November 14, 2006

"I don't want your pee-stained hands..."

So, I work in a library archive. In the archives, there's a lot of dust, and occasionally nastier stuff, like mold, red rot, and lizards. We also have conservation people that fuss with chemicals all day. All of which means that we have our own sink, with nice soap and hot-water taps that actually run hot and don't decide when you should stop washing by shutting the water off on you.

It is, all in all, a much nicer place to wash one's hands than, say, the bathroom sink.

This is why, as I was walking out of the library bathroom this afternoon, I bypassed the grubby, flooded, harsh-soaped sinks and headed straight for the door. A voice from behind me spoke up: "You're not going to wash your hands?!?"

Ok ... not used to being called out on my washing habits by perfect strangers, but what the hell, I have a reason, so I'll answer.

"Well," says I, "I work in the archives, and -"

"You work here? Ugh, that's even worse! I don't want your pee=stained hands all over my books!"

Right. Sensing that reason was wasted on anyone batty enough to argue over hand-washing in a public restroom, I felt no further obligation to this woman.

"Actually," I responded calmly and professionally, "the archives are a really interesting situation. You see, the documents we handle are all old and many of them are in poor shape, so a lot of chemistry concerns go into preserving them. Skin oils are especially bad for the old paper -" this is all true, so far, by the way "- but urea, one of the components of urine, actually neutralizes the oils and makes it safe to handle the documents. If you work in the archives, you're actually not allowed to wash your hands after you use the restroom, for the sake of the materials."

The lady was aghast - revolted and fascinated in equal measures. I was still a gross, icky pariah, but I was a gross, icky pariah with science on my side!

Too bad I have a conscience. I had to tell her that I was totally making shit up, and that, for her information, I was going downstairs to wash in the privacy of my own office-space.

But geez! I have never understood the motivation behind initiating an Unpleasant Bathroom Encounter, and frankly, I still don't. I see people not washing all the time, and while I think "ewww!" behind their backs, I don't at all understand why someone would actually say something out loud.

Anyway. Weird Unpleasantness in Bathrooms - it's not just for transfolk anymore...


Anonymous said...

As an unrepentant non-hand washer, I wonder about people who insist on washing their hands every time they pee. Do they pee all over their hands? Do they keep their genitalia so dirty that the merest brush against them by their hands leaves traces? I think it makes infinitely more sense to wash your hands BEFORE you urinate so as not to put your grubby hands in direct contact with with your precious and easily infected genitalia. Next time someone confronts you, ask them when the last time they flossed was, and tell them that they should really be wearing a mask because you don't wan't to breathe any air that's been through their stinking orifice.

Anonymous said...

I concur, UN-HW. I hold a hand-washing philosophy very similar to yours, the main difference being: I will wash my hands as long as I know I'm doing it with regular soap, i.e. NON-antibacterial. Shit is bad, it causes a lot more problems than it solves and leads to antibacterially-resistant strains of stuff you really don't want. Even though I avoid antibacterials, I almost never get sick. So there, germ-freaks (I'm allowed to say that, I used to be one). ;)

Trope said...

Weird Unpleasantness in Bathrooms - it's not just for transfolk anymore...

Sigh. I don't understand why ANYONE needs to make ANY conversation in a bathroom, unless it's something like "no toilet paper in there". But still, it was a funny story.

The Quench RSS has been funny in my world lately, so I'm just now catching up with posts. Glad y'all are still writing!