Saliva Slinging Southerners

May 9, 2010


I’ve learned to tolerate many things since moving to the South almost eight years ago. Although I refuse to say it, I’ve accepted that “y’all” is actually a word. I’ve acquiesced to the fact that, no matter what kind of soda I order at a restaurant, the server will always refer to it as “Coke”. I’ve learned to live with the restriction that, under no circumstances, am I to mention to Civil War, and I’ve even been known to eat my fair share of grits. But one thing that I’ll never accept is Southerner’s obsession with spitting.

I’ve lived several different places in this country with varied cultures and peoples, but never have I lived or even visited a place where people are so pre-occupied with ejecting saliva out from their mouths. When I first moved to Atlanta and noticed all the spitters (men, women, children and even the elderly) I retracted my initial urge to label them all as inbreed rednecks and tried to rationalize their need for flinging their spit on anything that wasn’t moving and, in some cases, even mobile objects.

At first I thought it had something to do with the humidity. Then I remembered my stint in humidity-stricken Miami Beach and how no one there spat. So, that theory was thrown out.

Then I hypothesized  that it was the large amounts of pollen in the air in Atlanta and it was some Southern way of dealing with allergies. I quickly learned from a native-Atlanta friend of mine that pollen neither induces spitting nor are allergies alleviated by it.

So, why oh why oh why-o do so many Southerners spit? My question went unanswered until I went on my latest work site visit and then a small run of insomnia.

During construction of any project, architects visit the site to ensure the contractors are building everything according to our drawings and answer any questions that come up in the field. Usually these are amicable meetings between rationale adults full of polite conversation and positive group dynamic. That’s not the case on my current project. During my site visits there is more cursing that in both “48 Hours” movies combined and we usually end up walking the site in total silence. As was the case this past week.

I was walking along with my boss, the client, the contractor and a few engineers; all native Southerners (for the relationship dynamic between architects and engineers, read Gerunds and Present Participles). Out of the blue and with no warning, one of them haucked a huge phlegm globber and spat it right in the my path of travel. Disgusted by his lack of couth and afraid of having his saliva come in contact with the bottom of my shoe, I stepped out of the way and proceeded along an alternate path.

This happened four more times.

Just as I was about to grab him by his Carhart overalls and tell him that if he spat in my general direction again that I was going to kick his ass up and down the Mason Dixon Line, I saw the contractor spit in front of the client, forcing the client to change his direction of travel. Then my boss spat and one of the engineers turned and walked another way.

The rest of the site visit I ignored what everyone was saying about the buildings and the site and instead focused on the well choreographed dance before me between these Southern bubbas and their spit. But I still couldn’t understand why they were doing it. That was, until a few nights later.

I was up late, not able to sleep, so I went into the living room to watch some Animal Planet. I don’t know why, but there’s something about watching a lioness track down a wildebeest or a crocodile stalk its prey that puts me right to sleep. There was a program on about a group of endangered monkeys in some remote landscape with some very unusual social habits. These monkeys, in order to establish a plot of land as their own smear their own feces on trees and bushes to create a smelly perimeter aimed at keeping other simians out of their space.

I was filled with disgust as they wiped their butts and rubbed it on anything within reach. And then I watched in amazement as other monkeys approached the shit-laden objects, smelled the owners excrement and actually backed away, looking for another grassy spot to claim as their own.

Then it all came together in my head like a jigsaw puzzle. The Southerners on my site visit were like that remote tribe of primates, but instead of using their own shit, they marked their territory with spit.

So, even though homo sapiens have evolved over the millennia into the most powerful and intelligent creatures on the planet, it’s that three percent of DNA which separates us from our primate ancestors that’s the most important. Without it, I could have spent that site visit not just dodging spit bombs, but covered in shit.

My advice to Saliva Slinging Southerners: Help support Charles Darwin and the theory of evolution and stop what you’re doing. Separate man from beasts and keep your saliva in your mouth where it belongs.

My advice to everyone else: The next time someone spits in front of you, jump up and down, bang your fists on your chest and do your best King Kong impression. Maybe if they don’t appreciate you acting like a monkey’s uncle, they’ll think twice before acting like on, too.

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