I am standing with my wife in the checkout line at a client's store this evening.
The checker, a guy in his late 40's to mid-50's, takes money from the customer ahead of us and places it into the till. Suddenly he lurches forward and catches an explosive, sloppy sneeze with his bare hands, wiping his nose with the back of one of them on his way up.
He mutters something about "this darn cold," and begins to check us out.
I am not making this up.
I stare as he picks up items we've placed on the conveyor, scans them, and places them back on the belt for bagging.
Evidently the shock and disbelief on my face fail to register.
I say to him, "Don't they provide you with hand sanitizer?"
"Oh, yeah." He points (taking no further action) toward a three-quarters-full bottle at the right of the cash register. "I've been using it all day."
Mr. Sneeze continues to handle item after item, passing them along with his germs down to the kid bagging groceries, who appears unfazed, oblivious to his fate.
Not wishing to cause a scene - in retrospect, probably a mistake - I say nothing more. My wife writes out a check and away we go.
On the way out, I grab a handful of complimentary disinfecting wipes to clean the cart handle and my hands. The gesture is largely symbolic, but there's not much else one can do at that moment.
On the drive home I recount a similar experience from a number of years ago, during a meeting with an advertiser. I was seated in front of the client's desk when her young grandson, a lad no older than five or six years, approached me from the left side. Just as I turned to acknowledge him, he sneezed right into my face, making no attempt to cover it and leaving me with no time to turn away or shield myself from the wet blast. The cold that little bugger shared with me was particularly nasty, and lasted several weeks. I don't think I'll ever forget that sneeze.
I am determined to protect my family and myself from whatever Mr. Sneeze is spreading around. As soon as we get home, I fill a little pump spray bottle with isopropyl alcohol and proceed to disinfect: 20 containers of yogurt, two packages of ground beef, two squashes, two packages of mushrooms, and a carton of cole slaw.
Meanwhile, the checker's words keep going around in my head.
"This darn cold," he said.