A recent online story roused my curiosity.
"Police warn to wipe down shopping-cart handles, but not because of germs," the headline teased.
I read it, of course. I don't pretend to be strong.
The story was about drugs. (Everything's about drugs these days, unfortunately.) An Arkansas police department claimed a person using fentanyl recreationally could leave a fatal residue on a cart handle for the next shopper.
But before you start wearing Kevlar gloves to buy bananas, keep reading. The story quotes a professor of emergency medicine saying anyone literally oozing drugs from his hands would be way too dead to shop. His comment and others led to an apology from the Arkansas police, and the story disappeared like the two minutes of my life I'd devoted to reading it.
The issue of germy cart handles remained, however. Several online commenters said they would no more touch an unclean handle than they'd pick up roadkill with their teeth.
I don't worry about shopping cart handles, I typed. Had I said, "But no one really washes their hands after using the bathroom, right?" the silence couldn't have been more profound.
I stand by my words, however. I have a deep and completely unscientific conviction that the world is teeming with unhealthy microorganisms, and our chances of surviving improve if we make them our friends. Trying to wet-wipe them off the face of the earth probably just makes them angry and more determined.
A shopping-cart handle under a microscope probably would look something like New York City's High Line, with germs strolling, reading and looking at their phones, everybody strung along a narrow walkway far above the supermarket floor. Every so often, two enormous hands grasp sections of the park, and the germs lucky enough to be under the palms enjoy a pleasant interlude of contagious humidity. Sometimes the hands swab the park with a damp cloth, relocating a chunk of the population, but no matter. Germs aren't fussy about where they live. A handle, the floor, a trash can -- it's all the same.
I'm not so cavalier about all germs, in case you think I'm nuts clear through. Some places simply are too infested to contemplate, never mind if the are likely to make people sick. Disease isn't my first thought when I see hotel bedspreads, for example. I'm too busy saying, "Eww, eww, eww," like a sheep farmer counting his flock.
Speaking of hotels, the internet helpfully reveals their germiest spots. There's that bedding and, of course, television remotes, which are just a little less toxic than the smallpox vials at the National Institutes of Health.
I admit I was surprised to learn toilet seats are relatively sanitary, at least compared to bathroom faucets and the counter around the sink. Should circumstances compel you to perform an emergency appendectomy in a hotel room, the toilet-seat cover would be a better operating surface than the sink.
Of course, I've stayed in hotels so clean and cozy a person doesn't worry, because if any germs are lurking around, they're your kind of germs -- germs your own germs would recognize and greet with happy cries and back slaps. But I've also stayed in the other kind -- the kind that should have hand-wipe dispensers in the corridor so people could start right in sanitizing everything from the key card to the air-conditioning controls.
But shopping-cart handles? Meh. It's illogical, I know. Other people pad around barefoot in hotel rooms, yet they won't touch a shopping cart without snapping on a handle cover from Etsy, which actually sells them in a variety of colors and patterns. We all have our quirks and foibles.
One of my quirks is to suddenly adopt foibles out of the blue. I might start recoiling at cart handles any day now. When I do, I'll order a colorful handle selection from Etsy and carry my own wipes.
Until then, when we meet in the cereal aisle, feel free to greet me with a friendly elbow nudge instead of a handshake. I'll understand completely.
Write to Margo Bartlett at email@example.com.