Health
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What It’s Really Like to Be a Germophobe

germs tuenight julie parr meningitis

(Graphic: Helen Jane Hearn/TueNight.com)

I have a thing with germs. Many things, actually. Like Kim Kardashian’s ass, germs are nearly impossible to avoid if you want to interact with the modern world. Every street corner, coffee cup, toothbrush, dollar bill, door handle, work surface and orifice (whether human or animal) is simply teeming with unseen bacteria, possible parasites and other predatory pathogens. Or even just plain dirt. And you can’t escape it.

It’s not that I’m prissy. I just can’t help but sense germs everywhere I go — and try to avoid them. I’m like Monk with boobs.

In case you think I’m exaggerating, here, in no particular order, is a collection of my admittedly neurotic germ issues and thoughts:

Let’s begin in the bedroom, shall we? Despite my despotic clean-freak neurosis, I know that my bed is hot bed of germ warfare. All beds are, and that’s a fact that will keep you up at night. My number bed-germ rule is this: No handbags on my bed. Ever. Ever-ever. No exceptions. Your bag goes on restaurant floors? Then it’s not going on my bed.

Other gross things found in bedrooms? Jeans. Denim, in my slightly warped mind, is made up of thousands of tiny woven wales just ripe for capturing microbes. It’s the devil’s fabric. Your unwashed jeans are not to come near my bed place. It’s my home and my bed, and I’ll try to keep the gap between the outside world and the world indoors as far and wide as possible.

That goes for socks, too. If I’ve worn socks for more than five minutes, they’re dirty. Period.

If my head has touched anything at the gym, it does not touch my pillow. If I’ve crossed the threshold of a gym or yoga studio, my hair will be washed.

[pullquote] Denim…is made up of thousands of tiny woven wales just ripe for capturing microbes. It’s the devil’s fabric. [/pullquote]

Recently, I took a trip to Meditation Mount in Ojai, where I boldly laid down in the grass with my head resting on my husband’s rarely used canvas backpack. I considered this quite a breakthrough from my usual cowardly comfort zone and thanked myself for living so fearlessly. (If that backpack had lain upon the airplane floor for more than 30 seconds, I would’ve cut my hair off. Okay, probably not. Okay, maybe.)

Speaking of airplanes. They’re modern marvels of technology that transcend the limitations of time and space — plus they come with Coke Zero and free movies. (Albeit movies you can only access by touching a germy screen. And it’s best not to get me started on the potential terror of airplane ice machines. When, if ever, are they washed? NEVER, I’M GUESSING!) Airplanes are flying Petri dishes. If my head touches the headrest, I am showering. Let’s skip the mere notion of tray tables and instead burn them all. I once interviewed the musician Jack Antonoff and found he has the same weird plane-germ aversion. I felt like I’d found a kindred spirit in germaphobia. He’d make an excellent seatmate because he’d likely understand my tiptoed apprehension in planes.

Let’s talk towels. Don’t you fucking touch my bath towel, or I will straight cut you. That’s why guest towels are called “guest” towels and not “you” towels. If you come to my house and dry your hands on my bath towel, you are never again invited to my home. I’m unfriending you and promptly deleting you from my personal hard drive. Hard reboot to boot.

Movie theaters? No way. No goddamned way.

Oddly, beauty products don’t bother me, though I do take great joy in wiping them off. Baby poop doesn’t bother me much because babies are incredibly sanitary and have little interactions with the foul surfaces we adults touch with alarming frequency, like computer mice, the phone upon whose screen I type this screed, Starbucks, MTA fare cards and subway poles. Full-sized adult poop terrifies me greatly for reasons I hope you’ll find obvious.

Wearing shoes in the house don’t bother me all that much, but I know it should. I’ve just put that fear on the backburner to tend to when I can free up time from worrying about what kind of invisible agents could be swirling through my kitchen sponge or pillows. Likewise with my kitchen cutting board, which I have scrubbed with a Joan Crawford-esque level of determination (minus the severe brows and cruel beatings). I will get to shoes when I have time.

I used to avoid subway benches, but sometimes a girl just likes to treat herself, you know?

Yes, I’m aware I operate on a functional level of obsessive dysfunction.

Strangely, public toilets do not bother me much. Mainly because the fear of germs usually trumps the basic biological need to urinate or move one’s bowels (despite what I said about #2). Obviously, there is a rigorous washing of the hands afterwards because obviously. Portable potties, however, induce Saw-levels of psychic torture to me. I know someone must’ve fallen down the hole into that bone-chilling bowl of shit soup at some point. I just hope they went quickly and that God had mercy on them and I don’t want to know any more.

Oddly enough, I do not carry hand sanitizer. It dries out my hands, which I’ve worried could make them more susceptible to germs entering my pores. I recognize that this specific thought in particular likely sounds especially insane and is probably starting to fall well outside of the boundaries of normalcy. I’m aware I operate on a functional level of dysfunction.

But how do other people not live like this? I ask my husband — who is basically quite neat and tidy but can somehow fall asleep in a hotel bed after his head briefly touched an airplane seat headrest — how he can casually not worry about his jeans, the same jeans worn while sitting on F trains, bar stools and the upholstered vintage chairs of restaurants throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn. Restaurant chairs that countless other bums have sullied. He’s unconcerned. This concerns me. Just as it concerns me when I sit on the couch in my clean pajamas an hour after I’ve sat on that same couch in my gym pants, which sat on a mat that endless sweaty bottoms have sat upon secreting God knows what onto nylon surfaces washed God knows when.

Being a human is hard and gross and it just gets grosser when you sit on your couch — which is possibly tainted with unseeable, unknowable germs — in your clean Old Navy Just Bottoms to passively watch Netflix and think about other germ-related issues.

Like how there are tiny invisible shrimp in our drinking water.

This is madness.

Filed under: Health

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Tamar Anitai

Tamar Anitai has one husband, two cats, no kids, no car. Midwestern by birth, New Yorker by a 14-year act of stubborn defiance. Digital content strategist for a global agency, and essayist on the occasional off night. Rap game Bea Arthur. Yes, she wants see photos of your cat. @tamaranitai on social.

3 Comments

  1. Allie says

    I am just like this in almost every single way (except babies and public restrooms do scare me). Thanks for sharing 🙂

    • Margie Averitt says

      I don’t like to sit on my comforter on my bed or on the chairs in my house if I’ve sat on public couches or chairs in the same pants. So I change my pants when I come in. I would like to know how realistic this is and if I could just let it go it would be such a relief.

  2. Laura says

    Please let it go. As a biologist, this is all just crazy talk. No one gets sick from denim, or unwashed hair that has been in a gym. There is no reality basis for any of this.

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