Friday, July 09, 2010

Sanitized at last!

Readers of The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy will recall the reference to telephone sanitizers—people whose task it was to keep pay telephones clean so that no one would pick up a dreadful disease from the earpiece. The advent of the mobile telephone has pretty much eliminated pay telephones from the landscape, so professional telephone sanitizers have gone the way of steam locomotive engineers.

I have recently discovered where all those unemployed telephone sanitizers have gone. Yesterday, as I was getting my shopping cart at the local grocery store, I noticed a small red basket filled with discarded plastic wipes. Above the basket was a dispenser of little plastic rags, apparently saturated with some chemical that presumably proves lethal to germs, or at least renders them temporarily stupid. On the dispenser was a neat sign explaining to shoppers that they could use the wipes to clean the parts of a shopping cart that some part of the human body might touch. I stood by and watched several shoppers carefully wiping down the push bars of their grocery carts so that they could enjoy the experience of shopping without having to worry about acquiring some fatal or debilitating disease from germs carelessly left there by previous customers.

I felt a slight adrenalin rush as I embarked on the risk-filled adventure of shopping without a sanitized grocery buggy. The thrill of the adventure was muted somewhat by feelings of dismay as I thought of all the plastic being added to landfill sites by chemical-saturated plastic sheets that were used once and then thrown away. Surely, I thought, shoppers who are worried about picking up contagious diseases from shopping carts might be advised to purchase their own hazmat suits before entering the grocery store. It is probably only a matter of a year or two before we are treated to the sight of shoppers wearing ventilators and astronaut suits as they pick their way through the potential dangers of the produce section.

A few months ago, on one of the science programs I listen to on the radio, I happened to hear a scientist talking about how much more compromised the natural immune systems of Americans are compared to those of Europeans, Asians and Africans. The prime suspect in the decline of the ability of Americans to fight off infections and viruses, said the scientist, is our collective obsession with sanitation. Everywhere one goes these days, dozens of precautions are taken to shield customers from stray germs. People preparing sandwiches wear latex gloves, plastic caps covering all their head hair, and even plastic cups to contain their beards, if they be beard-sporting sorts of people. Salad bars and buffets are covered with Plexiglas shields placed at a height making the fetching of a leaf of spinach require performing awkward contortions for anyone more than 125cm (49 inches) tall. Americans proudly pay for their food with germ-laden paper money bearing the slogan “In God We Trust”, by they are careful not to let any stray bacteria land on their dinner plates, just in case God can't be trusted to protect them from contagion. Ironically, it could well be precisely their unwillingness to let their natural immune systems have a bit of a workout that is making their immune systems too flabby to fight off the common cold.

Every now and then someone from the Tea Party manages to say something that almost makes sense. A couple of days ago I heard a Tea Party-backed candidate say that what is wrong with America is that Americans have become so obsessed with innocuous trivialities that they overlook the truly dangerous factors of life. I could not agree more, although I suspect the Tea Party and I might have some disagreements about details as to what is an innocuous triviality and what is a true danger. (The candidate from the Mad Hatter's Tea Party did go on to say that one of the gravest dangers facing America is illegal aliens from Mexico, whereas I would be more inclined to say that the most serious threat to America is the people who are already living here legally and who established their hold on the land by a skillfully executed combination of genocide, treachery, larceny and environmental devastation, all fueled by unrestrained greed and selfishness. But aside from that silly little detail, there is room for broad agreement between me and the Tea Party analyst of the American condition.)

There is more to say on this topic, but I find myself growing faint as I consider all the germs that are no doubt entering my immunity-deficient bloodstream through my fingertips as I touch the keyboard of a computer that may have been walked on, or perhaps sneezed upon, by one of the cats while I was out shopping. The cat might well have caught and eaten a mouse carrying hantavirus and then slobbered on my space key. I can't write any more before I check myself into the emergency care unit at the nearest hospital.

Pray for me, eh?


Anonymous said...

Me dotterinlaw says her mom said:
"We gotta eat a peck 'a dirt before we die."

Some folks have forgotten those wise words. Thus, sick kids all over the place, allergies to the extreme, and commodity fetishism gone wild.