In the old days part of the masculine personality was formed by barber shops, which were an exclusively male preserve. Boys got to observe how men behaved apart from the civilizing presence of women. Getting a haircut (before you qualified for a shave) was being admitted to the non-effeminacy clubhouse as a very junior and silent member. One of the important things we learned was friendly masculine abuse. One guy would ask another, “Is that your real face, or did your neck just vomit?” We also learned the difference between a deliberate and accidental “spew.”
Growing up before women’s liberation, I was not aware that some women might want to chew and spit tobacco. I went once with my mother to a beauty parlor. For some of the women it appeared to be the Last Chance Salon. The joint was filled with women and nice smells. So far as I could see, there was not a single spittoon in the place. However, the old-time barbershop had a spittoon at every chair. A boy learned very quickly not to get between a spitter and his spittoon. On this issue women were, so to speak, outside the main stream. The marvel of my boyhood was a gat-toothed fellow who, with considerable force and accuracy, could deliberately produce a nicotine spew through the gap in his front teeth. My life has been immeasurably enriched by watching half-chewed cigars trying to swim upstream in brass spittoons.
For a number of years I lectured on church history just before lunch and regularly offered my students the following insight: There are two views of history. One is the Big Lump Theory. The Big Lump Theory holds that history is like a dog’s dinner in which separate pieces of incompletely digested matter are returned to the upper air connected only loosely with a pearly slime. The second view is the Steady Stream Theory. The Steady Stream Theory holds that history is like a spittoon which receives contributions from many sources. However, if you choose to swallow those contents, you will be unable to stop anywhere because they go down your throat in a steady stream with, of course, a few glugs on the larger pieces.
The chief purpose of this lecture was to study the correlation between ministerial competence and the gag reflex, but I think I must discard this illustration because lamentably most of my students today have never seen a spittoon. My lecture schedule will recover from the loss of the spittoon image, but I can’t think how people who have never seen or smelled a spittoon in action can possibly understand the dire divine threat to the church in Laodicea: “I know your works; you are neither cold not hot. Would that you were cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will SPEW you out of my mouth” (Rev. 3:15-6 RSV).