Lileks: What to make of a spitting citation in Minneapolis

  • Article by: JAMES LILEKS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 7, 2013 - 6:22 PM

A man was ticketed in Dinkytown for spitting. This is not a reprint of a story from 1901, when the paper was full of odd crime news. Horace Gunderson was arrested for harboring magpies in his breeches, that sort of thing. No, a fellow walking down the street this week whooped a loogie, and police driving past noted his high-velocity irrigation. Fine: $115.

In the most accurate use of the term ever, the story about a man with a cold spitting in public went “viral.” The news stories treated the item with amusement, as if things are so peaceable up in quaint Minnesota that the constables fine people for things like spitting and not putting bloomers on naked horse legs.

If you think the fine was excessive, and the fellow should have been given a meaningless citation, consider this: What are the chances he’ll spit again? Right. Good. It’s disgusting and completely voluntary. No one who’s sitting around the house suddenly bolts for the door because he feels a spit coming on and needs to get outside or the wife will kill him. I just did the floors. Sorry! I couldn’t help it!

It’s never been a sign of good manners, although society used to accommodate the practice; bars had buckets that sloshed with expectorate, lest the snuff-chewers just use the floor. The cuspidor waned from public spaces during flu and TB epidemics, and snuff-chewers were forced to go outside and spit 20 feet from the building entrance.

There’s no justification, but if you are stopped for spitting, try these excuses:

I was laughing and a man came up and threw a spoiled oyster in my mouth! It was that or botulism!

As God is my witness, officer, that ant was on fire. I couldn’t let him burn.

Seriously, I think I was punched by a ghost.

It’s not spitting. It’s “moist yawning.”

If word gets around that spitting costs good money, we might see less of it. But there’s the worry about false arrest, isn’t there? I’d ask for a trial, if only to see the officer testify that “he saw the defendant move his head in a motion consistent with the illegal release of personal fluids.” Your lawyer would ask whether they had any evidence, and when the cop said no, the sigh of relief from the jury would tell you that you’d won.

 

jlileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858

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