I used to laugh at germaphobic freaks like me. I’d see them with their Lysol, alcohol pads & sanitizing gel, talking about “that bug that’s been going around” & I would shake my head & laugh.
Sitting at my desk, in the office where I worked, I’d watch my coworkers as they passed around a can of Lysol. “Keep that shit away from me,” I’d tell them. When someone would offer me an alcohol pad to wipe the germs away from the receiver of my phone, I would reply with a “thanks, but I like my phone dirty”.
I was a drinking, pack-a-day smoker, happily surrounded by millions of dirty microscopic organisms & I enjoyed watching my coworkers sniff, sneeze & hack among the sound of misting Lysol.
Not because I’m that sadistic, but because I never got sick.
Then I moved to Paris.
Once I moved to Paris, I moved about the city the same way as millions of other Parisians: public transportation. Gone were the days of leaving my apartment & going directly to my car. My ass was now walking – rain or shine, night & day. I was taking buses & trains, standing around at bus stops & in the métro stations… surrounded by people.
Gone, too, were the wide open spaces of Small Town, Colorado. No more room to spread out. No more personal space of at least one foot.
At first, I didn’t think much of it. But, over time, as I began to feel more & more like a fucking sardine, something happened. It started out small: a tiny cough from the back of the bus. A sniffle from someone passing me on the street. A sneeze from somewhere in the métro station.
The cacophony of illness grew louder as someone sitting across from me on the train would blast a thick wad of something from inside their face into a tissue. The person sitting next to me would cough & gargle. Someone standing up would sniff, wipe their nose with their bare hand, then grab hold of the pole that had 5 other hands wrapped around it.
Occasionally, while walking down the street, I would step over a pile of dog or pigeon shit, or a puddle of piss that had could have come from… well, anything.
The first year I spent in Paris, I was sick several times. I was coughing on my wedding day. It seemed as though I just couldn’t get away from it. I began washing my hands with the frequency of a hardcore OCD case & making extra efforts not to touch anything when I went out in public.
Now… shopping carts terrify me. The pole in the métro is a horrifying menace. Every bus, train, ATM machine button & doorknob is a SARS or goddamn swine flu trying to take me out. The stranger with the sniffles on the street is worse than a creature from a John Carpenter film.
I’ve started carrying that damn hand sanitizing gel with me just about everywhere, though I really don’t use it all that much since I’ve gotten so good at not touching things. You would be amazed at what I can accomplish by using only my elbows.
Children hold a special kind of terror. When we go out & I see the snot on their faces, or their fingers shining with a fresh sheen of drool, I slowly back away, careful to make no sudden movements.
After two years of living in Paris, we moved just outside of the city. While it’s less crowded for me now & I see fewer members of the snot-spewing public on a daily basis, I still take certain precautions, especially around someone who is suspect. If I hear a sniff, snuffle or throat clearing, I am on high alert.
So… over time, leaving the spread-out population of northern Colorado & immersing myself in the big city eventually turned me into a bit of a germaphobe. I somehow went from being carefree & rubbing my filthy, bacteria-encrusted phone against my face to being one of the paranoid freaks ready to toss myself into a fucking Silkwood shower upon returning home from a routine trip to the grocery store.
In short, I have turned into this: