The problem with neurosis is that it knows no limits. Find one good reason to worry why you might die tomorrow, and you can quickly find several thousand more. It’s why I never read the ‘Health’ section of the Washington Post. I can’t be bothered to fret that the rare and previously undiagnosed condition striking one in every 500,000 Americans might be out to get me just because I’m sure that I might once have experienced one of its 27 known symptoms.
Paradoxically, the safer we are, the more we seem to worry. This must be why my local supermarket has installed a PureCart system. It’s a car wash for supermarket trolleys, and has achieved country-wide press coverage for being, in the words of The Seattle Times, “the area’s first full-scale shopping-cart wash, a push-through device that sprays a misty peroxide solution over each cart between every use. It dries in a few seconds, leaving behind a faint whiff of beauty parlor and a cart promised to be 99.9 per cent germ-free for the next customer.”
I know exactly what you’re thinking, and it involves a combination of the words Jesus, Christ and some kind of expletive in-between. Much as I like the friendly folk that run the conveniently local shop, and in particular their selection of beer and wine, I have the exact same thought every time I pass the PureCart contraption on my way in to the store. Never mind that most of what people are putting in their carts is industrially processed food, or that the scales on the deli counter are always covered in the layered detritus of that day’s nutritional transactions. There are obviously enough people around who worry about catching germs from a shopping trolley that the shop has gone to the trouble of installing an entire system to counter this alarming and invisible peril. But hang on, it only says “99.9 per cent” of the germs. Watch out, mom, what if little Logan sticks his infant tongue on the 0.1 per cent of the trolley that PureCart failed to purge of someone else’s filthy bacteria? HE COULD DIE!
A couple of years ago we flew to Cancun and hired a car, heading for an island off the Yucatan peninsula famed for its billion different varieties of mosquito (in seven days we got to experience them all). As we drove out of the city, we passed a family on a moped -- Dad, Mum, and a kid, all balanced precariously on the vehicle, with the shopping too, and none of them wearing a helmet. Coming from America, it was somehow a refreshing sight, merely because it embodied a different attitude to mortality that served to highlight our own obsessive fixation with health and safety.
Of course, if it had been one of my own kids riding a moped without a helmet, I might have been less sanguine, but that’s how conditioned I’ve become. In a few weeks I probably won’t even notice the PureCart. In fact I’ll probably raise a complaint with the managers if I pull out a trolley and I fail to pick up “a faint whiff of beauty parlor.” I will not be murdered by vicious, evil bacteria without a fight.