LARRY PENKAVA COLUMN: Aiming to be the best

Published 10:12 am Wednesday, May 10, 2023

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Sam Allen taught me how to spit.

It was humiliating, to say the least, that a twenty-something man couldn’t spit worth, well, a spit.

Larry Penkava

You would have thought that a red-blooded boy who had played baseball would have mastered the art of spitting. In other words, one would expect him to expectorate with the best of them.

Maybe, as a youth, I wasn’t blessed with sufficient amounts of spittle to imitate my Major League heroes. But in my defense, I didn’t have their access to chewing tobacco to prime my immature salivary glands.

Or, perhaps, when coming to bat against a long-armed, long-legged pitcher with angry brows and a whirling-dervish delivery, I may have been scared spitless.

Whatever the case, that day a decade or so later when Sam asked me to spit, my slaver came up bone dry.

Now, Sam Allen wasn’t one to take spitting lightly. Nor would you expect a self-made man from West Virginia to gloss over my pitiful performance.
Sam was the take-no-prisoners bossman of the roofing crew I worked on. Our specialty was flat roofs, pouring hot asphalt under heavy rolls of sheeting.

That required what we called a kettle to heat up the barrel-like hunks of asphalt. Once the asphalt was heated to a certain temperature, it was pumped up to the roof through a pipe.

Our kettle man was named Grover. He would use kerosene burners to heat up the asphalt in the kettle. There were lids to cover the asphalt until it was hot enough for use.

Sometimes the asphalt would get too hot and catch fire. Then Grover would close the lids and turn off the burners until the hot stuff was not so hot.

One day we were on a job in another town and Grover had stayed home. Sam gave me my working orders — fire the kettle and keep the asphalt hot.
I had the burners going and the asphalt blocks were melting in the kettle. That’s when Sam came over to show me how to determine if it was ready.

“When you think it’s about hot enough, spit in the asphalt to see if it spews up like water on a hot frying pan. Then you know it’s ready.

“Go ahead and spit to see if it flares up,” he said.

My performance could be compared to Pavorotti trying to sing with a gag around his mouth. What little spit came out of my mouth flew in every direction but the kettle.

“Larry, Larry!” Sam laughed. “Don’t you know how to spit?”

I could only look at him with embarrassment.

“Let me show you how it’s done,” he said in his best professorial tone.

“Just gather your spit at the back of your mouth, then bring it to the front with your tongue and blow it out between your lips.”

I tried out his suggestion, building up what little sputum I could find in my dry mouth. I could have used a bottle of water to help me out.

But after a few tries I finally was able to spit a respectable load into the kettle, enough to make the hot asphalt sizzle.

“Now you’ve got it,” said Sam. “Just be sure not to let the asphalt get too hot.”

After that, I considered myself a veteran kettle man. At least until Grover came back to work.

But more than that, I was now an accomplished spitter.

From then on I’ve fine-tuned my craft. I feel like I could spit between the eyes of a black snake if it came into my spittle range.

Whenever I go for a walk or run, I’m constantly having to relieve my mouth of excess saliva. Rather than swallow, I prefer to spit.

But I’m a selective spitter, following the rules of expulsive etiquette. I have a rule that I will never willingly spit on a sidewalk, preferring instead to aim at grass, bushes or dirt.

One day when I was running on a sidewalk, I saw an old car approaching. Just as the vehicle came even with me, the passenger spit out his window, missing me but drawing my ire.

I kept running but had this thought: Had I known he was about to unload his spittle at me, I could have let him have it on his pimply nose.
Sam Allen never knew he’d created a spitting monster.

Larry Penkava is a writer for Randolph Hub. Contact: 336-302-2189,