When buying groceries, many of us worry about unwittingly choosing the slowest checkout line. I used to be that way, until a recent shopping trip. I learned there’s something much worse than queuing up behind multiple coupon-wielding check-writers.
But first, you need to understand the back story. If you are unfamiliar, allow me to introduce you to my alter-ego, Germ Cop. Beneath my mild-mannered exterior is an invisibly-caped, agitated super hero with a permanently knitted brow.
Germ Cop. Worshipper of the Purell bottle. Elbower-outer of all public restrooms. Triple washer of triple-washed salad. I keep an eye on things and am blessed/cursed with an extra sensory perception of where evil pathogens lurk.
Back to the store. All seemed fine and mundane until I was halfway through loading my haul on the conveyor belt. (Which, by the way, could have used a little Windexing. What was that wet splotch? Raw chicken juice?) Then, I heard the sound. Sniff, sniff, sniffle. A jelly jar, gallons of milk, peanut butter, cereal, pepper jack cheese were already rolling to the cashier, who clearly had one awful contagious something.
I was trapped. There were too many items on the rotating salmonella belt, and a few people were already on line behind me. No turning back. All I could do was watch the contamination spread before my eyes.
And I mean contamination. Put down your cereal spoons now, readers. It gets nastier. I need your empathy, and you need to be aware of the germy situations you may encounter this flu season. The cashier was a young guy, probably around 19. I’m sure his parents raised him well, but things happen. Namely, the dude was sick and he didn’t have a plan-ahead personality. His nostrils needed attention. But there was no tissue box anywhere. No sign of a hand gel dispenser. And worse, he was wearing short sleeves.
Ready for more? Your cereal spoon is definitely down, right? Here goes: The kid wiped his runny nose with his hands. Not the back of his hands. Not the knuckles. He employed the palms of his hands. The palms. Then he touched my package of pepper jack cheese. And the milk gallons. And a Rice Krispies box. When he got to the sliced bread, he couldn’t find the scanner code. He held the plastic bag up in the air and twirled it with his glistening hazmat mitts.
Scan, boop. Scan, boop. Sniffle, sniffle, palm wipe. Don’t forget the other nostril, dude. Use the both palms for good measure. Now, touch the jelly jar and the triple-washed salad. The torture went on and on. This guy had a runny nose he cleaned with his bare hands and there was nothing I could do but try to memorize the exact spots where he touched everything. I was in panic overload.
Sadly, I have a passive-passive personality. I could have said something to the guy, like “Hey, get a tissue.” Or, more precisely, “What the #%)) is wrong with you?!” But I didn’t. And I didn’t complain to the manager, because jobs are scarce. Why get young Typhoid Marty in trouble? I just hope this column alerts store managers to properly train their employees about cleanliness. This is how I cast my antimicrobial cape across society.
My misadventure ended as you would imagine. As soon as I got home — and it was a long drive — one of my hungry teens spied the groceries. He was about to pounce. I freaked. “Step away. Step away. Do. Not. Touch. A. Thing.” He saw the panic in my eyes… that familiar Edvard Munch “Scream” look on my face. Yep. Mom was in Germ Cop mode.
I wiped down every inch of everything with disinfecting cloth wipes. (Love ya, Germ-X.) When I was finished, a scientist could have swabbed every single item, and then stared at beautiful blank slates under the microscope.
Citizens: We have a long flu season ahead. Consider yourself warned.
Denise Snodell, a 913 freelance columnist, writes every other week.