Saturday, November 01, 2003
With great power comes great hygiene
By Dave Jaffe
Because this magazine is not ordinarily a vehicle for lowbrow bathroom humor, the Food and Drug Administration requires a warning that this article mentions toilet flushing, field mice and dogs with bad breath. Now, let's get right to those toilets.
From the Disgusting Hygiene in the News Department comes a recent survey conducted by the American Society of Microbiology that reveals as many as 30 percent of travelers fail to wash their hands after using the potties at airports.
Like any concerned parent, my first reaction to this study was, "God, I hope it wasn't one of my kids!"
Even though my two sons are advanced teenagers, I worry that they're out there ignoring my basic teachings about public lavatories, such as first check there's enough paper, flush with your foot and Can't-You-Hold-It-'Til-We-Get-Home?
Fortunately, the survey's observers, who studied 7,541 airport bathroom users in six cities, did not report the names of the users. So if it was my boys, nothing goes into their Permanent Record.
While I applaud with scrubbed hands the diligence of the American Society of Microbiology in dramatically reminding the public that good hand-washing habits help prevent the spread of disease, I have to ask, with all respect, don't you have anything better to do?
I mean, while you scientists are hanging out in airport bathrooms with clipboards-and by the way, we should have a little talk about that-who is back in your secret underground laboratory developing the Big Ticket microbes, like a serum that grants people super-stretching abilities or a virus that destroys extraterrestrial invaders? Isn't that why you got into the business? What's happened to your passion?
Leaving the microbiologists in an uncomfortable silence for the moment, let us turn our attention to the nation and ask ourselves: Are the children of America washing their hands and, if not, can they do so before passing me the barbecued chicken?
"Hon, how can I find out if our boys wash their hands after using the bathroom?"
"You could ask them, Dave."
"I was thinking of something more sneaky."
"Sneaky's your department, Dave. In fact, we agreed some time ago that the whole bathroom issue was your department."
That's true. I took over primary responsibility for the development of my boys' bathroom hygiene when-and I'm putting this as delicately as I can-they grew old enough to begin practicing their sharpshooting skills. Every parent of boys has to deal with this problem, and it is best done by sitting down with the youngster and boldly talking around the issue.
DAD: "Billy, your Mommy and I are VERY proud of you using the potty all by yourself like a big boy."
MOM: "VERY, VERY PROUD!"
DAD: "Don't shout, dear. Anyway, Billy, you know how Spiderman's Uncle Ben told him, ‘With great power comes great responsibility'?"
MOM: "VERY, VERY "RESPONSIBILITY'!"
DAD: "Please, dear! Billy, you know how Spiderman can shoot webs but he had to practice a long, long time before he could hit the target?"
BILLY: "Yeth, Daddy?"
DAD: "Well, don't take that long, OK?"
BILLY: "OK, Daddy."
MOM: "And wash your hands VERY, VERY WELL!"
Having now addressed the toilet flushing/hand washing portion of this article, let us again turn our attention-and do it slowly so we won't get dizzy-and ask ourselves, "Say, what was all that about field mice and dogs with bad breath?" To answer, we must first understand the personal hygiene of dogs, which, by the way, is pretty good if you happen to be another dog.
While children form good hygiene habits by virtue of role models, maturity and character growth, dogs develop on a track we pet owners call The Cookie System.
It is a Big Picture sort of program that seeks to divide a dog's world into two discreet spheres: Out There and In Here. What is done Out There stays out there, and had better not be done In Here. Out There dog activities include using the lavatory, washing hands and, of course, catching field mice.
Recently my son Russell flew home from college for a visit. We met at baggage claim and I hugged him, thus avoiding shaking hands.
Once home, he frolicked in the back yard with our dog, Oxford, a schnoodle with a happy-go-lucky personality that masks an occasional dark Iago-like demeanor.
During dinner, Russ announced that Oxford had tried to bring a field mouse in the house.
"The tail was hanging out of his mouth. It was gross. Pass the spaghetti. Anyway, I made him spit it out, but it was dead. So I brushed his teeth with that dog toothpaste in the cupboard, 'cause his breath really stunk. Dad, you want the garlic bread?"
"That will depend entirely on when my nausea passes and how you answer this question. Did you wash your hands?"
"Oh for heaven's sake, Dad, of course I did. Remember? ‘With great power comes great responsibility'?"
"‘Uncle Ben would have been proud, son."
Dave Jaffe lives with his wife, two teenage sons and two dogs. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.