Must be a sign

There is a sign in each of the bathrooms near the cafeterias here at Pompous that reads:

Cafeteria workers must clean hands
–after using the toilet
–before handling food
–whenever they are dirty

Though its basic intent is clear enough1, a closer look at the actual implications behind the sign’s explicit commands reveals a directive of life-altering proportions.

The first instruction is fairly straightforward. After taking advantage of the toilet for your own sick purposes and then casting it aside as if your time together meant nothing—you know, after really using it—naturally you’re going to want to try to scrub away the stain on your soul with all the abrasive vigor you can muster. Yet who would have thought the old john / to have had so much crud in him?2 Pretty cut and dried.

However, things become a little trickier when you get to the second instruction. Technically, for both cafeteria workers in particular and homosapiens in general, all time that isn’t spent actually handling food could be considered time “before handling food”—which, when you think about it, is a lot of time, almost all of it, in fact. I don’t know about you, but the prospect of washing my hands in my sleep is downright unnerving, especially if the water is warm.3 Of course, it’s possible that the creator(s) of this sign are expecting its target audience to simply infer some word akin to “immediately” preceding the whole “before handling food” bit (i.e., Cafeteria workers must clean hands immediately before handling food), in which case the mandate becomes much more feasible, if not downright logical.

But now we come to the toughest nut to bust—err, butt to crack—err, nut to crack—because after easily granting the inherent reasonableness of the first instruction, and tenuously deducing the implicit intention of the second instruction, we arrive at the third instruction, and that’s where all hell breaks loose.4

You see, no matter which way you slice it—and mind you, I don’t know why we’re slicing it, because that just sounds gross and unnecessary, but there you are—washing your hands “whenever they are dirty” is sure to prove an inherent strain on your existence. First of all, how do you define “dirty”? For me, my hands aren’t “dirty” until there is a visible layer of accumulated filth on them that flies off in chunks during vigorous hand wringing. For my girlfriend, however, her hands are essentially dirty the moment she touches anything outside of our apartment.5 Second of all, taken at face value, this last instruction affects almost every aspect of your day to day activity. How can you possibly be productive with the knowledge that you have to stop whatever it is you’re doing and wash your hands whenever they are dirty? Think how difficult it would be to do yard work. Pull a weed… wash your hands. Plant a bulb… wash your hands. Capture a woodchuck and spend weeks domesticating him in a futile effort to stem the overwhelming deluge of loneliness and moisturizer that comes from having to wash your hands every six minutes… wash your hands. It’s a vicious cycle.

So to all you cafeteria workers out there living under the soapy yoke of constant hand washing,6 I say… lighten up guys. You’re taking this whole sign thing way too literally. It’s just a piece of plastic. Stop bitching about how chapped your hands are getting.

Sheesh, some people, eh?

1. Don’t give your customers syphilis.
2. I am, of course, quoting William Wigglepenis here, the celebrated Hard(on) of Avon.
3. If you pee what I mean.
4. Or, for my scientology friends out there, that’s where all the volcanoes break loose and shoot a bunch of flying saucers into the sky.
5. This doesn’t make me love her any less; however, it is the reason I have a psychiatrist on speed dial.
6. Antibac-tyranny.

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