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The Hipless Boy: You could give it to me

I’m a bit of a germaphobe. Like, when I’m talking to someone, and I notice they’re sniffling just a bit too much, I’ll ask them if they have a cold. Or, if it’s rude to ask, I just won’t shake their hand. I know that’s even ruder, but I’ll come up with some ruse. Like maybe I’ll choose that exact second to pick up my mug of coffee or something. But if, despite everything, I have to shake their hand and I suspect they have a cold, I’ll go to the bathroom as soon as it’s feasible and wash my hands. It’s a hard life being a germaphobe because the operating script there is fear. I mean, I like people a lot. But I hate being sick more. And I’m even worse once I get into the bathroom to wash the germs off.

Today I’m in a public bathroom. I didn’t just meet somebody with a cold – I’m just having lunch with my girlfriend George (short for Georgina) at this diner we like to go to on the weekends. Anyway, we just ordered, and I want to wash my hands before I eat, but there’s this very particular dance I go through when I’m in the bathroom in avoid touching surfaces.

First of all, I don’t like to use my hand to touch the bathroom door. Sometimes you can just push them inwards, though, which is really nice. That leaves, of course, the problem of having to open it from the inside after you’ve washed your hands, but we’ll get to that. See, I always wear this grey hoodie, and so I’ll keep my hands in its pockets, the hoodie unzipped, and open the door that way. In fact, I’ll try to open ALL doors that way, push elevator buttons, turn doorknobs, that sort of thing.

Once I’m in the bathroom, I’ll work my way to an empty stall and stand in there, pissing. I won’t touch the door to close it. But sometimes I’ll have to, if I’m going to poo. But I won’t ever sit right down on the toilet seat. Men’s room toilet seats are filthy. They’re often speckled with piss. So I’ll mop it up, and when its sufficiently clean, I’ll grab more toilet paper and lay it down in gentle strips, so that as much of everything I might have contact with is covered.

And then once that’s done, I’ll go to wash my hands, which is another minefield. The other day in the newspaper I read an article on flu season, and about how the best way to avoid transmitting germs is to wash your hands frequently. And what they recommended is – after washing and rinsing your hands – instead of putting them back in contact with the germy knobs to turn off the water, you should use the paper towel to turn off the water. Then, still holding the paper towel, you go over to the door and open that with it, as well. And once the door is open, you hold it open with your foot while you deposit the paper towel into the trash bin, if there is one close by and available. If not, they didn’t mention what to do.

The problem today is that there’s no paper towel dispenser when I go to dry my hands. There’s only a hand dryer. It’s funny how things go in and out of fashion – even things as seemingly solid and immutable as bathroom equipment. I bet they used to have a paper towel dispenser but got the hand dryer because it was more environmentally friendly. But now with things like Avian flu, or West Nile, governments are looking at the huge cost of health care, and someone’s saying to them that if we could just get people to wash their hands more, and more effectively, that they could save billions. And so there’s probably going to be legislation making people convert back to the paper towels. It’s insane.

I mention all this to George when I finally make it back out to her and she tells me that sometimes it’s even more ridiculous. “The building I’m in,” she says, “they’ve got everything automatic. You know, toilets that flush themselves, sinks that turn on automatically…”

I nod. “I like those,” I tell her.

“But it’s crazy – they’ve got the toilets so sensitively calibrated that when I go to pee, the thing like, flushes five times while I’m on it! What a waste!”

The sad part is that when George is telling me this, I’m not thinking of the environmental waste, but instead how if I were sitting on that toilet, each successive flush would be sending up a mist of germs.

So if we ever meet, and you have a cold, forgive me for not shaking hands. My friend Billy has it all worked out. He just bumps fists – like a drug dealer, who can’t open his hand because that’s where he carries all his merchandise. But Billy’s not a drug dealer. He’s more of a hug dealer. But even he’s a germaphobe.

The Hipless Boy appears Mondays. If you have a cold or a virus, and want to give it to him, email it as an attachment to