Jewish World Review Sept. 22, 2011 / 23 Elul, 5771
Desk zero: Contagion lurks just outside office bathroom
By John Kass
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | A terrible wave of germaphobia is spreading across the world, and all of it can be blamed on "Contagion," the new thriller starring Matt Damon. "It really bothers me," said a victim of the new germaphobia. "You don't really know what it's like."
Actually, I do. But it was never this bad, until now, thanks to Matt Damon.
The frightening movie - with scenes filmed in Chicago suburbs pretending to be Minneapolis - deals with a random virus that becomes an epidemic. It is spread by coughing and touching moist hands to the handrail on the bus, or to poker chips, and then to the face.
"Don't touch your face," warns one of the epidemiologists in the movie, saying the average person touches his or her face several thousand times a day.
Naturally, no one listens. Instead, the fools brazenly touch their faces with their moist hands. And soon, about a gazillion people are dead or dying, including Damon's co-star, Gwyneth Paltrow.
The lovely Gwyn foams at the mouth, twitching on the floor of her lovely home in what looks like the lovely village of Western Springs. It's so sad. But at least the village looked very nice.
The terrifying thing is that many men and women of science have said that it's all so very plausible, and they may be correct. Random animal saliva combinations, face touching, and pretty soon, the piles of the dead rise like those of the Black Death.
While all this is scary enough, it's obvious that the men and women of science may have missed the one place in the modern world most impacted by "Contagion."
It's that desk nearest the washroom.
Some office desks look out on gorgeous, ever-changing landscapes. Others gaze upon the Acropolis or the Eiffel Tower or the architectural wonders of Chicago. But some look out on another stunning view, a view of a door with a sign that says:
And I don't suppose having a view that says "Women" is any better.
By my calculations, there are millions of innocent humans sitting at desks near the washroom. Nobody wants to sit there, but there they sit, potential victims of the new germaphobia.
And though the white lab coat-wearing epidemiologists at the World Health Organization and at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention probably don't have the guts to tell you, I'll tell you.
That desk near the washroom?
It has a name.
Desk zero is a horrible place. I had the misfortune to sit at a desk zero years ago. And those of us who've survived should be allowed to wear commemorative T-shirts, with some catchy yet ironic and mocking phrase.
But perhaps it's not depressing for everyone. It's probably an amazing place to sit, if you happen to be a nerdy anthropologist studying the behavior of germaphobes.
"And we get to see it, or hear it," sighed another woman sentenced to sit near desk zero. "We hear things. Sounds."
Now some of us aren't germaphobes and we don't care whether we live or die from germs. Others are neurotic.
Me? I alternate. Some days I'll order the carpaccio or sushi, and other days I'll take a cab rather than risk someone coughing in the back of the bus. Yet the habitues of desk zero can easily spot the true germaphobe.
First off, the true germaphobe makes thumping sounds inside the washroom. Rather than touch anything on the way out of the water closet, men (and women) often thump the doors with their hips or knees, then stick the toe of a shoe in the opening, or elbow, working it until they can escape and thus avoid certain death.
You'd be surprised to know how many people use their feet in a bathroom, rather than touch anything with their hands.
But the worst thing isn't the sounds if you sit at desk zero. The worst thing is that random pile of moist paper towels near your leg.
According to innocent victims who sit near desk zero, many germaphobes wash their hands and dry them with paper towels. Then they grab another, fresh towel, and use this to grasp the door handle, lest they touch anything. Obviously, this "fresh" towel has trace amounts of moisture.
Then the germaphobes exit the washroom, with the moist towel in their hand. And what do they do? Do they carry the towel with them all the way to their own desks?
"I've tried to hide my waste basket," said one victim. "But they come out of the washroom with those towels in their hands, and they find it. I try to say that it's not a public waste basket, that it's my desk waste basket, but you know, people don't listen."
They don't listen, do they?
The only surefire way to make them listen is to shoot them in the neck with a Taser, and then yell "Pow! Pow!" as they writhe and scream on the floor. But you might get in trouble with human resources.
So as "Contagion" sells tickets and makes millions at the box office, piles of moist towels grow under desk zeroes everywhere, and who knows what's growing in the darkness of the waste baskets.
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John Kass is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. Comments by clicking here.
© 2011, Chicago Tribune. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.