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Quiet Desperation

Here’s the dirt on trying too hard to stay clean


I went to the grocery store.

At the entrance, they have a Purell dispenser and towelettes.

First I wiped off the dispenser with some Purell and a towelette, and then I did the same thing to my hands.

Finally, I did the same thing to the entire cart. You've got to.

This is the Land of Milk and Cooties.

You never know. Someone might have been in the store with some "baby oil," like that Nam Jong Nam suspect.

Swabbing the cart took about an hour, but it was worth it.

I came home in perfect health.

I am more careful with everything these days.

There are germs everywhere, just waiting.

Remember Jack Nicholson in "As Good as It Gets"? He took his own plastic knives, forks and spoons into his favorite restaurant.

To be honest, I am actually not very vigilant, so you can throw out the part about the Purell. I have never used it in my life.

But I watched a man go through roughly the same ablutions I described, and then he walked over to produce and picked out a russet potato.

Do you know where potatoes come from? They come from the earth.

In France they are called "pommes de terre."

Apples of the earth.

The Purell routines I have witnessed remind me of the chopsticks routines I have witnessed, which seem slightly phony.

Chopsticks are rubbed together, sometimes with the vigor of a Boy Scout who is trying to start a fire.

This is never done in Japan. In fact, it is offensive to the Japanese diners with whom I have spoken.

"Splinters. I don't want splinters in my tongue," one American diner told me.

I don't rub, and I have yet to be splintered.

If you drop something edible on the floor, do you pick it up and eat it?

We're taught not to, but who hasn't?

Around here, it's not an option.

Someone eats it, and it isn't me.

I own a dog. Smitty watches food preparation intently, hoping I will be clumsy with the chicken.

I am sometimes clumsy with chicken on purpose.

Some of us have to be mindful of germs, and there is no phoniness in it. I am one of the lucky ones. I have very few known allergies.

Country music, certain diamond business commercials, that's about it.

Don't sit me in front of the "Pioneer Woman" for any length of time either.

I should take more precautions in my art studio, but I don't. I know artists who wear plastic gloves when they paint. Many of the paints I work with, especially my favorite blue, are very toxic.

One of my colleagues died young. He taught ceramics before healthy workplace regulations were instituted.

There are hazardous materials and lots of airborne dust in a ceramics studio. Rodger, like me, worked without gloves or a mask.

David Vetter, the "Bubble Boy," was only 12 when he died. He was born with severe combined immunodeficiency, and had to live in a plastic bubble his entire life.

It could be that the man I saw scrubbing with his Purell truly needed to, even though it looked a little like showmanship.

(I know a good joke about germs. But I don't want to spread it around.)

Craig Marshall Smith is an artist, educator and Highlands Ranch resident. He can be reached at craigmarshallsmith@comcast.net. 


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