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.