I have never thought much about germs. That is to say, I did not think much about germs until I went to Biloxi, MS in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The flooding had caused sewers to over flow and so much wet material around had begun to grow mold. The filth and dirt and sewage-infested land caused me to want to constantly take a shower. Since then I have been a bit more careful in the matter of germs. Despite this, I still have not quite reached the level of germ fear that my friend and coworker has.

We will call him “Hal”. Now for this story to make any real sense, you would have to understand Hal. Hal is a great guy, unless he gets teased too much. And for him “too much” is really not that much at all. But he gets especially defensive when you question any of his quirky habits and/or opinions. If you do he will often respond with falling silent and he will usually change the subject or end the conversation and walk away.

Now it all started in the restroom. The men’s restroom at MTI has a paper towel dispenser near the sink that operates by means of a lever on the side. If you pull down on this lever a few times, a roll of brown paper towel inside is turned and thus dispenses from the bottom of the unit where the user can tear it off Now available with dirty lever!and dry his hands. Pretty nifty. On many occasions I have witnessed Hal and others walking over to the sink after using the bathroom, dispensing a paper towel, washing their hands, and then removing the previously dispensed towel…in that order. Over time this ritual got my curiosity up enough to question Hal about it. You see, I have always dispensed and used the paper towel after washing my hands. So one day when Hal and I happened to be in the restroom at the same time, he began his ritual and so I asked him why he does it that way. His answer to me was basically that he did not want to come in contact with any germs from the dispenser’s lever. So to avoid doing so he dispenses the towel, washes, and then dries. In this way he does not have to touch the germ-infested lever after his hands are clean. He says “because you wouldn’t believe how many people around here don’t wash their hands after using the bathroom. Gross!” At the time I blew it off as another one of Hal’s eccentricities. However the next time I was there at the men’s room sink, his haunting words came back to me: “you wouldn’t believe how many people around here don’t wash their hands after using the bathroom.” It was too late; I had already let myself think about it. So for the next day or so I took on Hal’s paper towel dispensing ritual. Dispense, Wash, Dry.

About two days after our conversation I saw Hal in the break room. We were both there to heat up our lunches. We began our usual banter and joking. Then I brought up how he had converted me to his “Dispense, Wash, Dry” method. He again reiterated how many times he had seen people from the office leave the restroom without washing their hands. I am sure he expounded on how they touch the door knob (he does not like to make contact with that either) and how quickly germs and disease can spread. But I didn’t hear the rest of what he said, because at that moment a startling realization gripped me. It has probably occurred to you already. But it hit me like a thunderclap. Why would a person who has just used the bathroom reach for the paper towel dispenser lever, unless…he had washed his hands?

The sheer simplicity of it made me chuckle. Then quickly, on the heels of this epiphany, another thought occurred to me. It was Hal! Hal and the others who employ the “Dispense, Wash, Dry” method! They are the real culprits! It is they who grab the lever and dispense paper towels with their unwashed hands! Hal, with his unclean members, day after day, dirties up the dispenser lever for the rest of us! With an ironic twist worthy of Poe or Hitchcock, this thought settled in my brain. The one who took great pains to avoid contamination from the dreaded lever, became the contaminator.

I proceeded to share this revelation with Hal. His response was typical. His face got slightly tense as I illustrated how his behavior spreads as many germs as the person who never washes his hands and never touches the paper towel dispenser. He just leaned back in his chair (we were sitting by this time) and, stammering, he mumbled something to the effect of “oh….well….” He then resorted to that ancient technique of avoiding ridicule that has been passed down through the ages: he changed the subject.

That afternoon, as I stood at the men’s restroom sink, I allowed myself another chuckle at the irony of it all. I then shut off the water and reached for the lever.

Josh H.


8 Responses to “Mysophobia”

  1. January 24, 2007 at 8:40 am

    last year a news team, they conducted an experiment on scientists who were attending a world conference on germs. they added a reactive substance to the soap in the bathroom and then used a black light on the scientist’s hands after they left the restroom. the result: 4 OUT OF 5 SCIENTIST LEAVING THE BATHROOM WHILE ATTENDING A CONFERENCE ABOUT GERMS DIDN’T WASH THEIR HANDS! what’s more, about half of the scientists who were found with dirty hands didn’t go back and wash! seriously though, as someone who worked at the hospital for 5 years, i can tell you that “Hal’s” procedure is actually medically correct. you are then supposed to use your used paper towel to open the bathroom door. just some useless info to clutter your brain.

  2. January 24, 2007 at 8:43 am

    sorry about the grammatical inaccuracies in the post. i forgot to proofread.

  3. 3 kev
    January 24, 2007 at 11:34 am

    It sounds like it would be fun to play with Hal’s head. Try emptying the dispenser and tape a sign to it that reads, “Sorry, out of paper towels. Please use the community rag.” Then place a dirty looking towel on the dispenser’s handle.

    If that doesn’t work, sneeze on him.

  4. 4 Lance
    January 24, 2007 at 12:31 pm

    The LORD also spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, “Speak to the sons of Israel, and say to them, ‘ When any man has a discharge from his body, his discharge is unclean. ‘This, moreover, shall be his uncleanness in his discharge: it is his uncleanness whether his body allows its discharge to flow or whether his body obstructs its discharge. ‘Every bed on which the person with the discharge lies becomes unclean, and everything on which he sits becomes unclean. ‘Anyone, moreover, who touches his bed shall wash his clothes and bathe in water and be unclean until evening; and whoever sits on the thing on which the man with the discharge has been sitting, shall wash his clothes and bathe in water and be unclean until evening. ‘Also whoever touches the person with the discharge shall wash his clothes and bathe in water and be unclean until evening. ‘Or if the man with the discharge spits on one who is clean, he too shall wash his clothes and bathe in water and be unclean until evening. ‘Every saddle on which the person with the discharge rides becomes unclean. ‘Whoever then touches any of the things which were under him shall be unclean until evening, and he who carries them shall wash his clothes and bathe in water and be unclean until evening. ‘Likewise, whomever the one with the discharge touches without having rinsed his hands in water shall wash his clothes and bathe in water and be unclean until evening. ‘However, an earthenware vessel which the person with the discharge touches shall be broken, and every wooden vessel shall be rinsed in water. ‘Now when the man with the discharge becomes cleansed from his discharge, then he shall count off for himself seven days for his cleansing; he shall then wash his clothes and bathe his body in running water and will become clean. ‘Then on the eighth day he shall take for himself two turtledoves or two young pigeons, and come before the LORD to the doorway of the tent of meeting and give them to the priest; and the priest shall offer them, one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering. So the priest shall make atonement on his behalf before the LORD because of his discharge. (Lev 15:1-15)

    If “Hal” can’t come by two turtledoves, 4 ephah of grain could be substituted.

  5. January 24, 2007 at 1:30 pm

    Well, Josh, as you know I lack the talent of wit . . . however, that was a well-written, very entertaining, and thought-provoking story. I agree with Kevin. Hal sounds like a guy that would be a lot of fun to give a bad time (not too bad, of course). Thanks for a great read.

  6. January 25, 2007 at 1:12 pm


    Thank you for a great laugh! You think very deep thoughts, my young friend. Seriously, who else would think of such a thing? Not unless they were trained (i.e. in the medical profession) to think like this.

    Speaking as someone who washes their hands approximately one gazillion times a day, allow me to share a few ideas that might help your friend Hal. After all, the guy only wants to be clean! He probably never gave the fact that he was actually spreading germs a second thought, until it was pointed out to him by our Josh. Now, the poor guy probably has worried himself sick about this and lost sleep.

    Here are the steps:

    1. As you enter the restroom, go ahead and pull down two paper towels with the lever. Use one to turn on the faucet. Leave the other one hanging.

    2. Wash your hands and use the hanging paper towel to dry after you’re done. (Yes, I always wash my hands BEFORE I use the restroom. Think about it for a minute, and you’ll see that I’m right).

    3. While holding the paper towel you’ve just used to dry your clean hands with, use the lever again to pull down another paper towel.

    4. Use the rest room.

    5. Use the already pulled down paper towel to do two things: Use it to protect your hands from the germ laden “lever” as you pull down another paper towel to use when you’re ready to dry; and to turn on the faucet. Wash your hands and dry them with the already pulled down paper towel.I use this same paper towel to turn off the faucet.

    6. Open the door with same paper towel.

    If you’ve done it correctly, your bare hands should not have touched any faucets or levers that have germs. Of course, this is only a clean (not sterile) techinque.

    It has enough steps to satisfy a true germ phobic, yet not too many that it isn’t do-able.

    This only works, of course, if someone else doesn’t use your prepared paper towel while you are in the restroom. If this happens, improvish and use your elbow. 😀

    Hope this helps! If it doesn’t, perhaps it will help Hal to know that sometimes I forget a few of these steps (like the second paper towel); I come into contact with more germs daily than he will likely encounter in his lifetime, and I am still alive and well!

  7. January 25, 2007 at 2:08 pm

    Addendum: On proof reading my reply (AFTER I’d posted it, naturally), it seems that I have overcomplicated matters with too many paper towels. It isn’t necessary to use one to turn on the faucet BEFORE you wash your hands, of course. Only AFTER you’ve washed them need you be concerned with keeping them as clean as you can. This is while in the bathroom, however, for as soon as you go outside and touch your keyboard…(oh well).

    Sorry for the confusion on posting the extra, unnecessary steps. Don’t tell Hal…the poor man’s head will be swimming.

  8. January 25, 2007 at 5:09 pm

    Ms. Sheila, that is awesome. I can see you have put some serious thought into this.

    Maybe it’d be helpful for Hal if I draw him a picture.

    Actually, I don’t want to give anyone the impression that “Hal” is an idiot; he’s just eccentric in some areas (cleanliness being one of them).

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