It was such a simple line from the 1970s version of beast mode, Earl Campbell, when he was taking a break from ripping out of tear away jerseys and bowling over mere mortals four and five at time. He liked to sit back and pack a lip for a relaxing time of spitting into cups and bottles then wiping the brackish juice from his chin or beard. At James Blair I got my first taste, not literally, of the whole dip culture. The baseball team, as all baseball players must do, tried to ways to pass the downtime that is a natural part of baseball. In seventh grade that meant finding something to do while raking clay on that awful field and watching a kid named Alan ride on the drag screen behind a 1968 Mustang. Our way of making to the end of field maintenance (practice) was to, spit our way to five o’clock. Looking back, I’m not sure we were allowed to chew tobacco on the field, but enough of the guys were doing it that I felt compelled to bring Big League Chew and be the dipping poser that I would be most of my life.
High school was where the true “Skoal Brothers” would show their teeth. Literally, if recessed gums count for anything. In our high school tobacco was a right of passage and Lafayette did little to slow the consumption of the filthy weed. There were smoking areas for students back then. One was behind the science wing by the greenhouse. There were always rumors about someone growing weed out there, but there was never any confirmation on that as far as I know. The smoking area by the science wing was more about cigarettes. The true spit tobacco arena was between the main part of the school and the tech ed area. There was always a crew of flannel shirt, blue jean wearing, baseball hat sporting, and pencil thin mustache growing dudes leaning against the wall like storks on one leg spitting puddles between classes. Most of those guys fell into some combination of the following categories: pick-up truck drivers with a goal of lifting for the largest tires, hunters who knew the best place for a tree stand, or kids training to do blue collar jobs (the skills that I wish I had now).
Many of the tobacco storks were baseball players and friends of mine, but I rarely ventured out to the “Spitama Canal” because I wasn’t really into the whole scene. Some my friends were totally into the culture. They had “stuperstitions” about which pocket to keep the can in. Some collected their empties and made pyramids to symbolize the spirituality of packing a lip. Others did a tapping thing with their finger on the can that faintly resembled playing spoons. They could tell you the packability rating of each pinch, the floating nature of different brands, and the best way to hide a dip in class. They all followed a personal schedule of rotation to that one part of their mouths would not wear out too quickly. Receding gum lines and white patches on the inside of the mouth were often opportunities to discuss homemade remedies for letting their mouths heal.
I would love to say that I abstained from all tobacco use. My first attempt at dipping Skoal was a disaster. Bits were floating all over the place and I’m sure I swallowed some. Fortunately, I didn’t get sick, but it would be awhile before I tried dipping again. The next time was more successful and the timing of the buzz that came from that little pinch could not have been worse. We were playing Hampton High and I was sitting the bench that game. At some point I was told that I would be going in to play first base. The problem was that the field had taken a Salvador Dali like bend and I was not quite sure what to expect. Luckily I didn’t have any plays and that was it for my “cheek and gum” experience. I spent some time with leaf tobacco, Levi Garrett, to be exact. I’m guessing that I went through one or two pouches before I gave up on tobacco for good. Seeds were much more fun and I could handle the taste better.
In some ways I think I was fortunate. I didn’t enjoy tobacco and never did it long enough to start a can collection or have doctors explain what pre-cancerous spots were. Smoking was never a consideration. I thank God that I don’t have an addictive personality, because that stuff is no good. I wonder how many of those guys are still packing…
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