It’s not me, it’s you

In the middle of my Zumba® class, a woman goes over to the center of the room where there is a wall-mounted hand sanitizer dispenser and disinfects her hands. We are dancing without partners. We are not using weights or mats or anything but air and our own dignity. Maybe if I asked her, she would tell me that she doesn’t want to leave her germy hand sweat on the door when we leave class. I don’t ask. You can’t. But I wonder: What is going on with us?

In the gym shower is a Dow® dispenser that says, This is not for your body, or words to that effect. Because what it is is shower sanitizer. After you use the shower you push a button and you have 3 minutes to clear out.

On the back-t0-school lists, the children have to purchase hand sanitizer to keep in their desks. And boxes of tissues. And they are taught the correct way to sneeze into the crooks of their elbows. You will see them on holiday, the American tourists in front of the cathedral, sneezing on themselves, and now you understand that they are doing this for you, or because of you. Don’t let them hug you, with their sneezy arms.

Mothers traveling with small children carry it in vials around their necks. It is less elegant than a silver Halston bean necklace that is a locket containing perfumed balm for nights at the disco, but it is far more practical. Perfume is to attract, or to reward those who come close. The smell of sanitizer is a repellent. They anoint themselves and their young frequently. They offer it around to others nearby, as you might gum or a mint.

When the children are old enough to be trusted with chemical gel, they will buy their own.

Hand sanitizer is now sold in lots of fruity scents. I started smelling it in my car, this noxious strawberry, gas station bathroom air freshener smell, as my daughters pulled little bottles out of the seat back pockets. You want to keep my car fresh, kids? Don’t leave yogurt containers in the back seat.

They buy it with their allowance when I am not paying attention.

I said no to it as a party bag favor.

At Wal-Mart, they have disinfectant wipes for the cart handles. Neiman-Marcus sells an organic line of hand sanitizer called Noodle & Boo. I noticed over the winter, my children’s knuckles were red and cracked. Try soap.

Are we healthier for all of this? Do we get fewer colds now? Is it fear of bird flu? Or fear of unemployment, as expressed in cold remedy ads, that if you succumb to a cold that by the time you drag your sad ass out of your sickbed that someone will have swiped your credibility at work?

At Bath and Body Works a jeweled wall of tiny bottles of apple mint, ginger pear and cashmere mist glimmers enticingly. You can collect them. You can buy a little holster that clips right on to your bag, so that you do not have to touch the fastenings. It holds your daily dose of protection against a world full of previously-owned houses, things that other people have touched.

You are pure and your skin tingles with germ-killer. You have nothing to fear but the fear itself. Noli me tangere, baby. But, here, you can have some of this.


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