"NICOLA! Don't put that THERE," she will exclaim as I reach down, happily, to place my handbag on an urban surface teeming with bacteria so severe that many of them are visibly leaping, prowling, bucking, forming amateur Gilbert and Sullivan societies, etc. So I jerk my bag away, as if I've suddenly noticed the offending filth. But the fact is, I don't notice. I'm sadly inured to urban bacteria. But the point is, she notices, and I am grateful for it.
I don't understand why the discrepancy. I do, however, believe that many of us were desensitized to germs in early childhood. Many of us pictured them as gentle nonthreatening cartoon beings who came in cheerful colors. At least I know I did:
No dice, friends. Have you ever stopped to consider the magnitude of even a single bacterium? Let's consider these horrifying pictures:
So we can see that one lone germ does pose us a very real threat, and we haven't even gotten into the matter of its other four boroughs. Wasn't this all so much easier when we were kids? Back then, germs invaded our bodies on a near-daily basis in the form of violent comical ear infections, and we never cared. It just meant an opportunity to go to the Ear Infection Clearinghouse (aka Pediatric Group) with 10,000 of our contemporaries, all of whom, at any given moment, were shrieking. Not because they were ill, mind you, but rather because we were all fighting for control of the waiting room's main attraction, a Pac-Man video game machine with a vile smeary screen from which we would pick up yet other varieties of ear infection.* It was the Circle of Ear Infection Life (cue the soulful wailings of Elton John). Then the pediatrician would prescribe you Amoxicillin; it is federal law that pediatricians must prescribe Amoxicillin for everything from vertigo to shattered ribs. Fortunately, Amoxicillin is awesome, and to this day I retain a certain fondness for it - so much so that I would request it in bubble tea form, if it were an option.**
Anyway, sadly, as we get older we are forced to become more and more aware of germs' impact on our lives. This is why Mother Nature, who has a sadistic sense of humor, invented universities. This brings me, by way of seamless segue, to an article which came to my attention some weeks ago. Written by Donna Duberg for the Tork Better Business Center, its headline boldly asks: ARE COLLEGE STUDENTS' HYGIENE HABITS MAKING THE GRADE?
This was definitely news to me. I don't mean the article, you understand, but the question. I honestly didn't think anyone needed to ask this. I had always assumed it was universally known that college students, as a species, rank on the Hygiene Totem Pole somewhere down there near tapeworms, only with lower breeding standards. I mean, even tapeworms don't date tapeworms. If you are out at a bar and see what looks like a cute tapeworm couple out on a nice date, chances are they are actually breaking up, the female saying to the heartbroken male something like, "I'm sorry, Arthur; it's not me, it's you. You're a tapeworm."***
But back to the college students. According to the article, a study (evidently funded by the Bureau of Honking-Ass Understatement) found that fifty percent of students "noted they do not regularly wash their hands after taking public transportation," while fifty-seven percent "do not routinely wash their hands after returning to their dorm or home from class."
Well. Excuse me while I inhale for long enough to release a six-minute DUHHHHHHHHH audible as far away as Bolivia. If you have ever come into contact with a college, you know they are populated by germs so virulent they can travel from a freshman dorm in Minnesota to infect pygmy persons in the Congo in less time than it takes you to scratch yourself. And I'm not even going to mention the issue of college restrooms, except to say that the task of attempting to use one is fraught with such horrible peril that if you have even the most minimal hygienic standards,**** you will end up playing a giant hideous game of Musical Stalls, entering each individual stall only to scream, duck out at lightning speed, and repeat with each succeeding stall until you have exhausted all possibilities and your only option is to relieve yourself out the window. Unfortunately, in New York City they have a rule about this.***** But as I said, I'm not even going to mention the restroom issue.
Anyway, even though I'm no longer a college student (even though I do still hold the distinctive honor of being regularly hit up for money by members of my graduating class who are themselves richer than your standard deity) I guess I owe it to myself to start becoming much more vigilant about the filth issues. There are so many small things we as individuals can do, such as carrying hand sanitizer, covering our mouths when we cough, never touching anything, and of course keeping a respectable 3-continent distance from all institutions of higher learning. And above all, remember, when letting down your tapeworm suitor, to let him down gently.
And if all else fails, you might want to take some Amoxicillin.
* I guess they just kept making more of them, like My Little Ponies.
**This could actually work, right?
***Source: National Geographic.
****In other words, if you are unfit for college.
*****You absolutely must bring a plastic bag.