she be naked?). The Wonder Twins were a vision of metamorphosis and possibilities in life. I would have traded all my siblings in lock, stock and barrel to have Christopher Reeves as my older brother. Now, I didn’t feel that way about every superhero, mind you. While I would certainly watch Batman, Adam West had love handles, so I considered him inadequate, and Robin was just a twerp no matter which way you sliced him. But Captain Marvel! Now that was a Man.

Some rippling guy named John Davey played him on the series Shazam!, which ran for three seasons before going into reruns. The show was about a teenage boy and his Mentor, who traveled in a Winnebago to wherever there was trouble. Whenever they saw things getting out of hand, the teenager just had to shout, “Shazam!,” and The World’s Mightiest Mortal, Captain Marvel, would dive from the sky to save the day (if you looked hard enough, you could see strings attached). Then all the characters would stand dumbfounded at how well everything worked out. As if that weren’t enough, at show’s end, Captain Marvel would make an encore to deliver a Public Service Announcement, which always gave you one to grow on.

I never missed a Shazam! rerun. John Davey was too good to pass up. (By the way, I just Googled him and couldn’t find anything he did after Shazam!.) He had a torso like an iceberg, which that nylon suit did nothing to hide. Man, they knew what they were doing in Wardrobe. All across America, teenyboppers were dropping issues of Tiger Beat to tune in. I was probably the only boy on the block, though, who was planning my wedding to John Davey.

Not that I could tell my brothers this. One Saturday morning, I wanted to be alone with Captain Marvel. Our basement’s red and black argyle-patterned carpet was burning my bare legs as I geared up for the weekly Shazam! episode under our red plastic-plated ceiling lamps. I dressed up for the occasion in tan short shorts and a black t-shirt that featured a Crocodile holding a tennis racket. The theme song started up. And, wouldn’t you know, my brothers Kerry and Kevin just had to come down to join me.

I paid them no mind and trained my attention on John Davey instead. It must have been a splendid episode. I remember jumping to my feet and giving it a rousing ovation. A Tide commercial came on. Kevin was curling the twenty pound dumbbells that Dad had bought at Sportmart that week and Kerry was counting his chin-ups on the chin-up bar that he’d fastened in the doorway to our workroom.

Shazam! came back on. It was time for Captain Marvel to give his PSA. I stood at attention. Captain Marvel flew down from the sky, landing squarely on his feet. “Hi,” he said. In an instant, I summoned all that I had learned from the women in Shaft, Foxy Brown, and countless other bad-influence movies. I shifted my weight to my left leg, put my hand on my left hip, cocked my head to the right and, simulating the way those women in those movies twirled their chains, started twirling my right index finger. Then, instead of saying hi back to Captain Marvel, I did him one better and I said “Hoy-oy-oy-oy.”

The room fell silent. Kevin put down the dumbbell. Kerry let go of the chin-up bar. They looked at each other. They looked at me. Within three seconds, our house shook with laughter.

Twirling one’s index finger and saying, “Hoy-oy-oy-oy,” became standard greeting among the kids in our house. I never told them that I had adapted the gesture from the night moves of ladies of the evening and that, when I first used it, I was trying to seduce Captain Marvel.

By the mid-Eighties, my sister Colleen had an executive position in the public-relations department of a bank on LaSalle Street. Like other members of my family, she had grown so accustomed to twirling her finger and saying “Hoy-oy-oy-oy” that she had even begun using the salutation among her colleagues in corporate America. Soon they were twirling their fingers and saying “Hoy-oy-oy-oy” to each other too.

In 1989, I pulled some strings and, though I was underage, landed a part-time job as a messenger for Record Copy Services, which was also on LaSalle Street next door to where Colleen worked. One afternoon, I walked into her office building’s lobby with a package for a law firm. As I stood at the elevator bank, I observed one woman in a navy blue business suit stepping off an elevator. She seemed to recognize another woman walking toward her in a similar business suit.

“Jane,” the woman called out. “Mary,” the other woman responded. Then they both twirled their fingers and said, “Hoy-oy-oy-oy.” I looked down at the lobby’s marble floor and quickly boarded the elevator. I didn’t have the nerve to tell the two businesswomen that they were acting like hookers.

Kyle Thomas Smith is the author of the novel 85A (Bascom Hill, 2010)He lives in Brooklyn with his husband Julius and his cats, Marquez and Giuseppe.

Congratulations, Ellen and Portia!

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on August 17, 2008

Ellen DeGeneres and Portia DeRossi got married!

The ceremony took place in Ellen’s house in California.

I don’t know much about Portia, but Ellen is one of my favorite people in the world. I’m a longtime fine.

I’m so glad she got married – even if her union doesn’t qualify as a marriage in Barack’s (or McCain’s) eyes.

(See my last blog, “Selling Us Down the River, Barack?,” for more about my views on that:

Congratulations, Ellen and Portia!

Selling Us Down the River, Barack?

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on August 17, 2008

Tonight, we stayed in and caught some of the Faith Forum on CNN.

There’s Barack, courting votes and racking up applause at Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church by pronouncing, “Marriage is between a man and a woman.”

(Remember during the 2004 Vice-Presidential Debates when Barack’s compatriot John Edwards went one better than Barack by saying, “Marriage is between a man and a woman, period.” Almost four years later, at the Democratic primaries, Edwards shuddered as he stated how difficult it was for him to concede even civil unions to gay couples. A few months after that, the lid was blown off just how much Edwards honors the very institution of marriage that he wishes to exclude gays from sharing with his more righteous set.)

Another sell-out sound byte from Barack, “I’m not someone who promotes gay marriage.”

He capped off his defense of civil unions by saying that hospitals should allow gay partners to visit each other “whether I personally agree with it or not.” The “it” is homosexuality – whether or not it’s morally right to be in a same-sex partnership. And, by the tone and context of his statement, he was trying to reassure evangelicals that he doesn’t believe gay relationships are right.

As far as I can tell, Barack, you’re no better than McCain on this issue. Not now, that is. It wasn’t always like this.

I used to love you, but you’ve steadily lost my respect.

You’ve deeply offended me.

85A Log: Ellen Page, Fox News, SLC Punk!, Barack Obama

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on July 10, 2008

So, I told myself I wanted to keep a blog of my incremental progress on 85A. I have a feeling, though, that I’d just keep keying in, “It’s coming along.” Don’t know how much more I can say about the book without handing out plot-spoilers.

I will tell you that I want Seamus to be the anti-Juno. Now, he’s smart in his own right-brain sort of way. His vocabulary is a little more advanced than your average 15-year-old’s. He’s even perceptive and precocious. But he’s naive and bewildered by the world around him, unlike in-crowd teenybopper Juno, who talks and acts like she’s been around more blocks than most merchant marines.

Ellen Page - Hard Candy

Ellen Page - Hard Candy

(I’m still working out my grudge against Ellen Page in therapy. I first saw her when Hard Candy came out in theaters in 2005. Her Little Miss Smarty-Pants routine was so obnoxious, I walked out of the Angelika halfway through the movie. Then I decided that wasn’t very Buddhist of me, so I rented it on DVD, hoping I wouldn’t hate her so much on that go-round. Nope! Didn’t work that time either. Kept wanting her to get killed. Juno was even worse. If you ever want to torture me to death, tie me to a chair, just like she did with that guy in Hard Candy, and put a bunch of teenage girls in front of me who talk just like her. Suffice it to say, my beautiful Seamus will NOT talk like Ellen Page.)

Stevo - SLC Punk

Stevo - SLC Punk

But Seamus is a character whom Stevo in SLC Punk! would call a poseur and might even try beating up. See, Seamus isn’t into punk because he loves hard-core. He’s into it because he’s angry and dejected and it’s one of the closest things to English culture his green little anglophile mind can conceive. Stevo has no love for limies or any American who acts like them.

Set in January 1989, two days after the inauguration of George Herbert Walker Bush, Seamus rails against Reagan, Bush and America in ways that will keep me (his creator) out of the White House for life. Good! I don’t want the job. And I give Obama all the credit in the world for standing up under all this heat. There’s no inhumanity too base for Fox News and its proponents to commit. (After all the lies and deceits of the past 8 years, does anyone still regard them as a credible news source?) I was punching holes in my office walls after I saw the video (see above) that sent around yesterday about how Fox is treating Michelle. Then I had to ask myself, “Are you surprised?”

Rather than ruining my own knuckles and health over the racist, fear-mongering trash Fox’s been talking since its inception, I now choose to instead put my hands together and bow to Obama like I do to my statue of the Buddha. He has been an aikido master throughout his whole campaign, letting his opponents’ every jab ram straight into the emptiness from whence it came. I wish I had that much cool. Some of my best moments each day are when I click on to RealClearPolitics and find that Barack is still ahead in the polls.

Last night over pizza at Two Boots, Julius told me, “I’d hate to say it, but, if Barack does become the next president, I don’t think it’ll be so much because he won the election but because McCain lost the election.” I knew what he meant. If the Bush administration hadn’t been such a dismal, sociopathic failure, would the country that reelected a war criminal in 2004 elect a black humanitarian in 2008? Methinks the answer would be, no. But, either way, the important thing is that he does become our next president. He will do so much to repair our international relations, race relations, our collapsing economy, and other domestic discords.

Is Obama perfect? No. I’m still pissed that he capitulated with the rest of the democrats on warrantless wiretapping. (That was the last capitulation I would stand from those side-with-and-then-blame-Bush wimps. I withdrew my Democrat status at that moment and became an independent.) Even though Barack is in favor of civil unions and gay rights, he maintains that, “Marriage is between a man and a woman.” (He declared that like it was law and did not elaborate.) To which I respond, “Not when it’s a gay marriage.” Why does he feel the need to defend these benighted and exclusionary definitions? All that aside, he’s an amazing man, an amazing writer, an amazing speaker, and I’m sure he’ll prove to be an amazing president. If we elect Barack, for the first time in his life, Seamus would be proud of his country. (I mean, if he weren’t a fictional character, that is.)

Another thing I fear about 85A is that readers might take Seamus’ statements about race the wrong way. He wants racial unity and racial harmony with all his soul, but he comes from a racist home and a racist neighborhood in a segregated city and, at 15, he has yet to unlearn a lot of his preconceptions about immigrants, gays and non-whites. However, his best friend Tressa – a black teen prodigy and theater artist – does a lot to help him dismantle that mentality and see more things than he’d ever see without her.

So, anyway, 85A is coming along and, I’m happy to report, so is Barack.

Derek Jarman, 85A, and Jihad

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on May 29, 2008

Derek Jarman

Hey, everyone. Did you see the arts section of Sunday’s New York Times? There’s a big piece on the life of filmmaker Derek Jarman called “Gay, Punk and Ever the Provocateur.” The reporter laments that, despite his prolificness and genius, Jarman never quite became a household name. I have to admit, I didn’t know who he was either until the reporter ran down his list of films – Sebastiane (1976), Jubilee (1977), The Angelic Conversation (1985),The Garden (1990), Edward II (1991), and Wittingstein (1993) – and I realized I’d seen all of them.

Sebastiane Cover

My partner Julius loves Sebastiane and owns the DVD, but, to me, it seems like an excuse for cockshots and lurid, homoerotic reinterpretations of religious motifs – plus, that pig scene, ugh! – just like his portrayal of a gay Jesus in The Garden. See that cover up there? And that’s just the foreplay!


But Jubilee and Edward II were a gold standard for both punk and queer cinema. Jarman sure got in on the ground floor of punk with Jubilee. Can’t wait to see Isaac Julien’s documentary on Jarman called Derek, which premiered at Sundance in January and will be at MOMA from June 9 to June 16. It covers Jarman’s life from the 1940’s until his death from AIDS complications in 1994.

Speaking of Gay Punk Iconoclasts, I have been laboring over a new piece called “85A.” Set in Chicago after George H.W. Bush’s inauguration in 1989, it explores the mind of a Johnny Rotten-obsessed 15-year-old from a racist home and neighborhood, who is flunking out of Catholic school, dreams of moving to England, has a black-punk paramour-mentor named Tressa, and has an affair with his therapist Dr. Strykeroth, whom his parents sent him to, largely to correct his gay leanings. If the story keeps unraveling the way it has been, I’m going to be strangled by my own plot twists. But, hey, it beats the hell out of writer’s block!

Julius and I went to see A Jihad for Love at IFC on Sunday. Man alive, Catholic guilt’s got nothing on this! Kind of like in Trembling Before G-d, which portrayed the struggle of gays in the Orthodox Jewish community, almost all those filmed in Jihad had their faces blurred. Some openly condemned themselves for the very condition that they wished for members of their faith community to accept. Then the film shows the inside of the prison where the 52 men busted for sodomy in Egypt (really, most of them had only been at a gay party on a Nile liner) in 2001 were sentenced to three additional years in prison after having already  served a one-year sentence. The courts shrouded each convict in white hoods like Klansmen – it was enough to give you nightmares. They interviewed one guy who managed to escape his sentence and flee to Paris, where the French government granted him refugee status. They never said how he broke out, though. Julius suspects there was some sort of bribery involved that the filmmaker could not mention without someone back in Egypt getting killed. That being said, it was informative, brave, heartrending and well worth the trip to the Village.