The Secret World of Spitters, or, “I spit, therefore I am…”

In which the Elegant Bastard offers what he feels can be the only sympathetic explanation for the behavior of those unable to refrain from spitting messily and repeatedly wherever the rest of us want to walk.

Whatever it is the world waits for, I do not think it waits for these. They stand in a rough circle just outside the school fence on ground infested by weeds and punctuated by ant hills. They are seven in number, all male. Two are so skinny as to be threatened by the passing breeze, three are too hefty to be healthy and the last two are short enough that any observant male knows that inwardly they bleed.

They have attempted to play the peacock but do not do it well. Their hair is lacquered into stegosaurus spikes, their jeans are playing dangerously with gravity and their slouch, intended to intimidate, only brings to mind a dying tree I need to hurry home and transplant.

They do little except spit. First one, and then another, and then a third, as if some strange baton is being passed. There is a pause and then it goes around their little circle yet again. I think about the synonyms for “spit”: gob, hoick, hork, hock a loagie. None of these are elegant terms or even pleasant on the ear. Nor does the act itself convey any suggestion of skill or real purpose. Just hork up a ball of mucus-laced saliva and fire away! This is not the stuff of Olympic glory. So why do they persist?

I can recall my mother spitting on an iron to ensure that it was ready. My father would spit upon his handkerchief before wiping the remains of some unfortunate bug from the windshield of his prized Rambler. But  each of them was expert at all tasks and never had to spit a second time.

I begin to wonder why these young men spit so obsessively, so sloppily and so often. And since I have a curious mind, fifteen minutes left of lunch and a memo to avoid reading – all that is necessary for serious scientific research – I decide to observe and listen. The (edited) transcript is as follows:

 “Don’t furk with me! Pffft! She what?” Hork! Pffft!

“Furk you.  Pffft. She did. You furking calling me a furking liar? Hork Pfft!

“Wow, Dude, you’re furking with my head!” Pffft! “Furk me!” Hork! Pffft!

“Hey, Furk head,” Hork Pffft! “Give me a furking fag.” Hork. Pffft!

This dialogue repeats as more or less an endless loop, the “she” referring to either women they don’t know or cars they don’t have. They then move on to new subjects: gays (all furking losers); women (all furking whores) and even the weather, which is predictably furking bad. Accompanying these verbalisms is endless and sincere crotch scratching. Add this to the repeated feigned (I hope!) grabs or knee thrusts at the crotches of others in the circle and one has reason to be thankful that saliva is the only bodily fluid being expelled.

They sense my presence and turn. I see their faces. If sneers were were works of art, these seven are collectively the Louvre. Finding me unimportant, they turn back to each other.  Hork. Pffft!

There is a kind of ritualistic element to it all, a kind of silly dance but without the Cleesian wit and subtle grace. Each will angle his head to spit behind or to the side, never directly at the male he addresses. The phlegm is directed downwards. Hands are in the belt loops or the sagging waistband. On rare occasions, the spitter will face forward but the spittle will land between his own feet. I sense there is an element of aggression here, linked in some way to the head butting contests between great horned beasts, only without the horns.

I am reminded of the opening scene in Romeo and Juliet when the servants of the rival Montague and Capulet families come together, and wonder how it would go in this context:

 “Do you spit at us, sir?” Pffft!

“I do spit, sir!” Pffft!

“And do you spit at me, sir?Pffft

“No, sir, I do not spit at you, sir.” Pffft! “ But I spit, sir!”Pffft

 And so on, ad infinitum …

If there is any resemblance to events in the animal kingdom, it would perhaps be to dogs endlessly marking territory, an action notably lacking in grace or heroic potential and lasting only until the next dog. Even the ants seem unimpressed.

What, then, does the winner – if any – win? I look around. There are no women about to be impressed, and if one walks by, the spitting stops. No praise is offered by peers. No one compliments another’s loagie: its size, its colour, the sound it makes when it strikes the ground. There doesn’t even seem to be a verbal trophy given for accuracy, as in “Hey, Dude, Firking Cool! Ya got that ant.” Hork! Pffft!

If there is no contest, perhaps there is an intricate pattern outsiders cannot discern, an ancient shared secret valued only by the group, and requiring the careful saturation of a specific piece of ground in a specific way. Are my casual and profane eyes rudely invading some tribal rite? (That thought disappears when one of the tribe puts his finger alongside one nostril and fires a ball of snot on to the sacred ground. There are no protests.)

Are they simply soggier than others of their species? Do some males just suffer from the accumulation of excess liquid and therefore require more frequent excretory moments than the rest of us?

I understand the need of an athlete to spit after a long contest or an extraordinary feat of endurance. But other than the effort spent in spitting itself, the only athleticism I’ve seen here is the raising of cigarettes to lips, followed by the tins of “Red Bull”, and once again the cigarettes.

I realize, too, that it is not only this group exhibiting this behavior. In configurations of two or more – in parking lots, in subway stations, in shopping malls, on streets, on beaches, in parks and even in shared hallways – they spit, and spit and spit again. What can it mean for surely it means something?

The bell rings. Lunch is drawing to its close and I realize I need to rush to both class and a conclusion. Then suddenly, as I crumple up the unread memo and turn towards the school, a vague epiphany nibbles at the edge of my consciousness. I shake my head. But yet? No! Still …? And I wonder if you, Dear Reader, have also even briefly entertained the same suspicion.

Let us review:

  1. The act of public spitting occurs largely in male-only groups.
  2. The presence of women or authority figures inhibits performance.
  3. The words “expectorate” and “ejaculate” have eerie similarities.
  4. The associated vocabulary, the attendant hand gestures and the crotch fixation have obvious overtones.
  5. Participants face each other in a circle.

I arrive at the school’s front door. Behind me I can hear the group of seven raise its voice in a raucous high-pitched lingering … cheer. I tell myself that I am wrong, that despite the evidence, nothing amusing or ironic is happening beyond the fence. They are simply spitting.

But grinning as I am, I do not turn around.








The Sensual Shave

In which the Elegant Bastard notices that the world and time, both too much with us, can sometimes be set aside.

The clock screams six short fast insults that follow me out of the bedroom.

I have a 9 a.m.meeting.

And …

A breakfast to swallow, trains to chase, words to scan, a shirt to button … damn … a stain … another set of buttons, attachments to download, a four-pawed bowel whimpering that it needs to be emptied, now! … a counter to clean, a slow-cooker to pack, promises to keep, miles to go …

And …

I have to shave ….

Already 6:05

 With a quick squirt here, and a fast scrape there, here some blood, there a rash, everywhere a fast-building-close-to-the-bone-need-and-desire-to SCREAM:

“I hate shaving!”

But another voice tells me to be quiet and in response to the pressure of a palm pressed firmly against my back, I stumble into the small bathroom.

It is 6:15

The room is almost dark. A row of small flickering candles has been lit and they send soft shadows rippling up the walls, over the ceiling, and, as I feel my shirt unbuttoning again, across and down my chest – all delicate motions that seem to move with the muted strains of Orinoco Flow coming from some distant source. My watch is being removed and I try for a quick worried glimpse of its face but I am too late and it disappears.

I glance down.

Two bottles of oil are raised before my face – one is tarragon scented, the other sandalwood, and then the cover of an elegant black pot is removed, revealing a rich white cream that adds a hint of lavender. A brush appears, dry and soft, and something sends my nose thrusting forward deeply into its circle of supple hairs. And I breathe.

My eyes open and I catch a flash of fire. It is my father’s old straight razor, sharpened and glinting, its bone handle and cutting edge set at 45 o, as if fixed in a dangerous grin. Then hands wave in front of me. The razor disappears and then reappears, now straight, and it is laid before me.

“Sail away, sail away, sail away …”

I feel four fingers draw slow circles across my cheeks and chin and down my throat, and with soft strokes they oil the surface of my skin a first time, and then again and once again before they pause. Steam rises from the basin, and the brush returns and soon a thick cream overlays the oil, creating a white mask from the base of my throat to the curve of my cheek bones. When I glance in the mirror, eyes I have not seen before gaze back.

The blade rises ….

“from Bali to Cali far beneath …”

 … and rests its edge upon my cheek; at this touch and promise, anticipation stirs.

A first smooth downward stroke, so light, and a little of the mask is gone. The blade slows. The naked skin by candle glows. Another stroke and then one more. A third,  and once again I have an upper lip, and this now curves itself into a smile.

“we can steer, we can near …”

 Now my chin is gently raised, revealing the still white expanse of my untouched throat. I can no longer see the blade but I feel its coolness at my jugular, its slow descent, its touch again and down again, and over and over and over until I am released and I stare. The mask has been removed but for a few thin white lines that, with the eyebrows and the eyes, now set themselves into the smiling shape of what might be sin.

“… hear the power of Babylon …”

 A pool of water gathers. I bow towards cupped hands and the wet warmth washes upwards once, then twice and then a third time. Now in the mirror all traces of the mask are gone.

Wet fingers tap the candles one by one.

And still it is only 7:00. A new song has begun.

“If I lay here / If I just lay here …”

Together we peel an orange and we eat it slowly, piece by piece. We see the sun has not yet risen, but bodies (more than candles) cast their own sufficient light.

“Would you lie with me / And just forget the world?”

 It’s true, I know, that Time’s chariot has great and noisy wheels, not easily ignored and not to be forgotten. We are none of us Gods. And shaving, some would say, is only shaving.

Still, we are rulers of our own empires, poets of our own songs, and it is in our power to set aside the time to make the commonplace erotic. I would not say, “I shave, therefore I am.”  But with a smile I would agree that there are there are rituals done well only when they are done slowly.