Hopeful Healthy Spirit

February Men's Room column

We go for dinner at a Mediterranean restaurant, where the masked maître d’ hands over our boxed food and nods toward the credit card reader. After I sign, she douses the screen with disinfectant, and I do the same to my hands, then to my card, then to my wallet. We back out, you and I, opening the door with our rear ends and retreating to the parking lot, where we spread our romantic meal across the hood of my Toyota. It’s a six-cylinder, thank goodness. The beast generates more heat than a Bunsen burner.

“Hygienic hummus, love?” I say from one side of the vehicle.

“Where are your gloves?” you ask from 6 feet away.

I don’t know where my gloves are. Amid the panic buying at the start of the coronavirus lockdown, I’d snagged a hundred in the supermarket. It was like a mirage, this box jammed with one-size-fits-all-if-you-have-thumbs-like-pencils stretchy things that, somehow, the hordes of hoarding shoppers had overlooked. They wiped out the Charmin and paper towels, doggone it, but the gloves would put a latex layer between the germy world and me.

I used a pair to work on my lawnmower, then forgot I had them.

“I think they’re under the bathroom sink,” I admit.

Your face is covered, but you can’t mask your disapproval. So cute.

Determined to impress you, I open the Toyota’s back door and rummage under the seats. There it is: the ice scraper I bought that one day long ago when I prepared for worst-weather scenarios. It’s still in the packaging.

I extend the handle and push the Styrofoam tub across the hood.

“Here’s your hummus, honey,” I say. “And pathogen-free pita to boot.”

“Did you sanitize the scraper?” you say.

This is what we’ve come to this Valentine’s Day, the occasion that’s supposed to be all about cozy closeness and, I hear, intimate interactions. We’re now hyper aware of what we knew a year ago, but we didn’t care then because we didn’t think it mattered, and we’ve found out that it does, and in a big way: Our mouths are bacterial caverns, our hands microbial magnets, our noses viral runways where infections can land and take off every minute. We’re good with each other, the two of us, but we’re bad for each other. Our feelings are contagious, and so are we.

“The paella smells wonderful,” you say.

I sniff.

“I can’t smell the paella,” I say. “Do you think I’ve lost my smelling? Do you think I’m infected? Do you think I should get tested?”

“I think the wind is blowing in my direction,” you say.

That affirms for me, yet again, why I’m here with you, dining outdoors in 43-degree chill while a vase of roses teeters by the hood ornament. It’s your calm nature, your common sense, your special way of judging me in nonjudgmental tones. It’s how you remind me that the way to your heart is through your mucus membrane.

“Wine?” I offer. “They say alcohol kills germs.”

You toss your glass my way. I catch it just before it shatters against the windshield.

“To the brim,” you say.

Ah, there’s that hopeful, healthy spirit. Together, we’ll make it through this thing yet.

Tim Bass is coordinator of UNCW’s bachelor of fine arts program in creative writing.

To view more of illustrator Mark Weber’s work, go to markweberart.blogspot.com.

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Categories: Culture