A Signature Move

A SIGNATURE MOVE

Certainly Kareem Abdul Jabbar had one, but so did Richard Nixon and the Lone Ranger.

I first saw Jabarr’s signature move when he was still Lewis Alcindor a skinny 7’2” high school basketball phenom. It was 1964 and his Power Memorial team was in Rhode Island for a tournament. I snuck in to the first few minutes of their practice at Alumni Hall on the Providence College campus. Early on in the intrasquad scrimmage Alcindor gracefully dribbled through the key, turned his left shoulder towards the hoop, raised his right arm in a high arc and flicked the ball, seemingly on a downward trajectory, into the basket. It was the shot that became known as his “sky hook”. As first Alcindor, then Jabbar after his conversion to Islam, he tortured all opponents with this signature move until his retirement from the NBA in 1989 finishing as the all-time leading scorer in the league. I still cringe at the memory of Jabarr’s sky hook over High Henry Finklel that eliminated my Celtics from the 1971 playoffs.

Our 37th president Richard Nixon’s signature move was so identifiable that the comedian/impressionist Rich Little made a fortune incorporating it into his act. In moments of exuberance Nixon would transform himself into an array of “V”s. Arms outstretched in a wide vector, middle and index fingers of both hands forming victory signs, he appeared to be relishing the conquest of his oft imagined enemies. Yet, strangely in the midst of this celebratory gesture Nixon’s head seem retracted, almost turtled into his shoulders. Even in his finest moments he appears to want to distance himself from close contact. Cartoonist captured this signature move on a nearly daily basis in newspapers and magazines.

Can having a signature move give one a competitive advantage? Just look at the Lone Ranger versus Hop-A-Long Cassidy television cowboys from the 1950’s. People still recall the Lone Ranger looking heroic as his white steed reared majestically on its rear hooves as his master commanded, “Heigh, ho, Silver, away!”. A signature move if there ever was one. Hop-A-Long on the other hand just quietly left the room and is now no more than a vague memory.

Is it possible for a person to have more than one signature move or is that a contradiction of the term? When Jackie Gleason would freeze frame his large body into his famous “quick exit” pose while enthusing, “And away we go!”, it was a signal to his audience that more hilarious hijinks were just around the corner.
However, his other signature move was a sinister, now deeply offensive, caricature. As Ralph Kramden in “The Honeymooners” he would clench his fist, feign an uppercut as he threatened his wife with, “To the moon, Alice, to the moon.” . In retrospect these opposing signature moves actually captured the essence of this brilliant, but troubled, performer.

Two other signature moves are more heartfelt and came shrouded with mystery; Carol Burnett’s gentle tug of her left ear lobe and Jimmy Durante’s donning of his fedora as he headed towards the exit door while closing his show with the gravelly invocation, “Goodnight, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are.”

Burnett finally informed fans that her gesture was a secret greeting to her mother and Durante eventually confessed that Mrs. Calabash was a nickname for his wife who loved the sound of the name of the town Calabash in North Carolina.

I have difficulty coming up with more contemporary examples of signature moves perhaps because the passage of time is required for the moves to become embedded in the public consciousness. Miley Cyrus tweaking? Tim Tebow tebowing? (To cite two extremely disparate examples!) Neither is time tested enough to determine the staying power of their imprints.

Must a person be a celebrity, or at least fairly well known, in order to have a signature move? Makes me wonder, do I have a signature move?

A signature move, by definition, has to be the image people conjure up when they think picture you.

Hmmmn, at the Christmas parties put on by the company where I spent most of my career videos were often part of the celebrations. In fact some years I helped produce these mini-movies which gently poked fun at our company employees and company culture. One year the tables were turned and I became the subject. A “friend” portrayed me. Now, I admit I had a propensity to prefer face to face conversations at work rather than just dialing an office extension or sending an e-mail with my questions. I easily feel desk bound. Oh, yes, I also drink a great deal of coffee. So, my “impersonator” was filmed endlessly wandering the hallways of our building, listing forward at about a 3 degree angle, with a coffee cup in each hand.

Is this my signature move? Oh, well, I guess it is better than the uncontrollable loop at the top of my golf swing which causes all those nasty pull hooks.

“Goodnight, Mrs. Raftus, wherever you are.”

– End –

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