I never realized how easy it is not to touch so many things. I also never realized how difficult it is not to touch just as many.
Case in point: Using a public bathroom. The door to my work office must be bisexual — it swings both ways. Bump into it with your shoulder, with your butt… and you’re through either way. Walk hands-free down the hall and push the bathroom door open with you backside. The urinals flush automatically, so the only touching I’m doing is to myself. If I have to use the stall, well, I need to lock the door but no biggie — the faucets, soap dispenser and towel dispenser are all motion-sensitive. Scrubbed, disinfected and ready to go back to the office.
But then, the door.
The door to the bathroom markedly does not swing. Indeed, you have to pull it to get out. And you realize the design flaw: Shouldn’t a bathroom door pull open from the hallway? After all, you’re headed toward a cleansing station — anything you get on your hands can be quickly washed away. But once you’re trapped inside? You have to pull the handle, which may have been touched by someone not as, ummm, hygienic as you are; you can risk it; you can wait for someone to come in … or you can do what I do: Go back to the sink and get an extra paper towel as a barrier, pull, then carry it to the office dustbin. (Maybe management should place trash cans in the hallway.)
The same is true with shopping. I usually carry in my own bags, but the cart? Well, I use the stores’. Or rather I did. I carried a 16-lb. pack of dog food through Kroger the other day rather than put my hands on the buggy. It was fairly simply to touch only the products I wanted to buy (and usually grab them from the back). But the frozen foods? Well, I had to open the door, didn’t I… without a glove. (I bring gloves everywhere now.) Automated doors, self-checkout… all are good ways to isolate yourself and keep a distance from people. But paying for it? That requires touching a keypad, one that has been grubbed on countless strangers. How often do you think those are sanitized? Ever? Only now do I recall never having seen someone wipe down the credit-card reader or ATM with a disinfectant. “Don’t touch your face” I repeat under my breath as I head home, having pressed in my PIN with my pinky.
Even the safeguards don’t seem too safe. We have a bottle of hand sanitizer in the office for common use; everyone squirts their hands a few times an hour… by pressing down on the plunger with their hand! With their bare hand! It’s like the last place the virus goes before you sterilize. The bottle scares me just by being there, like a shiny vertical petri dish.
Not shaking hands, or hugging, or kissing, even good friends? Not a problem, it’s just conditioning. (As a gay man over 40, it’s easy to self-isolate.) But not touching your own face? I try not to, but I have a beard and stray whiskers sometimes tickle my nose. Irritants land near your eye a surprising amount when you have to think about brushing them away. We get itches — are we not to scratch?
This is the new normal, at least for the time being. I feel safe in my car, because I’m one of only two people who have been in it at all in a month. I grip the steering wheel, content in my belief that it is a germ-free zone.
And then I remember the drive-up ATM — ground zero for stranger danger. Didn’t I touch the wheel after punching in my code?
Where are the wet wipes?
— Arnold Wayne Jones