control of the spit

Warning!  This post may not be appetizing.  Read at your own risk.

Living in large urban areas, it’s not uncommon to see someone (usually men) spit.  Most of us handle unwanted bocal fluids differently than spitting on a public sidewalk.  When I see someone spitting where I walk, I’m prompted to ask them why they couldn’t at least take it curbside rather than the middle of the walkway.  But I don’t, because I quickly remind myself that I missed getting nominated to the police spit control squad.

Spitting was normal during the Middle Ages in all levels of society.  In fact, it was considered bad form if you had to spit and didn’t.  Gradually, over the next few hundred years, spitting became less socially acceptable.  By 19th century Europe, spittoons were common as the place where one should expectorate.  Eventually, spittoons too became disgusting.  But that sure doesn’t mean we’ve stopped spitting.

Little kids playing outdoor sports, boys particularly, will spit.  Some sports lend themselves to spitting, like baseball and soccer where spittle can fly anywhere on the playing field.  For these boys and men, expectoration is born out of habit, not a need.  Basketball players don’t spit on the court.

I grew up around a few expert spitters, always amazed at how they could generate consistent saliva suitable for liquid pellets.  These guys spit just to spit.  Thankfully most of us grow out of the habit.  We’ve come to realize that, unless we are in the woods or the bathroom, it’s rude and offensive to hack and spit in the presence of others.

The urge to spit does not result from a need to expel pure saliva.  The need to spit usually involves phlegm or mucus.  We produce mucus as a defense mechanism.  It’s not present in a completely healthy organism.   We tend to generate phlegm when we have colds or a flue.  Smokers tend to generate phlegm as the airways rebel against the smoke.

I’d be lying if I said I never spit.  Every so often, probably as a result of the radiation effects, my esophagus feels like it turns into a mini-oyster farm.  There’s really nothing more distasteful than hacking up an oyster only to swallow it.  It would be ideal to always have tissue at the ready, but when the little towelettes are not around, those cohesive blobs of mucus that end up in the mouth are better off given flight.  The issue is how and where.  Sometimes it’s a discreet duck between two parked cars hurling the expectoration at a speed which makes the act hard to detect.  But at that velocity it can be heard.

Now though, when I’m suddenly gripped with the urge to expectorate, I can relax knowing I’ve got plenty of company.   The country where I’ve moved is a spitters paradise.

Years ago, when I first took the famed Star Ferry across the harbor from Kowloon to Hong Kong Island, I was struck by the sign on the boat which read “no spitting.”  I thought it might mean ‘off the boat’ (that too), but the sign was to remind the locals not to let loose onto the wooden deck.  “No spitting” is written into their boat rules and regs.

Upon entering the park where I visit every morning, there is a large sign of park rules and regulations.  Luckily they have a version in English.  Rule #1 is, “No Spitting.”  Imagine, no spitting in a park, full of grass, trees, plants and water.  Further down the list of rules is “no arguing or raising a ruckus.”  I’ve never heard anyone arguing, at least not at 6:30 in the morning, but from the fresh wads of expectoration on the paved walking path, it’s clear that not many heed rule #1.  Why the spitters can’t aim their expectorations into the brush and off the walking path is beyond reason.

And it’s not just men who hack and spit.  It’s not uncommon to see (and hear) women heave a loud “haaarrrk” and let loose in the street, or sidewalk, or where ever they might be.  In fact, a walk on the street would seem eerie without hearing the hacking and hurling of spit, which is performed with purpose, the perpetrators not holding back on sound effects.

There are definitely less desirable human and animal by-products which end up on the sidewalks so it pays to watch where you step no matter where you are.  During the last few months though, it’s evident I’ve been feeling a little freer about sending forth unwanted buccal matter.  As I head back into my home culture for a visit, even though there are a fair share of loose cannons, I may need practice boning up to maintain good spit control.

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