We had to go to Tucson the other day for a doctor’s appointment. We went for breakfast at a family-style chain restaurant called Coco’s, similar to a Denny’s. The waitress was friendly and the service good. We were led to a comfy booth with a big window. The waitress went to get coffee while I took stock of my setting, and that’s when I noticed—we were surrounded by dead flies, debris, grit, and smears of unknown substances all along the top of the booth and the deep inset windowsill. The lovely large window had blinds—brown with crusted dirt and dust and grease. Also within my view was the big glass inner door of the restaurant, opaque from greasy fingers.
Maybe people don’t notice because we’re focused on the tables. But once you’re seated and start to become familiar with your environment, a booth is an intimate view of just how dirty most restaurants are. We ordered while some drama unfolded in the next booth. A man poured maple syrup over his pancakes and stuck his finger in that last drip when you tilt the container back up. He ran his finger around the rim of the syrup pitcher and then licked his finger.
Sitting there among my small dead companions and my feral neighbor, I didn’t really want to touch, use, or eat anything on the table. And what of those big laminated menus?
I’ve become kind of obsessive over the past few years about touching things that a million people have touched. Most people know that grocery carts are the biggest villain, often teeming with the big five: blood, mucus, saliva, urine, and feces. Other miscreants are door handles, pens, the stylus you sign with at the pharmacy or UPS, and purses and backpacks that have been on floors. Most supermarkets have disposable wipes available at their entrances now.
I may come off as OCD or as having some other unhealthy condition (which I do but it’s not this), but it’s a really big deal if I get sick. Like many other independents the recession has created, I don’t get paid if I don’t work. So I take getting sick hard, refusing help of any kind and becoming generally insufferable. All I want is to go to ground like a sick animal. So I’m careful about what I touch, and it’s become second nature.
I don’t live in a sterile environment at all. I live with a big pack of dirty beasts. But somehow all of them put together aren’t as dirty as a guy whose saliva ends up on a condiment jar in a restaurant. A family restaurant can be a savage land.