Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Germaphobe's Guide to Private Passions

On the way home from work today—I'm a waiter at a restaurant that's not the nicest in the city but makes wild strides to seem like it is—I stopped at the library to check out a copy of The Germaphobe's Guide to Private Passions. On the bus ride home, I read several chapters, drawing my finger along the words as a way to fight against the bus's jolts.


I wear white gloves everywhere I go. Sammy, my best friend, says, "Nat, you look like a double-fisted Michael Jackson." I agree and jovially respond, "That's exactly what I'm going for." And then add, "Exaaaactly!" again for emphasis.


Nobody knows the severity of my terror.


Sammy never notices, but I draw my palm against every surface I encounter to foist tidiness onto it. Over the years, I've learned to do this discreetly, so it looks more like a gesture than paranoia. My arms move my hands swiftly, gracefully even.


Even my profession, my place of work, was carefully selected to safeguard my fear of germs. My boss, Stan, in his wickedly resounding southern voice greets me the same way at the beginning of every shift. "The white gloves, already! Nat, I know exactly why I hired you. Work above all else. I like that, kid. Like it a whole lot. Ole Stan, he feels just the same."


Then he hugs me so tight I feel like he's trying to fuse us together. Any intended tenderness gets squeezed out, like a juiced lemon.


All the customers love me. They shake my gloved hand and slip in warm double digit bills, staring me in the eyes to hit home the true gravity of their appreciation.


On my days off, I go to the Eastern European market on the west side of town to select my food for the week. It's always the same: salted fish, pickles from a giant wooden tub, a few loafs of rye bread, and three Roma tomatoes.


I visit Aunt Gina in the nursing home and feed her apple sauce from the buffet line with one of those little plastic sample-sized spoons.


Then I take the train home, where I seal myself up. I do chores slowly, never exerting myself too much for fear I'll perspire.


There's only so much I can handle.

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