Monday, January 4, 2010

No Shoes Please

It started innocently enough. I didn't like cleaning black footprints in the bathtub.

"Here," I said, handing my husband rubber flip-flops. "No more going barefoot outside, especially not to 7-Eleven."

He protested at first by "forgetting" to wear them, and I understood why. We live in a beach town. We have barefoot weather practically year round; it's natural not to wear shoes. But when a super-strength mystery goo showed up on his feet I put my foot down.

"Please wear the flip-flops," I said. "The bottoms of your feet are disgusting."
I guess that did it because he started wearing the shoes. Not all the time, but more, and always to 7-Eleven, and the footprints disappeared from the tub.

That's also when we stopped wearing shoes in our home; it seemed the logical next step. But what initially began as a way to keep the house clean eventually changed into something else: Me trying to keep the world at bay.

Because the world wasn't just dirty it was scary dirty, and I had proof.

In August 2009, New York Daily News reporters Leah Chernikoff and Jacob E. Osterhout, wearing flip-flops, trekked through trains, bars, a park, a baseball game, and the public bathroom at the Coney Island Subway Station—and twice rode the Cyclone—then sent the flip-flops to a lab.

About 18,100 bacteria were found on those shoes. And yes, there were probably good as well as bad ones, but Aerococcus viridans and Rothia mucilaginosa were among them. And since they tend to live in the mouth, the logical reason for them clinging to those sandals was people refusing to swallow their own saliva.

"It's not a good sign," the lab's manager, Dennis Kinney, told the Daily News. “If someone were sick and spitting on the ground, you could pick something up.”

The sandals that traveled to Coney Island's public bathroom had even more bacteria, including Staph aureus. This is a generally harmless bacterium unless it enters the body through a cut, gets into your bloodstream, is left untreated, at which point you can die.

It was enough to convince me that everyone should remove their shoes in my home, not just my husband and I. But no, I haven't yet made this ultimatum. I don't want people to think I respect my floors more than I do their desire to be fully dressed. Or that I think they are bug-infested petri dishes, which I don't, but I do think their shoes are.

I have to admit I was uneasy the first time I was asked to remove my shoes at someone's home, because I always wear socks or slippers. I'd forgotten that ten or so years ago I often went barefoot and never died.

Not many die from shaking hands either, but I'd also prefer not to do that, since I don't know where people's hands have been.

It's exhausting, this bacteria angst, and I really don't want to go through my life plastic wrapped and hermetically sealed. My best guess is, all of it is a symptom of my knowing I'm turning 50 soon.

Twenty-five years ago time stretched in front of me endlessly, but it doesn't feel endless now. I feel like a snowball rolling down a hill. The longer I live, the more I know, so the faster my life seems to go. I'm aware of things like catastrophic germs in a way I wasn't before, of anything that might possibly shorten what living I have left.

But obviously fretting over it isn't a wise preoccupation. Especially since chronic stress weakens the immune system, thus lessening my chances of living to a healthy ripe old age.

So I suppose the only solution is to do what someone once advised me but I didn't pay enough attention to: Wear life like a loose robe.

I wonder if really loose flip flops might be just as good?

QUESTION: How are you or are you not wearing your life loosely?

(Not sure how to leave your name or pseudonym with your comment? See the post above left.)

For the New York Daily News Article: