They got me! Those mean little critters zapped down on me while I was just innocently sitting there on that streetcar. Of course, immediately upon boarding, I knew I was stepping into a Petrie dish of infection. The car was packed — elbow to elbow. I could smell those germs — could hear them with every sneeze and every cough and every nasal congested breath. Colds and flu and who knows what else was living everywhere on that streetcar. Some young thing, feeling shame or uncomfortable looking up at my arm pit, said, “Mam, would you like to sit?” I hesitated. I couldn’t decide if it was better to stand or sit — do germs float upward or downward faster? My knees screamed at me, “Take the damn seat, Annie!” I made the proper noises of thanks and sat.
There were menacing, sickly sounds from the hacking woman next to me. I now understood why this seat was so readily vacated. I thought of offering my seat-mate a Kleenex but didn’t want to get into her sneezing space. And she might have wanted to start chatting — spinning her sad but true tale of dragging herself out of her sick bed because, if she didn’t, she wouldn’t get paid and how would she ever meet the rent this month? I can’t be critical of that line of germ-spreading justification being that I’m in the same situation, I’d have done the same — actually I have done the same. Instead, I told myself, “Hold your breath!” but, really, I had to go clear across town so if the germs didn’t get me aspyxiation would. So, instead, I kept my eyes forward, mouth set in a tight-nothing-will-pass-these-lips frown, and my gloves snugly on my hands at all times (a no brainer that one).
At the next stop, a young woman got on attired in a surgical mask. She was not messing around with the germs on this streetcar. No way! Was she overreacting — being smart? I understand the wisdom of wearing these but really, every time I see them I always think of disaster films where unfriendly aliens are ready to spray the not-so-innocent earth with toxic bug spray. Wait a minute — that already happened in my childhood in the 1950s when the city would spray DDT up and down the alleys (my brothers would follow the truck for fun). I’d wear one of those masks if it wasn’t so clinical looking. I mean, I’m not vain about these things usually but I really wouldn’t want to feel like I had the plague every time I went out in public. If I could get one of those cute Japanese designs — say a sweet-little Miss Kitty or a smiling face or maybe one showing bared teeth to intimidate all those folks letting go of sneezes without tissue or hand or elbow blocking the trajectory of all their germs. If someone was really, really clever, they’d design an invisible surgical mask — like those invisible bike helmets.
And, whatever happened to those Elbow-Sneezing Posters? They used to be on the subway/streetcar/buses? Shouldn’t the “authorities” resurrect them every flu season? Make us all practice Proper Sneezing Techniques? I never saw Sesame Street when Elmo and Rosita gave lessons on proper sneezing. Surely it would be worth it to replay them as a Public Service Announcement every September. I want the posters back! Then I could have tapped the guy in the seat in front of me and pointed, righteously and sternly, at the poster of the arm-raised maneuver so that maybe he’d think next time before he infected half the population of Toronto with his germs! When I finally got to work that day, I washed my hands through all the verses of Happy Birthday just like I’d read to do somewhere. As an added precaution, I threw in all my family’s birthday songs — May the Dear Lord Bless You and ended with Had I Owned a Hat I’d Take it Off to You. I was taking no chances with this hand-washing.
But in spite of my thorough, neurotic ablutions, by the next morning I had the scratchy throat, nauseous stomach, aching body and the nagging voice of my doctor in my head saying, “I told you to get a flu shot.” I ignored her then — just as I had all the times I’ve been in her office in the past month when she tried to lure me to the next room for the shot. Instead, I took my own kind of control of the situation. I loaded up with my favorite Flu-Cold-Fighting-Remedies: fresh ginger, honey, brandy, Ricola herbal cough drops, ginger ale and, a new addition this year, gawd-awful oil of oregano. The proprietor of one of the health food stores in Kensington Market said it’s the thing that everyone’s been using for the past three years to successfully attack all kinds of creepy germs that are hanging about. Her German accent certainly made it seem more legitimate. She didn’t tell me how awful it tastes — maybe that’s why it works.
It’s only the beginning of the season. But I just can’t hibernate and swear off public transportation for five months. So I’m trying to keep positive and every time I leave the house I imagine I am protected by my very own, invisible, germ-resisting bubble hovering around me. I’ll let you know in March if it works.