Staph Me Twice, Shame On Me -- OR, Why I've Stopped Giving a S@%t About Germs

Life's too short to worry about microbes everywhere. I have a lot of television to catch up on.
Publish date:
May 27, 2013
germs, germaphobia, disgusting human kate conway, poop is everywhere

You know how some people have "climate change fatigue?" Back in the shivery, electric days of 2005, they might have been all, "Ooh, Al Gore is totally gonna whip us into shape!" But after almost a decade of the ice caps melting and polar bears drowning and the fiery pits of hell reaching out to grab them by the ankles, they're kind of like "Welp, guess I'll watch Mad Men!"

It's not an apathy thing, exactly, more like being nonspecifically overwhelmed by the sheer amount of soul-deadening information and choosing to cope by avoiding it altogether.

Anyway, that's basically how I feel about germs.

This may strike you as ironic, considering my brief but torrid love affair with one Mr. Staphyloccous aureus last year, but I have honestly reached a point where I don't care how disgusting my kitchen is or how many different kinds of rhinovirus are lurking on my bookshelf or whatever.

It seems like every other week, some media outlet is breathlessly reporting on the new disease that we could contract just from interacting with the world at large. This time around, it's our purses. Apparently, the average handbag could contain as much bacteria as a public toilet seat.

I mean, no surprise there, really. Just giving my bag a look-see, I can follow the Line o' Germs back to their inevitable, disgusting source pretty easily:

  • Extra flats --> San Francisco street --> human feces. Easy one.
  • Gum --> My own hands --> Public transit --> Someone else's shorts-yeast. No-brainer.
  • Copy of "This Side of Paradise" --> Recommended as a toilet paper alternative by F. Scott Fitzgerald himself. Nah, I kid. But again: --> Public transit --> Drunk frat boy's barf.
  • Flask --> All my friends' dirty, dirty mouths --> All the dirty mouths they've put their mouths on --> I don't know what they're into and I wouldn't want to pry, so let's dismount here.
  • Fried plantain chips --> Bodega cats --> Toxoplasma, probably.
  • Dental floss --> This one might be grosser going the other way.

It's like the Kevin Bacon game, only with human waste. It's a wonder we're all not dying of dysentery.

And the truly sick thing is, even knowing all that, I will probably continue sticking my hand in my bag and then biting my nails or touching my eyeballs. It's not that I have a particular urge to contract MRSA (again). I just get tired of constantly having to disinfect my life in an effort to exercise some measure of control over it.

Because that's the thing: I'm not sure many people actually read these studies and take steps to not throw their bag on the subway floor or stop idly masturbating after touching door handles. It seems more like these little, easily digestible factoids set up a narrative of war-on-germs, one that gives us the opportunity to win a small battle here and there.

In a way, being told we're surrounded by germs actually offers a solution in a way that "climate change fatigue" or "Congress disgust fatigue" or just "depressing news fatigue" really doesn't. You may be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of bacteria that surround you, but at least you have measures to take to protect yourself, even if they're really more for show than anything else. The world may end tomorrow, but you won't have contracted E.Coli from your BB cream (as opposed to all the other places).

I have this vision of all of us as those 300 Spartans at the Battle of Thermopylae when they were being swarmed by the frillions of Persians. Our foes may be innumerable (albeit tiny), but at least we'll go down swingin'.

Or, OK, you will. I, on the other hand, have long since reconciled myself to the fact that I am a disgusting human being. I think that people are often surprised, considering that in most other things I am a Type A Control-Freak Neurosis Machine, to enter my place of living and find that I have been sleeping on a bed full of uncooked rice grains for the last six days. (True, long story.)

I used to care, I think. I used to get upset when I found black specks in my water glass, for instance, or when my toothbrush would fall in the sink with everyone else's spit-ghosts. I don't know if it's because my life has gotten kind of hectic lately, or what, but the very idea of getting ruffled by bacteria in this way now just exhausts me.

Honestly, I know that I'm not very good at doing things halfway. The times I've started to focus on eradicating some of the little critters from my surroundings, I've had to eliminate all of them, to the degree that I'm unable to do anything else in my life until I was satisfied. Germaphobia becomes my hobby, and I have to sleep sometime.

Life's too short to think about microbes in my lemon wedge. I have the last season of "Game of Thrones" to catch up on.

Obviously, everyone's self-care is different. Maybe for you, winning those individual germ-battles is more mentally satisfying than engaging in the long-term war. And I'm not knocking taking precautions to protect yourself. I wash my hands with soap and water (usually), I don't walk around the city barefoot (often), and I throw away soda cans I find on the street rather than taking swigs from them (always).

One time I did eat a falafel that fell on the ground in a parking lot, but I recognize that was a very bad decision and I won't be doing it again.

As far as everyday, lurk-on-your-purse germs go, this is the way I exact my own control. I recognize that bacteria are fucking everywhere, take a deep breath, and try to focus on tasks that I can actually accomplish without getting obsessive about them.

This still doesn't mean I'm going to play beer pong ever, though. That shit is fucking nasty.

Kate is walking on the wild side: @katchatters