CULTURE SCHLOCK – By Darren Garnick
“PARANOIA AIR: Germ-o-phobia overtakes supermarket carts, airplanes”
Originally Published: January 19, 2006
Like many overprotective parents, I zealously keep my toddler away
from chainsaws, pit bulls and downed electrical lines. But there’s one
hazard that terrifies me above all the others.
Despite explicit instructions not to touch a molecule, regardless of
how pristine it may appear, my three-year-old son acts like a “Price
Is Right” game show hostess in a public restroom. He slowly brushes
his hand across the stall partitions and the waste baskets. He
showcases the paper towel and soap dispensers. His fingerprints even
wind up on the floor tiles.
Scrubbing him down is a logistical nightmare because he cannot reach
the sink. I tuck him underneath one arm like a football and use the
other hand to rub his hands with soap. In the end, at least a half
gallon of water winds up on his shirt. When my child is tall enough,
I’ll teach him the essentials of urinal yoga: How to flush any toilet
with your sneaker.
I thought I was superparanoid about germs until I stumbled across The
Wall Street Journal’s recent consumer tests of anti-bacterial products
for airline passengers. As bad as a raunchy gas station bathroom or
portable toilet is, an airplane is essentially a petri dish with
wings. There’s no place for the germs to go, so they socialize inside
the vents and luggage compartments. In the airplane bathroom itself,
a.k.a. Virus Central, it is impossible not to have every body part
brush against the walls.
The Journal’s phobia product round-up includes a $75 neck pillow “with
a built-in ionizer to shoo pollutants from your personal breathing
space,” an $85 pair of metal-free “travel shoes” which wearers might
not have to take off during the security check, a $10 anti-bacterial
seat wrap, and an $8 bottle of anti-flu nasal spray.
We’re just one more SARS epidemic or chicken flu away from the launch
of Paranoia Air, an airline in which the flight attendants wear white
biohazard suits and the passengers all wear surgical masks. At least
that scenario might spare you from an annoying conversation with a
chatty passenger sitting next to you.
Self-help guru Deepak Chopra, who travels frequently for his New Age
seminars, told the Journal that he recommends flying without any
anti-microbe protection. “By creating an artificial environment, we’re
not stimulating our immune system enough,” he said. “Germs are immune
stimulants. They challenge you to be prepared.”
Back on the ground, it’s tough to be kissy-kissy with these
“challenging” germs — especially after reading the latest handwashing
studies (which the soap industry churns out weekly under academic
cover). After paying spies to observe more than 6,000 people in
public restrooms, the American Society for Microbiology recently
reported that 25 percent of guys snub the sink altogether opposed to
only 10 percent of women.
Unfortunately, there is no way to segregate the clean people from the
dirty ones. Even hanging out with just women doesn’t eliminate the
risk (although it does cut it in half).
Supermarket shopping cart studies, usually publicized at sweeps time
by FOX News affiliates, always prove to be nauseating. One University
of Arizona study found that one in five carts in Tucson “tested
positive for bodily fluids, blood, mucus, saliva or urine.” The
University of Maryland had no trouble finding E. coli bacteria in the
festering juices of raw beef, chicken and pork clinging to these
The Wall Street Journal gives a thumbs down to most of the anti-germ
products it tested, but it does endorse using alcohol-based hand
sanitizers, such as Purell, even after washing your hands on a plane.
Sometimes, they found, even the water can’t be trusted. The
Environmental Protection Agency recently discovered “unacceptable”
levels of coliform bacteria coming out of airline sinks.
As long as we can’t see the germs, paranoia will continue to thrive —
and so will these products. Makes me wish I bought some stock in