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Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Just call me 'Monk'

No, I'm not referring to the robed European or Tibetan monastery dwellers who live out their lives in silent, meditative poverty. 

I'm referring to the title character in the popular TV show about a detective with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).


You see, ever since I was a kid I've had this a 'thing' about... er, germs.

This 'thing' got its start during a 1st grade science class where we all got to look through a microscope at the gazillions of little beasties that were teeming on our eyelashes, in our saliva and on our hands.  What the hell was Mrs. Sprague thinking???

For some reason the whole eyelashes thing never bothered me much... but the flora and fauna extant in saliva and on hands sorta wigged me out.

My parents had no idea of this budding phobia... but my older sister (in the manner of all older siblings) immediately picked up on my sudden reluctance to let others touch my eating utensils or share food from my glass or plate and turned it into a game of endless possibilities and permutations.

It became her habit to wait until my parents' backs were turned and then casually take a sip from my glass or stick her spoon into my bowl of cereal.  Just like that it would be 'game over'... I was done with whatever was being served.

Before anyone starts picturing a little boy in a bubble, I really didn't change much about the way I related to the rest of the world.  I still ate in the school cafeteria without a thought to how clean the trays and utensils might be.  I didn't become a neat freak or start lining up my pencils in orderly rows.

I just didn't take a sip when bottles of soda were passed around among friends... and I remained quietly protective of my place setting at the table. 

No big deal.

Of course when I started dating, I discovered with growing horror that many girls are under the misconception that guys find it endearing when they eat off our plates or casually take a sip of our drink.  I never let on that it bothered me, but to this day there are probably a lot of women walking around who's only memory of me is that I was exceedingly generous with my food and beverages.

Just as a side note, I never made the inductive leap to find kissing to be a potentially germ-filled experience... so go figure.

My lovely wife, who is perhaps a bit more perceptive than all of the unsuccessful applicants for the position, figured out almost as quickly as my sister that I had a few extra 'boundaries' than most guys.  To her credit she stuck around in spite of my germ mishigas.

In fact, probably the only time I can remember Zahava openly ridiculing me over the whole germ thing was on a crosstown bus in Manhattan after we had come from visiting my little sister and my first newborn niece in the hospital. 

The conversation went something like this:

Me: [taking a small bottle of alcohol gel hand sanitizer from my pocket] Here, you can have some of this when I'm done using it.

Zahava: Remind me again why I'd would want to use that?

Me: Hellooo, we just came from the hospital!

Zahava: and...?

Me:  Oh c'mon, those places are teeming with bacteria and germs.  We're probably covered with pathogens that haven't even been discovered yet!

Zahava: [looking at me with that same amused eyes my older sister used to give me as she plunged her spoon into my bowl of Captain Crunch] You know they have doctors that can help you with this problem of yours, right?

I'm guessing Zahava factored in the 'entertainment value' when she accepted my proposal of marriage.

Anyhoo... so why am I telling you all this?  Because moving to Israel has presented a whole new set of hurdles for a sightly germ-phobic person like myself.

It seems that Israelis know how to use bathrooms (well, most of them)... and even enjoy [~shudder~] talking in them.    But I could abide even that breach of etiquette if they would just consistently wash their hands when they were finished!

Yes, I can say after some fairly scientific observation that about 50% of Israelis (the men anyway), don't seem particularly careful about washing their hands after their turn at bat.

Let me put that another way that will help you better understand my current dis-ease: 

Roughly half of the men who extend their hands to me in a universally accepted form of greeting and respect, haven't made even a token effort to wash away their bathroom cooties!

Not only has this made the whole handshaking ritual fraught with displeasure for me... but even the simple act of exiting the bathroom has become a bit of a contortion act. 

You see, if about half the people who use the bathroom are going straight from the batters box out onto the ball field, it means that the door handle of the bathroom is a veritable petri dish of things that could make me want to hide in bed under the covers forever.

Not only does my post-at-bat ritual include turning the water on and off with a paper towel... but a few more trees are sacrificed so I can grasp the door handle!  I remember once when the bathroom was out of paper towels I had to wait until someone came in so I could ever-so-casually grab the edge of the door about halfway up its height so I wouldn't have to make contact with the pathogen-laden handle.

C'mon, that's not so weird, is it?  It's not like I keep a box of latex gloves in my desk drawer or anything.

Hey, wait a minute...!


Posted by David Bogner on June 27, 2006 | Permalink


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From Cecil Adams:



Posted by: Dave (Balashon) | Jun 27, 2006 1:44:50 PM

:) Yes. don't we all know the feeling, he was leaving and I had just walked in, it's been ages since we last met and he gives me a good ol' firm moist handshake, the first thing that crosses my mind stiffens my smile... why on earth did he just do that?!!

Posted by: pk | Jun 27, 2006 2:22:02 PM

A company nurse once told me the following story: At a medical convention (doctors and nurses!) they stationed someone in the bathrooms to note how many people left without washing their hands. You don't want to know.... She was horrified at the results.

I was once late to catch a plane for a return flight from a business trip. Raced for the gate, found the plane was delayed, figured I could then get something to eat before it left. Went to the ladies room. While I was washing my hands and combing my hair, someone walked behind me (mirrors, you know) went to the stalls, and then left behind me. Guess who was working at the snack bar nearby? I've worked in fast food, and for all I know there was a sink which she used just inside the door to the snack bar, but I had a candy bar for dinner that evening.

We recently returned from a cruise, on a ship that had a 98 (out of 100) sanitation rating on a website that posted general stats on a lot of cruise ships. At the entry points to every food venue, and when boarding the ship at each port, there were no-touch dispensers with a liquid (alcohol) hand cleanser and someone standing there saying "Please sanitize your hands". They also distributed a bulletin on Norwalk virus the first day out. Obviously, they've decided that this is the approach to take, and I'm assuming some sort of cost/benefit analysis was also involved.

My husband laughs at me - I keep antibac wipes in our vehicles, and in my office, and keep a couple of the individually wrapped ones in my purse.

I still wish I had a cleaner house than I do, but I get a great chuckle (ok, I'm mean) when my girlfriend who breast-fed her kids (the younger boy till he was 5!) while telling us how great it was for their immune systems. (Our daughter is adopted and we don't believe she was privy to any of the benefits of breast milk.) The friend also has a herd of stray cats she's adopted and which the kids play with. Both her kids have outrageous allergies and are always sick, and you can't tell me there isn't SOME connection.

Posted by: Iris | Jun 27, 2006 2:47:00 PM

Have you seen The Aviator yet?:-)

I am one of those who is usually rather unphased by germs... if they want me, they will find me.

But the bathroom thing is just plain nasty. I worked in an office in the states with 30 other employees, half women. When in the ladies room, I would often hear someone enter, use the neighboring booth, flush and leave... I would spend the rest of the day wondering who it was... reluctant to take papers or files handed to me by other women... very stressful!

Posted by: nrg | Jun 27, 2006 2:56:08 PM

What's weird about your behavior? You are right. Or at least, uh, I'm the same way. My wife thinks I'm nuts 'cuz I complain things aren't sanitary. I'm actually quite surprised how many people wash with dirty rags and don't wash their hands. It's kinda gross, actually.

Posted by: amechad | Jun 27, 2006 3:05:25 PM

Though Iris, while I'm not an expert on the topic of breast feeding (and 5 does seem a little old), breast feeding (when feasible) is very good. Albeit the cats thing,,,, ew. I can't stand the people who pet the gross Israeli cats.

Posted by: amechad | Jun 27, 2006 3:07:45 PM

and its those same men who I see in supermarkets, looking perplexed, and touching all the challahs to see which one is more fresh. ugh!

Posted by: Katherine | Jun 27, 2006 3:14:49 PM

i think headway could be made with correcting this "problem" by having elementary schools actually fill the soap dispensers (why are they there exactly?) and paper towel holders in our kids' school bathrooms... then maybe teach them what to do with the supplies? my kids tote alco-gel in their knapsacks to school and are constantly running out because once the other anglo kids see what my kids have, they all want to use some too!

Posted by: nikki | Jun 27, 2006 3:16:17 PM

People who don't wash after using the facilities are number one. A very, very close second are people who don't wash their hands after coughing or sneezing. Even if Kleenex's are used, I'm leery of taking papers or anything else they may have handled.

Posted by: seawitch | Jun 27, 2006 3:30:20 PM

Although not as particular as you, I wash my hands frequently... and I wash them well. As a young Dad, I had a Doctor friend tell me he taught his children to sing the ABC song while they rubbed their soapy hands together... they couldn't rinse until they finished the song. Well... as I have become more observant, that little singing to yourself habit has morphed into my singing/reciting "asher yatzar," to myself too many times a day to count.

Posted by: Oceanguy | Jun 27, 2006 3:41:54 PM

David, it was a 'sport' for me. What can I say?!!! I don't remember doing it to you while visiting you in March, so I guess the 'thrill' factor of the sport is over for me! :)

You made me smile this morning and sent me back about 35 years... thanks!

Posted by: val | Jun 27, 2006 3:55:52 PM

Dave... Leave it to you to find not one but TWO sources for this topic! Strong work! :-)

pk... I'm thinking of getting one of those disposable scrub kits that surgeons use before giving up. You know, the ones with the scrub brush and the disinfectant soap. :-)

Iris... My only problem with all the anti-bacterial stuff on the market in the US right now is that it is actually helping boost the bacterial resistance. It would be one thing if we were immersing our hands in the active ingredient in the wipes and soaps for a prolonged period of time. But a quick swipe is the equivalent of stopping your antibiotic prescription after only a day or two. It just gives the germs a good look at what they have to fight and helps them prepare a better defense.

nrg... No I haven't seen it. BTW, In all other areas of my life I am pretty casual about germs. I don't blanch when I see people sneezing under the sneeze guard at the salad bar... and I don't really think about whether the people serving my food have washed their hands. But for some reason this direct contact thing just pushes all my buttons.

Amechad... They say that the most germ infested places in most homes are the kitchen sponge and dishrag.

Katherine... remember, those are the same guys you saw earlier in the day picking their nose in traffic. ;-)

nikki... Kids pass around such generous portions of germs that its almost not worth fighting. With my kids I just chalk it up to building their resistance.

Seawitch... Actually fast food service people who pick at their acne while they serve you are number one, but I get your point.

Oceanguy... Good idea. I may pass that one on.

Val... Actually while you were here in march I got my revenge. Remember all those times I brought you food and drink from the kitchen? Heh, heh. ;-)

Posted by: treppenwitz | Jun 27, 2006 4:17:34 PM

You're not alone- I also use a paper towel to open the bathroom door- and of course, I use toilet paper or whatever to unlock and open the STALL door as well. And to turn on the faucet! LOVE those automatic faucets where you don't have to actually touch anything.

You already know about the disgusting habit many Israeli men have of pulling over while driving and...well, the world is their toilet! (Didn't you do a post on that once?) Cabdrivers do this as well, and if I ever rode in a cab I'd make sure not to ask for any change!!

Here's one for you- think about the pen you use at the store to sign the credit card receipt- the same pen that's used by hundreds of people a day who lick their fingers to open those plastic bags!

The list is endless...makes you wonder how we all live as long as we do.

Posted by: RR | Jun 27, 2006 4:41:44 PM

Thanks for sharing. You have no idea how many ppl have ocd or symptoms. It is so common.

Posted by: social worker frustrated mom | Jun 27, 2006 4:47:10 PM

You know, bacteria are actually pretty useful, most of the time. Pathogenic nasties are few and far between, and rarely will infect you.

Additionally, the rise of the 'anti-bacterial' culture (heh, pun intended) today has contributed to a number of problems in health. Some parents raise their children in nearly antiseptic environments today for fear of 'bugs', when they really should probably feed them a bit of dirt every now and then 'just to be sure'. *grins* I know, the OCD person in me shudders, too, but it's actually quite important. Trust me.

That being said, the handwashing/bathroom thing and stuff dealing with food preparation is just icky.

(Briefly: I personally thought/think that sharing food/drinks/saliva is absolutely disgusting, too... but spending a year and a half with my g/f has tempered some of that. Now I'll just shudder when I have to share stuff with anyone OTHER than her. ;) )

Posted by: matlabfreak | Jun 27, 2006 5:07:27 PM

First of all great in your choice of TV shows. Love that show.

Though I don't have many phobias or dislikes about touching or germs, I do have one strange quirk - I hate for anyone to take a sip of my milk. The idea of it just grosses me out. Other types of drinks are fine (except for bottle water and my kids - backwash major time - YUCK)

As for the hospital, I remember that recently there was as story on one of the newsmagazine shows about the high percentage of Staph infections in Hospitals and after some observations for it, it was because of the staff (nurses and doctors) not washing their hands frequently enough before and after being with each patient. I think (though I don't quite remember) that by just placing hand gel dispenser all around on the walls, it cut down those infections. So, you are not all that crazy.

Going to the emergency room in the Winter time is another scary thing. You always end leaving worse than the way you arrived.

Posted by: jaime | Jun 27, 2006 5:09:13 PM

I just got the most fabulous vision of a teenaged you hissing like Bela Lugosi as a teenaged Zahava steals a french fry off your plate. *evil giggle*

I'm quite the opposite - no germ fear short of the bird flu (I even pet the gross Israeli cats) - but even I open bathroom doors with my shoulder. Do your doors not open out? That's just wrong!

Posted by: Tanya | Jun 27, 2006 5:20:09 PM

David - since you are likely to fail miserably at actually protecting yourself from most bacteria and so forth, it is not such a big deal. However, if you actually were able to do it, I suspect that you would end up being more unhealthy in general than other people whose bodies are constantly being exposed and have stronger immune systems as a result.

George Carlin suggested once that we throw all the children into the Hudson sewer/river in order to build up their immunity (and weed out the weaker ones, I believe he added).


Posted by: Yehuda Berlinger | Jun 27, 2006 5:52:49 PM

David... you ARE evil!!! :) But, you have no power over ME! BWAAHAHAHAHAHAHA! (evil laugh!)

Posted by: val | Jun 27, 2006 6:18:42 PM

I consider myself somewhat neat and tidy - but you...you take the cake... well as long as no one else has touched it first ;)

Posted by: lisa | Jun 27, 2006 6:36:33 PM

Surely you've heard the Harvard/Yale joke. Yale man watches from the sink as Harvard man walks toward the door from the urinal. "Here at Yale we wash our hands after." Harvard man going out the door. "At Haarvard we don't wiz on our hands."

Posted by: Scott | Jun 27, 2006 7:06:48 PM

Ha, another Germophobe.

Be glad that you weren't my little brother. You would have been scarred for life. ;)

Posted by: Jack | Jun 27, 2006 7:09:19 PM

I don't think we ever knew this about you, David. Because I am your kindred spirit and I am so sure I will marry someone who is a slob. The little bottles of hand sanitizer are like my drug of choice. I don't go anywhere without it. Especially when on public transportation. And I also use paper towels to turn off the faucet and exit the public restroom. Working with people who don't wash their hands is very stressful, but given that I don't work in a hospital, I think they would think I'm crazy if I walked around wearing latex gloves all the time. Although I am tempted! ;-)

Posted by: Essie | Jun 27, 2006 7:55:34 PM

LOL. My brother is just like you; I'm the reverse. I have a very healthy immune system and almost never get sick; he is constantly getting sick. Hmmm....

And you need to see the Aviator and the Jack Nicholson movie - was it As Good As It Gets, or another one?

Posted by: Ezzie | Jun 27, 2006 8:05:41 PM

I also try and avoid touching bathroom handles directly with my hands.

Posted by: Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) | Jun 27, 2006 8:44:52 PM

LOL, I can relate a little. I can't STAND when people don't wash their hands after bathrooms. That's my own personal mini-obsession!

Posted by: Irina | Jun 27, 2006 8:51:50 PM

I recently read a report about this whole hand washing/using paper towels to open the bathroom door thing.

The cold metal of the typical door knob is a poor environment for germs to grow on. So while it's nasty to touch after someone hasn't washed their hands, it's not likely you're going to get cooties.

But let's talk about your desk and keyboard for a moment. You sit at your desk and shed skin cells, germs, and other cooties on it, and your keyboard all day long. Then you breathe on it. All day long. And that warm moisture from your breath does provide an excellent breeding ground for cooties.

Yeah, you can thank me later.

But on the whole anti-bacterial subject: those sanitizers and antibacterial soaps and cleansers are just BAD NEWS. Consider it along the same line of the mis-use of antibiotics. Those of you that use them (and those of you who do, tend to be a little....ummm...obsessive with it). The normal flora and fauna of daily life is killed off and what lives mutates and become super germs, thus resulting in antibacterial- and antibiotic-resistant strains of things.

Yeah, you're thanking me even more now. I can feel the love.

Posted by: beth | Jun 27, 2006 8:51:50 PM

Oh brother (pun intended!) - Lisa, you have to know that David is FAR from a neat freak. This 'issue' is TRULY just about his person. ONLY.

Posted by: val | Jun 27, 2006 8:53:41 PM

This bathroom situation sounds familiar. Have you spoken about this previously? Just for informational purposes I know now what a germophobe you are but did you realize that all these anti-bacterial soaps might actually be bad. How does that hit your germy mind?:)

Posted by: Jewish Blogmeister | Jun 27, 2006 9:04:40 PM

I was standing at the sink filling the hummingbird feeders and a flash of awareness popped into my head. I know this will help you and others a lot David.

One can infect oneself with dangerous pathogens if one does not wash properly after going potty.

Posted by: Scott | Jun 27, 2006 9:07:57 PM

I totally identify with you on this one! I'm like that, too. B"H for the hand wipes and liquid gel.

Posted by: tnspr569 | Jun 27, 2006 11:04:11 PM

I am not hyper about any of this - but washing your hands after the bathroom is standard operating procedure, not optional.

It's not obsessive or compulsive to insist upon this, or to be grossed out when it doesn't happen.

Posted by: Ben-David | Jun 27, 2006 11:11:15 PM

Actually the conversation had a slight variation from the one you shared!

David: Oh c'mon, those places are teeming with bacteria and germs.  We're probably covered with pathogens that haven't even been discovered yet!

Zahava: Um.... babe? We just came from the MATERNITY WARD! They tend to keep those places kind'a clean and all, and not too many babies enter the world teeming with things like Ebola!

David: Yes but we left the maternity ward via the elevator...

Zahava: And?

David: Who KNOWS how many SICK people rode on them today!

Zahava: You're not going to let me kiss you again if I don't use that stuff are you?

David: Not if you're planning on using your hands in any way....

Zahava: 'Kay... nick it on over.... [sigh]

I know, I KNOW, ladies! He's adorable.. but I saw him FIRST!

Posted by: zahava | Jun 28, 2006 12:07:33 AM

Heh. Reminds me of a study we did in undergrad microbiology - each group was responsible for swabbing and plating a fomite of their choice, just to see what the bacterial population was like. My group did a toilet seat, which was fairly nasty - though, as a recall, the results from a Starbucks counter were the same or worse. Hmmmm.

Posted by: Tzips | Jun 28, 2006 12:43:54 AM

Sorry David, it doesn't bother me and I have an advanced degree in microbiology. Without getting too icky, I don't get how men using a urinal could get their hands any dirtier than if they put their fingers in their ears or something. But then, I have my own crazy phobia that seems very real to me. I think we're all entitled to one.

Posted by: ball-and-chain | Jun 28, 2006 5:28:12 AM

I must say I prefer public toilets where the door opens out into the main room, so that after washing my hands I can push the door open with my feet.

A friend of mine has a similar attitude and he told me me that, in Australia, it's more like 20% of men who wash their hands. Yeah; how gross.

Posted by: Lucy | Jun 28, 2006 5:48:14 AM

Starting to take your sigline seriously... ;)

Posted by: jennifer | Jun 28, 2006 9:05:55 AM

RR... About that habit Israeli men have of using the roadside as a toilet? GO read the post I linked to . Oh, and thanks for making sure I will always have a pen with me when I go shopping. :-)

Social Worker... Just to be clear... I don't really have OCD or anything close to it. I'm just a little bit germ phobic.

Matlabfreak... You can justify that by keeping in mind that you and your g/f have probably reached a level of bacterial equilibrium so sharing is no longer an issue. :-)

Jaime... [writing notes furiously] OK, so you don't have any germ phobias as but you won't let anyone drink from your milk? Oh and also your water bottle... is that it, 'rainman'? :-)

Tanya... Nope, the doors open in. I guess if germs aren't an issue with the designers they don't take them into account.

Yehudah... Spending several mornings a week in a car with a bunch of soldiers and students is probably all the exposure I need to ensure my immune system gets it's daily exercise. :-)

Val... Maybe not the kind of power you're thinking about now, but I'll probably still be young enough to choose your nursing home. ;-)

Lisa... Oh very funny Felix! You don't see me leaving weekly tips on how to keep my home as clean and an Intel clean room. :-)

Scott... I heard that years ago but it was a Sailor and a Marine. :-)

Jack... You don't want to even think about some of the unspeakable things I did to my older sister when she wasn't looking in order to exact revenge. Little sibs are sneaky little bastards. :-)

Essie... It will be our little secret. ;-)

Ezzie... I rarely get sick and have historically had quite a robust immune system. Like said, I don't live in a bubble... I just try not to wade in other people's excrement.

Steg... You freak! :-)

Irina... I'm convinced it is a social pressure thing that makes most people wash their hands after using the facilities. Absent that most people are basically animals.

Beth... Remind me to do something nice for you sometime...K? :-)

Jewish Blogmiester... You miss so much when you don't read the other comments. :-)

Scott... With what were you filling your hummingbird feeder that this suddenly occurred to you? And do you find that a lot of your avian charges tend to die shortly after their meals? :-)

tnspr569... Hmmm... It seems I'm far from alone on this one.

Ben-David... That's basically where I am with this little germ thing. Not weird, right?

Zahava... Why do your recollections of these things always paint me in a worse light than my recollections? :-)

Tzips... At least at $tarbuck$ the stuff that comes in contact with your mouth is disposable.

Ball and Chain... There is a lot more intestinal germs hanging out around one's groin than in one's ears. I'm just sayin'. :-)

Lucy... But they all have that great accent... so they have that going for them, right? ;-)

Jennifer... For those who haven't corresponded with me via email, the tagline Jen is referring to is "Laying the groundwork for an insanity defense since 1961". The problem with your theory is that my little phobia didn't really get it's start until about 1966 or 1967. :-)

Posted by: treppenwitz | Jun 28, 2006 9:34:57 AM

Trepp: Blech! thanks for sharing!
By the way Ezzie: it IS "As Good As It Gets"...Nicholson plays a superb OCD...but, hey, he still gets the girl in the end.

Posted by: cruisin-mom | Jun 28, 2006 9:47:12 AM

Umm, it's only a quirk and not because of germs but because of the visual affect of the potential yuckiness.

And as for the waterbottle, hey, it's only my children that I won't drink after (my husband also won't either...) It's really gross seeing particles floating all around in the bottle...GROSS)

Posted by: jaime | Jun 28, 2006 4:11:41 PM

Ok so pt is so many ppl have little symptoms like that so it's no big deal. Nice post.

Posted by: social worker frustrated mom | Jun 29, 2006 3:14:47 AM

You have it easy.

Imagine going to Sephardi in-laws and they put down bowls and bowls of 'salatim' (and even the main course) with not a single serving utensil in sight...

...except for the bread (or personal untensils) which is of course double, triple, quadruple dipped by the every single person at the table.

Posted by: JoeSettler | Jun 29, 2006 2:33:44 PM

i always flush public toilets with my foot.

Posted by: Laura | Oct 8, 2014 8:01:07 AM

i always flush public toilets with my foot.

Posted by: Laura | Oct 8, 2014 8:01:07 AM

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