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Tucson Weekly Uh, Happy Halloween

And While We're At It, Feel Free To Spit!

By Jeff Smith

NOVEMBER 10, 1997:  IT BEING NOVEMBER these past few days, the timing augers well for my ode to October. I take a certain perverse pleasure in offering one of these a-topical tone poems, unsolicited and out of date.

But October of 1997 was a month of significant events, which one could not treat adequately without first applying the practiced eye of the reporter.

And no October day carries greater significance than the last day of my favorite month, October 31, Halloween. It's my boy Caleb's birthday, and not by accident of birth, either. Rocky Wright's mom, Shirley, always threw this huge party for Halloween, because she's a white witch and had a great house for parties. Through college and beyond, we decorated the place and celebrated with gusto. So when it came time for Barb's and my second child, and on account of the first was a c-section so the second had to be as well, and since the kid was due the first week of November but the doctor said we should yank it a little bit early and we could pick a day, well we both said Halloween, of course.

Which has always guaranteed Caleb a birthday the whole world celebrates.

Up until now. Last week I saw on CNN that some politically correct school board back east has 86'd Halloween from the curriculum or the extra-curriculum on religious grounds. Separation of church and state and all that. So the Great Pumpkin goes the way of the Christmas crèche and the Pilgrim Thanksgiving, and grammar schools all across the nation are stuck with a glut of orange construction paper.

Question: How are America's children going to learn anything about our culture if tight-assed educators eliminate every observance that has roots, however deeply or distantly, in the spiritual world?

Answer: We are becoming a nation without culture.

The second half of the CNN story told of yet another school district that has banned Halloween and taken the next logical step, by cutting out the custom of making and trading cards for Valentine's Day. It is, after all, Saint Valentine's Day. They're downsizing the observance and renaming it, scout's honor, Special Person's Day.

Isn't that special?

I guess the prevailing wisdom is that it's wrong to offend the six or eight surviving Rosicrucians by allowing our children to cut out jack-o'-lanterns and panhandle for candy, but it's fine to offend 270 million normal people who just thought we were showing the kids a good time.

Along this same troubled line of thinking, one notes the push to eliminate certain colorful place names that have been construed to give offense to the more delicate sensibilities of various classes of people.

I thought it was pretty rich when I heard that Sioux Falls, Iowa, was getting pressured to change its name, on the grounds that the founding fathers had misappropriated artifacts from another culture, to which they had no right, and that they compounded the affront by using a term the indigenous copyright-holders did not prefer (Sioux, rather than Dakota or Lakota--which, if true, why do they give a rat's ass about the Anglicized term anyway?) and while we're on the subject, whatever happened to the founding mothers, huh? And what's with this Anglicizing?

There's still no official language in America. And are we talking North America, including Canada, or what?

No end of mischief available here, so I had to get my licks in, and called Art Jacobson to let him know that in this self-same spirit, next year's Indianapolis 500 was being renamed The Native-Americanapolis 500. He just said that was a shame, but he was real busy and had to ring off.

Which is when I knew the whole thing had gone too far.

Anyway they're changing the road signs on I-17 north of Phoenix, near Black Canyon City. The old sign told you where to turn off for Squaw Peak. The new one will read: "Picacho de Native-American Significant Other."

If Stephen Vincent Benét were alive today he'd rather be dead.

But getting back to October, the month of the World Series--and don't even bring up the subject of Cleveland's nickname or its mascot or any of that--can anybody explain to me why baseball players spit so much, and what they do when they go home?

I know back in the days when baseball was still a game and George Will was an impressionable young lad, all the players and managers and many of their wives or significant others actually chewed tobacco. So they had to spit. Oh there were those few ironmen who swallowed, but they died young, their guts rotted and corroded like plumbing in a radiator shop, but none of it mattered a lot because the games were not yet televised and the only youth corrupted were those already inclined toward baseball and similar bad behavior.

The infancy of television brought the ugly spectacle of black spit and strings of dark brown drool dripping from the chins of our nation's heroes, but as television revenues and image-consciousness rose, chewing tobacco began to yield to bubble gum. Even nut-scratching all but ceased, as the boys of summer sought greater telegenicity.

But still they spit. Constantly.

The pitcher holds the ball in some secret grip behind his back, and steely-eyes the batter, who waves his wand of hickory in the October air and spits once, twice, thrice. Not to be outdone, the pitcher nods his acknowledgment of the catcher's signals, winds up, spits four times, waits while the catcher lifts his mask to spit one great big one...and hurls. Not like throwing-up hurl, I mean he throws the ball.

Meanwhile, the manager has been sitting on his ass in the dugout this whole time thinking. He thinks about statistics, laws of probability, the essence of managing a bunch of overgrown boys doing something intrinsically meaningless and boring. And he is spitting three to five times for every 15-second span of time the TV camera is on him. And it's not great black jets of disgusting tobacco juice and saliva, it's these little white sprays of half-dry air-bubbles. Same as the pitcher, the catcher, the ump and the batboys.

They've got nothing to spit, but spit they do--or try--as though they would drown in their own effluent otherwise.

Why?

Do they do this at home? At church? Who cleans up?

And I don't mean the fourth man in the batting order.


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