Humans have one particular cultural tradition unlike any other species in the world. We gather in crowded places, mingle with complete strangers, and then we sneeze on each other.
It’s a common practice. Let’s all take our flu on vacation with us. Is that flu going to be luggage or carry-on? I’ll just blow my cold into this tissue I’ve already used nineteen times, wad it up, put it in my pocket and wait for it to stiffen so I can use it again before I go shake some people’s hands.
Yeah, we’re a disgusting race. The worst of the worst. We make the poop-flinging monkeys look like sterile surgeons. This is why when I wake up this morning I curse myself for every bad decision I’ve ever made, but mostly this one. For my girlfriend’s birthday, I promised we would go to the mall. The mall in the city. There are people in the mall in the city. Sick people.
We’re driving and my stomach doesn’t feel great and my head is clogged but I’m ready for the mall. I’ve got my facemask, my backup facemask to put over the first facemask, and a spray bottle full of bleach. Of course I won’t wear the face masks. Facemasks look ridiculous when not on doctors faces. Even then they’re questionable. I’d rather get terminally ill then look stupid.
“Where are you turning? This isn’t the mall.”
“I know,” she says, “we’re taking the train.”
Public transportation. Panic grips my throat and I feel adrenaline crawl through my loins. It’s a deep burning fear, a visceral dread, and sweat clogs my pores.
“You mean the train with all the seats close together and the smudgy metal bars that people hold with their booger fingers and the floors which smell of urine and deathly decay?”
“Yup, that’s the one.”
“You know there’s a ninety percent chance we get dysentery on this ride.”
“Well it’s not like anyone is forcing you to lick the floors or something.”
“Yeah, but my feet will be touching them.”
“You’re wearing shoes.”
“Do you know what diseases like the feet? Trichinosis. That’s a parasite that burrows into the soles. It’s alright, though. If you want to be selfish, I’ll get foot worms for your birthday. When we get home I’ll just take a saltwater bath and sterilize my toes.”
We’re here. We’ve arrived at the mall. I know she wants jewelry and some Charlotte Russe dresses. I can handle that. Neither the jewelry place or Charlotte Russe have door handles you need to open to get into their store. Very spacious areas. A fairly clean crowd. I can handle this.
“You know what? I’m hungry. We should go to the food court.”
The food court. The petri dish of humanity. The toilet bowl of the mall. A buffet of ethnic, worldly diversity. Every culture gathers in the food court. In this room, any disease is possible. Only one other name fits a place so ghastly. Satan’s asshole.
“The food court? The one you’re walking into right now? The same food court homeless people wander around asking for fifty five cents and a cigarette?”
My babbling means nothing to her. It’s too late. We’re already browsing. Chinese, Greek, pizza, more pizza, more Chinese. Options are endless at the mall food court.
“You know whatever food you get, just be prepared of the likelihood you find long, mystical black hairs. I’m hoping I can pick up the triple H while we’re in here.”
“The triple H?”
“Hepatitis, Herpes and Howling cough Polio syndrome.”
“Babe, the last one isn’t a real disease. And you can’t get Herpes from mall pizza.”
“Tell me to my face that people with Herpes don’t eat pizza.”
Standing in the Pizza Hut line and I see the first atrocity coming my way. A man is about to sneeze. He’s trying to hold it in, but I know it’s gonna be a train wreck. He even walks away from the food line like it’s going to save his tiny liquid particles of doom from assaulting some poor child’s hamburger like a biological attack.
I can tell this one won’t be pretty either. Not one of those cute girl sneezes. No, this one’s gonna be a garden hose, a shower of nose pesticides. A real sprinkler system sprayer.
The man shoots me a dirty look and I hit him back with the dirtiest of unwarranted dirty looks. You’re the one who just made a sound like he sneezed out a baby, not me. I rub my hands excitedly towards him and point to the bathroom. He looks confused. I point again and rub my hands. Go wash your hands, germ spreader.
My girl’s got her food. I’ll eat later. I spray down a booth with my bleach bottle and we sit in a corner away from the main crowd. I use the hover method of sitting. It’s where I sit with my backbone against the bench so my butt doesn’t have to touch the disease-ridden seat. I only let my elbows rest upon the table. God help me if my hands should touch anything.
“Why are you sitting like that? Stop that. You’re embarrassing us.”
I slump down and accidentally make eye contact with a sickly old woman across the room with an oxygen tank. “See that woman over there?”
Her head turns. “Yes.”
“I can tell she’s got AIDs.”
“She does not have AIDs. That’s rude.”
“You can see it in her eyes, the AIDs. She’s just sitting there, waiting to pounce with her AIDS.”
“Babe, that’s insensitive.”
Mid-meal and that’s when I see it. Two booths over. That glazed, vacant stare into your eyes, one finger in its nose like it doesn’t know what’s happening. Classic snot-nosed child.
It can’t be more than three or four years old, and it stares at me the same way a cow stares at a bale of hay. I see its soulless eyes, its stained bib, and its wrist which lifts up and wipes a slug’s trail of snot across the sleeve.
“We need to leave, now.”
“What? I’m eating.”
“There’s a demon child two booths over. If you don’t want to suffer a viral death we’ll leave now.”
“This pizza is delicious. It’s my birthday. We’re not leaving.”
I can’t take it. Somebody needs to do something. Spray bottle in hand, with my fiercest Braveheart battle cry, I rush towards the child.
Squirt squirt squirt. Squirt squirt squirt. The mother screams.
“You creep! Get away! You dirty animal creep!”
I calm myself and catch my breath. “Miss, this is a precautionary measure. I promise I won’t get the bleach in his eyes or mouth.”
“I’m calling the police.”
“Miss, your child is the reason we have the bird flu.”
“Alright, what’s going on here?”
Oh, Mr. big police officer, come to ruin the day.
“Sir, this child is a danger to our health. He’s got bird flu, probably rabies-“
“I’ve heard enough. I’m going to ask you to leave immediately, before I call the real police.”
“Just leave. Take your little spray thing with you.”
“It’s a cleansing water/bleach potion. But you wouldn’t know anything about that.”
My girlfriend is moderately furious and I storm out ahead of her. In the car we sit in silence and I suppose it’s up to me to make things right.
“Well.” I sit and pull a wadded up tissue from my pocket and blow my nose. When I’m done I put it back in my pocket for later. “I guess it’s best we weren’t there too long. The whole time we were in there trying not to get sick I forgot one thing.”
“Oh yeah? What did you forget while you were assaulting the child with the bleach bottle?”
“I forgot I already have the flu.”