Quick coronavirus story for you. Yesterday on the way home from our last work day with a full office, I stopped at one of my favorite bars to meet a colleague who happened to have with him a cat named Neko in a special cat-carrying backpack (another story for another time). This place is small. There were about a dozen people present. So when the young barman sneezed into his hand, everyone heard it. I looked up from our table and noticed, first, the barman’s protocol-violating sneeze technique and, second, that he wasn’t immediately washing his hands. I’ll call him Charlie.
“Hey, Charlie,” I said from across the barroom. “Wash your hands, you filthy animal!” (I’m a huge Home Alone fan.) Charlie mumbled something about how he had been washing his hands regularly as he begrudgingly, it seemed, went to the bar sink to do so again. I said, “We’re not all as young as you, Charlie. WE ARE AT RISK.” The mostly over-50 elbow-bending bar cohort had a laugh at that.
I confess that I am not good at this sort of thing. I’m not quite like the Italian guy wearing the 6-foot cardboard circle to ward people off. And I’m not like this guy. (Not yet, anyway.) But I know I can be a bit too blunt. I had a conversation with my wife about this last night. “Listen,” I said, “if a kid is coming over to our house, I’m gonna talk to her parents first. ‘You need to know that I will tell your kid not to touch her face. I will tell her to wash her hands. I’m serious about this.’”
To which she replied, “You don’t have to be such a dick. There is a middle way.”
My wife is nearly always right in such matters (really, all matters). But I’m not sure about this one. To get people to change ingrained, unconscious behaviors that put those around them at risk, you have to be a hardass. Right?
We’re all trying to figure this out as we muddle around, heading toward an uncertain future. Please forgive my bluntness. I’ll try to be patient with your filthy hands.