Have you ever stumbled upon an unknown indie band and fallen in love with their music, followed them for years until one day they get discovered and start getting airplay on major radio stations? And suddenly everyone goes nuts over this “new” band and you’re all like “Puh-leez, I’m a REAL fan, I found them years ago!”?
Well that’s how I feel watching people take a sudden interest in vigorous hand washing, gloves and face masks in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. As a lifelong germaphobe (a person afraid of germs or who has an obsession with cleanliness) I’ve been pressing elevator buttons with my knuckles, placing a tissue over payphone receivers (remember payphones?) and wearing gloves on the subway for as long as I can remember. I know it’s not rational. I know that people grip taxi cab handles and gas pumps with bare hands every single day and are totally fine. Maybe I’m a little OCD and I’m ok with that.
But now the whole world is converting to germophobia as Covid-19 speeds around the globe and I’ve got to say, I’m feeling pretty darn good about myself now. Smug, even.
It’s actually less about germs and more about the “gross” factor, a psychological issue that I can’t get past. And one that I don’t think I should need to. It’s not harming anyone when I wipe down doorknobs, toilet flush handles and my kids’ iPhone screens with anti-bacterial wipes.
And don’t come at me with that whole “You need to be exposed to germs and viruses in order to build up an immunity to them” line because:
- My kids have historically not gotten sick any more than the average kid despite me being the mom who’d always wipe down the shopping cart handle before placing them in the seat.
- I don’t see anyone lining up to get exposure to the Coronavirus in order to boost immunity.
My family makes endless fun of me about this. They mimic me by jabbing at elevator buttons with their elbows and toes, and giggle when I have to open a door to a public place but my sleeves are too short to cover my hands. Whatever. We’ll see who has the last laugh.
Filling up the car with gas grosses me out, too.
Think about it: unless you live somewhere like New Jersey, a state where full service gas stations exist, you are going to have to get out of your car and pump your own gas. And that means having to TIGHTLY GRIP a handle that countless people have gripped before you, people whose hands have been Lord knows where. Shudder, shudder. This is why I keep a leather glove handy in my GLOVE compartment, lest my hand and the gas pump ever meet.
Air travel presents an astonishing array of issues for the humble germaphobe, from having to walk barefoot through security (you’re basically Swiffering their floors for free) to handling the skeezy bins where you put your hand luggage on the conveyor belt till finally arriving at your seat where you have to touch, in no particular order, the overhead compartment handle, coffee-stained tray table and, worst of all, the seat belt buckle.
All this before we even come to the coffin-sized airplane bathroom. If you’re ever lucky enough to fly with me, you’re in for a treat as you’ll bear witness to the contortionist act that is me getting into and out of the bathroom without touching anything. Trust me, it’s Cirque du Soleil worthy.
If I had my way, I’d never have to touch anything outside of my own home.
But I don’t have my own way. I live in the world and have to touch things like money, iPads where I sign medical and dental forms and pens at the post office when I can’t find any of mine.
The ultimate test of my germophobia came last week when I landed in JFK and had to use the ladies room before heading over to my sister in NYC. After I sailed through customs I absentmindedly tucked my passport in the back pocket of my jeans. I only realized that I’d forgotten to transfer it to my bag when I hovered over the bowl (you didn’t think I’d sit down, did you?) and heard a “Plop” before even a drop of pee came out. I turned around and was paralyzed with horror to see MY PASSPORT FLOATING IN THE WATER OF A JFK INTERNATIONAL TOILET BOWL.
I considered staying in the USA indefinitely while I waited for a replacement passport to be issued but then I remembered that I was a woman who’d caught her kids’ vomit with her bare hands, had projectile infant diarrhea shoot directly into her face and had showered in a youth hostel one time. I was no stranger to bravery.
And so, dear reader, I reached as swiftly and with as few fingers as possible into a clear but still public toilet in an international airport terminal and fished out my passport. I wrapped it in an entire roll’s worth of toilet paper, shoved it in my carry-on bag, peed then flushed using my foot and hailed a cab to my sister’s where immediately wiped down the cover and every single page inside with an antibacterial wipe.
It’s been a week and I’m not over it yet.
So to everyone stocking up on masks, gloves and hazmat suits I say, “Welcome!!! Welcome to my world, here have an individually wrapped snack and take a seat on any sanitized surface you choose. You are safe here and, although it took forever for you to get here, you finally made it.”