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Has this ever happened to you?

March 16, 2010

You’re walking down the street, and you hear a loud hacking sound, like a dog choking on a bone—only wetter.

The sound is coming from somewhere around the corner or maybe even from the next street over. You can’t see its source, but the sound is clearly audible, only slightly muffled by the city noise of

Where does the phlegminess come from?

revving engines and distant sirens.

The hacking stops for a half-second, then resumes and begins to build into a rolling cough, the kind that doctors call “productive.” As you listen to the crescendo-ing gurgle, you can actually envision the viscous liquid dislodging itself from the tracheal walls and making its way up through the uvula.

There’s a small verbal utterance of effort, a small whoosh like milkshake through a straw, and finally, the thick smack of phlegm hitting pavement. You might be walking down the streets of my old D.C. neighborhood. Sarah, a car-free comrade and Columbia Heights neighbor, first brought this trend to my attention:

“Have you ever noticed that people are always hocking loogies around here?”

When I contemplated for a moment, I realized she was right. People in our neighborhood were phlegmy. In the next few days, I tuned my ears in more deliberately, and I heard the sound even more, until I felt like I couldn’t even make it the three blocks to the Metro without the sensation that I was in a pediatric clinic waiting room.

Sarah and I theorized about reasons for the phlegminess:

  • It was winter, the season of colds?
  • It was spring, the season of allergies?
  • It was summer, the season of smog?

Did a larger-than-average percentage of our neighbors smoke and, therefore, suffer from advanced emphysema? We thought a little more critically and factored in the low-income status of a large portion of local residents—could our neighbors not afford a doctor’s visit to take care of the phlegm?

The only conclusion we ever came to was this: Such rich food for thought may be harvested by simply walking!

What interesting, curious, or disgusting things have you witnessed while walking the streets of your neighborhood?


6 Comments leave one →
  1. March 16, 2010 3:41 pm

    Thanks for this post. I needed an outlet to express my disdain for these behaviors. Most people chide me for complaining about these things because they don’t understand why I would be so sensitive about people spitting on the ground, and why I would take it so personally. Culturally this is a behavior used to show dissatisfaction or disrespect, so as someone committed to protecting our environment, this behavior offends me. Not only are they giving a sign of disrespect for the environment, they are also exposing the rest of us to the gross pathogens incubating in their body.

    Further, beyond simply hocking a virgin loogie, I find hocking one spiked with with chewed up tobacco to be even more disgusting. So gross. In this instance your own pathogens are being launched into the environment, along with all of the toxins latent in the tobacco. They come into contact with the local environment, sewers and ultimately the ground water. Expose your own body to those toxins, but not the water that we all drink. That’s getting personal.

  2. Melanie Evans permalink
    March 16, 2010 5:48 pm

    I’m glad I don’t live in your old DC neighborhood because people hocking loogies are the grossest things ever!! Something that disgusts me in any neighborhood is people who don’t clean up after their dogs……….I mean c’mon… hard is it????

  3. Claire permalink
    March 16, 2010 9:11 pm

    Clearly you’ve never lived in Asia.
    It’s not a cultural “faux pas” there.

  4. pawl permalink
    March 16, 2010 9:48 pm

    Back when we were more in tune with nature, if you were to hock a loogie into the dirt or soil, the environment would take care of it. A good square foot of soil is better than most filters we have today. PDX is actually paying for a bunch of those plant drainage systems in my neighborhood, maybe DC ought to look into that too. But if you would take seeds into your mouth before planting them, or contributing your ails to the Earth, it would, in theory, produce something for you to cultivate that would help cure what ails you. Of course this is a seasonal process, but the Earth would naturally deal with the virus or the phlegm, much like our bodies do if we let them, and then the ensuing crop would have just what we needed to help our bodies rid ourselves of this phlegmy affliction.
    Not to get all hippie.

  5. e wainscott permalink
    March 17, 2010 8:51 am

    lol. i don’t even know what to say….other than if your ‘hood sounds like a ped waiting room you should run….far!
    those places can be scary! haha


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