Common courtesy is an oxymoron.
It’s bad enough that there are crazy old men with access to biological weapons. What I don’t need is my fellow citizens subjecting me to microscopic toxins just by being slobs.
So I’m at the mall, in the bathroom of one of the large chain stores, which will remain nameless but it rhymes with Schmervyn’s, and I realize that I’m not alone.
This is not what bothers me.
Apparently, somebody is doing some heavy lifting in one of the stalls. Somebody’s having a tooth pulled in one of the stalls. There is a series of sounds the likes of which I haven’t heard since hiking through a mud flat, trying to pull my stuck feet out while wearing a pair of snowshoes. It’s that sound the cranberry sauce makes when you’re trying to bounce it out of the can.
Yet this is not what bothers me.
Somebody is dumping a can of chunky soup into the bowl in that stall, and this is not what bothers me.
What bothers me is that as I’m standing there scrubbing my hands up to the elbows like a freakin’ surgeon, the stall door opens and out walks some red-faced guy, who proceeds to nod cordially at me in a ‘Hi how are you’ kind of way, opens the door and walks on out into the store without so much as waving his hands over the sink.
This is what bothers me.
I stand there, with my newly clean hands, my surgeon’s hands, holding them fingers up and palms toward me as though I’m waiting for someone to slip a pair of gloves on me, and I stare at the door handle.
You know how, in those Hitchcock movies when the actor who’s about to be hit by a safe is staring at something ominous and threatening, and it seems to unhinge itself from the background and swoop towards the camera while the rest of the world just fades out of existence?
That’s what the door handle did.
I realized, standing there with my surgeon’s hands, that there was no way I was getting out of that bathroom without touching that handle.
I started running a number of scenarios through my mind’s eye… I knew the door only swung inward, toward me, that I couldn’t just push it open and make my escape. I imagined trying to grab the handle with my elbows, but if you’ve ever tried holding a cat out in front of you with just your elbows, you know how impossible this is.
Okay, maybe that’s just me. But I’m sure you can imagine what I mean.
I imagined opening the door wide, then leaping back, washing my hands really quick, and making it back somehow through the doorway before the door shuts.
But that’s just stupid.
And yes, it occurred to me that I could simply grab one of the paper towels and use it to open the door. But there are no paper towels, only a wall mounted inverted jet engine that theoretically dries your hands but really just fools you into standing there rubbing your palms together in the draft until the water simply evaporates, and is of no use whatsoever in drying your face, because although it looks like it should swivel up, apparently someone thought that welding it in place was a good idea, so you have to kneel down in front of the thing as though you’re praying to it, but there are only two kinds of people who are comfortable either praying to technology or being on their knees in a public bathroom and I’m not either one of them, so that’s not the option I ever take, and although I try valiantly to yank the damn thing from the wall, I can’t figure out how I’d use it to open the door anyway, so it’s of no help whatsoever.
After a few minutes, luckily for me, someone previously out on the retail floor feels the need to use the facilities and opens the door to come in, and although I’m a little embarrassed to be found walking toward the door with a paper seat protector in my hand, I merely smile, shove it in my pocket and slip out the door before it swings shut.
But I am not free.
I look around at the other shoppers, any one of which could be the perpetrator of my nightmarish entrapment in the restroom, and they are looking around at the millions of dollars worth of goods on the shelves of Schmervyn’s, and they are touching them, holding them, lifting them, fondling them, transferring their germs and sweat and dirt and, as CSI:Miami has taught me, their epithelials, which are the dead skin cells that make up most of the dust floating in your house and settling on your furniture which is just gross and is why I wrap my pillow in a towel, and I am put in a mind of those news-magazine shows that throw black lights on hotel rooms to show us the gallons of bodily fluids left behind by previous guests, and suddenly I could swear that all of Schmervyn’s is glowing like a Pink Floyd poster in my 10th grade bedroom, and I just want to wrap myself in duct tape and sandwich baggies.
As I look around Schmervyn’s I realize that it’s the little things that count. Little things like sticking around long enough to make sure a second flush isn’t required rather than leaving a little floating calling card for the next visitor as though marking your territory, like being thoughtful enough to quietly squirt the crap you just coughed up out of your bronchitis-infested lungs into a napkin rather than seeing if you can hit the wastebasket from across the room without taking your feet off the desk like you’re in a Saloon, like washing your hands before going back to work at the CinnaBon stand.
I am not obsessive-compulsive. I am not paranoid-delusional. I am not a Nancy-boy.
But a little common courtesy goes a long way. Life is tough enough thanks to the big hairy dangerous real scary cranky old men with missiles and vials of nasty bugs that make your parts fall off. So I do my best to keep my body parts, its appendages, its cells, its fluids, to myself and the occasional rare brave soul who volunteers to share them with me. I learned how to use a four-way stop, I don’t blow my nose with my finger, and I don’t stand in the middle of the aisle at Safeway with a stupid look on my face when there’s plenty of room over next to the cold cuts.
And I really don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect others to do the same.
Is that so much to ask?
That’s it. That’s all I got.