Pass it On: Just plain contagious

I think I'm getting a cold. And if I am I know exactly where it came from—licking the handle of a supermarket shopping cart. Well, not directly licking, but close...

Unlike Howard Hughes, I never used to think about germs. I do remember one episode of a bad 1970's TV show where they had a microscopic close up of supposed singer John Davidson and it showed millions of things crawling around him, but I kind of thought maybe it was just him.

Then I met my wife, and she spent the next few years scaring the germy begeezous out of me. Don't touch that. Don't touch your face. Don't rub your eyes. "I didn't see you picking your teeth, did I, because if you did you might as well have swallowed cyanide." Stuff like that.

To her, the world was one giant germ, just waiting for an opening to get her, or get me, so it could get closer to her. If someone coughed, they were "typhoid Mary." If someone sneezed, they were a "droplet infection." If she went to Costco it was almost 100% guaranteed she'd come back with a discount cold.

She would tell me horror stories of hotel rooms and what kind of bodily fluid might be on what object. It was best to bring your own pillow, if not your own sheets. You had to wear socks so your feet didn't touch the floor. I'm not sure how we ever made it through the shower alive. My friend Gary also has a litany of hotel horrors that make the any unsuspecting Holiday Inn sound like a pit stop for the black death. If you got my wife and Gary into the same room, after five minutes you'd never want to leave the house.

Years of this, combined with my own penchant for getting a cold if I ate any kind of bakery sample that had sat out on top of the counter (where I later decided people were sneezing on them), caused me to make a conscious effort to think of my hands as infectious whenever I left the house.

Then, in some weird "Odd Couple" like cross, she started to think less and less about germs. Maybe because I was doing it so she didn't have to. She'd play pinball machines that thousands of germ-infested kids had touched, then eat popcorn. I tried to make her wear gloves but she'd just lose them.

While I was busy trying to touch things only with my right hand, so my left hand remained pure (something I learned from cultures that only ate with their left hand because, well, you don't really want to know), she was trying to wipe something off my moustache with her dirty digits.

But today was the capper. We'd been out all day. We'd just been to the supermarket where you just throw caution to the wind when you hold onto the handle of the shopping cart. Who knows who's touched it, or who or what they touched before touching it. Those handles are like a microcosm for the germ universe. If I could, I'd steer them with only my right hand but it hurts my wrist.

We made it through the market and by the time we got to the car I was parched. I got a bottle of water out of the trunk, a bottle that has one of those nice sterile clear caps over the sports spout. I handed it to her to hold while I navigated out of the parking lot (a task akin to getting through a bumper car track unscathed), and by the time I reached the street she handed it back to me. Open.

Now, there is a right way to open one of these bottles. And there is my wife's way. The right way is to grasp the sanitary clear top and squeeze the sides, so you pull up on the nipple thing (admit it, they're just giant adult baby bottles, and I even saw a baby using one today) without touching it. Clean and simple.

But despite the fact that I have demonstrated this sanitary method to my wife countless times, she still says, "I don't know how to open it that way." Since I know she's not learning disabled, I can only chalk it up to one of two things—a maddeningly strong stubborn streak, or a concerted effort to poison me. Sometimes I think it might be both, but tonight I didn't think and put it to my lips and took a drink.

As soon as I did I remembered she didn't know the "right" way to open them and she had grabbed the spout with her infectious little fingers, thereby transferring the germatic content of the supermarket cart handle (not to mention the perhaps even more frightening movie theater arm rest) directly to my mouth!

I wanted to do a "spit take" like on comedy shows, but doing that would only make it impossible to see out of the windshield, and besides, the damage had been done, so I swallowed. Then I sulked.

As I drove home I could imagine millions of microbes marching down my esophagus. I could feel my throat constricting, my temperature rising. Meanwhile, my wife was busy contaminating the volume control knob on the radio. I felt like I'd be lucky to make it home alive.

And here I am, still able to type, hoping my sometimes lackadaisical immune system will fight off the invading hordes. I'll know in the morning. Unless it's some insidious, slow-acting variety. In which case it could take weeks, or months.

I think I'll go give my wife a big, wet kiss. That's the least she deserves. And I'll get some rest and drink plenty of fluids—from containers I've opened myself.

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One Final Word

Now I have to apologize to my wife, because I didn't get a cold after I wrote this. Though a week later, after going to the store by myself I did get a cold. So she'll say I couldn't have gotten it from her, and I'll say it just took a while to develop and of course she's right.



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The SchoomozeLetter is ©1998-2005, Daniel Will-Harris, all rights reserved. If you'd like to use any article on the web or in print, please ask for permission. If you're an agent or publisher looking to publish these pieces, just drop me a note.