How are you, readers? I'm doing well, in spite of the billions of germs crawling all over me.
I've been thinking about germs a lot. It started when I read that piece in the paper last week about how our dollar bills are coated with bacteria, from all the people who've handled them.
True, my first thought when I read about germ-covered money was. "Infest me with it, please." But now I've been reading Bill Bryson's book "At Home," which at one point discusses all the germs we have hanging about the house. (And about our bodies.)
Bryson cites a noted germ-ologist who found there are bacteria swarming all over the average house, with the most popular germ hangouts being desktops, kitchen counters and sinks. In fact, these spots were way germier than our toilet seats, because those get disinfected more often.
You know how many quick lunches I've gobbled at my desk or standing over the kitchen sink? From now on, I'm eating lunch in the bathroom.
But that's not enough. Intrepid journalist that I am, I wanted to get to the bottom of this story, go right to the source.
So I dusted off my 1959 Gilbert student microscope, put a dollar bill between the glass slides, and looked for a germ to interview.
Squinting really hard, I finally spotted one, slinking across George Washington's nose. Hey down there, I called, got a minute?
"Sure," it called back. "What's time to a bacterium?" (It had a surprisingly deep, resonant voice.)
I'm writing a newspaper column on the germ lifestyle, I said. Could you be a spokesgerm for your billions of colleagues?
"I guess so. I've been around. Been riding on this dollar bill since last November. Ever since the guy whose wallet it was in used a supermarket restroom and didn't wash his hands, the slob. Then he rubbed me off on the bill when he used it to help pay for a six-pack."
Fascinating. What's your name?
"My official Latin name? Never use it, it's too formal. I prefer the name Herman. My friends call me Herm."
Herm the Germ?
"That's it. What do you want to know?"
I hope this isn't too personal a question, Herm, but are you a bad germ or a good germ?
I've read that some bacteria are beneficial, that in fact we couldn't live without them. And others are the bad bacteria that make us sick.
"Hey, pal, I consider that an offensively human-centric attitude. We bacteria are just trying to live our lives as best we can. We have strong family values, I'll have you know. Every germ I know is devoted to his millions of brothers. If we had sexes, we'd be devoted to our sisters, too."
Sorry, I didn't mean to offend.
"What's bad to you isn't bad to us. Some of my best friends are staphylococci, and they're swell fellows. They'd give you the shirt off their membranes."
Well, do you germs have any message you'd like to give to the human race?
"Yeah. Back off, you stinking mass murderers."
Mass murderers? Us?
"You kill us germs by the trillions, with your disinfectants and antibiotics. Our researchers are working hard to develop resistance to that stuff, but it's an uphill battle. You ignore our protest movement, too."
You have a protest movement?
"It's called 'Occupy You.' We stage mass protests from time to time, where we gather in large groups, shouting 'Death to Lysol." We had one last week, on you in fact. It was on your right shin."
So that's what that rash was. But for our own health's sake, we have to clean up places where disease germs might lurk. It's why we're apprehensive about using public toilets, for one thing.
"You're apprehensive? Have you considered what it's like for the germs that have to live in those toilets? They'd give anything to move to a nicer neighborhood."
I wish you could understand how we humans feel about germs.
"Maybe I can. There is something we germs feel about, the way you feel about us."
"Viruses. Viruses are evil, man. And creepy. They're the zombies of the microscopic world, the sub-cellular undead, and they even infect us bacteria. Kill 'em all, I say!"
I'm glad we have some common ground.
"No hard feelings. And if you think of it, say hello to my cousin, Sherm the Germ. He lives in your stomach, where he's digesting your food for you. Nice work if you can get it."
I promised Herm I would soon send down some pepperoni pizza. He says it's his cousin's favorite.
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