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My life as a germophobe

March 10, 2011
By Andy Heller

FLINT - So my transformation into a germophobe is now complete. I thought you'd want to know.

Heck, I want you to know so you won't offer me your hand, or if you do you'll at least understand when I whip out a bottle of germ-bust the second your filthy, grubby, germ-infested mitt leaves mine.

No offense. I can't help it. I really can't. I read a lot, so whenever there's a study about germs I see it, and after awhile that stuff builds up on you like like ... germs on an elementary school doorknob.

There was that one study a few years ago about toilet handles in public restrooms. I haven't flushed a public toilet by hand in 10 years. I flush with my foot, which is gross for you if you use the toilet after me, I guess, but it's a jungle out there. Survival of the most antiseptic, dude.

There was that other one about how the average workspace at the office - the keyboard, the phone, the desk itself - has 400 times more bacteria than a toilet.

Well, your workspace, anyway. Ever since that study, my workspace gets a regular hose down with Lysol followed by a Clorox disinfectant wipe followed by a thorough high-temp drying with a HEPA-filter equipped blow dryer. (Unusual, you say? Hey, if it wouldn't upset my boss, I'd regularly burn my keyboard. Stupid OSHA rules.)

Then there are those stories about how the farm boys regularly whiz on the produce in the trucks because they think it's funny and how y'know, it just occurred to me that I probably should have warned you about the content of this column much earlier in case you were eating or something. Ah, well. Lesson learned: "Put warnings up front." But you go right back to your newspaper-reading meal or snack, don't mind me.

Anyway, where was I? Ah, yes, the studies. They really do add up in your psyche, or in mine at least. The latest is what pushed me over the edge into full-fledged Howard Hughesism. It said, "Most grocery cart handles contaminated with fecal matter." Hey. You were warned two short paragraphs ago. Don't blame me.

The story beneath the headline went on to explain that a researcher had found the, um, matter on 72 percent of carts tested, and E. coli on half, which begs the question: Do you people EVER wash your hands?

Don't answer that. I don't want to know. I assume you don't anyway, which is why I:

- Open most doors with a foot, elbow or a hand turtled up inside my sleeve.

- Open envelopes at the end rather than run a fingernail where you licked.

- Wear a glove when I pump gas except in summer. In all instances - summer or not - I spritz germ-bust on glove and/or hands following.

Extreme? Not really. Extreme was my brother Dan, who was like the Columbus of germophobes, meaning he got there long before most people did. Dan, God rest his soul, was the first and only guy I ever knew who would show up to family parties with his own bottled drinks, and not because he was being polite but because he had a thing about using someone else's drinking glasses, even the washed ones.

I'm not nearly as bad as him, but I suspect I'm on my way. Once you start imagining germs everywhere, it's hard to stop.

I'd go see a shrink about it but can you imagine how many heads have been on the pillow in that guy's office?


EDITOR'S NOTE - Andy Heller, an award-winning columnist for The Flint Journal, appears weekly in the Daily Press. He graduated from Escanaba Area High School in 1979. For more of his work, visit his blog at You can e-mail him at



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