A week or so ago, I was stuck behind a long line of cars and trucks, waiting to merge onto the freeway. We sat there for quite awhile, feeling the bounce and buzz of traffic in the opposite lane speeding by.
The driver in front of me stuck his head out the window of his pick-up truck and spit on the tarmac. Then a funny thing happened. The driver in front of him—who had not observed the first expectoration—leaned out of his own sedan and spat too. During the ten minutes or so we sat there, edging minutely forward, they took turns spitting, perhaps half a dozen times in all.
Why do men spit? I thought about it as traffic got moving. I was still thinking about it when I exited to get gas. About a block and a half ahead of me, a solitary man strolled with his dog. I stared absently in their direction, not really focusing my eyes. Suddenly the man bent toward the curb…and spat.
Still pondering, I listened to a podcast of Fresh Air. Zack Hample, the guest, was a professional baseball fan (he writes books telling people how to improve their own fandom). The interviewer, Dave Davies, asked him why baseball players spit. It went with chewing tobacco, Hample said, a deeply male activity. Even though relatively few players chew these days, the habit of spitting lingers. Sort of a memento, I guess.
Last night two of my women friends visited. One is a great runner. I posed my question. “Yes, why do men spit?” she replied, equally perplexed. “I stopped running the Bay to Breakers [a San Francisco marathon] because of it. I’d be running between two of them and I kept getting hit in the eye. Yuck!”
My other friend had her mind on different things. She’d had a confusing experience with a man she’d known for a while. When she asked him what it meant, he’d given her a long, complicated, and completely uninformative answer.
“Isn’t that frustrating!” I said. “I don’t get men at all.”
“Neither do I,” she said.
As soon as I began to get exercised on her behalf, it popped right out: “I mean, why do men spit?”
Now this icky image is stuck in my head as the symbol of everything I find incomprehensible about so many of the opposite sex. Help!
I don’t want everyone to be the same, really I don’t. There are so many things I like about men: the way they bend down to a child’s height and make their voices gentle, the way they offer to help you with something heavy, or the way so many of them selflessly take on brutal work as an expression of love and support for their families—not to mention many things inappropriate to a G-rated blog. But there are other things I can’t begin to comprehend, and the more I think about them, the more the gap between Venus and Mars doesn’t seem big enough to contain my bafflement.
So help me out: what is it? Why do men spit? (Not all men, of course, but more than enough.) Do they have more saliva than women? Does something distasteful gather in their throats? Are they marking territory? I really need to know.