It all happened about 10 years ago.Working at a CVS/Pharmacy in Allentown was my introduction to the "job world." It was the typical after-school, part-time, minimum-wage gig teens need to understand the meaning of paychecks, per capita tax and managing a personal budget.
It was also where I suffered one of the most traumatic experiences of my life. A customer approached the counter to buy a pack of sour apple Jolly Ranchers. (Yes, it's so burned into my memory that I remember the exact purchase).
"All right, that's 89 cents," I said, totally unaware of what would happen next.
He propped his leg up on the counter, rolled up his pants on one side, pulled down his white soiled tube sock and, very calmly, removed a wad of dollar bills. One of them rolled my way.
I stared at this dollar as though it was a used diaper. Frozen in time, I grabbed it-wet with sweat, his sweat, sweat from inside his sock. (This is making me slightly nauseous just to type).
I reluctantly gave him the 11 cents change and, because it was my job, wished him a good day.
Inside, with a whirlwind of something brewing in my stomach, I hoped he choked on those candies.
Not really, of course. It wasn't me thinking that - it was the beginning of my journey through Germophobia.
Since then, it's been a bumpy, paranoid ride. Not as much for me as for those around me.
They're the ones that must deal with the annoying flinches and constant pumping of hand sanitizers.
Many have compared me to "Monk" - Tony Shaloub's neurotic but lovable character on the TV show of the same name. I'm not quite as OC (obsessive-compulsive) as Monk, but as far as staying clear of touching the wrong things, I can wholeheartedly relate.
I hate touching money, especially coins. I will not use someone else's cell phone or let them use mine. Don't like grabbing door handles. (Electric-eye doors are a beautiful invention). Will not share food. You cannot have a bite or a spoonful. Even if it's a new spoon. Stay away from my computer, especially the mouse and keyboard. If you're sick, keep your distance. Don't cough up a quart of mucus, then want to shake my hand. Just wave at me and we'll call it even. Birthday cakes-why would I want to eat something you just blew all your germs over? Hold the candle in your hand, blow it out safely, and then serve the cake.
Imagine living with me.
USA Today reported last week that many products are now being manufactured specifically for clean-aholics like me. Especially for travelling since we have to sit on airplane seats, use public restrooms and sleep in motels that probably have new species of microscopic bugs not even discovered yet.
Among the Monk-ish offerings - face masks (not just for surgeons and carpenters anymore), disposable booties, seat covers (for planes, trains and automobiles), personal air purifiers and even a portable bidet (available in pink or blue).
Worldwide companies are realizing the ever-growing market of germophobes, but studies conclude our problems are more mental than anything else.
"Medical experts say many of these products are more effective in quelling the psychological 'ick' factor than in preventing disease," USA Today reported. "In fact, the best protection against illness is also the simplest and least costly: frequent hand washing."
I think a personal portable bidet might be going a little far, but if the price came down a little bit...
The germophobes are a growing breed. We're not necessarily proud but not ashamed either. That CVS customer has no idea how his little transaction turned me inside-out.
But seriously, a wallet isn't expensive. A sock? On a hot day?! I need a shower.
Chris Barnes, of Allentown, is the former editor of The Free Press and The Saucon News. His columns and archives can be viewed online at www.cjbarnes.blogspot.com.