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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A germ of an idea

A common sight in Annandale.
By Annandale humorist Robert Schwaninger

About a decade ago we saw the advent of many changes in society. Women started showing cleavage, Lady Gaga was no longer words blubbered out of a baby’s mouth, and Boston finally won a World Series. Many of the changes were positive. Some changes were regrettable. And some were just silly.

My vote for the silliest change was the introduction of hand sanitizer into all corners of the globe.

That ubiquitous bottle of clear chemicals can now be found everywhere so that everyone of us can follow in the neurotic footsteps of Howard Hughes. It is the blood mark of dumb phobias hung near doors that is affecting the minds and bodies of our young worse than anything a Kardashian might do or wear.

I am not a nostalgic person by nature, but I yearn for a time when the American populace had made bipartisan peace with germs. We accepted that germs might peacefully coexist on our hands along with dirt, snot, food smears, and the occasional hound lick. Then, a couple of times a day we would rinse our hands under unfiltered tap water and wipe them dry on pants or aprons.

What we wouldn’t do was feed a general paranoia that germs were so all powerful that we needed to chemically scour them from our hands. We did not snap on plastic gloves every time a job might get a little messy. And we did not look with derision and scorn every time our neighbor sneezed. We simply said, “God bless, you.”

So, let us collectively step back from the skin-drying, alcohol-soaked, pump dispenser and review the logic of this weird war against germs. First, germs are everywhere, on every surface in the world. You may not see them on your kitchen counter but trust me, a billion or so are there waiting to elect one of them to appear on American Idol as soon as they can sing loud enough.

Every time you touch any surface germs hop onto your hand. Studies show that the 5-second rule (myth) was started by germs who didn’t want us to know how fast those suckers climb onto everything.  So, as you watch people applying germ killers to their hands as they pass into a retail establishment, you must be struck by the fact that as soon as their hands are on the handle of the shopping cart, they have just become a germ invested mess of fingers crawling through the store—touching, weighing, sorting, and shaking hands with the guy behind the meat counter.

Admittedly there are those people who have pointed out that my personal hygiene has sometimes resembled that of a rabid hyena. And given the way that I was raised and grew, it is likely that I have built up immunities to nearly every toxic organism that ever oozed through a petri dish.  Therefore, perhaps I’m a bit cavalier about this whole subject.

But, people of Annandale, let’s get real here. The only thing that you germ-wounding appliers of public antiseptic are accomplishing is a decided uptick in Purell’s stock price, feeding the Wall Street germs that seem to be multiplying in plain sight and for which there is no obvious cure.


  1. Absolutely. Just another product laced with toxic chemicals as well as the undefined and equally toxic "fragrance' element on the marketplace. And another fear tactic used to manipulate people into spending money unnecessarily.

  2. actually, no one pays directly for hand sanitizers, do they? BTW, when you go to a hospital, it's generally accepted protocol to use it on the into a room, and again on the way out. It lessens the chance of hospital acquired infections in a MAJOR way

  3. Hand sanitizer people scare me way worse than mumbling, amply bearded men in unseasonable clothing.

  4. Dont worry: There are still plenty of germs for us to be exposed and develop resistance to. And, this is just anecdotal, but I have noticed a lot fewer people with colds than I used to. I think hand sanitizers and hand washing more generally has contributed.