How do you type the sound from the movies of a guy spitting into a spittoon? You know the one in those Westerns – Grizzled guy in big hat, well-manicured mustache big enough to make you wonder if he has an upper lip, slimy rocket of maroon tobacco juice clanging into the rusty brass of the communal spit-pot on the floor.
Phhhh-TOONG? Does that sound right?
I’m going to run with it.
You might think that it is unlikely that this sound would have any application whatsoever to riding a train. And I wish you were right.
I should tell you that I debated how to start this story. The haunting echo of chaw-dribble hitting a metal receptacle? Or a simple question –
Have you ever chewed tobacco and eaten a yogurt parfait at the same time?
Something seemed off from the start. She slinked onto the train, her body contorted into a torso boomerang like her hair is too heavy for her neck and now she’s developed a bizarre posture – a mix between a Charlie Brown Christmas Special dance move and a pronounced hunchback. And she was wearing a sun dress with hiking boots.
She collapsed into the first seat she could reach (my seat), her ashen and papery skin unable to muffle the unmistakable sound of her bones scraping together. But it’s okay…she’s taking care of that calcium deficiency with a sizable yogurt parfait.
Yogurt Parfait – (n.) One of those plastic cups with vanilla yogurt, out of season berries, and some little crispy bits all mixed in.
Nothing out of the ordinary. The speed at which she ate the parfait on the other hand? Alarming. She lifted the parfait to her chin so she could operate the spoon like a speed bag, a dizzying blur of blue plastic and helpful bacteria. I was staring, I’m sure of it. It was hypnotically repetitive. A series of recurring steps (made more memorable by the fact that either her eyes were watering or she was uncontrollably sobbing).
1. Shovel yogurt at breakneck speed
2. When cheeks are visibly stretched so tight around the mass of parfait that the stunned man sitting next to you can make out the exact seed count of that raspberry, swallow yogurt.
3. Gasp for air.
After the final gasp, she tossed the plastic cup on the ground and I quickly turned away to pretend I wasn’t staring. Then I heard it.
I can’t look. I won’t look.
I have to know…
I casually turn forward to see her out of the corner of my eye. She has one of those metal water bottles with the screw cap and mountain climbing clip. The lid is off.
She’s spitting into the bottle. Phhhh-TOONG! Every time she spits into the tiny opening, the sound echoes off of the metal and into our shared space. Phhhh-TOONG!
I’m staring again. Only this time I notice the bulge in her lower lip. Massive. Almost comical.
I want to impress upon you that I was listening carefully to everything that transpired when my eyes were looking elsewhere. There wasn’t time for her to insert this wad of smokeless before the Phhhh-TOONG started. And there was no sound to match. She dumped the plastic cup, unclipped her water bottle, unscrewed the cap and starting spitting.
This long-cut, wintergreen tobacco infiltrated her palate throughout the entire Parfait Experience. Like sucking on a breath-mint and eating fruit salad…only nastier.
She cleared her mouth of the minty marinade and as she pulled the bottle from her mouth a single string of brown goo stretched between the mouth of the bottle and the mouth of the woman. And in true cowboy fashion, she wiped her arm across her mouth to clear the excess. Bear in mind that she is wearing that sun dress and she has no sleeves.
For 40 minutes, every spit-take was the same. Phhhh-TOONG! The tiny rope bridge of sludge stretching between mouth and bottle, wipe the excess on her bare, brittle-skinned forearm.
She got up and I got the full image: Scoliosis, tar slick slip’n’slide on her right arm, sun dress, hiking boots, tobacco related underbite. Metallic sloshing as she shuffles out of the train. An empty parfait cup left behind. The total package for the Wild, Wild West.