Posts Tagged ‘germs

24
Jan
07

Mysophobia

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.

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