I’m writing this from an “eating bar” at gate A22, Dallas/Ft. Worth airport. Because I have a three hour layover, I sat down with my KFC popcorn chicken, an almond pretzel, and a diet Pepsi (airports are like carnivals to me—the diet flies right out the window and I eat everything I never eat at home)—and two men sat down on the other side of the eating bar, one to my left and one to my right.
Not wanting to be rude, I averted my eyes from their food and glanced to my far right, where a man was spitting into a garbage can. Yes, spitting. All I could think of was the poor person who had to empty that trash can. Yuck. I looked away quickly, having a personal aversion to spit and spittoon jokes, and then I couldn’t help but wonder—why do men spit all the time?
My father used to spit—he’d make this unique and gigantic sound that must have alerted all the other men within miles that he was about to launch a champion loogie, and then he’d crank down his car window and let it fly. In the back seat behind him, I’d duck from sheer reflex.
I remember thinking it was too bad when Dad finally got a car with power windows. Somehow that smooth gliding glass didn’t have the same anticipatory effect that his muscular cranking of the window did.
And when you speak of spitting, how can you help but think of baseball? I know it’s tradition because baseball players used to chew tobacco and spit out the, er, juice, but since tobacco in any form can cause cancer, most of the players have now switched to pistachio nuts (which have shells which require spitting) or bubble gum, but why anyone would want to spit out that juicy sugariness, I cannot imagine.
Anyway, I was sitting in the airport (still am, actually) meditating upon the male spitting ritual, so with no warning whatsoever fear I asked the two men across from me: “Why do men spit?”
Each of them looked at me with actual fear in their eyes. What, don’t strange women ever speak to them in the airport, or were they terrified because I had broken through the personal space bubble that’s supposed to protect people from nearby strangers?
The man to my left ignored me completely, quietly turning his body and moving his food out of cootie range. The man to my right was more good natured, and quickly responded: “Habit,” he said. A moment later he amended his answer: “Habit and Copenhagen.”
I nodded—that I understood. I mentioned something about my dad’s spitting, and the baseball players and their pistachio shells, but he didn’t say another word. He just looked away and kept munching on his McDonalds burger and fries.
As for me, in this situation, at least, I am happy to remain united with the league of Women Who Do Not Spit. Like them, when I feel something in my throat, I do not feel the urge to examine it, study it, measure it, or see how far I can fling it into public space. If it’s the result of a cough, I quietly swallow. If it’s part of the bay leaf I purposely put into the stew, I lift my napkin and gently deposit it among those pristine folds.
But I do not spit. And since I am now eating alone at this bar at Gate A22 at DFW, maybe I should refrain from bringing up the subject.