May 11, 2001
I don't mind getting dirty.
Mind you, I'm not necessarily talking about
the "down on all fours, catch a greased pig" kind of
dirty, although there's no telling how far a person will go for a
good time. What I'm talking about is the current obsession with
Sure, there are bad germs - small pox,
yellow fever, the boogie-woogie flu. No one wants to get them, and
they are worthy of the attention of our brainiest medical people -
people in white lab coats with clipboards, gauze masks and no social
But people are now trying to live completely
germ-free lives. And they're being encouraged by companies all too
happy to sell you a million different products that will kill
microbes and viruses, no questions asked.
Soap is a good thing. There are a lot of
people I stand beside on the bus who I wish were better acquainted
with it. I've been tempted to hand out free samples. But then they
came out with anti-bacterial soap, which is fine if you're a doctor
and spend the day with your hands in someone else's insides. But for
most of us without a clean hands fetish, good old soap and water
works just fine.
Then there are the sprays and cleansers that
kill everything on contact. My favourite commercial is a cat sliding
across a kitchen counter and knocking over a bowl of raw chicken. If
that's what goes on in your house, it doesn't matter what you use to
clean with - sooner or later you're going to end up slipping on a
drumstick (cat or chicken) and breaking your neck. But at least your
hands will be nice and clean.
Just when they had most of us already living
like Howard Hughes, someone came up with the idea of a new detergent
just for washing your vegetables. It supposed to get the pesticides
off regular food, and the bugs off organic stuff. I've never
particularly minded pesticides. Hopefully they keep my innards
If I think of it, I'll give a lettuce leaf a
rinse under the tap, or rub an apple on my shirt, but I have to
admit it's mostly for show or to wash away the visible bugs. For
some reason making people eat insects is considered gripping reality
TV on shows like Survivor, but if the smallest gnat finds its way
into your BLT it's a matter for the health department.
There's a new garage in my neighborhood that
features - I kid you not - an anti-bacterial car wash. After all,
you wouldn't want your Volvo to get cholera.
I suspect a lot of these products are sold
to fretful moms and dads who want keep Sweetums from catching the
Black Death from its food, forgetting that as soon as it gets
outside the little darling likes nothing better than shoving
fistfuls of topsoil into its mouth.
At least that's the way it is with first
children. When they drop a toy, parents carefully wipe it off with
disinfectant before giving it back. With second and third-born kids,
parents are happy to return it if there aren't any larger pieces of
My wife's grandmother used to say, "you
need your peck of dirt". I think she meant that life is dirty
and a little won't kill you and might do you good. Scientists are
now saying she probably was right. We've gone overboard with all
these disinfectants and people are losing their natural resistance
to ordinary germs.
So in the next big plague, don't be
surprised if only the cars in my neighborhood survive.